Today I am sufficiently exhausted that I can understand and empathize with people who want to die.
What I have trouble understanding is why people fear dying. I don’t.
Following a traumatic event in my life in 1997, I developed Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS). For people with the most severe cases of CFS, just getting out of bed to go to the bathroom or to eat at a table can be either exhausting or painful or both. Mine was not that severe.
By the time I had finished breakfast on most days, I was so exhausted that I had to have a nap for an hour. Two or three naps followed through the day. Only when I took myself too far, beyond the point of being simply tired, would I have pain in every muscle in my body. I tried to avoid that. That’s dumb. But it didn’t always work.
Sometimes, going beyond the critical point becomes necessary. As a result of a series of coincidences, in the first half of 2007 I had more jobs to do than my body could manage. I got excessively tired every day. Recovery was not an option (is not even today) because the jobs that couldn’t be avoided had to be done or my ability to sustain myself as a person would have collapsed.
When people get too tired, especially when excessive fatigue continues for a prolonged period of time, they begin to think strange thoughts. No matter how much sleep or rest (relaxing horizontally or sitting) a person gets, if the exhaustion continues the person can develop symptoms like that of sleep deprivation. Irritability, moodiness, impatience, intolerance of others or themselves, making mistakes that wouldn’t have happened under normal circumstances, distancing themselves from loved ones and more problems ease themselves seamlessly into their life.
Sometimes, thoughts can turn to death. That could mean suicide, murder or murder-suicide. If severe enough, such as in some cases of post partum depression, it could even involve a mother killing her own baby, “to protect” the child.
Thoughts, discussion or proposals having anything to do with death are taboo in western cultures. Consequently we don’t address their causes. “Go to the doctor.” “Take a drug to make you happy.” Pharmaceutical responses to problems or stress and other problems related to mental health of the 1960s and 1970s, primarily taking tranquilizers, evolved into taking a variety of drugs today. Some want to make smoking marijuana legal simply because so many people use it illegally, possibly as high as 25 percent of adults.
While people discuss the taking of drugs with emotional vigor, taking one side or the other, debate never turns to the subject of death and rarely to ways to avoid the effects of stress in the first place. In a materialistic society with an industrial mindset, normal conversation involves apparently healthy people talking about any subject other than death or social change to avoid the causes of stress that destroy so many lives.
The most important fact that we avoid talking about with those who may be suffering the effects of stress or some cause that makes another person consider suicide or murder is that the critical time in their life will pass, that they will feel better about life later. Discussion of how to reduce stress is not a popular topic among those with the industrial mindset. People who talk about stuff like that tend to be “out there somewhere,” extreme liberals, aged hippies, not those in the mainstream of business culture.
One topic that everyone agrees on is that death is bad. Death must be avoided at all costs, even if it requires a person to remain in pain for years or to suffer in an institutional environment with most elements we consider as freedom removed. We don’t know why. We don’t discuss it so we never find out.
We have been told that death is painful, for one thing. In fact, it seldom is. For most people, even those who die unexpectedly or as a result of violence, death comes peacefully and as a release from the burden of life. Compared to many of the painful experiences of life, death is blissful. What comes before death, including treatment in a hospital, may be painful, but death is not.
You have likely heard of those who have returned from the brink of death, from near-death experiences or who have “come back from being clinically dead” speak of feeling at peace, of seeing a bright white light, of being welcomed to the next life. Even those who claim to have had out of body experiences, of seeing their bodies from above an operating table where their fleshly existence lay in clinical death, say that death was not to be feared, was not painful.
I don’t propose that we encourage people to end their lives when they feel that life is no longer worth the pain and trouble. I do propose that we change our attitudes toward death and the stressors of life so that we can all live more peaceful, safe and loving lives.
Love is part of the equation. Those under constant stress have trouble feeling love, expressing love and accepting love.
The same may be said of people in depression. The odd thing about depression is that we know how to avoid it most of the time. Health experts know how it develops, why it develops and how to avoid it. But, except for a relatively small number of experts who put themselves out to help others through rough times, most health experts stay away from the subjects of depression, thoughts of suicide and stress.
Nothing improves when we refuse to talk about a subject that impacts the lives of everyone, either directly, indirectly through loved ones or friends, or both.
We may not be certain about what’s “on the other side” of death. That doesn’t mean that we should avoid talking about what’s on this side. It could save many lives.
It could save your life one day.
Turning It Around: Causes and Cures for Today’s Epidemic Social Problems, a book about what, when and how to teach children what they need to know to live healthy adult lives, free of excess stress and fear.
Learn more at http://billallin.com