03 July 2013

A Blog Post About Suicide

Suicide is a sensitive topic. One that most all of us have had to deal with, whether with the loss of someone we know, or with the idea of taking our own life. It is often said that suicide is a selfish and cowardly act. That giving up on life, forgetting everyone you know, and thinking only of yourself is so selfish and stupid that not much else surpasses its cowardice. Cowardly, because staying and dealing would be harder and far braver.

I get sick to my stomach when I hear these things. More often than not, I stay quiet. I know that saying these things is merely a coping mechanism for most people. It is a way for them to deal with the loss of a loved one, or to suppress their own dark thoughts and guilt for having not stepped in when they could have. I can understand the need for this, but I cannot accept it as the most beneficial way of coping, or even the least harmful.

I am going to try and explain why I do not agree with these thoughts, and why I feel they are harmful to have, share, and/or encourage others to have. I do not know of any studies showing whether or not these opinions are actually harmful, but will probably be motivated to search for some before I'm through here. I am merely expressing my opinion based on my own experiences as someone who has seriously attempted suicide several times, and as someone that has lost many friends and family members to suicide.

Why is suicide a selfish act? A common argument is that suicide is selfish because the person committing it is not thinking of anyone but themselves. They are not concerned with the pain and suffering that their loved ones will endure. They're just concerned with ending their pain, and nothing else.

I feel there are a lot of flaws in that thought process. Mainly, the assumption that every single person contemplating suicide has the same thoughts and reasoning behind their decision to end their own life. It seems to assume that they are all so self absorbed that they do not care about anyone or anything; or worse, that they are spoiled teens that think it will be the ultimate revenge on people that have been cruel to them. That it will give them some sort of legendary status. The forgotten always remembered.

That's a bit too presumptuous for me to accept, though. It leaves out so many things. Namely those people with mental illnesses beyond depression and teen angst. Not once did I ever feel like ending my life would make people remember me, or feel bad for treating me the way they did. Nor did I ever think people would love me more after I was gone. When I was at that point, it was the thought that the people I loved would be better off without me that made the choice seem more like the right one. I felt like I was a burden on everyone I knew, dead weight that none of them needed or deserved. If I just ended everything, they would be better off. I knew they'd miss me, but they would be relieved of the troubles I caused them all. These thoughts were so strong, that I felt like a failure when I woke up alive. Even more so when I ended up in ICU for a week and had to endure visitors and the knowledge that everyone I knew was now aware of yet another of my many failures. I felt like a freak show that people felt sorry for. I felt that I was an even larger burden, because on top of everything else, they now had to worry about me taking my own life. I felt like everyone that walked into that room was thinking I'd only attempted what I did so that I could get attention. That if I'd been really serious about it, I'd have swallowed a thousand prescription pills rather than the 500+ that I did take.

That is what that kind of severe depression does to you. It rationalizes things that are not rational. It makes you believe that everyone else wants you to do it, and that not taking your own life is the selfish act. Everyone wants you to go. No one wants to deal with you and your pain.

Then there are those that kill themselves out of severe mental illness. Several years ago I lost a dear friend suffering from paranoid delusions, believing the government was after her. She felt she was being watched at all times, and was so afraid that she asked a family member for a pistol to place under her pillow as she slept, just to be safe. A few weeks later, she used that pistol to take her own life. It had been a couple of years since I had last seen her, and only a week after I'd asked a friend how she was doing and to invite her out for my birthday the following month. She had been off medication and recreational drugs for over a year, and that was long enough for her to go from one of the smartest and most amazing people I'd known, to someone so distraught with paranoia that the only way she could save herself and protect her family was to end her own life. I was told she did not leave a note.

I would also talk about those that kill themselves in order to save their family from debt through life insurance, but I do not believe I personally know of anyone that has done this. My uncle may fall into this area, but I never wanted to ask anyone any more details than I was already given. From what I did learn, he was severely depressed and felt helpless. I’d like to stick with only those that I have more definitive knowledge of, and experience with.

Why is suicide a cowardly act? It often said suicide is cowardly, because it is taking the easy way out. Instead of taking the high road and working on their problems, they are giving up. They are basically running from them in a way that they can never turn back. They are scared of life, and scared of the hard work that comes with it.

I'm really not sure why people forget how scary death is when talking about suicide. To not only attempt it, but to seriously think about it beforehand and still do it, is far from cowardly. It takes a lot to follow through, which is why so many go with falling from buildings/bridges and swallowing pills. Things that are quick and as painless as possible (the irony that swallowing pills, slitting wrists, hanging, suffocating, drowning, etc; can be quite painful and drawn out in comparison to a gunshot, is not lost on me.). This is not to say people should be commended posthumously for their suicides. I do not believe anyone that takes their own life should be thought of as brave for doing what many cannot, because the events leading to the act are full of missed chances to have changed things.

Each time that I attempted to end my own life, I thought very long and hard about what I was doing, and why I was doing it. I prepared for it (with the exception of one incident that involved plastic and duct tape) and took my time to make sure it was exactly what I wanted and needed to do. It wasn't easy, and each time I was scared shitless. This was a permanent decision. If I succeeded, there would be no second chances. I was sacrificing everything to end the pain that had turned me into a burden that everyone I had ever loved was forced to carry. The feelings in the moments before and during felt much like those felt when placing myself into harm’s way to protect a loved one. The primary differences were society calling me a coward looking for attention and society labeling me a kind of hero. To be honest, placing myself in harm’s way for a loved one has always been a much easier choice to make. It is natural, while suicide goes against all of my natural instincts.

Why is suicide a stupid act? I have heard many times over that suicide is stupid, because there are always people worse off and not taking their lives. That the only people being hurt by suicide are the loved ones left behind to mourn. That it is stupid for the same reasons that make it selfish and cowardly.

The people that I often hear say this appear to be those that are the most afraid of their own mortality. It rarely has any rational thought behind it, and I feel that this reason is the most harmful of them all, and the one that exemplifies most why there needs to be more dialogue and discourse when it comes to suicide. Regardless of what most people claim, death is the one thing our species fears most. It is what we are trying hardest to cure. Be it through faith or science, just about everyone wants to live forever. So to try and imagine what it is like to no longer want to exist. To not have that primal instinct to survive; well, that can be damn near impossible for many people to imagine, let alone accept.

This does not make suicide stupid. This makes the lack of education and awareness of mental illness stupid. This makes societal etiquette when it comes to what people should and should not talk about stupid. It does not make the act stupid, and it most certainly has no bearing on the intelligence of anyone that has attempted or committed suicide.

Someone in a place that makes suicide seem like an answer to anything, is not a stupid person. Anyone in that place knows there are other answers, and they have thought about them. They have weighed them against one another. They have hit a point where they go from sad to a point in sadness that many people may never know. A point where the realization that they have hit the place where suicide is a serious option increases their sadness in a way that it no longer seems like a choice. It turns into something that has to be done, because the point of no return has been crossed and long since left behind. The act no longer feels like it is even about them. It has become an act for the greater good. Once this point has been reached, it is not following through that feels like the selfish and cowardly act. Many of those lucky enough to survive an attempt know exactly how much it hurts to wake up and realize that they have “failed.” Given enough time that feeling can turn to gratefulness. Having people that are not afraid to talk about it without pity or judgment can greatly decrease that time.

Why I feel it is harmful to talk about suicide as selfish and cowardly and stupid:

Shame. First and foremost, shame. When you talk about suicide in these ways, you are making those with suicidal thoughts feel shame for thinking about ending their own life. Secondly, you are keeping suicide taboo. You are encouraging others to keep suicide a taboo subject in which people are afraid to talk about out of fear that they will be negatively judged. No one should ever feel ashamed of their feelings or afraid to talk about a serious topic because it makes others uncomfortable. Especially when talking about it may save someone’s life.

Someone in a state that already has them contemplating suicide is most certainly not in need of added guilt and shame for feeling that way. To be in that mindset one already feels hopeless and alone, and does not need anything else strengthening those thoughts and feelings. No one should ever feel ostracized for feeling badly.

The next time you catch yourself thinking suicide is selfish, cowardly, or stupid; ask yourself what is more likely - people contemplating, attempting, or committing suicide are these things; or is it more likely that being unable to get beyond your own discomfort with the subject is what is truly selfish, cowardly, and stupid?

Suicide is not selfish, it is heartbreaking. It is not cowardly, it is tragic. Suicide is not stupid. Suicide is preventable.

Be someone that brings awareness to others, and not someone afraid to accept a serious reality for many people. So long as suicide is considered a taboo conversation topic, lives that could have been saved will continue to be lost.

Here are a few links about suicide that I feel are worth reading:


  1. My favorite quote on suicide, which sums up my feelings pretty nicely:

    “The so-called ‘psychotically depressed’ person who tries to kill herself doesn’t do so out of quote ‘hopelessness’ or any abstract conviction that life’s assets and debits do not square. And surely not because death seems suddenly appealing. The person in whom Its invisible agony reaches a certain unendurable level will kill herself the same way a trapped person will eventually jump from the window of a burning high-rise. Make no mistake about people who leap from burning windows. Their terror of falling from a great height is still just as great as it would be for you or me standing speculatively at the same window just checking out the view; i.e. the fear of falling remains a constant. The variable here is the other terror, the fire’s flames: when the flames get close enough, falling to death becomes the slightly less terrible of two terrors. It’s not desiring the fall; it’s terror of the flames. And yet nobody down on the sidewalk, looking up and yelling ‘Don’t!’ and ‘Hang on!’, can understand the jump. Not really. You’d have to have personally been trapped and felt flames to really understand a terror way beyond falling.” - David Foster Wallace

    1. That is so perfectly said. Thank you for sharing it with me.

  2. Thank you for writing this post.

  3. Jason--I appreciated reading your post. I do not find labeling suicide any of those things to be helpful to the discussion. I guess I would surmise (maybe incorrectly I guess) that if people are discussing suicide, it might be because they are interested in being part of the solution (to reduce the occurrence of suicide). If that is the case, then labeling is ineffective and harmful (as you stated) and people should stick to educating themselves, finding out how they can help in their own communities, and offering support to, and reaching out to either survivors or people who might be contemplating. As an aside, and you might already be aware, people with schizophrenia have the highest rate of completed suicide. I believe this is because they are so tormented by their paranoia and psychosis (as you described your friend to be). It is incredibly heartbreaking. ~Emily

    1. Thank you. I agree with your assessment of schizophrenics reasons, and believe another large part of it may be because they, more than anyone, lack the personal responsibility needed for that moment of hesitation that makes a suicide only an attempted suicide.