I tried suicide once. I have thought about suicide a lot. I came close to suicide a second time. Suicide ideation has followed me for forty five years. When ever I get down the thought of doing myself in comes up. Self-murder has always seemed the optimal solution to unhappy circumstances. “Why not just do it,” I think, “life will never get any better.” Life always does get better, if I can resist the temptation to escape from reality because suicide is the long term solution to a short term problem.
It is hard to see it that way. It was hard to see it in 1965 when I swallowed 150 aspirin tablets and a bottle of Scotch in a nearly successful attempt on my life. I was a junior at Yale University and failing all my courses. I was failing them on purpose because I was unhappy for many reasons. I did not feel the equal of my fellow students who were so much more intelligent than me it seemed. Every course I took was a struggle. I failed French. I had difficulty with English. I could not type and therefore I had to hand-print my papers. My grades were poor partly because of that weakness. History and Political Science were not my thing. Philosophy was unintelligible to me. I had run through a gamut of majors not finding one that suited me. I ended up in American Studies as the last recourse. I didn’t love it either. I had no center. There was nothing which defined me. I was empty and sad.
I also felt friendless. My roommates asked me to move out of the dorm room I shared with them. They said I was wild, unpredictable, and often drunk. It was true. Once on a dare, I dove out of a window on the second floor into a pile of snow. Once in an angry rage, I put a fire ax into a door. And last of all in a drunken stupor, I cut off the tip of my left index finger when I tried to close up a razor sharp jack knife while cutting up an orange to add flavor to my Vodka. My roommates suggested I would be happier living on my own. In reality they would be happier with me gone. Thus I ended up in a single room at the very top on a narrow windy entryway in Saybrooke College. Isolated I stewed in my self-hatred. I spent my time in a fraternity house, whose brothers avoided me, shooting pool and drinking. I missed a lot of classes, but I didn’t care. I had no future. I was alone in the world and I thought no one cared.
It was a night before an important exam in the spring semester. I was supposed to study for this critical test, which would determine my pass or fail in American Diplomatic History, but I could not. All I could think about was how much better off I would be dead. I would never be a success in life. I was too stupid, and too fucked up emotionally. Death would be a relief from the horrible future which stretched out in front of me. I sat there in my chair with the typewriter I could hardly use in front me. I was going to peck out a suicide note on it. To my left I had a big bottle of aspirin tablets and to my right I had a bottle of Scotch – Cutty Sark I remember. I did nothing for the longest time it seemed. I just stared in front of me at the impossible machine. I was paralyzed. I could not study. I could not pick up the aspirin and down them with swigs of alcohol. I kept asking myself, “What your problem? Don’t you have the courage to kill yourself?” It was as if a little voice in my head was daring me to do it.
The voice became more insistent. “Come on you can do it. Just reach for aspirin and swallow a couple. Then take a gulp of Scotch.” I was still frozen. “What wrong with you, you chicken? Nobody gives a damn if you live or die. You have no future you fool. Do the right thing end it now!” Gradually as the voice repeated its insistent remarks again and again, I picked up the bottle of Scotch. It was only a pint, but plenty enough to get me loaded. I began to take sips. The more sips I took the less frozen in indecision I became. “Now you can do it,” the voice said, “take a few aspirin.” I took ten. Nothing happened. “Take some more,” the voice said. I took twenty. I poured them out into my palm and threw them down my throat. I took another gulp of Scotch. Nothing! I was feeling a little tipsy, but nothing extraordinary. “Now you are doing it. You will be free soon. Take some more aspirins,” the voice implored me. I poured out 50 tablets and washed them down with the Cutty Sark. A little ringing began in my ears. I tried to peck out my suicide note, but was too drunk to accomplish it. “Soon it will be over. You will be happy when your dead, Take more, the voice continued. I poured out the rest of the bottle of aspirin onto my desk and hurriedly packed them into my mouth, swallowing as rapidly as I could. With every mouthful I would add a swig of alcohol. Gradually I had done it. I had shown courage to kill myself. I had downed 150 aspirin tablets. My inaudible voice congratulated me. “Well done, you shown you have courage. You can lie down and die now.”
I went to my bed and stretched out, thinking I would pass out and pass on shortly. I would be painless I thought. Then the buzzing started. A huge ringing sound arose in my ears. Buzzzzzzzzzzz it began and rose in tone and pitch with each passing minute. This was not what I expected at all. I was supposed to fall asleep and die quietly. There was not supposed to be this incredible buzzing. I grew afraid. What if I didn’t die and this horrible sound continued. I got up and tried to walk around, but I could not. I was wobbly and collapsed on the floor. The sound kept getting worse and I was starting to feel woozy and nauseous. This was not what I imagined would be my fate. I thought I would slip into sleep and disappear into death. I had not calculated on the high pitched buzzing and the fear that began to arise. I dragged myself to the phone and called my one friend, James, and told him what I had done. He rushed off to get help.
The campus police arrived with James and helped me down the staircase to a waiting patrol car. I was whisked off to Yale New Haven Hospital’s Emergency Room. I was becoming more and more nauseous, and barely conscious. I don’t remember much of the procedure I endured when they put a tube down my throat and pumped my stomach. I remember being wheeled into a critical care room, where I lay on a gurney surrounded by a green curtain. The terrible buzzing continued in my ears.
A man was wheeled into the room with me. His bed too was surrounded by the green cloth curtains. He started to cough and with each cough a terrible rattling sound emanated afterwards. I knew this was a death rattle. I decided I didn’t want to die. I prayed to God to save me. The man in the bed nearby kept coughing and rattling for hours. I prayed for hours asking for forgiveness for my mistake. The man next to me died in the middle of the night, giving off a final horrendous cough and rattle. The nurses came and wheeled his bed away, while I lay there griping the sides of the gurney begging not to die like my neighbor. Gradually the ringing in my ears lessened and the nausea passed away.
The day following my attempt when I had recovered enough to walk, I was lead into the mental ward of the Hospital, where I was a patient for a month. The ringing in my ears grew less, but even 45 years later my ears still ring when I bring my consciousness to bear on the sound. The buzz is my constant reminder that I attempted suicide nearly successfully.
Life got better after my attempt, my stay at the Mental Hospital, and a year of therapy. I returned to Yale became an art major and ultimately went to architecture school. I found something I was good at drawing and design, but I did not give up suicidal ideation. I just gave up acting on it. When depressed, which I often was in the cycles I could plot on a calendar, I would talk about suicide. This disturbed my friends and my wife at the time, who would ask incredulously, “Do you really mean to kill yourself?” I would always answer no. My suicide talk was just letting off steam, I said, I really don’t intend to do it. It was true. I didn’t have a plan, but I always had a fantasy of some bizarre way I was going to do myself in. I would drive my car at full speed into a tree. I would jump off the cliff of the Grand Canyon. I would swim out to sea off Venice Beach in California to drown when I became too tired to swim. My corpse would be eaten by sharks. I would arrange for my murder by drug crazed bums in LA’s Skid Row. I enjoyed ruminating on the different and ghastly ways I could commit self murder, but the ideation always past as my mood improved. Up and positive, I would disavow any inclination to suicide.
My life went on this way for many years, until I collapsed in my late forties from stress and cocaine addiction. I destroyed myself I said. There was no longer a reason to live. Unable to end my addiction and severely depressed, I dragged myself to a freeway overpass in Pasadena, California, where I intended to hurl myself into the traffic below. The voice this time did not encourage me to death. Instead it mocked my pretense. It said I, Carlotta, your female self and silent voice, don’t want to die. There is too much living to be done. I, Carlton, the male self and depressed other, stated that my life was over, my marriage was in shambles, and my career was destroyed. Carlotta debated the circumstances I was in with me, and implored me this time to think not of myself, but others. She said, what about your wife and your daughter, how would they feel if you did yourself in. At first I said they would be better off without me, but as we carried on this silent conversation I admitted my act would be selfish and would leave them feeling bad, if not guilty. I was still not convinced to stay my hand. Carlotta asked me about the innocent people below me who might die in an accident when I fell down upon them unexpectedly. I had no answer. These people driving in their car unaware might swerve to avoid the falling body and crash into another vehicle. I could cause death greater than my own. I did not want that. Carlotta had convinced me not to do it. I shuffled myself off the bridge and went to the mental hospital the next day.
The medication and the therapy I got for my bipolar condition ended my suicidal ideation. If ever the thought occurs to kill myself – and it sometimes does- I dismiss it immediately. Life has too much to offer to spend any time wasted in thoughts of death by my own hand. Life is too short to contemplate long term solutions of nothingness.