Are You Listening?

The Acceptance of Our Greatest Fear

Riding with Death, by Jean-Michel Basquiat (1988)

Editor’s Content Warning: This article deals with issues related to suicide.    

Author’s Note: For this assignment, I self-identified as a person who deals with depression. Through extensive research, I was able to abstract material from the things I discovered during this process. This formed the basis of this article, and allowed me to step into the shoes of someone who suffers from suicidal thoughts.

Don’t get me wrong. I have a smile on my face. I am happy. But deep down, way in the back of my head, I know that there is nothing to be happy about. Its just the saddest lie I tell myself everyday.   I can’t stand my own presence sometimes. I guess it’s just what happens as you grow older, and learn to see how the world really works. For with it, comes evil people who decide to shun the ones who need help the most. The ones who need help with depression, loneliness, and the fact that their own presence bothers them when in a room alone. Between people and death, there is nothing. Nothing in the way but their own decision to hang on. The mere act of killing oneself is considered to be the most gruesome forms of death. Suicide serves as a permanent solution to a temporary problem. It has ruined lives through an attack of depressing thoughts. Depression is feeling like you have lost something, but having no clue when you last had it. Then one day you realize that what you lost is yourself. Through its numerous acts of tragedy, suicide has left its mark on the lives of teenagers, young professionals in the workforce, as well famous artists. The world we live in is filled with harmful energy. This energy keeps people from being themselves. It’s what makes people grow angry, and depressed. It’s what drives people to kill themselves.

I grew up with the thought that I should never be depressed when I’m older. I was constantly told not to be sad because others have it worst than me. However, that’s like saying I shouldn’t be happy because someone else has it better. I’ve learned to appreciate the things I’ve been blessed with in life, but I couldn’t help but notice that certain aspects of my life bothered me. I have always been sensitive with the way people have dealt with my own personal issues in the past. I took things personally, and always demanded more from myself as a result. I became my biggest critic, and even my worst enemy. For teenagers in the United States, suicide has always been prevalent. It’s a series of years filled with cruel bullying, careless teachers, and confidence draining coaches. Puberty is settling in, along with the stresses of life. More is demanded of teenagers and some are caught by surprise. They fold under the pressure and turn to outlets such as alcohol and drugs. Some turn to bringing others down with them through forms of harassment. For certain teachers, they would rather worry about their own problems during work rather than the problems of the students they are with everyday. Other than teachers, coaches can also be detrimental to one’s mental health. With constant harassing, coaches are destructive towards a teenager who is already self-conscious about themselves to begin with. For unknown reasons, the adults in a teenager’s life can actually do more harm than good in certain cases, and as a result, depression arises.

In a post written by Rae Ellen Bichel on the website NPR, the author dives into the alarming increase in suicides for adolescent girls. At a time where one’s body is changing, the affects of depression can be easily seen, causing young girls to take their own lives. In the text, the author stated, “There is one age group that really stands out- girls between the ages of 10 and 14. Though they make up a very small portion of the total suicides, the rate in that group jumped the most—it experienced the largest percent increase, tripling over 15 years from 0.5 to 1.7 per 100,000 people.” The life of a teenager can be a living nightmare and the fact is that some people pay no mind to it. They aren’t sympathetic towards the ones who are attempting to come into their own, but are held back from the very people who should be supporting them. However, there are some brave souls out there who do all they can to make sure teenagers understand that they are not the only ones who are up at night.

For the punk-rock band Blink 182, their encounter with suicide came when a fan wrote them a letter about his upcoming death. His name was Adam and he spoke about how no one accepted him throughout his life. He was fed up with this cruel world and wanted nothing else to do with it. In his final words, he told the band that they were the only ones who kept him alive to that point. If it wasn’t for Blink 182’s strong message in their songs about teenage issues, Adam’s life would have ended much sooner. As a result of this, Blink 182 came out with one of the deepest songs in their collection, Adam’s Song. One lyric reads, “I couldn’t wait till I got home, to pass the time in my room alone.” The song speaks about teen depression, and how no one is there for the ones who need help the most. They would rather care for themselves than deal with the mental trauma of a struggling teen. For that reason, those people have failed themselves of being adults.

I have always used the negative energy from people to my advantage. It fueled me to work harder so that one day I could finally shut everyone up. However, I have grown to realize that sometimes being better than someone is not the answer. That doesn’t always bring happiness. The short-lived satisfaction of being better than someone in a given area is overrated. There is no point in doing something if it won’t put a smile on your face. For me, I found an outlet that allowed me to develop as a person, as well as bring happiness to my life. Unfortunately, the profession of banking holds the highest suicide rates in the country. For young professionals, the new experience of being in the work force can be overwhelming. Suddenly, things are no longer spoon fed and the ones who can’t hack it end up dropping out. Specifically in the finance industry, jobs are made up of intense environments that result in little sleep, high stress, and massive amounts of money possibly lost along the way. The stakes are high and the risks are even higher. The culture on Wall Street is not for everyone and the system weeds out who it thinks doesn’t belong. People begin to realize that their profession is not what they had expected. The work is tiresome, causing problems at home, and even leading to financial strains. Some resort to quitting and finding jobs elsewhere  while others decide to retire young if they made enough fortunes. The last group of the bunch decides to take their lives. The pressure suffocates them and they simply cannot bear the fact of starting over.

In one case, a man named Thomas Hughes decided to take his own life after several years as an Investment Banker. In an article by The New York Times, the author William Cohan, speaks about the damaging affects a stressful job in the finance industry can have on someone. He states, “Mr. Hughes died at a time when sensitivities about the pressures of Wall Street on young professionals are acute. Just a month earlier, Sarvshreshth Gupta, a 22-year-old first-year banking analyst at Goldman Sachs in San Francisco, committed suicide after a particularly stressful stretch at work. Another Goldman analyst who had worked 72 hours straight was hospitalized after having a seizure.” Depression is not restricted to young individuals out of college, but also to anyone in the work force. Suicsuiciude on wall streetide has targeted the lives of even 60 year olds who cannot keep hanging on anymore. In 2010, Oliver Stone directed the film Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps. This film displays the height of the “2008” financial crisis and how it took its toll on the top bankers in the industry. For Louis Zabel, a veteran banker in his late 60’s, the stress of work has drowned him in a horrible state of depression. With no answers left, he walks in front of the subway while on his normal morning commute.

Even with the outrageous wages and bonuses, it is easy to realize that money is no longer the answer to happiness. Suicide comes in all shapes and sizes. It’s a parasite that will hook on to anything with a pulse. For that reason alone, suicide as a banker is 1.5 times higher than the national average. With this being said, some people still hold no sympathy towards the ones who have taken their life. In a YouTube video that speaks about the issue, one person in the comments section wrote, “Fix the problem? Who gives a fuck…bankers are parasites. The whole damn lot of them should kill themselves.” This person believes there is nothing wrong with a banker killing themselves, and for that reason, they are uneducated and misinformed about an epidemic that is truly crushing families along the way.

It didn’t take me a long time to turn to art. I purchased a journal and began to record my thoughts. I reflected on certain things such as academics, my sports career coming to an end, and even the relationships I had with people. Music became more prominent in my life as I discovered the lyrics in the songs that I grew up listening to. I realized that the songs that had followed me to this point were ones that cried out for help. They were filled with pain from a musician who has battled through the vicious cycle of depression. From this, I started to look at all forms of art and how artists suffering through depression can express themselves through times of pain. 

Art is seen as an interesting form of expression that can hold different meanings. Artists allow their work to hold several stories, all depending on the type of person who experiences it. Whether it is in music, paintings, or writings, depression can be seen through subtle hints, or in other cases, clear indicators that suicidal thoughts are present. For the artist Kid Cudi, depression has attacked him since his teenage years. It has followed him into his early stages of fame, even causing him to take periods off of work. However, with all of this negative energy, he still found ways to use it to his advantage. Despite his deep message and dark thoughts, his audience is still captivated by his music. In one of his songs titled Soundtrack to my Life, Kid Cudi writes, “The moon will illuminate my room, and soon I am consumed by my doom.”

His drug addiction began to roar back and he felt himself slipping more into isolation each day. People told him that he had peaked as an artist, causing him even more grief. He decided to put out a new experimental album that would express the pain he’s been going through. The album was titled Speeding Bullet to Heaven, however after its release, fans seemed to have given up on their once beloved artist. He ventured into uncharted new territory and as a result, people became critical of his unordinary choices. He turned to something else, knowing that this was his last chance before falling into extinction. Kid Cudi approached his long time friend and mentor Kanye West. He told Kanye about his personal issues and how he needed to make a comeback in the industry or else his depression would surely crush him. As a result, Kanye agreed to help his old friend make his way back to the top of music food chain. Kid Cudi took this to Twitter, by tweeting to his followers that he was officially back. He was done with the depressing songs about his issues and tired of all the hateful criticism he’s been receiving. He stated, “I think about blowing my brains out a handful of times a week. I fear no one. I give no fucks. I am a warrior in hell. I am sick of people questioning my abilities. So motherfuckers better get prepared because I’m about to show n—-s what’s really nice.” From this, a reader is able to see that even despite his personal issues, Kid Cudi finally found a way to cope with these issue slightly better than previously. He is using his negative thoughts as fuel to make a comeback while previously he let these same negative thoughts consume him. His early music days brought him happiness and he is on a journey to find where exactly he lost that happiness.

Other than Kid Cudi, artists find unique ways to display their emotions. For some, they cannot find a way of coping with their problems like Kid Cudi has been able to. As a result, they choose to take a different path in life, ultimately one that ends it. The artist Jean-Michel Basquiat ended his life in 1988 through a raging drug addiction. By falling into a heroin induced overdose, the life of Basquiat came to a halt at the age of 27 years old. In one of his final paintings, titled Riding With Death, Basquiat features a skeletal creature being straddled by another individual. Critics of the art link it to the concept of spiritual possession, which means “being ridden” in Haitian voodoo. As one may see, suicidal thoughts may reach everyone at some point, but the ones who deal with it well, end up making it out. The ones don’t, end up losing it all. 

In summation, suicide has struck the lives of countless individuals. Through its attack on the mind, depressing thoughts arise as suicide begins to make its home. It sits and waits, hoping for the right moment to devour the mind it is in inhabiting. It forces one to reach a point where ripping out of their own skin seems like the best option. It’s simply unbearable to the point that they decide to end their own life. When looking at an account of suicide, what chills the spine the most is not the frail corpse hanging from the window bars, but what happened inside that heart immediately before. A heart that failed from not receiving enough love. However, through all of this, it has become a part of life, not an aspect we should be accepting. It’s a decision people resort to when all else fails, or better yet, when other people fail. They fail the person who needed help the most. They fail a human in need. The keyword is human. A human is imperfect. A human is supposed to make mistakes and should learn how to deal with them through proper guidance. It’s an uncomfortable topic to speak about for a reason. Perhaps, that is the reason some turn the other way, choosing to stay quiet. However, that is where the problem lies. 

Somedays I just feel like checking out. This darkness has hit me at the worst points of my life, causing me to turn to different things in order to remediate this problem. I used to be ashamed that I experienced depression, but now I have learned to own it. It’s apart of me now. It’s a battle scar that I get to keep with me for the rest of my life. It has made me authentic. It has made me human and forced me to love who I am. Whatever obstacles I face in life, I will always know that I have defeated the scariest one, time and time again. I am a warrior in hell. Yeah, I’m sad, but at the same time I’m really happy that something can make me feel that sad. The only way I can feel this sadness now is if I felt something really good before. So I guess what I’m feeling is like a beautiful sadness. I’m still all smiles. In the words of musical anarchist Kurt Cobain, “I’m so happy because today I found all of my friends. They’re in my head.” It’s scary out there. If you don’t have yourself, you won’t have anyone. I know who I am now and after these few years, there is a victory in that. Are you listening? Some people already stopped.

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