Before I begin, I am going to plainly state two things.
- I am not an trained psychologist, data scientist, statistician, sociologist, or really anything which qualifies me to comment on a subject like suicide.
- I am going to posit a root cause for rising suicide rates which can easily be disproved with simple data collection.
I spent roughly 14 years - from 23 to 37 - living the good life in the United States. Single, with ample disposable income, and not lacking in social skills, I had no problems making and keeping friends, enjoying creature comforts, and embracing a very first world, organic, quinoa-ified lifestyle.
I lived in a tony townhouse (much too big for a single person), drove a decent car, adopted a dog, and had a great boss along with a paycheck.
At the same time, there was a vague sense of incompleteness and wonderment at whether this was really it?
I'd go home after a smores bonfire at a friend's house or a Sunday morning mimosa brunch but the emptiness of the house was abhorrent to me. A tiny part of me didn't actually want to click open the garage and start an interminable few hours of being alone before I got out again.
So I'd whack it, read books, sleep, anything really, to make sure I wasn't alone with my aloneness.
I gave my life a rigid structure to give it context and reliable patterns - I had five dishes I would make by turns for lunch, Sunday afternoon was set aside for the trip to Trader Joe's, Sunday morning at 11 was time for the weekly trip to the dog park with Edison. Once a week, I'd leave work early to make sure I was able to reach my Toastmasters meeting.
For all the theorized preferability of structure, I still felt like I wasn't really living life so much as having identified bullet points of what a life looks like, implemented the bullet points without building my actual existence on top of it.
I felt a type of impostor syndrome of lifestyle - like my lifestyle was not mine, just a copy of what the ideal lifestyle was supposed to be.
I also became increasingly aware that nothing I was going to do would fix this for me. No amount of alcohol, sex, adrenaline junkieing, inventing cool technologies, spending time in nature, meditation, Spotify, pornography, books, weed, chats with neighbors, was going to bridge the distance between the facsimile of a life I was living and my need for authenticity.
So, I ran as fast as I could to the last place and time I remember living in authenticity. In 6 weeks, I exited the old life and took a flight back to my hometown, to my childhood bedroom, next to the park where I had spent hours every day playing, fighting, cursing, inventing secret hideouts with friends on pond islands accessible only by precariously goose stepping on small stones stuck into marshy pond edge soil.
Is this emptiness also what afflicted Anthony Bourdain? He achieved great success in his late forties and fifties. So many tributes to him mentioned that he seemed to have the best job in the world. Getting paid to travel to parts unknown, eating exotic food, making new friends, all on TV seemed to be a life recipe most would kill for.
Maybe he too, like me, felt that he had been living in caricature - where the cool, hip, sophisticated parts comprising travel, food, friends, and leisure grew accentuated while the messy, hard parts like listening to his own voice on a lonely hotel bed got attentuated.
In my case, I ran back to safety before taking a final decision like Bourdain.
Others may not have the same luxury. The CDC says suicide rates in the United States have spiked more than 50% across all ages, races, and demographics. Bourdain puts a very visible face to this statistic.
Is this because the trappings of pleasure and wealth cannot protect us from realizing that our life has become vapid?
If a secularly rising suicide rates are a global phenomenon, it becomes obvious that lifestyle ennui is not to be blamed. If, on the other hand, the wealthy in India, China, Nigeria, or Mexico - who presumably live First World lifestyles with individualist mindsets and disposable wealth - are also seeing a rise in suicides, maybe the lifestyle needs to be questioned.
What lifestyle is best to stave off suicidal tendencies in aggregate, I don't know. In my case, my return to the familiar has led me to embrace a few more aspects of life in India. I recently got engaged to a wonderful woman. We intend to start a family and I have accepted that my marriage will not be a strictly secular event as I had thought. It will be messy and disorganized with family and friends making a fuss about things I feel inconsequential.
At the end of the day, I realize that if I yet again revert to living a facsimile of a connected life, I will have failed. I hope not to.