I came near to killing myself. I saw no other way out. Why didn't I do it?
When I was in my twenties I suffered a period of intense depression, what psychiatrists term clinical depression. One day I resolved with conviction to kill myself. I still remember clearly the details of that dark and tormented period, the days leading up to my contemplated suicide.
A phenomenon that a number of people have noted while in deep depression is the sense of being accompanied by a second self--a wraithlike observer who, not sharing the dementia of his double, is able to watch with dispassionate curiosity as his companion struggles against the oncoming disaster, or decides to embrace it. There is a theatrical quality about all this, and during the several days after I decided to kill myself, as I went about stolidly preparing for extinction, I couldn't shake off a sense of melodrama--a melodrama in which, I the victim-to-be of self-murder, was both the solitary actor and lone member of the audience. I had not yet chosen the mode of departure, but I knew that that step would come next, and soon, as inescapable as nightfall.
I watched myself in mingled terror and fascination as I began to make the necessary preparation, spending part of a couple of afternoons in a muddled attempt to bestow upon posterity a letter of farewell. It turned out that putting together a suicide note, which I felt obsessed with a necessity to compose, was the most difficult task of writing that I had ever tackled. There were too many people to acknowledge, to thank, to bequeath final bouquets. And finally I couldn't manage the sheer dirgelike solemnity of it; there was something I found almost comically offensive in the pomposity of such a comment as "For some time now I have sensed in my work a growing psychosis that is doubtless a reflection of the psychotic strain tainting my life" (this is one of the few lines I recall verbatim), as well as something degrading in the prospect of a testament, which I wished to infuse with at least some dignity and eloquence, reduced to an exhausted stutter of inadequate apologies and self-serving explanations. I should have used as an example the mordant statement of the Italian writer Cesare Pavese, who in parting wrote simply: No more words. An act. I'll never write again.
But even a few words came to seem to me too long-winded, and I tore up all my efforts, resolving to go out in silence. Late one bitterly cold night, when I knew that I could not possibly get myself through the following day, I sat in my room bundled up against the chill. I forced myself to watch the tape of a movie, one of my favorites, The Year of Living Dangerously. At one point in the film, which is set in Indonesia in the mid-1960s, a character plays a phonograph recording of a song by Richard Strauss, one of the Four Last Songs, titled "Going to Sleep." There came a soprano voice, and a sudden soaring passage on the violin.
And my ardent longing shall
the stormy night in friendship
enfold like a tired child.
Hands, leave all work,
brow, forget all thought.
Now all my senses
long to sink themselves in slumber.
And the spirit unguarded
longs to soar on free wings,
so that, in the magic circle of night,
it may live deeply, and a thousandfold.
This sound, which like all music--indeed, like all pleasure--I had been numbly unresponsive to for months, pierced my heart like a dagger, and in a flood of swift recollection I thought of all the joys I had known. This I realized was more than I could ever abandon, even as what I had set out so deliberately to do was more than I could inflict on those memories. And just as powerfully I realized I could not commit this desecration on myself. I drew upon some last gleam of sanity to perceive the terrifying dimensions of the moral predicament I had fallen into and I resolved not to kill myself.