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  • Writer's pictureArlene Bozich

September is National Suicide Prevention Month and I Suck at Killing Myself

Whenever someone says that Hamlet’s “To be, or not to be” monologue is him contemplating whether or not to kill himself, I have to stop myself from rolling my eyes. They either don’t know how to read and interpret text for themselves, or they’ve never been at the point of suicidal ideation in their lives to really understand what they’re saying. As someone who has tried (and clearly failed) to kill herself multiple times and received her MFA in Acting, I can confidently say that my interpretation of the text is more accurate than that. My graduate school mentor is the person who asked us all the challenge the usual take on the monologue and, in doing so, helped me not only interpret the text at a higher level but also get better acquainted with what my own brain was screaming about and trying to get me to do to myself.

When Hamlet’s waxing poetic in Act 3, Scene 1 of the play, he’s not lecturing to the audience about life and death arbitrarily- it’s not some generalized malaise that’s inspiring the piece. The context for the situation is that Hamlet is unsure whether he saw a ghost or hallucination of his dead father- and that entity is pressuring Hamlet to kill his uncle, his father’s brother, in retribution for dead Daddy’s murder, which as of that moment was unproven. The uncle also married Hamlet’s mother less than a month after Hamlet’s dad was buried and Hamlet is clearly confused as to why everyone is moving on so quickly. Hamlet’s also looking to Denmark, the country that they are the royal family of- if the current King got to that position of power through murder and a weird sort of almost-incest by marrying his sister-in-law, then Hamlet has an obligation to protect his throne and keep the country from this monster- which could risk him being killed. I’m not going to go line-by-line, but the general interpretation I run with for the monologue is, “Should I do something about what the ghost/possible hallucination said to me? Or should I just keep this inside? Because if I try to do something, whether I’m right or wrong, my uncle will probably kill me. But if I decide to do nothing and my uncle really is this disgusting, murderous despot, I’ve condemned myself, my family, and my country to the whims of a madman while I sit here like a fucking coward. Is death so bad? Life kinda bites. But I guess the Devil I know is better than the Devil I don’t…ah, shit, here comes Ophelia.”

That’s it. He’s not trying to figure out whether or not to kill himself- he’s weighing whether or not the possible consequences are actually worth the risk of acting on his thoughts and feelings, a very human thing that we all do every day. I actually prefer his other monologue, “the play’s the thing, wherein I’ll catch the conscience of a King,” because he’s made a choice to gather more information and figure out whether the Ghost / Hallucination /Daddy Issues Personified he saw has any merit or not. It’s much more active and lends itself to forward momentum, whereas the confusion of “to be, or not to be?” is entirely at the whim of the production the actor is part of and whatever the director has decided to impose on the overly-famous, oft misinterpreted monologue.

Whenever my suicidal ideation crops its head out of the abyss of my subconscious, I’m now able to brush it away with a few questions and a deep breath or two. I talked about the very first time I had such severe suicidal ideation that I was at the point of trying to kill myself (and none of the cowards who caused that situation have reached out, changed anything, or even admitted that they were part of that literal attack, but karma will get them eventually I suppose), but today I’m looking more at the process of what suicidal ideation feels like and the real ways to stop it en masse, not just for my personal situation. But that took years of failed attempts, drawn-out depressive states, and compounding issues beyond my control that crushed all stability I had like money or food or housing being ripped away through bad luck. If you don’t water a plant, don’t get nutrients to the soil, and don’t give a plant sunlight and room to grow and breathe, it’ll die. Humans aren’t anything more than walking plants rooted in a time period, so it makes sense that when I didn’t have access to medical care or affordable and safe living my brain thought, much like a wilting plant, “Oh, we’re dying- we’re dying.” That’s what austerity politics does to people. It takes away their resources, stresses them out by labeling them as morally inferior for not meeting their needs, and then blames them for dying. But hey, at least they dedicated September to all the people killing themselves because of Capitalism! Most people who do end up committing to the act of suicide could be saved by a stable economy and society, or just money. That's it. A majority of these people would be alive if we just gave people money to solve their very, very real problems. It's sickening.

See, when I was in those depressive states before, suicidal ideation for me has always felt like a relief. The confusion Hamlet experiences throughout “To be or not to be” was over- I’d made a choice, I was done with all these problems and “fardels” and bullshit in life, it wasn’t a question anymore. All there was left to do was to call and check in on the humans I cared about (whether or not my brain believed they cared for me), have a final meal, and do the thing. Making a choice, even a horrible choice, feels better than indecision. And the fact that my brain saw relief from all of the compounding issues meant that, whenever I was in a mentally dark enough place to make that choice, the end of those troubles was a huge relief. I wouldn’t have to keep going to a job that underpaid and overworked me, I wouldn’t have to keep playing stupid social games just to get seen for an audition that I paid to attend with casting service subscriptions and my student debt and headshots and taking off minimum wage work, I wouldn’t have to go on another spat of dates with someone who would just end up insulting or ghosting me when I asked for basic human decency- no more fighting with siblings or parents, no more watching politicians and business majors burn the world for profit- I was free. I was done. That’s a huge relief.

I remember the walls closing in on me pretty hard during the summer leading up to leaving for college. I had had a rough school year ending, being praised for my extracurricular achievements and my academic successes in public by the same people who refused to let me speak, the same people who privately told me my voice was unworthy of being heard and should therefore be silenced. I couldn’t tell anyone that these people had committed a coordinated attack on me behind closed doors because, in public, they were shining a spotlight in my eyes. Look at all the awards they gave me! Never mind that I had earned that shit by my own work- they had decided they were the great arbitrators of worth and they had deemed me only as worthy as the image boost I gave them. I was hollow inside, all the work I had done was essentially ripped from my hands and held hostage by those assholes.

The nihilism that took over was suffocating. Sure, I was on my way to Purdue University in the fall- but what good would that be? The only future with any sort of stability required 40+ hours of work for people who I knew would value me even less than even those school administrative idiots had. If I wanted to make even a basic living salary, I would be forced to show up to some useless job that could be done by a robot and, if I was a good little lemming that did everything she was told like marry a coworker, pop out a few kids in the suburbs, work to climb an impossibly high pile of debt that was only growing in interest every moment I would be allowed to eventually go to some heuristic society that’s already obsolete in its functioning and acquiesce to whatever group think that puddle of burnt out retirees who lived there had been brainwashed into. And this was all the best-case scenario, as far as I could see from the offerings in society. Of course I just wanted to kill myself, that is a disgusting and upsetting future. That isn’t a life- it’s a system of exploitation that milkshake sucks our souls out with a dirty crazy straw.

When you’re trapped in a society whose imagination is limited by the top of the hierarchy, and that system forces guilt & shame onto the individual for that ruling class’s failures, you set up a recipe for disaster. Look at our soldiers coming home- “four times as many active duty personnel and war veterans of post-9/11 conflicts have died of suicide than in combat, as an estimated 30,177 have died by suicide as compared with the 7,057 killed in post-9/11 war operations.” And, talking to my relatives and friends who have served, it’s not only the mental and emotional damage sustained in training and active duty (though those prime soldiers’ brains to be less resilient, creative, and empathetic)- it’s coming home that pulls the trigger. A friend of mine who has worked as a mental health professional to get soldiers in a better mental place when they get home has also weighed in on this. Sure, the time spent in the military creates the perfect mental and emotional environment for the increase in suicidal ideation we see. But really, it’s the lack of structure and stability in U.S. society that puts these soldiers in their coffins. Think about it- you gave up everything to go serve what you thought was a great country. Not only do you get an inside look at how messed up and destructive the U.S. military actually is, but you’re also ‘trained’ into having to follow orders that don’t make any rational sense in order to serve political powers that strip away more of your rights and cause chaos and destruction in foreign lands and at home every day. Then, if you do make it home in something other than a body bag, the U.S. military does not spend any of its actual time or resources providing the basic support they promised for your service and the society you were defending is crushing its own citizens for the sake of profit. The shame and guilt that leads to the suicide is a combination of forcibly inflicted trauma, a ‘bootstraps’ mentality & lie, and a white-washed tomb of a society that pretends to be strong on the surface but has been rotting from its core for decades. Not enough jobs to pay what they demand in exchange for labor, politicians playing games while people starve or die of completely curable diseases, inflation from price gouging and profiteering- these people gave up everything for a lie. It’s a much larger version of the tiny taste I had during high school. After all the time and effort I gave, you just want me to go away and be quiet? Okay. Then that’s what we all do, while they post about suicide awareness and all the ‘good’ they’re doing in the community.

In graduate school, a friend who knew I was struggling with this was confused and just said, “Well, aren’t you just stressed?” And yes, at a very basic, reductive level, that’s all it is. Stress. But stress is what causes extreme change, like coal into diamonds. But I’m not a lump of coal- I’m a human. There’s a Russian proverb, “The same water that hardens the egg softens the potato”. Everyone reacts to stress differently and that needs to be accommodated. When it’s not, that’s when suicide rates spike. Scientists also realized that when it comes to “the chicken and the egg”, the chicken has to come first. The only thing that makes a chicken a chicken is the protein it produces that creates a hard-shelled chicken egg. So how can something that’s not born as a chicken become one? Environmental factors- stress. So if ‘environmental factors’ are enough to cause a literal dinosaur to turn into a chicken, what the fuck is all the stress of our collapsing society doing to us as humans? Looking at the news, nothing good.

The stressors that are creating such a toxic society are the Capitalist hierarchy I’ve talked about I think in almost every blog post so far. In this case, I’m looking specifically at the small imagination of Capitalism’s foot soldiers, Christian Nationalism and White Supremacy. If your society is at the mercy of violent, overreaching religious extremists who have dedicated themselves to conserving and growing the power of their in-group at the detriment of literally everyone else in the country, it’s going to create a toxic environment that humans cannot live in. And everyone has a different threshold for stress- but the fact that, since the pandemic, more than 80% of Americans are reporting emotions associated with prolonged stress, means this is a societal issue and not an individual one. My suicidal ideation is so easily handled now because, whenever it pokes its nose out of the abyss, I’m able to whack-a-mole it with my absolute spite to stay alive and overthrow the evil bastards who have forced us all into such a depressive, nihilist state.

How small is your imagination when the best thing you can think to work for is some Puritan paved-parking-lot of a paradise off this Earth ruled by an Imaginary Sky Daddy who has strict rules for your behavior and only loves you if you act according to what all-male pedophiles at your shitty, weekly bookclub tell you are the rules? How useless of a person are you if you actually think that skin color has anything to do with how good of a person you are, or that you have a right to decide how “those people” live their lives? Just like the only person who can truly dismantle the Patriarchy is a man who genuinely loves women and acts on that love in public and in private, the only people who can take down White Supremacy and Christian Nationalism are white people who genuinely love others outside of their racial group and Christians in the U.S. who fight those that would entwine morality and religion and impose it on secular society. If you’re on a diet, I can still eat donuts- just because you’re a Christian does not mean I have to be a submissive wife who doesn’t develop thoughts or feelings of my own and has to rely on her husband's purse strings and fragile idea of dominance to survive. But these have been the voices at the top of society, all hydra heads of Capitalism dragon-hoarding the value of the U.S.’s labor force since Reagan took office in the 80’s. They are controlling the narrative and, as evidenced by Capitalism’s staggering death and destruction, they’re winning. But look at the world they’ve won. Their ‘win’ means that the planet is on fire and that history is ‘over’. They literally do not have any imagination to think that there are other ways to live. Their death cult has taken over, and that’s why so many of us are dying.

It took a long time and a lot of ‘bird’s eye view’ Stoic practice to see how much of my personal situation was at the mercy of larger society; I could only act on what I was responsible for and what was under my control, and suicide took away my options. When that happened, the relief I used to only get from choosing to go through with a suicide attempt took over. The shame, the guilt, the self-blame that I had taken on to rationalize why so much of my material world was severely unstable disappeared- it was enough for me to just stay alive. I didn’t love or hate myself anymore- I just realized I had as much right to exist as any of those billionaires who fucked society for their own wealth. I’m now building on the foundation that I deserve good things, just as much as anyone else does. I had to focus on loving my friends and family when I couldn’t love myself, the exact opposite of that RuPaul quote. I had no idea how to love myself, so I just started practicing on the people around me. Were there any powers that be that I could fight on behalf of loved ones? Was there anyone who needed a helping hand? I could jump in for them and not get stuck in Hamlet’s indecision of ‘to be or not to be’. I was alive, whether I liked it or not. It didn’t matter if I could die- if I had a chance to help someone, I had to take that risk.

I use loving my friends & relatives and parts of Stoicism intermixed with Absurdism to keep moving further away from the siren call of suicide. It’s like when the sailors in Homer’s “Odyssey” put beeswax in their ears to sail past the sirens singing them over to crash on the rocks. But the main thing is to keep sailing away, off into a better future. That means you have to pick a horizon worth shooting for, otherwise, there’s no point in ignoring the mermaids calling on the jagged shore. Spite helps in this too, knowing I’m on my way to fight the bastards who forced me and so many others into such deep despair. How many souls have we lost to the callousness of a hierarchical, Capitalist society? How many saw that the rewards of continuing the odyssey weren’t worth the trip and decided to quit before they gave too much to something that was just going to eat them for profit anyway?

This September, if you really want to support people and bring awareness to suicide in our society, you have to actually do the work. It’s not enough to just be like, “Oh! We’re aware this is happening! Just reach out if you feel like dying :)”- I guarantee you, anyone in the pits of suicidal ideation does not have the capacity to reach out and articulate why their brains are asking them to die. And, on the rare cases someone does reach out, we are regularly met with responses like, “Your life is great! Why would you want to kill yourself?” or else, “Oh, you’re just stressed.” There are also those of us standing in the gallows with the noose around our necks cracking jokes who are met with the pearl-clutching, "good vibes only" crowd who don't understand graveyard humor. If I am the one in trouble, if I'm the one in grief, I get to crack the joke. Anyone else who wants to condemn me for that is just part of the execution crowd, judging and jeering at my demise. It's not helpful to try to police the way we're thinking and behaving in those moments- you're just encouraging us to take that short drop and sudden stop. And it's why so many people don't talk about this, or feel ashamed for trying to bring up the topic. The risks of becoming vulnerable when we are in such a desperate state outweigh any benefit we can see. We are hurt. We are bleeding. We are dying. And you’re wondering why we’re not grateful for the whacky, cartoon-printed bandage you’re shoving into our bullet holes. Fuck you all for that.

You want to bring awareness to suicide this September? End Capitalism. End your defense of it in your day-to-day life, remind everyone you meet that healthcare is a human right, scream about the things that piss you off about your workplace system to co-workers, yell at that bigoted uncle at the dinner table- even if it means dinner is 'ruined'. I promise, continuing our society and lives like this is ruining more than we'll ever be able to heal. Do you really want to preserve a system that's steamrolling innocents just because some people at the top want more of our money? It's time to destroy all your faith in the system and build something better, even in just your tiny corner of the world. Because we need to be aware- if we keep going with this system, we’re all going to die. Those of us contemplating our mortality regularly just realized it first.


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