I was going to write about something completely different. Or perhaps not. I was going to write about understanding people from completely different backgrounds; about putting yourself in other people’s shoes.
Particularly in the age of the internet — and yes, particularly on the left, but we do it too — it’s very easy to judge someone for something stupid and build a whole picture of what people are like that has nothing to do with reality. (Take for instance all the assumptions made about my beliefs and preferences because I prefer less authoritarian government. Or less preachy fiction, for that matter.)
Before you defend on “we do it too”, I’ll remind you I’ve been called a communist and/or an atheist for … not being a conservative, but a libertarian. When I disagree with socon stuff I quickly get called names. As for libertarians, they’ve been known to call me statist (!) because I say “Yeah, but we’re never going to get it. Not on planet Earth.”
So, I was going to do a post on that. I might still. But not today.
Today friends I love so much they’re like family to me decided it was a great day to get in an argument about suicide, and whether it is just a cowardly act, and whether telling people all the mess they’re leaving behind would change their decision.
I’m not going to get into the morality of suicide and whether it’s cowardly.
Look, some are, I’m sure. The guy who ran through all his money with gambling. The criminal who seeks to evade punishment. That’s “the coward’s way out.”
But that’s not always the case with suicide.
There’s the “inexplicable” the “why did he do that?” the “What the actual hell happened?”
This one, circling back to understanding other people, often seems inexplicable to the people who are outside. It often takes our best and brightest. It often happens with no outward sign. And yep, it leaves families very angry and guilty and a thorough mess for the survivors.
The problem is that this one is best understood as “possession by demons.”
I’ve been there. That moment you step off the ledge, you’re absolutely convinced that you’re doing what’s best not just for yourself but for everyone around you. Even if you’re rational enough to see the mess you leave behind, you are certain it’s still better than dealing with you as you are.
It’s a lie. It’s an awful lie. Again, it is better understood by externalizing it and realizing that depression lies. If you view depression as demons taunting you, it’s easier to realize they lie.
What causes it? Why do best and brightest, people we admire, kill themselves?
Part of it is the defect that makes them great. We’ve talked about people who think they’re great at something (writing, art, whatever) and who thoroughly suck at it. Worse, they’ll never get better, because they don’t see ANYTHING that needs improving. Those people might never accomplish anything. They also will never kill themselves.
The high achievers, though, those that drive themselves to things we can only dream of? They often feel they’re total failures. I have a couple of friends like that.
And when you feel like your life is one of unremitting failure you open yourself to the demon voices.
No, I don’t mean that literally. Or maybe I do. Sometimes I think it would help if we could externalize it and view those voices as something else, out there.
We do that anyway, to an extent, by considering it an illness. And it is. I mean, it’s brain chemistry, though often exacerbated by personality.
On the other hand the personality is the same thing that allows us to succeed.
I’m not that successful, but many of you know I dance with the black dog on a regular basis. Lately it’s been better for no reasons I can control: mostly that my hypothyroidism is getting treated, and that my hormonal cycle is a thing of the past.
But I’ve been there. Often. Might be there again in the future.
So, if you’re there…. there are some things you need to know:
1- the voices in your head lie. You’re not worthless. In fact, you’re probably very worth it. You just have this little defect in your brain. It causes you to devalue everything good you do. It’s not how other people see you. It’s lies. You are, as a friend says, “seeing the world through a distorted lens.”
2- Your being here can save someone else. Sometimes just your existing can save someone else. You might never know it. There is someone out there who once engaged me in conversation on a day that would otherwise have ended very badly. For her it was just a chat with a stranger. For me it was life saving. You might save someone’s life and not even know it. If you die now, you won’t be there to save someone’s life.
3- It will get better. I understand even for very ill people, bedbound, there are moments of joy as well as moments of suffering. There will be better days. I know you don’t believe me now, but do try to hang on.
For those of you on the other side:
Watch carefully, but don’t berate yourself, because sometimes you can’t see it. Many people HIDE depression. It’s the nature of the beast. Mostly men, though not just men.
If you do spot it, bring it up. Talk it out. Listen. Sometimes just having someone to listen to you helps. And sometimes you call the suicide hotline and give your friend the phone.
If someone you love kills him/herself. You’re going to be angry. You’re allowed to be angry. It’s an awful mess to stick someone with.
Don’t torment yourself by feeling that you must have done or failed to do something. That’s not how it works. Suicide is never a rational decision. Rational people don’t kill themselves.
You can still be angry, but if it helps, view it as a car accident, a disaster, or more accurately a fatal birth defect. The same thing that made the person you loved driven and self-demanding is the same thing that killed him/her.
Sometimes the demons win. Sometimes those who dance with the black dog stumble and fall.
All we can do is reduce the number of times that happens.