After reading about the movement's growing popularity in the news, I had been considering the work of Project Semicolon as inspiration for my first tattoo. The initiative is described as "a faith-based movement dedicated to presenting hope and love for those who are struggling with depression, suicide, addiction and self-injury" on its website. Participants traditionally get a semicolon tattoo to affirm that instead of choosing to end their life -- as is done with a period -- they've elected to pause -- as is done with a semicolon -- before letting their story continue. Unfortunately, a faith-based community is where I endured some severe childhood trauma so Project Semicolon won't work for me.
But I appreciate the initiative, especially as one who feels like he's practically drunk dialed Suicide in the middle of the night and asked for a cuddle session. I also value the project because in 1982, the New York Times published an article entitled Why Are Blacks Less Suicide Prone Than Whites. But, as proof that the times they are a-changing, this past May, the New York Times published an article entitled Rise in Suicide by Black Children Surprises Researchers, with the first sentence reading "The suicide rate among black children has nearly doubled since the early 1990s, while the rate for white children has declined."
Sometimes I want to write about why black people have become more suicidal over the last 30 years. But then I look at the world and feel like Roy Scheider in Jaws: I'm gonna need a bigger boat.
Also, I rarely ever have the desire to write about suicide. It's too sad. But not writing doesn't keep suicide from whispering its song. Just a short while ago, a childhood friend was telling me about his own desire to fade away. This makes sense. Having that desire isn't a rare thing. Although, ironically, it's often a lonely thing, a quiet thing. Very quiet.
The scariest nature about suicidal thoughts, for me at least, is that they're tender. They produce one of the most valuable, but least accessible, commodities of our age: empathy. Suicide sidles up beside you and asks what's wrong. He's cuddly, a hugger, with arms wrapping around your soul like summer warmth. And he's got game. Suicide isn't going to hammer you with invectives, or try to push you around with rants about how you don't deserve to be here.
He's just going to take an interest in you, like no one else will.
He's Socratic. He questions. "I noticed you've been having a hard time connecting with other people lately. Been feeling lonely? And the job hunt is going on year two now, right?" he asks, concerned, faithful. "A shame. What have you got going for you? What's keeping you around?"
"I don't know," I answered sometimes.
"Why am I here?" I eventually pondered.
"Death does seem restful," I then admitted.
And before I knew it, the momentum was a windstorm, and all my own:
"I don't deserve life because I don't have the decency to at least just be grateful for it."
"My sadness is a burden on the people I love."
And the thoughts were all my creation with his fingerprints nowhere to be found. So now all Suicide does is rub my back and agree.
But therapy helped. And not so long ago I sat and listened to my dear friend tell me about his own affairs with Suicide, and I understood. And I empathized. But I also marveled -- because I wasn't there anymore.
Killing myself no longer held any value for me. And it no longer frightens me because, paradoxically, my flirtations with death have been a crucial part of my life. So I'll write about being suicidal from time to time and pretend that it's just because I like to make people squirm. But, really, it's because writing is my semicolon tattoo. This is how I pause.
Being suicidal is like being a midair plane with one good wing. Your relationship with death may be firmly in place, it may even be rational. But try staying airborne when your other wing, your relationship with life -- and all of its challenges -- rusts and barely hangs on. It takes more energy than most of us can sustain.
I don't really have a definitive statement about suicide to make. I'm not inclined to sprint straight for "don't do it." But that's only based on personal experience. I lean toward being a listener because I found that having someone who listened is what helped me. So, for me, if someone told me not to kill myself then maybe I wouldn't, but then I'd feel really guilty for having the suicidal desires while someone who cares so much about me wants me to live, and, surprise, guilt has a magical way of making a suicidal person feel very suicidal, and the more suicidal I feel, the more guilt I feel, and back and forth and on, and on, and on.
But I will say that the previous run-on sentence and its "if this, then this, and if this, then this" quality is kind of what it feels like to have a suicidal thought burning through your brain like an electric current.
And for some of us, thoughts about death will always be present in our lives, only stopping if we choose to stop. But I don't want to stop. So, sometimes I write or talk to a friend, all in the interest of just catching my breath. That's why I appreciate Project Semicolon, even if I don't get the tattoo. There are times when you want to stop; there are times when all you really need to do is pause.
Originally appeared at The Good Men Project