There is a very interesting article about suicide by Gregg Henriques, in a recent issue of Psychology Today.
His key point is that there is a logic to suicide. It is not irrational behaviour, and seems absolutely logical to the person concerned. Suicidal behaviour is usually motivated by the wish to escape from a deep “psychache,” and arises from a state in which people can only see the pain of the present.
For most of my life I have been pretty cheerful. I have assumed that I will live for some time, and have wanted to do so. But there have been two periods when that belief in life has wavered. One was when I was diagnosed with bowel cancer. I thought that surgery would probably sort it out, but you can never be sure where cancer has spread to. Had it got to my liver I thought I would probably not survive. That helped me to get some distance from survival as a key objective. Longevity did not seem be the over-arching objective of life.
The other time when I lost confidence in my future was a period a few years later, when I became suicidal. I had behaved badly, and that had become public knowledge. I had a strong sense of shame, and thought there was a limit to the amount of shame I could bear. I didn’t know how much worse things might get but, at the time, it seemed perfectly rational to consider ending my life. I had not quite decided to do it, but I knew the circumstances in which I would, and was making plans for how I might do it.
I spent a day in mid-winter inspecting some locations where I thought I might be able to end my life. That seemed perfectly rational behaviour at the time. Actually, I decided the places I was looking at were not ones in which I could be sure of ending my life, and discounted them. However, in the course of exploring them I saw some rather beautiful countryside, and enjoyed a good walk there. I came home feeling better.
These periods in which I first thought I might die of cancer, and then thought seriously about taking my life, have changed my attitude to longevity. I really think that what you do with your life is more important than how long it goes on for. I am happy now and am enjoying retirement, and hope I make myself useful in various ways.
It has also changed by attitude to euthanasia. I am very sympathetic to those whose feel the burden of going on living when their lives serve no purpose and give them no fulfilment. I see no reason for society to insist that they go on living. Of course I can see the dangers in people being pressured into ending their lives. But I think there are satisfactory ways of guarding against that.