A lot of people have written to me, asking me for comments (since I’m a therapist) on the following suicide note recently written by a presumably successful young nutritionist, Tara Condell (age 27), in New York City. Presumably, this young woman had everything to live for, but chose to end her life anyway. The following is a note she wrote to her mother before hanging herself:
I Hate The Word “Bye”, But See You Later Maybe?
I have written this note several times in my head for over a decade, and this one finally feels right. No edits, no overthinking. I have accepted hope is nothing more than delayed disappointment, and I am just plain old-fashioned tired of feeling tired.
I realize I am undeserving of thinking this way because I truly have a great life on paper. I’m fortunate to eat meals most only imagine. I often travel freely without restriction. I live alone in the second greatest American city (San Francisco, you’ll always have my heart). However, all these facets seem trivial to me. It’s the ultimate first world problem, I get it. I often felt detached while in a room full of my favorite people; I also felt absolutely nothing during what should have been the happiest and darkest times in my life. No single conversation or situation has led me to make this decision, so at what point do you metaphorically pull the trigger?
I’m going to miss doing NYT crosswords (I was getting really good). That one charcuterie board with taleggio AND ‘nduja. Anything Sichuan ma la, but that goes without saying. A perfect plate of carbonara (no cream!). Real true authentic street tacos. Cal-Italian cuisine. Hunan Bistro’s fried rice. The pork belly and grape mini from State Bird Provisions circa 2013. Popeye’s of course. Bambas too.
I’m also going to miss unexpected hugs. Al Green’s Simply Beautiful. Cherries in July. Tracing a sleeping eyebrow. Smoking cigarettes. The Golden Gate Bridge at sunset. That first sip of iced cold brew in sticky August. Making eye contact with people walking down the street. When songs feel like they’re speaking to your soul. Jeopardy. Saying I love you. Late night junk food binges. Shooting the shit. And especially the no-destination-in-sight long walks.
No GoFundMes, no funeral, no tributes, no doing-too-much please. All I ask now is for you to have one delicious (I mean a really really great) meal in my honor and let me go, no exceptions.
It’s selfishly time for me to be happy and I know you can get down with that. Please try to remember me as a whole human you shared memories with and not just my final act. This is not your fault. It’s not exactly easy for me either, I’m here for you. I love you. I always have and I always will, I promise. Shikata ga’nai.
I’m coming home, Dad. Make some room up on that cloud and turn the Motown up.
I’m really sorry mama.
It’s obviously a sad, heartbreaking read.
My approach is to look at her assumptions, her premises — at the fundamental ideas upon which her decision to end her life depended.
One assumption she held is that there is an afterlife, and it’s definitely better than this life.
That’s a touchy subject. Psychology is supposed to stay out of religion. I understand that, because metaphysics (the nature of reality and existence) is a different subject than psychology (the workings of the mind, particularly the subconscious).
But there’s no denying it, psychologically: If you’re convinced there IS a better place after this life — a place where an equally beloved figure (“Dad”) can “make room up on that cloud”, a place where for all eternity life will be effortless and pleasant … if you really believe that, who’s to say it’s irrational to want to get there 50 years sooner? Why in the world wait? Maybe she was irrational or wrong to end her life. But on that premise — how irrational was she, really?
Her assumptions remind me of the similarly utopian ones of the majority of today’s millennials (her age group). Most of them are not suicidal, but they are looking for an effortless existence to be brought about by benevolent corporations and/or the government — free medical care, free college, risk-free life choices, free everything for everyone, and the like. Utopia is utopia, whether you project it onto an afterlife of effortless existence or the present one. She was opting for the first.
A second assumption in the letter, related to the first: What’s good and great about this life is not enough. An atheist or agnostic could feel the same way, and might commit suicide for the same reason. She acknowledges she has “first world” problems. She seems to realize she’s living in one of the greatest civilizations and cities (New York) that human beings have ever created. It’s not that she feels guilty for this fact. Maybe she does, but her suicide note does not suggest it. The bigger issue is that it’s not enough. Life should be more than it is, even if it has the prospects of getting better and better all the time — but it’s still not enough. Not for her.
A third assumption: Selfishness is OK. Actually, this would be the basis for condemning her choice to kill herself, according to most people. But I’m actually on her side. Like Ayn Rand (who wrote “The Virtue of Selfishness”), I subscribe to the view that “selfishness” — meaning rational self-interest, survival, treating one’s life as an end in itself, not as a means to the end of others (respecting the equal right of others to do the same) — is a good thing. By my definition (and seemingly the suicidal young woman’s definition) her life should be hers to determine or dispose of, as she sees fit. I wholly agree. That’s a cornerstone of mental health, in my view. Yet where she goes wrong is in assuming that she can — and will — attain her selfish self-interest only by ending her life. That’s a massive contradiction. Why? Because values can only occur in the context of a living, breathing and hopefully free human being.
According to a rational definition of happiness, the existence of LIFE — to be alive — is the presupposition for any degree or form of happiness. Once life goes away — or once you take your own life away — then values are no longer possible. That’s an atheist view, I realize. But even some religious believers might support it. The vast majority of religions and religious believers view suicide as wrong. It interferes with God’s will, they say. It interferes with your ability to learn whatever you need to learn in this life so you can end up in your hopefully rightful place of Heaven, Nirvana or whatever the particular religion refers to as eternal bliss. My point here: The author of this suicide note does NOT share this premise. Unlike an atheist, she firmly believes in an afterlife that is far superior to this life. (A hell of a lot longer, too, since it’s eternal.) Unlike most religious believers, she feels she’s entitled to that afterlife now, that she does not have to wait if she does not want to do so. Most will label that “selfish” and therefore wrong. “Selfish” is an ironic label to attach to suicide, since suicide is the ultimate (and final) act of one’s own self-destruction.
The last time I wrote a post on suicide I was greeted mostly with applause, but also with an unusual number of hysterical shrieks from people who condemned me for not sufficiently emphasizing that suicide is (according to them) 100 percent the product of depression. Depression, these people claim, is a medical illness over which one has no say or control. In their minds, suggesting there’s any element of choice to suicide is like saying there’s a choice to make oneself die of cancer, should one be unfortunate enough to contract that illness.
I challenge anyone with an honest and objective mind to read this deeply moving — yet deeply disturbing — suicide letter and seriously make the case that choices are not involved.
It seems that this was the young woman’s central point: It’s her life, and it’s her choice. On that point, I — as a non-suicidal person — could not agree more. It’s partly why I found the note, while wrong-headed, so moving while at the same time disturbing. It’s more regrettable than any of us can say that she no longer saw the possibility of achieving values in THIS life, particularly the “first world” life she was fortunate enough to be living.
The answer to why she did what she did resides in trying to understand her assumptions. In the end, we choose our assumptions and our actions logically follow. That’s true whether it’s suicide, or any other life decision. If she had been willing and able to identify her deeper assumptions, she might still be alive today.
But maybe she didn’t want to; and it was undeniably her choice, as she ultimately showed those who loved her.
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