Beyond Time and Space
Adapted from Dr. Judith Orloff’s new book Emotional Freedom: Liberate Yourself From Negative Emotions and Transform Your Life (Harmony Books, 2009).
The dark night of all dark nights is the hopelessness of wanting to die.
In this state, you can see no promised land beyond depression.
Over the years, several of my patients have attempted suicide. One did die: a heavy metal rocker with a sapphire-blue Mohawk and a sensitive soul. But super-stardom could never allay his depression or persistent back pain for which none of the many specialists he consulted could locate a medical cause. Legions of fans revered him, but he didn’t revere himself. He felt happy and pain-free only on stage, immersed in his music and adulation. When he killed himself, we hadn’t met for many months, but I was deeply saddened. I’d been his safe place for two years; we’d been very close. I did everything I could think of to help him, but he was on a runaway course. Plus, he was surrounded by shark-like managers who urged him to go on tour despite his precarious condition. Intellectually, I realized all this, but still I lamented my inability to save his life. I’ll always miss him. I’ll always recall those days I’d visited him after a previous suicide attempt. He was on a locked psychiatric ward along with others who were psychotic, suicidal, and homicidal. To me, it’s a crime to put someone who’s depressed in with that mix. I wish I could’ve sent him to a peaceful retreat with sunlit porches and hammocks to dream on. But our mental health system isn’t organized like that. All those needing intensive care go to the same hellish ward in traditional hospitals. So I saw him there until he was no longer suicidal. Against my advice he went back on the road too soon. I was greatly afraid for him. Then, four months later, I got the call: he was found dead in his London hotel room after slashing his wrists.
Most suicides are preventable with skilled interventions. I know people--including those on a spiritual path--who at dark times have considered taking their lives. (Suicide is the eleventh leading cause of death among Americans.) If you’ve had these thoughts, they’re nothing to be ashamed of. But I also know that suicide isn’t the answer. Freedom comes when you persist in searching for the light until it’s visible again.
In service to our growth, life asks an extraordinary amount of us. That used to anger me. Some situations seemed unendurable. Watching my ebullient, talented mother waste away from cancer, struggling to find strength to be there for her without disintegrating, I’d inwardly protest, “I can’t do it. I don’t have it in me.” But I did--and had to see that. So must you. Try to keep reaching beyond pain towards a greater power within. My spiritual teacher says, “Heaven is not a dead-end road.” With hope and the proper support, you will find it.
For years I believed suicide was an option we had the right to choose if things got rotten enough. I no longer feel this way except, possibly, with terminal patients in constant physical agony. From deepening my intuition, I came to realize that holding onto suicide as an out separated me from the essence of living. A commitment to staying in my body through it all was mandatory for being fully alive. Thus, to be more present, I’ve vowed to follow the wisdom of whatever life brings.
Weigh this critical point: Leaving your body doesn’t make emotional challenges disappear. The soul’s work continues. What I intuitively sense about its destinations is that who you are here is who you’ll be there too, albeit without the physical form you’re accustomed to identifying with. I don’t mean this punitively. I’m simply saying you’ll eventually have to face your demons. Personally, I’d rather do it now than drag out the ordeal. I prefer to go onto other things. For those who believe in past lives, facing the self is unavoidable. Whether now or in distant eons, you must do it. This is good. This is purifying.
I’ve had an ex-boyfriend and some acquaintances commit suicide when depression became unbearable. Two by overdosing, one with a gun. Though I wasn’t in regular contact with these people at the time they took their lives, I was notified by mutual friends the day each suicide happened. While I was shaken by both these losses and the terrible desperation that must have occasioned them, I was also curious about where these people went and their subsequent state of being. So I tuned in, simultaneously inquisitive and anticipatorily weary about the kinds of pain I’d encounter. What did I find? None of them were in places I’d ever want to be, and each felt utterly lost. Always there was severe confusion, a swirling-through-limbo vertigo that made me nauseous. Where they were at felt like the alarming, abrupt plummeting of an airplane during turbulence--but cube that by the speed of light and picture if it didn’t let up. Still, despite the dire straits they were all clearly in, I also intuited a beneficent force surrounding them, though it didn’t seem as if they recognized it. They felt totally alone. When tuning into the lawyer who’d shot herself in the head, I found her disorientation was so jolting I could barely stay with it. This panicked woman had no idea where she was. Dizzying, disjointed memories of her life were bombarding her at such speed, “overwhelmed” didn’t begin to describe her condition. I suspect it took a while to find her bearings and proceed to a calmer place. From what I could intuit, the violence of her suicide made the transition even more chaotic. Once I got the gist of her experience, I wanted out of that vision so I didn’t risk absorbing such angst.
I share my perceptions with you to offer what I sensed about suicide. As you can see, it may not be a way out of anything, as many depression sufferers envision. Though the pain in question may be temporarily put on the back burner, suicide seems to create another set of problems and a tumultuous journey. Even so, I’m certain that the soul eventually finds clarity and gets all the chances it needs to master emotional obstacles.
My duty as physician and healer is to talk people out of suicide. I can be effective because I absolutely know there’s hope for everyone and that depression is a distortion. It swallows the light, making misery seem like the only truth. But it is not. You must remember that. If ever suicide starts looking good, stop, regroup, and fight to find hope. Reach out for help. Don’t be seduced by the voice of depression.