Thought of the Week: When the End Comes

I see lamp posts on the way home from work. Especially in the dark, I see them standing there, tall and innocuous, lighting my way. They catch my eye. I can’t help but notice; with each one that goes by, I think of driving my car into it.

I couldn’t go to work on Monday. I couldn’t face it. Later, I got a migraine; in the midst of the agony, I hoped it might be a tumor.

I came across several articles about the death penalty today. I read about people destined for execution with envy.

I wonder what it’s like to feel your heart stop beating.

There is something deeply wrong in my brain.

This is hardly the first time I’ve had these thoughts, and it certainly won’t be the last. Some years ago I went much further, looking deep into procuring things like cyanide and what a fatal dose of potassium chloride is. I never did more than look, but it was enough to tell me: there is no painless way out. Dying hurts.

I also came to the realization that my own death is some ways off. In my teens I resolved to kill myself, and that resolution stands still—I want to die by my own hand. But the time … the time isn’t right. If you think the pain of dying might be worse than your daily suffering, then it isn’t time. If you think—even the slightest inkling—that you might, in the moments after you cut, or jump, or pull the trigger, regret your decision with no way back, then it isn’t time.

My life isn’t awful, by any stretch of the imagination. In fact, I have it pretty good. Sometimes people wonder what I have to be depressed about. The answer, rather unsatisfactorily, is nothing at all. Unlike grief, or anger, or despair when you lose your job, depression isn’t ‘about’ anything at all. There is something deeply wrong in my brain, a wayward quirk of chemistry without a cure.

Behavioral diseases are difficult to handle, to assess. If my motor neurons stopped communicating, I’d stop moving. Straight-forward and observable. But when my cognitive neurons don’t do their job, my entire demeanor and personality changes. How much of what I do is of my own volition, and how much is the disease? There’s no black-and-white answer.

I can’t ignore the impact this has on those around me. I make things significantly more difficult for everyone I interact with. My wife hates me, hates the extra work she has to do to accommodate me. I fail utterly to behave like a responsible adult, and she despises me. My son bursts into tears when I yell at him, unprovoked. I try to reconcile afterward, tell him I love him, but how much damage can I possibly undo? What kind of life am I setting him up for?

Guilt is a powerful motivator, but as the years progress I’ve become increasingly convinced that nothing is more powerful than the faulty synaptic connections in my brain. I am at the whim of the disease. I—the ‘me’, the personality that defines who I am—am not in control of my own body. I am doomed to go through the rest of my life in pain, hurting everyone I know by proxy.

These are the thoughts that consume me when I contemplate the end. A relief from my own pain is gloriously tempting, but more so is the relief of others’. How liberating to think that, of all the sources of agony the world has to offer my loved ones, I’ll no longer be one of them. My absence would hurt them too, but how different would it be to peeling off a band-aid—a moment of pain that allows the wound to heal?

But there are longer-term consequences that also hold me back. My parents would blame my wife, and the rift between them would widen. My son might never see his grandparents again. He is also still young, and finds emotional and mental support from me, even at my worst. There are things that, through nothing but my continued existence, I can continue to do. This passive existence is hollow and meaningless, but it’s the least I can do. I wouldn’t have my own destruction bring more down on others.

But one day, things will be different. There will come a day when my son no longer depends on me. When my parents are dead themselves. When my wife can no longer stand the sight of me. Or, there will come a day when my daily agony overcomes the physical pain of death. When I know I won’t regret the final decision. And I know that, when the end comes, I’ll be ready for it.

Until then, I can at least take solace in the knowledge that each day that goes by brings me one step closer to that end.

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