If someone had cancer for most of their life and fought long and hard to survive, beat it time and time again and at 63 discovered it had returned, stronger than ever, would you criticize them for feeling defeated and wanting to give up the fight? Or would you show them sympathy for having suffered and fought for so long in an overwhelming and never ending battle an understand their agony and wish peace on them? Why is it then, when someone struggles their entire life with an illness that can’t be seen on an x-ray, is weighted down by social stigma and causes untold amounts of suffering and whose cause is not fully understood even though the illness itself is recognized as valid and real- why is it that when the person suffering can no longer go on are people so quick to judge? Depression is real. Mental illness is real. It isn’t just a bad day nor is it Hollywood style crazy. It is an enormous burden carried on the shoulders of many. It is a noose around your neck on a bright shiny day. It is a sneaky. terrifying stalker that stays hidden until its too late. Imagine wanting and needing help but being too afraid to ask for it because a diagnosis may hinder your relationships with people or prevent you from getting a job. Imagine being so afraid of the treatments available because of the side affects that you just suffer in silence until you can no longer go on. Imagine listening to people snicker or whisper when referring to someone as crazy or nuts and wondering what they would say about you if they only knew. Imagine looking at your life, thinking it is pretty great and yet being completely unable to enjoy it. Picture losing sleep for weeks on end and always feeling like every thing you do is wrong and you are not worthy of love. Imagine feeling like you will never feel happy, may never have felt true happiness and wondering if it wouldn’t just be better for everyone around you if you weren’t there to bring them down. This is the reality so many people live with, day after day after day. A never ending cycle of pain, fear, shame, confusion, desolation and isolation.
Yesterday a beloved comedian, Robin Williams took his own life. It got the conversation rolling with so many being supportive and sharing links to hotlines and offering to be there if someone they love needs it. This is wonderful and I’m sure Mr. Williams would have wanted his story to help someone else. However, right alongside the support comes judgement. People proclaiming suicide to be selfish. How dare that person take their own life! How dare they throw such a gift away! Its their families who are left behind that suffer the most! Sure, let’s just pretend that the human being that suffered in silence and took a huge and terrifying step to end their life did so without thought of anyone but themselves. Let’s pretend they didn’t agonize for weeks, months or years, desperately trying to believe the people in their life wouldn’t be happier without them. Let’s pretend that the act of taking your life is a smooth, delicate process that these people selfishly ease into and not a terrifying, painful, trauma. Let’s just forget that while others had bad days these people had bad months. Suffering so greatly, often in silence.If you can pretend and forget those things, I can see why you cast judgement. Lucky you to never have felt that way. Lucky you to have never been victimized by your own mind.
A friend of mine- who is often quick to be judgmental and to spout of his opinion-loudly- commented to me today that Robin Williams had it all and if he hadn’t been “an idiot addict” he would have had a great life and it was selfish for him to kill himself. He then said, ‘I mean I have never been an addict or depressed but…” I took the opportunity to enlighten him. I asked him to imagine being thrown into a hole that is cold, dark and scary. You can’t breathe, you feel like your entire body is weighed down and you have no idea why you are here and no idea how to get out. You are scared, alone and afraid to call for help because you don’t know what is out there in the darkness. Your only reality is your own inescapable agony. One day you are suddenly set free. Everything is bright and happy around you and you are relived to have survived the ordeal. Yet you have a lingering fear of being thrust back into that hole. You don’t know how or why it happened and it scares you that it can happen again…and then it does. Back down the rabbit hole you go and its worse this time because you know what is going to happen but not how to stop it. You may be trapped down there for days, weeks, months or even years. When you do come out you are terrified to tell anyone because being called crazy is devastating and labels taint everything. You live your life waiting for the next time you are plunged into the darkness. Imagine living like this for decades. Can you really fault someone for feeling like they can’t go on. Torture victims often beg for their lives and then eventually their death.
Every time I hear that someone has lost the fight it wounds me deeply. I understand their pain and I wish it could have been better for them, I don’t stand in judgement of their decision to stop the pain. I do feel for their loved ones because losing someone to suicide is a death for them as well. It is the death of that relationship and the death of their belief that things will be ok. The guilt, anger and grief must be all-consuming. Suicide is never the answer. Finding a cure for mental illness, removing stigma from the diagnosis and supporting those that are suffering is the only way back into the light.