by Dish Staff
A few more readers share their stories:
A close friend – also a funny, intelligent, well-liked guy – killed himself four years ago. One of his (and my) best friends said at his memorial:
Bob was one of the smartest people I ever met. He never did anything without thinking all the way through. I hate his last decision and I don’t agree with it, but I have to believe that he did the right thing – for Bob.
This was a revelation for me. I think when we speak about suicide as a failure of ego, or the end of a losing battle, or a selfish choice, etc. we do a dishonor to the dead. Bob did a thing he chose to do: suicide is a conscious act. In denying the logic of that act we deny the dead the very last agency they had.
I know there are biochemical reasons for depression and in that sense we can say a suicidal person lacks volition, but this seems even harsher to me:
not only can a depressive not control their emotions or thoughts, they can’t control their behavior. Perhaps they can’t, but how does it help them to remind them of the fact? Are they zombies? If they were “fighting” depression, is this how they’d want to be remembered: the depression “won?” A suicidal person is making a choice, and it’s usually not a choice about us, the survivors.
In circumstances where someone seizes the reins of their own death deliberately, publicly, and without the stain of depression – living wills, advance directives, hospice care, denying care, assisted suicide – we don’t beat our chests about their selfishness. Indeed we rarely use the word “suicide,” and often speak about their “brave choices.” People usually disagree about these choices as well, but they seldom deny that the person making them has the appropriate agency to do so. The difference is striking.
Another reader quotes John Tabin:
Those who’ve never been suicidal may not realize how hollow the insistence that “there’s always hope” can sound. The very essence of depression is the absence of hope.
In my own experience, it’s worse than that. It’s the conviction that hope itself is poisonous. That it’s a lie you have to burn your insides to tell yourself. That it’s every bit as big a lie as hopelessness.
On a different note, another thing people don’t understand about severe depression is that it’s a physical experience. Aside from the lack of energy, which seems to be universal, the physical aspect is different for different people. For some people I’ve known, depression physically hurts. For me, it takes the form of a hollowness in the stomach. At my worst, in the bout that eventually led to my diagnosis, I could not eat at all. The very idea of food made me sick. I ended up in the hospital with an IV, having all sorts of tests done, and losing 20% of my body weight. It was months before I could eat any but the blandest of foods.
Severe depression is both mentally and physically exhausting. You just have nothing left for anybody. No intelligence, no humor, no counsel, no sympathy, no love, no hate, no words, no nothing. Those things belong to persons, and you have no personhood left. You are an empty sieve.
Whenever I hear people say suicide is the most selfish act a person can take, I just shake my head. By the time a “person” has reached the point of realizing — not “thinking,” because that’s not how they experience it —realizing existence is meaningless hurt for which the only solution is nonexistence and they can no longer stand the pain, they have no personhood left. There’s only the most tiny and shriveled remnants of a self in there: a desiccated pea in an empty cavern.
It’s not selfish at all. Not in any sense in which we use the word, anyway.
Read the whole thread on depression and suicide here.