Or think of a 25-year-old schizophrenic, who’s gone off his meds and has tumbled into a world of brilliant, terrifying psychosis, full of confusion and chaos. He is deteriorating rapidly. He hears voices telling him to mutilate himself. "If your eye offend you, pluck it out," they whisper to him, and he pulls out his own left eye. "Throw yourself down," they scream to him, "and God will send his angels to bear you up." He jumps from the 10th floor of an office building. Suicide? Definitely. Addictive behavior? Definitely not.
Most suicide attempts are the result of depression or psychosis. This book is not for them, or for people who have to deal with them. But for some people, suicide is not what it seems to be. It is a totally different experience. For some, suicide becomes a mood-altering experience, an escape from pain, a fix as powerful as crack is to cocaine addicts. How it works is complex and not well understood, as we’ll find later on.
But for some people, myself included, with a history of multiple suicide gestures or attempts, diagnoses of depression, personality disorders, or other "conventional" mental illnesses don’t fully explain what is going on. People like us continue to have secret patterns of suicidal fantasies, obsessions, rituals, and attempts, despite all sorts of treatment by well-meaning mental health professionals. Antidepressants, anti-anxiety medications, shock therapy, individual or group psychotherapy – none of these can stop our relentless preoccupation with death.
Kevin: For ten years I knew that I would die at my own hands before age 40. I could see absolutely no other way out. Many times a day, I secretly pictured the newspaper headlines: "Brilliant Young Psychiatrist Kills Self. Whole World Mourns." Crazy as it was, the fantasy somehow got me through each day.
How does such a state of mind develop? Why do some people seem to be trapped in suicidal thoughts and behaviors? No one knows. But the stories of about 50 of us who have lived with suicide addiction suggest a possible progression, in definite stages: onset, early, middle, and late stages, each with definite common characteristics.
For us, suicide was our drug. For many of us, the drug of suicide was more powerful than other drugs, than alcohol or sex. We put it at the top of our mood-altering experiences. For us, it was there always, a powerful lover, the way out when we needed it.
Kevin: When all else failed, I knew that suicide was there, that I could count on it, more than the drugs or the affairs. It was all mine. I didn’t have to share it with anyone. I carried it with me at all times, tucked away in a secret place in my head. No one could take it away from me. No one could have it.
The onset of suicidal thoughts can be difficult to pinpoint. But for virtually everyone in our group, the problem started sometime in childhood or the early teen years, rarely later. Most of us could remember some precipitating instance early in life, sometimes a very painful experience, but often something quite minor. Whatever it was, we thought to ourselves, "Well, then. If it gets bad enough, I can always kill myself." It was, for us, a comforting thought. But it was also the start of a struggle that would go on for years.