The Breadcrumbs widget will appear here on the published site.
For the Last Time, Suicide is NOT Selfish
By Leah Mueller
The word “suicide” triggers me instantly. Two of my close family members died by their own hand, and several of my friends have chosen that route, as well. I once worked as a volunteer counselor on a crisis line, and talked numerous folks out of killing themselves. I have no way of knowing whether they chose to end their lives later, or if they sought the help they desperately needed. I hope I said something meaningful that sparked a desire for positive change.
Most likely, that last sentence is my own hubris talking, because depression is a monster that blots out reason. Two years ago, my sister drove to a dead-end street in Houston, placed a gun barrel to her heart, and pulled the trigger. She was a law enforcement officer, and her aim was so good that there was hardly any blood to clean up later. She left behind two adult children, and a husband who married the woman with whom he was having an affair, three months after her suicide. Her husband's close friend, the son of a famous writer, complained about my sister. In a personal inbox letter, he wrote,“Suicide is the most SELFISH thing a mother can do.” Then he blocked me on Facebook.
I'd be lying if I said I wasn't angry. Not just about that stupid fuckwit, whom I can't help but think about any time his dad's name comes up, or about my sister's scumbag husband, but about all the insensitive people who insist upon using the word “selfish” to describe people who commit suicide. Encased in the cocoon of their smug moral judgment, they make callous statements like, “Why didn't s/he just get help? There are plenty of places s/he should have gone to for medication and counseling” and “Didn't s/he know her/his death would make other people feel bad?”
The first statement makes the arrogant assumption that a suicidal individual can magically rouse the energy to seek medical attention, as if s/he had pneumonia or an ingrown toenail. It's also inherently classist, since many people simply don't have the financial means to hire a shrink to fix their problems. However, clinical depression knows no monetary boundaries, and afflicts the wealthy as well as the poor. It's a debilitating condition, one that often renders the afflicted incapable of asking for help.
“Shoulds” mean nothing when you're drowning in misery. “Should” is a word used by folks who find empathy difficult, living people who have the luxury of judgment.
The second statement is even more infuriating. Suicidal people are in a hole so deep that they often feel completely unloved. Their friends and family may very well be what keeps them alive for one more day, until they have no more energy or will to continue. Such individuals just want an end to the unrelenting pain—an agony that may have continued, unabated, for years. In fact, they often feel as though their loved ones will be better off without them.
Recently, my anger and pain was triggered by a few online reactions to the suicide of Aaron Joel Mitchell, a 41-year-old man who ran into the fire at Burning Man. Though a person might be tempted to think that Burners are compassionate, enlightened folks, not all of them fit that description. I'm sure it was extremely traumatic to watch a man kill himself, and I'm glad that resources were readily made available to help those who were suffering as a result of the incident. However, one of the Burner volunteers sounded off about Mitchell on a friend's Facebook page, saying he deserved no compassion for his “selfish” act, and she cared only for the people who had seen it happen.
Excuse me? Here is a woman who took it upon herself to console others after a horrific incident. Instead of using that opportunity to inspire compassion towards Mitchell and other suicidal people, she decided to make his death all about her judgment and anger. Though people were undoubtedly traumatized by witnessing Mitchell's suicide, they will heal, though perhaps slowly. I hope they will avail themselves of whatever resources they need to facilitate this process. Most of them will live to experience love, joy, sorrow, and/or close bonds with friends and family. Mitchell never will, because he is dead.
So, please—do everyone, including yourself, a favor and stop denouncing suicide as selfish. Seriously, just stop. NOW. Get out of your goddamn little morality bubble and educate yourself about what drives a person to want to kill her/himself. There's plenty of information on the internet. Whether it's Aaron Mitchell or someone famous like Robin Williams or Chris Cornell, suicide is an act of desperation by a person who cannot go on any longer. Be glad that you're not in that place. Please have some compassion for those who are. And if you are in that place, I hope you can manage to find your way out.