STFU

 

MAJOR CONTENT WARNING: This post discusses suicide and mental illness in frank terms. Some of the views expressed might be offensive to someone who has lost a family member or friend to suicide.

Also, I use some very vulgar language at the end.

 

***********************************************************************************************************************************************************

 

 

 

When someone that lives in the public eye ends their own life, it becomes a kind of cultural event. Everyone has a eulogy for the person, how they were affected by their contributions to society. When Robin Williams died, there were hundreds of veterans who enjoyed his USO shows at one time or another, and they all talked about how important he had been to them at the time. Anthony Bourdain’s travles. Kate Spade’s fashion. Chris Cornell’s music. (Here’s a more complete list of celebrity suicides in the 21st century, if you’re feeling both nostalgic and morbid.)

We mourn in public for our celebrities, and so we comment in public. Our comments run the gamut between profound and useful to sentimental and dubiously helpful to ugly and hateful.

As someone who has experienced suicidal ideations personally, I have compiled a short list of comments made after suicides that I find to be extremely unhelpful. Some of these are things that I have said myself. Some are things that you might have said in a way that you thought was helpful. It’s not my intent to be condemnatory with this list (except where I am explicitly condemnatory.) Thousands of well-intentioned people before you have made comments like these, and I reserve the right to be utterly, completely wrong about all of it.

This list also has the honor of being the only Facebook post that I have ever had deleted.

 

“It was such a selfish decision. Think about their parents/siblings/lover/spouse/children/cats/dogs/pet hamsters.”

This is not the worst comment ever, but it’s close. It has, at it’s heart, a real concern for those left behind when someone ends their own life. It is heartbreakingly true that suicide has victims. These “secondary victims” are often left with feelings of guilt and shame – made no better by less well-intentioned people who ask questions like “How could you not have known?”.

But, the flip side of this coin is that the decision to die by your own hand is made for perceived selfless reasons. Someone who is terminally ill and relies on a family member as a caregiver tires of being a burden. Someone who suffers from depression or anxiety no longer wants to “bring everyone down.”

The logic in such an argument is probably skewed (though I would argue that a terminally ill person might have a better view than a caregiver in this area.) Intention matters, though. Calling someone selfish for making a decision that they thought was unselfish is – wait for it – selfish in itself. You’re assigning more value to your feelings than to the feelings of the person making the choice.

This isn’t an argument for suicide. I have counseled suicidal people many times in the past, and I spent many of those hours trying to convince someone that they weren’t a burden. But, this is an argument that can only be made before a suicide happens. Making this comment after the suicide is completed is useless and mean-spirited.

 

“They lost their battle.”

Winning and losing don’t have any place in a discussion of illness, whether mental or physical. I am guilty of using this language in the past, and I truly thought that I was being helpful at the time. I called depression an illness which is “sometimes terminal.”

This language is harmful for two reasons. First, it can demoralize the person who suffers. People “win” when they display the most skill or effort in a contest. They “lose” when they fail to do enough. Imagine suffering depression, and having your suffering compared to a battle or a contest. No matter how much you struggle, you’re still depressed. Why aren’t you winning? Are you not doing it right? Are you not trying hard enough?

(The same logic applies to physical illnesses, but I have never suffered an illness serious enough to comment with authority.)

The second reason that I find this particular comment harmful is because suicide is a choice.

Suicide is a choice, not a battle that is passively lost. The person that committed suicide is not a victim of a crime. Those left behind might hate the choice. They might firmly disagree with the choice. That doesn’t make it less of a choice. Don’t take agency away from someone, just because you don’t like the choice that they made. The dead deserve better than that.

 

“Suicide is a coward’s way out.”

Let me say this really clearly and loudly, for the people in the back.

Fuck. You.

Seriously, fuck you.

Why would someone say this? Who would be mean-spirited enough, hateful enough, to say this about someone?

People end their lives for a lot of reasons, but the most common reason is pain. That pain can be physical, psychological, moral, or emotional, but it is agonizing.

Would you say something like this to someone with cancer, you feckless sack of shit?

Would you say it to a veteran of war who can’t sleep more than two hours a night because of nightmares, you puddle of dog vomit?

Would you say it to someone with chronic pain so severe that they can’t walk, you purulent cyst on the anus of society?

Would you say it to a child who sleeps on the streets because their parents kicked them out for being gay, or transgender, or anything different, you festering fucking garbage dump?

Everything in our evolutionary make-up demands survival. When someone makes the choice to kill themselves, they first have to fight through millions of years of instinct and fear of the unknown. You can call that foolish, you can call that wrong, but don’t you dare call it cowardly. Unless you have stood at the edge of that particular abyss, you have no fucking idea how much courage it requires.

AGAIN, I am not lauding suicide as a correct choice. I am not speaking to the morality of it. I would never tell someone that they were brave for considering it, just like I wouldn’t tell someone that they were a coward for considering it. In fact, when talking about suicide, I would prefer to leave all adjectives describing motivation out of it. But, when we’re talking about someone who has already killed themselves, can we not use the worst possible language?

*****************************************************************************************************************************************************

 

I know that we mourn when someone ends their own life. I have had to mourn someone’s decision too many times, just like I have worked to talk someone out of that decision. I am not asking you, as a reader/friend/parent/lover/spouse/sibling to keep your mouth shut, either before or after a suicide.

I’m just asking you to think about what’s about to fall out before you fucking open it.

 

If you or someone you love is suicidal and wants help, you can find resources at this link.

 

Here’s a video of a sad song that I love.

 

COMING SOON: My own choices, and how I live with them