Ask Andrew W.K.: "I'm Contemplating Suicide"

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Photo by Frank Longhitano
[Editor's note: Every Wednesday New York City's own Andrew W.K. takes your life questions, and sets you safely down the right path to a solution, a purpose or -- no surprise here -- a party. Need his help? Just ask: AskAWK@villagevoice.com]

Dear Andrew,

For the first time in my life, I've found myself contemplating suicide. I feel like I'm disappearing without hope or interest in living anymore. I've tried therapy, venting, medication, self-help, sleeping -- nothing has brought me relief. I don't know how to pull out of this depression. How can I stop this feeling? How can I find meaning in life?

-- Suicidal Tendencies



See also: Ask Andrew W.K.: Should I Start Doing Heroin?

Dear Suicidal Tendencies,

I think every person, at one time or another, has found themselves imagining what it might be like to stop living. Sometimes this can be out of desperation, but other times it's just a way to get back in touch with not being dead. As the saying goes, "Being alive is alright, especially when we consider the alternative." It's healthy to think about life and death, even when we're feeling hopeless. Or perhaps especially then. We shouldn't be afraid to try and imagine what it would be like to kill ourselves. Often times, it can help us get a refreshed perspective and appreciation for the astounding adventure we're part of, and how truly frightening and challenging it would be to really end it all.

As far as we're aware, being dead is an impossibly unimaginable experience anyway. It might not even be an experience at all, but rather the total void of non-experience. When I've been in pain, sometimes non-experience sounded pretty good. Whatever it is to be dead, almost all of us have tried to fathom it, and in times of great anguish, we've probably wondered if it might be preferable to the discomfort of daily living. Only the most brazen of believers would unquestioningly assume that the afterlife -- if there is one -- is something we can comprehend and prepare for. And if there is an existence after this one, it would be pretty bold to think we could have the foggiest idea about what it consists of or feels like.

The mystery of the afterlife is part of the fun or terror of what lies beyond death. Death really is -- for better or worse -- the ultimate example of "who knows?" Someone who claims to know what happens after death is probably someone we should be suspicious of -- they might be a ghost. So I say, contemplate suicide all you want, but don't take those thoughts too seriously. Allow yourself to explore your inner thoughts and ideas without fear or commitment. You can think about things and not do them. You can always change your mind about anything you feel.

I don't think you should kill yourself, but it's not my decision to make. Being born wasn't really your choice either, and in most cases, when and how you die is often out of your control. But it seems that if someone wants to end their life, they should absolutely be allowed to do it on their terms. After all, the only thing that each of us truly has ownership of is our body, and if we want to eradicate it, we can -- even if it's against other people's beliefs.

As far as dealing with depression, I have a simple suggestion that I think could work like magic to heal your soul and lift your spirits. It's a very simple thing called... Helping other people. Sometimes setting aside your own troubles and focusing on someone else's in their time of need can have an incredibly powerful effect on relieving you of your own despair. This is especially true when you help someone you don't know. Of course it's good to help family and friends, but connecting with someone unknown to you, and being able to simply exercise your good will, can provide a unique and uplifting energy that almost nothing else compares to.

Andrew's answer continues on the next page.

[Ed. note: With the goal of helping people in distress and preventing suicide, Samaritans free, confidential, 24-hour emotional support and crisis response hotline service is available on an immediate and ongoing basis to help people who are dealing with every kind of problem, illness, trauma or loss as they try to cope with their difficulties. More info here. They can be reached at 212.673.3000.]



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45 comments
leavingdemento
leavingdemento

I'm happy you chose to write back to me on this. I don't really know entirely what to say in response to other comments which seemed both positive and negative. Some things as 'God' do give me an absolute bliss. Its just hard to seek them out all of the time when things get dim. 

I first saw you at Canterlot Gardens and your panel about positive partying was amazing. There was so much love in that room between strangers. 

Again, I saw you at the Grog Shop in Cleveland on your solo tour and it was amazing. You're so natural and happy and treat even the jerks bumping your keyboard like best friends. Definitely one of the most memorable since I admire you so greatly and got so stand face to face with you when your fans poured onto that little stage. Thats why I chose to ask you what to do. You're so insightful and honest. 

I tried to seek out religion. None of them felt right but the beliefs of others did.I like seeing others believe in something. It makes me happy when others are too. I spend most of my time trying to build new friendships and focus on art and new music. I stayed with an older person in my family who needed my help. I still am. Its a good feeling to have someone love you (even a stranger).

I still struggle with depression but have new friends and hobbies to help alleviate it. I spend my time at the local goth club with really awesome people while studying to be a dog trainer.

Thank you so much for responding so quickly with such a well written solid piece of advice. i truly needed it. Even now I still come back and read when I need to.

- (formerly suicidal tendencies.)

anonymous827
anonymous827

As someone who has been contemplating suicide for a year and a half, but who has managed to slowly pull himself away from the abyss, I can say that this article - and many of the comments here - are the worst thing I've ever read on the subject. I literally came away from it wanting to kill myself more than when I started. Wow. For the record, being 'really sad' and being clinically depressed are *NOT* the same thing. The person who wrote in had tried his hand at medical, clinical, and spiritual solutions, but was not feeling better - that is the hallmark of profound, clinical, lingering depression. It is an illness, not a choice, and it certainly won't be alleviated just by 'helping someone else'. Even if it did, what are the ethical implications? What if, by doing something for someone else in that moment, our subject gets taken advantage of? Or suddenly finds that he miscalculated, and no longer has enough (of whatever he so generously gave) for himself? These are concerns that a relatively healthy person can accomodate and navigate without too much stress, but oversimplifying the implications for our subject could have deadly consequences. When clinically depressed, simply helping others can be like a minefield.


Look, I get that not everything has to be serious, and I get that this blog is meant to help us to explore our natural gifts as pleasure-seeking animals, etc., but contemplating life and death should be taken pretty seriously, and there is a whole lot of art, literature, philosophy and research on the matter. Maybe next time someone says they're thinking of killing themselves, refer them to some person or resource with expertise in the area, and have the humility to identify opportunities where you can help improve someone's situation by *not* giving them detailed advice, even when they ask.  We all have the capacity to create meaning, and/or to be receptive to someone who can show us meaning, but Andrew WK, and many of the commenters, make the assumption that our subject has a lot more agency than he actually likely does. It takes a lot more than a few lighthearted suggestions and a shout out to the spaghetti monster in the sky to break through to someone. The agency that allows us to experiment with highs and lows is largely absent from the experience of severe depression. A clinician or someone who has studied living and non-living, the act and the non-act par excellence (to quote the psychoanalyst Zizek), might be better-equipped to take on the challenge of suicide than someone who is clearly unaware of the pain/desperation our subject is likely experiencing on a daily basis (or the pain/desperation that some individuals reading this article might be seeking respite from).

atthepeek
atthepeek

To all the people who insist on commenting on the kind of genuine help bring offered by just saying"o life never gets better, death has got to be better" I'd like to offer you a piece of advice: go to the pharmacy at Wal-Mart, look for the generic Tylenol pm for $0.88, buy two bottles with a bottle of vodka, go home and take all of them. Because if you truly believe that, then why do you bother? Seriously, why? Surely your family can take solace in the fact that at least YOU aren't in pain anymore and would probably do something you obviously cannot: celebrate your life and who you are/were. Then, On levels they'd never voice aloud even to themselves, they'd probably be relieved to be rid of your constant ray of fucking sunshine ;-)

mattroy88
mattroy88

Helping other people is great advice! Almost under any circumstance just by doing that you will feel better about yourself and society in general! Whenever you help people you build strong relationships with these people and generally can make friendships that will enhance your life!

ruediger.vinschen
ruediger.vinschen

While Andrew is totally right in what he says (helping other people is one of the greatest motivations, for example), I feel that there is more in what we can seek relief. Take music for example. Take party. I don't mean drinking lots of alcohol, but the Andrew sense of partying. It's just that you can expect so many wonderful things from life, but there's nothing you can expect from death. That's the point. 

However, from personal experience I know it's always good to see a doctor, because I know someone who suffered from depressions so heavily, that he wanted to kill himself. Doctors found that this was because of something in his body's chemistry had terribly gone wrong, but they could help him.

But then again it's even more important to have something you can hold onto in this life.

Luis Alejandro Leighton
Luis Alejandro Leighton

Wow. "Death is a void, non experience" this guy's gonna have a hard time letting go one day as we must all.

cformusic
cformusic

damn..that was tough to read. good job by AWK in attempting to offer advice. of course there's no 1 size fits all solution to depression, so hopefully the OP will take solace in knowing that someone else out there cares enough to listen

Federico Donelli
Federico Donelli

Actually it might be a pulitzer series, but still it doesn't answer my question.

Ben Taylor
Ben Taylor

Clearly, you haven't read this ongoing series. I suspect, not one article. Just the FB headlines. And then a comment on the headline.

Federico Donelli
Federico Donelli

Apart from that old album cover, what have Andrew wk done in his life in order to write on the village voice? I really don't get it

Jon Ackelson
Jon Ackelson

Thank you for the good work. It is important!

Natali Wind
Natali Wind

"Someone who claims to know what happens after death is probably someone we should be suspicious of -- they might be a ghost." I don't know what happens after death but what I do know is that it has to be better than this.

Parker Lefevre
Parker Lefevre

Seriously Tim it's time to put that crack pipe down...we all saw the porn you made after snorting oxy.

Debra Duncan
Debra Duncan

I thought he responded brilliantly and eloquently

Tim Dorey
Tim Dorey

Which tells most people you don't know him and hate thinking.

sanguinerose
sanguinerose

that hotline put me on hold a few years back. luckily, a friend called me.

Teddybear Peck
Teddybear Peck

What a beautiful response. Kudos to Andrew for reaching out and taking this issue seriously!

E.j. Haynes
E.j. Haynes

Very nice article. Albeit, as an Atheist, I don't cotton to the whole god part but the overall message is good.

stephenrohan
stephenrohan

As someone with a little bit of medical knowledge (I'm training to be a doctor), there is one therapy you haven't tried which may be useful. It sounds scary but can be life-changing and life-saving in many people. It is called ECT, or electro-convulsive therapy. They apply a shock to your brain under anaesthetic which often relieves thoughts of low mood and suicide in people with depression. It's available on the NHS here in the UK, not sure about The States though.

Not trying to take anything away from the advice people are giving, it may help; I just want you to know that there are other options open to you. Stay strong.

tark2112
tark2112

Beautifully written. I would also suggest to anyone who is actually going to follow through with it that they murder everyone close to them. Because the guilt and pain you're leaving them with is, quite possibly, as severe as whatever pain triggered your decision to end it all in the first place.

piehole
piehole

So, something not mentioned yet: medication.


Suicidal Tendencies, 


I'm a highly functioning, happy, aware, fully-feeling adult, and if I'm not taking a creative SNRI cocktail of pharmaceuticals, I want to die. Consider medicine again. You've tried it, but with whom? My psychiatrist once asked, How are you, on a scale of 1 to 10? I answered, 7, I guess. And he said, That's not high enough. You deserve to be happy all the time. For many of us, medication can be a life-saver as well as a life-enhanser. Rock on.

Lori Jernstedt Wilson
Lori Jernstedt Wilson

Thanks for sharing that Joli. Where I am right now I needed to hear it! I hope you and your blessed family are doing well!!!

Fit & Hypothyroid
Fit & Hypothyroid

I like the honesty and "realness" of his answer.. without being preachy.

Devon_Beuschel
Devon_Beuschel

WK really touches on something here. Telling someone they should "want" to live, or that they shouldn't kill themselves doesnt help, I've been there. Often times you feel worse and burdened with more guilt than anything. 

He's acknowledging and validating the writer's feelings here instead ofr making  him/her feel like they're wrong for feeling that way, and that kind of sympathy is far more valubale than "don't kill yourself mmkayyy." This empowerment can help the writer feel like they've regained control in an otherwise seemingly  helpless situation.

I know it seems counter-intuitive but coming from someone who spent a lot of time in dark places, this kind of advice can be incredibly helpful and hit way deeper than what one might be initially inclined to say at first glance.

jordan_martin
jordan_martin

That's legitimately the most honest and enduring post ever read on such a delicate subject. I am so glad you stuck to your beliefs and allowed that invididual liberties, such as right to die, is something we should all value and hold as holy. It's ours to desire and endure, especially if we realize how terrible losing such a freedom is

Andrew Creech
Andrew Creech

Wouldn't be surprised if they went and did it after reading that. That was a pretty shitty way to talk to someone contemplating suicide, and VV should be ashamed of giving it a platform from which to speak. Sheeshus....this keeps up I'll find the unlike button, quick.

Kurse
Kurse

Read the article, that's not what he was saying at all. He said that it MIGHT BE a void of non-experience, then says "Death really is -- for better or worse -- the ultimate example of "who knows?"


He was saying that nobody knows what happens when we die, but that contemplating death and the afterlife can help fuel your passion/appreciation for living life. 


Why do people have this desire to share their opinion on an article that they didn't even read?

atthepeek
atthepeek

He never asked "what have they done?" Instead asked "what can I do?"....so suck It

atthepeek
atthepeek

He's,thoughtful, insightful, and has an insane optimism that the world needs more of.....that...and People like him.... obviously not you..... but there's plenty of other people I'm sure meet your high journalistic standards

Kurse
Kurse

He could be a homeless guy who lives on the corner near the Village Voice building, it doesn't make his advice any less poignant. Stop focusing on his credentials and just read the message!

rusrockt10
rusrockt10

Um, 10 years of writing advice columns?

Kurse
Kurse

So what's your advice, then? Because apparently 'consider the options, find a new lust for life in contemplating non-existence, and help other people to create a sense of connectedness and self-worth' isn't good enough for you. Sounds like damn good advice to me.


People like you who focus on the 'qualifications' of an individual rather than just reading what they have to say and taking it at face value are the worst. 

bwiikari
bwiikari

@stephenrohan Here in the US ECT is only used rarely in extreme cases of mania or catatonia where other less invasive techniques are exhausted.

mn_oss
mn_oss

I work in mental health in the US. ECT is available but is not common. A lot of places don't provide this treatment due to liability. Its usually a last resort due to potential memory loss.

herschelcheckshismai
herschelcheckshismai

@tark2112 but then the pain of those people's circles of people...it'll never end...i say if you're going to follow through with it, think it over...and then if you must, go ahead...but don't leave a mess !!


DocHM1
DocHM1

More diplomatically, but no less chastising, I definitely agree that you don't know what you're talking about.  Even if I assume you have experienced a clinically depressed, suicidal period at any point in your life, that isn't the experience that's in your comment.

People contemplating suicide aren't desperate, nor are they people to be placated into believing that life is somehow worth living just on some trite, superficial basis.  The notion that life is sacred to someone who is questioning their will to keep living is an insult, demeaning, generalized and not the honest assessment of their feelings or the validation of their thinking that they need.

A.W.K. does a great job presenting a balanced thought process to the writer, especially for someone only living out his wisdom intuitively.

Don_Don
Don_Don

Eat shit and get cancer.  You have no idea what you're talking about. 

tark2112
tark2112

I agree. But I know what it feels like to be left behind thinking I could have stopped it from happening. I would never judge anyone who takes their life, because from their perspective, they truly don't see any other option. I get that.

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