Nurturing The Will To Live

There are as many ways to live by one’s own choosing as there are to die by one’s own hands. The ICD-10(International Classification of Diseases, 10th edition) is more concerned with statistics on the means people employ to kill themselves such as firearms or overdose than why they choose to die by their own hands. Perhaps suicidologists and researchers should be more concerned with what motivates people to live rather than kill themselves. Most people would agree that a greater than average amount of will and determination is needed to kill oneself deliberately. Yet , on the flip side, most people are too willing to let life casually happen to them, not realising that choosing to live also requires will and determination, that is to truly live and not just exist.

There’s no doubt life can be difficult if not traumatic at times. Friends can betray you, love disappoint, your lack of confidence may leave you feeling powerless to change your situation such as bullying at school, rejection, overwhelming debt, an addiction you can’t seem to break. There will always be unpleasant circumstances human beings have to deal with, but why is it that one person will endure and overcome whilst another faced with similar circumstances, will lose heart and long for death. It is not the availability of means which determines whether people kill themselves, but rather the strength of will to self-destruct. One way of asking whether something is good or acceptable, is to ask yourself this question – what would happen if everyone behaved this way? If everyone decided to self-destruct when the going got tough, the following would occur:

  • Societies would stop developing. There would be no point in starting any big undertakings to improve society as the workforce would likely start dropping off
  • People would be grief-stricken because loved ones would be reeling from the non-stop loss of those they loved who did not see fit to share their inner pain and therefore allow them a chance to intervene.
  • There would be a perpetual cloud of gloom and doom hovering over societies.
  • The sale of anti-depressants and anti-anxiety medication would go through the roof, as people would take them as preventative measures, and insist that their loved ones do the same.
  • We would become afraid of our own emotions, and so in an effort to avoid difficult emotions, we would avoid situations which might engender them. People would therefore avoid risk and challenge, and would become emotional zombies.

Someone once wrote that you will not find your life worth living, but must make it so, and that requires all the ardour of which you are capable. Yes, that’s what’s needed in life – more not less enthusiasm. So, how can we nurture the will to live? Here are some tools:

Tool 1 -We can literally learn to fall in love with life itself. This means we ask little of life and ironically gain much in return. We do not set up unhelpful pre-conditions for our happiness – “I will be happy when…

  • I graduate
  • Get married
  • Get my dream job
  • Earn £…

Rather, we take perverse delight in the little things:

  • The wind in our hair
  • The taste of our favourite meal
  • When our head hits the pillow at night
  • A card from a friend

Tool 2 -Give examples from history of people who used impediments to their gain? Give examples from history of people who used impediments to their gain?

No doubt thoughts are whizzing round your head at uncontrollable speed with hypnotic repetition. You would do well to get them off your mind and on to paper, or share them with a responsible, impartial listener. Tell them how you want your life script to end i.e. what you want to achieve out of life

Tool 3 – Walk a mile in someone else’s shoes

The practise of empathy or focusing all your energy on another human being besides yourself. Find an available person willing to talk with a pleasant voice. Engage him/her in conversation simply by asking them about how life is going for them. Focus on actively listening and ask periodic questions to clarify what they are saying.

Tool 4 – Positive self-talk

You are the one whom you spend all your time with. Friends and family only visit. They can’t get inside your head unless you let them in. but you live there. Is it a nice place to be? Record your voice on to a Dictaphone using the following script. Your mind may struggle to believe what you’re reading but pretend for a moment you are a highly paid actor. Assume a cheerful tone. Play the tape back to yourself at least three times a day:

  • “I am valuable to the world”
  • “I am loved”
  • “I am capable”
  • “I have a lot to offer”

Tool 5 -Serenity prayer

“God give me the serenity to accept the things I can’t change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.

As long as you’re alive change is inevitable. Positive change requires effort, but effort need not be overwhelming. You can pace yourself – step by step, brick by brick. No doubt you feel life has been pushing and dragging you around, taking you to places, people and circumstances you don’t like. Write down all the things in your life you could change with effort.

Suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem. We did some trouble shooting today. You may need a helping hand. Help is out there – you just have to know where to look. Why rush into eternity. Why not give yourself a little more time to find some answers.

Let’s Not Dwell Too Much On Death

Those who are suicidal, in the vast majority of circumstances have considered their own death not just as a one-off, quick thought just before the act, but over and over again. They may reach the stage where they begin to experience anticipatory grief concerning themselves. It may then become a foregone conclusion that they must die. In the book ‘Dying, Death and Bereavement’, Lewis R. Aiken writes “death row inmates ‘think intensively about themselves and what it will be like when they are dead. Knowing that one is about to die results in …focusing on the self to such an extent that the person literally begins to mourn or grieve for himself.”[Schneidman, 1980c]

Every now and then our life will be interrupted by thoughts of death. There are those who are faced to deal with death more than others. They may deal with the dying and the dead on a daily business such as doctors and healthcare workers, fire-fighters, paramedics, funeral directors and pathologists and priests. Although they visit death in their minds, they should never linger there. Ironically, for most of these occupations, the focus is on preserving life, recovering life and health, and where that fails ensuring that the correct physical, legal and spiritual procedures are met to prepare the dead for burial, cremation and the afterlife.

Ultimately, life is short and for most of us comes to soon. We must focus on life for life is for the living. The down-hearted, grieving and sick can be helped by loved ones and well-wishers by re-directing their attention to the business of living. Where motivation is lacking to do so, then it may be necessary to go through the motions of getting out of bed, planning a special outing or event. We all need something to look forward to. The ultimate anticipation is the afterlife which is a never-ending state whereas all earthly sources of anticipation will ultimately come and go.

How can we make the mental adjustment to press on with living when our hopes have been dashed, we are grieving the death of a loved one or the loss of a relationship. Here are some suggestions:

  • Remember that your loved one would want you to carry on and be happy
  • We do not fail until we stop trying
  • Manual labour which is repetitive such as weeding the garden, mopping the floor, polishing the silver, washing the car can act in a therapeutic way to take our attention off ourselves as well as impart a sense of achievement.
  • You may not think your life is worth living for yourself but you can make a world of difference to the life of someone else in need. Why not volunteer your time, skills to a charity.

Was Life Meant To Be Easy

Just to be born is worth celebrating. You beat tremendous odds just to make it out of the womb, but God knew you would make it. All that you are which makes you unique is there from conception -”From the instant of fertilization, that first single cell contains the entire genetic blueprint in all its complexity. This accounts for every detail of human development, including the child’s sex, hair and eye colour, height, and skin tone.”Randy Alcorn, Why pro-life? Caring for the unborn and their mothers (Sandy, Oregon: Eternal Perspective Ministries , 2004),34

God declares in His Word that we are “fearfully and wonderfully made”; and so we should fear God who “knit us together in our mother’s womb” and live in awe and wonder at the miracle of ourselves as created beings. Spiritual life is also vital to appreciate and savour the joy of being alive, without which we are in danger of becoming the walking dead with all the medical vital signs of being alive such as breathing and heart pumping, but no real sense of purpose or why the need to go on living.

The sweetness is ironically in the struggle; a life without struggle is a shallow, hollow existence. We are privy to so many contrasting accounts of varying attitudes to life:

  • Cancer-stricken, terminally ill youngsters such as Stephen Sutton who would have given anything to be able to live;
  • Premature babies clinging on to life despite the odds
  • People so keen to end their lives they fly out to clinics in far off lands where it is legal to pay for doctor-assisted suicide.

These are reminders that often death comes quite unexpectedly.  The lesson is that life must never be treated with complacency, indifference or irreverence. It is a precious commodity which is terminal by nature, so why hasten its termination?

Suicide is now viewed by many as a legitimate means of escape from problems. Although life was not meant to be easy, we can rest assured that it was meant to be rewarding and fulfilling. So, it stands to reason that the degree to which we overcome its obstacles, is the degree to which we will experience fulfilment.

From an early age, we need to develop in ourselves and our children the backbone to cope with life’s vicissitudes, tragedies and heartaches. Each human being, provided he or she lives long enough, will eventually witness and experience these elements of being human – that life can be wearisome, lonesome and disappointing. We must teach them to accept these as ‘givens’, but also recognise that these make up some threads but not the whole garment. Without this acceptance, we fall prey to escapism, and end up retreating from reality instead of confronting it and dealing with it. People escape through all manner of pre-occupation such as entertainment, fiction novels, sports, relationships, legal and illegal drugs. Many of these things are not bad in of themselves, but if indulged in to excess, can mean you are essentially escaping from yourself – which means you are not really living. It is unrealistic to expect to be happy all the time. There are those who attempt to achieve this state artificially through light-hearted entertainment, drugs and alcohol or the endorphin rush of exercise addiction. If we hold these false expectations then we set ourselves up for constant disillusionment. The slightest failed expectation, for example, could tip us over the edge to a state of melancholy or a death wish. 

When young people are told that the sky is the limit or they can be anything they want to be, this sets them up for unrealistic expectations of life. We may think we are doing them a favour by being positive or bolstering their confidence. What they need most to hear is that:

  • “life won’t always be easy but each time you overcome something, you become a bit stronger and less fearful.”
  • “that which doesn’t kill you, makes you stronger.”
  • “people can do things to us on the outside, but we get to decide the person we will be on the inside.”

Profile of a Misfit

A person who tries to conform, but finally throw up his or her hands in despair, painfully aware of having been condemned to a life-time of weirdness.  It is a weirdness which emanates from within, and may not be visible. Shall we give this misfit a name for the purposes of this genrall dexcription which is not gender specific. Let’s say the misfit’s name is Alan.

On the surface,he may seem normal, even average. But inside he knows something is wrong – he finds himself going through the motions of life but lacking  enthusiasm and never finding true fulfilment; he feels ill at ease in his own skin. He feels at variance with life. He just don’t seem to fit  – out of sync with the fashions, modern manners too abrupt, modern technology too obtrusive. If red is in vogue, he prefers yellow.

He rebels, ever so silently or sometimes blatantly. He might get a large tattoo, put purple streaks in his hair, , get nose rings, belly buttons pierced. He rebels against his parents, going into careers of which they would not approve. He takes a gap year, often repeatedly, to travel around the world, to find himself, to opt out of the rat race. But the truth is he was never in it to begin with. He switches careers before the going gets too tough. He looks forward to the luxury of a mid-life crisis so he can indulge in his angst. He always wants to be somewhere else, anywhere else but here. He doesn’t hang around for too long in relationships in case his“loved ones” diagnose him as the misfit that he is. He disappears for periods, when no-one in his life can track him down.

He may end up in mental asylums, rehab centres, a homeless hobo just wandering aimlessly through life. He may lose all sense of balance and become addicted to one thing or another. It’s a way of crowding out or escaping painful reality.

He sees being different in a world which emphasizes conformity at every turn, as a curse. The seeds of longing to be someone other than himself are first planted in his imagination which he indulges through fiction and make-believe. 

Finally he flirts with suicidal  – the promise of peaceful non-existence. But surely, there must be a better way.

Being Bi-Polar: the case of Kate Spade

The shocking death of Fashion designer, Kate Spade, on 6 June 2018, has meant that the world has lost a creative talent; her family – a wife, mother and more. The medical examiner has ruled that her death was by suicide – this heightens the tragedy of the loss of one so young for at 55, she was still in the prime of life. Our thoughts and prayers are extended to her family and friends. 

What has emerged in the news is that Kate was battling the demons of manic-depression. One of my friends and mentors suffered with this condition. I witnessed how she could be by turns, superhumanly energetic and productive and able to get by on a few hours sleep whilst also full of crippling self-doubt and despair…. 

Her sister has reportedly claimed that her suicide was not a surprise to her because she had noted her fixation on the news coverage of Robin Williams’ suicide in 2014.

She left a suicide note in which she reportedly begged her daughter not to blame herself. Of course, Kate spade loved her daughter, but her psychological pain was simply too intense and her judgement too clouded, to avert her final and fatal decision. In time, we hope, her daughter will figure out that it had nothing to do with her, and was all about her mother and what was going on in her head at that time. Sometimes we let ourselves down by thinking we have to have it all together all the time.

It is always better to let go of an image rather than reality – the reality of being alive. If you look at the central themes of her fashion creations – handbags and other accessories – it is one of optimism and fun. Yet, her reality must have been very different.

Her sister claims she did not seek the help she so desperately needed for fear of sacrificing this brand image which had made her famous. What the world can never tire of being reminded of is that celebrities too can have problems, as do we all, yet still bless the world with their talents. But her sister’s claims have been challenged, and we will never know whether or not she was in treatment.  

Perhaps, this is a wake up call to challenge our assumptions that certain privileged people have it all, and the others do not. The stark reality, as brought home to us by this tragic death, is that no-one has it all, and that we are all simply doing the best we can.