Saturday, 4 June 2011

A Little Bottle of Pills - And A Very Difficult Subject

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.


  1. I don't know anyone who hasn't had the thought cross their mind. I've never bought equipment, or kept pills handy, but life can be very tough sometimes and that decision can sometimes feel like it would be a much-needed respite.

    I'm so glad you're with us. You are such a cool lady.

  2. It is something more common than many would guess, that thought of "What if ...." But, as TE says, I'm glad you're still here to entertain us and challenge our thoughts.

    As I've aged, I've thought more about this topic, not because I feel I will want or need it, but just because I consider the issues of ending this life without prolonged pain or disability. It may not come my way, but if it does, I hope I will be able to leave gracefully. As I said, no plans, just wishes for us all to make final choices, if we choose.

  3. i know this...i do not want to be kept a vegetable...and i dont want a machine to keep me alive...

  4. having seen my father through 2 years of pain and deterioration brought on by cancer, i am firmly in the Kevorkian camp. he wanted to end it, the doctors were "not able" to help.

    having just put rufus to sleep, i wonder often why we're able to help our pets move on, and yet, not our other loved ones in the same humane [legal] way.

    i once had a friend like yours. we met accidentally, had a short fiery relationship filled with hours of confiding in each other and then it ended. just like that. strange how some friendships work :)

    good to know the bottle of pills is no longer needed. xox

  5. I'm so glad you no longer need the pills, Friko. That said, I'm with Brian on not wanting to be kept 'alive' when my mind is gone. Nor would I want to suffer months of agony when there was no hope of recovery.

  6. It's interesting to keep a suicide reminder around...sort of like that last cigarette, preserved just in case?

    I take mounds of pills, and love them; but not
    with violent intent, these days. The decision to...not be

    is something that stays with you, even if you have the extreme luck to survive it. Good luck and long and happy days to you, Friko; thanks for touching a subject that needs it now and then.

  7. Yes, a very difficult subject, Friko.
    My husband and I have had discussions on this subject, although he has never suffered from depression. We are each aware of what the other would consider "too much" — I used to think it would be when I can no longer read, but I had a much-older friend who was blind and I now believe I could cope with that.
    Both of my parents had Alzheimer's Disease. Dad also had another form of dementia, and wasn't himself any more. He couldn't bear to be away from Mom, even just in a different wing of the same care facility, so he imagined she was still with him, and didn't recognize her when we took her up to visit him.
    Mom was just a fuzzy version of her old self. She could still live in real time, still enjoy life, and had her sense of humor, despite her heartbreak over Dad. But when she underwent cancer surgery, a heart attack, a bad fall, and pneumonia, all in July, 2007, she declared, "No more. No more ambulances, no more hospitals, no more doctors."
    She and Dad had always insisted we all listen when either of them said, "No more." It was painful to watch her die of pneumonia, but we had to honor her wishes.
    Dad lived another 28 months, slowly losing more and more of his faculties. He wasn't unhappy or in pain. He just wasn't himself, and he couldn't say, "No more." Sure, we believed he wouldn't have wanted to live like that, but we wouldn't have done anything about it even if the choice had been ours. Dr. Kevorkian believed the same thing. If the patient, and only the patient, made the request, he would help.

  8. I had a friend who killed himself at the age of 23. He was drunk and shot himself. It was enough to make me realize that no person can know what hellish pain another goes through. i think suicide is a terrible thing but pass no judgment on those who choose that way to end their lives.

    Glad you didn't do it, but I'm also glad you had the option, Friko.

  9. Thank you for your honest post. I truly believe that people should be able to choose their time and way of leaving this world, and that no one should have to suffer needlessly, if they choose not to.

    But I'm glad you got past that point. I'm enjoying getting to know you.

  10. I am pro choice in life and death. Trouble is when we are no longer able to chose or worse maybe able to communicate our wishes. We need more institutions that offer humane means of making such a choice. There are a few, but not enough. Seems to me either way it takes courage to live and courage to die.

  11. Hello:
    We are filled with admiration at the honesty expressed in this post and so very, very sorry that you had, at a certain point in your life, to live with that most dreadful of illnesses, depression, and despair. What continues to alarm us is that even today there must be so many in a similar situation to whom no adequate help is given.

    Beverly belonged to a particular place and time and it is wonderful that you were there for each other. Friendship is by nature often like that, and the fact that you are no longer in touch does not, to us, seem now to be important.

  12. When I was a teenager I used to think about suicide a lot, as much out of curiosity as any psychological angst I was feeling. To actually be in a situation that is so awful that death seems the only option, and to have the means to deliver that, would be horrendous.
    I can appreciate that the fact of simply having the choice available to you would be, as you said, reassuring. A coping mechanism.
    Like all the others here, I'm quite glad you didn't opt for that - I would never have known what I missed, but that's not the case any more.
    Your honesty is never misplaced here, Friko. XO

  13. Hello Friko, I've been reading your posts lately but have been unable to comment - now 'anon' is added to your profile choices I can. (long fights with blogger ....)

    This is a difficult subject very much in the air at the moment, and of course so fraught with ethical dilemmas (assisted suicide). I have often heard that having a plan and the means gives the sufferer a sense of control over the decision to take their own life, often calms them down and allows them to manage to live on.

    The debate regarding losing your mind vs losing your body always seems to favour (?) that it is worse to lose your mind and sense of self. I had a Great Aunt who lived to 98, with severe, crippling arthritis so that she was unable to care for herself at all. She loved cryptic crosswords, intellectual repartee, poetry and politics. She hated the fact that her mind was strong and her body destroyed. She envied the people around her in the nursing home who were oblivious to their lives and indignities. She was desparately lonely and understimulated, and wanted to die.

    Her life has always troubled me because her experience was in such contrast to the received wisdom of the cruelty of dementia. To me she suggested the cruelty is for the by-standers, rather than the sufferer (or in addition to).

    Best wishes, Isabel

  14. Friko, I'm lucky that I've never suffered from real depression and I've had a relatively easy life. But, I do worry about the future, becoming so ill that live becomes a burden to me and to my family. At that point, I would want a way out.

  15. In my younger years I flirted with those demons almost constantly. Honestly, I don't know what kept me from doing it, all things (at the time) considered. I know that feeling of comfort, just knowing that I could be free at my own hand whenever I chose.
    Now I look back and, although I don't kid myself that I've made much difference to the world, I think of all I would have missed.
    I hope that your friend has come to the same reasoning.

  16. Thank you for such a brave honest post Friko and like all who have responded, I know that I am
    richer for your continued presence on Earth.

    Through my work I have met many people who have contemplated, attempted and in one case been succesful in suicide. During a particular time when I worked in a rehab hostel I would suggest to the residents that attempts they made were reversible (pills, cuts) as it was often a cry for help. The only person that didn't was the bridge jumper and this still haunts me in that I often wonder if he 'changed his mind' after he had jumped - but then it was too late.

    My mum had requested that if she ever became demented I should tell her so that she could overdose with insulin. I said I would. I didn't as I found I couldn't be an agent in her death - but still feel I let her down (although she had no insight into her condition).

    Hubs had always requested that if he became a 'vegetable' as a result of an accident, that I ask medics to switch of life support. He too has fallen foul of dementia and I wonder if he had forseen this - would he have requested that I shorten his life? I must state that he is happily apathetic and just downright happy.

    Thank you for bringing the subject of suicide into the open.

    Kind regards.

    Anna :o] xxx

  17. I've never understood the 'any life is better than no life' attitude/religious belief that prevents us from having control over our own lives. of all the freedoms we supposedly have, you'd think freedom to control our lives and bodies would be tantamount. and yet it is not. whose business is it anyway if someone wishes to end their life?

  18. It is a difficult subject. But I totally understand the pain that one feels to drive them to take their own life. The desperation...the deep need. Some say that the one that takes their own life is totally selfish...wrong! They found no other way.
    Thank you

  19. When my dear friend Jill was dying of cancer, she had one of those little bottles too. She didn't want to use it until she was absolutely at the end, because she wanted to spend every moment she could with her daughter. But she kept the pills, knowing that eventually the pain and torment of her disease would become unbearable. Then the cancer spread to her brain and caused a hemorrhagic stroke, leaving her completely paralyzed and unable to communicate, but fully awake and aware. She had waited too long. She was trapped in her body, and unable to take that final step. She would never have asked me to do it for her - she knew I couldn't - but I so desperately wanted to. Watching her lying there in unbearable pain, fully aware but unable to move or speak or communicate in any way, was torture for those of us who loved her. If ever there was a time I wished for a Dr. Kevorkian, it was then.

    I am in favor of assisted suicide. I know it's a slippery slope, and I know that there are a lot of questions to be answered, and a lot of legal and moral objections - but only someone who has watched someone they love die slowly and horribly can understand that there is a time and a place for it.

  20. David and I have argued about this from time to time, so I am familiar with the pros and cons. I have known young healthy people who tried and failed to kill themselves, some left with brain damage. Some suceeded in killing themselves. Those left behind suffer. David's teenage son killed himself and it destroyed the family. As for the old and the sick, I am not God and will not pull the plug on anyone because I believe life is sacred. Others must decide for themselves. This is a very person issue.

  21. Friko thank you for sharing this - the truth is I have never felt like this but my husband did suffer from depression and I wish I could have helped him, or even tried to understand it more.

  22. Very brave of you to share this. Those people who have seen the edge, looked down at that abyss and then looked back seem to have a more clear vision of this life and where it can take us. I do believe that if the time of death is knowns and all that remains is pain, then we should be able to choose the final minute as our very own.

  23. I understand your feelings and this was quite a brave posting. In the face of any arguments I've heard thus far, I remain completely unapologetic in my Kevorkian admiration. Maybe pious, platitude-laden, moralizing(which you definitely did not engage in here)group-think has its place somewhere, but I feel I made the correct individual decision for my mother, then my father, when they were suffering. I can only hope someone is utterly consistent with my feelings/beliefs when my time comes. ~Mary

  24. As a psychotherapist, I've long maintained that it is the nature of the human animal--the healthy nature--to remember the possibility of suicide in time of threat and suffering. I had a mental image: When it was too hot in the kitchen and the whole house about to burn around our ears, we all back toward the door and fumble behind us for the knob; when we find it, we can then make our decision whether to stay and try to put the fire out.

    Every essentially healthy client I ever met admitted to having had the thought of suicide in their lives at least once. The truly disordered or sick would either deny it or had been denied it.

    Here's to your health.

  25. A brave share. But worth saying.

  26. Thanks for this honest post, Friko. I wonder if we are going to reach a point in our society where we have to consider assisted suicide, simply because there are not enough workers left to either finance or physically tend for the elders. It's all a bit scary for many people.

    It's a reminder to celebrate life every day while we can.

  27. What an extraordinary post Friko. So simply written, like a personal conversation, yet so powerful. From following my blog, especially the Labryinth series, you know I understand all about our hidden thoughts and hidden saviors. I'm grateful that you, I and hopefully your friend have made the choice to move through our depressions. But some thoughts always lurk deep inside. Your friend has so many more options now for her bi-polar condition. I hope you find her well. We have a tight sisterhood.

  28. I always need a plan B. Once I have my plan B, I can work with my plan A a little longer, knowing I have a way out, or abandon it. I completely understand your little bottle, and I completely understand the transient nature of friendships.
    kathryn (you are here)

  29. ah yes - that place where all you can see is black clouds. i know it well.

    So glad to hear that you have moved on

  30. Deine Stärke ist bewundernswert, in jeder Hinsicht: den Mut aufzubringen, im Leben weiterzukommen ohne Deine Freundin, die schweren Depressionen zu überwinden sowie die freie Diskussion hier über ein Thema, das nicht jederman erleutern möchte. Sehr berührend...und wie wunderbar, dass es die Pillendose in Deinem Leben jetzt nicht mehr gibt!
    Dir einen wunderbaren friedlihen Abend!

  31. I applaud your honesty, Friko. I can see no reason for prolonging a life full of pain with no hope of recovery. As georgia little pea implied, we are kinder to suffering animals than to suffering people.

  32. I can understand the need for a cache of pills . The ultimate choice should be one's own .
    In Holland , if terminally ill , one can choose when to die perfectly legally with the help of one's doctor .
    But dementia sufferers , quite rightly , aren't deemed able to decide for themselves so must continue to live on , often unhappily . Which leaves one preferring cancer . Bizarre .

  33. Your brave words have brought back the memory of a beloved relative among whose last words were "Please don't let them make me a vegetable; I don't want to be a vegetable."

    I don't want to become a vegetable either. Powerful and important stuff, Friko. I am so glad that your demons have fled for good.

  34. Thanks for this honest and courageous posting, Friko. Personally, I believe that we should have ultimate sovereignty over our individual lives. Just as I believe in a good life, I believe in a good death, and I would hope that physician-assistend suicide is available to me if I ever reach the point at which the only thing left is suffering, both for myself and my family. I have always thought that we should treat humans as humanely as we treat our suffering animals.

  35. Thank you for this honest post which I read with great interests. This is a big issue, and I don't have definite answer right now. I'm happy for you that you took a positive course after keeping the pills. The pills fulfilled its role as a talisman.

  36. bravo Friko - a fantastic and very real post. thank you

  37. Like George, I hope that one day physician-assisted suicide is available here, as it was for my sister Ginnie's wife's cousin just recently (Deborah mentioned her in her post), who was just my age of 54. While life is sacred on one hand, death is too, and sometimes I think we over-amplify it. Maybe then it has greater power, both in revulsion and in magnetism. I can completely imagine circumstances under which wanting the ultimate release would be contemplated. I have known many who have faced suicidal ideations, and have even attempted it. My grandmother was burned over much of her body, and when skin grafts refused to "take" and the pain was unbearable, she ended her life with pills. How can I ever blame her for wanting that relief? I never have, and I never will. Emotional and psychological pain is no less unbearable. I am grateful, however, that you have come through that time and live to tell us about it with your heart and soul before us on this page. Thank you, and bless you for it.

  38. All of that. I am a familiar. Black dog paces at the moment. I do not embrace him, neither do I tell him go. I am caught in the doglights.

  39. I am glad that the bottle of pills is no more - and that the need has gone.

  40. having never been in a dark space with the talisman of a bottle of pills I count myself lucky....BUT my family knows that I do not want heroic measures taken if I become incapacitated...brava for your post- look how we all responded.

  41. I'm glad that you no longer wrestle these demons. T

  42. Hmm. I've never been tested, never dealt with depression or terrible pain (other than child birth) But if one is Christian, don't we have to ask ourselves about the meaning of the cross? I think there has to be some meaning to human suffering... Maybe something we have yet to learn... Something to offer, like a powerful prayer? It just doesn't make sense to me that our life in all it's stages doesn't have meaning at every moment... Although, i cant imagine the agony of watching a child or loved one in terrible pain... It is a very hard topic and I too am glad your bottle was pitched!


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