Notes on ‘Notes on Suicide’ and on Suicide

My project is not about suicide. At least I don’t think it is. However, I am not yet clear on my intent for my project so it might be. It is in there somewhere as it has been a feature of my life so I need to get it off my chest. In this post I consider my own relationship to suicide and then bring in a perspective by Simon Critchley in his book ‘Notes on Suicide.’ Jesse read and recommended this book and as is consistent with the subject he said it was one of few books he felt very uncomfortable being seen reading it in public. He was reading it for his project Forest Operations which he will be giving a lecture on on April 20th. This date would have been my wife’s 65th birthday.

Suicide and Me

Ten years ago my wife, Karen, took an overdose of drugs in an attempt to commit suicide. She had been suffering from Multiple Sclerosis for twenty years and had had another bad attack leaving her without the use of her legs and paralysed in much of her body. She had been depressed for some time and I knew she was in a bad way on that day. Sensing something I skipped dinner with friends and came home early after a football game. Had I not done so she would have died then.

Karen never thanked me for saving her life and always said that was when she wishes she had died. Arguments by me about the happy times for her children and grandchildren by her being around longer did not change her mind.

The Truth and Beauty of Me….with my Princess

I have been three paces from suicide on three occassions in the last seven years. Most recently in early 2019. On two occassions I stood beside a rail track near Biggleswade waiting for a high speed train. On the most recent I stood on the edge of a cliff dropping 500 metres to the sea. At the time I was unhappier than the sum of any unhappiness I believed I would create by my demise. Everything I was doing to make life better for the love of my life was failing as things just got worse and worse.

On the 27th January this year Karen died peacefully with an assisted suicide at Dignitas in Switzerland. It was a beautiful way to die. It has taken me a lot of effort to be able to say these words. It is partly why I need to write this post.

Suicide is a taboo word. In 2019 I told a number of people I was in a bad way and worried about myself. Everybody turned away. I am as sure as I can be had there not been unexpected canoeists below me where I was intending to jump then I would have jumped. The canoeists broke the train of thought. I am here. I am glad I am here but also full of every emotion possible trying to make sense of what I have experienced. My project is something about this experience but not clearly articulated yet.

Notes on Suicide (Critchley, 2015)

Critchley’s book on the subject attempts to understand what suicide is and why people avoid discussing it. It is a surprisingly readable book given the subject matter. He concludes there are ‘obvious philosophical flaws in all the arguments for and against suicide based on conceptions of rights or duties.’ (Critchley, p64). He also ends the book by suggesting ‘don’t.’

A surprising reference he makes is to Cioran’s All Gall is Divided in which is written ‘Only optimists commit suicide, the optimists who can no longer be…optimists. The others have no reason to live, why should they have any to die?’ (Critchley, p72). As a lifelong optimist who on the whole has found a positive way to respond to every problem thrown at me in life I relate to this. I reached a point where I saw life as intolerable and only going to get worse. My optimism had been drained.

Before reaching his conclusion on philosophical arguments Critchley states his position. ‘Suicide, in my view, is neither a legal or a moral offence, and should not be seen as such.’ (p11)

He refers to the psychical and existential blockage most face in considering suicide. ‘ We are either desperately curious about the nasty, intimate, dirty details of the last seconds of a suicide and seek out salacious stories whenever we can. Or we can’t look at all because the prospect is too frightening. Instead we peek through the slits between our fingers with our hands on our face, as if we were watching a horror movie. Either way we are hiding something, blocking something, concealing something through our silence or endless chatter or, indeed, rage.’ (p15)

A source of taboo for suicide originates from religious beliefs. It ‘is still a criminal offence in most muslim countries.’ p(28). In Christian doctrine ‘a concept first formulated by Augustine and then refined by Thomas Aquinas, life, for the Christian, is something given – a datum – over which we have the right of use, usus, but not governance, dominion, which can only be the prerogative of God. To kill oneself is to exercise dominion over one’s life and to assume the power that is only possessed by the deity. This is why suicide is a sin. A true Christian must battle with pain and fight on like a soldier.’ (p21).

‘Christian arguments against suicide turn on the extension of the sixth commandment ‘though shalt not kill’ to the questionable interpretation that this commandment forbids self killing as well.’ (p31)

However….’The Christian martyrs chose to go to their deaths out of love of God and hatred of the state or any other form of temporal, pagan authority. If the crucifixion of Christ himself can be viewed as a quasi suicidal act performed out of love, then this is a fortiori the case with the deaths of saints and martyrs.’

Societies that are now secular are in many cases defined by historic morals and standards set by a religious past. The secular moral set has not yet fully matured.

Back to me

It is useful for me to know there is no human argument that is conclusive for or against suicide. Each view is based on assumption and belief. Each can have a personal position but should not impose their own on others. I do not believe in God. I was part of the universe, I am now and will continue to be in another form after I am not. I am not asking for anyone to bend to my position on this subject but I am asking for them to respect my view being as valid as any other.

Karen was in intolerable pain. Her choice was to suffer this or be unconscious without pain from the use of drugs. She was on the way to total paralysis. Medicine could have kept her alive for another 20 or more years in a totally paralysed state, in pain or asleep and unable to do anything for herself. I miss her painfully and only now, as I stand back from the daily suffering she had, understand the strength and bravery of her decision to die with dignity.

Having written this the thought forms that suicide itself is not the main subject of my project. As is clear here though it does contribute to the experiences I have had and that will inform my work.

References

Critchley, S. (2013) Notes on Suicide. Fitzcarraldo Editions. London.

Categories: Informing Contexts, Project Development IC

LEN

I am a Photographer. As well as taking many photographs I am currently studying for an MA in Photography at Falmouth University. I will direct my attention through the lens of my camera for the next couple of years and see what shows up. I see a photograph as a little bit of magic capturing a moment in time. If successful it surprises and engages your emotions. It tells a story about the wonders of being alive or tells us what we need to change to make it a better world to live in. That is enough for me to get going and then like walking a 1000 miles, which I did across the UK in 2010, or walking 200 miles across Cyprus, which I did in November last year, it is one step at a time.

I was a writer. The title of my unpublished book was ‘You Would Have Done The Same.' It is about a successful guy in love with his wife who lets her die when he discovers her in the process of committing suicide. The title gives a clue as to what I think you would have done. The book is 200 pages long. I found it cathartic to write it but after two years of work and reviewing with agents decided it probably needed another 2000 hours to get the whole book up to the standard of some of the pages. Writing is great but it is a lot of sitting down so I decided to get out and walk, play tennis, play bridge, go birding, watch football at Nottingham Forest, Arsenal and Valencia and anywhere else if I can, meditate, cook and eat. I was a writer who has so far failed to become an author.
I was a young man who loved Mathematics and thoroughly enjoyed getting a BSc at Liverpool University. While there I went often to Anfield and the Philharmonic Hall. I was all set on doing a PhD until I went for interview practice at BP and got seduced by the excitement of an International business career. BP was a great adventure building trading teams and businesses in London, Antwerp, Cleveland Ohio and Singapore. Fabulous people and some great challenges and also very hard work, constant jet lag and lots of fun along the way. I married Karen, my stunning wife, and had the most amazing time with her and our three boys Alex, Tom and Dan. She has multiple sclerosis and we have taken on many challenges together but somehow keep creating a new normal against the horrors thrown our way. She is the love of my life.

After BP I decided to coach senior executives and quickly realized I had a lot to learn
about what makes people tick. I had a fantastic 18 months on the International Programme of the Cleveland Gestalt Institute. A great faculty and a
wonderful group of people on the programme. We studied and worked in Dingle, Singapore, Holland, Cape Town and
Lisbon. This also got me interested in the way we think and make decisions so I studied for an MSc in Psychology atUniversity College London in 2010. The
Masters was in Cognitive and Decision Sciences and I found it fascinating what
we do know but also how much we don’t know about how we think and make
decisions.

I loved coaching and making a difference. I got a number of people to hear themselves, remove some of their own chains and free up the way they thought about the world. I remain fascinated by how people react to and engage with the world. My Masters thesis was why do two people given the same information make different decisions? Put simply, it is because each of us are unique in the way we are constructed.

Since returning from Singapore I found English winters tough so moved to Spain where I now live. The people are lovely, the scenery amazing, food delicious and the sun shines all the time. Almost.

All of these experiences will feed in to my time now as a Photographer. Three motivations I am lucky to have are enthusiasm, curiosity and a continuous interest in learning. All the time I look forward to meeting old friends and making new friends and experiencing this wonderful life together.

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