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Dear Dr. Robert,

I attempted suicide eleven months ago and I am still haunted by the selfishness of my decision. Of course, I feel very guilty for the potential devastation I could have caused my family and community. To add insult to injury, I was not in "unbearable pain" when I chose this--I was simply fatigued, stressed out, and upset.

I can't get away from my own sense of guilt. I probably spend hours thinking about what I have done, and I know that it's a waste of time.

How can I accept what I have done and move on?

Rebecca Morris

Hello, Rebecca--

I do not agree that you are wasting your time in thinking about your suicide attempt. in fact, given the seeming absurdity of human life, the question of why not to commit suicide is a deep one which deserves consideration.

This question arises often in my psychotherapy practice. The Christian viewpoint seems to hold that since we are the children of "God" (quotation marks because no one knows what this word means), to take one's own life is a sin which would result in an eternity in hell. But if one does not subscribe to the Christian view--for example, if one does not believe in an afterlife or in a punishing "God"--then arguing that one has a duty to go on living even if one is chronically unhappy, or even if one feels that life is absurd and empty of meaning, becomes a challenging task.

In other words, it is not just "unbearable pain" that may seem to justify taking one's own life. For example, Jean Paul Sartre argued that suicide has less to do with the anguish of living than with an assertion of the human will to overcome the eternal fear of death by simply getting it over with, or at least by convincing oneself that suicide is always a viable option should one tire of the struggle. According to him, when the fear of dying is conquered, the mind will no longer search for meaning in life, nor lament about the apparent meaninglessness of our daily existence. Another philosopher, Albert Camus, In his seminal book, The Myth of Sisyphus, held that "there is only one really serious philosophical question, and that is suicide".

Since you already have attempted suicide, I assume that what you call "fatigued, stressed out, and upset," is similar to what Sartre meant by absurdity and chronic meaninglessness. In other words, I imagine your suicide attempt as an indication that you need to approach the fact of being a conscious presence in a frail, time-bound body as a situation which requires thought and reflection. Such reflection is not aided by a guilty attitude, but instead an attitude of serious, open-minded questioning about the real human condition.

Instead of feeling guilty, I believe that you should take your suicide attempt as an indication that you need to work on finding some deep source of meaning in life--Camus' "serious philosophical question"--and I urge you to get some help in that work. Some psychotherapy with a person experienced in the issue of suicide might be a good idea for you.

Be well.

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