But I’m going to tell you anyway.
About once a month or so I dream about my own funeral. I dream about it in so much detail that I could paint it for you (or at least commission someone to do it for me, I paint even worse than I write).
It’s a graveyard on a hill. It’s cold, windy and rainy, which probably speaks more to my sense of genre 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 (at least those that I know), I have always had trouble imagining myself as an old man. But realising that 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 lifestyle factors. I’m not a smoker. I drink, but the fact that anyone’s turning up to my imaginary funeral at all militates against me having 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 that I can’t think why my mind would be so worried about them as to keep bothering me while I’m trying to sleep. Plus 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 a bit more…sudden.
Suicide is the UK’s single largest cause of death for people between 20 and 34. I have a past, present and quite probably future history of depression. The odds are shortening at an alarming rate (this is one morbid bookmaker). But somehow I just don’t see it, or won’t let myself see it.
Medical literature and anecdotal evidence strongly suggests that most depression sufferers think or have thought about suicide in a sort of casual, uninterested way, as though daydreaming. Even those with no recognised symptoms of mental illness report these kinds of suicide fantasies. I do this a fair bit, particularly when I’m in my low periods or simply bored, and I do it in a perversely organised manner. I work out heights, angles, timing; it’s like I’m planning a bank heist or a particularly involved snooker trick shot. But I do dispassionately and on autopilot.
Even at absolute rock bottom, when the darkness was so absolute as to be utterly impenetrable, I have only ever once seriously thought that ending my life would be preferable to living it. I took no steps to act on it (how could I, my malfunctioning mind 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 that I haven’t let myself even think about thinking like that since.
Perhaps that’s it. We often dream about doing things we would never consider thinking, let alone doing, in waking life. I’ve managed to ignore my suicidal thoughts to the extent that, unless things go more wrong than I’m comfortable with or capable of 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.
PS – I actually sometimes have that dream when I’m feeling OK. Except then 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’re all invited.
‘To all, to each, a fair good-night / And pleasing dreams, and slumbers light!’ – Sir Walter Scott, Marmion, ‘L’Envoy’