There's Nothing Selfish About Suicide
Last week, the world said goodbye to Linkin Park frontman, Chester Bennington. At the age of 41, Chester ended his life by hanging himself on what would have been the 53rd birthday of his good friend & Soundgarden frontman, Chris Cornell, who also ended his life by hanging himself in May of 2017. While both suicides are tragic & so much more than unnecessary, they highlight an important issue which we tend to ignore & avoid talking about...suicide.
We don't talk about life's propensity to overwhelm us until it is too late. Then, once we are forced to confront the depths of despair & the weight of emotions which leave us feeling powerless to do anything but give up, we speak of suicide as though it is a weakness. We go so far as to brand it a selfish act & we let ourselves feel anger over the life lost, because anger has always been the easiest emotion to feel.
To wrap everything up & summarise suicide as selfishness does not do justice to the enormity of the issue, nor does it address the hopelessness & desolation of depression, or society's failings when it comes to nurturing mental health. To say that suicide is a weak & selfish act is to gloss over the many factors that drive a person to commit suicide. It is also a way for us to wash our hands of the issue & to give ourselves plausible deniability when it comes to our own culpability. It is a way for us to blame the victim of suicide for their actions when there is so much more at play than just weakness.
For The Love of God, Stop Saying Suicide is Weak & Selfish
Suicide Isn't Selfish
As someone who has lost loved ones & friends to suicide, I understand the impulse to frame the act of taking your own life as a selfish one. Having experienced the pain & tumult of losing someone to suicide, I understand the need to put their death to bed & to force questions of "how?", "why?", & "what could I have done differently?" out of your mind.
What easier way is there to let go of an issue than to find someone to hang the blame on? If the blame can be attached the person who has taken their own life, well that makes it all the easier. Now, you are, of course, still heartbroken, but you can balance out the untenability of sorrow with a hefty dose of anger.
I am a huge proponent of supporting people in the pursuit offending coping mechanisms & making their own life easier, but in this instance, I have this to say: you're wrong. Suicide isn't a selfish act & in putting the act into this mislabeled box, you're doing a great disservice to those who have taken their own lives & those who are thinking about taking their own lives.
Why I Wanted to Die
Earlier this week, I shared the reasons why Chester Bennington's suicide broke my heart & left me terrified. As someone intimately familiar with depression & suicidal tendencies, hearing of my role model's suicide reminds me of my own vulnerability to ending my life by my own hand. What I may not have made clear, however, was what was in my mind when I made my own decision to die, nor did I delve into the thoughts that still fill my head & threaten to overtake me.
When it came to thoughts of suicide & the reasons why I felt unequivocally certain that ending my own life was an action I should take, I was the furthest thing from my own mind. If you had asked me what it was that I wanted, I never would have said, "well, I'd really like to slit my own wrists & bleed out into a bathtub of lukewarm water."
If you had asked me what I wanted, I would have said something along the lines of "what I want, more than anything in the world, is to feel connected to something, to anything". I wanted to feel anchored to this life. I wanted to feel like I belonged somewhere. I wanted to feel like I mattered, even if I only mattered in the way that a cog matters in a piece of machinery. I busted wanted to feel tethered to life rather than seperate from it.
What Depression Felt Like
Looking in the rearview mirror of my life terrifies me. I have spent a significant portion of my adult life learning the habits necessary to keep depression at bay. One of the habits that I have adopted is a strict "don't look too closely" approach to my past & to life in general. Instead, I force myself to keep my eyes trained forward, always seeking out the answer to the perpetual question of my life "what now?" In this way, I have been able to keep a lid on the ever-present darkness of depression which bubbles just beneath my surface.
Sometimes, however, despite my best intentions, I find myself marinating in the waters of my own darkness whose significance is still felt in my life. Delving into these dark & indomitable waters, I am reminded of the struggle & of what I have spent so much of my life battling.
You see, to me, depression didn't feel like depression. What it felt like was the profound burden of awareness. It was the awareness that there is a hopelessness to life that is underpinned by futility & tragedy. The burden of my own awareness showed me the untenable truth of my own separateness & isolation. A deep crevice separated me from humanity & the standard trajectory that lives were meant to take.
Looking back at the profundity of my own depression, I have a firmer grasp on what I was feeling & I understand that the separateness I was feeling was created by depression. Real or imagined, however, it felt undeniably real to me at the time & there was nothing that anyone could have done or said to make me feel any differently.
What Suicide Meant for Me
Depression leads us in many different directions, & I want to make it clear that, when I speak of my own experience with depression, I don't speak for everyone. I have had many conversations with others who have struggled with depression & wrestled with mental health issues, & each of us have a unique experience to share.
For me, depression was like a cloak. It was draped around me & it kept me from receiving human intimacy of any kind. It deflected kind utterances, compliments & words of genuine affection. All it let in was drudgery. Everything that I experienced was experienced through the filter of that cloak.
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There where a few times when I reached out to others. I spoke with a few friends & I mentioned my immense feelings of sorrow. During these intimate conversations, I was met with kind words & promises that I was worth something & that I mattered. Compliments would be hurled at me like snowballs in a snowball fight. Still, my cloak would deflect them all.
"Don't listen to what Louisa said," my cloak would tell me. "She only said she truly valued you as a friend because she was drunk & felt bad for you," my cloak would say. "Crystal & Carolyn have way more fun when you're not around," my cloak would whisper in my ear & I would eat up every word. Of course, I had no choice but to listen, because while I describe depression as something seperate from myself, in truth, it lurks in the deepest parts of me & fills me with a truth that cannot be escaped.
Worst of all was the constant whispers of "you're a burden", & "they'll be better off without you". These were words uttered from the inside of my cloak & they would reverberate through my own internal walls, deflecting like a bullet, striking my ribcage & altering its trajectory for a return course back to my spinal column. The bullet of my own self talk would ricochet like that until the damage became unsurvivable.
"Of course they'll all be better off without me," my own internal voice would reason. "My parents will have more money & when they tell people about their children, they won't be burdened by tales of their youngest, weirdest & most hopeless child". I was certain my inevitable death would be a blessing for my parents.
"I don't have any friends, but those who pretend to be my friends will be unburdened. They will no longer have to pretend to care about me. They will never again be brought down by my sorrow, nor will they feel tethered to me at social events where I can't get my spirits to rise to meet the occasion". I was certain that my spending end would be a blessing for my pears.
I believed, with the surety of truth, that my suicide would be a blessing for the world around me & that it was better to get it over with rather than to continue plodding along in my helpless existence sucking up resources, using valuable air & making everyone uncomfortable. To me, suicide would be a kindness. It was not what I wanted. It felt like what was right.
What You Don't Understand is Not Weakness
Perhaps everything that I have said doesn't make a lot of sense to you. Maybe it sounds like a bunch of self-indulgent whining. If that is how this article has struck you then you are lucky. You are truly fortunate to not understand the unending depths of despair * hopelessness that characterise depression.
While you might perceive depression as a temporary situation, the moments where things don't go your way, or life knocks you down, are eternity & truth for someone battling depression.
Instead of looking at the act of ending your own life as weakness & selfishness, I urge you instead to look at the warriors around you - those who get up each day, despite the bleakness of their all-encompassing depression. Celebrate those of us who keep going, one step at a time, & plod along at half-speed, with their ankles shackled & tethered to hopelessness. Even more than that, listen to us, the countless people suffering through something you are fortunate enough to not have to understand.
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR - BRITTEN THOMPSON
Who is Britten? She's a reticent little beast born in the wilds of Northern Alberta to a foul-mouthed, French-Canadian father & an angry, stiff-upper-lipped mother. Britten is, almost always, wild-haired & poorly dressed. She recently left the beautiful & untamed chill of Canada for the blistering & somewhat oppressive heat of Australia. Her list of pastimes is short & includes reading, writing, petting cats, overeating & alphabetizing things. She's a fan of Windex on Facebook because who doesn't want a streak free shine? She dreams of one day writing a super-awesome novel that affords her & her partner a comfortable lifestyle, a large property, a few horses & the means with which to foster children in need...or just becoming a red panda.
When Britten isn't writing, reading, or organizing things in her home, she can be found cuddling with her boyfriend, arguing about why Rajon Rondo is the best point guard in the history of ever, browsing Gumtree for a future cat or kitten, or contemplating days gone by, the passage of time & how ridiculous it is that humans have yet to evolve enough to grow a third set of teeth.