This is a difficult post to write, for a number of reasons, but I should preface it by saying to my family and friends: I am not currently thinking of ending my life. Just to put that out there. I may be struggling with one of the worst depressions I’ve known in recent years, but suicide is not on the cards, at the moment.
It was for Robin Williams, however, as I’m sure you are all aware. I don’t want or need to say much about his death; by now it’s pretty-well assumed he deliberately killed himself, unless it was an asphyxiation accident, which…well, you know. It happens.
Anyway, the point is that Robin Williams is dead, and as much is being made of the coverage of his death as is being made of the tragedy itself. Should we even be talking about it, some are asking; what if this media hype encourages others to kill themselves just like he did? There’s a ‘suicide crisis’, one galling headline read (I couldn’t even bring myself to read that one). Some newspapers are focusing on his life, others on his death, and yet others on his family, who I understand asked to be left alone.
In all the furore, one theme that seems to be standing out to me is that suicide is an evil, and one to be prevented at all costs. If only he’d taken his medications; if only she’d kept up with therapy. If only they’d’ve talked to someone, let someone in, they might still be alive today.
So I’m going to ask a dangerous question: what if they were?
Let’s say Mr. William’s attempt had not succeeded, or perhaps never happened at all. We wouldn’t be talking about him at all, except perhaps for upcoming movie roles, and he would be going about his business somewhere in southern California, smiling to all and tormented inside in ways the rest of us could not even imagine. If he wasn’t dead right now, might he not be wishing he were?
I have been on the brink of suicide many times before. I know friends who have tried (none who have succeeded, as it happens). It takes a lot to put you there. Even in the absolute darkest pits of despair, the mind’s natural struggle for life is incredibly strong. Death is terrifying, it’s an unknown. It takes an almost inhuman mental strength to set in motion events that will end your own life, whether it’s pulling a trigger or tightening a noose. It’s a strength I have never had, which is the only reason I’m still here at all. (Remember that: I’m not here because I chose to live; I’m here because I was afraid to die.)
It requires a conviction that nothing, absolutely nothing ever again in the world will be worth staying alive for. An absolute certainty that death is a better option than life. Because for many thousands of people, a life of misery and torment is still better than death. It’s still life. If you’re struggling to understand this, let me throw this out to the religious among you: this certainty is as absolute as your belief in a god.
Could those people whose belief in death is absolute be wrong? Absolutely. No one can see the future. But every day we make decisions based on what we think is likely to happen over the next few minutes, days, or even years. For those who choose suicide, every path they can see leads only to more pain, for themselves and for those they love.
Because yes, suicide victims can still love those they leave behind. Sometimes that love becomes their impetus: the guilt of their own misery and the effect it has on those around them can be a powerful incentive. It’s certainly been reason enough for me to contemplate suicide in the past. I love my wife and son, and the pain I put them through on a daily basis tortures me.
What point am I driving at here? I suppose it’s this: suicide need not be a taboo. It certainly isn’t for those who try. Loss causes pain and saddens us, and it’s those left behind who are so adamant that no one else should ever kill themselves again. Maybe in the wake of a celebrity suicide, some people will be compelled to try something they wouldn’t have normally considered. But those people already were thinking about it, weren’t they? Maybe they didn’t have a clear idea of what to do or how, but they knew deep down that they wanted to end their life.
Is it right to keep those people alive? For whose sake are we doing so? Whose decision is it, who lives and who dies? And why?
Lest you misread this, I am not advocating suicide. On the contrary, I am among the selfish who want to keep the living with me. But I would have you ask these questions, of yourself and of others: who are we to decide?
Featured image from http://rap.genius.com/Riff-raff-cool-cup-lyrics#note-1756293.