It's a first. And not a pleasant first. About three hours ago I got an email from someone I've never met, but who I've communicated with via email about topics on one of my blogs.
He said he's decided to kill himself. He told me that he wasn't sure why he was writing me, but he wanted to thank me for sharing his ideas and participating in some interesting discussions.
Early on in our correspondence this person told me that he has a genetic condition that leaves him in constant pain. He told me that his illness is getting worse, the suffering is unendurable, and he doesn't see any point in living any longer.
My initial reaction was, I've got to do something.
Then I realized, there was nothing I could do. All I had was this person's initials, and an email address. There was no way for me to know how to reach anyone where he lives.
And a few moments later, after some reflection, I realized There's nothing I want to do.
This person is highly intelligent and self-aware. He has struggled to find meaning in what seems to him to be a meaningless world. He has endured more pain than most people could put up with. If he wants to kill himself, he has some very good reasons.
All that I did was reply to his email, briefly.
With tears in my eyes. I told him that I was the one who should be thankful, because I'd been inspired both by his courage and his wise way of looking upon the world. I said that I cared deeply about him, and knew that others did also.
What I didn't do was try to talk him out of killing himself.
Sometimes suicide is the only way out of impossibly bad suffering. I believe in assisted suicide at the end of life. I also believe people have a right to take their own life when all other avenues of relieving suffering are closed off to them.
That said, I want to speak to others for whom this doesn't apply -- those who are feeling really crappy right now, with the holidays upon us and talk of "good cheer" permeating the airwaves and conversations.
If you feel that life isn't worth living, that suicide is the only option, talk to someone. Anyone.
But preferably someone with a mental health background. Don't make the mistake of diving into the deep pool of suicide before you are absolutely sure there's no way to move into the shallows of suffering.
The person I heard from today is a special case, someone in intractable pain. Most people have some hope, even if life seems hopeless at the moment.