It is a topic which is difficult to discuss – both by the mentally ill and by those who aren’t afflicted with any kind of mental illness. The death of Robin Williams has brought this topic front and center in such a way that people have had knee-jerk reactions. I’ve had one myself.
Typically speaking there are the people who want to kill themselves or have, the immediate family and greater network of friends who are affected by such an action, and the greater community who may touched depending on how active or public or friendly an individual struggling with mental illness was or is.
Initially when I first heard of Mr. Williams’ suicide, I was pissed. Because of my own experiences with suicide, up to and including in two attempts, being a survivor of said attempts, and being a survivor of two friends whom have killed themselves, I have very strong feelings on the matter. Up until a talk with a friend last night, I considered the act to be inherently selfish.
Yes. As someone who attempted suicide, I considered the act to be inherently selfish.
A conversation with a dear friend of mine put things into perspective for me. If we see depression as a ..cancer of the soul, so to speak, then shouldn’t that person have the right to end their pain? End their suffering? I believe in a right-to-die where cancer and other terminal illnesses are concerned; so, how can I not believe in someone’s right to choose for themselves when their soul is suffering from a debilitating mental illness? The answer is, I can’t.
When put in that light, I simply can’t not support them. It’s hypocritical.
But I can still find the act overly destructive and not like the pain that it leaves behind. It can and will make me angry and I don’t have to like it. But I do have to respect their right. Even if it is one I pray less and less people will make with proper care through therapy and medication. I have to acknowledge that those things do not always work. It just so happens it has been working more and more each day for me.
I struggle with depression. But there is also the component of PTSD. I am emotionally numb at times, and as I start to experience emotions again, they bubble forth in ways that seem explosive, when the reality is – it’s something I’ve been sitting on and/or have felt for some time, but not had confidence nor the courage to give it voice.
Which is a part of why I chose to start focusing on this through a journal.
The second time I tried to kill myself was in the fall of 97. I was attending school elsewhere, so the only time my family had to sit down with me was at Christmas. They each took their turn on the couch in the room with the Christmas tree, and took there time to tell me how much I meant to them, how angry they were, how much they loved me, and how my actions made them feel.
It was then I personally felt that the actions I had taken, and the way I allowed my emotions to so overwhelm me that I stopped considering who would be hurt if I had succeeded, were selfish. This ..may have in fact been the case for me; but, not all people are the same, and each person struggles with depression in their own way. Not every instance needs be selfish. However it is how I still feel about my own experience. Perhaps with more time and reflection this may change.
In the last ten or twelve years, I have lost two friends to suicide and seen the devastation left in its wake. And I think that is what angers me the most. The pain of one person is over; but, how many more people have to live with the pain of their absence?
If we were to follow Buddhist philosophy, one might argue we were attracted to the illusion of what one a family member or friend was to us in that shell, and it is the attachment to that shell that lead to the suffering of many as we are all interconnected. However that does not make the pain or suffering of those left behind any less real or damaging. And that is what makes me so thoroughly angry.
Yes, a person has a right to end their soul’s suffering from mental illness; but, in the end? Will it be worth it if that action in and of itself leads to the creation of so much more pain in the world for others? How is assisted suicide for the terminally ill the same or different from the suicides that result as a means to end mental and emotional suffering? Do we draw a line? Can we?
In the end, I don’t know that we can draw a line.
In the end, I can’t honestly look at someone and say it will get better. It isn’t always true. But I can say that it can get better. The possibility exists and will always be there each day that you’re alive.