Suicide is Not Selfish

I’ve spent the last two days trying to figure out how to say just this.  Suicide isn’t about being selfish, or thinking only of yourself.  It’s about a depth of pain and despair that most people will (blessedly) never experience.  Having been there and come out the other side, I know how it feels.  People who commit suicide are, in my opinion, some of the most unselfish people in the world.  You can’t possibly know how hard living can be until you’ve faced down that choice.  Deciding to NOT kill yourself is probably one of the most incredibly painful things a person can do in that situation.  

Let’s talk about selfish.  Selfish is smoking when you know that it can make your child, who is forced to sit in the car with you, very ill.  Selfish is drinking and then deciding that it’s OK to drive the two blocks to get home.  Selfish is eating your Subway 12″ sandwich while staring into the eyes of a homeless person who hasn’t eaten in a couple of days.  Selfish people have more money than they could ever spend, and still feel that people on food stamps are “gaming the system.” 

Selfish is whatever one person does, knowing that someone else is suffering due to that action or for the lack of whatever the benefit is.   I’m pretty sure that dying isn’t depriving anyone else of death.  Putting an end to pain that you suffer silently is not selfish.  Selfish is what the people who know you’re in pain are, when they turn away.  Every time you judge someone with an illness – whether it’s mental or physical – you’re the selfish one. 

People suffer from depression and other mental illnesses suffer in silence and in secret because society as a whole won’t tolerate less than that.  Society says “I don’t care how much it hurts. I don’t want to have to see that.” No one cares how hard it is to talk to other people, or get out of bed.  Who really gives a crap about how much effort it takes to get to work in the morning, as long as the rent and water bill gets paid?   One of the most often asked questions is “What do you have to be depressed about?”  Mental illness requires justification. 

When it comes to physical illness, there’s no question of justification.  No one asks a cancer patient if they really need chemo. The need for Prozac, and Xanax, and Valium is routinely questioned. Visits to a rheumatologist for Lupus are not used during your work review to determine your value to the company.  Visits to a therapist or psychiatrist often are. The need to take time off for surgery is understood without question.  The need to take time off for depression is looked upon as a personal failing. A person with advanced cancer can choose to discontinue treatment in exchange for a higher quality of life in the final months.  A person suffering from mental illness is expected to life a life made infinitely worse by medication, no matter what. There are innumerable research projects searching for better, less debilitating treatments for chronic physical illness.  Every effort is made to address medication side effects such as sexual dysfunction, weight gain, mental fog, and dozens of others for people with atrial fibrillation, or high cholesterol, or cancer.  Very few studies are going on to address the same side effects of psychiatric drugs, leaving the patients to live lives that would be considered intolerable to someone with a physical illness.

Suicide is not the way out of depressions, except in a visceral way.  Ending your life doesn’t solve the problem in any way that is meaningful to society.  Suicide ends the problem for the one person most intimately involved.  It does get everyone else off the hook.  The ones left behind can blame the victim by calling him selfish, saying she was weak, and declaring that he gave up.  A woman who dies of breast cancer is never decried at her funeral as having given up, though.  Where are the people who acknowledge how very brave a suicide is for having struggled for so long through so much pain?  Where is the compassion that could have saved that person?   person who kills herself declares open season on character assassination.  It’s perfectly OK to comment at the funeral on the lack of personal integrity he showed in taking his own life. 

I wish there was a way to show you how incredibly difficult depression and mental illness is.  There should be some way to put into words just how much strength and fortitude it takes to get out of bed in the morning when your body feels like it weighs tons and has been chained down.  How it feels to feel nothing.  What it is like to pretend to have feelings of any sort.  There are no words to express how much you want to be with people, but how hard it is to listen to them.

I watched this video yesterday, and it came close.  Maybe you’ll understand.

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