Teenage suicide plays a central role in my novel Apparition. That’s no accident. Suicide, especially amongst the young, is something I’ve thought about a lot, for a very long time. That doesn’t make me an expert. Just opinionated.
We all know someone from our teenage years who didn’t make it out alive, either because they committed suicide or died in what seemed like a willful act of self abuse. And many of us have lived with the terrible fear that someone we love is suicidal and we don’t know what to do about it. The suicide of a family member or friend is a unique body blow because that terrible pain is twisted with perplexity. It feels like the most unnecessary of deaths. Why couldn’t the murderer and murder victim come to some kind of understanding, reconciled, avoided this extreme and irreversible outcome? Surely something could have been done to prevent this?
But I know from personal experience how attractive the thought of suicide can be. The future can have such a bleak “no, not again” feel about it with no hope for change but only the intolerable sameness of the intolerable present. Nothing but more meaningless suffering and unhappiness. It’s like being on a train and you’re confident of where it’s headed, because it’s somewhere you’ve already been, somewhere you hate. The only desire you’ve got is to get off the train.
But if life is a train, we don’t know for sure where it’s going, we don’t know what’s around the corner, and it’s dumb to presume that it will be more of the same old horror. It’s a subjective and unscientific assumption. We might be wrong. We really don’t know what’s around the corner. Suicide is about powerlessness, hopelessness, despair. But it’s also about a failure of imagination. The future might be something different, unexpected. Something interesting. Not only because the train tracks are unpredictable – because WE are unpredictable too. There’s always more to us than even we can see.
I don’t know where I got the idea that the suicidal mood is like being possessed by a ghost, but I began to imagine that the suicidal urge passes when the spirit possessing you finally releases you and moves on. You just have to wait for the suicidal ghost to bugger off. Ride him out. It won’t take forever. It might only take a weekend. Being possessed by a ghost is a metaphor for a bad mood.
And that was the earliest seed of the Apparition premise: a suicidal teenage boy, and the desperate attempt of his sister to stop him from killing himself. It real life, it’s hard to get someone who feels suicidal to “snap out of it”. The dark circumstances of a personal’s life can seem so complicated and far-reaching. And we all know that there are other medical circumstances that can make a bad mood cling. But most of the time, if you can ride through a really dark mood, you often find that even a few days later, you feel a little better. And that’s a new beginning, and it could turn out to be much better than you’d imagined. You just need to hang around and find out.