The call of the absurd-Did I really want to do that?

I sometimes get the urge to do the really stupid stuff, throw my car keys into a canal, stick my hand in the plate of an outside diners food, trip over small children as they walk past me just to imagine what their scary Dad would do. As I list these thoughts my mind goes back to an Eddie Izzard joke about “truly original sins”, but that mental tug you feel towards the edge of the train platform is not just you, it’s the ‘Call of the Void’.

I remember when I was young, my mum once telling me that she doesn’t like standing too close to the edge of a roof top “just in case”, I didn’t really got what she meant until a few years later, I have never been too much of a thrill seeker, but every so often my brain jumps to the thought of “What is the worst thing I could do, right this instance?” Most of the time these are still relatively pedestrian, but I was always curious to know a little more about this tiny little anarchist living in my brain.

  It turns out everyone gets these intrusive thoughts, although they are more pervasive in some than others. We are all somewhat risk-averse, we are hardwired to avoid danger, it’s what’s kept us alive for the last few million years, give or take, and although we think of ourselves as the smartest things around, the brains we are working with have still made up of primitive monkey hardware, struggling to cope with the software needed to cope in the modern-day. We are not really built for the heights we have achieved (literally and figuratively) and we perceive these somewhat mundane situations as a potential danger we must try and avoid, taking a step back from the edge, to cope with this our brains sometimes makes the leap in logical from, “I must not be near this dangerous situation” to “If I am reacting this way I must have wanted to jump, to begin with”. Our brains try and rationalise why we have perceived danger in this relatively “safe” situation and comes to the conclusion that I must have wanted to do it in the first place, and is therefore not linked to suicidal thoughts.

The aptly named “High Place Phenomenon-HPP” has been long documented but not widely studied until recently, in a paper by Jenifer Hames et al (2011), it is documented that people who suffer anxious tendencies are much more likely to feel the effects of HPP, which explains my odd thoughts. Although the exact rationale behind this is still up for interpretation. Although it seems like a logical conclusion that people who have issues differentiating between tangible risk and the theoretical risk, over stimulation of the fight or flight response, would be the people who become over stimulated by the perception of a possible threat, and although Hames does report that these observations can not be attributed to individuals who are inclined to suicidal thoughts, “An urge to jump affirms the urge to live,” the void has no power here!

If you are experiencing suicidal thoughts, please do not suffer alone. Please call 1-800-784-2433

Hames, J.L., Ribeiro, J.D., Smith, A.R. and Joiner Jr, T.E., 2012. An urge to jump affirms the urge to live: An empirical examination of the high place phenomenon. Journal of affective disorders, 136(3), pp.1114-1120.

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