Tuesday, August 12, 2014

The allure of suicide

For those of you who haven't heard already, Robin Williams is dead. He has died from taking his own life. Social media is abuzz with polarized camps of calloused "suicide is selfish" and glorified "suicide is a tragedy". The answer is "yes". Suicide is a completely selfish tragedy.

It is important to acknowledge the struggle facing those who deal with depression. The pain and anguish they feel are very real, and very misunderstood by those who have never experienced it. It is a very luxurious place indeed to treat mental illness as some sort of choice, and if the individual only had enough [fill in the blank – faith, love, etc.] then they wouldn’t struggle as badly. If you don’t understand how it feels, consider yourself blessed, and don’t attribute it as some achievement of your own.  I am one of the not so lucky ones that gets to speak on the issue from the happy mountain of ignorance. So newsflash: you don’t have more faith than I do. You are not immune to this struggle because you read the Bible more, you pray more, or you have “let go and let God” better than I have.
I have glamorized death in my head since high school. I am not scared to die. I have always referred to it as an “upgrade”. Stay here and be sick all the time, feeling like a burden to my family, or go stand before my God and King, praising him in a land with no more pain and suffering? Ummm… yes please. And the way people talk about people who are gone, who wouldn’t want that?  You get your slate wiped clean, and all people do is talk about your good qualities and none of your bad, (because it is disrespectful to talk about the failings of the dead).  Suicide becomes a very attractive lie, and this is never more obvious than when a high profile someone commits suicide. It is all people to talk about. We hear about the person’s achievements, the ways they have contributed to society, the happiness they brought people, and how much they will be missed. What a beautiful, enticing, attractive lie indeed.
However, the truth of suicide is much uglier. People don’t want to talk about it because it seems disrespectful or they feel it heaps guilt on those who are struggling. Others are all too willing to talk about it because they have no idea what the yearning for death feels like.  I lie somewhere in the middle because I don’t speak out of my strength. I speak from my weakness, and with the knowledge that the truth has set me free on multiple occasions. The truth is this: Suicide is a selfish act. I’d never heard it described this way until an elder at our church’s father committed suicide and Matt Chandler called it what it was: selfish. It is substituting your pain, for the bottomless pain of the family and loved ones who are left behind to pick up the pieces, asking questions, and internalizing blame.  Despite what the media makes it look like, you are not a hero. You are not a martyr. You are not a poetic tragedy. You are someone who has decided that your own misery is more important than the misery of the countless people around you that you claim to love.  Suicide seems poetic until you consider that your main legacy might be people talking about how selfish you were. Wait… I thought they were supposed to talk about how awesome I was? The lie was exposed.
My friends and family are all too aware of my struggle, and the best thing they do is remind me on a regular basis the effects that my death would have on them. Some people say that it a form of guilt trip. Yeah, but It is the best kind of guilt trip possible. Would I be free of this crappy body? Yup. Could John have a wife that could give him a family? Tears well up in my eyes knowing the answer. Would he and my family be free of having to take care of me? They sure would. Would they be devastated beyond recovery? That’s what they tell me. Knowing the anguish I would put them through makes any heartache I am currently experience take a back seat. I choose to value their happiness above anything I am going through because I don’t want my legacy to them to be pain and anger. Because of this, I have no problem preaching the selfishness of suicide.
It is a complete understatement to say that suicide is a touchy subject. It is as much a “touchy subject” as a severed leg is a “flesh wound”.  I have been told that emphasizing the selfishness of suicide just heaps judgment on those already struggling, so I’m not sure how to go about it. I wish that we as a society magically knew how to speak about this issue in all it’s ugliness without ostracizing those who struggle. All I know is that I don’t want to contribute to the glorification of Robin Williams so that others who are in similar pain are encouraged to follow in his footsteps. Suicide becomes contagious. While you should not condemn his actions without acknowledging his pain, neither should you talk about his amazing contributions to the world without acknowledging the horrific legacy he has left behind. Who knows whose life your "guilt trip" is saving in the process? Love without truth is worthless. Truth without love is death.