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The survivor of multiple suicide attempts explains 'How Not to Kill Yourself'

Clancy Martin lives with two incompatible ideas in his head: "I wish I were dead – and I'm glad my suicides failed." He says he wrote his book especially for people struggling with suicidal thoughts.




This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross. "How Not To Kill Yourself: A Portrait Of The Suicidal Mind" is the title of the new memoir by my guest Clancy Martin. He says he's lived most of his life with two incompatible ideas in his head - I wish I were dead, and I'm glad my suicides failed. He explains that he wrote this book especially for the people like him who have attempted suicide and who still struggle with the desire to kill themselves. He also hopes to speak to people who have suicidal thoughts or may be considering an attempt and to the many people whose lives have been drastically changed because of the self-inflicted death of a loved one.

Martin has thought about the meaning of life and death as the survivor of more than 10 suicide attempts and as the author of over a dozen books on philosophy. He's translated works by Nietzsche and Kierkegaard. He is a professor of philosophy at the University of Missouri in Kansas City and Ashoka University in New Delhi, India. He's been a student of Buddhism since 2012. You can get a sense of the tone of his book by the two quotes he opens with. The first is by philosopher and feminist Simone de Beauvoir. Quote, "That is what chills your spine when you read an account of a suicide - not the frail corpse hanging from the window bars, but what happened inside that heart immediately before." That quote is followed by this one from comic John Mulaney - "When I'm alone, I realize I'm the person who tried to kill me."

Clancy Martin, welcome to FRESH AIR. I want you to help me think through how to handle this conversation. We always want to make sure that when we're talking about suicide, that we're avoiding any words or thoughts that might trigger other people. On the other hand, we want to have an open conversation about it because that could be helpful. So when you're writing your book, when you're doing public speaking, how do you think about what language to use so that you don't trigger people, but you do help them?

CLANCY MARTIN: Thank you so much for having me on the show, Terry. It's a real honor. And it's kind of the realization of a dream for me. On this question, happily, we have a large scientific literature on how this works. If we speak about details of how a person made an attempt, and those details are sort of easily replicable, then that can have the effect of actually causing people to go out and try to take their own lives in the manner described. So it's best to - not to do that. If we are going to talk about the details of one of my attempts, for example, it should be one of the times when I tried something that's very unlikely, like when I was a teenager and I tried taking my own life by laying down naked in the snow. And that's not something that's going to - likely to trigger anyone.

However, if we talk about it in a way such that we provide the context - anxiety, depression, wrestling with the thought of suicidal ideation throughout one's life - it's been shown that talking about suicide actually reduces the effect in the general population, both of suicidal ideation and of suicide attempts. So the media can do this really positive thing by talking about the larger context of a suicide attempt. So that's what I always try to do. The other good thing about talking about suicidal ideation and suicide attempts is so much of what drives the suicidal mind is the stigma of suicide, the shame of suicide, of having made an attempt, of being afraid to reach out for help, of being afraid to talk to someone else. And so the more we can talk about suicide openly, the more suicidal people we can help. The WHO tells us that approximately 10% of the world population suffers from chronic, passive suicidal ideation - that is, people thinking about taking their own lives all the time. And that's probably a very conservative estimate. So it's incredibly important that we have these conversations.

GROSS: So, you know, usually when we talk about suicide on the show, we give a number for one of the suicide prevention hotlines. And you have experience with these. I don't know whether you've called them directly, but you know so much about this world and about other people who have tried it and what the literature is. Is there one that you would like to mention for people who do have suicidal ideation and really need some help or just want to talk to somebody who doesn't have a personal stake in it, and can give you, like, an outsider's perspective, but from an outsider who really understands this kind of thinking - someone who you won't be a burden to you by talking to this? Not that you'd be a burden to loved ones, but you might fear that you would be.

MARTIN: You certainly will probably fear that you are going to be. And particularly if you've made an attempt before, you're going to feel certain that you'll be a burden to them. So the 988 really is good. And calling 988 or texting 988 - they're - they've gotten very, very good at helping people. So I encourage people who feel comfortable with that to try that.

GROSS: Which hotline is that?

MARTIN: That's the mental health crisis hotline that - and they will - and, you know, just text them and say, I'm feeling like hurting myself, or I'm feeling really low, or you - text them anything or call, and they will get back to you very quickly. And they are good.

GROSS: There is a teen mental health crisis right now. You're a university professor, so are you seeing that reflected in your students? And they probably know you've written about suicide attempts and that you've written this book. I doubt they've read it yet. It's just been published. But you've had articles in the past. So I'm wondering if you see this teen mental health crisis reflected in your students and if they come to you for advice or for help.

MARTIN: I do see it in my students. I get emails from students every week, certainly, and sometimes during the semester, every day, struggling with mental health issues. I know this is true of faculty at my university, other faculty at my university and faculty at universities across the country. We know that adolescents in particular - their suicide rates have spiked, particularly post-COVID. And teenagers are sitting in emergency rooms for 24, 48 hours, sometimes as long as a week, without getting any kind of proper psychiatric treatment before being released, and this after a suicide attempt quite often. And my students come to me in my office hours, and they talk to me about wanting to make an attempt.

And so one thing that I do is in every class that I teach, at a certain point we will get to questions of the meaning of life. Even in my sort of most technical class, which is a class called "Money, Medicine and Morals," we eventually come around to, OK, let's talk about end-of-life decision-making, and we'll talk about suicide in that context. And I'll ask my students, how many people here have thought about suicide? But before you answer that question, you know, let me tell you a little bit about myself. And so I let them know that I have attempted suicide in the past and how I've dealt with my suicidal ideation so that they know that this is a safe, comfortable space. And then I say, OK, how many of you have thought about suicide? And, you know, it's rare that 90% of the class doesn't raise their hands.

GROSS: Whoa, 90%.

MARTIN: Yeah. Yeah.

GROSS: And let me stop you 'cause you're asking people to do this in front of their fellow students.

MARTIN: Yeah, this is...

GROSS: So you're asking them to go public. Why are you doing that? Why are you asking them to tell you that in front of other people in the class?

MARTIN: Because I want them to know that now they're in a place where they can look around and see that this isn't - they don't need to be afraid of this way of thinking. They don't need to be ashamed of it. They don't need to feel like there's something wrong with them, that this is an incredibly common and, one might even say, a normal way of thinking. A philosopher friend of mine said - after reading my book, he said, the best thing about your book is that you domesticated suicide. And what he meant by domesticated suicide was exactly that. Like, now we could talk about it in a way such that we can recognize with each other that this is no more a taboo subject than sex is a taboo subject or death is a taboo subject or grief is a taboo subject.

All of these things, we - not only are we allowed to talk about them, but we need to talk about them because we're all feeling them. And once you lift that shame, you lift a lot of the burden of feeling that way. You can also lift some of the appeal of the thought. In a paradoxical fashion, when you stigmatize something, you give it a kind of allure. And when we remove the stigma, when you're in a room full of people and you realize, oh, my gosh, all my friends, all these people around me, they also have thought about taking their own lives, suddenly it's like, oh, that's just something I'm thinking. It's not something I have to do. It's not something I have to act on. And I don't have to feel bad about it.

GROSS: And you're no longer a member of an exclusive club.

MARTIN: And you're no longer a member of an exclusive club, which is, yes, very important to know. It takes some of the romance out of it, which is really good.

GROSS: So I want to ask you about your own life. How many attempts have you made?

MARTIN: I think the best way to answer that question is to say more than 10 and fewer than 20 if you don't count the many times that a gun was involved, and I was really trying. And if you count those times, then, you know...

GROSS: Just to make it clear, you never pulled the trigger.

MARTIN: No, I've never pulled the trigger.

GROSS: You had a gun, but you never pulled the trigger.

MARTIN: I've had a gun, never pulled the trigger. Spent a lot of time alone with that gun trying, which is not an exercise I recommend to anyone, of course. If you are a person who has ever felt the least bit suicidal or if you are a person who has someone in their life who sometimes you think might suffer depression or might go through a suicidal period, I urge you - I cannot urge you more strongly - get rid of that gun. It's just the No. 1 piece of advice I can give people is if there's a gun around and you know you sometimes struggle with this idea, you have got to get rid of that gun. But anyway, yes, certainly more than 10 times. And in terms of concrete attempts where I was like, OK, now I'm definitely - now I'm expecting to die, fewer than 20.

GROSS: You point out in your book that one of the reasons why you never actually tried to use that gun was that you knew of cases where people attempted to end their life with a gun and failed and ended up just being, like, physically compromised in a way that made the quality of their life worse. And that that's a reality. Do you know - and that's something - do you think that people who have suicidal ideation should think about things like that? Like, as you say, it's really not that easy to end your life, and you could just harm yourself and be really sorry.

MARTIN: Yeah, it's much more common, actually, than people realize, that trying to kill yourself with a gun - I should say for the record that I did try with that gun; I just never actually pulled the trigger. But yes, the - one of the reasons I did not pull the trigger is that I was very conscious of the fact that this is not a foolproof method at all. It's surprisingly common that it doesn't work, and then people wind up with all kinds of horrible damage.

GROSS: Let me reintroduce you here. If you're just joining us, my guest is Clancy Martin. He's the author of the new memoir "How Not To Kill Yourself: A Portrait Of The Suicidal Mind." We'll be right back after a short break. This is FRESH AIR.


GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. Let's get back to my interview with Clancy Martin. His new memoir is called "How Not To Kill Yourself: A Portrait Of The Suicidal Mind." And it's a memoir about his attempts to end his life and his relief to be alive. It's also a book about what the philosophers, the great philosophers, have said about suicide. He's a professor of philosophy. And it's also a book of advice to people who have suicidal ideation and to people who love them.

My impression from your book is that you are relieved that you did not die when you attempted suicide. Is that fair to say?

MARTIN: I am tremendously relieved that I did not die as a consequence of any of my suicide attempts. And as famous American suicidologist John Draper told me, anyone who survives a suicide attempt now has something like a superpower because they have the knowledge of what it is like to be at the very - at that point when you are trying to end your life, and you can talk to other people who are suffering in that way with a kind of intimacy, confidence and understanding that maybe is peculiar to those people who have made an attempt.

GROSS: In some of your attempts, you panicked in the process. And I'd like you to describe, to the extent that you're comfortable and that you think it won't trigger anybody, what it's like to try to end your life and then, as you're doing it, to panic about doing it, because that's happened to you several times. Do you think it would be helpful for people to hear this?

MARTIN: I think so. People should be aware of this. You know, there are - people who have made repeat attempts know this moment of panic. And so they try to take these ways of sidesteps, you know, try to take these ways of securing themselves from changing their mind in the very last seconds. And we don't want to talk about what those ways are. But I will tell you - let me give an example that I don't think will be triggering to anyone. In the early days of my first time stopping - seriously stopping drinking, which was in 2009, I was vacationing with my family in Mexico. And I was suffering an extremely severe bout of depression. And this was probably in part a consequence of withdrawal from alcohol, in part a consequence of not being on the right mix of medications. And anyone who is on a mix of psychiatric medications, I want to really tell you, you know, you have to really try to take, as much as you can, responsibility for your own mental well-being when it comes to figuring out what medications are going to work for you.

But anyway - so we were down there in Mexico. I was in terrible despair. I felt like I couldn't take it anymore. Then I swam out to sea as far as I could, long past - I'm not that good a swimmer anyway, but long past the point of exhaustion. And when I was way too exhausted to swim anymore, then I just kept on swimming and kept on swimming. And then when I, you know, literally couldn't, then I thought, OK, well, this is it because I'm not - there's no way I'm going to be able to swim back. Then I tried diving down into the water. Then I panicked. Then I swam back up to the top. And then I tried again, a different way of diving down. I got down there, and I started to drown. I panicked. I came back up.

And I tried a few times. And then I was like, you know what? I just - I can't do it. I can't make myself do it. And I was like, I don't know if I'm going to be able to swim back or not. And if I drown in the meantime, I'm going to drown panicking. But now I guess I'm just going to give up and swim back. And then the funny thing about that story is - and I tell this story in the book, the next day - so I got back. And I went back up home and went to bed in the house we rented. And the next day, my daughter, Zelly, who was 12 or 13 at the time, wanted to go swimming. And she was like, let's go on that beach. And it was the very beach that I had tried to kill myself on, started the day before.

And we went swimming together. And there was a riptide. And it started to drag Zelly out to sea. And Zelly isn't a strong swimmer - and neither am I, as I say. And she was seriously getting pulled out to sea. And I grabbed her. And we were fighting the currents together. And she is screaming and crying. She thought she was going to drown. And for a few terrifying minutes there, I was like, it could be that we are both going to drown. And I, you know, fought with all the terror of a parent who might - whose child's life is in danger to get her back to the beach, which I managed to do. But, you know, it's still very vivid to me even today. And then we laid there in the sand. And, you know, she was still crying. And then we were OK.

And then I felt, like, this enormous blanket of gratitude to the universe that I hadn't died the day before because I had just saved my child's life. And I learned a little something that day. I'm not saying that it necessarily stayed with me in the way that I wish that it could have, you know? My thinking and my belief structure stayed self-contradictory for a long time after that. The wish to kill myself did not go away that day. But for a little while there, I understood, Clancy, you got to stick around for these kids of yours, even - no matter how much pain, mental pain, you might be in.

GROSS: My guest is Clancy Martin, author of the new book "How Not To Kill Yourself: A Portrait Of The Suicidal Mind." He's also a professor of philosophy at the University of Missouri-Kansas City and Ashoka University in New Delhi, India. If you are having suicidal thoughts or know someone who is, Clancy Martin recommends the suicide and crisis hotline. Just call or text 988. Whether you're calling or texting, it's the same number, 988. We'll hear more from Clancy Martin after a break. I'm Terry Gross, and this is FRESH AIR.


GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross. Let's get back to my interview with Clancy Martin, author of the new memoir "How Not To Kill Yourself: A Portrait Of The Suicidal Mind." And he explains that he wrote this book especially for people like him who have attempted suicide and who still struggle with the desire to kill themselves. He also hopes to speak to people who have suicidal thoughts or may be considering an attempt, and to the many people whose lives have been drastically changed because of the self-inflicted death of a loved one. He is a professor of philosophy at the University of Missouri in Kansas City and at Ashoka University in New Delhi. And he's been a student of Buddhism since 2012.

When you were a child, your stepbrother...

MARTIN: Paul, yes.

GROSS: Yeah. Your stepbrother jumped off a tall building, and...

MARTIN: He did.

GROSS: And he died. And your stepsister tried to end her life, and...

MARTIN: At least once, and maybe two or three times - Lisa - she was a hero of mine.

GROSS: And then later in your life - I think you were in your teens or 20s - your father, you think ended his life. It's unclear. You weren't there. You got a death certificate in the mail, but that's what you think. But anyway, so you've had a sibling and a father who died by suicide. Did that affect your own thinking about - as a father, about, you know, attempting to die by suicide because you - you know, you knew something about how it feels when someone in your family dies by suicide?

MARTIN: Yes, it did. I had a complicated relationship with suicide because of that. Also, my father's brother, my uncle Jimmy, died by suicide. And my father always blamed himself for his big brother's death because apparently my uncle Jimmy called him and asked him for a loan. And my dad turned him down. And that night, my uncle Jimmy killed himself.

It's strange, Terry. My very earliest memories - I mean, memories that are so primitive that I remember, like, touching the carpet and the color of the carpet, and at the same time, that memory - I have the memory of wanting to die. I mean, among my earliest childhood memories are memories of wanting to die. And then as I got a little bit older and understood agency, I guess, a bit better, wanting to kill myself. And then of course, when Paul died by suicide, that made an impact on me and Lisa, who I adored so much and was really, in a way, a kind of stand-in father and mother figure for me when I was young. When she tried and, you know, cried and told me about it, and we were in the psychiatric hospital, and I was stroking her hair, trying to make her feel better, and this impacted me and my thinking about suicide.

So I was always - I think I always had this very conflicted view of suicide. I - the desire to kill myself was extremely potent and also the feeling that this was absolutely the wrong thing to do in a moral way was also very potent. I - at the core of my belief structure for years was the idea that it was a good thing for me to die and that actually not only would I be better off if I were dead, but a lot of other people would be better off if I were dead too. I truly believed that, and in that way I thought it was a good thing for me to be dead and for me to take my own life. At the same time, I felt like it was really a morally blameworthy thing for me to take my own life.

And so these beliefs were constantly at war with each other. And I think part of the story of how I am slowly trying to liberate myself from suicidal thinking is recognizing that those two ways of thinking were both mistaken and were kind of two sides of the same coin in a way - that I needed to learn to accept my suicidal thinking, recognize that it was there, and not to add a moral label to it, not to be ashamed of it or afraid of it or anything, but even, you know, to sort of - when suicidal thoughts come up, to sort of hold them like a little baby that needs attention and just say, OK, there you are, my suicidal thoughts. I'm going to take care of you. I'm not going to act on the basis of you, but I'm going to baby you a little bit until you go away as other - all thoughts, good and bad, eventually do.

GROSS: And some advice you give that I think is really good advice - if you are serious - if you're really serious about wanting to end your life, wait. You can always do it another day. And that is not you encouraging somebody to die by suicide in the future. It's just saying, wait. This thought will go away. And you know, you elaborate on it. I don't want to put words into your mouth. Tell us about that advice and why you give it.

MARTIN: It's the simplest advice in the world, and I always give it to everyone who comes to me about suicide, yes. The Stoics - and I talk about this in the book. The Stoics have this argument that's called the door is always open.

GROSS: And you mean the Stoic philosophers.

MARTIN: Yeah, the Stoic philosophers, most famously the Roman stoic Seneca, but, you know, Chrysippus before him, and both the Greek and the Roman Stoic philosophers have this argument defending the right to take one's life called the door is always open. They have a number of arguments, but this is the most famous one. And I'd like to tell you a quick story about this particular argument that illustrates it so well for me. I am a recovering alcoholic, or I suffer from what we now call alcohol use disorder - used to be called alcoholic or alcoholism. Anyway, when I was still drinking, I got a DUI. I got what was called deferred adjudication. And they sent me to this prison in Olathe, Kansas, where you had to stay for three days.

Now, when you go to the prison, they tell you you are free to leave any time you like. They even show you the door that you can leave from. They say, now, it's not a good idea to leave. As soon as you leave, a warrant will be issued for your arrest. You might get arrested, you know, within a few steps of leaving the prison - probably not. You might get arrested on the highway. That happens a lot. Or you might - there might be cops waiting for you when you get home. Eventually, you probably are going to get arrested and dragged into, you know, more serious consequences. But you are free to leave. And the fact is that I've been in jail other times, always alcohol-related stuff. And I've been trapped in psychiatric institutions many times. And I panic with the claustrophobia. It's horrible.

But the only time I didn't panic was in that prison in Olathe, where I was free to leave. It was this tiny attitudinal difference. Just knowing that I was free to leave made it easy to stay. It was like the easiest three days of staying in a prison that I could have possibly imagined. It was, you know, almost pleasant, to be perfectly frank. And that is why I tell people, you know, wait. Be willing to wait. The door is always open. When I tell people, just wait, you could always do it tomorrow, people calm down. It works. They realize, that's true, isn't it? I don't have to do it today.

GROSS: OK, we have to take another break here, so let me reintroduce you. If you're just joining us, my guest is Clancy Martin. His new book is called "How Not To Kill Yourself: A Portrait Of The Suicidal Mind." We'll be right back. This is FRESH AIR.


GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. Let's get back to my interview with Clancy Martin. His new memoir is called "How Not To Kill Yourself: A Portrait Of The Suicidal Mind." And it's written from the point of view of Clancy, who has attempted to end his life 10 times and is grateful that he is alive. And the book is not only a memoir; it's filled with advice for people who have suicidal ideation and for the people who love them.

You have always been overwhelmed by existence, and I'm wondering if that led you to philosophy 'cause you're a professor of philosophy. You've written books about philosophy. You've translated Nietzsche and Kierkegaard, two of, like, the great philosophers.

MARTIN: Yes, absolutely. I think that this feeling that life didn't make sense and was sort of a battle and a struggle and that it ought to make sense and that there are answers to these questions definitely drove me into philosophy. And the philosophers I connect most deeply with, we call it the existentialist tradition, which starts with - you know, it may start with Pascal or even Saint Augustine, but, you know, formally kind of gets going with Kierkegaard and Nietzsche and these characters. Dostoyevsky I also consider to be a great existentialist philosopher - and then sort of culminates in Simone de Beauvoir, Sartre, Camus. They all thought that there is no question more important than the question of the meaning of life. And Camus himself famously says that the only serious philosophical question is the question of whether or not we should kill ourselves.

GROSS: Did he have an answer to the question?

MARTIN: Camus thought - he did. He thought that you should not kill yourself out of stubbornness, that life is suffering, and it is ultimately meaningless, and so you should say, you know what, life? I'm tougher than you are. I'm not going to let you do what I know you're trying to make me do, which is end my life. I'm going to stand up to you. And he thought that in standing up to life, as he put it, as in Sisyphus rolling that rock back up the hill, that's where you find your meaning, and that's the opportunity for beginning to make sense of life and to turn life into something that you're grateful for. When you say, you know what? Even with all the suffering, I'm going to stick around.

GROSS: Did Kierkegaard or Nietzsche write about suicide?

MARTIN: They did. Kierkegaard wrote about it a lot in - particularly in the first volume of "Either/Or." And he thought that at the end of the day, suicide was a way of responding to life that failed to recognize that we had a different imperative, which was to love each other no matter what the suffering and that to love each other required us to keep on living. Nietzsche thought - he wrote a wonderful thing called - on voluntary death in "Thus Spoke Zarathustra," one of the books of his that I translated. And Nietzsche thought that it was important that we have a right to take our own lives, that suicide definitely shouldn't be illegal and that it also shouldn't be considered as immoral. But he thought that life was this incredible gift and that what we ought to recognize is that there's more meaning actually in the suffering than there is in the happiness or the peace or even the joy, that the suffering is the - is where the real juice of life is.

GROSS: You refer to the oldest-known meditation on suicide, and it's in an Egyptian text from approximately - was it 3- or 4,000 years ago?

MARTIN: That's right.

GROSS: And it's called the "Dialogue Of A Man With His Soul." You reprint an excerpt of it. I'm wondering if you want to read a few lines from it?

MARTIN: (Reading) Death is in my sight today, like the recovery of a sick man, like going out into the open after a confinement. Death is in my sight today, like the odor of myrrh, like sitting under an awning on a breezy day. Death is in my sight today, like the odor of lotus blossoms, like sitting on the bank of drunkenness. Death is in my sight today, like the passing away of rain.

GROSS: So this is part of a larger work called "Dialogue Of A Man With His Soul." What's the dialogue like?

MARTIN: The dialogue is wonderful. It is an argument - one of the reasons I love it is that when you are thinking about suicide, about taking your own life, you do get into an argument with yourself. You both want to live and want to die at the same time. And you're trying to - you know, you're battling. Are you going to end it all, or are you going to keep on going? And you're going back and forth. And that's very much what it is like a lot of the times when you're trying to take your own life. And in this case, the man is saying he can't do it anymore, and his soul is trying to talk him out of it.

GROSS: You've been a student of Tibetan Buddhism since 2012. Tibetan Buddhism has some ideas about what happens after death 'cause death isn't seen as the end of your spirit or your soul or whatever word is appropriate here. And you say, you know, we really don't know what - that you don't know what happens after death. Has that affected your thinking, too? And has the Tibetan Buddhist way of thinking about death affected your thinking?

MARTIN: It definitely has. Look, Hamlet is maybe the best on this. You know, Hamlet in his famous soliloquy, when he says that to sleep perchance to dream, and what sort of dreams may come - we don't know. The simple fact of the matter - Socrates is good on this, too. And the Buddhist tradition is excellent on this. We don't know what's going to happen to us after we die. We don't.

So when you are thinking of taking your own life, you are really making this incredible gamble. You probably have in your head this idea that it means you're not going to exist anymore, and then you will just be free from all your problems, and you'll be free from all of your suffering. But you don't know that that's what's going to happen. It could actually be that your suffering is still going to be right there with you. It could be that this act of violence that ended your own life is actually going to make your suffering and your confusion even worse. So it's a heck of a gamble to take.

And for me, this gradual acceptance of the fact that, yeah, I just don't know, has helped me to see with clarity, this is no longer a gamble that I really want to risk. And I strongly recommend this - thinking about this to anyone who was who is feeling suicidal. Like, just ask yourself, is that really a gamble you're willing to take? I don't think it's a gamble that you should take.

GROSS: Let me reintroduce you here. If you're just joining us, my guest is Clancy Martin. He's the author of the new memoir "How Not To Kill Yourself: A Portrait Of The Suicidal Mind." We'll be right back after a short break. This is FRESH AIR.

This is FRESH AIR. Let's get back to my interview with Clancy Martin. His new memoir is called "How Not To Kill Yourself: A Portrait Of The Suicidal Mind." And it's a memoir about his attempts to end his life and his relief to be alive. It's also a book about what the philosophers - the great philosophers - have said about suicide. He's a professor of philosophy. And it's also a book of advice to people who have suicidal ideation and to people who love them.

You mention a prayer that you read every day that includes the line, may we be happy without hope. Can you talk about why that phrase means a lot to you, how it helps you and what the rest of the prayer is like?

MARTIN: I can, yes. It's a Tibetan Buddhist prayer, and the line before it is, may we be victorious over all our fears. And the next line is, may we be happy without hope. And then the last line is, and may we genuinely be of benefit to all sentient beings. And the reason I quote the line, may we be happy without hope, is that I think it's so important that we stop thinking in kind of a bivalent way, especially if you're the sort of person who suffers from suicidal ideation.

You sort of thinking like right and wrong, black and white, disaster or complete relief from disaster, fight or flight. You have to start thinking in a less - sort of in a less aggressive way about your own environment and your own belief structure and thinking and start accepting a little bit more. Once you start accepting a little bit more, then you might realize, ah, the future's not really in my control at all, and the past is already behind me. And so hope, hopelessness, these ways of thinking aren't really helpful to you. You know, you just got to of let go of all that a little bit and be a bit gentler with your belief system and be a bit gentler with your thoughts.

GROSS: Is that hard to do for you?

MARTIN: It's taken a lot of practice. You know, I recommend following your breath when you're feeling like you're freaking out. That's definitely something I do. I do recommend meditation, exercise, yoga, all these kinds of things - prayer. If you're a person who prays, prayer is just a form of meditation, in my opinion, just a way of, like, slowing things down and getting into a more accepting mode. And yes, it's - I mean, it's an ongoing thing. Suicidal - I'm very grateful to report that in the last three, four, five months, I've been so much less troubled by suicidal ideation than I had in the past. But, you know, I know it can come back. And not long ago, about a year and a half ago, I had a real quite intense episode of depression. It was brief, much briefer than my previous episodes had been. But it was hard, and it was extremely painful.

So, yeah, it is difficult. But I think that you have to start - particularly if you're someone who struggles with the thought of suicide, you have to take seriously that you have this opportunity to care for yourself, you know, and care for yourself even if you feel like I'm not someone who is worth caring for. Care for yourself so that you have the ability to care for the people who need you. You know, trust me; you are surrounded by people who need you and who want you to live. You might not feel that way, but it is true. And use that, if you can't use anything else, as an excuse to take care of yourself.

GROSS: Well, at the beginning of the interview, I asked you for advice about a good hotline that you could suggest for anyone who has suicidal ideation. And you suggested the Mental Health Crisis Hotline, for which you only have to text or call 988. So that's 988 - text or call. And there's also websites and other ideas you have for someone who has suicidal ideation. So tell us what you're thinking of.

MARTIN: For people who aren't comfortable reaching out with a phone because they worry, you know, maybe they're going to send emergency responders, which, you know, they can do that, and generally speaking, they will, you know, warn you if they think that they need to send an emergency responder. So people should be aware of that. But honestly, the best thing you can do is just, like, if you can, text anyone - it doesn't have to be like a family member or something like that. Text someone who's just anyone that you trust and just say, like, hey, I'm feeling a little shaky; text me back. And if that person doesn't text you back, you know, just text somebody else. I mean, there's Suicide Anonymous. You can definitely - you can find them quickly online. There's a website called The Small Bo, which is wonderful. You will get - they'll get in touch with you very quickly if you reach out to them.

There's something particularly good called that, if you visit that website and then you read some of the stories there, I think they will really, really help. And there's also this website that I really recommend called the Trevor Project, which - the highest rate of suicide among the youth that we have right now is LGBTQ kids. It's terrifyingly high, and it's skyrocketing. Forty percent of transgender kids attempt suicide in this country - 40%. The Trevor Project is dedicated to helping these kids. You know, if you - someone you love, you're worried about, go check out The Trevor Project, or if you are feeling suicidal and you're - and you feel like this would be a good resource for you, you know, visit The Trevor Project. They're fantastic. They will help. The main thing is, like, to find some way to reach out.

GROSS: Clancy Martin, thank you so much.

MARTIN: Oh, thank you so much. It's a dream come true to be on your show. I've loved you for so long.

GROSS: Oh, I appreciate you saying that. And it was so good to talk with you. Thank you.

Clancy Martin is the author of the new book "How Not To Kill Yourself: A Portrait Of The Suicidal Mind."

Tomorrow on FRESH AIR, we'll talk about how online sports betting has spurred the fastest expansion of legalized gambling in American history. Our guest will be New York Times reporter Eric Lipton, part of a team that investigated how lobbyists got favorable rules for gambling operators from state legislatures, and now sports betting companies are trying to get college students to start placing bets. I hope you'll join us.


GROSS: FRESH AIR's executive producer is Danny Miller. Our technical director and engineer is Audrey Bentham. Our interviews and reviews are produced and edited by Amy Salit, Phyllis Myers, Sam Briger, Lauren Krenzel, Heidi Saman, Therese Madden, Ann Marie Baldonado, Thea Chaloner, Seth Kelley and Susan Nyakundi. Our digital media producer is Molly Seavy-Nesper. Roberta Shorrock directs the show. I'm Terry Gross.


Transcripts are created on a rush deadline, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of Fresh Air interviews and reviews are the audio recordings of each segment.

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