August 15, 2014

Thoughts on Suicide


I lost my mother to suicide in January of this year. When you grow up with a parent who is severely depressed, the fear of their impending suicide is always alive in you; it’s always a possibility; it’s the elephant in the room. When I learned of my mother’s death, I felt a lot of different things. I was sad. I was confused. I was numb. I felt all of the things we tend to feel when grieving the death of someone we’ve lost. Through all of that though, blaming my mom for her death was something I never did and anger at her for her selfishness was something I never felt. My mother loved me more than I could express in writing. She was a good mom and she was also very sick, her depression causing a lot of pain for both of us over the years.

When you’re a child, it’s hard to come to understand the reality of your parent being depressed. I didn’t understand what it meant and I often felt like it was my job to make my mom happy. I lived with her illness every day. Her burden was my burden and when she passed away, a part of me strangely understood the reasoning behind her choice.

I recently read a blog post that has been circulating social media about Robin Williams and the choice he made to end his life. The article by Matt Walsh, who in my opinion is not helping people but instead using Robin Williams’s death as a way to drive traffic to his website, is full of statements that show the lack of education surrounding mental illness, statements that place blame on the person who committed suicide for leaving behind his family, statements that, in my experience, are false.

Articles like the one written by Matt Walsh are the reason discussions about suicide are swept under the rug or avoided entirely. These ideas make people with mental illness feel weak, they portray the act of suicide as something that can be overcome by logic, and they make those in need of mental help afraid to admit how they are truly feeling.

What people like Matt Walsh fail to understand is that suicide isn’t a problem that can be overcome by logically deciding to be happier”. It’s a choice that most of us will never face. Those who do face the choice will be at a point in their lives that the majority of humanity will never understand. They will be at a point of extreme desperation, sadness and fear, the combination of which tends to throw logic out the window.

This quote by David Foster Wallace puts it well:

The so-called psychotically depressed’ person who tries to kill herself doesn’t do so out of quote hopelessness’ or any abstract conviction that life’s assets and debits do not square. And surely not because death seems suddenly appealing. The person in whom Its invisible agony reaches a certain unendurable level will kill herself the same way a trapped person will eventually jump from the window of a burning high-rise. Make no mistake about people who leap from burning windows. Their terror of falling from a great height is still just as great as it would be for you or me standing speculatively at the same window just checking out the view; i.e. the fear of falling remains a constant. The variable here is the other terror, the fire’s flames: when the flames get close enough, falling to death becomes the slightly less terrible of two terrors. It’s not desiring the fall; it’s terror of the flames. And yet nobody down on the sidewalk, looking up and yelling Don’t!’ and Hang on!’, can understand the jump. Not really. You’d have to have personally been trapped and felt flames to really understand a terror way beyond falling.”

The best way I could understand what my mom was going through was to admit that I had no idea how she felt. If you know someone with depression, please listen to what they have to say. Treat them with the love and respect they deserve, and encourage them to find professional help. You are their voice of reason and you have the power to change and potentially save a life.

Unfortunately, my mother lost her battle, but I don’t consider myself unsuccessful in helping her. It’s more complicated than that and, while not everyone can understand, it is the truth I’ve come to know.

Given what I’ve learned, I will never stop encouraging people to reach out to those in need. There’s always hope.

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