Death Songs

CW: depression, suicide.

I lie through the question, “What are you thinking?” 

The truth is dumb in a way I find sort of funny, but if I mentioned aloud the room would silence in pity.

Most of the time, my subconscious is usually singing a little song to myself, like a blissful sailor rum-drunk on the ropes, only the words go something like this, “I want to die, I want to die, I want to die, I do, I want to die, I want to die, I want to die, it’s true.” 

I’m a young person living in the present, so it’s no surprise that mental illness runs ragged: in my family, in my friends, in me. Specifically speaking, I have a form of depression that manifests in obsessional, punishing thoughts of suicide. Even more specifically speaking, I have a musical streak that turns this obsessional thinking, oftentimes, into song. It is absolutely weird. I am the Stephen Sondheim of suicidal ideation, and I cannot even share, it’s just too depressing. A whole life’s catalogue of death songs, and I must keep them to myself. 

I’ve been reading Heidegger like the prickish dweeb that I am, Wikipedia-ing about and such. Heidegger was a Nazi philosopher, so he knew a thing or two about God, which I mean in both catty and earnest sense. 

Heidegger’s real addition to Western philosophy was a reframing of the God question as a matter of categorical difference: all this time, Big Philosophy Daddies have been theorizing God as an entity, or being–a thing, like you, or me, with subjectivity and some unifying thread of infinite consciousness–when we should be thinking of God as the the condition of being itself, like the verb: Being, capital B. Heidegger continues about this logic in useful, dense circles in Being and Time, continuing to the nature of human beings, a specific existence he calls Dasein. Human beings get this distinct word because we are uniquely capable of comprehending our Being-ness, the verb that activates us as nouns, the bit of God, or Being, that is in all of us. We are uniquely capable of seeing that we are finite creatures, because we have a tiny bit of this infinite knowledge we get from our unique consciousness, or Dasein. 

An old therapist ran group mindfulness sessions she invited me to join, so I did, before I got kicked out two sessions in. We opened up class with a silent meditation for ten minutes, all seven of us gathering and regathering our thoughts with each breath until my therapist rang her small bell. We went around the circle to share how our meditation went. I’d learned that it was good to be honest in therapy.

“I just kept thinking like, I want to kill myself, I want to kill myself, I want to fucking kill myself.” The other women, each one decades older than me, steering infinitely more complex lives of full-time jobs and children and sick parents, stared.

The therapist pulled me aside after class and suggested we stick to individual sessions. I have not returned to mindfulness since.

The Big Philosophy Daddies before Heidegger took major issue with Manichean thinking. Manichaeism was a major religion that explained the world in terms of good and evil–which was a problem, if you contended that God created everything and God is good. Yet this contention left the Daddies with a major question: if God is good and omnipotent, then where does evil come from?

Heidegger solves this little problem a century after the world gives up on God as a philosophical project. Heidegger is so late that he does not even call “Being,” “God,” so divorced does “Being” seem from the “God” once forced upon him by his Catholic father, a sexton. Heidegger makes room for God in Western philosophy, and no one cares, not even Heidegger. He shacks up with student Hannah Arendt and keeps decades of black notebooks detailing his vitriolic antisemitism. His importantly limited, “hermeneutic” (or, humanly interpretive) approach is right: here, this man can fathom God, and he cannot fathom whiteness, the absolute cruelty of his own humanity. 

But I like how Heidegger makes Manichaeism possible with this little reframe: not Good and Evil but Infinity and Finitude, the whole of us that is Being and the whole of us that is bound by death. 

This is how I feel it: this part of me that wants to die, this part of me that wants to live, that is living in spite of it all. There is so much death in me but I sing it out in nursery rhymes, make it positively silly, a joy. It is a baleful and brilliant way to die, to be dying. My finitude, my essential human-ness, my Death, has grown twisted in my brain. My Being flattens it out with care, like a bored teen’s undue attention to their napkin, folds my death instinct in with my will to live. I will go out and I will go out singing. 

Sophie Dillon

Sophie Dillon


is still figuring it out.

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