My friend Deborah of The Temptation Of Words wrote a post today, calling it The Ultimate Decision, which deals with a person's wish to have the final say over how their life ends. As always, her post is thoughtful and measured and eminently readable. She says her decision to re-publish an earlier post was prompted by the death of Dr. Jack Kevorkian on Friday in a hospital in Michigan. I am sure that his work as an advocate of assisted suicide is well known to most.
I wonder if I might post here my own experience of the subject; before I do so, I'd like to reassure all of you, that it now lies in the past, and is no longer acute. Life is sunny and pleasant, on the whole, and although the black dog of depression occasionally bares his teeth and barks in the night, thoughts of suicide are far from my mind.
Once upon a time they were daily companions. Literally. By that I mean that it was somehow wholly reassuring that, if things became unbearable, a way out was available: a little bottle of pills, barbiturates, which sat in a secret drawer of my night table; they were just there, my little friends, a crutch to lean on. There was no drama involved, no great moral or religious wrestling; there was an almost benign and quite calm acceptance of the possibility of taking control. I was not just battling depression but deeply entangled in a very unhappy, destructive relationship; the only way out appeared to be death. Although I was desperately serious about the fact that I might end my life, the physical presence of the means to do so somehow made it less urgent, less immediately imperative. In a strange way I could function normally, at least on the surface.
Then a very strange thing happened. At the office where I worked we had a library and this library was catalogued and updated by a professional librarian, a youngish woman like myself; we must have recognised something in each other; on the days she called at the office, we took to having lunch together. We became friends, and in due course she confided that she was a manic depressive, what is now called bi-polar. Beverley had suffered greatly in the past with bouts of both mania and depression and the treatments had been horrendous. She was absolutely certain, that she did not want to undergo another episode of either illness or treatment. To this end she had, like me, a little bottle of pills; like mine, just in case.
For years she and I met in the lounge of a large hotel in Victoria in London for drinks and dinner, both of us having left the company where we met long ago. We sat and talked for hours, exchanging news on many subjects, work, family, lovers, leisure, and the state of the world. We talked like any two friends, who meet occasionally for a catch-up; the only difference between us and other friends meeting for a meal was that with us there'd always come the point when one or the other would ask : "do you still have it? ", meaning the little bottle of pills. The answer was always in the affirmative.
Eventually, we ran out of time; our friendship had served its purpose. I left London and although I returned for another year of monthly meals for old times' sake, we found our paths following different routes. Beverley remained stuck in her own groove and I wanted to move on. I am ashamed to say I rather deserted her in the end, as so often happens, our friendship fizzled out.
I don't know what became of her. Now that she is back in my mind I may ring her and find out.
The talisman in my little bottle also ran out of time in the end, the pills had long ago lost their potency.
I no longer needed them, I flushed them down the loo.