This is a story about the hivemind...
It's getting late and I'm tired, so I thought I would retransmit some of the disturbing data that I receive. Having started this website about 3 years ago, Google quickly found it and began to index its contents to make it searchable, and therefore discoverable by anybody who uses its search engine and enters keywords which seem to be relevant, according to Google's algorithms.
A strange thing happens.
I get to see the search queries where my website appears in Google's search results - an impression - as well as the search queries which brought me a website visitor. What I write and publish on my blog makes it more likely that I'll appear as a high-ranking search result, and also more likely that I'll have visitors coming to my website for weird and wonderful things they're searching the internet for.
It turns out there are a lot of people who want to kill themselves.
I wrote a blog post a little while ago where I chose a title specifically to improve my search ranking, which I knew would work very well, so I tried to write something which was useful in some way. I thought to myself "why do so many people ask Google if they can drink themselves sober?" and I thought it was rather tragic that these people had reached such a level of desperation that they'd bother to sift through pages and pages of search results, hoping to find an easy answer. I felt like I should give those people an answer. I felt like those people should have the best possible answer I could muster.
Problematically, lots and lots and lots of people seem to want to suffocate themselves to death; to asphyxiate. More than any other thing, my website pops up time and time again on Google for people who are searching for answers to questions like "how do I kill myself with a plastic bag?".
Obviously, this is disturbing, but it also puts some responsibility on my shoulders.
This website is the second link on Google - second only to Wikipedia - if you are searching for information on the hypercapnic alarm response, which is the reason why you can't just hold your breath to kill yourself. People are quite fascinated, it seems, with the idea of suffocation, which I find very disturbing indeed - I could not imagine a worse way to die than gasping for air.
Given that a number of visitors will be directed here by Google in search of answers to their disturbing questions, I feel duty bound to give the most responsible and best answers that I possibly can, when those people are clearly desperate and vulnerable.
Firstly, do not kill yourself by suffocation. Your final moments of existence will be more horrendous than anything you've ever experienced in your life. The tragedy of self-suffocation - most often achieved inadvertently by hanging - is that you will trigger your most viceral survival instincts which your depression has robbed you of. Your survival instincts are merely dormant and imperceptible during the unbearable humdrum tedium of modern life. The tragedy of self-suffocation is that you will spend your final moments thinking "make it stop" but you will not mean life but in fact the terrible torment of the hypercapnic alarm response. You might think you've had bad anxiety and panic attacks, but you've not experienced anything that even comes close to your body's hard-wired survival instinct, which keeps you taking breath after breath, even though you feel dreadfully depressed and suicidal.
Remember of course that breathing is partially voluntary. We can choose to breathe fast or slow. We can choose to hyperventilate. We can choose to hold our breath... for a while. We cannot choose to hold our breath until we die. Almost nobody can choose to hold their breath until they lose consciousness. Besides, when we lose consciousness we lose our ability to make conscious choices, such as holding our breath.
The idea of an exit bag deals partially with the problem of resuming normal breathing as soon as we lose consciousness, except that the hypercapnic alarm response will cause you to claw desperately at the plastic to tear a hole in it, when the panic becomes unbearable. Your body has set safe limits, such that you will begin to feel the urge to save yourself well before you're in as much danger as you perceive. Perception-altering drugs can dangerously depress our breathing, because we're more impervious to the anxiety and stress that we would otherwise feel, causing us to increase our rate of breathing.
I've talked before about the role of high carbon dioxide concentration levels in the blood - quite literally hypercapnia - causing the alarm response. Because the hypercapnic alarm response is CO2 dependent we can easily lose consciousness and asphyxiate when breathing almost any other gas, including the stuff which makes up 78% of the air we breathe: nitrogen. It's ironic to think that almost every single constituent part of the air all around us is deadly - including the oxygen - if we were to breathe it at high concentration. It's also shocking to think that carbon dioxide is only 0.004% of the air, but yet this is the only gas which warns us we're suffocating to death.
I don't write this because I'm feeling particularly suicidal. I write this because for some reason this website is the second place people come after visiting Wikipedia, when they're reading about humanity's battle between the conscious decision-making part of the brain - where we have free will apparently - and the part which stops us from killing ourselves by simply not bothering to take our next breath. I write this because people want to know, and if they're determined enough they're going to find out the answers.
I can see how determined people are to find out the answers to some pretty messed-up questions. I can see how many zillions of pages of results they trawled. I can see all the different ways that people ask the same disturbing question.
For sure, I ask myself how much I see a world which reflects the way I project myself outwardly. They say an angry man sees an angry world, for example. It shouldn't surprise me that my website brings a lot of people who are interested in topics relating to suicide, but it surprises me that so many people are interested in suffocating themselves to death, when it seems so doomed to fail and would cause such terrible suffering in those final moments when it succeeds. Don't people who want to die just want to fall asleep peacefully and not wake up? I know that's what I wanted, when I was suicidal.
If the world really does reflect upon ourselves, I don't understand why I don't have more variety in the kinds of suicidal ideation searches which bring visitors to me from Google. Where are the people asking about which direction they should slice their veins? Where are the people asking how to locate their carotid artery or jugular vein? Where are the people asking about lethal doses of various substances? Where are the people searching about how to calculate the right amount of rope to avoid decapitation or a lengthy period of terminal strangulation while suspended by the neck?
I've been simultaneously accused of writing irresponsibly while also applauded for discussing things which need to be discussed, if we're going to make any progress towards reducing suicide rates.
From looking more closely at my analytic data, I concluded that many of my visitors are concerned with animal welfare and particularly with the slaughter of livestock, which is often done by gassing the animals. I had written in my blog post, which has proven my most popular, that I was concerned about how awful it would be for little piggies if they were gasping for breath in their final moments before death. I had written about the curious question of whether dolphins could hold their breath to commit suicide or not.
I write this tonight, because I'm interested to know how much concern we have for humans, compared with other animals. It certainly concerns me that seemingly vast numbers of people want to know if they can kill themselves without even bothering to take a few short steps to the nearest window, or to locate a sharp object.
I write this provocatively as always. I'm transmitting out into the world to see what bounces back.