Did you ever try to end your life?

Do you know someone who tried to commit suicide?

What stopped you from finding death?

What saved your friend from meeting success?

I’ll go first… Several years ago after purchasing a handgun I was overwhelmed with melancholia.

As I look back now from the future I can’t see any reason for feeling so down back then but being in a dark moment can have unplanned consequences and close proximity to an instrument of killing is the primary key to unlocking success.

A gun is a cleaner kill for the dying than a knife or a noose. As if in a trance, I pulled the Smith & Wesson .357 Magnum from its locked box, jammed in some hollow-point ammo and aimed the barrel into my mouth.

Teeth slid on oily metal.

Lips pursed around the front sight. Tongue poked in the barrel as a final, cowardly, attempt to prevent science and nature from persevering through the back of my head. Thumb twitched as the trigger was tensed. Eyelids fell like curtains. Then. The phone rang.

I was sounded out of my trance. I removed the gun from my mouth and answered the phone to stop its ringing. My friend and mentor, Marshall Jamison, was on the other end calling from Fort Myers, Florida.

We spoke every week or so but I was surprised to hear from Marshall because he was in the bloom of retirement and money was tight for him and I was in the blossom of my writing career and I didn’t mind paying for our long-distance bull sessions.

I answered the phone in a voice that was not my own and Marshall asked if it was me. With the back of my hand I wiped the gun oil off my lips and coldly confirmed it was me. He asked if I was okay.

I ran my tongue along my sleeve to get the taste of metal out of my mouth.

“Are you there?” He asked.

“I’m here.” I said with a dry tongue.

Marshall sensed the darkness in my pause and said, “Are you thinking about hurting yourself?”

I hesitated. How did he know? Caught, I didn’t know what to say. I looked over my shoulder to see if he was standing behind me. I only saw the .357 Magnum waiting for me on the bed.

Marshall asked me again, in a louder, commanding voice that shook the phone receiver against my ear, “David, are you thinking about hurting yourself?”

I answered him in a voice that was already dead, “I.. think I am.” “Don’t you do it, David, don’t you do it!” I was struck by his urgency and his anger and I was overwhelmed with guilt and sorrow as I remembered Marshall’s firstborn son and namesake
— Marshall Jamison, Jr. — killed himself several years earlier.

Marshall, Jr. connected a hose to a car tailpipe with duct tape and taped the other end over an open car window. He died of carbon monoxide poisoning sitting in the driver’s seat. His parents found him dead in their garage after returning from the grocery store.

“Don’t you do it!” Marshall yelled and pushed me from his past back into our moment.

“I… I won’t…” I stammered into the phone. “Promise me you won’t do it! C’mon, now. Promise me! Say it!”

“I promise, Marshall. I promise you.” My hand was shaking.

The rest of the conversation blended into a kind of white noise but I remember Marshall kept me on the phone for two hours and we talked about all kinds of things but not his son Marshall, Jr. — that wasn’t his style — and not the details of what led me to what I was planning to commit.

For the next two days Marshall called me every hour to see how I was feeling. We didn’t talk about why he was calling — that wasn’t his style, either — but we both knew the unspoken reason and my dark trance eventually lifted. I have been lucky to have never had thoughts of a final commission cross my mind again.

I was grateful something inside Marshall pushed him to pick up the phone that day and call me. He saved me in a way I know he wished he’d been able to save his son.

There isn’t one reason for the kind of decision that leads one to put a gun in a mouth — there are a thousand reasons and when all those reasons pile up and align just right and the guns and the ammo are right there — convenience and bad thoughts too easily converge with deadly consequence.

The next day we handed over our handguns to the NYPD. Having handguns in the house only confirmed our terror in the opportunity to tempt living. There is no human shame in sharing a failed suicide story because we all need reminders how tenuous and precious life is and the only cowardice isn’t in the attempt but in the success.

I wager it is only the wholly healthy mind that contemplates the means of attempting the end while the incomplete and broken mind never wanders beyond the solitary living self. Here are some hard facts to help give voice to the unspoken suicide problem in America.

The CDC Reports:

  • Suicide is the eighth leading cause of death for all U.S. men (Anderson and Smith 2003).
  • Males are four times more likely to die from suicide than females (CDC 2004).
  • Suicide rates are highest among Whites and second highest among American Indian and Native Alaskan men (CDC).
  • Of the 24,672 suicide deaths reported among men in 2001, 60% involved the use of a firearm (Anderson and Smith 2003).
  • Women report attempting suicide during their lifetime about three times as often as men (Krug et al. 2002)
  • The National Institute of Mental Health Reports:
  •  In 2000, suicide was the third leading cause of death among 15- to 24-year-olds — 10.4 of every 100,000 persons in this age group — following unintentional injuries and homicide.
  • Suicide was also the 3rd leading cause of death among children ages 10 to 14, with a rate of 1.5 per 100,000 children in this age group.
  • The suicide rate for adolescents ages 15 to 19 was 8.2 deaths per 100,000 teenagers, including five times as many males as females.
  • Among people 20 to 24 years of age, the suicide rate was 12.8 per 100,000 young adults, with seven times as many deaths among men as among women.Contemplating suicide is a natural human wonder of an intelligent mind. To find curiosity in living demands the same introspection into dying just as the meaning of goodness has no context without the framing presence of evil.The difference between thinking about suicide and actually carrying it out rides on the thin impulse of the moment and on the thick irrevocable decision you have lived enough.The problem with carrying out that decision is the logic of a melancholic mind cannot always clearly see a way out of the fog except by choosing to fall down forever into darkness and that is where the light of dialogue and the force of intervention can salvage the wages of wondering from death.

28 Comments

  1. I hope everything is going fine for you now, David.
    I have never done anything like that before.
    But, I must admit that I am afraid of heights, not because I might fall, but because I have imagined stepping off of the roof of a tall building. If I am in an enclosed building or airplane, I don’t have those thoughts. I’ve been on my own house’s roof and haven’t had those thoughts. It’s only if I am on a roof of a very tall building. I’d never do it, so I wonder if it’s my mind’s way of warning me to be careful in those situations.
    I think we all have death-tempting behaviors that we engage in at various times in our lives. Smoking, drinking, over eating, etc. are slower forms of self-destruction.
    A couple of times, when I was younger, I was a passenger in cars being driven on country roads at speeds nearing 100MPH where any driver error would have meant death or disability.

  2. David,
    I don’t know what to say.
    I saved one of my friends when I was in college back home. She drank 1/2 gallon insecticide and it was just sheer coincidence that I went to see her in her room at that point of time. As I called an ambulance immediately and ran to the hospital along with her – the only question came to my mind was – ”why escape?” I didn’t know what was the reason behind her attempt to commit suicide but whatever that might be – escapism is cowardice – irrespective of the cause. Her parents used to live in a different town and I still remember how hard it was for me to break the news to them that night.
    I know escapism is tempting but I feel it is irresponsible too.

  3. In July in 2004, I was in a state of terrible depression and was contemplating suicide. But, I did not let anyone know about my melancholia. But one of my younger friends who was only 18 sensed it and kept her eyes on me. She was the only one who seemed to have read my mind. But, the only reason I did not do it was for the fear of God. That hell is waiting for anyone who committed suicide. I called my pastor that I was leaving town and asked him to pray for me. So, I left town and went to an Island to meditate and find answers to my problems. I discovered Blogging and the rest is history.
    Till date I am still depressed over the hopelessness of human existence in the state of chaos and wondering if God really cares about the catastrophic tragedies on earth.
    Because, for me to believe in God is my greatest will power. If there is no future in God, then the history of humanity will end in futility.
    I am still asking God questions.
    Personally I am from a very comfortable family with landed properties and I am well loved by my family and others. But, the miserable lives of others break my heart.
    Last Christmas, we received so many hampers of goods from our well wishers. But I have been among the poor years ago and saw many of the paupers begging for food during Christmas and nobody gave them expensive Christmas hampers.
    I have seen a patient die, because of lack of money for an emergency surgery and nobody came to her aid. But her relations later came to spend some fortune for her funeral in shameless hypocrisy. The money spent on her coffin would have paid for that surgery that would have saved her life.
    Life is full of the agonies of existential ironies.
    Is it fair?
    Does God care?
    Two weeks ago, a hard working young man on his way from Church was killed by a hit and run driver right infront of where he was staying and he only got married months ago and the widow is pregnant. He was the only bread winner of his poor family.
    Poverty or Manic-Depressive Insanity is the primary reason why people would dare to commit suicide in Nigeria.
    The availability of guns and dangerous pills make suicide very easy in America and other developed countries. But in my country Nigeria, guns are not available to us, except among the ruling class who need the guns to protect themselves from the criminal armed robbers.
    America must stop the public sale of firearms.

  4. David-
    Thank you for sharing this, Im sure many of us can relate. You are fortunate to have had a mentor to guide you through a difficult time. I have never attempted suicide, though contemplating death/suicide frequently comes up during my melacholic episodies . I think if I had a gun available things might take a bad turn during one of these moments. I have held handguns in my hand, its chilling to feel that cold piece of metal in your hand and realize that in that instrument you have the power to take a life. When I feel particularly depressed I usually think about running away, abandoning my life rather than ending it. When I am depressed I feel trapped and helpless but I fear death and relish thinking far too much to end my life. The need to escape can be overwhelming at times, it invades all other thoughts and becomes seemingly detached from rational control. As you experienced contact with a trusted friend can divert attention and allow the ‘spell’ to pass.

  5. OSINACHI —
    You ask the great questions of living and you address them with insight and tenderness and I thank you for being so precise in your history and experience of loving. I feel for you. The wounds of the world hit home inside you and you feel the suffering. I admire that in a person. You are not one in the world you are one of the world.
    I also admire your dedication to helping the needy and the less fortunate. There was a time in America when old money knew they owed their wealth and status to those who were not yet fully vested in America and the idea of service to the community and charity in the ghettos and gratitude in the streets had great meaning for them. Now, with instant millionaires, the need to perform duty and service and to donate and to volunteer is lost on the new wealthy and America is cheapened because of it.
    The secret to preventing suicide is expression of the inner self. Tell people how you feel before they ask. BLOG — as you have done — to express the hard feelings that cannot be defined through the everyday life. There are smart, intuitive people around who are not of this earth who can foresee into you but we must not rely on them to save us every time. We can be lucky when our despair is noticed but we need self-expression to ward off the terms of evil darkness that lurk in every conscience.

  6. Dave —
    I understand what you are saying I just respectfully find your logic somewhat disingenuous and slightly self-righteous.
    You were born not smoking and somewhere sometime you decided, willfully, to pollute your body and taint your future, and those around you, with smoke. The addiction belongs to you the same way the gun belongs in the hand of the successful suicide.
    While it may take you longer to find the death bullet, smoking has the same ultimate behavioral consequence as the noose on the neck or the knife cutting parallel into the wrists: They’re all interactive self-willed death warrants with different ETAs for demise.
    Everyone can smile on their way to the penultimate self-induced end and be happy in the meantime, but unless there is some kind of outside or inside intervention against the destructive behavior, an unfortunate end is clearly in sight.
    The day you announce on your blog you quit smoking is the day I comment there how happy I am you were saved from the suicide of smoking.

  7. Hey David,
    Probably I couldn’t explain it the way it was supposed to be.
    Indian culture does believe in predetermined and predestined life but doesn’t encourage succumbing to it or get overwhelmed by it. On the contrary, it teaches how to be more tolerant and patient and fight for change. To be brutally honest, if I could chose my timing of birth or death I would have chosen a different one. As I won’t be able to do it – why taking charge of leaving the world as per my choice when I know that I might not be successful? There are so many things in life to put into your effort, why wasting it to finish the race before time when you don’t know if you are going to be successful?
    My friend wanted to finish the race before her time – couldn’t do it – just because I was there – I still remember I had to force her to come out of the room to get into the ambulance – she didn’t want to survive – but finally lost her sense on the way. Why waste so much energy on something that you are not sure of? I do accept myself as a ‘’pawn’’ in this world because ‘’every pawn is a potential queen!’’
    And, finally – I don’t see myself as a part of my friend’s success – I just happened to be there – it could be someone else. Moreover, when the game is over – the pawn and the king go back to the same box!

  8. David,
    I do play chess too – and I enjoy playing it. I do agree it rarely happens……but that hope of making it happen works as a life saver for some people.
    I respect your empathy but that is what enraged me – my friend’s parent were not supposed to bear this loss and she didn’t seek help and same goes for your wife’s client – her children were not made in tree…..abandoning them and succumbing to life’s pain was simply selfishness. Everybody should be accountable for his/ her surroundings. I understand ‘’should be’’ doesn’t always work……..

  9. Katha —
    My advice is to not waste your time asking why of the incomprehensible — because by the very definition of the word you are never meant to understand.
    Your time and energy are smarter spent on new ideas searching for comprehension and shape that your mind can then define and expand and make even better.

  10. Hi Dawn!
    It’s great to hear from you on this subject. I know you have a lot of wisdom to share with us and your story is great evidence of that in the form of Angel.
    It is good to know you have been a strong force in Angel’s life and recovery and I admire her grit and determination on both sides of the realm.
    I’ve always been fond of saying in other discussions on topics other than this one that the criminal mind is a certain form of genius that, if turned around into goodness, would solve great mysteries of science and history that have stumped the world because of its immediate cunning and problem-solving skills.
    I think Angel’s mind has a similar promise where its dedication was once narrow and selfish but incredibly powerful and now it has now been tuned outward to receive the gifts of living that friends like you are willing to share with her. That kind of turnaround is rare — usually that sort of mindset, no matter the age — is programmed to hurtle one way and one way only.
    You are absolutely right that suicide is rarely a snap decision. It may end in a snap decision but its beginnings are faraway and deep. Suicide is a slow, dripping, creeping process that takes you over like a monster. Some fight it off. Others succumb. You probably never really entirely fight it off but you become better able to say every day, “Not today” and soon enough you’re silently answering that question and later that answer becomes a part of you and a protector and you’re shielded from the dark night by the affirmation of the answer that allows you to live a little more in the light.

  11. Thanks for your reply David. I just want to point out that there is a classic case of Suicidal thoughts where it ISN’T something that builds up over time.
    Depression sufferers. I myself suffer from Clinical depression which gets pretty bad at times, but fortunately I’ve never had suicidal thoughts. However I have another friend in the UK, a depression sufferer that HAS suffered suicidal thoughts, and I still remember the phone call I had from him.
    This guy is a big guy, beefy, and a “tough guy”. He called me up in tears, scared out of his mind because he was having suicidal thoughts. My heart went out to him then, and to this day I’m thankful he called me. I told him that Suicidal thoughts DO come with depression, it’s not something he can control, and it doesn’t mean he’s losing his mind. He was scared he was going mad, and he told me that he knew he shouldn’t be having these thoughts but he couldn’t help it. I was on the phone to him for over an hour, trying to calm him down and making him promise that if he felt like he was going to try and end his life to please call me first.
    He’s called me a few times since then, and each time he sounds better and better. The difference between myself and him is the treatment. He takes Anti Deppressants, which I might add, can even CAUSE suicidal thoughts in some cases, whereas I opted for the natual route. I use aromatherapy and meditation. It’s what works for me. Rather than pump my body full of chemicals and chemically alter my state of mind, I’d rather use aromatherapy oils and meditation to try and work through my depression. This may not work for everyone, but it works for me personally. Always go with what you’re comfortable with. If you trust in yourself and yoyr choice of treatment, you can overcome ANYHTING.

  12. Hello David,
    I hesitate to write this comment; my writing abilities (very academically challenged) don’t match most bloggers especially the bloggers that frequent Urban Semiotic. However, I feel strongly compelled to share with you my side of the suicide discussion.
    Thus said, I believe that there are exceptions to every deed and I also believe that stating that suicide is a cowardly act doesn’t always fit. People can spend a great amount of time analyzing and pondering the meaning of life and their day to day living but each human being has their own story. Each person has lived their life and even though we have many common experiences it still boils down to the fact that you can’t walk in the other persons shoes.
    This leads me to speak of my personal experience. In a nutshell, I have serious mental issues and I have been diagnosed with chronic depression. Whether it was the sexual molestation when I was very young, my upbringing, the constant verbal abuse from my father, or chemical imbalances/genetics, I just don’t fit comfortably in the world. Furthermore, I’ve never felt comfortable in my own skin and since my beginning stages of awareness I’ve longed to be somewhere else, specifically heaven. I’ve had my moments of pleasure and pain but underneath even my sweetest, joyous and most fulfilling life events I would trade it all to be with God. I don’t deserve this life that I was gifted nor did I ask for it or want it.
    But, I stay for love. I stay for my husband and friends. While I spend every waking moment wishing I was dead I stay in hopes that I will find the reason God gave me this gift of life and what purpose or calling I am to fulfill.
    Also, I am a very loving person and my intentions are for good, so I hope with what I’ve written here, I’ve not offended you or your readers.
    Thanks for listening.

  13. maryrose —
    I am so happy you felt comfortable to post a comment. There’s no reason to feel uncomfortable here — everyone has lots of talents to offer and the quality of the writing is only a small part of the gifts we share. Sometimes the truth and experience cannot be expressed in perfect sentences or with pretty grammar. Just getting it out in whatever form it takes is enough.
    I understand the complexity of your situation and I appreciate knowing your insight into how your depression controls you. I do hope you will one day be able to find more happiness in living than in the idea of death as a path to Heaven because the life you have is the gift you hold in your hands and risking death for a perceived nirvana or a hoped for higher calling leaves behind those grasping to need you and love you the most.

  14. Hi Saffire Tigress!
    Thank you for sharing your feelings about this issue. I appreciate your take on the perspective of “selfishness” and I respect why you need to make that argument.
    I am glad you are still here to remind us of the hurt you still so strongly feel and perhaps that’s why you are still with us — to remind us all how life can be pleasureful and painful in the same instant and those intense feelings may not feel the same to every person or be interpreted in the same logical manner.

  15. It’s is very good to have you with us, Angel, because I know you are helping a lot of young people come to terms with not giving in to their dark feelings. They can look to you as an example of making the right choice to live.

  16. sten i neva said u thought i was dumb…jes a few ppl ive talkd ta don get the way i type…n ya i do kno how ta spell n talk rite…but the way i type has changed alot n the past yr plus time…but those i talk ta most online at least understand wat im sayin n if not they ask lol…n if i up n typed n proper english so ta speak it jes wouldnt b me…*shrugs*
    as ta the whole paris hilton fing…all i can say is eww!!! sure shes rich n skinny [too skinny if u ask me *gags*] n blonde…but ugh!!! id take bein me ova bein r looxin like her anyday…n dats sayin alot cuz i don like maself too well lol….anywhos…tc all =)