December 2015: Daily we hear of suicides, suicide murders, matricide, fratricide. We have too many charities but yet too many die. Is it time for a re-think? I have no answers but I do think it is appropriate timing to become aware of the history of suicide.
Vincent: Starry Starry Night. His paintings….
TedMed talks. The end of March 2016 approaches. The news is about people in distress with mortgages, loans for farms and suicide. There are no answers but it is essential to be aware and to know that Physicians/Doctors also feel stress, develop mental problems, drink too much. This talk is by a doctor, the daughter of a psychiatrist mother and a father who is a doctor. Also please listen to her talk and be aware that we all human. Below I return to notes I compiled many years ago now when I looked deep into my soul for answers. I am still here.
“Why Doctors Kill Themselves”
THE SAVAGE GOD – A STUDY OF SUICIDE BY A. ALVAREZ (1971) https://www.nytimes.com/books/98/03/01/home/plath-alvarez.html
I read this book which was bought by my father, a doctor, in the 1970’s, and which I eventually read at the time of compiling these notes in 2002-2004.
‘Then is it sin to rush into the secret house of death, Ere death dare come to us’?
The history of suicide in Christian Europe is the history of official outrage and unofficial despair.
Blackstone, wrote that the burial was ‘in the highway, with a stake driven through the body’. The correlation was that of the person who chooses to commit suicide compared with the vampire. The last record of this is 1823 at the intersection of Grosvenor Place and Kings Road, London SW3. Thereafter “self-murderers” bodies were used in the schools of anatomy. Similar degradation(s) applied throughout Europe.
In 1670 le roi soleil incorporated into the legal code that all brutal practices concerning the degradation of the corpse of suicide continue, adding that the name was to be defamed perpetually, the nobles lost their nobility and were declared commoners. (Their woods were cut down, their castles were demolished).
In England suicide was declared a felony and in both countries (ie France) the property of the person who committed suicide reverted to the Crown. The laws that concerned confiscation of property remained in place in England until 1870 and an unsuccessful suicide person could still be sent to prison until 1961. (In 1969 – an Isle of Man court ordered that a teenager be birched for attempted suicide).
Professor Joad’s aphorism:
‘that in England you must not commit suicide, on pain of being regarded as a criminal if you fail and a lunatic of you succeed’.
Freud’s – early theory
Freud saw suicide as transposed murder, an act of hostility turned away from the object back on to the self, seems to be borne out by Christian superstition and law. Suicide equated with murder proves to be a problem of interpretation for the Church. Neither the Old nor New Testament directly prohibits it.
The idea of suicide comes late in Christian doctrine and as an afterthought. It was not until the sixth century AD that the Church finally legislated against it and then the only biblical interpretation was the sixth commandment ‘thou shalt not kill’. The Bishops urged St. Augustine into action. It was later remarked by Rousseau that St. Augustine took his arguments from Plato’s Phaedo and not the Bible. St. Augustine was prompted by the suicide mania engaged in by the early Christians.
In a way the criminalisation of suicide emphasised the distance traveled between paganism (Rome – where the ritual of suicide/self murder was even honoured) to Christianity and Monotheism.
The Alternative Dimension:
There is a Druid maxim promoting suicide as a religious principle; the same applies to certain warring tribes; if you kill yourself to accompany a friend to the next world, you will travel there with them. This would compare to the Hindi, Suttee – where the wife burned herself to death at the funeral of her husband. Eskimos believed that violent death was a passport to paradise.
Captain Oakes, who walked out to death in the Antartic snow in order to help Scott and his doomed companions; this would be considered altruism.
(I wrote to BBC re. Dr. David Kelly (Iraq war and Weapons of Mass Destruction. My belief is that a man with his knowledge and education had no alternative but to commit suicide, on humanitarian grounds. His suicide forced the Hutton Inquiry and its aftermath. It is about making people aware of reality).
Serious suicide: The act of choice. The man chooses to die because he deems his life not worth living – Despair. These suicides are usually deemed to be an index of high civilization. (‘Tell me the suicide rate and I will tell you your cultural sophistication’ – for the simple reason that the act goes against the most basic instincts, that of self-preservation). This is not necessarily the case when you consider the Tasmanian Aborigines. They were hunted like ‘kangaroos for afternoon’s sport’; and because a world in which this could happen was intolerable to them; they committed suicide as a race by refusing to breed.
Similarly, hundreds of thousands of Jews put themselves to death at Masada, rather than submit to the Roman legions. In the South Americas, so many committed suicide during the reign of the Spaniards, that labour shortages were so large that the Spaniards had to address the problems of suicide.
Aristotle – austere view:
He deemed suicide to be an ‘offence against the State’.
On religious grounds it polluted the city and economically weakened it by destroying a useful citizen. It was deemed an act of social irresponsibility.
The Epicureans and Stoics:
Both claimed to be indifferent to death as to life.
St. Augustine – took over Plato’s and the Pytagoreans’ argument that life is a gift from God and our sufferings, being divinely ordained, are not to be foreshortened by our actions, to hear them patiently is a measure of one’s greatness of soul.
By the time of St. Thomas Aquinas, suicide was deemed a mortal sin – a sin against God, Justice and Charity. Aristotle correlates charity to the basic instinct of self survival common with the animals and that it is a sin to go against nature. St. Augustine had attacked suicide as a preventative venture: the cult of martyrdom had got our of hand and was, anyway, no longer relevant to the Church in the 4th Century.
* Glanville Williams quotes a learned source to show that dogs sometimes commit suicide, ‘usually by drowning or by refusing food for a number of reasons – generally when the animal is cast out of the household, but also from regret and remorse or even sheer ennui. This is suggested as indication of a manifestation of intelligence in dogs.
Daniel Stern – Psychiatrist
Suicide is, in short, the one continuous, every day, ever present problem of living. It is a question of degree. I’d seen them in all varying stages of development and despair. The failed lawyer, the cynical doctor, the depressed housewife, the angry teenager…all of mankind engage in the massive conspiracy against their own lives that is their daily activity. The meaning of suicide, the true meaning, has yet to be defined, has yet to be created in the broad dimensions it deserved.
Emile Durkheim – 1897:
A classic, Suicide, a Study in Sociology.
The change shifted from morality of the act to the social conditions which produced such despair. A “Why” was stated to Shakespeare’s famous words ‘To be or not to be….’
Professor Erwin Stengel believes attempted suicide is a cry for help.
NB the important functions of the Samaritans as distinct from the professions as an immediate port of call. The Samaritans were first established in 1953.
Gerard Manley Hopkins
Birds build – but not I build; no, but strain
Time’s eunuch, and not breed one work that wakes
Mine, O thou Lord of Life, Send my Roots Rain.
Gerard Manley Hopkins (Think)
Montesquieu – The Spirit of the Laws:
We do not find the Romans ever killed themselves without a cause;
but the English destroy themselves with unaccountability;
they destroy themselves often in the very bosom of happiness.
The action among the Romans was the effect of education;
it as connected with their principles and customs;
among the English it is the effect of a distemper.
It may be complicated with the scurvy.
Durkheim undertook to classify suicide scientifically. A distinct social position created each type – Egoistic, Altruistic, Anomic (“,
Egoistic: relates to those are not fully integrated into society and relies heavily on their own resources. Thus the Protestant creed is more in line with this than Catholicism which insists on greater subservience and the omnipresence of God. Also included in this is the break-down of the family structure which protected each member from impulses of self-destruction.
Altruistic (opposite): These people are so absorbed in the community/group that their goals and identity become those of the person within the context of the group. The tribe or massive religion or group has such ‘massive cohesion’ that the “follow mentality” applies even to their detriment and demise.
‘What is called a reason for living is also an excellent reason for dying”
Anomic Suicide: This results from a change in the person’s social conditions.
For Durkheim the thrust was to insist that suicide was not an irredeemable moral crime but a fact of society, like the birth-rate or the rate of productivity; it had social causes which were subject to discerning laws and could be discussed and analysed rationally. The pessimistic view being that it was a social disease.
Pioneer Study of Suicide in London (1955) –
Peter Sainsbury: demonstrated convincingly that social isolation is a more powerful stimulus to self destruction than what he called indigenous poverty. He showed that in the deprived but relative close-knit working class areas of London’s East End the suicide rate was startlingly lower than in wealthier Bloomsbury, with its warrens of wealthier bedsitters.
Sainsbury believed that the secret lay in breaking the ‘cycle of loneliness’.
Rejection sums it up.
As water seeks its own level, despair equally seeks out its own environment
‘Suicide figures are higher in the wealthy industrialised countries than in the underdeveloped countries; they are higher among the comfortable professional middle classes than to the poor; the number of people who committed suicide was extraordinarily low in the Nazi concentration camps. Indeed deprivation can be a stimulation to seek survival. (I recommend Viktor E Frankl, Man’s search for Meaning’).
Witness the classic case of George Orwell, who, after he left the Burma Police, deliberately turned his back on help and opportunities and, by choosing to be ‘down and out in Paris and London’ became a contributor to literature with a most profound vision.
‘Realistic anxiety in these cases took the place of neurotic anxiety. The improvement of patients with depressive symptoms might be explained by the fact that their need for punishment had been gratified through the frightful circumstances, just as a depressive state may often improve when an organic disease develops’….(Pg. 122)
Note from Michelle:
Diagnosed with cancer in 2017. Operation, to Chemotherapy and withered with weakness, I cannot grasp the paradox. In Depression you fight suicide yet with cancer, this does not seem to happen. Is it that cancer comes from within and there are no answers and altruism determines that you have become ill and you must help to find resolution, if not for you but for others. However as a suicide survivor for decades now, perhaps its not the neurosis but the fact that you have survived prepares the way for yet another survival strategy only this time it is cancer and depression you have to deal with.
But what about those who regard the physical act of taking their life as repugnant. These people will do everything to destroy themselves except admit that is what they wish to achieve. They fail to take responsibility for the final action to conclude their lives. Karl Menninger, Psychologist, calls these – the Chronic Suicides. This includes alcoholics and drug addicts who kill themselves slowly while protesting that they are only attempting to make their life tolerable. Also he highlights the large number of road accidents that are inexplicable. These statistics are not recorded.
SUICIDE AND LITERATURE
Dante and the Middle Ages
Dante – one of the grimmest cantos of the Inferno relates to suicides.
In the 7th century, below the burning heretics and murderers stewing in their river of hot blood, is a dark, pathless wood where the souls of suicides grow for eternity in the shape of warped poisonous thorns.
Some of the Greatest Artists including Dante, Shakespeare, Bach, Dickens, Donatello, Beethoven, – the mid-life crisis is the way through to their finest work. It was more profound, reflective and ultimately more serene than anything they had achieved before.
John Donne and the Renaissance
In the Middle Ages, the taboo against suicide accompanied the intense pre-occupation with death and its most horrifying details.
T.S. Eliot wrote the Waste Land in Zurich, when convalescing from some kind of breakdown and, possibly, while in psychotherapy. In that poem inner chaos is projected outward on to society as the collapse of all traditional forms and values; but to express this sense of universal disintegration the poet created out of chaos itself a new style of formal order – detached, knowledgeable, subtle.
Virginia Woolf drowned herself, a victim of her own excessive sensitivity; artists are most susceptible.
Sense of quiet desperation explored: Eliot in extreme desperation said ‘that it will never be painted, and no actor will ever seize it. And to describe it, I think I must go back and be with them’…
‘That numbness – beyond hope, despair, terror and, certainly, beyond heroics – is, I think, the final quantum to which all the modish forms of twentieth-century alienation are reduced. Under the energy, appetite, and constant diversity of the modern arts is the obdurate core of blankness and insentience which no amount of creative optimism and effort can wholly break down or remove. It is like, for a believer, the final, illumination that God is not good.
A psychiatrist has defined it, in more contemporary terms, as that ‘psychic numbing’ which occurs in an overwhelming encounter with death. That is, when death is everywhere and on such a vast scale that it becomes indifferent, impersonal, inevitable and, finally, without meaning, the only way to survive however briefly, is by shutting oneself off utterly from every feeling, so that one becomes invulnerable, not like an armoured animal but like a stone:
… psychic closing-off can serve a highly adaptive function.
It does so partly through a process of denial
(If I feel nothing, then death is not taking place)…
Further, it protects the survivor from a sense of complete helplessness, from feeling himself totally inactivated by the force invading his environment. By closing himself off, he resists being ‘acted upon’ or altered. We may thus say that the survivor initially undergoes a radical but temporary diminution of his sense of actuality in order to avoid losing this sense completely and permanently; he undergoes a reversible symbolic death in order to avoid a permanent physical or psychic death.”
Dr Lifton described this as the defence mechanisms activated by the survivors of Horishima and Nazi concentration camps. Horishima confirmed a sharing in species annihilation.
‘Suicide is prepared within the silence of the heart, as is a great work of art’
Boris Pasternak – Epitaph for Mayakovsky
‘To start with what is most important: we have no conception of the inner torture which precedes suicide.
People who are physically tortured on the rack keep losing consciousness, their suffering is so great that its unendurable intensity shortens the end. But a man who is thus at the mercy of the executioner is not annihilated when he faints from pain, for he is present at his own end, his past belongs to him, his memories are his and, if he chooses, he can make use of them, they can help him before his death.
‘But a man who decides to commit suicide puts a full stop to his being, he turns back on his past, he declares himself a bankrupt and his memories to be unreal. They can no longer help or save him, he has put himself beyond their reach. The continuity of his inner life is broken, his personality is at an end. And perhaps what finally makes him kill himself is not the firmness of his resolve but the unbearable quality of this anguish which belongs to no one, of this suffering in the absence of the sufferer, of this waiting which is empty because life has stopped and can no longer fill it’
‘What is certain that they all (other writers outlined) suffered beyond description, to the point where suffering has become a mental sickness. And, as we bow in homage to their gifts and to their bright memory, we should bow compassionately before their suffering.’ I endorse this.
Society must move towards inclusiveness.
The foregoing is compiled from the book :
THE SAVAGE GOD – A STUDY OF SUICIDE BY A. ALVAREZ (1971)
To my battle with manic depression:-
Aware magazine August 2001, St Patrick’s Foundation by Michelle Clarke
‘We are all in the gutter but some of us are looking at the stars’
Quotation: Oscar Wilde
The truth is that for some of us, while in the gutter, the stars can still be seen, but for others who often may be deemed by others to lead a privileged life, a time in their life may occur when the dark, star-less gutter comprises their life.
Be it of their own making or not, and who is anyone to assume the position of judge? They have reached that place where the dark mist seeps through their mind and thinking processes. The reality is as stark as a life or death route.
I have been there more than a few times and yearned for the blow that would give peace. I sought that inadvertent accident. I have stood watching the No. 10 bus, my mind focused on how wholly effective the method would be? There could be nothing worse than not attaining one’s objective.
Characteristics, in my opinion, can influence the ultimate decision. In my case, I regard empathy as a prominent factor. To empathise, is to basically stand in another persons shoes and it is this that proves each time the deciding factor. You see, from personal experience, the effect of suicide on those concerned, particularly the family and friends, and all who come in contact with the death by suicide, is damaging.
The ‘Holy Spirit’ or whoever you choose can work in very mysterious ways:-
While I was living in England in the 1980’s, I was a commuter, by train daily, to the City, where I worked. It was a hard winter and there was a lot of snow and frost causing major delays and cancellations on the trains. One day as I stood waiting to board an overcrowded, last train out of Liverpool Street, the train driver felt kindly toward me and invited me to join him in his part of the train. We chatted but interestingly the subject changed to suicide. Before long I realised a perspective I never looked at. He angrily spoke of the selfishness of people who weekly threw themselves before the trains. He and his fellow train drivers had to deal emotionally, physically and otherwise with these harrowing events. This always remains with me albeit I know when things become so bleak, this rationality scarcely applies. However, if at all possible try and keep a level of empathy in mind.
My depressions have been violent and numerous yet every time I ‘resurrect out of the ashes’, I am caught in a near ecstasy of enthusiasm to ask why, seek further research and responses, to read more, to assist anyone as much as possible whom I feel may need help i.e. within the protection boundaries I must set for myself. Opportunities each time present themselves and it is these experiences that drive me on – I am constantly in search of any answer.
Written by Michelle Clarke
August 2001 – during a very disturbed yet enlightening period in my life.
Christmas Eve 2015: I know out there loneliness is found amid the joviality of Christmas time. It does not have to be that way.
A saying I found ‘Flowers grow out of dark moments’. I have found in my archives articles written by me, in the hope that I can help others who struggle with Black Dog – Sir Winston Churchill who was no stranger to depression. I will include some of these articles and replies to people on an open publishing site I used to write on because the ‘feeling of depression’ remains the same but the experiences alter when people learn to overcome it. That ‘quiet desperation’ that moves you to the cliff edge must be challenged and you must try and believe that like all else about live, this mood or blackness will pass and that is the certainty. Check out this WHO site viewed by over 6 million. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XiCrniLQGYc
February: 2003. ‘WILL I MAKE IT THIS TIME?
I returned to Trinity in October with more ambition than physical energy, driven by that goal of ‘being the change you want to see’ . I want to break through that structure determined to impede the education process that is driven by the US with its rational scientific preference. An educational system must be open to a variety of people, with experience, ability to learn, understand and continue to learn. This crucial for a sense of balance.
This is such an incomplete explanation as to why I continue to cling on to life but yet I am driven by a combination of gut feeling and destiny. There can be no other reason why I continue to persevere. Each life threatening experience can only be accepted if there is some reason. Living has never been high on my agenda. Money does not give you the desire to live, the desire to be motivated. It is deeper in the psychic of the person and is driven by a cosmic destiny that coaxes the individual to respond to the society they live within.
When I go through the horrors of a week like this last one that ended with Valentines night, the honesty part is I do not have a reason why it happened. I know when the sudden dip occurs, like a sequence where I point by point build up the case ‘for getting out’, I try the ‘breaks’ I know from past experience but it is more, I have tipped off that equilibrium, I strive so ardently to maintain. I hate myself to the degree that I could tear myself to pieces. I don’t want to get out of bed, I don’t want to eat, I listen to the phone continuing to ring rationalising that I ought to answer but can’t. I don’t want anyone by this stage – I am nearing there, the bottom.
Yet again I must endure that reminiscent cold, the like of which is only felt in the depth of depressions, as it pierces through my heart and soul. I dig for the positive, I have the rules written out, but no it is best described as flying down out of control on a roller coaster and that shrill feeling that can be summed up in the words… Will I make it this time? What am I going to do…? When will this dichotomy of the useless and that sense of an assigned purpose, with these reminders of ‘losing it’ end. I need a break from the relentless tide that ebbs and flows in the way my mood level swings.
You begin to pull through – you think for days nothing has penetrated your numbed mind and then you find yourself where you wanted to be but didn’t think you would reach. This time it was the Peace March. One of the only other things I am conscious of doing is sending quotes of Gandhi and Einstein to all heads of Government department in the hope that someone, just someone would think of a man who sought recourse through peaceful means. Nothing but paradoxes!!!
The strange part of today’s experience (I evidently had left my quarantine) was I went to a second-hand book I frequent. It is not usual for me to eavesdrop. I did and as I did, I felt the cold piercing through my bones again. A young girl, just 18, had jumped in front of a train. The man behind the counter evidently knew her as did the woman who was buying some books. They spoke – I looked yet listening at a book titled ‘Tracing the insanity in the Royal family’ (quite ironic). The man made a statement that was particularly profound. He said ‘she must have just lost it for that moment’ and jumped. That sum’s it up – that is what suicide is about. The depression exists but the readjustment period, is the time, when one needs to be most aware – that moment determines in most cases.
It is the person’s psyche being in such pain yet the person does not know from one moment to the next, if they will just put in that little extra effort to keep going. I always talk about fighting within myself – the outside mask is almost perfected, the laugh to. Shrill is what it feels like inside – I promise you so many suicides are effected by way of motor bikes and cars.
Written by Michelle Clarke:
…..Ironically time has moved on; I have survived enough to try and help this man called Micheal
Sunday, Oct 10 2004, 11:08pm
by Michelle Clarke – Social Justice and Ethics
I read your response a few days ago. The facts are harsh and confirm what I feel about the society we live in today. To me, the rise in the number of suicides particularly men (1980 to date) correlate to the expectation (be corruption driven or otherwise) this Celtic Society has for each individual member.
People tell you – Get Tough; Harden up; Refuse to accept that you think differently about life and worse again insist that you join their camp – your destination is nothing but inadequate. Basically, this is the way they judge you.
The interconnection and solidarity of our society has broken down; the word inclusiveness to me represents the world of those within the corporate click – those people who drive the cars that dictate status; who live in the right areas; who take several holidays a year; those who have the arrogance to put down those with sentiment and categorise them as basically nothing. They mock them among their clique for their non entity; the stigma is there and has a resounding reality. Our school curriculum promotes this and this is further endorsed by our universities. There is an educational stranglehold that determines a certain kind of ‘success’ within the world order. Noam Chomsky is worth reading for greater insight in what inequality exists.
I fell out of the nest at the age of 32 and I battle. I know the other side and I experience the reality of now. I have the right address but I don’t feel accepted. The only people I know who accept me are the few I met on the Trinity Horizon programme because we know deep down the hell within. It that Black Dog appears and strikes the spirit to nothing and all you can do is hope you make it through yet again. All I can say is keep thinking of the word Hope……there is a reason for those who are sensitive to the pains and anguish within society and why such people exist.
It is my own personal belief that Dr. David Kelly felt duty bound to humanity to commit suicide, to highlight the need for people at every level of society to realise the gravity of the Iraq War and the fact that the weapons of mass destruction were not in existence. Durkheim; sociologist in the 1800’s spoke of this in terms of Anomie.
Poets, writers, artists often express what others are afraid to feel. These people use Denial as their boundaries and have the capacity to have distractions like alcohol, consumer goods; holidays; fast cars; to deal with their basic needs.
For others and often the children of people with what appears to be ‘ALL’ escape into the sensual, the sensitivities and often take their lives. The pain in society adds to their accumulated pain and the only answer is out. Yes; the answer is Suicide.
The question for those who remain is Why? What drove them to such an awful extreme? What amount of pain in society can be swept over by some and yet demolish to death others? Where is the research carried out by the Humanities in our Universities? Sometimes, I feel it just gathers dust because people do not have the impetus to truly assist those who are vulnerable in society. Science means to learn yet this word is surrounded by parameters in Ireland that submerge it under inability to have an economic value. We have no grasp or value on anything that does not appear to have a social value.
I am particularly fond of Professor Kennelly. So often in the most unusual of places I have seen his smiling face. The other day as I wandered in pain to Haddington Road Church I picked up a magazine. It included an article about Professor Kennelly’s retirement and a poem simply titled “Good” that he had attributed to Sr. Stanilaus Kennedy. Alas in a scattered state I cannot include it now but I will find it and enter upload on this site. The simplistic words make you realise there are others who feel just like you do and it is worth the fight. Life is about mystery. Maybe the onslaught of corruption within Ireland now is the threshold that switches the equilibrium towards equity and it is the people who are sensitive who are the people who will enlighten others about the lack of social justice and about the level of inequality.
October is a particularly poignant month. It is about the change of seasons; it is about thinking; it is about hurting deep within; so all I say is be alert and think of others who may be vulnerable and just a little to soft for this world and form a connectivity with them.
All the best
End: (Reviewed and amended 21st April 2018)