Sometimes life can take a turn for the worst. Let’s say all these scenarios happen: You lose your close family in an accident, your friends stab you in the back, you fall into a fire and melt your beautiful face, and you suffer from intense chronic pain throughout your body coupled with drug and therapy resistant depression. If such a situation was to occur and you couldn’t bear the thought of living anymore, would it be acceptable if you wanted to take your life? Would taking your life be forfeiting a virtuous life?
The Stoics didn’t believe taking your life would necessarily forfeit virtue. If they saw your situation so dire and you had such crippling depression and intense chronic pain, they’d understand if you took the path of euthanasia. Largely because chronic pain and crippling depression coupled with all these ill circumstances is going to make it difficult for you to be virtuous. And without virtue, then there is no eudaimonia. There is no praiseworthiness. So the only thing virtuous left to do would be to take your life.
Zeno of Citium famously took his life because he broke his toe. This may seem ridiculous to us moderns but a broken toe in the ancient days for an old man could’ve been difficult to treat. Plus the pain associated with the broken toe would’ve made it difficult to live a life of virtue and excellence.
Another thing to bear in mind is that we’re only human. None of us are Sages. Remember that before judging anyone too harshly when they decide on euthanasia.
I’ve always been an anxious fellow. I’ve always had a lot of phobias. I mostly was afraid of people though (social anxiety disorder). I was always worried what they would think. When I talked to people, it was difficult for me to string sentences together because I was so worried that my speech and facial gestures would be judged harshly. As I aged these fears began to go away. But they never went completely away until I started practicing Stoicism in 2011.
Starting in 2010 I had a lot of anger problems too. Some of it was because of my right-libertarian political beliefs at the time. But as I practiced Stoicism my anger and my anxiety subsided. Premeditatio malorum (more popularly known as negative visualization) really helped alleviate most of my anger and anxiety.
Even though I had mastered my anxiety and anger by 2012, I fell into a depression that caused psychosis. No amount of Stoicism helped in this respect especially since it was a complete mental breakdown and it happened within a week. It was just rapid depression turning into a loss of touch with reality. After hospitalization, I was heavily medicated and I was able to think straight again. Sometimes I still feel down or lose interest in daily life activities but my Stoicism really helps me adapt to this attitude. I can easily get myself out of bed with Stoicism.
One of the things I’ve learned is that Stoicism can help me master some of my mental issues but not all of them. Sometimes Stoicism’s mental therapies just don’t do the trick. But they do at least help me when things are moderately severe. Stoicism also helps me with pain.
In 2013 I was hospitalized for spontaneous stomach bleeding. I lost a lot of blood but even though I did I was Stoically content. The surgery was really painful because they had to cut through my belly in order to fix my stomach. The nurses were very impressed with how I was able to cope with my pain. Stoicism really prepared me for painful things like sharp cuts through the abdomen.
Stoicism can’t fix all your issues. Don’t believe any one thing can just fix everything unless it’s like nanobots or something out of Star Trek. Stoicism can’t completely fix you, marijuana can’t cure all cancers, vegan diets can’t cure all diabetes. Don’t believe that only one thing can fix all things. But Stoicism really does help a lot when you need something else other than medication or group therapy.
Stoicism is probably the most helpful philosophy I’ve ever had. I don’t know where I’d be without it.