31 March 2009

Walker Percy on Suicide

The therapeutic rationale, which has never been questioned, is that depression is a symptom. A symptom implies an illness; there is something wrong with you. An illness should be treated...

Begin with the reverse hypothesis, like Copernicus and Einstein. You are depressed because you should be. You are entitled to your depression. In fact, you'd be deranged if you were not depressed. Consider the only adults who are never depressed: chuckleheads, California surfers, and fundamentalist Christians who believe they have had a personal encounter with Jesus and are saved for once and all. Would you trade your depression to be any one of these?...

Percy goes on to describe the true choice for the depressed when considering suicide. You can either become a non-suicide, avoiding the pain, treating symptoms, running, or you can become an ex-suicide, pushing into the pain, searching for your truth, stopping.

The non-suicide is a little traveling suck of care, sucking care with him from the past and being sucked toward care in the future. His breath is high in his chest.

The ex-suicide opens his front door, sits down on the steps, and laughs. Since he has the option of being dead, he has nothing to lose by being alive. It is good to be alive. He goes to work because he doesn't have to.

From Lost in the Cosmos by Walker Percy

I've been in deconstruction mode in a lot of areas of my life--religion and my work in specific. I was taught in school and in the profession at large to help people avoid suicide. I give people suicide contracts which state that they will not kill themselves until X-date. We keep the ball rolling (and protect ourselves legally). While there is merit in this (it is good that people do not kill themselves), I am realizing that it does not get the job done.

Percy confirmed this feeling with his essay on suicide and the way depression and suicidal ideation is treated by therapists. He makes the case that rather than helping people avoid suicide, stepping aside and then walking with them into the despair is the only chance at peace. Instead of asking, "What needs to happen for you to not kill yourself?" What if we asked, "What needs to die?"

Or to put it another way, to gain your life you must lose it.

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