As someone who’s suffered from dysthymia—not infrequently veering into full-blown depression—since he was a teenager, and whose personal philosophy is borderline nihilistic, and who suffers from chronic pain, and whose marriage failed, and who spent three years in prison in Florida for trying (naively, it must be admitted) to help treat other people who have chronic pain, and who lost his license to practice a career he’d worked at for a very long time, and—this is the most unkindest cut of all—who doesn’t see his children because they don’t really want to see him (one of them won’t even interact with him); and as someone who bothers to keep going at all mainly just because he’s writing books and short stories, none of which may ever be read by anyone other than family members and possibly old friends…as such a person, each day for me is very much like a game of Russian roulette.
The cylinder with which the game is played is very big, to be sure, and there are many, many more empty chambers than that one full-but-oh-so-consequential one. If there were not, the game would have long since ended. Nevertheless, if one plays that lottery often enough, one is sure, eventually, to “win,” and I play it daily. It’s been a very long time—subjectively, it seems like a lifetime—since I’ve had a day without at least a moment in which I suspected that permanent oblivion would be a net gain when compared to its alternative. There’s plain few days in which I never feel like just lying down in the middle of nowhere and never getting back up, just letting the elements do their implacable work. There are many days in which I fantasize about wading into the Atlantic Ocean (conveniently nearby) and then just swimming out, as far as I can, until I can’t swim anymore. (This latter idea is appealing because it causes very little inconvenience to others; one might as well not be rude).
I’m not sure what keeps the other chambers of that roulette gun empty, to be frank. It’s probably nothing more than that mindless survival drive that was brutally driven into my biology by the clumsy, wasteful, blundering, low, and horribly cruel work of natural selection. There certainly isn’t much inherent to the continuing struggle that makes it seem anything but a pointless, Sisyphean task. I often feel like one of Tolkien’s Ringwraiths: they do not die, but neither do they grow or obtain new life; they merely continue, until at last each breath is a weariness.
What sensible person would bear these whips and scorns when he could his quietus make with a bare bodkin?
Well…so far, I would, it seems. I’m far from convinced that it’s the correct choice. I spin that metaphorical cylinder every day, and I am, quite honestly, not afraid of the day when the hammer falls on a live round…not in any real, deep way. But the damnable organism that I am just mindlessly carries out its functions, at high and low levels alike, without so much as a “by your leave.” It’s most inconsiderate.
I don’t really know what to say or do about all this. I’m not really asking for help. I’m a qualified medical doctor, though no longer in practice, and I understand the neurology and the neurochemistry and the psychology involved better than 99% of the general public. I’ve called crisis hotlines before and was once handcuffed by imbecilic PBSO deputies for my trouble—causing nerve damage in my left wrist that lasted almost 2 years—before being brought to a squalid and pointless place where the limitations of our mental healthcare delivery systems became even more viscerally apparent to me than they had been before. I don’t mean to go through that adventure again.
I’ve been medicated (the latter occasion a case in point), and I’ve been in therapy, and I’ve used neural stimulators and meditation. I’m quite well read in the philosophy and science and fiction and poetry and music on the subject matter, let alone the trite, banal, condescending, and sometimes frankly insulting social media memes that relate to it. I sincerely doubt that anyone has any arguments about the topic that I’ve never encountered nor thought of on my own. After all, it’s a subject that’s consumed me for three quarters of my life, and I’m a voracious consumer of information, who has little to no social life to distract him.
I honestly don’t know that there is an answer, and I’m not even sure what question I should ask. Nature isn’t obliged to be satisfactory of our wishes or convenient for our needs. I don’t really even know why I’m writing this. Maybe it’s just to avoid misleading anyone about me. I have the faculty of humor, and tend to respond to things I find funny, and to try to make amusing comments, and to show appreciation for good intellectual points, and for noteworthy events, and for fine people and organizations. I have a strong sense of curiosity, and I like to understand things, and to share matters that seem interesting. Because of these facts, there are times when I probably seem upbeat and positive, happy and amused; indeed, there are probably occasional moments when those descriptions really do match my mood, if not my character.
Yet the game is always there, every day. The cylinder spins, the hammer is cocked, the trigger is pulled, and the firing pin strikes—so far—an empty chamber. I’m not talking about a real gun here, of course (I no longer can legally own one); it’s a metaphor. But it’s a true metaphor. The specifics of the game are not literally as described, but the stakes are just the same. And one cannot, in principle, keep playing forever. I frequently can’t help but wish that some happy turn of fortune would take the game out of my hands, preferably in a slow, degenerative, and painful fashion. But such is not likely to be my fate; I come from a line of mostly physically robust forebears. I guess the slow, degenerative, and painful process for me is the very thing I’ve been describing, the thing that makes me wish for something more direct and literal. I don’t know whether that counts as irony, but it is certainly an impressive little twist of the knife of fate, and that, I guess, it the only other weapon with which I am met, even as I spin the wheel of the first one each day.
The undead of Terry Pratchett’s Discworld say that life is wasted on the living. I’m often inclined to agree with them, at least about myself.
Not all the time. But a lot of the time. At least once a day.
Whether I need it or not.