Warning: This article will contain references to death, and my thoughts about my own. If this distresses you, please do not read further.
Last night, I wrote a poem on my mobile phone while lying awake at approximately two in the morning. In this poem, I included a line about thinking of death not doing the trick (of making me fall asleep).
I believe I should explain.
Understand: I was not joking. In fact, I think about death rather a lot, and almost always at night, when I am lying in the dark looking up at the ceiling. This is not something I am frightened by. One thing I can say with total honesty; I am absolutely not afraid to die. Death holds no terrors for me.
Substantially, this is because I have been living for decades on borrowed time. I am now 45 years old. At the age of 17, I attempted suicide thrice in the space of five days, finally putting myself into a three-day-long coma. When I woke from it, I was terribly disappointed to find I’d survived. The conventional tale is that suicide survivors are grateful to have lived through the experience. The conventional tale is a myth.
I invited death though it did not take me. You aren’t, usually, frightened of something you invite of your own free will. I assume that is easy to comprehend.
The only disturbing thing about death, where I’m concerned, is when it takes someone else – someone dear to me, whether human or canine. I am totally undisturbed about my own.
Many years ago, I recall reading a story about a man who’d died, and who found himself as a disembodied spirit, chased through the town by an energy being called the Corpsegrinder. The world of that story had the essence of the dead – “souls” wasn’t a term it used – only being able to stay earth-bound when held down by a physical barrier. Once away from such a barrier, they dissipated into space, essentially merging into the background energy of the Universe.
It wasn’t a bad story by any means; I’ve read far worse.
Though entertaining, that has never been my own idea of death. I have, of course, no religious belief, and no Allah or YHWH or Yama or other godling is waiting to reward me any more than a devil is stewing a pit in the deepest fires of hell just as my eternal punishment. As for the spiritualist lot, I have even greater disdain for them than I have for the religious believers. At least religions tend to have a fixed structure of belief; the spiritualist essentially seems to invent whatever he or she wishes were true and proceeds accordingly, just as though it were proven fact.
Spoiler alert: the universe does not work like that.
My view of death is rather complex and multi-layered, and not necessarily about my depression; but essentially it comes down to this: it’s going to happen. You can’t stop it. You could, maybe, delay it and prolong your life, even quasi-indefinitely, but that’s far from beating it. Even the universe is going to die someday, when the last brown dwarf winks out, leaving a cold, lightless void speckled by the corpses of burnt-out stars.
Death, therefore, is going to happen. Since it’s going to happen, it’s pointless being afraid of it. It’s silly, whatever Dylan Thomas said, to not
...go gentle into that good night
...Rage, rage, against the dying of the light.
There’s a simple choice: one can be dragged, unwilling, kicking and screaming, towards one’s last heartbeat, one’s last breath; or one can accept it’s going to happen, and look to it with equanimity.
I go a step beyond equanimity. I think of death as an adventure, the one absolutely inevitable adventure that can happen. You could dream of a trip abroad, fantasise about it for years, and it might or might not come about. You could sigh for a lover, and she will almost certainly never appear in your life. But death? That is, absolutely, totally, certain to happen.
I did not choose to be born, and one of the many, many things I’ve never forgiven my parents for is creating me. I do not remember being born, of course; it’s not something I could enjoy. But, as far as one can do so, I fully intend to enjoy my death.
I realise that this is not what is conventionally considered normal psychology. That’s fine. I never pretended to be normal; no suicide survivor ever is.
Not that I’m necessarily indifferent to the process of dying, you understand. I don’t, for instance, want to burn to death or have my head sawed off by some ISIStani with a blunt knife. But nor do I want to wither away slowly from cancer or something similar. The absolute, total, last thing I want to do is end my life in a hospital bed with people around, waiting and hoping that I’ll either die and set them free from the dread of waiting, or hang on for just one more day. At that stage it’s difficult to tell. No, if I ever fall terminally ill, I’ll know what to do.
The thing is, I will more than likely do it anyway. I am, as I said, living on borrowed time, and what one borrows, one has to return, someday.
But that isn’t what I think about when I lie abed staring up into the darkness, thinking about death. Sometimes, I try to leave my imagination run free about it, and that has given me ideas for more than one story. At other times, I attempt to imagine I’m already dead. It’s an amazingly difficult mental exercise, to imagine yourself literally not being. Despite my best efforts, I have never managed to hold it more than a few seconds at a stretch. At other times, I look forward to it with pleasurable excitement, as one might for a lover who will one day, most certainly, come.
But I’m never frightened. That, as I said, is one thing I’m not.
What do I think about? The most common thing is what it will feel like; the actual moment of dying, when I have, hopefully, enough consciousness remaining to know what’s happening. That is the moment I want to savour, and my only regret is I can’t exactly come back just long enough to write about it.
Will there be darkness and a tunnel of light? Will there be a sensation of falling, or rising, or something else altogether? Will I just wink out, or will my consciousness linger for a little while? I don't know. I can't answer these questions until the time comes. I’m sure it will be interesting, though.
More interesting than my life, at any rate. I suppose it’s not a secret to those who have been reading me that I’m a loner. More than that, I suddenly had an epiphany last night. I realised that I’ve become a genuine recluse. Not only do I not talk to anyone outside work, I don’t even want to talk to people. If I could put whatever I say to specimens on a recording and play it in the clinic, I would. People have become exhausting, far too much for me to bear. The only thing I really have left is my writing and my art, my cartoons and my reading. That’s all the reason I have to stay alive.
My brain buzzes with thoughts that will not let me rest; my fingers crawl with words that beg to be shed. Unless I can exorcise the first by expressing them in the second, I cannot go on. Sleepless nights are one thing; risking total mental breakdown is another.
So this is what I want to say. As long as I can carry on, as long as I see a point in remaining alive, I’ll continue expressing myself in writing, cartoons, and art. And when I’m gone, at least you can depend on it that I won’t have died unwillingly. There should be no tears shed for me.
I wouldn’t, after all, shed any for myself, unless they might be tears of joy.