Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Why "November of the Soul"?

I know people often find my main topics of interest a bit odd. Visitors look at my bookshelves with worried expressions. This seems fairly common for people in the clinical psych world. We often have interests in severe psychopathology that we cannot necessarily explain, but hey, somebody has to be interested in them.

You might consider my work morbid, but I would consider this line of study anything but. After all, I study these topics in hopes of helping people save their lives (Note: I do not have rescue fantasies of saving them. Psychology is not about advice giving, it is about helping people better understand themselves. Many lines of therapy in fact insist that people have a right to suicide; but the therapy will hopefully show them that they can achieve a life worth living.) No, it is not morbid to recognize that these issues are out there; it's considerably more morbid to pretend they do not exist and do nothing to help.

One of my favorite books about suicide was written by a journalist, George Howe Colt. It is rather comprehensive: case studies, history, stats. Really great book. Even Ed Shneidman loved it. And when you've got a blurb from the man who coined the term suicidology on your book, you know it's good stuff. So, what is this book? November of the Soul.

But the title of that book goes back even further, to a beautiful passage that starts off Moby Dick:

"Call me Ishmael. Some years ago- never mind how long precisely- having little or no money in my purse, and nothing particular to interest me on shore, I thought I would sail about a little and see the watery part of the world. It is a way I have of driving off the spleen and regulating the circulation. Whenever I find myself growing grim about the mouth; whenever it is a damp, drizzly November in my soul; whenever I find myself involuntarily pausing before coffin warehouses, and bringing up the rear of every funeral I meet; and especially whenever my hypos get such an upper hand of me, that it requires a strong moral principle to prevent me from deliberately stepping into the street, and methodically knocking people's hats off- then, I account it high time to get to sea as soon as I can. This is my substitute for pistol and ball. With a philosophical flourish Cato throws himself upon his sword; I quietly take to the ship. There is nothing surprising in this. If they but knew it, almost all men in their degree, some time or other, cherish very nearly the same feelings towards the ocean with me."

Many of those out there experiencing their own damp, drizzly November in their soul do not know how to rid themselves of it. One cannot escape from their own body, their own mind. Lacking good coping mechanisms, and tunnel visioned into the lack of life options, suicide might seem like all that is left--but there are always other options. There is a sea out there for everyone: a bit of freedom that can substitute for pistol and ball. It's just a matter of finding it.

1 comment:

Jan said...

November of the Soul ... maybe I really should read Moby Dick?