Last night I could not sleep well. Waking up every couple of hours, I was not fully conscious, not fully asleep. I had a few things in mind, and one particular thought constantly tormented me.
I thought of getting out of bed, opening the door to the balcony, and jumping off.
Worried, afraid, terrified, yet intrigued, I wanted to do it, but I didn’t want to do it. I could hear a click as I turned the key. I could feel the cold balcony railing with my hands. I could smell the faint scent of the grass below. I opened my eyes to find myself in the comfort of my bed, having been deceived by my senses. I stared at the door. Should I get out? Should I pull out the keys and swallow them?
It was not the first time this urge came to me. Once in a while it comes, with varying intensities. Sometimes it passes by, casually, like any other thought. Sometimes it stays for hours, haunting me, taunting me.
The urge to jump from high places, like many seemingly strange pathological behavior, is not uncommon. The French call it l’appel du vide, literally ‘the call of the void’. What a fascinating phrase, and how fitting! A seduction to emptiness, to nothingness, that I find so hard to resist. A temptation I try to resist in many similarly harmful situations.
I have often wondered about these destructive urges. Why do they come so often, in so many different forms? I don’t want to die, not yet, not of my own accord. I don’t feel suicidal. I don’t want to be harmed. Are they products of sheer curiosity? Simple ‘what if’ questions? But I don’t want answers, I don’t want to feel the consequences. Are they some kind of cathartic fantasy? But I don’t imagine myself feeling any relief or release. Why, then, do I fear the temptation of self-destruction?
I once pondered about Thanatos, the ‘death drive’ in Freudian thought. Is there really a primitive urge to harm oneself, to destroy, to take a step closer to death? If so, in order to survive, should one protect oneself not only against external forces but also against one’s own innate self-destructive nature?
Poe once wrote about what he named ‘the imp of the perverse’. The impulse to do the complete opposite of what is ‘right’, the temptation to do things one should not do. The desire, when standing upon the brink of a precipice, overcome with fear, to plunge and fall. “And this fall,” he wrote, “this rushing annihilation – for the very reason that it involves that one most ghastly and loathsome of all the most ghastly and loathsome images of death and suffering which have ever presented themselves to our imagination – for this very cause do we now the most vividly desire it.”
It would probably be easier and wiser to think of these urges as light symptoms of obsessive compulsive or some sort of anxiety disorder that may or may not be harmful. Accept them, dismiss them, or face them, with external help if necessary.
Sometimes I wonder though, might I give in? When the imp of the perverse on my side whispers in my ear, luring me, seducing me, might I answer the call of the void? Or would the void, the emptiness, the nothingness, remain a seductive, untouched mystery?