Whilst reading about the tragic death of the great Robin Williams I repeatedly stumbled upon the narrative of choice. Places like Psychcentral spoke about suicide being an “insidious choice”, but a “choice” nonetheless, so much so that they repeated the word to drive the message home. Meanwhile, whilst perusing social media I repeatedly came across variations of “people who commit suicide are selfish”, “how can anyone do that to their family?”. These sorts of comments make me twitchy. We’ve all heard them before.
In my own case they were personalised and weaponised, “How could YOU do that to your children? Do YOU not care about them?” I did, that was the problem. For some time I had felt like a millstone around the necks of my family. I loved them, but hated myself and could only see the ways I made their lives worse. After 2 failed suicide attempts in as many days I’d found myself locked in a psychiatric hospital. “You’re a mother aren’t you? Don’t you care for your children? Have you even considered how this affects them?” These questions betray a complete lack of understanding of the mechanisms of suicide.
When you’re suicidal, you constantly consider the act, the effects of the act, the consequences of not committing the act, and so forth and so on. It is entirely all consuming. In Girl, Interrupted, Susan Kaysen discusses the way in which you base whether or not you will kill yourself on the most tenuous, seemingly unrelated things. My personal experience was of a continuous struggle NOT to do it. Imagine a bucket with water dripping into it and an electrified floor underneath. You can keep trying to drink the water, but it’s filling up faster than you can drink it, and sooner or later there’s gonna be a big enough fall of water to send it cascading down the sides, onto the floor below, and just like that you’re done for. And so it was with me. I kept TRYING to tell myself that things will get better, that my family would be better off with me in their lives, that it would break everyone’s hearts if I ended it all. I managed to last months, if not years, by trying to keep those thoughts in check, but one weekend a succession of small, and usually inconsequential, events happened that made those feelings overflow to the point where the absolute need to die was frantic.
To suggest that people who commit, or attempt to commit, suicide don’t think about their families is ignorant at best. To suggest that they are selfish or “only care about themselves” is laughable. To suggest that it is a choice is to completely misunderstand the power of depression. Depression is a killer. You would not blame someone who died as a result of cancer.
I was truly saddened to hear of the death of Robin Williams, a wonderful comedian who has been very open about the struggles he has faced in his life. He died at the age of 63 after a lifetime of depression. I would say that his age was testament to his tenacity. It’s not easy to stop that bucket from overflowing. Let’s stop blaming those who got a gush of water that was just too large to stem.