Depression - A Life Worse Than Death

“Living in misery is marginally better than dying in it.” In the TV series Dr. House this was, as far as I understood, meant as a hopeful outlook; representing that even a (superficially) misanthropic, and clearly non-religious person as portrayed in the starring character sees the inalienable value of life. When not stretched too far I even agree with it, especially because I know I will stop existing.

But it sweeps under the rug of just how bad life can feel. And also that about 2% of all people that die each year disagree with this statement.

I understand that many people cannot comprehend such a death-wish, or doubt that “just bad mood, even if it is really bad” could be sufficient for such. Even I was very seldom inclined to die, in the sense of knowingly transitioning from living into being dead. Dead as stopping to exist. There is a reason why most suicides and suicide attempts do not occur after just a bad week.

I once quoted a rage-face take on depression: “I don’t necessarily want to kill myself. I just want to become dead somehow.” I am sure I am just one of many people who instantly recognized exactly this same thought.

Imagine: Wake up. First after waking up, wish for death, feel the hatred. Hours on end you feel miserable, hurting; yearn for flowing into nothingness. In the night, failing to fall asleep, you only imagine gruesome things, and replay every bad situtation of the day, commenting on all little failures of you, proving you are worthless, and you deserve to suffer for… When you finally fall asleep, the last thought is your wish to die.

How long can you take it? With increasing despair, being increasingly certain that this “mood” never ends? I am certain that you don’t want it, and I definitely do not wish it onto anybody. There is no heroism in continuing such an existence, no final payoff, no gratitude for something important being saved. It’s just misery, day by day.

This is an existence worse than death, and if the premise would be true, I would agree to end it. The premise here: It never changes. Sadly, for a few people this is actually true; the so-called “therapy-resistant”. The word does not really capture what that means.

Happily, I am not one of them, but I did not know this yet. Thinking about non-existence was still angst-inducing, but every day was evidence for what was the right choice. I definitely knew that everything I could ever do would never outweigh what I was experiencing. There is no positive social impact that I could ever have, and me dying would never have such a bad impact, that there is any sane moral question that could lead to the duty of continued existence under such circumstances. This is also my present-day judgement.

Only if it is likely to improve, to have a (sufficiently long) good life, is there any reason to continue enduring it. That it is likely, and that it is known to be likely, and it is believed1 that it is likely (enough), is difficult. The good thing is that I also know that for myself this knowledge might be my lifesaver – it has kept me going when I have fallen back into depressed mood. Not functional, but at least wanting to continue.

  1. Here I mean the difference between knowing facts and feeling that they are true; in the same sense that you know you checked that the stove is turned off, but have to re-check it because of this feeling