Years ago, in lieu of pursuit of dreams unrealised and lacking the necessary drive to chip away at the necessary hurdles standing between circumstances and goals unattained, I took a job as a trainee psychiatric nurse in one of the public asylums that still existed before the madness of the economic rationalists convinced the public service that such places could be closed and dollars saved and lost souls managed effectively within community settings.
And thus began an education of sorts, wherein a window opened through which one could step and experience another reality, such as it were, where the lost, tortured, mad, bad, seriously demented and otherwise tragically misfitted were gathered wantonly or unwittingly.
Patients who had attempted suicide were common, a dime a dozen, often rejected by family and peers as being seriously unstable and incapable of maintaining a a ‘normal’ relationship, teenaged girls with multiple scarified forearms, stomach-pumped OD’ers, fatalistic users of dangerous drugs, along with psychopaths and arsonists and murderers and the other fringe-dwellers living at the edges of the social bell-curve. And a psychiatrist who wore a t-shirt which proudly proclaimed ‘Mind Fucker’.
And amongst my peers was a colleague whom we all admired, a young man with what The Cat referred to as ‘elan vital’ just bursting out of him, energetic, joyous, smart and funny, seemingly in love with the uniqueness of existing within a human frame, and married to a beautiful wife… who began an affair, and then left him.
Within weeks, this young man, a a black-belt martial artist and musician, with his naturally attractive personality, and liked and admired by all who knew him, had a polar shift from positive to the other extreme, and taking advantage of his knowledge of psychiatric medications had himself prescribed a major anti-depressant (now descheduled), and fatal if overdosed. He would have known that. We found him unconscious in the male toilet of the hospital’s teaching rooms, and were unable, at the time, to understand why such a promising young man should have chosen to end the pain as he did.
You see, as nurses we were used to working day in & day out with the so-called loonies & nutcases, the schizophrenics and manic-depressives and obsessive-compulsives and the relentlessly neurotics, and within that framework one could rationalise that suicidal was appropriate, god, even worthwhile, after all, anything must be better than being crazy, right? But for a young man of 24 with the world at his feet, it just didn’t seem quite right. To knock yourself off just because your wife left you? Hell, there’s plenty more fish in the ocean, right? Hah! Try telling a drowning man that all he needs to do is flail a little harder, when all he’s experiencing in the moment is such fear, and pain, and tiredness, fuck it, I’m flailing away here and still sinking…
It’s a complex subject, and Bob’s done us a unique service by raising the topic. Australia of course is not unique in the phenomenon of male suicide, or in general, though he’s right to assert that men outnumber women and this is a serious concern, socially, societally.
This problem raises many questions, not the least of which is what sort of circumstances or conditions constitute ideality in the sense of setting foundations within a person’s life, such that they are psychologically robust enough to withstand the rigours of a fully-lived life with all its tests of courage and endurance.
I wonder, for example, whether our ancestors killed themselves at such a rate. Did the aborigines have a history of self-inflicted death, eskimos, amero-indians or other indigenous peoples?
What is it about language and our relationship to it that permits us to self-evaluate and then take that awful final step. It’s said, for instance, that prior to the acquisition of language skills, that we live in some sort of utopian ideal, and that we’re kind of a whole being and at one with ourselves and in the moment, so to speak, but that after we develop these higher intellectual behaviours and skills with the concomitant development of the Freudian I-ego, that there’s a kind of split from reality. I believe that. And I believe that we are fooled, gulled and hypnotised into some alternate reality by the incessant snarking of the little man in the brain, the shadow player who says “I” to everything, the ghost in the machine. Just my two bob’s worth…