Suicide, Kaysen writes, is a form of premeditated murder. The idea of suicide takes some getting used to, and, just like with murder, means, motive, and opportunity are all needed. Good organization and a cool head, two things needed for a successful suicide, are fundamentally “incompatible with the suicidal state of mind.” Without a strong motive, Kaysen writes, the mission of a suicide is “sunk.” She then writes that her own motives for suicide were weak and amorphous.
Susanna Kaysen reflects on her own suicide in practical, almost clinical terms. She points out the complicated nature of suicide, arguing that the control and discipline needed to successfully blot a life out of the world are incompatible with the highly emotional and disorganized nature of a mind unhappy or unstable enough to desire self-annihilation.
While writing an American history paper she wasn’t particularly interested in, the seventeen-year-old Susanna realized that if she killed herself she wouldn’t have to complete the paper. Susanna didn’t act on anything, but the question of whether she should kill herself cropped up again and again and began to wear her out. She writes that she only really wanted to kill the part of her that wanted to kill herself, but that she did not figure this out until she had already swallowed fifty aspirin at home one afternoon.
Susanna’s obsessive thoughts about what suicide would mean—and what possibilities and freedoms death could offer—drove her to try to annihilate the part of herself that was generating such thoughts. Though these thoughts will diminish in their circuitousness and obsessiveness over time, the purposes of suicide and the idea of freedom through death will come up again throughout the text as Susanna negotiates societal perceptions of freedom with the realities of the damage mental illness ultimately inflicts upon one’s chances at true psychological and emotional freedom.
One afternoon, Susanna called her boyfriend Johnny, told him she was going to kill herself, hung up, left the phone off the hook, took her aspirin, and then realized she had made a mistake. She left the house to get milk, an errand her mother had asked her to run earlier that morning. Susanna’s boyfriend called the police, who then went to Susanna’s house and told her mother what Susanna had told Johnny. Susanna’s mother arrived at the grocery store just as she was about to faint at the meat counter. As Susanna had her stomach pumped, she was “brought around” to reality, and resolved to not involve ingesting drugs in her suicide plans “next time.” After the ordeal was over, however, she was relieved to still be alive, and she felt “lighter [and] airier” than she had in years.
Susanna’s attempt at suicide was buffeted on either side by cries for help, or at least attention. Before taking the pills she notified her boyfriend of her plans, and afterward she went out in public to complete an errand. Susanna’s desire to eradicate the part of herself which kept contemplating suicide is evident in the lac of organization in her attempt. After the incident, Susanna’s perception is altered, and she is once again grateful to be alive and optimistic about her future.