Death’s Sweet Siren Song

Trigger Warning: Suicide, Bullying, Depression

So today is World Suicide Prevention Day. Sadly, I didn’t actually know such a day existed, I think because, despite being caught in an attempt three times, no one ever thought of me as “suicidal”. In fact, it’s only over the last few years, when the thoughts started returning, that I realized I spent a couple years of my life wanting to die.

Miri’s post alerted me to this, and after reading her story, I wanted to write my story.

I was not quite 14 years old.

It seems kind of young, now. It’s almost a stereotype. Doesn’t everybody hate their life at 14? To be honest, I think that’s more of a media stereotype than true. But it was certainly pervasive.

Until a few years ago, when I realized that knives were triggering thoughts I hadn’t had for years, I never actually thought of myself as ever being even remotely suicidal. I mean… I knew I hated myself. I knew I had a grand total of one friend, and sometimes I wondered if he really liked me or he just hung around because both of us were outcasts. At that point I didn’t know any women who liked me, either. My only support system was my family… and often I wondered if I was a burden to them. Often back then, I found myself wondering if maybe… just maybe… they’d have been better off without me…

Mom doesn’t remember my suicide attempts. I know why. On the face of it, they didn’t really look like suicide attempts.

Two times, Dad caught me in the kitchen, just holding a knife and staring at it. The third time he caught me, I was actually taking the knife to the bathroom… so I could lie in the tub and slit my own wrists. I’m not really sure if he ever even knew. He never said much. He’d ask me what I was doing with the knife, I’d stutter, he’d take it, and that’d be the end of it. Mom was there, and so was my brother, but no one ever actually made anything of it. From the outside looking in, they were actually rather forgettable events; just me being weird.

I don’t know why I didn’t try a fourth time. I’m not sure what changed, exactly. I think I honestly just gave up. “Third time’s the charm”, and all that jazz. I had hit three strikes, and that meant I was out.

I only see them now as suicide attempts because of what went through my head each time, because I find it sometimes going through my head now.

I hated myself. I hated who I was. I hated what I looked like. I hated that I was a consistent and chronic liar, and that I would keep doing it, even to myself; I couldn’t trust myself. I hated that I had only one real friend (even though I appreciated him for being my friend). I hated that, even in middle school, I had invisible friends (I knew they weren’t real; it was just me and myself and I; but they still had names… though I don’t remember them now). I hated how selfish I was. I hated that my brain would never just shut up.

It just didn’t. Shut. Up.

To this day my brain goes on and on and on. It never stops.

Songs. Ideas. Arguments. Retorts I will never actually get to say (there’s a joke concerning me: diss me, and I will come up with a good comeback… six months later). Things I want to say to people, but never get a chance to. Scripts concerning how a future conversation is supposed to play out (though of course, it never does play out like that). Conversations I’d like to have with people, but probably never will. Ideas for stories I’ll never write because I can’t write and don’t know anyone who’d be willing to write them for me.

It keeps me up at night and gives me headaches.

Marijuana shuts it up… for a little bit. But then I get sober, and it turns right back on, like there was no blissful hour of wonderful silence that just happened.

And it makes me hate myself. It dwells on everything that’s wrong with me. My body. My acne. My social phobia. My lack of money. My internet addiction. My lack of sexual experience. My phobia of typos (God help any website that doesn’t allow comments to be edited; sorry Pharyngula). My inability to make friends with the average person. My complete lack of social skills.

At almost-14 years old, I had no idea how to deal with it. I thought I was a burden to everyone around me. I thought the world would be better off if I simply weren’t in it. Maybe the world would get a little lighter; things would be a little better; the sun would shine a little brighter.

With one less mouth to feed… one less body to clothe… one less bed to buy… my parents would be able to afford better stuff, like a house instead of an apartment, a new, nice car instead of cheap, second-hand Fords and Chevys. Without me, their financial burden would be lighter. Maybe they could afford to open up a savings account. Maybe they could afford to take my little brother out to nice restaurants more often. It would be selfish of me to keep that from them, forcing them to spend that money on worthless me by living.

And I knew they would miss me. I knew my whole family… not just my brother and my parents… but my grandparents and aunts and uncles and cousins… would mourn me. But they would all move on. I thought that for all of them, life would be a little easier, a little less noisy, a little less stressful. They wouldn’t have to wonder what stupid lie I would tell next. They wouldn’t have to watch for the next embarrassing thing I would do or say. They would be free of the burden I was to all of them.

Because I really did believe I was a burden. I was a burden to myself; how could I not be a burden to those in my life, as well?

I believed the kids (and, unfortunately, the two or three teachers) who bullied me. I believed that I was a loser and a moron and pathetic and sad and ugly and worthless. And sure, I had people tell me otherwise. But why should I believe family members and most teachers who have something invested in making me feel better? Weren’t the people who didn’t care, like my peers, being more honest?

As I was coming up on the age of 14, sharp knives began to look beautiful. Their ability to cut things… destroy them… was like art to me. I knew they could do the same thing to me.

And three times, I nearly went through with it. Twice, I just picked up a knife and stared at the sharp edge. Once I had filled the bathtub with water, walked into the kitchen, grabbed the knife, and started walking back. All three times, Dad stopped me. And after the third time, I…


I was such a complete failure that I couldn’t even kill myself. What now?


Well, I’m 26, now.

I’m majoring in Anthropology and minoring in Commercial Music, now.

I have a long career of school and research and, maybe, music, ahead of me, now… and I can’t wait.

I’m excited for what my future actually holds. I’m excited to study fanaticism from an evolutionary perspective. I’m excited to at least try and get my music out there.

Do I still have issues?

I mean, I already said that even now, my brain doesn’t shut up (by itself, anyway). I actually still kind of hate myself in little ways. I think I’m a horrible guitarist; and I think I will always consider myself a horrible guitarist, no matter how good I actually get. I think I have only a decent, but forgettable, singing voice. I think my music-writing abilities, especially my lyrical abilities, are non-existent.

But I’m not looking to die any time soon.

Death doesn’t scare me, but dying before I’m ready to does.

Death itself is natural. This life is all there is, and it’s short. All of my work… everything I do… will be how I “live on”. I don’t want my legacy to be that I killed myself. I want to be remembered for changing something. I want something out there… a piece of common knowledge… to have my name on it. And I won’t be ready to die until that happens. If it means I have to live until 110, then so be it.

It’s worth it.

Life really is worth living if you’re willing to live it, and I certainly am. I’m glad I struck out back then.

It’s funny. I’m a pacifist. I hate violence and instruments of violence…

But I love blades. I have a board on Pinterest dedicated to blades. Throwing knives, ninja stars, swords, daggers, katanas, spears, axes, kunais, throwing discs, dirks, darts, spikes… I’d love to have a collection some day.

And I really have no idea why. But I look at it as evidence that I’ve healed. They don’t frighten me. They don’t sing to me, either. They’re just cool. They’re neat to look at, and would be fun to show off.

I love to cook, as well. And bake, and fry, and I still need to learn how to grill. So I use kitchen knives consistently.

And I still feel a pang when I look at the edges of a knife now and again, but it’s no longer one of longing. It’s more like… you were once an instrument of death to me, but now you’re a tool to help me live.

I like to say that if who I am now knew who I was then, I would not be my friend. In some ways that’s hypocritical, because there are a few ways in which I am still the same little child.

But there are many ways in which I’ve changed. There are things I’ve learned to love about myself. And I’ve learned to be excited about the future, instead of afraid of it. I’ve learned to believe people who compliment me, instead of privately waving them off as liars. I’ve learned to take on and love constructive criticism, because it can only help me grow.

I’m still learning the folly of having heroes… especially lately.

But at the end of the day, I’ve learned how lucky I am to be alive.

Say what you want about Richard Dawkins (and he has earned a holy hell of a lot of criticism, especially over the last few years), but he was right about this:

We are going to die, and that makes us the lucky ones. Most people are never going to die because they are never going to be born. The potential people who could have been here in my place, but who will, in fact, never see the light of day, outnumber the sand grains of Sahara. Certainly those unborn ghosts include greater poets then Keats, scientists greater than Newton. We know this because the set of possible people allowed by our DNA so massively outnumbers the set of actual people. In the teeth of these stupefying odds, it is you and I, in our ordinariness, that are here.

We live on a planet that is all but perfect for our kind of life: not too warm and not too cold, basking in kindly sunshine, softly watered; a gently spinning, green and gold harvest festival of a planet. Yes, and alas, there are deserts and slums; there is starvation and racking misery to be found. But take a look at the competition. Compared with most planets this is paradise, and parts of earth are still paradise by any standards. What are the odds that a planet picked at random would have these complaisant properties? Even the most optimistic calculation would put it at less than one in a million.

Imagine a spaceship full of sleeping explorers, deep-frozen would-be colonists of some distant world. Perhaps the ship is on a forlorn mission to save the species before an unstoppable comet, like the one that killed the dinosaurs, hits the home planet. The voyagers go into the deep-freeze soberly reckoning the odds against their spaceship’s ever chancing upon a planet friendly to life. If one in a million planets is suitable at best, and it takes centuries to travel from each star to the next, the spaceship is pathetically unlikely to find a tolerable, let alone safe, haven for its sleeping cargo.

But imagine that the ship’s robot pilot turns out to be unthinkably lucky. After millions of years the ship does find a planet capable of sustaining life: a planet of equable temperature, bathed in warm starshine, refreshed by oxygen and water. The passengers, Rip van Winkles, wake stumbling into the light. After a million years of sleep, here is a whole new fertile globe, a lush planet of warm pastures, sparkling streams and waterfalls, a world bountiful with creatures, darting through alien green felicity. Our travellers walk entranced, stupefied, unable to believe their unaccustomed senses or their luck.

The story asks for too much luck; it would never happen. And yet, isn’t that what has happened to each one of us? We have woken after hundreds of millions of years asleep, defying astronomical odds. Admittedly we didn’t arrive by spaceship, we arrived by being born, and we didn’t burst conscious into the world but accumulated awareness gradually through babyhood. The fact that we slowly apprehend our world, rather than suddenly discover it, should not subtract from its wonder.

Of course I am playing tricks with the idea of luck, putting the cart before the horse. It is no accident that our kind of life finds itself on a planet whose temperature, rainfall and everything else are exactly right. If the planet were suitable for another kind of life, it is that other kind of life that would have evolved here. But we as individuals are still hugely blessed. Privileged, and not just privileged to enjoy our planet. More, we are granted the opportunity to understand why our eyes are open, and why they see what they do, in the short time before they close for ever.

After sleeping through a hundred million centuries we have finally opened our eyes on a sumptuous planet, sparkling with color, bountiful with life. Within decades we must close our eyes again. Isn’t it a noble, an enlightened way of spending our brief time in the sun, to work at understanding the universe and how we have come to wake up in it? To put it the other way round, isn’t it sad to go to your grave without ever wondering why you were born? Who, with such a thought, would not spring from bed, eager to resume discovering the world and rejoicing to be a part of it?

About Nathan Hevenstone

I'm an SJW, Socialist, Jewish Agnostic Atheist, Foodie, and Guitarist. Hi!
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2 Responses to Death’s Sweet Siren Song

  1. sf says:

    WOW, so many thoughts! This was quite a long post, but one I had really enjoyed. I had a really good chuckle about your peeve in regards to spell checks, but now I’m super-duper careful that I’m not hitting any wrong keys here (don’t read my blog, cuz you’re just gonna be majorly irked over there – I never spell check!). This was like an “About Me” page, but a lengthy, very descriptive one. You may not play guitar that well, but you sure can write! I can relate to a few things here (except about good grammar, though!) and hope I can remember what the heck I was gonna say. (You have that problem of a going-going brain, but mine’s on almost-expired mode – Hahahaha! Hey, that’s a good one! I’ve gotta write that one down.) Anyhow, as I was saying, I can relate to a few things you’ve mentioned. #1) I too had looked upon my life with “new eyes” back when I was 14. I too had held a knife for the first time in front of me, but couldn’t go through with suicide because I was sure I’d fail. It was one of those big kitchen knives and I’d probably only get it in my chest 1/3 of the way. So I’d just probably end up crying from the pain and not being able to be strong enough to “fall over” on it, in order to get it in all the way through. At that time, one of the things that had triggered those thoughts was my being constantly reminded about my sexual abuse when I was younger (around 8, by my Dad’s friend, for almost a year). It was overwhelming me with shame, hate, and I too was sure my family was better off without me being a burden to them. Yup, one less mouth to feed and provide for, would have been perfect for my parents, as well. Then, I had a falling out with my Mom and she had slapped me the hardest ever across my face in my life. Just a nice red hand print of all 5 of her fingers showing on my face – no blood. But it was so hard, that I practically flew back and landed on a couple of feet on my rear on the floor. After that, I went for the knife. But ended up just hiding it and later, putting it back in the kitchen. So there’s how the age 14 and knife situation had happened for me. #2) I’m wondering if your parents are like mine: being in denial of having seen your suicide attempts. Mine have always been in denial of my attempts to “leave” them, so they’d not have to even give this worthless me a second wasted thought. Which is why I don’t bother to tell them about my Dad’s friend having abused me so long ago. What’s the point? They’d probably just look me blankly, not knowing what to do or say. But that would not be their fault. Heck, I too would not know how to react if it were my own child, but I know I wouldn’t do nothing. #3) Adult acne sucks! Haha!

    Regarding not having many friends, are you talking about now or when you were 14? Because heck, as a good writer as you are, I would have guessed you’d be one of those Debate Club college students who fly to debate with Pre-Law students in France or something. Anyhow, your gift of writing is definitely that – a gift!

    It will most likely do me no good to tell you to try to stop with the weed and to try to keep your mind in control better by doing so. And I can absolutely understand what you mean about how it helps you to quiet your mind. But when I read that part of your story, it immediately made me think of one of my sister’s patients. She tells me about her dying patients every single day and of all their different ailments – but mostly due to lung cancer (ahem). Well, going back about that patient. My sis had told me about this old man about a couple of months ago. He didn’t have long to live and there was no more the hospital could do for him, and he was to get discharged to pass away at home. Because there wasn’t anyone in the room or who had visited the old man, during my sister’s care, she asked him if she could call someone for him to come pick him up or could take care of him? He told her no. He said he had only one son. But that there was no use calling him because he was a drug addict. His son had become addicted to cocaine after his wife had passed away. And he would continue to take coke because it was only then, that he could “see” his wife again. It must have been a heartache story for my sis to hear at the time from the old man because it sure was for me to listen to it from her! For patient situations like the old man’s, my sis can only call for a social worker to assist the patient with his home transportation and continued hospice care.

    Oh, before I end my short note here (hehe), I’d like to mention about another one of my sis’ patients. May not apply to anything here, but somehow I can’t seem to leave without mentioning about him too. Due to the majority of my sister’s patients having breathing problems, they’re almost always connected to a trache in their throat. Well, this male patient also had one, besides other tube attachments to his body (some which can only be removed by a doctor). He was making my sister feel so guilty, the way he was constantly being so thankful to her, and saying thank you sincerely, for everything she did for him – even for changing his bandages. He was an Asian man, but was even fluent in Spanish and could converse in Spanish to the Hispanic nurses and thank them in Spanish as well. She had learned that his work was in the line of education, but whether high school or college, she didn’t know. But he only had one visitor – his adult daughter. She came by once every few days. Then one day, this very, very thankful man was found by another nurse (my sister was off-duty) to have pulled out ALL of the tubes attached to his body. He was bleeding from several places of his body, including his throat. But somehow, he would say to the nurse, over and over again, that he was so sorry to her. When my sister went to work and had found out he had passed away by committing suicide in that manner, she couldn’t go back to work for about a week. It was too much for her to try to understand how a grateful man such as he could believe that he wasn’t loved even by those nurses who barely knew him, but DID love him. She and the other nurses could only come to think that he must not have wanted to be a burden in his daughter’s life and wanted her to go on with her life without having to keep visiting him at the hospital, when he was going to be in his medical condition for at least months.

    Well, like I said, I’m not sure how that patient’s story relates to anything here, but I felt I had to share about him. I’m so thrilled for you that you have dreams and goals. And no longer are ready to just go, without having accomplished them. Good for you! Hope is what drives one on, no? I actually came to visit your site after having read that debate you had on that other blog (I forget its title, but you know which one I’m referring to). It would do me no good whatsoever to tell you about my own life-changing experience and of how God had given me a new life to look forward to. Words such as those would probably just cause offense. I know, because heck, I too was immensely offended way back when a good friend of mine had asked (just asked!) me if I go to church and why not. Then my best friend became a Christian. I became anti-all of them then. So even today, they’d bring it up once in awhile, about what a selfish, absolutely mean (yeah, the B-word), and filthy-mouthed (I used the F-word in every sentence) chick I used to be. But here I am, a totally different person. And like you, still alive.

  2. Thanks for writing about this, Nate. This is all difficult to speak about, difficult to read about, and absolutely necessary to understand if we want things to be better for individuals and the culture.

    For what it’s worth, I’m glad you’re alive in the world at this time, that our paths crossed.

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