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The Optimist’s Suicide

What do you do when you don't want to end your life, just a part of it?

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I had arrived in Australia two days prior, but already felt like I wasn’t fitting in. The harsh adjustment not only to a new community, but an entirely new country was tough. I don’t remember who I was speaking with, I just remember angrily mumbling something about ‘I’m not sure if I’ll stay or if I’m gonna leave.’

Did I know where I’d go? Of course not. I just wanted to show them. As in, That’s what they get for not letting me fit in.

It’s always worth pointing out that most, if not all of these feelings have more to do with what happens inside of me and my own perceptions than with how other people actually treat me.

Years later, I was sitting in a Starbucks in Chicago. I had been at Moody Bible Institute a total of a week and a half and was sitting with the guy who lived two doors down from me. I told him I didn’t know if I’d stick it out at Moody.

“Not even sure I’ll finish out the semester,” I told him in an attempt to act casually apathetic.

He later told me that’s why he couldn’t ever connect with me on a deep level: He always felt like I was about to take off.

A few nights ago I was on the phone with a good friend of mine and we began talking about our childhoods. He was bullied in 5th and 6th grades, and this sense of not-fitting-in led him to dip his toes into thoughts of suicide. “I even held a pocketknife to my throat at one point,” he confessed, “but ended up throwing it across the room.”

Now a clinical psychologist and counselor, he pointed out an important note: Most people who contemplate suicide don’t want to die; they just want out of their current situation. As a middle schooler, he saw no other path out of his reality of being a bullied outcast. As adults, though, this can look vastly different.

Last night I was on the phone with another close friend who confessed similar feelings haunting him throughout his life. Like me, he has traveled the world and bounced around a fair amount. Like me, he struggles to find a comfortable niche within society and even within a church. Like me, he often opts to leave rather than stay.

But unlike me, he has suicidal tendencies rise up from time to time.

And that’s when it clicked.

We who bounce about the globe under the veneer of ‘finding ourselves’ or ‘world/self exploration’ are simply self-destructive misfits too afraid to pull the trigger.

He gave breath to the phrase, I just named it: The Optimist’s Suicide.

I have never had suicidal thoughts, so it was jarring to realize that much of my behavior throughout my life reeks of some sort of watered-down suicide.

I want to leave my current situation because I feel like I don’t fit in: Check.

In some deep-seated, angsty way, I want to show the people who didn’t accept me: Check.

But at least I’m hopeful that OVER THERE, things will be better: Check.

When you want the simultaneous attention and seclusion of/from society but you don’t want the downsides of suicide (read: death), you leave. 

You move.

You take a job in a new country because not only does the grass look much lusher, but your extant problems don’t exist there either [yet].

“I’ve spent most of my life hiding behind a veneer of cynicism and critique when in reality I’m terrified every time I talk to another human being,” my friend told me on the phone. I was stunned because my friend is not only brilliant and funny, but has always carried an air of confidence and self-awareness.

Turns out no one is as healthy as they appear.

The demons inside of me look different than the ones inside of you.

“I’m just a lonely intelligent dude who’s suicidal. Hanging out in Turkey as a vagabond is the closest to oblivion I can get. The anonymity makes me invisible; people walk by as if I’m not there and I crave that. I’m sick of being an outcast, so it’s better to not exist.”

The optimist’s suicide is to pack your bags and dip out. Leave without permanence. You don’t want to end your life, just a chapter of your life.

“The last time I went on a date,” he said, “I immediately told her it wouldn’t work out. I had to end it before she inevitably did. I told her it was over even though I was painfully interested in her.”

I’m sure many of you are familiar. Perhaps you have not committed this specific disappearing act, but you’ve been tempted to. Perhaps your roots are a bit more healthy and deep than ours, but for those of us with a penchant for rolling out, it’s tempting to catch the wind as she blows.

But I feel like this watered-down form of suicide affects the majority of us. We fear the setting of deep roots and yearn instead for an aesthetically beautiful departure. Who among us hasn’t felt the pangs of social anxiety in a room full of strangers? Who has never opted for Netflix when invited to a party?

Why are these minuscule forms of retreat so alluring to this generation? And why haven’t we realized that drawn out to their logical extremes, we are all myopically suicidal? We’re familiar with the phrase “social suicide,” but don’t many of us commit such acts on a weekly basis? Don’t we always pull away?

Years ago, my friend Tony pointed out that one of the main things that separates God from man is that we have a tendency to move away, while He has a habit of moving toward. We were Jonah, charting ships away from Him, and all the while that Hound of Heaven was hot on our scent.

We were the sheep wandering away; the coin getting lost; the son who wished his father was dead—whatever metaphor you prefer—and God is always the one relentlessly pursuing us. He always has been and always will be the Unsatisfied Stalker until He’s gotten what He craves—you and me.

While we’re busy disguising our coward’s suicide as some Instagram-friendly mystical sojourn, He’s busy creating a home for us to belong; to fit in once and for all.

We’re dressing our corpses and anointing them with oil and makeup while He’s trying to rouse us from the dead.

I also don’t think He’s satisfied with mere life; I think He thirsts to be intimate with His people. He wants to know us and be known by us. Can a transient vagabond ever know or be known?

Sure, it varies from person to person, but we’re all guilty of running. We’re each guilty of fearing people more than Him; Fear of losing their opinions more than fear of losing Him. 

May we be people who choose to tear down the thin fabric insulating us from one another, truly connecting with those around us. May we recognize that we are already loved and accepted how we are and where we are, that this may give us peace, hope and life.



3 comments on “The Optimist’s Suicide

  1. I suppose you know “The Hound of Heaven,” and something of the life of Francis Thompson. Whole poem warrants close reading. Thought this piece below was apropos to your experiences related here.

  2. Don’t b afraid “ Those who know Your name trust in You, for You, Lord have never forsaken those who seek You”

  3. Ouch, yikes, and agree and 100% with this post.

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