some thoughts on writing and suicide
A great Australian writer and thinker died this week. I won’t mention them by name, as I don’t want to piggyback on their reputation or intrude upon the deep circles of grief they have left behind.
I have guessed, however, that they died by suicide. Every time I hear of a writer’s suicide, my immediate response is: ‘That could be me.’ Then: ‘What was the final shove?’ Did it come quickly or did the logic of death take a slow looping road into the dark?
Pointless questions, as no suicide is alike, just as no experience of depression or anxiety or any other form of anguish is alike. Even bouts of dysphoria can be unique in themselves, so that even the person who knows their own mind well can be ambushed. This slipperiness is, obviously, what can make mental illness difficult to treat, and difficult for others, even the most sympathetic, to understand.
Much of my own outward-facing behaviour is a lie, in that it hides the mental gymnastics required to perform socially, to get on with necessary business, to sell books; and it hides the exhaustion and confusion that can set in afterwards. I’d rather be writing, editing and studying than talking to people. And this is certainly not a unique experience, especially not for those who’ve made lives from words.
Like many children of depressives, I learned that the front door was a threshold of wellness and contentment. As an adult in middle age, behind the front, all my inward burrows remain the same; most of them are places of safety, but some are not.
The places of greatest safety, for me and probably most other writers, tend to be where I’m free to disappear into the making of meaning. For me, this usually involves an intense need to dwell in spaces of love and joy, trap them in a paper bag and breathe them in for as long as possible. While I hope that my efforts throw ropes out to others across the void, this meaning-making is essential to keeping me alive.
It’s a scale that’s greased with sweat-drenched palms, but, roughly, when I’m engaged with a hunt for narrative and lyric light, be it my own or others’, I’m able to be a productive human, and when I’m not, my boots slide towards death.
Whenever we dismiss or devalue someone’s effort to do meaningful things, I think it’s useful to consider if we might actually be threatening that person’s life. When we choose to celebrate sales instead of content, when we choose to hold celebrity in greater regard than skill or the creative effort itself, what are we saying to those whose existence hinges on making meaning?
There’s been much talk lately about how a basic income for writers and other artists might help. The short answer to that, I think, is that it will help immeasurably. Imagine receiving a small stipend from your community to regularly remind you that your efforts are appreciated? More than helping to pay the rent, it might be a little light in the dark returned. It might save a life. It might also make Australian literary culture a safer place to be.
7 thoughts on “some thoughts on writing and suicide”
Thank you Kim for sharing. I also suffer from anxiety and depression and people’s comments often send me into hatd places. Take care of you and thank you for your fabulous books. Resding is my No. 1 escape. 💖💖💖
Thank you for sharing, too, Rosemarie! As book people, we need each other, we’re all related. I hope your reading adventures are bringing you joy X
I posted a response but it got lost somewhere in the world-wide -ether. Apologies if another comment shows up.
I wanted to say thank you dearest Kim for sharing these words with us. Your honesty is so appreciated. As someone with serious chronic illness, I find people don’t always understand that my creative endeavours, and indeed the creative process itself, is part of my ability to keeping going.
I loved all of what you shared in this post but for me these words were particularly poignant:
‘Whenever we dismiss or devalue someone’s effort to do meaningful things, I think it’s useful to consider if we might actually be threatening that person’s life. When we choose to celebrate sales instead of content, when we choose to hold celebrity in greater regard than skill or the creative effort itself, what are we saying to those whose existence hinges on making meaning?’
Thank you for engaging in conversations like this that hopefully help to normalise the struggles many of us face.
I send all my love and hugs to you.
Thank you, beautiful Lusi. We’re all struggling for the light in one way or another, aren’t we? All power to your creative heart XXX
Oh well said. The creative impulse for many is the whole point of being alive.
Well said Kim. The right worry, or pretend to worry, about bludgers taking advantage of a universal basic income, but that is such a small problem compared with the enormous number of people who a) would be helped; and b) would no longer have to spend hours dealing with a punitive bureaucracy.
I wish we could offer established authors more than that, but it seems not. This does not seem to be a government that will make it easier to get university work or arts bursaries.
Not that that would be a solution to depression, but it certainly wouldn’t hurt to live in a more caring society, and it probably wouldn’t even cost a lot.
Thanks so much for your comment. Oh yes, care can go such a long way. ❤