Conversations About Suicide:
Choosing Life and Choosing Death
Suicide is a deeply personal subject to me. My father chose to die.
While this topic is a very sobering, heavy one, I write to address people who must literally make life and death decisions while at the lowest and most desperate point in their lives. I understand what you’re going through but I do want to use the cliche and show you through experience how “time heals all wounds.” Let that be true for you too.
I am sharing this deeply personal story because the nature of my struggle and our work at www.justkeepgoing.com is closely linked to the conversation about suicide. My main intention is to give my perspective on making a better life during these difficult times.
Back in 2005, when I was interviewed on live radio about running the City 2 Surf marathon in Sydney, Australia after my brain operation, I received numerous invitations to talk to suicide groups. Back then, I felt I didn’t know enough about the topic of suicide. I only know that the topic of suicide is considered by mental health professionals to be more of a mental health issue in the greater scheme of things than an issue for cancer survivors and people with chronic illnesses like myself. But after my recent double brain operation and post-operation struggles, I now believe it to be a necessary conversation to include on the justkeepgoing website.
If you’re alive and healthy or unhealthy right now, one thing that we can always expect in life, other than death, is change.
Even in extreme cases when the pain is so severe that surviving minutes feels impossible, let alone getting through hours or a whole day, change can and will occur. Over time, as change occurs, expect healing to follow.
So you’ve got two life qualities that occur over time: change and healing.
All you need to do is have a little bit of faith, that around the corner, even though you can’t see it, your situation will eventually change if you just keep going. Even if you don’t make any changes, the landscape and the people around you will change over time. It’s inevitable. And with change comes healing, in most cases.
Now be mindful that we all have certain levels of pain tolerance whether that be emotionally, mentally, or physically. But even though we have a predisposition to certain pain levels, we must keep going because as we keep going and allow more and more time to pass, there will be change. You’ll grow, heal, evolve and become something different. I’m not just talking about weeks or months. I’m talking about years at times. If you can allow years to pass, you can better assess the situation with the gift of hindsight.
You’ve heard me say over and over how healing occurs over time. I really can’t emphasize that point enough because I know it’s been a valuable learning lesson through my health challenges.
Also, if you’re going to give that time to change and be healed, you might as well keep the door open for a miracle. Why not? Miracles happen in life and all around us. Why can’t they occur for us as well? I know many of us don’t want to put their hopes on a miracle. But if you do, the other door that opens up for you is faith. It’s fantastic when you open up faith.
However, I’ve observed faith develop in stages. Change, healing, faith.
Two Suggestions That Can Help You Make A Change Now In Your Life
One suggestion for the short term to just keep going in life is to travel. It doesn’t have to be overseas but somewhere outside of your area. They say “change is as good as a holiday,” so go rent a cottage on the beach or find an activity you love to do, focus on something other than your pain situation to just preoccupy yourself.
Traveling changes your environment and gives you a different perspective in life pretty fast. It can change your worldview. When you travel, you experience life with tinted glasses and gives you a sense of context as to how other people live their lives. It’s always an amazing experience.
2) Focus on the list of what you can do
If you’re unable to travel due to a number of reasons, my other suggestion is to observe the list of things you can do. The list of things you can’t do is never as big as the list of things you can do. The beauty of the can-do list is that you can always expand it.
I understand that when you’re at the lowest point of your life struggles, looking at that list of what you can’t do can paralyze or cripple you all over again. I myself can’t walk properly, can’t run, I have poor balance, my vision and my hearing is affected. While we have to acknowledge this list, we shouldn’t focus on it. You got another day, and another day is a gift. Since you’ve got this gift, you might as well enjoy it as much as you can. You might as well address the terms and conditions of what gives you joy in life.
Don’t underestimate what makes you happy; what interests you, what keeps you preoccupied. Focus on that. It’s important. Don’t deny yourself something like that. Joy is the closest emotion to love. Therefore, love is a fruit of life that is the sweetest to enjoy. So follow it. It’s your fruit.
For those who have never had a suicidal thought, or have never been confronted in life where surviving a minute or an hour or a day was such a mission, for those who’ve never been there, I assure you: it’s very easy to get there. A lot easier than you think. None of us are superhuman. When we’re tested with our mortality and look at it in the eye, it’s not a time to be a hero. We’re human. We’re made of flesh and bone. We’re emotional creatures. When that reality really confronts you, I assure you, there’s nothing bad or dishonorable about suicide. It’s literally a choice in life, a permanent decision and it’s a serious one. That choice has to be acknowledged and respected.
My Dad, during his final years of life when he was dying from kidney cancer, had to make a very difficult choice because his healing didn’t occur as time went on. For him it got worse. Mostly homebound, he suffered for over a year and a half as the cancer spread all over his body. Some tumors were on his back, his neck and wrist; the other tumors were inside his whole body. Basically, he was just waiting around for the tumors to grow, completely debilitate him and eventually kill him.
But my Dad had the euthanasia option up his sleeve because he had to take anti-rejection drugs to keep his donor kidney from his kidney transplant functioning. (Most people don’t have this option.)
After spending nearly a month at palliative care, my Dad ended his struggles with cancer by discontinuing the medication that was keeping his kidney functional. Five days after that, he died.
I had a similarly confronting experience in September 2016, when I went through a brain operation that nearly killed me. It left me with severe temporary disabilities from which I am still recovering today. Although I’ve had four previous near-death experiences, my recent brain operation was the first time in my life that I gave up on life as a result of the complications of this operation. For the first couple of weeks after the operation, I kept saying “This is no way to live, that it’s better to die than to live like this.” I really meant it.
In the end, I carried on. I know I have a lot of other health confrontations ahead of me because of this hereditary condition called VHL, making me prone to a lot of cysts and tumors throughout my life.
Look at me now. I’m 44 and have had five near-death experiences. Three to five years from now I may have to confront the reality of getting a kidney transplant, being on dialysis machines and going through God knows what kind of journey, let alone still recover from my recent brain operation. There’s only so much the body and spirit can take from all these medical interventions.
But even though all this may happen, I still choose life because I have found other purposes and meanings for me to live for. In my case, if my body and my abilities deteriorate that much, I have already made a conscious decision as a result of my recent brain operation that I’d rather be here alive for my family and to serve my causes and purposes.
I hope by sharing my story with you, it can help you gain new perspectives on the topic of suicide, and for our readers to understand the relevance of this topic for the justkeepgoing.com website as well as for my upcoming book. For anyone interested, please register so we can keep you posted when the book is ready or if we have new articles published.
I am not in any way a doctor, therapist or psychologist. Everything I say is based on my own experiences and my own perspectives. If you are experiencing health challenges or suicidal thoughts please consult your doctor or health practitioner.