The human condition…

“Im might just kill my self.” This was the message I received from my once-in-a-lifetime best friend Tim two months before he ended his life in his back garden.

And I disagree that suicide is not selfish. But please, hold the outrage for a moment! I am still not sure after six years of thinking on this. So I hope this will create a talking point, and of course it is very critical we talk about these tragic issues that are on the rise. Certainly, I am open-minded on it and trust anyone reading this can be too. Please let's have polite discussion. I might change your mind. You might change my mind. I know nothing for certain, except this message arrived in my Inbox.

“Im might just kill my self.“

It was just before Christmas 2011 when my best friend/big-brother-figure/soul mate Tim Martin sent me this email from his Californian home saying only and exactly that (I can write it exactly so as it’s seared painfully into me forever). It was out of the blue as Tim was always my go-to person with my problems. He lived and enjoyed life more than anyone I knew, a hugely popular guy and the most intelligent person I’ve ever met.

Over Christmas and New Year 2012 and then into the first signs of Spring, we spoke & wrote to each other hundreds of times, during which I told him I loved him many times. I also wrote such as: “See, that life has loads of new fun to offer, new horizons every way you look! Day at a time, keep it in the now. The best years of your life are ahead of you, Tim. This too shall pass. I have to be selfish here as well, because you are one of a mere handful of people I totally connect with on this little rock we’re drifting on in space and I need to have you around to share the journey. It can be lonely anyway but would be a whole f**k of a lot more lonely without you.”

Two months after that first email, on February 21st 2012, Tim wrote: “Whatever happens please remember that I had a very full life with lots of amazing places, events and people. Of all of them you are the highlight.”

It is one of the most beautiful things one person can say to another.

A couple of days later I asked if he wanted to Skype. Tim replied that he was tired and needed to sleep. I wrote: “Have sweet dreams.”

They were my final words to my great friend as a few days later Tim ended his life, leaving behind so many distraught people, including his adopted son Andrew. I have been in touch with many of them since. I have read the police and coroner reports in disbelief. I have heard his family and other friends ask, as I have every day since: Why? What more could we have done? Say these questions in a scream and that is an idea of the feeling we get as we ask them over and over and over and over...

Depression and suicide can happen to anyone. It does happen to anyone. Tim was going along nicely in life as he always had for most of his 48 years, but then in a few weeks a series of things hit him: relationship break-up after finding his boyfriend was cheating by catching him in the act; his son fleeing the nest to study; his always massively successful work struggling in the first recession he’d known; he’d recently moved away from his roots, family and friends in his hometown of Chicago; and he’d been told he had diabetes. It was a massive overload.

Tim had always been so together and joyous. He was tough too. Had he been alive today some right-wingers would’ve likely called him a snowflake and he’d have melted them away with his eloquent and snarky use of words and if for some reason (numbers?) they hadn’t melted away he’d have physically got them out the way. He knew no fear.

So in the six years since my beautiful soul mate left us, as you can imagine, I have carried out abundant soul searching. And right now what I think is that suicide is a selfish act. (I think "self-centred" is actually a more apt word as "selfish" to me means not sharing, but it doesn't really matter, the context remains, it's by the by.) Of course, you are free to disagree, and tell me why, as my opinion on this is not fixed, being so complex and still to me as unfathomable as the knowing that the sun keeps us all alive and yet if any of us gaze at it, in humble awe, we will go blind. My opinion has already changed a few times on this in the years since Tim -

First, loudly and clearly, overwhelmingly most people who who end their own life are not selfish. In fact, I should think many of them, most of them, are utterly selfless in their lives, generous human beings, compassionate and kind, empathetic and quite brilliant as friends, husbands, wives, siblings, colleagues, partners, sons, daughters, soul mates and so on. Tim was like that, an amazing and kind person who only ever thought of others. He loved caring.

I would defend forever that Tim was not selfish. He wasn’t in any way at all during his life, so it doesn't even need defending. There is no one who knew Tim who could or would say he was selfish. Not one bit.

But I think he ended his life because he had felt left with himself. He had moved from his hometown roots, lost trust of the person he moved with, and being so smart he figured he could work it out himself (only his self was not his true self, and I'll come to this). At no point did he think (as far as I know) that in fact finding his boyfriend in bed with another man was a great thing: there was a better healthy & loving relationship for Tim. His son leaving home was just how it is. His job needed a change, so it was struggling. He needed to return to Chicago. His diabetes was a message to him to change his lifestyle.

Pain like this is a communication. And a reminder that a greater consciousness or power is in charge. Mental illness can be a disease of perception. I wish I’d known with every part of my heart and soul these things just before Christmas 2011 when Tim wrote to me: “Im might just kill my self.” Rest in peace, please, my dear friend. I hope your passing away can help keep others here.

But what I think happens, and forgive me as I still can’t really put this adequately into words in the same way as I just mentioned about gazing at the sun, it’s really too immense for me to get my head around: I believe people suffering from depression and anxiety and other mental health illnesses such as addiction and alcoholism are quite probably the most spiritual people around. They have a spiritual sickness and know it, which is why the burgeoning feeling of disease, but they cannot locate what it is that's amiss.

I haven't had a drop of drink or altered my mood with any other substance for more than 16 years now, and I’ve also stood at the top of a cliff 17 years ago realising that one more physical step forwards would end the seemingly endless emotional pain I felt right then. Although in different countries, the cliff was made of the same rock (limestone) as Matt Haig’s cliff face from which he too, thank God, walked away. As well, Tim’s son’s name is the same as the main character in Matt’s wonderful The Humans, a book that came at me from so many different directions after Tim died that I was compelled to read it. Ever since, as with many of you now, I’ve found a good connection with Matt. These things such as the cliff’s rock and the name in The Humans are little things but are everything: connection is vital in avoiding mental illness.

Suicide to my mind comes through a profound and painful loss of connection, disconnection if you want. This connection to the world around, including other people in it, and the disconnection to the universe and whatever greater power created it and us within it is the answer to the why question that anyone left behind after someone's suicide asks over and over and over...

It’s one reason such as the meetings of the various 12-step recovery groups work so well. Thing is, mental illness wants you on your own, to feel alone, to feel you are the only one suffering, that no one else has felt the way you are feeling ever in the entire history of humankind, so no one or nothing can possibly help you. It doesn’t want you to get well and feel happy. It’s ruthless evil.

It torments and inflicts pain, kills you, but refuses to bury you.

Until that is you are suffering beyond any way that whatever created us, through our parents, ever wanted. It’s the fight evil wants in order to get one over on good, it’s the aim Fear has to get one over again on Love. Fear is desperate to defeat Love. (Just look at the political climate today, and also realise that it is cyclical until Love rises again to beat Fear. If that doesn't happen in one of these eras, it's The End.)

From Modern Latin suicidium "suicide," from Latin sui "of oneself" (genitive of se "self"), from PIE *s(u)w-o- "one's own," from root *s(w)e- (see idiom) + -cidium "a killing" (see -cide).

So suicide happens when someone feels and perceives they are left with just themselves. The person becomes so far disconnected from whatever created all of us and everything and who they are supposed to really be that they feel infinite emptiness and can see no hope on any horizon and beyond. It’s the most spiritual people who sense this empty spirit the most precisely and most painfully because they are the most spiritual. If you are born with a lot of something and it slips away you will notice it more than someone not born with so much. So there’s something that starts with a vague knowing that something is not as it ought to be. Frequently, it is tried to be filled up with such as stunning achievements (think musicians and other people who are celebrated), drink & other drugs, sex, relationships, careers & work, material stuff, gambling – one, some or all of these.

It is why many creative people are the ones that feel it first and the most acutely, as being among the most spiritual they have already been inspired to express an understanding of something greater through creativity, be it art, music, writing, design, cooking or so on. They might even really achieve recognition and become celebrated (that is, celebrities). Yet, the yearning, that feeling of something missing, the emptiness, it persists. Perhaps in fact it was not the life they were made for (they may have been driven by the need for love and approval, mistakenly and unconsciously thinking that it is what will fill the emptiness, that will make them feel complete) or perhaps they don't utilise their success in the right way. (That is, such as more sex, drugs and ego will likely only cause more life problems and increase this disconnection.) Who on earth knows?

So the emptiness persists and grows. The pain and hurt is a communication that, sadly, most people do not realise. It is a cry out for the sufferer to make a change, to move towards who they are really supposed to be.

That’s why we must be rid of ego (the self) to be happy. The books called Alcoholics Anonymous, Twelve Steps & Twelve Traditions, and The Road Less Travelled put this all perfectly into words. Anyone who wants to live a much happier and fulfilling life, mostly free from anxieties, could I think do so from reading these, even if not an addict/alcoholic or thinking they need therapy (The Road’s author was a psychotherapist). The books are about ego self and how to lose it and gain spiritual growth. As one goes down the other goes up.

So mental illness is about being disconnected from whatever gave us the air we breathe and the ability to breathe it. I usually call it my Higher Power or God. Organised religion imposes on us who we have to think God is, but to my mind a brilliant piece of God is within us all. It helps some people and that is good, but you do not need organised religion to grow spiritually. For many people, organised religion also hinders. It has the same problem: when ego (and the controlling power that goes with it) gets in the way, that's when we are in trouble!

If you find yourself recoiling, of course you will. There is a part in all our heads that doesn’t want this. It wants us to feel we’re in charge (really? If you are, can you stop the rain and wind please...) and it will only self-condemn and drive us to our graves if you listen to it. The concept of God is yours then. As it is in the 12 Step groups. Your concept is right.

If you’re still getting turned off from this because of the mention of the God word, just for a moment stick with it. Just for a moment tell the bit in your mind that is saying you don’t believe this to shut up. That bit is the bit that wants to – and in many does – become the whole… it's what craves you to become disconnected in order to get you alone and convince you within your mind to listen to it (the devil wears many cloaks!) and then finally take away its opposites greatest gift: Life itself. Like any disease it will kill the host to be in control.

And I’ll tell you that you are loved and approved by whatever made all of us individually. In fact that creator is crazy for you! Just as the vast majority (thankfully) of us who are parents are for our children. You see, you were created perfectly. Things might have happened that mean we put things in the way of that perfection. But it's always there inside us. Any good psychotherapist knows this and will work with a client to let their client realise this for themselves.

And even if you say it doesn't exist, then just try calling out for it and it will be there. Just as if a young man hated and didn't get in touch with his father for ten years but then that father was told that behind a certain door their son was in trouble and they heard their son crying for help, they would kick that door in without a further thought and save their child from the trouble, whatever that trouble might be.

This is experiential. I know getting in tune with and growing spiritually works for addicts and alcoholics. I’ve seen it in action countless times over the years. I’ve seen people that cannot give up drinking or taking other drugs ask a power greater than themselves, they at the time may not even know what that is, to help them. And they’ve stopped their addiction, one they have given up on giving up due to so many failures in the past. Then they’ve stayed stopped a day at a time - for decades! But only if they continue to work on their conscious contact with this higher power, and to continue to grow in spirit.

Addicts and alcoholics are actually really fortunate. If only other people struggling with mental illness had groups of people at regular gatherings (such as AA and NA) who had been where they are to help them and loads of literature on it I think we would see much less mental illness, depression and suicide. Lucky too because although the 12 Steps that lead to spiritual growth and life on a new footing are simple they take courage and complete honesty. Most people are not driven enough to do this unless they know the horror of the consequence of not doing them. Through the obvious mess that excessive drink and drugs cause, addicts and alcoholics are given the gift of desperation and they do not want to go back to hell.

Yet if only everyone, especially those struggling with depression and anxiety, would choose this way, they would know a new freedom and joy. That’s a freedom from the bondage of self.

It's no coincidence that "evil" is a misspelling of "live". And that "spirit" can also mean the strongest alcohol, as alcoholism is a low-level thirst for God as psychiatrist Carl Jung put it to Dr Bob Wilson, one of the founders of Alcoholics Anonymous. Jung’s actual words were: “His craving for alcohol was the equivalent, on a low level, of the spiritual thirst of our being for wholeness, expressed in medieval language: the union with God.”

I have attached here some pages from The Road Less Travelled by Scott Peck, in which he quotes Jung. I am not using some false humility here in saying you can see they write about this much better than I am. They hit it spot on.

So suicide is when the consciousness of self has become so far separated from the real person who was created and the universe and the other people in this world to a mental and spiritual and emotional state that is so far from where it should be there seems only one way to go, and tragically it is the sick part of the person that is doing the thinking and the leading.

The anti-Love finally triumphs after its torturing. It achieves its goal in the most painful and usually prolonged way. It is a way to make Love and Life struggle, suffer and then it kills it.

I know people who end their lives do so in such a dark despair that they frequently think they are doing everyone a favour, that the world will be better off without them. They don't, usually, want to hurt a soul in ending their lives. But the problem is they've unknowingly allowed themselves, often starting years before, to be gradually led by the dark and not the light.

So the person ending their life is not then selfish. But the dark Fear that has managed to take over their light Love is out for its own. And then you can realise the act of suicide is selfish. It cannot be any other thing because Fear is only out for itself and uses people to beat the miraculous Love and Life that is within us all when we are given the chance to breathe and to be.

I wonder if anyone has read this far? I love you forever Tim.

Some further reading:

November 25th 2010.
Author Peter James is straight in at Number One in the Sunday Times Bestseller list with his excellent new paperback Dead Like You. There are qualities he shares with other successful authors:
Perseverance – Peter James didn't go to Number One with the first story he wrote. Most authors write a few or even more than that (more than 20 in the wonderful RJ Ellory's case) that are not published. Some of these can be seen as good practice, as after all it takes time to learn an art: how many of us would pay to see a guitarist take his first lesson? And as Mark Billingham once said to me: a published author is just an unpublished author who didn't give up!
Skill – Many published authors, but not all (please see books by celebrities), can tell a great story and have the imagination to think of one in the first place.
Luck – There is undoubtedly an element of this. Although I agree with those who say, including RJ Ellory, the harder we work the luckier we get.
Patience – Oh yes, the publishing world is not quick at all. Thankfully, the development of e-books is speeding this up, as well as getting a new breed of publishers to liven things up, I think in the same way punk did with the music business back in 1976, and the development of digital music more recently. The research required in many novels requires some good patience too.
Determination – It's all very well being able to think a great story, but to write 70,000 plus words, often (in the beginning) when there is a day job to do as well, takes determination and drive. A thought always precedes an action. Many thoughts stay just as thoughts though.
Belief – I wonder how many great stories are left tucked away in a drawer or on someone's computer, read by only the author, and their cat? When someone such as JK Rowling received a dozen or so rejections from publishers to her story about a wizard school or RJ Ellory developed a collection of more than 400 agents and publisher rejections, there's only one thing that can keep them going and that's belief. In many there is a just a knowing that this is what we should be doing: writing stories. We feel inspired, in spirit, doing so. We have been given wings to fly and we have to find the sky.
Kindness and empathy – I'm a strong believer in the knowing that we need to give away what we have been given in order to keep it. I've had some great help from some very successful and very busy published authors, and it's become apparent to me that there is a connection between those that do very well and how much they give back to the world (and especially the world of writing). Kate Mosse is a great example, so to is Karin Slaughter, Marcia Willett, Mark Billingham, Colin Butts, RJ Ellory, Zoë Sharp, George Pelecanos, Meg Gardiner, Tom Harper, Martina Mercer, Melissa Miller, Jeff Lindsay, Michael Morpurgo, Michael Jecks, Peter Guttridge, Christopher Fowler, Martin Edwards, David Hewson – and Peter James is one of the absolute greatest at this, who as you will know from this blog's beginning, is straight in at Number One in the Sunday Times Bestseller list with his excellent new paperback Dead Like You…

December 6th 2010.
This is at the end of my novel With Cold Hearts, a story in which there are several bloody murders.
Discontinue celebrating death or violence in any form – Dr Wayne W Dyer.
Distance yourself from as many images of death as possible, including watching movies or TV shows that depict killing as a form of entertainment, along with news reports that emphasise the extinguishing of life. Teach your kids, and any children you can, to sanctify life. Encourage them not to take pleasure in the demise of so-called enemies, terrorists, or insurgents – all of these kinds of death, be they on a battlefield or an urban street, are evidence of our collective will to kill. And don’t demonstrate hatred and outrage; rather, teach yourself and others that every victory accomplished with weapons is a funeral that should be mourned.
Here are some sensitive lines from Saint Thomas Aquinas, a holy man who attempted to teach us what Lao-tzu offered in this verse of the Tao Te Ching:

How is it they live for eons in such harmony –
the billions of stars –

When most men can barely go a minute
without declaring war in their mind against someone they know.

There are wars where no-one marches with a flag,
though that does not keep casualties
from mounting.

Our hearts irrigate this earth.
We are fields before
each other.

How can we live in harmony?
First we need to

We are all madly in love
with the same

I agree wholeheartedly with these beautiful words. Yet I wrote a crime mystery novel about a breakneck serial killer (who does not actually murder anyone by breaking their necks but he does rattle through his victims at an alarming rate and with cold-blooded assuredness). Which begs the question… Firstly, I think crime novels reach out to explain the human condition better than any other genre of story. To use one life to take another in a manner that has been planned – something that is such a final act – must be the most sinful thing a human can do. Torturing another person is a terrible act too, and many of the serial killers in the world – both real-life and fictional – perform both acts of torture and murder. In fact in fiction, a murder is much more "entertaining" with some degree of torture first. I think this is because it shows just how low in life, how angry, how messed up, the killer has become. For me, I'm much more interested in the whydunnit aspect than the whodunnit – which is why in With Cold Hearts I think you can work out who the murderer is with some thought but that it wouldn't really matter if they had been revealed on the first page. The message of why they did it is the most important aspect, and why they did it reveals something tremendous of the human condition. I don't want to write any more on this in case it spoils it for anyone yet to read the book. However, for me, one of the main reasons I was driven to write it (and remember the story chooses the author, not the other way round. It's the same with owners and their cats and dogs…) is that increasingly we as a society, are accepting violence as entertainment. Boundaries are continually pushed. You can see this just be looking at films from, say the 1950s, where murders may happen, yet the most you see is a quick flash of the toe of a corpse. Nowadays, you see the brain matter splattered. Often I start to read a book or watch a film or see a game and see such gratuitous bloodshed that I find myself thinking: what's the point? I close the book or switch off the film. We should leave something to the imagination anyway – what's scarier: the monster behind the door when it's opened or the imagination of what that monster will look like and what it could do. I once heard from a reformed London gangster that the most scary thing a gangster could say to an intended victim was not what they were going to do to them, but something vague such as "I'm going to sort this out, I don't know how just now, but I'll soon think of something…" So I wrote With Cold Hearts to clearly entertain (otherwise no one would read it!), but also to get us to wonder about this increasing acceptance most of us have of violence as entertainment. And for this reason I deliberately made sure there were plenty of gruesome murders, with often bizarre methods. The main character in the story thinks something that sums it up when he ponders: "It seems as if this killer is saying, 'you want murder I’ll give you f**king murder'." Then Dave Lennon, the family-loving detective in With Cold Hearts, says two sentences which are the other side of this. Firstly, he says when he comes across the first two murders: "We live in a beautiful world with cold hearts", which is such a key line that part of it had to be the title. Then he asks: "What sort of a world are we leaving our children?" You know, what we say and do – as well as write and watch – shapes the world around us.

January 17th 2011.

Received this today in an email:

If you plant honesty, you will reap trust.
If you plant goodness, you will reap friends.
If you plant humility, you will reap greatness.
If you plant perseverance, you will reap victory.
If you plant consideration, you will reap harmony.
If you plant hard work, you will reap success.
If you plant forgiveness, you will reap reconciliation.
If you plant openness, you will reap intimacy.
If you plant patience, you will reap improvements.
If you plant faith, you will reap miracles.

It was perfect timing as these things often are (came from I just wanted to put it up here as I've been thinking about all these things. Especially humility. I think this word is often mixed up with humiliation, but they are world's apart. The connection is that often it is humiliation that allows us to find humility. It was so with me about a decade ago after my ego had started running away with me. I hope I have this quality of humility in life today, and especially with writing my stories where there has to be a certain amount of self-confidence and self-belief, but also constant humility. To be humble is a great quality. We can dream and have great ambition, but I believe we should always keep our ego in check. We can have our head in the clouds, but we must keep our feet planted firmly on the ground.
I watch my little boy, free in the world, and wish I could have his complete lack of ego. He smiles a million times a day! I can try to lose ego by tuning into what my spirit tells me. What my spirit tells me is always better for the world. I need to get more humble. I hope by writing this it will help me to maintain and increase humility as in itself it deflates the ego to admit that I can do better. Enjoy this gift of a day my friends. May God bless you all, or may good bless you all.