Your affliction is a symptom
Updated: Oct 11, 2018
As I am writing this part of the book, I am on vacation in Thailand. Last night I was walking around the streets of Bangkok and I saw a legless man lying face down on the sidewalk. He had a small bowl on the ground in front of him for passersby to drop change into. As I walked by (and dropped 20 baht into his bowl) I could not help but think about the daily struggle of this man. What I am going to write next may sound cold and calloused, but that is not my intention. I am merely dissecting suicidal ideation from a completely objective point of view. If I look at this man on the sidewalk, logically I could make the argument that he is a candidate for suicide. He has no legs, no job and from all indications no chance to change either of those circumstances…and yet he makes his way to his spot on the sidewalk every day surviving on the generosity of others.
Contrast that with an article I read recently;” A 47-year-old financial company executive was killed Wednesday when he jumped from a luxury apartment building on the Upper West Side, authorities said.” We have a man who is most likely a multimillionaire living in the very definition of luxury who chooses to end his life and a man with no job, no home and no hope who fights and literally crawls on the sidewalk each day to survive. Society would be tempted to call one man weak for ending his life while calling the other man brave for struggling to survive. They would most likely applaud the man on the street in Bangkok for his tenacity and perseverance in the face of such adversity. If his story reached the west, I have no doubt that several fundraising campaigns would spring to life to assist this man, to which I would happily donate. Contrast that with the executive who chose to end his life. I am sure the response to that would not be as understanding. I would expect the responses to be laden with confusion as to how a man who had reached the pinnacle of financial and vocational success could have chosen to take his own life.
Allow me to rewrite the story briefly. Today I saw a legless man on a Bangkok street begging for change. I marveled at his tenacity and perseverance in the face of such adversity. When I returned to my hotel a read an article that began “A 47-year-old financial company executive was pronounced dead on Wednesday when had a massive heart attack in his luxury apartment on the Upper West Side, authorities said.” See the difference? I even see the bias in the wording of the article. The use of the words “Luxury Apartment” biases the reader to view the man as privileged, further perpetuating the notion that people who choose suicide are weak. When a person dies from an identifiable disease such as cancer or heart disease, regardless of socioeconomic status, they are mourned. When a person of privilege or success dies of suicide they are viewed with derision. What is even more disturbing is later in the article we read “Oh my God, another one?” he said in disbelief. “Somebody committed suicide a few months ago … on the other side of the building. I can’t believe it, it’s almost exactly the same thing, but just around the side.” So two people who live in exclusive New York apartments decide to commit suicide within months of one another and crippled beggars in Bangkok struggle to survive day after day, year after year. Quite a juxtaposition.
Let me offer an alternate hypothesis. I believe, based on personal experience, that the successful person who commits suicide (as I am a successful person who almost did) is born with a predisposition for depression. That person who is born with this predisposition spends their entire life looking for ways to combat their sadness. One way they choose to combat their depression is to attempt to achieve financial and vocational success. They (we) believe that by achieving this success we will feel accomplished and no longer depressed. This makes complete sense as our limbic system is designed to reward success with the feel good chemical dopamine. The successful hunter in ancient times received dopamine after a successful hunt as an encouragement to achieve that success again just as the successful salesman will receive dopamine after closing a big sale. What happened to me, and what I believe happened to the two people who ended their lives in New York, was that they always had depression and suicidal thoughts. They attempted to assuage those proclivities through financial success. They lived their lives with the completely logical belief that when they achieved their goal their depression would subside. When they reached their goal and the depression was still present they came to the conclusion they would never be free from depression…so they chose to free themselves.
Instead of the article reading ;” A 47-year-old financial company executive was killed Wednesday when he jumped from a luxury apartment building on the Upper West Side, authorities said.” We could rewrite the article and the paradigm to read more like ; ”A 47-year-old financial company executive lost his battle with depression on Wednesday when he jumped from a luxury apartment building on the Upper West Side, authorities said.”
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