GLOBALYNC

Why Do All My Friends Want to Kill Themselves?

When depression is just one push notification away

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We are the hollow men
We are the stuffed men
Leaning together
Headpiece filled with straw. Alas!

— “The Hollow Men” by T.S. Eliot


I often get texts at 9 a.m. that scare me. I live in London now and, depending on the time zone, that’s around 3 a.m. in the U.S.

While I soberly eat some Greek yogurt (and maybe a banana), my phone vibrates on the table.

“Michael, I want to fucking kill myself.”

It could be anyone.

My heart starts pounding in my chest. I hesitate before opening it; they’ll see I’ve read it and expect a response.

“Are you okay?” I type.

Then I delete that text, letter by letter.

“Hahaha me too dude.”

I press send.

I take a bite of yogurt.

One day, I’ll send that message to a corpse.


I’m not naive enough to think that my generation is the first to experience depression. T.S. Eliot wrote his poem “The Hollow Men” a hundred years ago. A hundred years before that, a surge in mental illness was blamed on newly-invented trains. “Scientists” theorized that the vibrations literally shattered one’s nerves.

No, I do not think depression is new; I’m sure that even cavemen, sometime after discovering fire, felt a certain ennui looking into its flames.

Nor do I think myself or my circumstances particularly unique. I grew up in Plano, Texas. I went to a mid-tier university in California. My parents are still together. I had to work a few jobs to put myself through college, but I’ve done alright since. My friends and I wouldn’t look out of place in a Stella Artois commercial.

So why do we all want to load a revolver, put the barrel to our head, and blow our fucking brains out?

If you’re over the age of 35, you may have found that last visual a bit disturbing. You’re concerned and maybe want to call my parents.

But if you’re in your twenties, you might have let out a little chuckle.

Times have changed.

Imagine this: You’re watching Seinfeld. Jerry walks out for the opening monologue.

“You guys ever feel lonely in this city?” He asks the audience. “I do. Makes me wanna take a fucking handful of pain pills and never wake up!”

The audience goes hysterical. Cue theme song.

That’s the gist of a lot of modern humor. It’s nihilistic. It’s self-immolating. It’s sickly relatable.

It makes us feel less alone.

Follow any popular meme Instagram accounts. You won’t have to wait long before they post content about depression.

Take a look at the comments.

“This is so me.”

“This is so us.”


Here we go round the prickly pear, prickly pear, prickly pear. — “The Hollow Men”


When TS Eliot wrote “The Hollow Men,” he was writing for a generation broken by the most vicious war the world had ever seen; modernity borne out of fire and automation, blood and technology.

But I don’t know what exactly is breaking my generation.

Fire and automation? Blood and technology?

Everyone tries to pin it on one thing: Trump, the recession, social media. Maybe it’s health care. Guns. Maybe if we could go to college for $2000 and buy a house at 22, we wouldn’t feel like this. Maybe if we didn’t spend all our money on avocado toast, we wouldn’t hurt so badly. Maybe if Tinder hadn’t got us ghosted, we wouldn’t stare blankly at our reflections in store windows.


Waking alone
At the hour when we are
Trembling with tenderness
Lips that would kiss
Form prayers to broken stones

— “The Hollow Men”


And broken iPhones.

I don’t know. I don’t know why life expectancy has gone down two years in a row. I don’t know why folks get anxiety when calling to order a pizza. I don’t know why the media thinks we need fentanyl, fidget spinners, and a filter just to get out of bed.

But I do know that all my friends want to kill themselves.

I know that we get scared, really scared, when Anthony Bourdain dies. See, we know that he’s the kind of guy who would text back, “Hahaha me too dude.”

We know that in a boring meeting he’d press his forefinger to his temple and pull the trigger, splattering mime brain all over the conference table. We’d have to conceal our laughter behind a yellow legal pad.

We know all that; so we’re confused when the man who had noodles with Obama stops answering his phone.

We go to text a friend, “You okay?”

We delete it.

We open the Facebook app instead.

“So sad. Remember, check in on your friends. The ones who seem least likely to need help are usually the ones who need it most.”

Post.


Between the idea
And the reality
Between the motion
And the act
Falls the Shadow

— “The Hollow Men”


I’ve had loads of acquaintances kill themselves. Ad-hoc eulogies appear in my Facebook newsfeed; I feel bad that they died with such a goofy profile picture.

My best friend’s father hung himself in 7th grade, but we didn’t talk about it until the 9th.

There are days when I have three or four friends say they want to kill themselves. But I’ve been lucky — they’ve been kidding every time so far.


Between the conception
And the creation
Between the emotion
And the response
Falls the Shadow

— “The Hollow Men”


Kevin Hines, one of only two people to ever survive jumping off the Golden Gate bridge, waited at the railing for 40 minutes. He later recounted, “If someone had smiled and said, ‘Are you okay?’ I would not have jumped. I just was unable to ask for help myself.”

I want to check in on my friends. But when I open my mouth to smile, it turns into a laugh.

Of course we want to kill ourselves. It’s 2018.

When one friend needs help, you give them help. But what about 20? What about the constant, low-level mental suffering that each of my friends seems to be going through?

I’m afraid it’s like the noise from an air-conditioner; I’m not going to notice it until it stops.

I’ll misinterpret the tone of a text; I’ll laugh when I should be smiling; I’ll smile when I should be crying.

I’ll reply one minute too late.

One of my friends will kill themselves while I eat Greek yogurt and bananas.

Because all my friends want to kill themselves.


This is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends
Not with a bang but a whimper.

— “The Hollow Men”


Depression is not new. Gallows humor is not new. But technology has lent an immediacy to agony; mental illness has push notifications. On one hand, it’s amazing that more people are talking about mental health. Laughter can be cathartic.

On the other hand, I’m not sure we’re really equipped to handle this.

Cries for help, when texted, are often inaudible amidst the cacophony of complaints. There’s no clear “bang” to distinguish them.

Usually, they’re just whimpers.

Let’s try a little bit harder to listen for them.


“Michael, I want to fucking kill myself.”

“Hahaha me too dude… is everything alright? Are you okay?”

I press send.

I take a bite of yogurt.

Read at 9:05 a.m.

“No.”

Not with a bang but a whimper.

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