Life vs Death: Life is Cooler.
Heads up, this content is 13 years old. Please keep its age in mind while reading.

John T. Unger just put up a post called, It’s only life or death. It’s always only life or death. It starts out:

“The best thing that ever happened to me was the night an angry, messed up cab driver pulled me into the back room of a 24 hour diner and held a huge handgun to my head for over ten minutes, all the while describing in intricately fetishistic detail exactly what would happen when he pulled the trigger.

“Why? Because it changes you, staring down a nutjob holding a gun. After that, the small stuff just doesn’t get sweated. You either break, or break through to a mandatory satori of keeping things in proportion that most people never get to walk away from. It’s an ice calm I wouldn’t trade for anything.”

This sounds like something straight out of Fight Club, but he’s exactly right. There’s this line between life and death where the crap that doesn’t really matter falls away.

Last month marked the ten-year anniversary of my failed suicide attempt. Ten years. It’s a good number. I’ve also been building website for ten years, and performing poetry at microphones for ten years. Guess what I started doing when I realized my life wasn’t going to live itself?

A brief backstory: I had a challenging adolescence. Combine growing up queer in a straight-or-gay world with watching my father slowly die of a terminal illness, and you have the perfect formula for depression and self-loathing. I hit a breaking point, devoured a bottle of sleeping pills, woke up the next day (surprise!), spent a week in a mental health ward, and then decided it was time to get a grip on things. I was fourteen years old.

I subscribe to the philosophy of “No Regrets.” We live, we learn, we move on. I reached a point where I was willing, ready, and determined to end my life, and then I lived beyond it. I’m not going to stand here and advocate suicide attempts, but I will say it was the most dramatic positive turning point in my life to date. I discovered that I’m not trapped in a meaningless and oppressive system. I found out that when life and death are on the line, all of the clutter falls away and we finally see the point: that we matter, that there is love all around us, and that all of those rules are really just suggestions. We get to do whatever we want.

As a sidenote… For anyone struggling with suicidal thoughts, I highly recommend the book Hello Cruel World: 101 Alternatives to Suicide for Teens, Freaks and Other Outlaws by Kate Bornstein. The premise is pretty simple: if you feel like you need to choose between doing [blank] and killing yourself, do [blank]. (And she has some great suggestions for “[blank]” if you’re getting bored with your own ideas.) If you want the book but you can’t bring yourself to purchase it, please email me.

Today my friend Nelz came out today on his professional tech programming blog as a tattooed and pierced, silly-flash-mob-organizing, sex-positive Burning Man fanatic. He invoked my favorite web comic and ended by cheering, “Hooray for transparency!”

I’ll add, Hooray for not taking suggestions that don’t work for us!

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4 Responses to “Life vs Death: Life is Cooler.”

  1. jenijen Says:

    the whole wide world is so lucky to still have you here

  2. John T Unger Says:

    The best suicide advice I ever heard was during my senior year at Interlochen Arts Academy… I hadn’t really ever considered art as a viable option until I got to Interlochen, at which point it seemed the *only* viable option. But the parents were dead set on law school and I couldn’t figure out how to get out of that. Plus there was a lot of other stuff going on.

    So I went and talked to my RA and laid out all the reasons I thought I should off myself. It was a pretty organized list. And at the end of it, he surprised me by saying “Yeah, that all makes a lot of sense. If everything you’ve told me is correct, I don’t see what other option you have either.” I was totally stunned… I mean, his job is to talk me out of suicide, not to validate it as a choice, right?

    Then he continued and said, “But look, if you’re dead set on killing yourself and you’ve decided that it’s the only way to deal with things, what if you waited a week? I mean, now that you have a way out, a week couldn’t suck all that bad, because you know it’s the last one… and if anything happens to change the way you feel during that week, well, then you still have options, you can change your mind.”

    It was good advice. Validating suicide as an option both shocked me and at the same time kept me from feeling that I was being patronized. It made it more real and made it something that could be discussed seriously. And the one week deadline or extension did in fact give just enough time for something to happen that kept my interest in sticking around.

    These days what really works best is suspense… I gotta stick around as long as I can to see how it all turns out. ;-) (well, that and the fact that I love the way my life works now).

  3. sarah Says:

    John, I love it. That’s fantastic advice. It’s kind of the same route I pulled with the angry homicidal man on the airplane: “Just don’t kill anyone while I’m in Austin, okay?” I was in Austin for one week. ( )

  4. Hollee Says:

    Speaking of Fight Club “It’s only after we’ve lost everything that we are free to do anything,” is one of my favorite quotes from the movie.
    And you’re right, nothing really changes a person more than their own determination to self-destruct. I think it’s especially that, and the willingness to overcome that, that can make a difference, when someone else has that power over you it’s one thing, but when you’re willing to do that harm to your own body it’s on a different realm. I’m glad you’re still here.