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About Once a Month, I Dream of My Own Funeral

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About once a month or so I dream about my own funeral. I dream about it in so much detail I could paint it for you.

It’s a graveyard on a hill. It’s cold, windy and rainy, which probably speaks more to my sense of genre norms than anything else. The number of mourners changes from dream to dream, but it’s never exactly a crowd scene. Sometimes both my parents are still alive, sometimes just one. Occasionally I have survived them both, but not very often.

Like most young people, I have always had trouble imagining myself as an old man. But realizing my subconscious has placed a covering bet on me not even making it that far was quite the unwelcome epiphany. Clearly, some part of my mind is worried and wants the other parts to know it. Which begs the question: how do I think I’ll go?

Let’s talk risk factors. I’m not a smoker. I’m certainly not teetotal, but the fact that anyone’s turning up to my imaginary funeral at all suggests I haven’t slipped away passed out in a gutter somewhere. Plus my fear of addiction has always been slightly stronger than my tendency towards it, which explains the non-smoker thing and the fact that I’ve never taken any illegal drugs. I exercise reasonably often, which one would think might count for something.

Heart disease is the world’s biggest killer, and cancer can never be discounted. But they’re so commonplace I can’t think why my mind would be so worried about them as to keep bothering me while I’m trying to sleep. And it’s not as though I’m dreaming about cardiac arrests or ineffective chemotherapy. No, if these dreams mean anything at all it’s that my brain is expecting, or rather fearing, something more… insidious.

Suicide is the UK’s single largest cause of death for men between the ages of 20 and 34. I have a past, present and possibly future history of depression. The odds are shortening at an alarming rate. But somehow I just don’t see it, or won’t let myself see it.

Medical literature and anecdotal evidence strongly suggests many depression sufferers think or have thought about suicide in a sort of casual, uninterested way, as though daydreaming. Even those with no recognized symptoms of mental illness report these kind of suicidal musings.

I do this when I’m in my low periods, and I do it in a perversely organized manner. I work out heights, angles, timing; it’s like I’m planning a bank heist or a particularly involved snooker trick shot (note for American readers — snooker is like pool, but on a bigger table and played by people dressed like Vegas hypnotists). But I do so dispassionately and on autopilot.

Even at absolute rock bottom, when the darkness was so absolute as to be utterly impenetrable, I have only once seriously thought ending my life would be preferable to living it. I took no steps to act on it (how could I, my depression had sent my body into near shutdown mode) and once the depression took the pillow off my face a little I was so terrified by this mental impostor I haven’t let myself even think about thinking like that since.

Perhaps that’s it. We dream about doing things we would never consider thinking, let alone doing, in waking life. I’ve managed to minimize and give proper context to my suicidal thoughts to the extent that, unless things go more wrong than I’m comfortable imagining, I’m never likely to act on them. But once thought, a thought cannot be fully suppressed and must find expression somehow. Therefore, about once a month or so I dream about my own funeral.

If this story has a point, it’s this: your mind goes to some strange places when you’re depressed, or anxious, or otherwise mentally overwhelmed. It will look to release the pressure wherever and however it can. To do this, it may from time to time draw a suicidal schematic or show you your own funeral in great detail. And that’s fine.

They’re your thoughts and your dreams, and they’re not worth your fear or your shame – save those for the Singularity and your unfortunate nu-metal phase. Instead, know you can learn to acknowledge them, deal with them and put them in their correct perspective. This isn’t an easy thing to learn how to do, I’m still learning myself. But by talking about them openly we can learn together, and by the very act of doing so we will be OK.

P.S. – I quite often have this dream when I’m feeling fine, which thanks to supportive friends, family and a couple of excellent therapists who gave me the time, space and tools to begin to heal, is most of the time these days. Except that when I’m feeling fine, it’s a Viking funeral followed by the most lavish Irish wake the world has ever seen. I’m putting it in my will that you are all invited.

If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page. 
If you need support right now, call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255
Originally published: July 7, 2016
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