As luck would have it, I stumbled upon this somewhat ‘spiritual book’ recently, Veronika Decides to Die, and despite it being a bit contrived and almost – quite frankly – really stupid at points, I could not put it down for the life of me. When I was finished, I wished there was more to read, as I had become that consumed with its written words. It is a story loosely based on author, Paulo Coelho’s experiences in various mental institutions. Ever since ‘this’ all started, I have been reading anything and everything to understand ‘something’. And while different things will make me ‘feel’ in different ways, I have often lost focus and I just stop – mid-chapter, mid-page, mid-word, mid-whatever. I am honest-to-goodness in the beginning, middle, and near end of various different books, and probably a hundred different bookmarked articles right now. This to me has always been quite frustrating as I love reading – fiction, non-fiction, anything and everything in between, regardless how left, right, in the middle, or out there in space the content is. An opinion is an opinion, and I just want to listen and appreciate that someone is willing to speak.
Book writers, to me specifically, have always been markedly fascinating – as I just try to imagine what it would be like to be in their head, to see their perspective as their words and imaginations unravel into chapters, not necessarily having to balance facts, but still, portray a view and voice. Maybe what I love about book authors the most is that they can escape from reality with such perceived ease. Those types of words spark my imagination again, and remind that I am not all that dead inside.
Anyhow, before I completely rear off topic – focus issue aside, this book was different, and I finished it. It was the first novel I finished in its entirety in probably a while. Albeit, it was an extremely easy read, I booked marked every other page pretty much, because literally almost every single written word, albeit some contrived and others remarkably ridiculous, spoke to me. And even though this was written 21 years ago, back in a time when I was still a naive eight-grader, almost every word on every page seemed to strike me now in my adulthood, like lightning on a tree. Frightening as it is, the girl in the story is me.
She is privileged, lives a good life, but feels detached from living because ‘the privileged life’ has become so meaningless. Yet, she won’t necessarily do anything concrete about it, because of fear, perhaps of perceived societal judgment, and because whatever she thinks she can do with what she knows and has access to likely will not make an impacting difference after all. She can only see one straight path for herself, and it is one she cannot accept. And so, she decides that the only ‘other’ path is to die – to commit suicide. Without trying to reveal too much, she ends up in a mental institution with an ‘actual’ impending death sentence. And with death coming closer each day, she finally breaks down her walls, re-discovers herself emotionally, and feels eagerness to live again despite thinking or ‘knowing’ she is getting closer to death with each next day. Along the way, she experiences these somewhat complex relationships with other mental institution patients, and helps them to see meaning in their lives again as well, where they were clearly complacent with their own situations. And through this connection, this ‘touching of others’, this is where she sees and experiences her purpose on earth again.
So, a few things (not all that correlated, so sequence does not really matter), without trying to turn this into a book report (though I admittedly loved writing book reports and essays as a child) :
–>I get her. I get why she feels the way she does despite us both being in my mind – privileged monsters. I have tried to commit suicide for those very feelings, for hating myself and everything about myself to the very black-hole-of-a-core. I have tried to commit suicide without any feelings at all, and just voices telling me to jump, separate and apart from fear (point 3 below). But, at other times, I have felt that my story has not unfolded at all, and it could still, and it could in very different unknown directions if I just allowed myself to take a risk and take back self-projected control of my choices from others. And, on those days, I have not given up hope.
–> As much as I bitch about psychiatry, professional help can break down walls, and that’s why people experiencing suicidal ideations always need to get help, and know their available resources, etc. I say things in my sessions that I would never feel comfortable talking about out loud, even here, in this place; and then my mind pivots, sometimes in positive ways, sometimes in negative ways. But most importantly, my mind is moving, and maybe moving away from wanting to die. Mental institutions (in my case, hospitals) and extensive psychiatry can re-position a person. At certain periods, I have felt like my walls have been broken down. At other periods, I feel I might have re-discovered myself emotionally. And especially, after each and every time I have wanted to kill myself and tried, almost successfully, I have wanted to live again for a somewhat ‘longer’ period after, until the cycle repeats. For me – and even though I have bipolar disorder, and it is a disorder of somewhat cyclical nature (somewhat, because my ups and downs are a shit show) – I just want the cycle to end.
I want to find my meaning for others. I want to find my connection. I do not want the bipolar down cycles to keep me frozen in motion like they do now. I actually also do not want my usual two up cycles to feel like they are the only periods in my life where I feel actually alive either. It’s a false pretense. It’s a false life. I can have mental health issues (that is not it – we can have mental health problems!!!), but operate and live normally. I have to believe that.
–> I recently actually talked to someone about fear. He put forward the view that emotions are driven primarily by two things: love and fear. Ignoring the former for focus purposes, I do not necessarily disagree – I actually agree very much so. I think fear drives a lot of what we feel. It decides the decisions we have to make, and the decisions that we do not make – a lot of it being the latter (and even though I do not want to talk about love right now, love drives decisions too). Yes, perhaps my down cycles are driven somewhat by fear of change, judgment, loneliness, failure, guilt.
But lately, I have been thinking a lot – and everything resonated so much when I read her ‘thoughts’ – about the fact that I fear I will never bring meaning into someone’s life. I will never connect with someone the way she does to the extent that they want to actually ‘live again’. But, what is it that I really want from ‘meaning’? I could be a good wife, mother, sister, daughter (in-law), friend, volunteer, mentor, etc, etc., and that would bring meaning into someone’s life – would it not? I think in that sense, meaning and connection for me is something I cannot even define yet. I do not understand what I do not know, and I will not know what ‘meaning’ means until I actually experience the absolute feeling in the flesh. I am so sure of that now.
I am not sure anyone will get Coelho’s thought process unless they have felt the feelings that he or she has felt – felt the feelings I have felt. (The book itself is actually rather scattered, probably a reason why I identified with it so much since I am a scattered ‘writer’ myself.) And even while she is not guilty about her situation or wanting to die, and I feel guilty about those aspects all the time (against people who struggle to survive and want to live), I am still always going to get her position because I have felt it. (Privileged) Individuals who experience depression, and other mental health disorders like bipolar disorder will get it. And that’s a large reason why I cannot meaningfully connect with a lot of everything at home anymore, and I zone in and out of my regular life, regular conversations, and regular everything. Because, in truth, I want to beat to the rhythm of my own drum, but I am afraid everyday of being villainized for it, and so I immediately swing to a down cycle from the sheer repression.
I saw a friend recently, and she asked me if I was putting on a facade for her. I think this was partially due to the fact that I did not get dark as much as one would expect from someone who has been hiding and writing about suicide as much as I do. I truthfully though did want to see her. I truthfully did want to talk to and be with her. But the truth also is that I go through the days completely detached. I wake up. I put on a face. I pretend to care. I pretend to feel some thing (for the most part). I go through the motions completely numb. And regardless if my day was one hour or twelve hours, I think I would feel the same polar volume of emotional exhaustion or feel the same volume of nothingness. But, I have to put on the face, because why leave the house then; may as well just die. I am basically a waste of air. I guess that is my way of saying – “I am trying my best not to give up“?
And so, without saying too much further, while change is coming for me, for the hopeful betterment of the ones I love and have detached from, I cannot never still separate myself from all these fears above. But, maybe I will just be stronger enough one day, maybe I will just even be ‘enough’ one day, so the fears do not matter as much.
Okay – I have talked enough. I am reading the Shatila Stories next, which should be completely different (from a psychological and learning perspective) and meaningful, if not still, realistically dark. But, in the interim, I noted all the words from Coelho’s book that speak for themselves to me at least, and feel once again, frighteningly, like thoughts I have experienced too much yesterday, today, tomorrow (the ones in bold probably a million times). The below is probably my brain in motion for the past few years, and so I just felt a need to share.
From Paulo Coelho:
- How could one judge those people who decide to die? No one can judge. Every person knows the extent of their own suffering with a total absence of meaning in their lives.
- I want to continue being crazy living my life the way I dream it and not the way other people want it to be.
- When she had achieved almost everything she had wanted in life she had reached a conclusion that her existence had no meaning because every day was the same.
- Insanity is the inability to communicate your ideas. It’s as if you were in a foreign country, able to see and understand everything that’s going on around you but incapable of explaining what you need to know or being helped because you don’t understand the language they speak there. All of us one way and another are insane.
- Why do certain people try to go against the natural order of things which is to fight for survival whatever happens? When [I] took the pills [I] wanted to kill someone [I] hated. [I] didn’t know that other girls existed inside of me, girls that I could love.
- We are all brought up only to love, to accept, to look for ways around things to avoid conflict. I hated everything but mainly I hated the way I have lived my life never bothering to discover the hundreds of other people inside of me who are interesting, crazy, curious, brave and bold.
- There’s no reason to be surprised – that’s the way it is, people just can’t cope with happiness.
- People begin to lose all desire, and within a few years become unable to leave their world without spending a reserve of energy constructing high walls in order to make reality of what they wanted it to be in order to avoid external attack. They continue going to work, watching television, having children, complaining about the traffic, but these things happened automatically and accompanied by any particular emotion because after all, everything was under control.
- I should have been crazier but as it undoubtedly happened to most people I had found this out too late.
- Everyone is indeed crazy but the craziest are the ones who don’t know they’re crazy, they just keep repeating what others tell them to.
- The thoughts will come back but try to push them to one side. You have two choices – to control your mind or to let your mind control you. You are already familiar with allowing yourself to be swept along by fear, neuroses, insecurity.
- She might feel insecurity, shyness, shame, constraint, but why fear? That was only justifiable and confronted by real fear for – ferocious animals, armed attackers, earthquakes, but [not regular groups of people]. Human beings are like that she thought – we have replaced nearly all our emotions with fear.
- I do have a chance to live. Am I making good use of it? Some were not bothered with finding an answer. They had long ago given up and now forms part of the world in which neither life nor death, space, or time existed.
- In the last days of her life she finally realized her grand dream to play with heart and soul for as long as she wanted and where ever the mood took her. It did not matter to her that her only audience was a young schizophrenic. He seemed to understand the music and that was what mattered.
- I want to do something completely different with my life. I want to have an adventure that helps other people do something I’ve never done before.
- I’m still in possession of all my mental faculties and worried because the situation has been going on now for such a long time. I don’t have any of the classic symptoms of insanity like withdrawal from reality, apathy or uncontrolled aggression, just fear.
- I don’t want to try to stay in control pretending things I don’t feel. I want to be able to one day get myself to one man, to the [right] city, to life, and finally to death [properly].
- Basically everything that happens in our life is our fault. A lot of people go through the same difficulties we went through and they react completely differently. We look for the easiest way out of a separate reality.
- I feel like starting to love again. I feel like making the mistakes I always wanted to make but never had the courage to face up to, the feelings of panic that might come back… but I know I’m not going to die or faint because of them. I can make new friends and teach them how to be crazy in order to be wise. I’ll tell them not to follow the manual of good behaviour but to discover their own lives, desires, adventures, and to live.
- Each person is unique each with their own qualities in distinct forms of pleasure and desire for adventure. However society always imposes on us a collective way of behaving, and people never stop to wonder why they should behave like that.
- You’re someone who is different but who wants to be the same as everyone else. It could be an illness, and it is as if you force yourself to be the same as everyone else. It causes neuroses, psychoses and paranoia. It’s a distortion of nature, but you think it’s insane to be different and that’s why you choose to live in mental silence.
- There was a single magical moment that made them set off in search of their own version of paradise.
- I began suffering from panic attacks. I became the kind of person I fought so hard to avoid becoming. I became a fountain that overflowed and flooded everything [and everyone] around me. The result was my internment in the mental hospital.
- Life inside is exactly the same as life outside. Both there and here, people gather together in groups, they build their walls and allow nothing strange to trouble their existence as they do things because they are used to doing them, to have fun because they’re supposed to have fun, and the rest of the world can go…
- Thank you for giving meaning to my life. I came into this world in order to go through everything I’ve gone through – attempted suicide…that is the only reason I came into the world, to make you go back to the path you strained from.
- She would consider each day a miracle, which indeed it is when you consider a number of unexpected things that could happen in every second of our fragile existences.