Friday, February 12, 2010

Five Practical Reasons Not to Kill Yourself

The fashion designer Alexander McQueen was found dead in his London home yesterday, an apparent suicide. He was 40 years old.

The world of high fashion plays little role in my own life, but I pay more attention to it than you might expect, and I've been a fan of Alexander McQueen's designs for most of his career. The fact that I'd never wear most of it didn't reduce my admiration for his creativity and for his tailoring genius.

If indeed McQueen turns out to be a victim of suicide, he's destroyed his career in more ways than one, and my overriding emotion isn't sorrow but anger. Suicide pisses me off. It's the most hostile action imaginable, not only to oneself but to one's friends, family, and the world at large.

It's also rude and impractical. If you've ever thought of killing yourself — and I admit it's crossed my mind once or twice — here are five practical considerations that have always stopped me, and should stop you, too.

1. Someone has to find you. Suicide ends your world. It doesn't end the world. Someone, at some point, is going to find your body, and that's a terrible thing to do to anyone. If the person who finds you is someone who loves you, you've done the worst possible thing to them; if the person who finds you is someone who doesn't know you, you've inconvenienced them and traumatized them in a way they'll never get over.

1a. Someone has to clean it up. Particularly relevant if you're thinking about using a firearm. Postmortem cleaners have become the stuff of movies and fiction, but they're a luxury most people and organizations can't afford. And most bloodstains are permanent, so if you commit suicide at home, you're leaving that legacy for whomever you live with.

2. Death is undignified, and not picturesque. Adolescents, in particular, fantasize about their perfect dead bodies being found in repose, and their loved ones weeping in remorse over their lifeless corpses. It doesn't happen that way. Death is almost always messy, and most methods of suicide make it messier. Body fluids are released; overdoses cause vomiting; decay sets in and smells very bad, especially if no one finds the body right away. Consider the sad case of Lupe Velez, a 1940s Hollywood starlet who, according to vicious rumor, took an overdose, tried to vomit, and was found dead with her head in a toilet. True? Maybe not. But it's what we remember about Lupe Velez. Which brings us to #3.

3. If you kill yourself, that's what people remember. Do teenagers still listen to Nirvana? Not really, but they all know that Kurt Cobain killed himself at 27. Sylvia Plath is remembered more for her suicide than for her poetry or her life. Even Virginia Woolf's work is overshadowed by the sordid details of her self-drowning. If you're an artist, suicide doesn't prove the seriousness or value of your work; instead, it tells the world you preferred death over creation, and your death becomes more important than anything you wrote or sang or made.

4. The bastards won't be sorry. This is the worst, most brutal truth of suicide: people who didn't like you before you died won't like you any better after. In fact, suicide will only confirm their worst ideas about you, and will make them feel better, not worse, for having judged you. I've experienced this myself, after the suicide of a colleague many years ago. Everyone who worked with him knew he was a troubled, unhappy man, and he seemed unable to help himself. When he died, I wanted to feel guilty; I thought I ought to feel worse about not having liked him, or made more of an effort to like him, while he was alive. I didn't. I'm not proud of that, but I think it's human nature. Yes, it's self-justifying rationalization, but the horrifying case of Phoebe Prince shows how extreme this self-justifying rationalization can get.

5. Suicide is contagious. It's not a coincidence that Lee McQueen's close friend Isabella Blow killed herself three years ago. Suicide runs in families, and suicide clusters turn up regularly within communities. The movie Heathers made mean, hilarious fun of this, but it's true. Heathers implied this was a combination of peer pressure and attention-seeking, but I don't think so. I think it's just that once the suicide taboo is broken, suicide becomes an item on the menu of life's possibilities. Too many of my friends have parents or other close relatives who killed themselves, and I see how it happens: once someone close to you kills himself, it becomes a thing that "normal" people do. Don't fool yourself. It is not a thing that normal people do. Don't make the people who love you believe that lie.


Tom Ehrenfeld said...

Wow, quite an intense and mysterious and affecting post. Many points and details I never thought about (how long do bloodstains remain? That would be a neat detail for a story or movie if it hasn't already been done before....). Thanks for the wonderful read.

Anonymous said...

Rule 6: Refer to Rules 1 and 1a.

-- Ed

Sue Lin said...

Great post and good rules. New York magazine's long feature on the life and death of Isabella Blow was really fascinating. The photos accompanying article were wonderful - she was fan of outrageous hats, truly cutting edge fashion.

AnswerGirl said...

Bob, it's harder to go permanently missing than you might think. People keep looking. The kid I went to college with who disappeared? If he wasn't found, I'll bet his parents are still looking - still paying some amount of money to a search service or a private detective, hoping against hope that he'll turn up one of these days. That false hope is more cruel than almost anything I can imagine.

Things get better. People love you more than you know. You may not even know who loves you, but somebody does and somebody will. Hang in there, please.

Kayla said...

thank you very much for this its helped me think this through better and not want to traumatize anyone

AnswerGirl said...

I'm sorry you find these reasons cold and callous. They've worked for me more than once over the past 45 years.

It comes down to this: no one has the right to inflict this kind of trauma on the people who love them. And anyone who chooses to leave a conversation early loses the right to be listened to.

Anonymous said...

It is hard to completely disappear and stay gone to avoid rule 1.

Try googling hunters or fishermen find remains. That fact seems to used in about every cold open of "Bones" or any forensics procedural show too.

I don't think the list is cold and callous, it is just direct and to the point.

- Joe

AnswerGirl said...

I have just deleted three anonymous comments on this post, although I did not delete my responses to them. I don't allow anonymous comments on this blog. Sorry.

I'm sorry that this post gets so much traffic. If you've come here through Google, I ask you to consider this: the fact that you're Googling "reasons not to kill yourself" means that you don't really want to. You want someone to talk you out of it.

For more discussion of this subject, see this post --

AnswerGirl said...

If you have read this far and are still not persuaded, please read this interview with David Foster Wallace's widow:

Please pick up the phone and ask for help. Go to a hospital emergency room. Go to a convenience store and ask them to call you an ambulance. Do whatever you need to do, to make it through tonight. Please.

Jesse said...

lol I did find it on google, but like your article is so quick to point out the world doesnt care. I was look for 5 reasons not to kill everybody :)

Nice article though. especially number 4, your beautifully honest.

David Carter said...

An interesting post, however, I can't help but notice that this is all about the people surrounding the suicide victim, rather than the most important person in the situation - the victim themselves. Enough about other people, how other people feel and how it affects other people's lives. Why should that person not commit suicide for their own sake? That's what they'll want to know.

AnswerGirl said...

Well, Google just ate my response.

But you're right, I start from the assumption that we are all part of a larger body, and I don't question our obligation to treat each other as we'd like to be treated.

The fundamental human fear, and the most basic human grief, is abandonment. Suicide is the ultimate abandonment of one's self, an acquiescence with the world's judgment that you're just not worth it.

That's not true. That's a lie. You are worth it.

Yesterday a good man, a man loved by many and admired by more, died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound. My son, who worked with him, called me last night with tears still in his voice, still reeling from that new and incomprehensible hole in his life.

None of us can know what made this man take that final step. The Virginia papers will spend considerable time and ink on the question over the next few weeks, but whatever they come up with will be only a fraction of the story. Still, this is what people will remember, after this man's lifetime of public service -- not those decades of honor, but the ignominy of his death.

He deserves better. We all do.

Andrew Thompson said...

Hmmm. I recommend listening to Bobby McFarren's 'Don't Worry Be Happy'. It won't make you want to kill yourself any less than this post does, but it will be nice to hear before you blow your brains on a wall.

As for Reason 1a: Very true. Also not noted there is that the bullet leaving your head can go into a bordering room and kill someone that DIDN'T want to die. so be sure to save up and buy some ballistic gel and a hell of a lot of large plastic sheet to cover the walls so you don't leave a mess for some unfortunate bastard to clean up. In other words, WIPE YOUR OWN ASS!

Also, make sure that the person who finds you is used to finding dead or nearly deceased persons. Call the ambulance and only pull the trigger once you hear sirens.

Oh, almost forgot the most important part. Don't kill yourself UNTIL YOUR JOB IS FINISHED!!! People didn't spend all that time and resources on your ass to just for you to quit when you're grown. Find some way to repay your species, THEN you can stick that shiny revolver in your mouth.

Hope to meet you in hell one day, so long as it exists. We can play chess and see who screams the loudest in sheer agony.

Sincerely yours.
- This Asshole

Sweepy said...

in regards to the above post, do not assume that i (said author) am one of the strong and persistent, and that I am spouting some social-neo-darwinist crap, for I surly am neither strong nor persistent. I am merely a like-minded fellow who stands up for any individual right that goes unsupported and one who possesses a certain fondness for ending my own life as well. Merry Summer Solstice and a happy Arbor Day to one and to all.
-Your friendly neighborhood janitor, Sweepy

AnswerGirl said...

Sweepy, the only reason I didn't delete your anonymous comment was because you gave yourself a name in the second one.

I do not allow anonymous comments on this blog, and particularly not on this post.

Bimon-the-unlikely said...

[I found this post via:]

Hi there.

I just came across your post and although I'm late to the party, I wanted to share my thoughts.

After years of struggling against my brain I can safely say that reasons #2,3 and 4 are totally irrelevant for me. They are all about posthumous external perception and why would I care about that if I was dead?

I also reject reason #5 because I think that everyone is responsible for their own actions.

#1 and 1a however are also part of my personal thought process, that's why I think that the best possible suicide would be at night in front of an ER with my organ donor card and my ID card around my neck. I think a gun would be the best tool because that way you could avoid any damage to the organs.

Anyway, what's really keeping me right now is the fact that my parents are still alive and I want to spare them the emotional pain that my death might cause.


AnswerGirl said...

After more than a year, I have decided to disable comments on this post. It's the single most-visited page on this blog, and shows up at the top of a Google search for reasons not to kill yourself. I don't know how I feel about that, but I wish you all one more morning after this dark night. I think you're coming here in hopes that someone will talk you out of it. Only you can save yourself — but please, take a minute to consider that the fact that you're searching for reasons not to kill yourself means that you don't really want to.

Please stay with us.