While struggling to decide how to share my story about depression and suicide, a lot of people shared stuff that I identified with. I will eventually tell my personal story, but today I think I'm going to share the wisdom of others.
Love, we're told, heals all wounds. Love makes the world go round. Love is the holy balm, the essence of life itself. And I would say yes to all of these statements... yes, but. Yes, but there are limits to love. I believe in love. And I also believe in luck....
But here's the thing: People are mentally ill all the time. People are depressed all the time. Even if people are not actively experiencing a mental health crisis, they're living with mental health conditions. Mental illness is not something you get over or heal from. It's something you manage, to varying degrees, and it's always part of your life, and it expresses in varied ways.
Suicide is not a weak decision. It is a decision that takes an incredible amount of strength to make, actually. Someone isn’t weak if they end their life. They are desperate. There is a difference. It’s okay to feel angry at the person for dying. It’s okay to question, to rail against the forces that caused this. But it isn’t weakness. Mental illness isn’t weakness. It’s a disease, a pervasive, sometimes awful disease. The person doesn’t deserve anger and skepticism forever. They deserve compassion. Their family deserves compassion.
For Robin Williams to have lived with his demons for an indeterminable length of time is truly heroic. He has formed an enormously successful career, held down the day job, worked through relationships with people, drugs and alcohol, parented, been public, been private, all whilst wearing the enormous coat of depression. It is an enormous task. It can be like holding a tsunami, using every fibre in every muscle not to give in to its strength. That takes equal strength. It takes superpower! He has held the tsunami for year upon year. He held it back trying to prevent it from taking him under and instead of saying "poor guy, it got him", perhaps we should be saying "Oh my god, what a hero! He held that tsunami for so long, he held it away from people as much as he could, some people got sprayed, some got soaked, but millions felt the sun instead of the water, he held it on his back and he did it for years."
Suicide is a decision made out of desperation, hopelessness, isolation and loneliness. The black hole that is clinical depression is all-consuming. Feeling like a burden to loved ones, feeling like there is no way out, feeling trapped and feeling isolated are all common among people who suffer from depression.
People who say that suicide is selfish always reference the survivors. It's selfish to leave children, spouses and other family members behind, so they say. They're not thinking about the survivors, or so they would have us believe. What they don't know is that those very loved ones are the reason many people hang on for just one more day. They do think about the survivors, probably up until the very last moment in many cases. But the soul-crushing depression that envelops them leaves them feeling like there is no alternative. Like the only way to get out is to opt out. And that is a devastating thought to endure.
Until you've stared down that level of depression, until you've lost your soul to a sea of emptiness and darkness... you don't get to make those judgments. You might not understand it, and you are certainly entitled to your own feelings, but making those judgments and spreading that kind of negativity won't help the next person. In fact, it will only hurt others.
Killing oneself is, anyway, a misnomer. We don't kill ourselves. We are simply defeated by the long, hard struggle to stay alive. When somebody dies after a long illness, people are apt to say, with a note of approval, "He fought so hard." And they are inclined to think, about a suicide, that no fight was involved, that somebody simply gave up. This is quite wrong.
― Sally Brampton, *Shoot The Damn Dog: A Memoir Of Depression*
"None of us can truly know what we mean to other people, and none of us can know what our future self will experience. History and philosophy ask us to remember these mysteries, to look around at friends, family, humanity, at the surprises life brings — the endless possibilities that living offers — and to persevere. There is love and insight to live for, bright moments to cherish, and even the possibility of happiness, and the chance of helping someone else through his or her own troubles. Know that people, through history and today, understand how much courage it takes to stay. Bear witness to the night side of being human and the bravery it entails, and wait for the sun. If we meditate on the record of human wisdom we may find there reason enough to persist and find our way back to happiness. The first step is to consider the arguments and evidence and choose to stay. After that, anything may happen. First, choose to stay."
- Jennifer Michael Hecht
Be kind. Be gentle. Love each other.