Why Suicide is More Appealing Today than Yesterday

Before anyone worries too much, I’m not considering suicide.  Not today anyways.

This morning was Anthony Bourdain.  Not long before that was Kate Spade.  And between the two, how many others?  I can’t help but think that this is getting worse and not better.  There’s a negative energy that’s growing in our world and it’s impacting us in some profound ways.  I think these are conversations we need to have.

I can’t remember the first time I thought about suicide.  I was probably quite young.  It wasn’t a function of depression as much as it was an exercise in exploring the extremes.  It was probably a fight with my parents, or getting picked on at school.  A moment of woe is me, I bet I would matter more if they thought I had committed suicide.  In grade 12, I fell for a girl and was infatuated to the nth degree.  When she left me, I was convinced that I would never be happy again.  There was probably some consideration of suicide, but where I landed was that I wanted to be a fire fighter or something to that effect.  I figured that if I wasn’t capable of being happy, I could at least dedicate my life towards helping others.  It blew over and I moved on, but the conversation of suicide remained.

In my third year of university, I dated a girl who opened up to me about having tried to commit suicide.  According to her, she wasn’t dealing with a breakup very well and ended up going into the shed at the back of the house and slitting her wrists.  As she tells the story, her brother stumbled in on her and took her to the hospital, saving her life.  I asked to see her wrists, and saw no scars.  I was asked to keep this to myself as nobody else knew besides her brother.  I did my best to be supportive.  When we broke up, she told me that she didn’t think she could handle another breakup like this.  That she might go and do something extreme.  I reached out to her brother and asked him to keep an eye on her.   From what I can tell, she’s doing just fine these days.

It wasn’t something I could relate to.  Even in my darker, more melodramatic moments, I wasn’t interested in taking my own life.  It seemed like giving up.  For better or worse, this mindset of never giving up is hardwired into me.  I’d much rather go out on my shield.  Maybe that’s why I’ve often thought of ways in which I would be willing to sacrifice myself.. the hero’s death.  The idea was that if I was going to die, I wanted there to be as much value in my death as possible.  I either wanted to die of old age among a lifetime of accomplishments, or to die in a proper blaze of glory.  There was almost a mathematical element to it, if my life was worth ‘x’ and an honorable death would yield ‘x’ + 1, I’d take it.

When I started getting in over my head at the banks, I started looking for outs.  I wasn’t willing to throw any more money at the problem.  I wasn’t willing to quit or give up.  I wasn’t willing to compromise my integrity.  And I was running out of time.  Part of my role at the bank included being licensed for life insurance.  I remember reading that a life insurance policy would still pay out if you committed suicide, as long as more than 2 years had passed since you took out the policy and when you took your life.  Hmm…

Last year, I was in a relationship with a girl who had been through a fair bit.  In grade 11, she was in a head on collision with a motorcyclist and the motorcyclist didn’t make it.  She went through some rough patches around that.  Her family was not as supportive as they could’ve been.  I knew this, but I also knew that she had been keeping something from me.  I knew it was something dark, so I told her that I would be ready if she got to a point where she wanted to share.  One night, we were hanging out in my car and the conversation went in that direction.  Feeling like I had an opening, I asked if she spent much time thinking about death.

I told her that I think about it often.  In the last 7 years, I’ve lost parents, friends, and family members… how could I not?  I told her that every once in a while, when life gets to be a bit much, I think about suicide.  What would it be like?  How would I do it?  Would I have the courage or the conviction?  Would I regret it?  She was surprised that I was talking about these things so calmly and openly.  She opened up to me about her experiences and we had a remarkable conversation.

At first, I think she almost expected me to freak out or want to report her to a hotline.  I didn’t, I just listened.  And when she talked about life getting to be too much, I told her I could relate.  I told her that’s when I think about it too.  I told her about the conversations that take place in my head when I reach those dark corners, and then I told her about all the things that bring me back to the light.  I could tell that she had never connected with someone else on this.  It’s easier when you don’t have to face things alone.

After that conversation, I can’t help but think that the contemplation of suicide is a sign of a healthy, curious mind that’s going through some things.  I spent most of my life thinking that people who are ‘suicidal’ are mentally weak, or damaged, or so distraught with life that I could never relate.  I suspect that most people have had a similar perspective.  Perhaps this is why we feel alone rather than connected when we have these kinds of thoughts.  If thoughts of suicide only happened in extreme and rare cases, then perhaps it would be indicative of faulty hardware and perhaps those people should feel scared and alone.  But if thoughts of suicide were had by most individuals in times of extreme duress, isn’t that something we should be aware of?  Something that we should collectively acknowledge?

I’ve seen different ways of communicating what it’s like to have suicidal thoughts, none better than this by the late David Wallace,

“The so-called ‘psychotically depressed’ person who tries to kill herself doesn’t do so out of quote ‘hopelessness’ or any abstract conviction that life’s assets and debits do not square. And surely not because death seems suddenly appealing. The person in whom Its invisible agony reaches a certain unendurable level will kill herself the same way a trapped person will eventually jump from the window of a burning high-rise. Make no mistake about people who leap from burning windows. Their terror of falling from a great height is still just as great as it would be for you or me standing speculatively at the same window just checking out the view; i.e. the fear of falling remains a constant. The variable here is the other terror, the fire’s flames: when the flames get close enough, falling to death becomes the slightly less terrible of two terrors. It’s not desiring the fall; it’s terror of the flames. And yet nobody down on the sidewalk, looking up and yelling ‘Don’t!’ and ‘Hang on!’, can understand the jump. Not really. You’d have to have personally been trapped and felt flames to really understand a terror way beyond falling.”

And yet the final thoughts of almost every person who has survived a jump off the Golden Gate bridge, are thoughts of regret..

 

‘What have I just done?  I don’t want to die.  God please save me.  Boom.’

 

There’s something happening here.  We need to talk about this.  Posting the suicide prevention hotline to your social media account isn’t enough.  Thoughts and prayers are not enough.  We need to have real conversations.  We need to acknowledge that suicidal thoughts have a place within a modern society like ours, and we need to do a better job of understanding why.

Unemployment rates are at all-time lows while income inequality is at an all-time high.  There’s no lack of work, just a lack of income for it.  With a lack of income comes a lack of opportunity.. The lack of opportunity to own your own home, or to further your education, or even to start your own family.  How many of us were raised with the idea that the only thing between us and a good life was hard work?  How many of us are at a point now where no matter how hard we work, we can’t seem to make any progress?  And how many of us are getting a sense that these factors are largely out of our control?

That’s hopelessness.

I can’t help but think that this structural shift in equality of wealth is the underlying reason for all this pain and suffering.. it’s the root of what we’re ultimately desperate to escape.  Like J. Cole said, ‘you can’t take it when you die but you can’t live without it.’  When wealth has been shifted from the many to the few, this is how it plays out.  When there isn’t enough to go around, people fall back into their tribes, looking to protect their own.  Rather than looking for a solution to the problem, we’re looking for someone to blame.  People become quick to draw lines in the sand between us and them.  Social discourse becomes hostile.  Where we were connected, we are now divided.  And it all starts to break down.

If we’re looking for an analogy for how this plays out, we don’t have to look far.  It sounds remarkably like climate change to me.  The planet is a large and complex ecosystem which tends to exist within an equilibrium.  Adjusting the average temperature of the planet by a few degrees over a long period of time isn’t something that most people would notice, but that’s not all that’s changing.  With a shift in temperature comes a shift in equilibrium and the path from here to there is filled with chaos.  Heat waves are now keeping planes from taking off.  Blizzards are lasting well into the spring.  Every hurricane that comes along seems to be worse than the one before.

By shifting the distribution of wealth by a few degrees over a long period of time, a lot of people didn’t notice.  But they see the mass shootings.  They see the school shootings.  They see the police brutality.  They see the Charlottesville protests.  They see the government corruption.  They see how little they’re making.  They see how much they owe.  They see what level of health care is available to them.  They see the opiates in the community.  And they see that we’ve lost the ability to talk these things through.  Things are heating up.

When I think about the world we live in right now, it’s not easy.  Then I remind myself that for some, this path is harder than others.  Then I remind myself that not everyone is equipped with the tools to deal with these things.  And that’s when I think no-shit people are struggling, these are hard times.  These are the times where those with nothing to lose and those with everything to lose are choosing to escape rather than endure.  And I can’t help but think that this is a function of hope.

 

 

 

There’s a Storm Coming

I tried to write an entry on reverse seniority last night.  I couldn’t do it.  I’m bugging out.

No cannabis.  That’s probably part of it.

I have a brain that doesn’t turn off, a large appetite for information, and an obsession for understanding things.  Something I’ve been doing since high school is recognizing patterns and using them to predict what comes next.  Nothing is concrete, just possibilities and probabilities.  Too many variables to keep track of, but sometimes you can see part of the picture and filling in the rest isn’t so tough.

Coming from an investment background, it’s difficult to ignore what I see in the markets.  Bonds are paying next to nothing.  The equity market hasn’t had a major correction in about 10 years.  The housing market is on tilt.  Even crypto is now detached from reality.  Besides my private equity investments, I’m now in 100% cash for the first time in my life.  It’s like being at a poker table with a bunch of drunk rookies.  I have chips, I know how to play, but when everyone else at the table is throwing money at shitty hands… you have to be patient.  Some days are easier than others.

My friends and I used to battle it out for who could be more generous.  We’d always enjoy trying to pay for one another.  Now we’re too poor to hang out with each other.  Half of them still live with their parents to avoid paying rent.  I look at my generation and I see an epidemic of drugs used to treat an epidemic of depression.  If it wasn’t for my drive and my lack of emotions, I’d probably be in the same boat.  Considering how much weed I was smoking, maybe I was in the same boat.  I’m surrounded by a generation of kids who were told that if they stayed in school and worked hard, they’d be able to land themselves a good career and that a good career would lead to a comfortable life.  I’m surrounded by a generation of the most educated kids we’ve ever produced, entering into a rapidly deteriorating job market, with the highest cost of living we’ve experienced in modern history.  We’re barely treading water.  Something’s gotta give.

Maybe it’s the birth rate.  Maybe this is how we cull the population.  I literally broke up with the first girl I thought I’d marry because she was fixated on having children in the immediate future.  I wasn’t willing to bring a family into this world without building a foundation first.  The biological clock is real.  And my heart goes out to the women struggling to understand what they should be doing at a time like this.

I saw Paul Ryan on TV the other night saying that the Republican tax reform was going to give the middle class the boost it needed to get back to having kids.  What a bold faced lie.  But that’s become the status quo for American politics.  Only a few of us will actually put the effort into understanding what’s going on.  The rest of us will just pick a team.  Red or Blue.  By picking a team, we think we’re taking a stand for what we believe in.  But we’re not.  Red or Blue, it’s the same song and dance.  The value of a politician isn’t a function of policies, their ability to inspire, or their ability to govern – it’s their ability to raise funds for their campaign.  Why?  Because the best campaign wins the seat.  But in the age of billion dollar campaigns, where is this funding coming from?  Big business and the top 1%.  So is an elected official’s loyalty to the people who voted for them?  Or to the people who paid for them?  If you’re not sure, I suggest you ask net neutrality.

With problems this obvious though, how are we not motivated towards change?  I’d argue that we are.  Trump was elected for exactly that reason.  As much as I liked Obama, he didn’t do enough to stop what was coming.  People were left behind.  All the pain and disillusion that we’re seeing in major cities today, the rural towns were ahead of the curve.  But they were team red.  They were loyal.  And someone on team red came along and said I have all the answers, here’s who you should blame, and if they ever say otherwise, they’re lying.  MAGA.  And half the country became complicit.

But maybe this is just what we needed.  When Trump was elected, I knew he didn’t have the character, integrity, or intelligence to be a great president, but I was open to the possibility of him being a good president.  As things started to play out, I knew that ship had sailed.  What did occur to me though is that he might still be valuable.  He might be so crooked, so corrupt, and so incompetent that the world couldn’t help but see that he had reached the most powerful seat in the world – not by merit – but through the abuse of American ignorance and a system which has been compromised beyond repair.  And maybe that would be our motivation.

You know what I wanted for Christmas this year?  Mueller.  I check my newsfeeds at least a dozen times a day.  Every time I do, I hope to see another piece of the puzzle.  Eventually, I hope to see justice.  And perhaps justice means that Trump is exonerated from crimes which he didn’t commit.  But I doubt it.  And I’m good at predicting these things.

So what happens when one of the most respected law enforcement officials of all time lifts the veil on the real Donald Trump?  What do those tax returns actually look like?  How much is he actually worth?  Who does he actually owe money to?  And what happens if there was collusion?  Will it be enough to shatter the image and faith placed in Trump?  I hope so.

I see the clouds on the horizon, and I can hear rumbles of thunder, but the storm is still too far away.  And I wanna dance in the rain.

I don’t know what that first crack of lightning will be.  Maybe it will be Trump going to jail.  Maybe it’ll be the Republicans refusing to impeach him.  Maybe it’ll be a loss of consumer confidence that triggers an overdue recession.  Maybe it’ll be the bond bubble that’s been growing since the last recession.  Maybe it’ll be China’s house of cards that finally topples.  Or maybe it’s on us.  Maybe we finally realize that you and I aren’t so different.  Maybe we realize that we aren’t the enemy.  Maybe we realize that we’re in this together…. and maybe we march together, up those stairs, and tell them that this does not belong to you.

And tear the whole. god. damn. thing. down.

Escapism

Alcohol consumption has been increasing steadily for the last 10 years.  Cannabis use is at an all-time high.  Opioids have been declared a national emergency.    Entire sub-cultures of youth and young adults are finding fewer and fewer reasons to leave the house.  It’s like we’re all trying to escape from all this… sucking.

Do well in school.  Work hard.  Be nice to others.  Pretty common advice for most of us growing up.  We were supposed to do well in school so that we could learn the skills necessary to earn a good income.  We were to work hard because the more effort we put in, the greater the reward.  We should be nice to others because it’s important that we all get along.

So what happens when you do well in school but struggle to find a job when you graduate?  And what about those who had to take out student loans?  What happens when you realize that you’re not the one being rewarded for your hard work?  And what happens when you start to feel like the world has genuinely given up on getting along with one another?

You escape.

We all hallucinate our own reality and it is by that mechanism that we can choose to exist in a reality where we don’t feel the weight of these issues.  Some escape to a digital reality, some to an altered state, but the objective is still the same – being there is better than being here.

Why not just step your game up and go take what the world owes you?  Just make sure you out-perform your peers and you’ll get that top 1% lifestyle that you’ve always wanted.  And once you get there, you’ll know that you’ve made it and that you’re truly different than the other 99%.  That’s what a younger me would’ve said.  To the victor go the spoils, so just make sure you win.  Modern-day cannibalism at its finest.

The problem with the ‘try harder’ approach is that it only works in a zero-sum scenario.  If a few people put in more effort while everyone else is doing the same as they were, those who are putting in more effort are likely to receive more rewards.  If everyone puts in more effort, relatively speaking, the effort levels all remain the same.  Effectively, if we all try hard, we all stay exactly where we are.

So being a grown-up is nothing like what we were told.  Effort is no longer the difference between being rich and poor.   Jobs are disappearing to automation at an increasing rate.  The cost of living is climbing faster than income.  Debt has replaced savings.  Home ownership and a family are now an irresponsible financial decision for most.  And when we look to our leaders and our policy makers in the hopes of change, we see one of the most embarrassing breakdowns of governance in the modern age.

We can’t seem to get to where we want to go.  The advice we were given did not hold up.  We’re being told it’s because we’re lazy.  We’re being told that we’re the problem.  It just doesn’t make sense…

Depression.

Escape.

But we rise.

Our hope that the human condition will prevail remains in tact.  While you look to divide, we look to connect.  Where you seek control, we seek freedom.  Where you look to horde, we look to share.  Where you look to keep secrets, we look to expose the truth.  While you’ve looked to maintain the status quo, we look to challenge it.  And where you fear the future, we embrace it.

We’re just trying to be patient, waiting for our turn.  We see you trying to drag this out though.  I recommend against it.  It’s not a fight you’ll win.