[CW: suicide, depression, anxiety, capitalism]
Awhile ago, I had been at a party. I’d listened to someone talk about Kate Moss for ten minutes straight. I left the room, found my flatmate and asked why anyone was interested in anything at all. We’d come up with no answers.
All this started a month ago, and all that started long before. I will not bore you with trite aphorisms about how I survived, or how wondrous life has become since. At some point my mind broke. This is a collection of memories about my attempted suicide and the absurdity of the entire experience.
Wednesday, 26th of April, 2017, midnight.
Couldn’t sleep. Surfed the internet. Fell into ASMR sub-culture.1 Meta-satire, transitioning to post-irony, before pseudo-spiritual out-of-body transcendence. I thought, this is the most erotic experience I’ve had in half a decade, while a woman spun spheres of blobby jelly around my head and whispered elephant mourning rituals into my ears.
Tuesday, 27th of April, 2017, afternoon.
Woke up mid-day. Looked at all the objects in my room, unable to understand why any of them mattered. Milled around the flat. Went online to order helium so I could make an exit bag.2 Cheapest source was The Warehouse, though the helium came with thirty bright multi-coloured party balloons. I kept imagining one of my flatmates walking in later that day, seeing my crumpled body surrounded by these floppy bits of rubber and a note saying this life is absurd and I want out of it. There was no online purchasing option, however, and I couldn’t be bothered walking into town. I began reading suicide notes. One was from a kid who’d slowly taken pills as he watched TV, culminating in a coma. That sounds pleasant, I thought, whilst at the same time knowing that it takes up to three days to die from painkillers and that the process is anything but painless or final. I opened my drawer, found a bunch of paracetamol and began washing them down with water, whilst listening to the soundtrack of End of Evangelion.3
I’m not sure why, but I began crying violently. I knew I’d have to leave the flat before my flatmates came home. I hastily scrawled a note that said, donate my body, give my money to senpai, give my possessions to someone I don’t know, it smells like burning, it was good knowing you all, before walking out the door with Komm Süsser Tod playing in the background.4, 5 I’d already written my personal and political reasons for suicide in the pieces méconnaissance and Kill Yourself, so felt there was no reason for anything more substantial.
I wandered the back roads of my neighbourhood. My body shook. I felt somnolent, half-dazed. I wanted a quiet place to sit, sleep and writhe in agony while my organs slowly failed. My legs kept stumbling, however, and my head was beginning to feel funny. I found a dead-end street and sat on one of those artificially maintained rectangles of grass. There was a black cat lying in the middle of the road, just bobbing its head at me. I zoned out for a bit and when I came to a giant orange cat was to my left, gazing intently into my teary face. I tried to refocus on my crotch. I couldn’t help but notice a white cat across the road, pretending not to be seen. It had a dubious look on its face, a countenance of guilt. What the hell was going on? A delivery person looped round the street. People returned home from work. Garage doors opened, cars drove down driveways. Here I was, slowly dying, surrounded by spooky fucking cats and the bustle of ordinary existence.
“Uh, hey. You look, uh, like something isn’t . . . do you need, uh, help?” a woman asked, crossing the street with a pram to reach me. I groaned.
“It’s just that, you know, ordinarily, um, I mean normally, people don’t sit on the sidewalk,” she continued, glancing down with the half-confused look of a concerned citizen who is trying to enter a situation outside of their usual experience. I mumbled something indistinct and went back to staring at my crotch.
“You know, I can, er . . . I can . . . I can’t really help,” she ended, awkwardly. “I have a daughter to look after, but . . . if you’re still here when she’s asleep . . . I’m the red fence.” She darted off without another word.
Had she wanted me off the sidewalk because it was abnormal to sit there, or had she seen the abnormality as a sign of something deeper? Either way, she’d used abnormality as a signifier of negative change. Deviancy as something to be corrected, realigned with some norm that co-exists with happiness and citizenship. I was being a bad citizen.
I thought, I miss those cats. At least they had judged me in silence. Wait, what the hell am I thinking? This is clearly a case of deviancy associated with negative feelings. Well, negative feelings, but not necessarily negative change. Suicide is only negative if one views life as intrinsically worthwhile—
I could hear pram lady in the distance. She was talking to someone who’d just come back from work. They thanked pram lady and began moving towards me. Arghggh, just let me die, I thought.
She introduced herself as a nurse. From her tone and approach, it was clear she’d handled many cases like me. I’ve never hated counselling techniques. They seemed to at least trouble neoliberal rhetoric. There is little mention of overcoming, or striving, or perfecting oneself into a being of pure success. Rather, counselling seemed to be about listening and piercing together the other’s perspective. Counsellors tended not to interject words of comfort. They’d tell you mental illness was lifelong and couldn’t be fixed. They’re the closest society has to positive pessimists. Of course, they’d still want you to get better. Better, as in, not attempting suicide.
I talked with nurse lady for an hour about how life is simply passing. Passing through oneself, passing through others, passing through spaces, thoughts and emotions. About how the majority of life seems to be lived in a beyond we’ll never reach. Potential futures, moments of relief, phantasies we create to escape the dull present. About how I’d been finding my media and politics degree really rewarding, but some part of my head broke and I lost all ability to focus and care. About how the more I learnt about the world, the less capable I felt of changing it, and that change was a narcissistic day dream, anyway.
She replied “We’re all cogs. But what’s wrong with being a cog? Even a cog can make changes,” and I thought, but never one’s own.
She gave me a ride to the emergency clinic because I was too apathetic and guilt-ridden to decline. Why are people so nice over things that don’t matter? Chicks are ground into chicken nuggets alive.6 The meat-industry produces 50% of the world’s carbon emissions.7 But someone sits on the side of the road in a bourgeois neighbourhood and suddenly you have cats and nurses worried sick over your fucked up head. I should have worn a hobo coat and sat in town.
Tuesday, 27th of April, 2017, evening.
I had forgotten how painful waiting rooms were. It was stupidly ironic. I’d entered this apathetic suicidal stupor because I’d wanted to escape the monotony of existence, yet here I was, sitting in a waiting room, counting the stains on the ceiling, while the reception TV streamed a hospital drama.
“Get his ass in there!”
“Time is the real killer.”
“It wasn’t the cancer that was terminal, it was you.”
Zoom in on doctor face man.
Emergency waiting rooms are a lot like life. You don’t choose to be there. An accident simply occurs and then you’re stuck, watching a show about ass cancer and family bonding. Sometimes someone coughs and you become aware of your own body again. You remember that you exist outside of media, waiting in this sterile space on a painfully too small plastic chair. You deliberately avoid the glances of everyone else in the room because you don’t want to reduce their existence to an injury, a pulsing wound, a lack, nor let them reduce you the same. The accident that got you here left you with a blank spot in your head, but the nurses reassure you that you’ll be up soon, to whatever it is you’re here for. And so, with nothing else to do, you turn back to the TV and forget you exist.
I thought, I should have taken more pills and gone into the woods.
The ER was a Kafkaeque realm of piercing lights, sleepy interns and too narrow privacy curtains.8 Every time a nurse would try to close one, they’d pull it too far to one side, opening the other side up. Like the self, no bed was fully enclosed. There were always gaps, spaces of viewing, windows into trauma, and like the objet petit a, there was always the potential of meeting another’s gaze, one just like yours, only, out of your control.
I lay amidst a drone of machinery, footsteps and chatter. I stared at ceiling stains. Every hour or so a different nurse would approach me, repeat the same ten questions as the one before, then end commenting awkwardly on my tattoos. I kept thinking, what is going on? Have I finally died and become integrated into some eternally recurring limbo hell where, in a state of complete apathy and deterioration, some devil approaches me every hour to ask, why did you take those pills?
Do I have to repeat my answer for the rest of my life?
I gazed at the stain to my right. That was back in ‘92 when the piping above burst on a particularly wintry day. I shifted my gaze. And that happened in ‘99 when an intern tripped holding a giant cup of coffee. Afterwards, everyone began calling her Trippy. She eventually became a surgeon and had four adorable bourgeois kids. Tippy Tip Tap Toop.
The nurses began covering my body with little pieces of paper and plastic, to which only one third were connected to an ECG monitor.9 Every ten minutes or so the monitor would begin honking violently, to which (initially) no one would respond to. After an hour or so a nurse wandered over with a worried expression, poked the machine a little, then asked if I was experiencing any chest pains. Before I could answer, he was intercepted by another nurse and told not to worry. His expression never cleared up, but he went back to staring blankly into a computer terminal on the other end of the room.
There were two security guards awkwardly trying not to meet anyone’s gazes. They were out of place and they knew it. No matter what space they occupied, a nurse would have to move past them to reach some medical doodle or document. One nurse jokingly said, “It’s ER. If you’re not moving you’re in the way,” to which the guards chortled, shuffled a metre or so sideways, before returning to standing still.
I checked my phone.
“If you successfully kill yourself, you’ll officially be the biggest right-wing neoliberal piece of dick.”10
“Your Text Unlimited Combo renewed on 28 Apr at 10:41. Nice!”
I went back to staring at the ceiling.
Six hours later, one of the nurses came over and said “Huh, turns out there’s nothing in your blood. Nothing . . . at all.” Another pulled out my drip and disconnected me from the ECG monitor. “Well, you’re free to leave.”
Tuesday, 27th of April, 2017, midnight.
I wandered over to the Emergency Psychiatric Services. The doctor there was interested in setting up future supports for my fucked up mind. He mentioned anti-depressants and I told him that in the past they hadn’t really worked, that it seemed more related to my general political outlook, that this purposeless restlessness has been with me most of my life, and that no drug or counselling could cure the lack innate to existence which is exacerbated by our current political and cultural institutions.
He replied “Are you one of those anti-druggers? You know there’s been a lot of backlash against psychiatry, it’s really the cultural Zeitgeist of our times, but it’s all led by misinformation, scaremongering.”
I hesitated, before replying “I’m not anti-drugs, I just don’t think you can change my general hatred of existence.”
“Okay, okay, I’m not trying to argue with your outlook, but you’re simply stuck in this doom and gloom phase—”
Whoa, wait a fucking minute. You’re not trying to argue with my outlook, while completely discounting my outlook as simply a passing emotional state? This guy is a fucking asshole, I thought, ragging on about anti-druggers while pretending not to undermine a political and social position I’d spent years researching and building up. I stopped paying attention to him. Yes, a lot of my problems are internal, but I’m more than a disembodied brain, biologically computing chemical data.
At the end of his rant, he said something like “You’re a good kid,” and I thought, fuck you too.
Friday, 28th of April, 2017, morning.
The next day I met a different doctor. I gave him a brief summary of my privileged life culminating in a shitty metaphor about three metaphysical pillars which lift me into the tempestuous winds of existential dread and nihilistic apathy. One, my social anxiety. Two, my absurd existence. Three, my political outlook. One, anxiety: I cannot relate to small talk. The gaze of the other is a gaze of expectations. Because I cannot know these expectations, I will never live up to them. Communication is by nature, lacking. Two, absurdity: Existence is a meaningless repetition of arbitrary structures we ourselves construct, then forget. Reflexivity is about uncovering this so that we may escape structures we do not like. We inevitably fall into new structures, prejudices and artifices. Nothing is authentic, nothing is innocent and nothing is your self. Three, politics: I am trapped in a neoliberal capitalist monstrosity that creates enough produce to feed the entire world, but does not do so due to the market’s instrumental need for profit. The system, in other words, rewards capitalists who are ruthless. Any capitalist trying to bring about change, will necessarily have to become ruthless to reach a position of power, and therefore will fail to bring about change.
The doctor nodded. He thought deeply, tried to piece it all together, then finally said “Yes, society is quite terrifying. This is something we cannot control. There are things out there that will harm you and the political situation of our time is troubling.”
I was astounded. This was one of the first doctors who’d actually taken what I’d said and given it consideration. Sure we hadn’t gotten into a lengthy discussion on socialism, feminism or veganism, but they also hadn’t simply collapsed my political thoughts into my depressive state.
“But you know, there are still niches of meaning in this world. Though the greater structures are overbearing, people can still find purpose enacting smaller changes, connecting in ephemeral ways.”
What was I hearing? Was this a postmodern doctor?11 Was science reconnecting with the humanities?
“We may even connect your third pillar, that of the political, with your second pillar and see that the political situation of our time is absurd. This is unfortunate, but as for your first pillar, this is definitely something we can help you with. In fact, it’s quite a simple process, helping one deal with social anxiety, and to me, it sounds like this anxiety has greatly affected your life for the past few years.”
The doctor then asked for my gender and sexuality, to which after I hesitated a little, he said, it didn’t really matter seeing as it was all constructed, anyway. For being unable to feel much at all, I was ecstatic. I thought, how could this doctor be working in the same building as the previous one I’d met? We went into anti-depressant plans. He told me that their effects were unpredictable. They may lift my mood, they may do nothing at all, they may even make me feel worse. Nobody really knew what molecular pathways serotonin activated, but it sometimes pulled people out of circular ways of thinking. And dopamine, well, taken in too high a dose, could make you psychotic.
Sign me the fuck up, I thought, gazing at my new medical hero. These are the kinds of non-assurances that match my experience of life. Trust and expectations lead only to disappointment. Give me pure insurmountable doubt.
Friday, 28th of April, 2017, afternoon.
“The drugs won’t be too long,” the pharmacist said before disappearing into the back room. I milled around the pharmacy, staring at honey-infused foot creams, wondering how I made it through these past three days. I guess I died then didn’t. I guess that means I’m alive.
There was a goldfish tank to the left of the counter. I stared into it. About nine of the goldfish were gathered at the top, all squished together, fins flapping, eyes bulging like cream puffs. They’d grouped around the end trajectory of an air pump, where all the bubbles dispersed. They kept trying to catch the bubbles in their mouths, but each time they’d succeed the bubble would pop. For a moment they’d look a little shocked, a little senseless. Then they’d see another bubble and fall back into habit.
The tenth was a black goldfish floating far lower in the tank where there were no bubbles, no other fish, just vast emptiness all around. It would occasionally twitch, but otherwise be motionless, affected by nothing, attempting nothing, looking no better than the rest.
I felt sick.
1. Autonomous sensory meridian response is a tingling sensation triggered by auditory cues, such as whispering, rustling, tapping, or crunching.
2. An exit bag is a DIY apparatus used to asphyxiate oneself with an inert gas. This circumvents the feeling of suffocation one experiences through hanging or drowning.
3. Neon Genesis Evangelion is a psychoanalytic deconstruction of the mecha genre, that ends with the entire human race undergoing ego death and returning to the womb.
4. Komm Süsser Tod is an (in)famous song from End of Evangelion that plays after the main character, who has become God, decides that the only way to end all the loneliness and suffering in the world is for everyone to die.
5. Senpai is a Japanese term for someone senior to you, whom you respect. It is also an anime trope.
6. See Earthlings.
7. See Cowspiracy.
8. Franz Kafka was an existentialist writer from the 20th century who wrote about alienation, anxiety and absurdity.
9. Electrocardiography monitors measure one’s heart rate through electrodes attached to the skin.
10. Neoliberalism is both an economic and cultural regime. Economically, it is about deregulating markets so that government services can be privatised, placed into the hands of transnational corporations, who, because of their global positioning, can more easily circumvent nation-state policies, and thereby place pressure on states that require their services through the threat of departure. Culturally, it is about reframing social issues into individual issues, so that individuals are held responsible for their failures, rather than the social circumstances surrounding them. As a victim-blaming discourse, it depicts all people equal and equally capable, regardless of socio-economic status. All responsibility lies on the individual, rather than the state, society or culture that cultivated their subjectivity.
11. Postmodernism is a movement that critiques modernism’s epistemological totalitarianism, colonial humanism and utopian visions of progress. It emphasises instead the fragmented, ephemeral and embodied human experience, incapable of capture in monolithic discourses that treat all humans as equal and capable of abstract authenticity. Because all objective knowledge is constructed out of subjective experience, the subject can never be effaced. Instead knowledge and power must be investigated as always coming from somewhere, someone and sometime.