Ask Andrew W.K.: "I'm Contemplating Suicide"
Photo by Frank Longhitano
[Editor's note: Every Wednesday New York City's own Andrew W.K. takes your life questions, and sets you safely down the right path to a solution, a purpose or -- no surprise here -- a party. Need his help? Just ask: AskAWK@villagevoice.com
For the first time in my life, I've found myself contemplating suicide. I feel like I'm disappearing without hope or interest in living anymore. I've tried therapy, venting, medication, self-help, sleeping -- nothing has brought me relief. I don't know how to pull out of this depression. How can I stop this feeling? How can I find meaning in life?
-- Suicidal Tendencies
Dear Suicidal Tendencies,
I think every person, at one time or another, has found themselves imagining what it might be like to stop living. Sometimes this can be out of desperation, but other times it's just a way to get back in touch with not being dead. As the saying goes, "Being alive is alright, especially when we consider the alternative." It's healthy to think about life and death, even when we're feeling hopeless. Or perhaps especially then. We shouldn't be afraid to try and imagine what it would be like to kill ourselves. Often times, it can help us get a refreshed perspective and appreciation for the astounding adventure we're part of, and how truly frightening and challenging it would be to really end it all.
As far as we're aware, being dead is an impossibly unimaginable experience anyway. It might not even be an experience at all, but rather the total void of non-experience. When I've been in pain, sometimes non-experience sounded pretty good. Whatever it is to be dead, almost all of us have tried to fathom it, and in times of great anguish, we've probably wondered if it might be preferable to the discomfort of daily living. Only the most brazen of believers would unquestioningly assume that the afterlife -- if there is one -- is something we can comprehend and prepare for. And if there is an existence after this one, it would be pretty bold to think we could have the foggiest idea about what it consists of or feels like.
The mystery of the afterlife is part of the fun or terror of what lies beyond death. Death really is -- for better or worse -- the ultimate example of "who knows?" Someone who claims to know what happens after death is probably someone we should be suspicious of -- they might be a ghost. So I say, contemplate suicide all you want, but don't take those thoughts too seriously. Allow yourself to explore your inner thoughts and ideas without fear or commitment. You can think about things and not do them. You can always change your mind about anything you feel.
I don't think you should kill yourself, but it's not my decision to make. Being born wasn't really your choice either, and in most cases, when and how you die is often out of your control. But it seems that if someone wants to end their life, they should absolutely be allowed to do it on their terms. After all, the only thing that each of us truly has ownership of is our body, and if we want to eradicate it, we can -- even if it's against other people's beliefs.
As far as dealing with depression, I have a simple suggestion that I think could work like magic to heal your soul and lift your spirits. It's a very simple thing called... Helping other people. Sometimes setting aside your own troubles and focusing on someone else's in their time of need can have an incredibly powerful effect on relieving you of your own despair. This is especially true when you help someone you don't know. Of course it's good to help family and friends, but connecting with someone unknown to you, and being able to simply exercise your good will, can provide a unique and uplifting energy that almost nothing else compares to.
Andrew's answer continues on the next page.
[Ed. note: With the goal of helping people in distress and preventing suicide, Samaritans free, confidential, 24-hour emotional support and crisis response hotline service is available on an immediate and ongoing basis to help people who are dealing with every kind of problem, illness, trauma or loss as they try to cope with their difficulties. More info here. They can be reached at 212.673.3000.]
Photo by Man Sumami
Some might say that helping other people just to make yourself feel good is selfish and not true generosity. But I think the fact that it benefits you is exactly the point. We are all bound together. No matter how much we like to think of ourselves as unrelated and apart from others and their plight, we are, in fact, all in the same boat. God or evolution or both have specifically wired our brains to feel pleasure when we help other people. Our health responds positively to acts of human kindness, whether we perform them or receive them. This reward is meant to be tangible. It's supposed to feel good to do good for others -- we're then motivated to do even more good. To be able to relate to someone else whom you never met before is to be able to relate more deeply to yourself. We're meant to see ourselves reflected in other people -- people we would never imagine we'd have anything in common with. But we all share one thing in common: we're human beings, trying to make the best of this intense thing called life.
So maybe it's time to turn away from yourself and towards your neighbor. Help people in need. It doesn't have to be traditional charity -- it can be anything that shows your fellow man that someone's there and someone cares. Participate in society to make it a more humane and compassionate place for everyone, including you. You'll be astounded at how powerful it feels to engage in "others-help" instead of just "self-help."
The experience of connecting with someone through shared understanding can put you in direct contact with the miracle of life. It's truly the sensation of love -- not just an idea or an emotion -- but the very feeling and expression of what it is to be a person alongside another person. It is the feeling of God. And if you're someone who doesn't believe in God as an entity, you can experience God as this unbelievably simple yet infinite thing called "love." God is love. And you don't have to be religious to still think of God as just the word that best describes that indescribable and infinite feeling of total love. Love is the most fundamental part of being a living, breathing, and caring person. Give your love to the world and you'll get more purpose and meaning back in your life than you ever imagined possible.
Love, Andrew W.K.
[Ed. note: With the goal of helping people in distress and preventing suicide, Samaritans free, confidential, 24-hour emotional support and crisis response hotline service is available on an immediate and ongoing basis to help people who are dealing with every kind of problem, illness, trauma or loss as they try to cope with their difficulties. More info here. They can be reached at 212.673.3000
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