Nine years ago my dear friend walked to the end of the San Simeon pier, climbed over the railing, and jumped in to the icy Pacific Ocean. Her body washed ashore three days later.
Two years ago a relative of mine downed a bottle of Prozac with a fifth of vodka and passed out in her bathroom. She survived, thanks to a random call that woke her husband who found her.
And last month, a kind newspaper reporter I met during a phone interview leaped off Maroon Creek Bridge. He leaves behind a teenaged daughter, a wife, and a confused and grieving community, including several friends of mine of who knew him well.
I imagine we all know someone who has committed suicide, attempted it, or thought about it. Perhaps that “someone” is ourselves.
Writer Augusten Burroughs says if you’re miserable, go ahead and end your life. Not kill yourself, but end your life as you know it. Remake yourself. Move. Change your name.
That’s exactly what he did.
In Burroughs’ tongue-in-cheek yet surprisingly satisfying self-help book, This is How, he explains, well, how he started over.
Originally born “Christopher Robison” to a mentally ill mother and an alcoholic father, he moved in with his mother’s psychiatrist when his parents divorced. (See his book, Running with Scissors, for the hilarious and horrific details.)
At age 18 he decided to leave behind his ludicrous life. He began by changing his name: he borrowed “Burroughs” from a brand of adding machines made famous in the 1950s. And now look at him — a best-selling author!
I never thought about this until now, but years ago a friend of mine made a similar move. Only we were on the receiving end of it and didn’t think too highly of his decision at the time.
Hair in the Sink
Let’s call my friend “Jon.” One evening Jon’s wife arrived home and wondered why his car wasn’t in the driveway. In the living room she noticed the stereo was missing, and in the bathroom she found Jon’s sheared hair — long black curls — spilling out of the sink. Several days later she discovered their joint savings account had been emptied.
How we despised Jon for what he did. What kind of lame-ass cheese-dick just ups and moves like that?!?
All these years later, after watching people I care about end or try to end their lives for real, I can view Jon’s move with awe. He started over, with nothing but a bad haircut and a stereo. He got in his rickety old station wagon and drove south for 950 miles. He saved himself.
That is fucking awesome.
Yes, he broke his wife’s heart. Yes, he pissed off his friends and hurt his family. Yes, he left behind his dog and most of his belongings and his funky old house in the Colorado mountains.
But he survived.
I’ve never talked to him about why he did what he did. But in retrospect, I see the courage in it.
So if by chance you’re out there thinking of killing yourself, end your current life instead.
Dye your hair, clean out the bank account, buy a one-way ticket and get the hell out of Dodge!
Start over. Try again. Make a major change. Do life differently this time with what you know now.
You are worth it.
Life is worth it.
Perhaps I am being naive. Perhaps starting anew isn’t really an option for some people, especially if they have a terminal illness, a life-long drug addiction, or a debilitating mental illness, like the friend, family member and reporter I mentioned earlier.
But it sure seems worth trying, don’t you think?