Penguins Don’t Obsess About Suicide

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Depression often had me contemplating the point of life.  Failing to find a good point, my thoughts frequently turned to suicide.  I felt that my misery and suffering far outweighed anything positive coming my way.

I could not see the point of bothering to live.  I felt I had no value and nothing to offer.  I felt like I didn’t belong.  If you are at the point where you fantasize about suicide, it’s not that you want to die.  It’s that you want to escape the pain and you see no options.

I eventually got to a place where I decided suicide wasn’t an option.  I didn’t want to live but I also didn’t want to die.  So I existed.  Resigned to just going through the motions.

I had a turning point in my recovery when I watched March of the Penguins – the movie, narrated by Morgan Freeman, about the yearly journey of the Emperor penguins of Antarctica.

obsess about suicidePhoto Credit: WWF-Canon Global Photo Network via Compfight cc

Here’s the gist.  These penguins have to travel about 100 km to get to their breeding ground each year.  The males spend months huddled together in -60 C (-80 F), starving, with the egg on their feet to incubate it.  The starving females take months to travel back to the sea to feed.  If the male drops the egg, their chick dies.  If the female doesn’t return to her partner, the chick dies.  It’s completely absurd!

It’s unfathomable misery and suffering and for what?  What makes them want to live?  They obviously knew something I didn’t.  If I could figure out what kept them going, I’d apply that to myself.

Here’s what I learned from the penguins.

First, penguins have no expectation that life should be wonderful most of the time.  They know that life, by design, comes with misery and disappointment.  The point of life isn’t the pursuit of pleasure.  I never saw a penguin give up no matter the suffering.  They’re such stoic critters.

Watch out for any expectations you have for your life and yourself.

Hope is good.  Expectations are dangerous.  They’re not the same thing.  I had expectations that life should be a certain way and that things should unfold on what I thought was a fair timeline.  Hah!

Second, penguins seem to have a sense of belonging and sense of purpose.  I appreciate those are basic human needs but I’m imagining penguins can relate.  They didn’t feel alone in their misery and they had a clear mission that they believed in – to reproduce.  They also had the support of each other.

If you’re depressed, it’s essential to establish a sense of belonging and purpose for yourself.

The tendency to isolate yourself will ultimately work against you.  You are going to need support.  Keep any possible supporters in your world.  Challenge the idea that you have no purpose.  You do or you wouldn’t be here.  It’s your mission to figure out what the purpose is.  Sometimes I think that discovering your purpose IS the point of life.

Third, at no point in the movie did any of the penguins say, “I’m so fat,” or “I dropped the egg and my chick died.  I’m such a failure.  I’m no good to anyone,” or “I have so far to travel and don’t even have wings.  I’m pathetic.  I should just give up.”

Accept what is without judgment.

It’s your judgment that is most painful, not what happened.  It is your judgment that is in your control.

I also learned this:  inspiration to fight for recovery can come from anywhere!

Have you seen March of the Penguins?  Did it do anything to you?  C’mon, I can’t possibly be alone in this.

Me July 2013

About the Author
Michele Longo
I promote peer support and encourage people on their recovery journeys. My plan with this blog is to build a community of like-minded individuals offering ideas and encouragement from their own experiences. My master plan is to help create psychologically safe and supportive workplaces. I live in Calgary, Canada.

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2 thoughts on “Penguins Don’t Obsess About Suicide

  1. Thomas
    January 14, 2014 at 9:56 pm

    Hi Michele – I especially like your comment “Sometimes I think that discovering your purpose IS the point of life.” I suffered from bipolar since I was about 19 or 20. I wasn’t treated until I was about 40. I’ve been on Effexor for the past 15 years with good success. A few months ago I turned 55 & had what I term an “emotional release.” I don’t know why it happened but all I know is that turning 55 brought on a time of very deep emotion & depression, but it was like something was released in my being. I don’t know what exactly & I don’t know how to express it any better or explain it any more than that. I experienced a few days of deep sobbing, crying & sadness for no apparent reason. I reached out for support. And then the emotional storm passed. I have not had a moment of depression since then (5 months ago). I’m not sure I have discovered “my purpose” for being alive, but I don’t really worry about that anymore. certainly not like I used to when I was in my 20’s & 30’s. Now i just live in the moment more often, I appreciate the simple things in life, I’m not on a career treadmill or the rat race anymore. I have time to appreciate moments in my day and not worry about what tomorrow will be like. I am calmer, more relaxed and hardly ever in a hurry. My work for the past 7 years has a lot to do with that. No pressure, slow & steady. I’m busy but never in a hurry or rush. I appreciate being alive. I don’t know what has changed in me, but something did. Not in a really big way or in a flash of insight or anything like that. Just a quiet, subtle sense of appreciation for being alive. I sometimes wonder what comes after this life, what it might be like. I like physical reality and I hope the next life is not just consciousness without a body. Maybe we create the next life out of our own expectations of what it will be like. We get to create whatever we want to imagine. In any case, it’s taken me about 50-55 years to find a place of peace & relative tranquility within myself and to just accept who I am the way I am right now & to not worry very much about anything else, especially anything that is beyond my control. I am so very fortunate to no longer suffer deep bouts of depression. I don’t know of anything else more debilitating & painful than that. Not even physical pain is as bad, in my experience. Physical pain tends to focus the mind on the body. Chronic pain at least tells you that your body exists & is alive. Depression is just a deep black hole of nothingness. Anyhow, that’s my story. Thanks for creating a space in which we can all share our thoughts & feelings with one another.

    1. Michele
      January 15, 2014 at 8:57 am

      Hi Thomas! What a great story! I find I’m at a pretty good place. I’m not really in the rat race anymore at least not like I was. My way of looking at life also mellowed. No big insight. It just gradually happened. Actually I keep looking backwards to figure out how I got to a good place. Sometimes that’s what’s going on when I write a blog post. I even feel like turning 50 last year helped me get some perspective. I recommend it to everyone! I so enjoyed reading your story. Thank you so much for sharing and for your lovely comments. I love knowing someone is getting something out of what I’m writing.

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