Symbolic Suicide

Normally I put rituals in another section, not the blog, but this particular one needs explanation. It feels like it would be irresponsible to post it without context and caveats.

Many of us are reeling from the news that Anthony Bourdain killed himself last night, after years of struggling with mental illness. There has been a lot of discussion on social media about depression, how it manifests, and whether suicide is a choice. And there have been hard feelings over disagreements. For many of us, it's personal, it makes us vulnerable, and it's raw.  I strongly believe that what we call "depression" is most likely several different illnesses - with different causes and thus different treatments - that we've grouped together based on similar symptoms because we don't understand them well enough to differentiate. That is why SSRIs provide blessed relief to some people whereas they make me feel like I want to claw my skin open and crawl out of my body.  That is why some of us feel like we chose against suicide over and over whereas other folks insist that when one ends one's life it's not a choice.  And that's why it isn't useful - could be potentially harmful even - to insist to others that one's own experiences are the way it is for everyone.

So I can only speak for myself. That I've suffered from depression since at least sixth grade. That in high school I thought about suicide pretty much every day.  That the thing that kept me going was a sense of duty to others.  That self-loathing and suicidal impulses continued through college.  And that gradually, over time, things got better. I still get depressed, but no longer think of suicide.  There is research that shows that the symptoms of depression lessen with age, whether that's due to change in brain chemistry or having learned coping mechanisms or both. 

This is not to claim that it gets better for everyone, or to deny that some people suffer experiences later in life that result in severe depression and/or crisis. Clearly Anthony Bourdain, who was 61, still found the suffering unbearable.  Kate Spade was 55.  So I'm not claiming that just because things got easier for me, they will for everyone; nor can I guarantee that things will get easier for you, if you are struggling right now.  But you are the reason why I am writing this, just in case it helps. I want you to know that for many people, depression does lessen with age. The pain eases and you learn how to better manage the pain you still have. The trick is to help you survive long enough to get to that point. And this is where I'm hoping one of the coping mechanisms I developed in college might help. I recognize that not everyone may think of suicide for the same reasons. For example, this ritual will likely not help you if you are facing bullying or other acute external forces. But I'm hoping that the thing that helped me survive may help some of you in similar situations. I hope it doesn't harm. Well, here goes:

For me, the desire to kill myself stemmed from thoughts that I was such a failure, so damaged, impossible to fix, hopeless. What I longed for was a "reset" button, a chance to start over. But I knew I couldn't do that. Still, I needed to do something to release the urge. That is how I developed what I called "ritual suicide." Or symbolic suicide. You don't really kill youself, but perform a ritual to kill off that part of you that you despise. Give yourself the chance to start over. 

Symbolic Suicide 

Time: Ideally late evening, or just before you'd normally sleep.

Advance preparation: Pick your "poison." For the sake of ritual power, pick foods that you normally do not eat. When I was in college I was very health conscious (much more so than I am now), so my "poisons" were diet Dr. Pepper and Twinkies.  

Step one: Cleanse. Take a nice long hot bath. Light candles, use special bath salts, whatever makes the experience feel more special. Transitions usually involve cleansing. You want to go into your new life free of the dirt of the old.

Step two: Suicide. Consume the "poisons" that you've prepared. 

Step three: Sleep. Tell yourself as you lay down, that you're not just sleeping. That as you sleep, the poisons that you just ingested will work in your body through the night, killing off those parts of you that you detest. And that when morning comes, you will wake up a new person, able to make a fresh start. 

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