Why I Sometimes Relate to Hamlet's 'To Be or Not To Be' Soliloquy


“To be or not to be.”

This is the infamous question in Shakespeare’s play, “Hamlet.” In the scene, Hamlet contemplates whether to die by suicide and end all of his suffering, or to continue trudging through life. I believe this seemingly dark and gloomy scene perfectly captures the point in a person’s journey with mental illness where they too may question, “Do I want to be, or not?”

There are days when I don’t want to be. Everything I am feeling and experiencing overwhelms me, beating me down until I question the purpose and worth of this life. Days when I feel like I can barely get out of bed, let alone actually be something of true value to this world. Trust me, I want to be. I want to be so terribly. I want to make a difference in this world, change the way people understand the world and interact with others through my writings, or radically improve the lives of the young patients I hope to one day treat. But how can I do that when I can barely be something to myself? When my daily triumphs include actually finding the fortitude and power to make it to zero hour and being able to go the entire school day before getting one of my trademark headaches courtesy of yours truly, anxiety?

Hamlet continues on, debating, “Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer” or “to take arms against a sea of troubles, And by opposing, end them?” In this phrase he asks, it more noble, more applauded, to let yourself struggle through unbelievably strenuous mental torture, or to stop the struggle? I believe Hamlet’s struggle shows the concept that so often exists in mental illness. Those affected often put other people’s thoughts and opinions before their own needs and desires. They care so much about what others will think of them and how they’ll be perceived by onlookers, that their actions can become geared to pleasing the imaginary demands of their peers and acquaintances.

In no way am I encouraging or condoning suicide. It is a tragic thing when a precious person decides their life is no longer of value and that they would much rather not be at all. But I understand the feelings behind it. I understand the desperation that comes after struggling with mental illness. Sometimes, you just want it to be over. No more panic, no more feeling like the world is a monotonous tone of sadness and despair, no more hellish interactions and heartaches, no more self-hate. Only the one affected can fully know and understand the level of pain — both physically and mentally — they are feeling. Having a mental illness is not easy. I believe it is the furthest thing from a “simple fix” like many other disorder. But the expectations of a recovery timeline are compared just the same.

So to those who desire “To die: to sleep; No more,” I understand. I sympathize and I identify with it often. But suicide does not have to be an option. Your life does not have to finish with a final period in that way. Let your life continue on like the beautiful story it is, full of commas, semicolons and hyphens.

You have the power to choose to be. When I consider “To be or not to be,” I contemplate the worth of the illness I deal with and the shame, guilt and pain I feel of not being adequate enough to be in this world. I struggle to believe it is really worth it, sometimes.

But on days when my symptoms are low, when I have a fantastic day with the people I love, doing the activities that make my soul soar, I triumph. It makes all of the “to be or not to be” days so worth it, for the joy I experience on those days is worth 1,000 bad days. And ultimately, I believe it is my decision to be or not. And let me tell you, I have chosen to be. My dreams are out there, well within my grasp. They are mine to get, and I am going to get them.

If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page.

If you need support right now, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or text “START” to 741-741.

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Photo via Wikimedia Commons.


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