I just found out that another dear male friend has been consumed by the darkness of wishing to die. I have not been able to reach him so I wrote this over the last 48 hours. Hoping it helps anyone who is also hanging on that edge...
Dear friend who wants to die,
I know you are suffering, so much so that ending your life seems like it might be the best way forward. I’m not going to bullshit you or try to hide why I am writing to you now.
One is to share the experiences of other men and my own that convince you that you are not the only one. And also to help you to make sense of why you feel so much pain.
The second reason is more manipulative. I will try to convince you to stay alive a little bit longer, but not just for the sake of hanging on. Screw that. I don’t want you to stay stuck in the dark pit of despair and powerlessness you are drowning in any longer. Hell no! I want you to climb your ass out of there, and start to painstakingly create a new life. Better than the last one. I want to point out the well worn hand-holds as you are climbing up the jagged rocks in the pitch black tunnel of hell you will need to get out of.
In the end, you may read these words and still decide to end it all. I will respect the choice you make. I will understand why and respect it. I will not stop you.
At the same time, I also know that there is something in you that wants to live, more deeply and more truly.
Lets begin with the world of hurt you have going on inside…
I see you.
I see you lying there in the ditch, your spirit forgotten or ignored by the busy passers by. You feel crushed by the weigh of your troubles. Your chest has collapsed and your solar plexus — where your will power resides— lays broken like an antique clock smashed into a thousand pieces on the sidewalk. When you have the presence of mind, you smell the disgusting nausea inducing stench of your own failure. You taste the acidic and acrid taste of self loathing burning your throat. Your insides are revolting, wanting to come out.
Loops of 3D video of the worst moments of your life keep replaying in your mind, out of your control, and it feels so real. Like the U2 song, you feel “Stuck in a moment you can’t get out of”.
The pain is so excruciating at times, that you wish your head would explode.
I see you. I am not going to tell you everything is going to work out or that reality is not as bad as it looks to you. I know that every moment is a struggle to escape sheer hell. And I get how ending your life seems like it might be able to help you with that.
You wish you were somewhere else, in a different skin…
I know you want a different life. I know how hard it is to admit you don’t want to be in your skin any more. I know how ashamed you are to speak of the fantasy of having what they have. How you long to be another man. A better man. A healthier, happier, wealthier man who is adored and loved by others.
That envy eats you up. It feels like an illness that is draining you of life. Unable to appreciate what you have, you know how vain it makes you look. But, then again, that is one of the viral emotions that have infected you.
This envy is also a sign of something else going on; something deeper calling from within you. You have a clear image of who you want to be, a sculpture of your ideal you. What’s been eating away at you is recognizing that right now you are miles away from ever becoming this better version of yourself.
Your worst judge and executioner is sitting on a throne inside your head…
I know what you’re thinking. That some people are judging you. Some people might be. Most of us are too wrapt in our own lives, busy worrying about what others think of us to be judging you. That or we’re likely just busy living our lives. Then again, there may be someone out there judging you. Frankly, I don’t care about them or the misery they must have in their hearts that makes them look down on you.
I care about you. It’s you who has this gnawing feeling of being behind the pack, having spoiled your hopes and dwindled your fortunes, having wasted your “potential” and disappointed the people you were supposed to make proud.
As your friend, I ask you this, “Isn’t it time to drop all that bullshit of trying to impress others and gain their approval?”
Somewhere in the recess of your brilliant mind, you know that The Game of Approval was always rigged, a set up to make every player a loser. Not sure about that? Think about it now. What happens when you do what others want to gain their approval? You lose, because you sold yourself out, whored your soul in exchange for a short term hit of approval. Now, if you defy their expectations, what happens? You incur their disapproval, which ain’t such a big deal unless you are hooked into the game, needing your next fix of approval like a drug. And so you feel bad when they scowl at you and shake their head. It’s always a lose-lose game, no matter how well or how badly you play it.
Who has the power to free you from the prison of judgement and rejection?
You are your own worst judge and your cruelest executioner. It bears to mention that you are also your own psychological torturer, methodically and diligently working to make you confess to crimes you didn’t even commit.
You feel like a fraud, because in some ways you have been…
I didn’t say I would lie to you or hold any pretences around you, did I?
No. I’m not here to help you to save face either.
Instead I want you to know why you feel like a fraud.
It’s not because the mask you have worn so well all your life has not served you. It precisely the opposite. You’ve become so convinced by it that you have forgotten who you really are. You feel like a fraud now because there is something in you, under the mask, that can’t be suppressed any longer. It’s a little boy with a bullshit detector, who wants desperately to come clean. He’s been locked away, but his hurt, his doubts and his fear are real and they hold power. Slowly, over the years, the pressure of trying to hide him has made your mask crack. Now it’s crumbling. And hardly anyone is fooled any more, especially you. And you have no energy or will to keep up appearances any longer. The facade keeps crumbling.
I’ve faced the same abyss…
I’ve been there. I know the darkness. 14 years ago, I stood on a rooftop and leaned forward, far enough to make it easy to slip and fall. High enough that my fall would be fatal. And I held myself over that edge long enough to really feel the longing to let myself drop and splat. It was overwhelming. The desire to end it all. Fortunately, there was something quiet and deep within me that pulled me by the scruff and rocked me back. It was my soul — which felt neither male nor female but a greater being. Not one to intervene or judge, but at that moment, my soul was pissed at me. “You don’t get to check out like this. So many people have invested and sacrificed so much for you to get this far. You have so many gifts to give. So many people who need you. So much to do still. This is not your time.”
These painful thoughts and emotions are neither your fault, nor your creation…
If you didn’t create the impossible to attain rules and toxic beliefs that you live your life by, who did?
Choose your source. There are many.
One is explained here by Tony Porter, who calls it the Man Box:
It has to do with all the limiting ways we are taught as boys to live and die. Others call it Toxic Masculinity or the Patriarchy, which hurts men differently but as profoundly as it does oppress women. I challenge you to watch this.
Another source of stories we tell ourselves is the fabric of our consumerist and narcissistic culture. Call it hyper capitalism, neo-liberalism, meritocracy… who cares what name we give it. We all know it’s constant hum: You are nothing without me. You are needy. You need to make money and buy something to fill the empty hole… keep hustling to cover that empty hole.
Say what you will about CK Louis — an obvious flawed man who seems to have seriously abused his power with women — yet here he is talking lucidly about the emptiness within us all:
Here’s an idea. How about you turn that probing analysis away from the constant navel gazing and the painful mental loops only leading you downwards — and instead — look at how messed up messages get passed down to all of us?
We have all been conditioned, marketed to, rewarded and punished for following or disobeying the messages that can make us all in more pliable, conforming consumers. We’re all under a spell, detached from reality, until we to learn to recognize this constant stream of conditioning and unplug from “the Matrix”.
NOTE: by that reference, I don’t mean going down the worm hole of conspiracy theories, joining the red pill movement or ending your life. I’m challenging you to question your own dark thoughts: where they come from and who they most serve. And to come back to your senses— literally to get more into your body (more on that near the end of this letter).
You try to push the pain away… But it’s not working any more!
This part is so stereotypical. I’m going to tell you about how you are repeating a pattern followed by men the world over for millennia. It is painful to watch history repeating itself and how robotic or zombie like we can all be as men when we suffer.
When the agony of living becomes too much — as it often does — you are coping by trying to numb the pain right?
You pick your poison. Calling it that adds an extra layer of self deprecation. You even feel a glint of being a devil, a rebel, a bay boy when you reach for it.
Whether it’s gambling, booze, sex, working, whatever… it seems in moments to obliterate your pain, making it easier to go on.
Yet, eventually, the poison stops working. It gives you less and less pleasure, leaving you with greater pain, and lower lows.
This is not your fault. Your beautiful escapes (a.k.a. addictions) have lied to you, as they were designed to do. You weren’t really foolish enough to believe them, where you? No, but you were desperate. And now what will you do…?
There is a Dragon you must slay within you that is eating your soul…
This part sounds so dramatic, so life and death…
The dragon within you is one that you know all too well. He has two heads. One is fierce and on fire with contempt and hatred, snorting and sneering, “You are worthless and never good enough.” The other looks sick. He is full of disgust, barely able to hold back from vomiting all over you. “I am worthless and never good enough.”
You’ve been riding high on the back of this dragon while on your addictive binges. One moment, thinking you are better than all the losers down there. The other moment, puking over the side trying to expel all of the self hatred you feel, hoping to fall off and pass out somewhere.
Now, as you ponder your right to live, I want you to see the beast you have let loose inside you. See how he has ruled your kingdom, how his head of pride and arrogance as well as the second head of self-loathing and shame both played a key part in ruining the best things in your life. You have fed him and let him grow wild and strong.
Isn’t it time you took your sword of truth and cut both heads off?This is not only a metaphor, but an emotional task. You will need to kill this dragon who has been eating your heart and poisoning your soul and it may look like nothing much to the world around you. It may look like you sucking in your pride as you stand in line at the food bank, ask for a loan from a family member, or check into rehab. One thing is certain, for you to live a clean and sober and meaningful life, at some point this dragon must die. Only once he is dead, can this force within you be re-born into a healthier and quieter type of pride, one that comes from you doing what is right (not what is easy), making sacrifices for the people you love and becoming a part of humanity — not above or below it.
You have deep regrets which actually makes sense…
You should. Damn. I shouldn’t should you. There I go again! It’s the last thing you need as you drown in an ocean of shoulds from everyone around and especially within your own skull. It’s just so easy and seductive to should on ourselves and each other. I’m sorry.
What I meant was, “Yes. It makes sense that you feel regret.” You have made some bad calls I imagine. Regret is a sign of a good conscience; the recognition that you have acted out of alignment with our sense of how we want to be in the world.
In the end, who am I to judge? I could write a book on all of my mistakes and the pain each caused the people I loved. I would expect that if you were human you would have screwed up monumentally at least a half a douzen times. If you were impulsive and daring, likely more. Such is the nature of living and learning. The second part is where you seem stuck, no? The learning. You feel especially ashamed and despondent because you have not managed to correct the wrongs or know how fix the pain you have caused. You’ve just been running, never turning back, until now.
Here’s the truth — there is always something you can do to make the world better. Think of the worst most evil thing someone could do. Lets say you murder someone… Then what? You off yourself? This ending only piles hurt upon hurt, pain upon pain.
No, we cannot take back most of terrible mistakes we make, but we can do two things to make this world a better place. One is to do our best to repair. To pick up the shattered pieces and to acknowledge the damage we caused. The other is to pay it forward; to help others and to do a little good, becoming a bit better as a person each and every day.
You are paralyzed to act because you’ve set yourself up to fail…
One way you respond to all this suffering which seems hopeful is by telling yourself you will do something bold and big and life changing… only to retreat in doubt and dread, kicking the tires and walking back some.
Your perception of reality right now is so skewed that you can’t accurately evaluate the difference between an inch and a mile. You seem to believe that only when you accomplish something monumentally great, will you be able to feel better and deserve to truly live.
I’m no doctor or the type of shrink who can nor wants to label you, but here is my take on the medical perspective, for the sliver of practical scientific help that it’s worth…
You snatch any healthy and happy guy walking down the street, lock him up in a similar environment as you’ve been in, get him to do what you have been doing feeding by himself a toxic diet of dark thoughts and drowning in negative emotions… et voila… within a very short time, you will have changed the chemical nature of his brain. He has now become his own worst enemy. Keep an average dude in this kind of experiment long enough and most of them will gladly pull the trigger if you left a loaded gun on the table one day.
“Inaction will cause a man to sink into the slough of despond and vanish without a trace.”
~ Farley Mowat
All that to say. You’re brain and body ain’t in the best of shape. You are in no condition to climb a mountain, today. Nor will getting back your ex, starting a tech empire, or inventing a solution to climate change be happening — overnight. If those dreams really do give you a reason to live, then give yourself a couple of years (at least) and make deliberate baby steps daily. Then, evaluate your progress and whether this was worth pursuing. Most of all, get some help to tackle those big dreams. No man has ever done anything great on his own and in a short time.
By simply making the goal too great, and pinning your happiness on the short term outcome — all the while you are at your weakest in strength and resources— you have set yourself up for failure. Resist this self-sabotage.
It does seem easier to end it, right?
Your pain is real and deep. But, it is also bearable.
You imagine continuing on like this how much you will keep causing pain to others.
Yes, that may be true. Unless you change the course you are on, you may cause a lot of pain to those who love you. That is a possibility.
But, know this for sure. Ending your life will hurt the ones you love in ways you can’t even imagine right now.
Here are some stats from Canada, one of the most safest and healthiest first world countries, where I happen to live.
For each death by suicide, between 7 and 10 survivors are profoundly affected. Today in Canada, suicide will leave up to 100 people in state of bereavement.
Your death will not be felt as the gentle passing of a long life lived well. It will instead blow a hole in their hearts. The lack of closure will only rip open and expand their deepest doubts and insecurities, wondering if they could have helped you, loved you more, done anything to make you want to stay, not leaving them to wonder if the love between you was even real. Consider the guilt that this knowledge evokes in you. Splash yourself in the face with this ice cold water. Wake up to the sobering reality that you do matter and no matter what you do, it will have a profound impact on people in your life.
If you ever come close to the edge of deciding whether to stay or go, let the reality of the agony you will cause others and the love you have for them be the brake that stops you from acting on your desire. I hate to sound judgy but I really believe this is self-evident, ending my life (a permanent solution) prematurely to avoid pain (which is ultimately impermanent) is really dumb — and short sighted. And because of the purely negative impact on others, it is selfish.
No matter how much you hate yourself right now, you don’t need to do anything dumb or selfish.
“If you are going through hell, keep going.”
— Winston Churchill
You are only half way through your story…
Don’t you want to know how it continues and how it ends? I sure do. There is so little within our control in the world around us. Climate. Six billion other people. Powers that be. All influencing the outcome. But, then each of us have a little lever and get to decide in each moment some modicum of choice in these three areas:
What I choose to focus on — the best or the worst in what is around me. What is beautiful and good or what is ugly and corrupt. Where I may have further influence or where the situation is out of my hands.
How I move my body — whether I punch through the wall or beat myself up. Whether I get up and move or collapse into a fetal position. And most subtle yet powerful, how I breath, deeply and fully or shallow weak breaths that make me tired, depriving my brain of life giving oxygen.
What story I tell myself — this is where all of my happiness or suffering is born. This is where I spin a story about the world and myself that either makes sense or leaves me floating in helpless terror. The stories we tell ourselves may ultimately not be true, but they have power nonetheless. The best stories are those which seem at literal level to be a lie but instead they reveal a greater truth (as Picasso would say about art). Hence the narratives religion spins. Jesus’s tale was one of martyrdom and sacrifice. Moses of courage and faith. Mohammad of surrendering one’s will. Personally, my favorite stories are redemption tales. More about that below…
If the you don’t see yet how the stories you have been spinning neither serve you nor give you reason to live, at least I wish you would question their value going forward.
Screw hope. There is a path. Millions of men and women have taken it.
Hope means waiting and wishing things will get better. If you do nothing new, they may or they may not. And even if they did. Lets say you won the lottery tomorrow or some good shit comes your way, you’d still feel like a sack of shit unworthy and unhappy with the way he sees himself. The money or luck would not be able to change that. Only you can change how you see yourself and whether you choose life or death.
The thing that is crazy to think about is how many people have been in your shoes — in deep pain, lost, depressed, and suicidal — and have not only not pulled the trigger or jumped off the bridge, but they decided to build a better life. Sure there are many who did kill themselves. And maybe there are many who maybe still suffer and loathe their lives, just holding themselves back from the quick exit option.
I personally know many people — including myself — who have faced the abyss, gone through it and step by step created meaningful, fulfilling, and generative lives. Going through this pain has made us more compassionate for others, aware of how vulnerable we can all be, given enough bad breaks and the growing momentum of a slippery slope of decline taking over. We are also stronger for it. More resilient from having stared down our own demons. More authentic, cause wearing masks and trying to play the game of approval is too damn exhausting. We have no time, patience or energy for either.
If you meet us in the world, we are not famous people talking about our recovery on talk shows or showing off the scars on our wrists to get attention. We are living quiet and rich lives, caring for our loved ones, taking out the garbage on cold dark mornings. We may seem to live simple lives, but if you were to dare to reveal a piece of yourself to us, as you go through this hell, we would surprise you. We would dare to meet your gaze, unafraid, holding the stillness together, not awkwardly looking away, like most “normal” people. We would see your pain and nod in recognition. For a moment at least, we would be there to fully meet you, while respecting your path. We would not trying to convince you of anything or to push you in any one direction. More likely we would stop what were doing and listen. And eventually, if you showed openness, we would unassumingly shed a bit of light on the path in the pitch black wilderness ahead of you.
And one day, if you choose to live and more so to keep walking forward so as to be creating the life you were meant to live, you would find yourself in our shoes, looking into the eyes of a man or woman or even a child who was as desperate and as in deep pain as you are now. And you would have the honour and privilege to see them and say something to help them bear it all on their way to a better place.
Looking back then, you would see something obvious and deeply true about your journey of recovery or whatever you called this next chapter of your life. You would see the law of navigational “trajectory” having worked in your favour. Thinking of all the micro choices you made since you had the desire to die, you would see how each choice made you alter your path by a fraction of a degree and over time (months and years), you found yourself living in a new hemisphere, psychologically.
There are many things you can do right now to start your long climb out of hell…
Here are 11 I just thought of on short notice. Pick one and don’t think about it or wait till you feel like doing it. You need to decide out of a sense of value. What kind of life do you want to create? Who do you want to become? What will serve the people you love? Lead with that and the good feelings will come later…
- Have a cold shower — your nervous system was become unhealthy out of habit. This is one reset button that is waiting for you nearby.
- Go for a walk in nature — there is beauty there, and fresh air and a world that does not believe nor obey any of the bullshit rules in your head.
- Exercise more — only to give yourself some more good chemicals to balance out the toxic ones that take time to leave your system. Running helped me step out of deep depression, if only for a few minutes before my mind grabbed hold to suck me back down. Any movement is a good start.
- Call me or a friend — especially when the spiral of darkness comes for you and you feel like reaching for an escape. When I pushed away all of my friends, I called helplines. They did work as advertised!
- Join an addiction anonymous group — yeah and remember use your sword of truth to cut down that dragon with his I am better than that or I got this under control bullshit.
- Join a men’s group — I don’t mean men’s rights groups (many seem to want to wallow in pain and reaction). I mean a men’s group that actually empowers you. I recommend The Mankind Project (MKP), which was part of the circle of care that saved my life years ago. Check out one of their open groups near you.
- Get a Life coach or therapist — this is their craft and what they can deliver on, if you dare to see what is possible and come willing to really look at yourself honestly.
- Start a new hobby — something you always wanted to do. Not to prove anything or become good at it. It will be humbling and awkward and you will suck at it at first. Perfect. That is where you need to be. Stick with it long enough to see progress. That is what the future holds for you, first struggle and embarrassment and then gradually more pride and success. There is no magic bullet. You know better than wishing for that still, right?
- Go on meds — I know. I declined doing so when I went through hell. It was no brave act. More pride on my part. Seeing what I have seen since, I know it would have helped me recover sooner. Our brains under prolonged depression stop working as they are meant to. They skew everything though a glass darkly. Meds — for a limited time — can rebalance your brain and nervous system so you can see more clearly and make more sober and balanced decisions.
- Learn to Self-Sooth — this little life skill will serve you as a life jacket and a super power. There are lots of ways to learn to do this. Some of them are just ways to escape your emotions (“spiritual bypassing”). But some work wonders, healing war vets of trauma in a short time, like EFT (Emotional Freedom techniques) a.k.a., Tapping which really helped me dissolve shame and panic when my nerves were frayed. Reach out to me if you are curious about more options to learn self-soothing and I will also post more resources here over time.
- Help someone else who is weaker and more vulnerable that you — there are millions of people (kids and seniors and homeless at least) who are in positions of need. Get off your high horse of snobbery or out of your hole of self-absorbtion for a few minutes and help them. It did me a world of good.
“How wonderful it is that nobody need wait a single moment before beginning to improve the world.”
~ Anne Frank
I love you. I respect your free will. And if you choose it, I will do my best to help you to create a life worth living.
What lights me up, making me jump out of bed before my alarm goes off is being there for people I care about. Some days I am brilliant at it. Other days I struggle and fail a bunch. People are complex and life is messy. But, even on my bad days, I have a sense of purpose and a deep fire of inspiration. In fact, the hardest times teach me the most and give me a worthy challenge to test all of my understanding capacity as a man.
Lets also be real. I won’t be perfect nor always there for you when you need me.
Your greatest job going forward will be two fold. One the one hand, finding more men and women like me who will share the joy and burden of having your back. Over time, you will assemble an army, a pack which you grow to love and appreciate for the many ways they see you and help you.
Below is a composite drawing of the many men I have come to know and feel close to by helping them come out of the darkness. I have lost a few to depression and suicide. This guy is one of the brave ones who chose to stay. This moment is one of him grieving all of his losses and regrets. He is able to feel fully and heal because he has an army of friends who will sit by him and listen, hands on his shoulder for support. See the clarity and soberness in his eyes.
There is another aspect to your job that will be yours to carry more fully. It will be about learning to gradually re-parent yourself.
Reading these words, proves to me how much you want to live. And so this job starts now with calling your own bullshit, doing a better job of reigning in your unhealthy habits and learning to nurture yourself better. You’ll mess up often. But, it’s the price of having a life worth living. Think of that as your new and most important job. It’s a 24/7 deal. The payment is a meaningful life. There is no way to get fired, though you may feel often like walking out or forgetting to show up for yourself. Some days it’ll feel humiliating and exhausting, kinda like taking care of a temperamental toddler, which you are emotionally, by the way. But, over time, you will grow to be better at this job and to love the many wild and emotional parts of yourself. Yes, there are many parts to you. You’ll see. And eventually, as you grow up and mature emotionally, the task of being there for yourself will become more natural and easier to maintain.
One day you will smile and feel deep gratitude to yourself and the army of people who care for you, finding yourself able to give back and mentor others. The world needs men like you who know the depth of suffering, as well as, the courage, compassion and love it takes to build a life worth living.