This week I've watched my friend group mourn for Robin Williams, a man that (as far as I know) only one of them knew personally. And I've watched and read how his death opened the door for a lot of people to talk about something they don't usually talk about. Depression, but more than depression, suicide. And it's been interesting, enlightening, infuriating and moving to read all of the points of view.
And then today is Thursday so I checked my blogs to see if I had one posted close to today's date I could put up for Throw Back Thursday and there it was the blog (blogs?) about my trip to Toronto. Which not only touched on Toronto but on the death of a friend's father. By suicide. Which got me thinking again about the issue and also about how my belief system around it has changed.
Growing up and even in to my 30s I held a very firm line about suicide. It was selfish. It was cowardly. It was the worst thing you could do. Part of that was shaped by my religious beliefs growing up. Suicide was murder. It might be killing yourself, but it's still not okay in the frame work of the church I grew up in. It was also shaped by the suicide of my grandfather and my former brother's-in-law father. They were both addicts and most likely their suicides were accidental. I know my grandfather's was. He used attempted suicide as an attention getting method. Just one time he kicked the chair out from under him before my aunt could get there to rescue him and hear all about how awful everyone was. I had no mercy or pity for either of them.
But as I got older I started to think about it a little differently. Oregon has death with dignity laws. I think it might be the only state in the union that does, I know at the time the law was passed it was. But basically if you are terminally ill and wish to end your life you can get the drugs and the assistance to do it. The Dr. Kevorkian stance. That you have a right to end your own life when you choose to do so. And that you should be able to get medical assistance to do it in the least painful way possible. We do it for our pets, it's crazy that we don't do it for ourselves. I know a lot of people who don't bat an eye at do not resuscitate orders but can't wrap their brains around this concept. It's the same thing. I don't want heroic measures taken if you know I am going to be alive only by machine but I also want to be able to leave on my own terms if I am dying of a wasting disease that is taking my health in pieces. Physical or mental.
So then I had lines. Suicide was fine if I could couch it in euthanasia terms. But if it was anything else I still would tell you that it was selfish.
But when my friend's father took his life and I watched her deal with it, waiting for the anger at him for doing it, anger that didn't come, I had to ask why. Why wasn't she pissed off? He killed himself. How selfish. And she said, it was his life. He was done. Who was she to tell him he couldn't. And I had to rethink it all again. Who was being selfish? Me or him? I wanted him to be alive. He wanted to end it. Now, I don't know why he killed himself. I didn't know the man. I just know his daughter. But I still felt like I could have feelings about how he died. If he had been suffering from a terminal illness and killed himself I would have had sympathy, why couldn't I now? And so I did.
Then a local man here killed himself. And I can tell by how I wrote about it that my view point had shifted. Partly because I knew he suffered from depression. So I knew that the decision to kill himself was made from a very dark place. Depression is an illness. Not depression with a little d, the I'm having a bad day and I want to watch chick flicks and cry in my ice cream, but Depression. The dark cloud that settles in and tells you that nothing, nothing is worth it, especially you. I wrote about my friend Jenny here. She's not the only friend I have that suffers from this sort of imbalance.
Where your brain is fighting you every damn day of your life. The chemicals aren't right. There is no simple snap out of it. It's medication and meditation and counselling and exercise and friends who check in on you and all sorts of other things to keep you on an even keel. And then sometimes it all stops working and you have to start again. Though you are trying to get better while your mind is telling you that it's not even worth trying. There are some incredible stories out there about people who suffer from depression. The level of darkness that they are swimming through on a daily basis is impossible to truly grasp.
And this is where people often are when they make the choice to kill themselves. We say, oh that's so selfish, think about the family you leave behind. When often they think their family will be better off without them. Because the depression tells them so. Tells them that they are unlovable. A burden. A fraud. A fake. A mess. A nothing.
The best essays I've read on depression all have one over arching theme. Depression lies. It tells you to stop when you just need to keep going. Because if you do keep going it will get better. You will get out of the darkness again. Sadly I can't tell you that you will never go back, but you will get out. But that's the problem with liars, sometimes they are so good at it you can't hear the truth. And when that happens we lose people. People we loved. People we respected. People we wish were still here.
But instead of blaming the person like I used to I now understand I need to blame the disease. And that it stole another light out of the world.
Depression lies. Don't listen. Keep fighting to make it through.
In the US you can call 1-800-273-8255 for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.