'The game of life is hard to play
I'm gonna lose it anyway
The losing card I'll someday lay
So this is all I have to say …'
Remember it? From M*A*S*H, Johnny Mandel and Mike Altman's classic. An ear worm if ever there was. Palinacousis, to give it its proper name, or auditary perseveration: when we continue to hear sounds or music long after the echoes have faded away.
I don't know why this 'Suicide Is Painless' number haunts me. I didn't follow the long-running television series, nor did I ever see the movie. Making light of suicide, the suggestion that it won't hurt a soul when in fact it destroys so many, seemed to my mind a greatly perplexing thing. As a teenager, I fled from notions that worried me. As a woman, I tend to seek them out. What does that tell you? Me neither.
The here, the now. Whenever I find I don't know enough about this or that, I turn to music. So I was contemplating suicide – not as a lifestyle choice, we'll get to why in a moment – and I realised that I knew far more songs about it than I ever knew that I knew. Not counting Elton's 'Think I'm Going To Kill Myself', from the 1972 album Honky Chateau, long-time favourite. I know Bernie's lyrics by heart, and have often sung them blithely, never pausing to ponder what made him write such a song in the first place. It has been described as a 'send-up' of teenage angst, the moody young'un threatening to extinguish his own life because he's not allowed to take the car out late, and such. 'I'd like to see what the papers, say/on the state of teenage blues.' Would you really? You're so sure that wherever is 'there', you will still be aware?
So I thought of these.
Can't Stand Losing You - Police
Damn it Rose - Don Henley
Don't Try Suicide - Queen
Home Sweet Home - Peter Gabriel
Otherside - Red Hot Chilli Peppers
Paper Wings, and Suicide? - Barclay James Harvest
Seems So Long Ago, Nancy - Leonard Cohen
Staircase at the University - Morrissey
Suicide Solution - Ozzy Osbourne
The Final Cut - Pink Floyd
Wings of Angels - Judy Collins
You Feel So Lonely You Could Die - David Bowie
You're Only Human (Second Wind) - Billy Joel
An endless list, oh boy. What is it with the creative mind that it gives in to so much melancholy? We've all been down, we've all been out. I didn't think I knew anybody who had taken their own life, but I sat around and thought about it. I remembered my cousin's husband, who hanged himself. My cousin found him dangling in the garage when she got home from work. I recalled the name of a colleague at a record company I once worked for, who razored his wrists in the bath. A girl in the other class at school, who swallowed an overdose. I asked around. Almost everyone I spoke to had known someone, or someone's someone. As with cancer, few lives go untouched.
I heard from a client this week who is fundraising in the name of two friends loved and lost. He doesn't get it, he says. They had so much to live for. Thing is, we all do.
You hear it all the time: 'Don't they think of the pain they will cause, the guilt people will feel, the anger, the regret?' I bet they do. Some leave notes, explaining why, but it's never enough to accept. It's unimaginable. Your child, your parent, your partner, your friend. How would you feel? How would they feel? Couldn't, could you. Never an option. Survivors of suicide attempts sometimes say that it wasn't that they wanted so badly to die, it was that they didn't want to carry on living.
The experts identify six main reasons.
Depression, during which normal thought processes become distorted. They are so depressed that they refuse to believe they really are.
Psychosis, the truly confounding one: such people are often high-flyers, great achievers, whose lives have never lived up to the hype or the dreams. They are often on medication, managing their fragility, well aware of the dangers. They feel the fear. They do it anyway. Schizophrenics speak of the voices within, voices that haunt them, taunt them, daring them to do it.
Impulsives are often substance-abusers, booze and drugs almost always involved. They get drunk, they get high, what the hell, let's go for it.
Those who 'cry for help' tend not to want to die. They just can't think of any other way to let people know that they feel so desperate.
Then there are the philosophers, who wish to die for a good reason. A terminal illness will do it. Taking control of one's destiny in such circumstances is paramount to some. The decision to commit suicide is regarded as preferable to waiting on premature death that is going to happen anyway.
That leaves the mistakes. Kids who take legal highs, deprive themselves of oxygen for kicks, lose themselves in the moment and go too far.
Some left behind by suicide never recover. They can't let go of the negative emotions, they can't find closure. But most of us keep right on to the end of the road. What choice? That's what this guy Fabrice Klein is doing. Fabrice lost his beloved uncle to suicide. He himself has OCD, and both his mother and sister have mental health issues. He has decided to get out there and do something.
Fabrice is running the Marathon des Sables, the so-called Toughest Race On Earth: both in memory of his uncle and to raise funds for MIND. He will run for six days, around 160 miles in blood-boiling heat, wearing a massive backpack, across the Sahara Desert.
Support him here.