I go to the bush
With my black dog on a leash
I return alone.
The other day in the changing room at the pool I met Julius. Fit, firm, muscular and tanned with a shock of grey hair that rivalled mine before I cut it, he looked much like I aspire to. My casual “How are you going?” unleashed an expletive – laden account of depression and unhappiness that caused a conversation of over half an hour. His life had no purpose. His family no longer needed him, he had no job satisfaction. He was getting nowhere. He’d lost a lot in a property settlement. He wanted to be dead. Whenever he saw a report of someone being killed he wished it had been him. And so on.
,A lot of what he said resonated with me. I told him I had an inkling of how he felt and that I shared some of his experience. I was very concerned not to enable his suicidal thoughts and looked for ways to talk through them. I asked if he had sought medical help. I told him I had found a lot of help with Prozac. It might not be for everyone, but there was undoubtedly something similar that might help in his case. He was dismissive. He did not want to put that stuff in his body. I asked if he preferred to have sadness and sorrow. There was an alternative. I have been on medication for ten year’s over. It helps.
He asked how old I was, I told him.
“Christ, you’ve had eight years of this shit more than I have”.
I could only tell him that it wasn’t all bad, and though I had been right where he was not so long ago, there is another side. I urged him to get help. We talked on for a while. In the end he shook my hand, told me his name and asked mine, then bid me goodbye, saying he was pleased to have met me.
I don’t quite know what to make of that encounter. On the way home I pondered whether there was ever a time when it was ok to decide one had endured enough and there was nothing left in life to give it purpose and meaning. What circumstances would make it a reasonable decision?
From his physical appearance, Julius has no reason for such despair unless he has been diagnosed with something as yet invisible but terminal. From a social and mental health perspective it is harder to comment. There are creative and intellectual considerations. There could be matters of conscience.
Though I have been where Julius seems to be, I don’t think it was ever more than a passing moment of self-pity and self-doubt that was easily managed by an appropriate dose of fluoxetine and a jolly good talking-to.
“On the other hand, there are plausible circumstances that I can envisage. Perhaps, should there come a time when the pain is too much, the prognosis too bleak, and the point has been so completely lost, I may need to think along those lines. If so I’d like to think I shall make the decision rationally, deliberately, and without despair. At such a time it would be wrong to dissuade me. I would not have “so much to live for” any longer. There would be something unpleasant to avoid and nothing still left I’d care to do. Particularly if the cost of doing it was too great. Then the inevitable end should be embraced and welcomed in a manner of my own choosing, rather than slowly, fearfully and painfully. At such a time I would prefer to go gentle into that good night. Joyfully, even, knowing I have done, and had, enough.
This could have been a very depressing encounter. Oddly, in the end I concluded I was ok. I worry about whether I shall see Julius again, and what I should do if we meet. Should I invite him out for a drink and a chat?