Jumping out of the window, facing the pavement in front of the building, is more than a desperate act. In fact, it is much more than a call for help. In fact, it is much, much more than being alone, helpless, unloved or anything that counts.
Think about a fire in your 15th-floor apartment. What would be the conditions for the proximity of fire and death by suffocation, so that you decided to risk-taking out your own life by the window?
Walter Benjamin, one of the great thinkers of the early twentieth century, committed suicide when his group of refugees was detained in the Pyrenees, Spain. Benjamin, like others in the group, fled the German Nazi regime.
On the other hand, Viktor Frankel, another important thinker of that time. He was arrested by the Nazis, lived for years in concentration camps. He has accompanied the deaths of thousands of prisoners like him, whether by suicide, gas chambers or starvation conditions. He survived at this time to compose one of the most beautiful, robust (and functional) theories of psychology.
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Frankel asked the same question with which I began this text: “What leads the subject to this fateful choice?”. From this answer, he constructed his theory and system. But in a simple way, Viktor Frankel realized during the years in the concentration camp that those who found meaning in that process had greater ease or tendency to overrun.
Whether it was helping others, or getting involved in the activities they were forced to perform when a sense was found, survival was easier. Ultimately, it guaranteed another day of existence.
This sense was not exactly a direction, but a meaning for the process. Thus, when the person began to identify with the cleaning of the latrines and made it the meaning of that moment of life, this relationship increased the bond with life and allowed the attachment to life for another day. It filled the individual.
We see this every day, and in different ways, we ask the same question for different situations: “How can she stay married to this guy?”, “How does he support that job?”, “How do they stand for this life situation? “.
You see, these questions are the same question as in the second paragraph: “What would be the conditions of the nearness of fire and death by suffocation so that you would decide to risk taking your own life?” Here, the question is what needs to happen in order for the meaning of your life to be lost. In the previous paragraph, the question is what sustains the meaning of your life in the face of so many difficulties.
What causes a person to jump out of a window, then, is not despair but the loss of meaning of life.
Imagine yourself against the flames, squeezed between the window and the red and orange heat. No escape. This is a point where everything you believe does not make sense anymore. All the beliefs that makeup, guide, and rule life come undone.
Legend says that Walter Benjamin could hear, while he was locked in his saddle, the firing of the other refugees. The fire was near him! Very near!
The fire closed all the exits except the window. There is no sense in everything that has been done, in everything that has been lived. Right?
For most of us, no.
But for some, yes. And the rupture of this fabric of meaning that makes up everyday life can be absolutely disastrous. The end of a job imbued with dreams, the death of a child, the end of a marriage long dreamed of comes to many, accompanied by an undoing of a web of meaning and meaning that made up the life and now crumbling. Apart from the bond, the perspective and capacity to relate to one’s own existence end.
Think about the small experiences of everyday life: bathe, cook, smell the water in your hand when we wash under the tap. Think of the sensation of the moisturizer on the skin of the hand, imagine that sensation losing its meaning.
More, imagine the bond with loved ones, with children, parents, siblings, losing their meaning in front of life. This is beyond despair.
Love for the people in suicide risk does not end, but it becomes a burden because it loses meaning and gains a sense much closer to punishment than to a loving experience itself. Bonds of love become points of guilt, remorse, and shame. The walk to the window, makes love turn into a burden because it makes it difficult to jump.
Often, in depression, anxiety, or psychosis, negative or delusional thinking also disrupts this web. Playing the guy in an empty sea of meaning and sense.
In both situations: in the brutal breakup of a severe loss, or in the gradual deconstruction of depression, the loss of the meaning of life is far beyond despair. Despair is long gone. Despair, pain, and helplessness are only possible to exist when there is still a meaning for life, often so strong, that it allows one to recognize the size of the loss and therefore, the pain of it.
When the sense fades, nothing remains.
And “the nothing” should be difficult. “The nothing” is the place where other philosophers arrived in their careers as thinkers. Some of them could not stand it and suicide.
Foucault, a philosopher of the second half of the twentieth century, put suicide more or less as a vanishing point. As if it were the last instance between escape-and-fight. As if it were still a fighting force and not a quit as such. One last exercise of power over ourselves. An extreme exercise of freedom. But, not poetic, a suffering point.
I do not understand this reading of Foucault, nor do I want it much! I do not agree with this Foucault idea. I think we always have space for more battle, for more persistence, even if we are not seeing more sense in the struggle for life.
But he analyzed this idea from a half-archaeological-historical point of view and, taking into account other models of culture and thought. Hence, in this naked vision, suicide, like sex, was not always taboo. Having in some places and times been seen as something that is part of the process of living and dying. This is no longer the case today, this is not our cultural rule. Dying is not cool, especially taking your own life.
For the suicidal, to ask for help, especially when everything seems to have lost its meaning, it is very difficult, practically impossible. The voice does not come out. Thus, the aid must come without the request being present. The hand that stretches out to help must cease to be passive and needs to be grasped by the collar of the sufferer. Embrace hard, until the last drop of tear has drained from the emptiness.
But if that is not possible, to understand that it was not your fault, but the emptiness fault, it is crucial for others to continue their lives without the burden of guilt.
It may be a prejudiced understanding on my part, but I think intervention is necessary, obligatory. I do not believe in the right to die. I know, and I have seen many times, that emptiness and lack of meaning, as well as pain and fear, they all pass. Meaning returns with time and good help.
Suicide is the breaking point of the meaning of life after the whole struggle. And Frankel said that we can (re) find meaning for life in three ways:
1 – Having already known this sense of life, and to rediscover it, to come back to believe in it,
2 – Discovering along the journey of life what is the new meaning of it, when the previous one has disintegrated;
3 – Never find the meaning of life in person.
But in that third case, what Frankel says, is that the meaning of life is there, even if you have never seen or encountered it, the meaning of your life is there and surely the people around you see that sense in your life. It would only be enough if you came to believe them, what they tell you about their role in their lives.
To retake the meaning of life goes through a contract with life. Initially, formal: “Just for today, I will live another day”. And, with that time contracted, go step by step rediscovering the meaning of the small things of life (to do the nail, to take bath, to cook). Then, slowly, when possible, rescue the great bonds, such as those of love.
The will to die and the idealization (mentalization) of suicide are frequent subjects in the psychology office. I have seen many stories of pain and death. Dying is not a solution. Only once, in 18 years, has death and gas from the stove won. All the others have become fantastic, beautiful stories. Stories that go back to the myth of the hero who, defeated, reinvents himself stronger and more capable to win the next battle.
I remember many: “the guy who became an elephant teacher,” “the girl who reinvented herself in the AA groups,” “the girl who moved to São Paulo became an executive and took a widower and his family to himself” , “The girl who went on to fight for the rights of animals,” “the guy who broke the company, and reunited with family and religion.”
The meaning of life comes. It returns, even after it has left, even though it has been trampled, life reinvents it. Like the flower that rises between the concrete of the sidewalk, life brings us to the light, but emptiness hurts and we must act fast.