The internet’s got a lot to say right now about suicide. Some of it’s thoughtful and informed; some of it’s angry, much of it’s sad. And some of it has a desperate quality to it, as people try to make sense of the senseless.
I can, and have, made a good argument to myself for not commenting on it, but there’s the tiniest, slimmest possibility that what I’m gong to say might make a difference to someone, somewhere. Maybe.
In the last twenty-four hours, I’ve seen the following, either on Twitter, Facebook, or in the comments section (which, granted, is where the ugly often lurks):
- Robin Williams was brave enough to find peace the only way he could
- Robin Williams was a coward
- Robin Williams was lacking love and support from his family
- Robin Williams didn’t love his family
- People hating on the people judging Robin
- People trivializing depression
- People making depression into a hopeless, terminal disease
And here are things I know:
Depression is an illness, and like most diseases of the mind, how it plays out, how severe it is, whether it’s chronic or not, and what treatments work, vary from person to person.
It has as much in common with ‘feeling blue’ – the down feeling that everyone experiences at some point – as a common cold has with a heart attack
Suicide happens when there is no hope. You look ahead, a week, a month, a year, ten years, and can’t imagine the pain not being there. You can’t imagine things being other than they are. There’s a certain sort of myopia that takes over.
It’s not necessarily about life needing to change (there’s no thinking, “if I could only get a new job, it would be different”) …the ability to imagine happiness is gone.
There’s nothing to look forward to, no joy of thinking about reuniting with friends, or holidays, or seeing a gorgeous sunset, or watching a baby laugh, because the ability to feel anything but pain is lost to you, quite often for no good reason.
(One of the myths is that depression is triggered by something bad happening – a tragedy, a lost job, a divorce. Those things can play a part, can be a trigger. But that’s all they are – a trigger. Not the actual problem.)
You may or may not be thinking of people who love you – they may be there, you may know they love you, you may love them back, but the disease is there, as well, whispering that they might not always love you, or that they’d truly be better off without you.
It’s not rational. Even when it appears to be – sometimes people plan their suicides in advance, updating their wills, giving away cherished possessions – it’s not. There’s no clear sight beyond the darkness. You’re not in your right mind, but are, instead, lost in a world where there’s no joy, no happiness, and even love itself is often in name only, without the emotional component we associate with it.
Not killing yourself requires faith in the belief that things can be better. It requires hope and the ability to see beyond how things feel right this moment. Sometimes that hope comes from one single person finding the right words (and sometimes, the people who love you the most don’t have the words); sometimes it comes from a stranger, or God, or something as simple as being too stubborn to bail on a commitment to another person, despite the despair.
And sometimes, having once faced that choice, and chosen to live, it never comes back, whereas for others, it remains there, as the darkest of options: The depression settles on you again, and the voice of the disease whispers, ‘there’s a way out.’
When I was fourteen, I tried to kill myself. When I was thirty, I was seconds away from trying again – and would probably have succeeded. It’s a complicated story, and not really the point of this post. Rather, what I think worth saying is this:
There is hope.
There. Is. Hope. You may not feel it, but it’s there. You may not be able to imagine a life without pain, but it exists, and it exists for you. I swear it. There are people who can help, who want to help. They want to show you a way back, whether this is your first descent into darkness, or a repeat trip.
Death’s not the answer. If you stay, things may or may not be better tomorrow – the path back is different for everyone – but if you go, all is truly lost.
That said, I’m not judging Robin Williams. I can’t. I’m grieving for all the people who loved him, and I’m desperately wishing he’d won the battle, but having faced that darkness, I can’t judge him harshly for giving up.
I can only say…it’s not the answer, and even if you can’t see it, can’t imagine it, hope is there.
If by some fluke you’re reading this, and are fighting that battle, please believe someone who’s been there: joy is out there, for you. Call the National Suicide Prevention Line at: 1-800-273-8255. Reach out. Even if you don’t really believe it can make a difference, do it anyway (what do you have to lose?). Give others the chance to help you. They want to, more than you can imagine.
And for the rest of us…be gentle with everyone you come across. You never know who’s fighting the battle.