Thursday, December 2, 2010
Seeing red. Thursday, December 2, 2010.
“I'm sorry but this is stupid. It's not like with breast cancer awareness. At least with it, the people didn't choose to have it. With suicide, they knew what they were doing and did it so I can't help raise awareness for that.” – A comment regarding suicide awareness
I dug through my closet last night to find a red sweater to wear to work tomorrow in honor of Suicide Awareness Friday. It must be exclusively a Facebook thing, because the official World Suicide Prevention Day is September 10. No matter; it’s good to build awareness more than once a year. As of this morning, 15,042 Facebookers are “attending” the event tomorrow. Cool.
But as usually happens on suicide-related Internet boards and walls, the critics are front and center. Suicide, they remind us, is cowardly and self-centered. “It’s very selfish…and stupid. Anyone willing to commit suicide obviously only cares about themselves, and they aren’t thinking about the pain they’ll inflict on family and friends,” says one post. “It also shows just how much of a coward a person really is, being unable to deal with their problems.”
I wrote a few months ago about the reason I created the Suicide Attempt Survivors group in the first place – because the “Suicide Survivors” groups on Facebook were all for bereaved family members (many of them quite angry, and some of whom attacked me).
In addition, my search for books written for suicide attempt survivors yielded only a couple of titles, while there are dozens of books for family and friends left behind. (Some shameless self-promotion: because of the dearth of books available for us, I’ll be publishing my “Death to Life” blog as a book, volume 1, very soon. It will be available on Amazon.)
So we’ve established that suicide appears to be a selfish act. Really, how can I say otherwise, when I, too, have lost loved ones to suicide? I’ve experienced that toxic mix of shock, loss, and red-hot anger at people who apparently didn’t care enough about me (or anyone else) to stick around. I’ve watched families self-destruct after a mother asphyxiated herself, leaving three children, and after a brother hung himself in his sister’s bedroom closet. There is a reason why they say that loss due to a suicide is about the worst loss there is, because it implies “choice.”
As I write this, the life of a friend of mine hangs in the balance. She wants very much to die (or for her suffering to end, which is what she thinks death will bring her). I want very much for her to live. There is nothing more I can say or do; it’s going to come down to her “choice,” such as it is, and she may choose to leave me despite the love I’ve shown for her. There are many others who care for her, too, and I’m concerned about how her death would affect them. I’m not sure whether it would affect five people or 500; it really doesn’t matter. People would be hurt. Does this mean that if my friend kills herself, she is being selfish? Well, by definition, yes.
But there’s a layer of complexity here. Extenuating circumstances, if you will. No one, especially me, wants to open a floodgate by saying that suicide is NOT selfish, or even by challenging the idea that it is a choice. It’s true that people that take their lives often do so after having been begged by loved ones not to do so. And it’s also true that any given suicide is the big result of probably dozens of little choices – to go to the store, to pick out the pills, to pay the cashier …
But suicide is, first and foremost, an act of desperation. No one “chooses” to commit suicide like they choose to have fish for dinner. And if you interview 10 suicide attemptors, you’ll probably find that eight of them honestly and truthfully believed that their loved ones would be happier without them. The end result of their action is extraordinary pain for those left behind. But it’s not intentional.
Does “lack of intent to harm others” make suicide okay? Of course not. But unless you have looked into that chasm yourself – unless you have experienced pain so deep that “dead” seemed like a really good thing to be – you don’t really understand.
Unfortunately, I do understand. I’ll be wearing red tomorrow. And can I ask you for prayers for my friend who is peering into that chasm now?