Dead at Forty



I was so sick of everything the other day, that I just told myself that I would end my life upon reaching 40 years old, if I did not use the roughly four and a half years between now and then to get my life in order. That was it – things were either going to change, or I’d just be dead.

It was kind of funny, but kind of not really funny at all. Actually, after the thought went through my head, I felt my stomach turn and my breathing grow shallow. In my mind, I was making this extreme statement as a way to motivate me to lead a healthier, more productive, and more meaningful life. But my body knew better than my mind what was really going on; what should have been an inspiring moment was really just the most awful feeling. I tried to laugh it off as something too stupid for me to actually follow through on, but in reality, I was afraid that I meant it. And that I wouldn’t meet the terms of my bargain with myself, and that unfortunately I would end up pulling the trigger on the whole deal—literally.

“Let’s talk about you for a minute,” said my boss the other day, at some point following the day I made my Dead at Forty™ promise. “You present as highly anxious,” he said, with the flair of any armchair psychologist. He then handed me his therapist’s business card.

“Uh, don’t you think it would be weird if we went to the same therapist? What if I want to talk about work?”

“Nah, confidentiality and all, it will be fine,” he replied. He then noted that, in his experience, post partum depression is not nearly as prevalent as the unique form of depression that seems to haunt the parents of young children, past the post partum stage.

“So you think I’m depressed too?”

Then he told me this: We are depressed about the past, and anxious about the future.

I’m not even really sure what triggered my Dead at Forty™ deal. It doesn’t really matter, because no matter what brings it to the surface, the latent pain is the same. I do remember being at a four-way stop one morning, and just thinking about accelerating rather than braking. It sounds odd and creepy to say it now, but at the time, it was posited by my brain as just … something that could happen. Not necessarily something I wanted to do, not now, just a thing, that I could do. Perhaps at 40.

The idea of making an agreement with myself to be dead by 40 years old if I don’t do … whatever it is that I feel I need to do so badly … hit me when I was driving the kids home from school one afternoon. Like I said, I now can’t recall exactly why or how it hit me. It just did. The girls were probably tantrumming, someone was crying (was it me? Was it one of them?), and I was feeling generally uncomfortable, and of course, sad. And hopeless.

I read recently that people who want to kill themselves don’t actually want to die. Rather, they want to escape from life as it is right now. They want out, and sometimes, death seems like the only way. I think the deal I made with myself is a little better than that. It’s saying, ok, you can’t conceive of a way out right now, but give it a few years, and maybe you will figure out. But if you can’t, and you’re still desperate and hopeless at that point, take comfort in knowing it will at least be over.

It made sense at the time. Now, I’m not really sure it makes any sense at all.

That night, I laid down in bed next to my 3-year-old as she tried to get to sleep. She’s getting better and better, but she still needs one of us to be near her, at least for a little while, when she goes to bed. We have been trying to leave earlier and earlier, gradually minimizing the amount of time we lie down with her. She is aware of this, and will usually try to bargain with us about it. For example, we’ll read an extra story if she goes right to bed afterward. Or, we can skip a story altogether, and go right to lights out, but we need to stay for a bit longer than usual.

Eerily enough, on this particular night, her request was somewhat different.

“Mommy? You’re staying right here next to me, right?”

Before I could respond to her, I started to think. Then I closed my eyes, and abruptly stopped thinking.

And finally, shaking, I managed a few breathless and uneasy words:

“Yes baby . . . Mommy will stay right here, with you.”


[image via Google]

17 thoughts on “Dead at Forty

  1. Thanks Melanie, I appreciate your concern; however I didn’t mean to insinuate I related specifically to thoughts of death. Luckily I have not had those feelings but I’ve definitely felt hopeless and a longing to “escape”. Life is so very hard, but also so very worth it. I hope YOU can relate to those feelings, because believe me, it IS worth it. ❤


  2. Melanie, we love you to pieces and i am so sorry your going through a rough time…please know we are here for you, that your life is AMAZING, that you are AMAZING and that we want you to FEEL amazing. XOXO


  3. So here is what I find interesting, revisiting this post a few days later. I can tell you all that, right now, at this moment, I am feeling stable, nothing more than the usual daily stress and ups and downs of work, kids, and so forth. And in fact, when I posted this on Friday, I was feeling much the same way. The above is really more my reflection on an experience I went through in the recent past; that’s not to say that it’s completely in the rearview mirror, just that it is me stopping to look back and just observe what I went through. I got so many follow-up messages urging me to essentially get to the ER, and I really want to express to you all that it’s not quite like that. Serious, yes, but not … like that.

    Anyway, I just re-read the post, expecting to cringe at what I wrote. I did not cringe. In fact, nothing in this reads as scary or morbid to me. Well, a little darker and serious than usual (and certainly for this community), but not devastatingly, jaw-droppingly horrifying, which is the reaction I seemed to provoke.

    I sent this to a friend who is well-versed in the world of mental health (not a professional, but someone who knows quite a bit about the field), to get his take on it. He thinks I lack the necessary perspective to understand why the post would read as alarming to others. I think there may be something to that. Going forward, I am going to try to better understand this. Writing the post in and of itself was therapeutic for me. I appreciate everyone who read and gave me feedback.


    1. I’m very happy to hear you’re feeling stable and well now. I commend you for putting this out there because feelings like this SHOULD be talked about. They aren’t something to be ashamed of or keep hidden, and they aren’t any more scary or morbid as other health concerns one might have. I’m glad you’re generally feeling positive (or at least neutral) and not hopeless, but I want you to know that I think it’s excellent that you brought this up, because it’s an important conversation to have.


  4. Sending lots of hugs to you, Mel. Life does go on and hopefully you will make it through a day at a time. Please remember that we are always here for you.


  5. Mel I’ve already told you this in private but I’m always here for you and I’m not just saying that. Please reach out to me for anything, any time.


    1. Tara – thanks, and I am realizing now that I absolutely scared some people with this post. That is exactly it … things just got so heavy, I had to talk about them. Thank you for the big hug.


    1. Hi Jessica – Thanks for your comment. If you can relate to some of these feelings, then I absolutely encourage you to talk to someone about it. That’s the feedback I am receiving now, in response to this, and I think it is sound advice. To quote a friend of mine, “being a grown-up is hard,” and you put it a similar way. He doesn’t even have kids, and it’s still hard! Thank you for reading.


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