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Suicide: One More Thing I Suck At

The secret to beating those dark thoughts might be deceptively simple

Harold Lloyd hangs on a clock outside a building
FilmPublicityArchive/United Archives via Getty Images

According to a psychological profile done when I was 8, I was “a youngster who values being ‘smart’ and … projecting this sense of competency to others.” 

Aside from the youngster part, it’s still true. I like to be good at things. I like others to think I am good at things. But I’m very bad at and kinda dumb about one thing in particular, and that core incompetency has saved my life. 

I suck at suicide.

Suicide is a nontrivial matter for men in middle age. One hundred thirty Americans die by suicide every day, according to the Centers for Disease Control. One hundred three of those suicides are men, and the most at-risk group is middle-aged men. Men like me. Or like men I admire: Anthony Bourdain (who killed himself by hanging at 61) and David Berman of the Silver Jews (who committed suicide at 52).

If those icons couldn’t fight off the dark thoughts, what chance did I have?

Ever since I can remember as an adult, I’ve lived with thoughts of killing myself. Sometimes they just burble in the background like self-annihilating Muzak.

Sometimes, when depression is a frequent and overbearing visitor, the thoughts cross that invisible threshold from ideas to ideation.

Yet, I am still very much alive. Why? Because I’m a failure at offing myself.

There are, to be sure, profound reasons to stay alive. 

Chief among them is my children. I can’t say I’m a very good father, but I think I’d be an even worse dead one. But when I’m at the depth of depression, circling suicide like a penny in a funnel, this circle of logic simply increases the arrows of guilt and shame. 

To be honest, what’s stopping me these days are a series of really stupid logistical questions. 

Questions like, who will take care of Hermione, my dog, when I’m gone? Maybe my ex-wife? No, she’s not allowed to have dogs. My ex-girlfriend? True, she loves Hermione, but how do I explain why I’m dropping her off with a whole bag of Blue Buffalo Grain-Free Chicken?

I live in a somewhat decrepit apartment, a constant source of ennui. The walls are basically cardboard and the studs few and far between. To what could I possibly attach a rope?

I once did try to hang myself—the first and (so far) only time I ever earnestly attempted it—using a leather belt in the closet. I stopped not because the closet rod would almost certainly have broken, but because my son knocked on the door and asked, “Daddy, what are you doing in there?”

It just seemed too sad to have my last words to him be, “Struggling to figure out how to fit my head in this loop.”

I have several books in the works, most of which I’m cowriting. I can’t just disappear before meeting those deadlines, can I? And there are my tattoos to consider. What a waste to have this art decay with me prematurely.

I know these are all deeply silly excuses. And to those who’ve never contemplated suicide, they might seem flippant. But that penumbra of seriousness, I think, does a disservice to all of us who live with thoughts of suicide. 

I mean it’s dark and sad, sure, but it’s not dark and sad and devoid of humor. I mean, listen to Purple Mountains, Berman’s brilliant last album before hanging himself. If there’s a more funny and hummable suicide note, I’ve yet to find it. 

Now, as winter and the holidays loom like a float of doom at a crappy parade, I know suicidal thoughts are waiting to jump out from behind every corner. They’re like the Next Episode button on a Netflix show. Always there. Ineluctable.

If you, like me at this moment, don’t have an inner cheerleader shouting “L-I-V-E!” with each of her pompoms representing the wonderful, brilliant bounty life has to offer, maybe it’s enough to make stupid excuses against suicide.

Maybe it’s the zucchini that’ll turn mushy in your fridge, or the annoyance felt by your friends if you’re a no-show at brunch, or your curiosity about Season 4 of Stranger Things. They can, for now at least, be as good a reason as any to remain among the living.

Whatever it takes, man. Whatever it takes.

(If you are struggling with thoughts of suicide, the Suicide Prevention Hotline is available around the clock, 365 days a year, at 800-273-8255.)