Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Thoughts on Dealing with this Mortal Coil Before It Can Rightfully Be Shuffled Off

When people talk about suicide, especially suicide caused by long-term depression, you can generally split them up into two camps: 1) Those who say things like "how terrible that death was the only solution he knew to make the pain stop"and "we need people to understand how much they are loved." 2) Those who say things like "this is terrible that anyone should resort to a lazy and cowardly way to end their life" and "how selfish; they don't even think of the people they leave behind."

Now I'm not saying any of those perspectives are right or wrong. They both have a point and are a valid way of looking at suicide. Which is what makes understanding suicide and depression so confusing.

With Monday's celebrity suicide, the word "suicide" seems to be trending as much online as the late celebrity's name. Organizations like TWLOHA say their piece about how you are loved, yes YOU, and everyone should know that, don't end your life, YOU are LOVED. It's a sweet message, and while I respect TWLOHA and its supporters because I know they are doing good and hey, the more love going to those suffering from depression the better, but their words fall, as they often do for me, woefully short. The very tangible love of family and friends can mean nothing when someone is crushed by depression; the kind but bland love of a random stranger will generally mean even less. Individuals use this as a platform to talk about depression, which is wonderful in that it may help in the long fight to de-stigmatize depression (and other mental/emotional issues), but of course doesn't always help those struggling through it.

How should we look at someone who killed themselves? Are they a victim of an untreated illness, or worse, a victim of a system that treats their illness as a passing mood and misguided perspective on life? Are they a beautiful lovely loss to humanity simply by cutting their life short? Are they a strong brave individual who sought to solve their problems on their own? Are they a weak-willed coward who gave up when the going got tough?

And when you choose one of those ways to look at the situation, what does it say about those who don't kill themselves, who resist the urge? That's what always threw me off the most--as an insecure teenager, as an overachieving college student, as a graduate who sometimes can't see hope anywhere--should one be congratulating oneself for not ending one's life, or even harming oneself? Holding the blade to your skin...and only making one small cut and throwing that blade that a small victory? Then doing it again, but this time not breaking skin, and then next time, only looking at the blade before putting it away--is that bravery? Is persisting in living because you're scared of dying a brave choice?

Or, perhaps the bravest of all are those who live with sadnesses and pains but never know the dull horror of sinking into depression. These people are not necessarily living better lives; they are just able to deal with it differently. Does that make them the strongest of all?

When I was a teenager, I couldn't find an answer to those questions. I was too afraid of physical pain to make self-harm a habit. Concluding that there are remarkably few painless and foolproof ways to end life, I convinced myself out of suicide again and again. I knew I was loved by certain people, but it didn't change the feeling I had when I looked in the mirror, when I was alone with my thoughts, or when I was inadequate where I wanted to be successful. I was in a horrible living situation and I was powerless to change it then, but I knew one day it'd *probably* get better. I knew the effect hormonal imbalances can have on one's mental state, especially as a teenager. But none of that was what kept me from destroying myself, either in small ways or that one big way. What kept me from something terrible was simply fear of physical pain. One day I told myself I was a coward for not doing it; another day I told myself I was really quite brave for continuing to tote the weary load.

Things are different for me now, but when life doesn't go well, there's that switch that goes on and my perspective becomes bleak and grey and I can't remember where the exit is. I can barely remember that I wasn't always in this rut. I don't know that it's bravery that keeps me going. I want to say it's cowardice, but that might be some lingering self-contempt.

I can't answer that for myself, so I certainly can't say anything about Robin Williams' suicide. I understand, but I don't understand at all. I think it was a horrible tragedy and maybe there was something that could have prevented his making that choice, but maybe there wasn't. I can't say "he had other options" because when you're stuck in your own head and no option includes getting away from yourself except for suicide...well, it's a struggle. I'm still shocked and saddened, because I loved him as an actor, and I still find his voice so very comforting to listen to. I know this is hardest on his family and friends, and the rest of us, just fans of his work and admirers of his self-presentation and sense of humor, are only feeling a fraction of what they're going through. It's hard to not feel like my sorrow is somehow encroaching and insulting theirs, which is just so much deeper because they knew him personally.

This news came at an interesting time, as I was struggling out of a fog of depression. What drew me out was not the love of my family and friends (though that has been appreciated, and I hate that I seemed like a sad-sack to anyone during those weeks--so sorry to everyone), but reading a rather depressing book, Edith Wharton's The Custom of the Country, which was gifted to me by a dear friend. It's one of those novels where the selfish heroine throws herself headlong into a money-grubbing miserable life that leads inevitably to ruin (I haven't finished it yet though, so it may surprise me), and it didn't exactly help the way I was feeling, despite the beautiful writing. But when my favorite character (not the heroine) committed suicide, it took me by surprise and jolted me out of my misery. I didn't want to just end all this, I realized. The pages after the character's suicide are empty of them, with only a few mentions to their name, which is not the way one likes to think of the world being after their death. Rather ironically, it lifted my spirits considerably.

I am not advocating that book as an anti-depressant, obviously. It worked for me (this time). Last time, it was a week doing absolutely nothing in Ohio (thank you, Katie, for taking me out of my fog without even knowing it), and when I was younger it was a combination of changes. There is no one way out of it. Suicide is possibly the worst choice of all, but it's the quickest way out. Love can help, but it might not draw you out. As a Christian, I can't even say that believing in Jesus is a surefire way to happiness, because it ain't easy and many, many Christians are depressed (seriously, the Bible is full of them too!). Being busy can help, especially since depression is mind-numbingly BORING, but you will always have some moment alone to think and be miserable. Doing things for others is definitely something I can advocate, but sometimes it's hard to do that with your soul being pulverized under all the sadness. There are millions of things that can help and that won't help.

Try them. Don't end it. Talk to people. Stop being ashamed, and know that some people will look down on you for depression, but remember that those are not the people that matter most. I don't know if you're brave or a coward, but I know that depression does not automatically mean weakness. You can be strong under pressure. Find your own way out--not necessarily alone or without help, but find what works for you and gets you through each day, and what will maybe eventually heal you.

Original image found here on Pinterest
Quote is Proverbs 18:14


  1. Thank you for being brave and sharing your story as well as a message of encouragement about speaking openly about such topics. I, myself, and people who are very close to me suffer from similar struggles. It is refreshing to see someone, from my conservative past, open up about a matter, while hard to speak about, that is also an important topic of conversation.
    Kudos and best wishes to you.

    -- Elisabeth

    1. Forgive my sentence structure.. I am so clueless :)