Is It OK to Call Suicide Selfish? It Depends On Who You Are

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Is It OK to Call Suicide Selfish? It Depends On Who You Are

By Dustin Rowles | Think Pieces | August 13, 2014 | Comments ()


Whenever a beloved celebrity like Robin Williams or Philip Seymour Hoffman takes their own life, invariably some dumbass like Jared Padalecki or Todd Bridges will take to Twitter and call the act “stupid” or “selfish” or even “cowardly.” Then the rest of humanity rightfully jumps down their throats for being idiots who don’t understand a goddamn thing about depression.

My take, however, is slightly different, and it is this: While it may be a “selfish” act, Todd Bridges and Jared Padalecki have no fucking right to say so.

You know who does? Zelda Williams.

It’s not that she came right out and said that in her incredibly touching letter acknowledging the passing of her father, but that’s what I read into this line:

“While Ill never, ever understand how he could be loved so deeply and not find it in his heart to stay, theres minor comfort in knowing our grief and loss, in some small way, is shared with millions.”

I read that subtext into the line probably because that’s how I felt when my own father took his life, when I was a few years younger than Zelda Williams is now. I’ve been thinking about that a lot in the wake of Williams’ death. In fact, for the last couple of days, Mrs. Pajiba-hyphenate will look over and ask, “Are you OK? Is this triggering something for you?” because my lovely wife is under the strange assumption that I’m one celebrity death away succumbing to all the emotional traumas of my first 25 years of life and going into some sort of catatonic stupor.

In reality, I’m sad for the same reason that everyone else is sad, but when it’s a suicide committed by a celebrity who is also a father, I admit that I dwell on it a little longer. I would never, ever call what Robin Williams did an act of cowardice, and I would never, ever suggest that it was selfish, because that’s not my place. But it’s exactly what I thought in the days after my own father took his life. That f**king asshole took the easy way out, I thought. That f**king asshole left us with his goddamn mess to clean up. That f**king asshole decided, instead of battling his addiction demons, instead of dealing with his hopelessness, instead of rebuilding his life again, that he’d just end it, instead.

It felt awfully f**king selfish to me.

There’s a brilliant quote from David Foster Wallace — who also took his own life a few years ago — floating around on Facebook this week, and though I don’t nor have I ever suffered from depression, it explains the severity of the condition in a way that I can comprehend.

“The so-called ‘psychotically depressed’ person who tries to kill herself doesn’t do so out of quote ‘hopelessness’ or any abstract conviction that life’s assets and debits do not square. And surely not because death seems suddenly appealing. The person in whom Its invisible agony reaches a certain unendurable level will kill herself the same way a trapped person will eventually jump from the window of a burning high-rise. Make no mistake about people who leap from burning windows. Their terror of falling from a great height is still just as great as it would be for you or me standing speculatively at the same window just checking out the view; i.e. the fear of falling remains a constant. The variable here is the other terror, the fire’s flames: when the flames get close enough, falling to death becomes the slightly less terrible of two terrors. It’s not desiring the fall; it’s terror of the flames. And yet nobody down on the sidewalk, looking up and yelling ‘Don’t!’ and ‘Hang on!’, can understand the jump. Not really. You’d have to have personally been trapped and felt flames to really understand a terror way beyond falling.”

That quote puts everything in context, doesn’t it? It provides me with a picture of depression that I can understand, and knowing that, I see Williams’ act as a sad, terrible tragedy, a choice of the slightly lesser between two terrible, terrible evils.

But when it comes to my own Dad, I still think: That motherfucker should’ve stood in those flames for me and my siblings. We should’ve been worth it. F*k that selfish bastard for not suffering through an intolerable darkness for his kids.

I was thinking about that this morning after I read Zelda Williams’ letter, when I suddenly remembered a conversation I had with my father on one of my last trips home before he died, a conversation I’d completely blocked out until today.

He was living in some shitty freeway motel when I went to visit him to tell him that I’d been accepted into law school, and he’d claimed to me that he’d cleaned up, which was a lie, I’d later learn. But he always did feel ashamed to admit his addictions and his financial failures around me, mostly because I was the asshole son who called him out on them. But I was also always ready to believe him when he said he was clean and sober.

He was in great spirits, too, despite living in a motel, and I remember telling him how relieved I was that he’d gotten through a very dark period in his life. And I remember saying to him, “I just kept waiting to get that call. And I don’t mean this in a bad way, Dad, but ‘that call’ might have been a relief because you were so very sad, and it would’ve been easier on us than hearing about another relapse. It would’ve been a relief for you, I think.” I felt weirdly comfortable saying that because my Dad was clean, and he was on his way back to rebuilding his life, and I was just being honest!

And now I wonder if he thought about that before he took his own life. I wonder if he’d been hanging on as long as he had, waiting for someone to give him permission. I wonder if he thought what I had given him was permission to be selfish.

Well, shit.

"Aquaman": So This is Happening | He Was Pagliacci: Late Night Pays Tribute to Williams.

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Comments Are Welcome, Bigots and Trolls Are Not

  • Haystacks

    Well written-- most of the reactions to Williams' death have been pithy, shallow or simply emotional - that is par the course for pop culture, but it is nice to read something more substantial.

    I have had chronic depression since I was 12 and have considered killing myself many times. The thing that has stopped me has been the knowledge of what my parents would endure should I do such a thing. In the end I always concluded that it would be less painful to have a sub-standard, disappointment of a daughter than a dead one. At least while I am alive the onus of my failures remaines on me, I know my parents well enough to know that if I killed myself they would take them on and wear them like a backpack full of bricks for the rest of their lives. And I don't want that for them.

    But this lead to nights wishing that I was an orphan, or my parents were gone, or something - anything, that would free me from this emotional obligation to them.

    But if tomorrow they called me on the phone, and explained to me that they understood my suffering, my pain, and in an act of love were freeing me of any obligation to them, this would mean nothing.

    The truth of what I wanted to do would not be freed of it's ramifications, and I am well aware of this.

    The point is my parents are neither the cause of my depression, nor do they free me of it. This is to say, to Mr. Rowles, that an offhand comment made to your father would never have given him the freedom to finally jump. Depression makes you miserable, not stupid. I am sure that even he knew that what he was about to do would cause you great pain. If he was anything like me, or the millions of others who consider it, he did so for the same reason you take your hand off a burning oven-- because you can't take the pain anymore.

    He is only human, and so are you. I imagine the only thing that kept him going and struggling against his addiction is for the people he loved (including you). For reasons I don't understand it is much easier to live for someone else than for yourself.

    I feel confident, despite having never met you or your father, in telling you this: Depression is about lies, for the most part -the lies whispered in your ear from a broken brain. And to think that he was waiting for your blessing to finally end it all is a filthy, filthy lie.

  • petitesuissesse

    Seven years ago, on the one year anniversary of my wedding, my brother-in-law decided to strap 100 lbs of weights to his body and jump into a beautiful Oregon river. This was three months afer the "accidental" death by alcohol of my other brother-in-law. My husband lost 2 brothers in the course of 3 months. Their deaths have affected our family in ways I didn't know were possible.

    At first, yeah, I was angry. I was calling them selfish and cowardly. They took the light from my husband's eyes. My other brother-in-law (it's a big family) crawled into a bottle and only just this spring made it out. My marriage almost imploded. My mother-in-law still spends some days just crying; she's a shell of a woman.

    I'm pregnant now and routinely we'll say to eat other, "FUCK THOSE GUYS!" They would have been amazing uncles.

    We try to focus on their lives and not their deaths, but it's hard. I wonder why they didn't see themselves as we saw them. I wonder what markers we missed. I wonder how I could have helped. But really, this is my selfishness, isn't it? I don't want to assume the pain they left behind.

    I just hope that Robin Williams' death, and all the other celebrity deaths like his, can bring some people out of their closets. I hope this inspires someone to reach out for some help. No one deserves to live in this kind of silent pain. It must be so lonely and terrifying.

  • lilianna28

    I remember when Kurt Cobain died I was righteously indignant with the thought that he was so damn selfish. That he had a baby girl, and friends and fans that loved him (including me) and how DARE he. And I was 15. And I grew the f$&k up and realized life is never simple, there are no answers, that mental health diseases were as deadly as other diseases. So yea, you hear something like that from a high schooler I have patience, but anyone else can shove it.

  • cinekat

    There have been times in my life when ending it seemed like a viable option, and at those times the only thing holding me back was the thought of the bewilderment of my family and friends. That led me to seeking therapy and opening up more about what was lurking beneath the plastered-on smile. So thank you for this piece, and for continuing what hopes to be, in spite of trolls and their ilk, an open, honest and caring debate about suicide and depression.

  • Morgan_LaFai

    While I understand the need to not stigmatize those who are suicidal, have tried to commit suicide, or are survivors of another's suicide, I will continue to think of it as the most selfish act a person can perform.

    This is not because I lack empathy, far from it. It is because the only thing that got me through the truly dark places was the knowledge of what my death would do to my mother. No matter how much pain I was in, no matter that it seemed that it would never end, and no matter that my pain caused her pain; I knew in my heart of hearts that my suicide would devastate her in ways that I could not begin to comprehend.

    And so, while I will never judge anyone, I need to think of suicide as selfish, because the darkness is always there lurking inside, waiting to strike again, and it is the best defense against suicide I have in my arsenal. And while I am currently in recovery, it is not something I will ever recover completely from. All I have is a daily reprieve and the knowledge I have acquired over the years that helps me from falling back into the dark place.

    I live in fear of falling back into the dark place, and having it be so dark that even the love of my mother won't be enough to keep me fighting. But it is a healthy fear that keeps me doing the next right thing.

    But I have wandered far off topic. The point I was trying to make is that, for some, there is merit in thinking of suicide as the most selfish act a person can perform. This does not give me, or anyone, the right to jump on a soap box and yell about the selfishness of others.

    So yeah, it depends on who you are, and I think I am one of the people who can say that, because it serves a real and useful purpose in my life.

  • Kate at June

    Realizing that my suicide could potentially put my loved ones in the same kind of pain as I was trying to escape from is what saved my life. I needed to see it as selfish, too.

  • Maydays

    This breaks my heart. It wasn't permission, Dustin. Anyone who loves an addict knows "that call" will come. It's been one of the things I've been trying to put into words to share with my loved tell him that knowing the call is coming is the hardest part. It sounds hopeless, but I want it to sound like empathy. I want it to sound like I know that each day is a gift. You were sharing your relief. Sharing that you were glad that "that call" was postponed. Sharing that you recognized his fight.

  • Kate at June

    Ok (Also, side note: I edited this from facebook, so this is all coming from my experience of having been suicidal, which I'm fine discussing here, but didn't particularly want 100s of people who work with me to know )

    I've been trying to gather my thoughts on this. I'm a little bit surprised by the avoidance of the world selfish to describe suicide.

    It's a heavy word. It's an unpleasant word. (Which in itself is weird to me--selfishness is not always a negative and often times being selfish is one of the more mentally healthy ways to interact with a situation or person) It can be an aggressive word and a blaming word, if you want to use it that way. But is it inaccurate word? I don't think so.

    You should never call a PERSON selfish for committing or attempting or considering suicide.

    Thats a) really not helpful and b) an extremely simplistic view of a very, very complicated problem. But suicide is a selfish decision to make, absolutely.

    When people avoid using the word selfish to describe suicide, or as I've seen in the last few days, consider it an utter faux paux, I wonder if they realize that the point that a suicidal person realizes the gravity of the decision to end their life is often the same point that they realize that it IS selfish. *Understanding that it is selfish can be what actually SAVES their life.*

    When someone is suicidal, suicide can seem like an easy, simple decision to make. They don't think that the world would care, really. The choice can seem like an obvious one because they aren't thinking about the fact that they do really impact a lot of people. They honestly think that the world is better off without them in it.

    If you are able to get through to a suicidal person and help them see that you, someone they care about, would in reality be WORSE off if they killed themselves, if you can help them see just how negatively it would impact you and their family and the rest of their loved ones to pick up the pieces when they are already gone and can't be asked why, the guilt that you would feel because you weren't able to help them, even though you were willing, though you may not have known just how dire the situation was, if you're able to help them understand the impact it does have on you, then they are realizing that the decision is selfish on their own.

    I'm not saying use the word to a suicidal person (never, as I said, it is a heavy word and can easily come off as blaming or as a defect of character, which it isn't.) and I'm not saying to guilt trip them with these thoughts. (What a suicidal person doesn't need is to feel more failure or guilt.)

    Sometimes something as simple as saying "I would care if you were gone," can flip the switch, and they may understand that it isn't as selfless as they might think it is.

    I also wonder if people realize that they may be doing more harm than good when avoiding calling the decision (again, not the person) selfish. Similar to you, I wonder-- is saying its not selfish unintentionally giving it your blessing?

    In the same vein, I've seen people posting that it isn't even a "decision," but a consequence of disease. Of course, it's both. Depression is an illness, addiction is an illness, of course. But don't take away people's agency. The last thing a person considering suicide needs to hear is that it isn't even their call, its part of their illness--because you know what that sounds like? It's inevitable anyway, so may as well give in. No. It is a decision, it is a choice--denying that is taking away something very important to the people who have MADE A DIFFERENT ONE.

    Calling a person selfish is blaming. Suicidal people don't need more blame. Calling the decision selfish is what it is. It is tragic and it is not their fault and it is understandable and it is, also, a selfish choice. Instead of avoiding the word selfish, how about we stop romanticizing the decision instead?

    "Genie, you're free"

    He isn't free. He succumbed to his illness. That isn't freedom, thats the walls closing in on you so tightly that you don't feel like you can breathe anymore.

    I dunno guys. I don't think the word is the problem, really. People who use the word to write off struggles as a defect of character, yeah, they aren't helping.

  • Sirilicious

    I think you are forgetting quite a chunk of of suicidal people. There are also people who have been depressed for a very, very long time and tried everything to fix it. Then there's a tipping point when weighing their own pain against the pain they know the people left behind will have, and the latter seems lighter. The guilt they feel is enormous, but the pain is even bigger. I am very glad i gave my cousin a lot of comfort by saying that sometimes, enough IS enough and it doesn't make you a bad (selfish) person to not want to hurt anymore every hour of every day. It also helped her husband realise it was time to let go and cherish their last weeks together instead of fighting it. They planned it together and were able to say goodbye, very much like euthanasia.

  • Kate at June

    I'm not trying to speak for everyone. At all.

    Understanding that the decision would be selfish IS what saved my life, and I will never stop being grateful for that.

    Everyone is different. It's this across the board avoidance of the word selfish that I'm objecting to. I've talked to other people who have experienced being suicidal and coming through it, and some have echoed my feelings. It can be life saving for people, so why why why would we unilaterally avoid it?

    I don't want people to throw the word around with abandon, and I hope that came across. I hope it also read that I don't find selfishness to be a character defect or a necessarily bad trait--sometimes being selfish can be very healthy. To me, selfish does not = bad. But for some of us, realizing how selfish the decision to leave would be is what has kept us here. Not wanting that is the reason I'm alive, and I'm so glad that I'm alive.

  • Sirilicious

    "When someone is suicidal, suicide can seem like an easy, simple decision
    to make. They don't think that the world would care, really. The choice
    can seem like an obvious one because they aren't thinking about the
    fact that they do really impact a lot of people."

    Here for example, you are speaking about all suicidals, it's a language thing. You didn't mean to, i understand that now. And i believe that a lot of people would benefit from the viewpoint you describe. I am glad that it profoundly helped you.

  • Kate at June

    Really? You're going to pick apart what I wrote like this? I put a disclaimer at the top where I said I edited it from facebook.

    I used "someone" so that I didn't have to use "me." This isn't a goddamn wikipedia article, I'm not presenting this with sources for you to cite.


  • Sirilicious

    I didn't mean to be glib or pedantic. Your first post hurt me a bit because the way you wrote it, it read like my cousin didn't worry for years about how she'd hurt her family.

    You explained you didn't mean that, i tried to explain why i felt that way.

    Communicating is hard, especially on topics that mean so much to us.

  • emmalita

    I agree with most of what you are saying. Personally, I avoid the word selfish because I want to encourage people to really think of mental illness as illness, and the behaviors as symptoms. The disease is selfish, like a cancerous tumor selfishly refuses to share space and nutrients with the healthy tissue.

    I hate the "Genie, you're free." I hate that it speaks to that part of me that the depression won't let go of.

  • LwoodPDowd

    Thank you for writing this. I wanted to write something similar today, but I didn't have the time, the skill or the tact necessary to do it right. Well said.

  • Lilith Square

    I actually have something useful to contribute, so here is my two cents. This is how I explained depression to my husband:

    Picture the worst person in your life. The mean girl from 5th grade, the teacher who hated you for no reason, the aunt or sibling you can't wait to cut you down, no matter what you say. The person who delights in every opportunity to make you feel bad and small and worthless. Everybody's got somebody. Picture the face, remember the voice, clearly, in detail. Got it? Good.

    That person is with you all the time. That voice is in your ear when you get up in the morning. That person showers with you, eats with you, has color commentary to share about every thought that passes through your head. He or she examines your body, your face, your hair, your clothes. When something goes wrong, that person is there to explain, in excruciating detail, why it's all your fault. If something goes well, they are ready to explain why you don't deserve it and someone will be along soon to take it away. That voice is still whispering in your ear at 3 am (and you will still be awake at 3 am). Wake up in a few hours, do it all again. You can't get away (you can never get away) because that person is inside your head, every minute, every hour, every day.

    How long do you think you could take it? When assholes like that jerk at Fox open their mouths, I think, "Cookie, you wouldn't last a week."

  • Emperor Cupcake

    I've wrestled with depression since I was a teenager, and one of the scariest parts about going to the dark place is wondering if this will be the time I don't make it out again. Seeing a public figure like Robin Williams, who was so beloved, give up the fight after such a long struggle, has been hard for a lot of people, me included. Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Dustin, and don't think for a minute that you are in any way responsible for what your dad did.

  • Another Kate

    I have nothing unique or constructive to add, so I will merely add my voice to the chorus: No shame, no blame attaches to your conversation with your father. He alone is responsible for that decision. My thoughts are with Zelda Williams and her family tonight, and the assholes harassing her on social media can eat a VERY BIG bag of dicks. Also, this is the best site on the Interwebz. Y'all are awesome.

    I'm going to go look at some pictures of baby pandas now.

  • Valerie Klyman-Clark
  • ScienceGeek

    When I was pregnant, the only reason I didn't kill myself was because I'd kill my baby too. That was it. Not my amazing husband, not the job I'd dreamed of since I was a kid, not my wonderful friends, lovely home or adorable cat.

    Suicide IS selfish. It IS the 'easy way out'. But depression steals your strength and blocks your view of everybody else. It's just you, alone in the flames, and you're too tired and too weak to fight them.

    I wasn't alone. The energetic kicks and wriggles that would quieten when I sang 'The book of Love', that firm little lump against my hand, the heartbeat on the ultrasound, they were my constant reminders. That's the exquisite irony of my life at the time, that what was destroying me contained what saved me.
    Only this morning, when I told a work colleague about my depression, she said 'I'm so surprised. You're so happy.' My therapist apologised for laughing during our first session 'but you describe things in a very funny way'. Even my husband, the man who knows me better than anybody, was shocked by how bad I'd be feeling.
    Depression lies, and it makes us into liars.
    And Dustin, nothing you said 'made' your father kill himself. And I'm sorry, but nothing you could have said would have saved him.

  • Wigamer

    All I can say is that Dustin is why I'll never leave the mothership. I'm done when you're done, Rowles, and not a minute before.

  • lillie

    I've been reading this site since 2006 and Dustin, that was one of the most moving, heartbreaking articles I have ever read here. Thank you for sharing what I'm sure was one of your most private ordeals.
    Also, thank God for this site. I got sucked down the internet wormhole today of articles about depression/suicide and made the mistake of reading some comments on other sites that were not Pajiba. I really wish I hadn't because, well, they just made me sad about the state of humanity in general. Here I read all the comments and, save the one that was deleted, all were made by articulate, compassionate, SANE people, many of who clearly knew what they were talking about because they have been through this themselves. I myself, have not. I have certainly been unhappy at times in my life and have probably abused my body in ways I shouldn't have, but I have never been in that dark place so many of you have described. It sounds scary as fuck and my heart breaks for those of you who have been there , or currently are there.
    Thank you all for sharing your stories. Each one of them touched me and I wish everyone knew about this site because some of your stories could possibly save someone's life.

  • Molly Spurgeon

    Thank you for this. Thank you for your own deeply personal story, your reflections and honesty on a subject some of us can relate to, and for sharing that perfect quote from Foster-Wallace. That really does encapsulate the "lesser of two evils that are both terrifying and all-consuming" in a way I'd hope any sane person could understand. I wish every person who was about to open their mouth to ridicule suicide would be forced to read this first, and wait 24 hours before they were allowed to speak. Even the well-intentioned people who pen articles of compassion and empathy for Robin Williams and others with depression by comparing them to their own plight with depression sort of rub me the wrong way, and I think now I understand why. Like you said, no one, NO ONE, really has the right to thoughtfully say things about a person's struggle besides their own family/loved ones. Not to triangulate and make this about me, but my own father suffered from addiction and died when I was young, and your story about your words to your father and how he might have taken them was strangely cathartic for me. Thank you for your candid honesty - and I hope your wife knows what an exceptional person she is for being so in-tune with you and for being so understanding about how some of us process the deaths of celebrities we weren't even close to in real life.

  • tomc

    Beautiful piece, Dustin. Proud to know ya.

  • denesteak

    Thanks so much for writing this, Dustin. Thanks so much for sharing it.

    As others have mentioned below, it wasn't you.

  • Fabius_Maximus

    As someone who was in a place that dark once, I can tell you that I don't understand this "misguided heroism" thing Vermillion posted. Depressed people are self-centered (thanks, Ironypants); they are unable to think about anything else but themselves. In that second I thought suicide was a reasonable way out of my misery, I didn't think about anyone else. I just wanted it to end.

    The quote you posted, Dustin, highlights this well.

  • Mark Maloney

    Thanks Dustin for your personal perspective. Even though I am normally driven by some nefarious inner force to prove to the world how smart and secure I am to have "correct" opinions on everything, I have nothing constructive to add here regarding depression and/or suicide. Just a profound sadness for those like yourself to have been placed in the position of personally picking up the pieces when something terrible like this happens so close. We can all conjecture, from afar, about these things, but we must really stop and listen to those who have something insightful to share on this topic. It has touched my life in my 50 something years, like it has most, but I've remained strangely insulated/indifferent to it because of my own demons I guess. My default position tends to be that no one lives for ever, so don't be shocked when - not if - they're gone, but loss is loss regardless of the cause. I have people very near me lately that I've realized might be looking at it, suicide, as a lesser pain compared to what they're currently being overwhelmed with, and I feel callous and ill-equipped to deal with it. I for one am benefitting from your handling of the topic up-front and the ensuing dialog. Thanks to All.

  • Wilma

    I don't know. I don't think people outside someone's circle of friends and family can make that judgement. Inside the circle it's still difficult. When my best friend commited suicide I knew she had done everything she could to get through her trauma and out of her depression. She had asked for help and been in therapy programs for years. In a way she was selfish, but only in the sense that she chose herself above her family and friends and her letter reflected that she just couldn't continue to live for others any longer when the hurting was too much to bear. I understood and understand because I saw what she went through. To others it still felt selfish, because she never made it out of her first period of depression and therefor couldn't properly choose and ofcourse her parents and sisters felt the whole range of complicated emotions. If my sister's next attempt is succesful I don't know how I will feel. Right now I'm awake at night checking her facebook and tumblr to see if she's still with us.

  • A few years back one of my best friends killed himself when his
    girlfriend broke up with him. I've only recently forgiven him and since
    then I've learned a lot more about him than I'd ever known before. I
    won't say Robin Williams suicide has been a trigger for me but it has
    definitely brought that all back the surface more than I expected.

    When suicide becomes a reality in your life its natural (at least it was for me) to re-examine every single interaction and conversation you had with the victim to look for the "Why? and "How could I personally have prevented this?" and "How did I not know this was coming?" To find those answers for myself I decided to volunteer at our local Crisis Center which helped me a lot to come to accept and forgive him. The most important thing I had to come to terms with is it wasn't anyone choice to end his life but his. One of the things we were taught in training was you never bring up the negative impact a suicidal caller's death will have on loved ones. The "selfish" aspect of suicide is usually a component of their thinking that the suicidal victim is using to rationalize the act itself. It's a circular snake eating its tail line of thought. We were taught to always keep it about them, about what they are going through, why they feel that suicide is the answer. It's empathy to their situation but without validating their decision to end their life and working with the caller through the situation to find another solution.

    It is a very tricky, extremely high stress line to walk to try and intervene with them. But the good aspect of it is if they are calling in than they want help. What we were told is if someone really wants to kill them self, they will regardless of any intervention or rationalization on the part of the counselor or friends and family. The flip side of that is the harsh truth that quite often there is nothing the friends or family can do to stop someone truly determined to kill them self and we'll never really know the "Why?", we just have to learn to accept and forgive.

  • Itmustbebunnies

    This resonated so deeply with me. I also lost my father to addiction/depression and have similar feelings of guilt around some of our last interactions together. Thank you so much for writing this, and making me feel less alone in my experience.

  • LwoodPDowd

    The problem is not with stigmatizing suicide, it is stigmatizing depression, suicide should have a stigma attached. In my opinion the quote from David Foster Wallace, while it may help survivors understand, is dangerous to those people suffering from crippling depression. The reason you jump from the burning building is that the fire IS going to overtake you, the fire IS going to kill you, and there is nothing anyone can do to help. There is help for depression, their depression lies to them and tells them there is no way out. A neat and tidy little quote saying there is no other way out is just the kind of bullshit someone suffering from depression will latch onto to justify their suicide attempt.

    I'm at work and don't have time to give this discussion all that it deserves, but consider two studies which I link to at the end of the post. They both follow up on failed attempted suicides over an extended period of time. One looks at suicide attempts by poisoning, the other violent suicide attempts. Around 10% of the patients will successfully commit suicide later in life. 90% were able to step away from the fire. In the DFW analogy, the building fire would not be so forgiving.

  • rio

    I can understand where you are coming from but this is like saying that you are stigmatizing cancer, just people that die of cancer.

  • LwoodPDowd

    But it's not the depression that kills them, it's the knife opening up their vein, the drugs causing organ failure, the noose around their neck or the bullet ripping through brain. If they would ask for help and get the treatment and support they need, they wouldn't have to die. The numbers suggest at least 90% of them could be alive. People talk about failed suicide attempts being a 'cry for help', we don't need to improve the PR of suicide to make 'crying for help' something that people are not ashamed to do.

    Cancer was a bad analogy, but lets run with that. The 10 year survival rates for malignant melanoma are 90%. If someone you knew was diagnosed with melanoma and decided to NOT get treated... I view the quote from DFW similar to homeopathic charlatans who scam cancer patients suggesting they skip useful treatment for BS. Not as bad obviously, more like a hint of the concept rather than the full blown evil of the quacks.

  • emmalita

    I disagree. I think it is the depression that kills. Suicide attempts can be a cry for help, because for many it will be the first time the symptoms are taken seriously. For some it isn't so much a cry for help as it is the first time they can't hide the problem anymore.

  • Emily Chambers

    I understand your argument, and in some ways agree. I've got a close friend who has made two half hearted suicide attempts, but now seems to be in the clear so to speak. I would never imagine saying, "Yeah it's totally fine to kill yourself." But I also think decades long struggles with sever depression and addiction is a different monster from suicidal instances. At the very least, we need to stop differentiating between physical pain and mental pain. If Williams had had a debilitating physical disease for the past 40 years which was at best manageable with medicine, wouldn't we bit more understanding if he said he couldn't deal with it anymore?

  • Damn it, Dustin. I stopped listening to This American Life at work because it always makes me cry and now I have to put up with this emotional, revealing, and thoughtful crap? I wore mascara today, jerk.

    P.S. *all the hugs*

  • I am struggling right now for various reasons and after reading all this I made an appointment to see my therapist after work. I haven't been in a while and it is hard to admit to needing help but there is no reason to suffer alone. It may not help everything but it is a good step to take.

  • Berry

    Good for you.

  • Sirilicious

    My cousin was abused thoroughly and continuously by her dad as a kid. He died when she was in her teens. She was depressed ever since. She was able to have a family with my cousin even through all of her doubts and fears of her kids being subjected to the same. Her kids were not allowed on grandpa's lap and even if that is horrible, i can't really blame her. She tried EVERYTHING, even electroshock with all its awful side effects to get better, to be there for her family. But when the kids were a halfway through their teens, she just couldn't cope anymore, after years of fighting.

    A few of us knew in advance that she was going to commit suicide, including her husband, and supported her choice. When she didn't succeed because she threw up all the pills, i cried so hard. Thankfully she died after 2 weeks without fully gaining consciousness because of complications.

    She had no addictions, just lived through a literal hell on earth. Every night she relived the abuse in full, realistic colour.

  • selucius

    Wow. Thank you for sharing such a personal story. Amongst the other personal stories you've shared over the years, I feel like I know you as a friend. For instance, while vacationing in Maine this summer, I kept finding myself thinking, "I should really give Dustin a shout while I'm up here." When, in reality, I would have just been a crazy internet person stalking you.

  • Dennis Albert Ramirez

    i am very thankful I have never experienced depression, and the only experience I have with it otherwise was with my ex-girlfriend, but I had met her after she had reached the other side of it.

    that said, I want to thank you Dustin for posting this incredibly personal and complicated story, and also the rest of the community for feeling brave enough to share their own stories. the best part about this place has always been the community, and I very much enjoy and feel special that I get to learn about the lives of the people here past their avatars and amazing snark.

    i sincerely hope all of you suffering from depression find the help you need, in whatever way it takes that will work for you.

    p.s. i always really liked this post from comic writer Matt Fraction to a fan who asked why suicide couldn't be a valid option, where he reveals his own experience that even his wife didn't know about.

  • Tinkerville

    I'm a huge Matt Fraction fan and I had no idea he had written this. Thank you for this.

  • DarthCorleone

    Once again, Dustin, your willingness to go beyond the usual content and share the personal is something that makes this site extra special. Thank you.

  • Valerie Klyman-Clark

    Dear Dustin,

    I feel you. My father, too-though addiction was not his problem. He was the same age as Mr. Williams when he checked out. After he called me to say goodbye.

    Well, shit-indeed.

    That great line from Princess Bride springs to mind-Life is pain . . . anyone who tries to tell you differently is selling something.

  • Wednesday

    Since so many of you seem to have a lot of profound and personal experience with depression, I'm going to tap into your kindness and willingness to share to ask for advice.

    I have a friend who is seriously depressed and she frequently references suicide as a reasonable option. More often when she stops taking her meds, but still, pretty frequently regardless. I get long diatribes about how her life sucks and how she sucks and how it's always going to suck. I can offer her logic about why it's not some inherent personal flaw, and I can sympathize with the constant pain. But of course, never having been truly depressed, I can't understand it on her level.

    What do friends and loved ones do? How can we help? I couldn't help my ex-husband, though I spent years begging him to treat his depression, and he drank himself to death instead. My friend has two little kids. I know I can't save her, but I do not like to think of those kids growing up without a mother.

  • rio

    You are a good friend for reaching out and ask what could help you in being there for her. Now I just read this fantastic post about depression written by Linsday Ellis, once known as the Nostalgia chick. If you can, have it read it too, Im sure like most depressed people she feels a lot of guilt and anger against herself for feeling the way she's feeling and Lindsay puts the disease into perspective in a way that I found incredibly helpful.

  • Wednesday

    Thank you for that article, rio, that I have to admit, it was really hard to read. It feels like there's not much of anything a friend can do besides just watch it all happen and hope for the best, that everything's a minefield that we have to navigate knowing that what our filters say should be useful and good simply don't apply to our sick friend's situation.

    I guess I'll just continue to listen and tell her I think she has value.

  • rio

    Listening and tell her she has value is more than you can think, don't underestimate it. I particularly related to the idea that depression is like diabetes, it's there, its part of you and though that feels daunting at the same time it takes away the guilt usually associated with depression.
    I got this link from my therapist, maybe she could find this interesting:

    the music sucks and the the voice is terribly annoying but the idea is valuable.

  • emmalita

    3. Go watch a bunch of Intervention episodes. One of the common threads is that the people around the addict (insert your depressed friend here) have tried to help, and through kindness made things worse by enabling. Really, it helps her more for you to be healthy than for you to try to make her healthy.

  • Wednesday

    Oh, I think I've seen every episode of Intervention, sadly. And I know I'm not enabling her, except by possibly NOT calling the police every time she talks about suicide. That has landed her in the psych ward twice already, actually, and both times she has convinced the hospital that the person who called was overreacting and she was fine. Then she cut those people out of her life as disloyal bastards...and then wonders why she feels isolated and lonely. There's a lot of self-destructive behavior here. It's kind of eerie, though. She'll threaten suicide over something utterly small and stupid, but when big scary situations arise? She handles them. A neighbor being nasty can send her spiralling down for a week but being turned in to CPS by her estranged husband, well, she handled that with flying colors.

    I'm really in no danger here. She lives seven hours away from me so mostly I just listen. As far as getting her out and interacting with the public...well, she also has a ton of health issues and has been known to collapse in public fairly easily.

    I absolutely encourage her to keep seeing her therapist and to keep trying meds to find something that might work for her.

  • Berry

    It honestly sounds like you're pretty much doing everything you can, and doing it right.

  • emmalita

    Good on you.

  • Berry

    Let her talk, listen. Try to remind her that certain thing can help, if she can just muster the energy, such as little exercise and regular eating. Watch the mindless entertainment of her choice with her. Something with an outside chance to make her laugh. If you have the energy to spare, maybe help her with housework, but don't forget to take care of yourself as well.

  • Tinkerville

    First off, thank you for trying to understand what she's going through. That's the most important thing you can do. The only thing you can do is be there for her, and while it's hard, she'll have to do the leg work. Try cooking her a healthy meal. Ask if she wants to go for a walk or a hike with you. There are times when being social or active feels absolutely impossible and you can barely get out of bed in the morning, but for me personally, having friends that make it known that they want me around even when I'm in a bad place can make such a huge difference. The next time she brings up suicide as an option, tell her that you understand where she's coming from, but she should think of talking to someone if the impulse becomes strong, whether it's a friend or a professional, and perhaps give her a list of numbers that she can call. Reaching out will ultimately be up to her.

  • Dumily

    This will sound cruel, but you can't help her. That's not to say you can't be there for her, but honestly you aren't equipped to handle this type of illness. If she had a broken bone and came to you because she needed it fixed, you'd send her to the doctor. Because unless you've been to medical school, you're just randomly poking around at an injury. When she starts talking about suicide, call the police. Everytime. Even if it doesn't seem like she means it. It's more important to get her the help she needs during a crisis.

  • rio

    I agree with the first half of you post but you kinda lose me at "call the police", NOPE, call an ambulance? maybe, if you think there is no another option, but fuck calling the police.

  • Dumily

    Sorry, not the police necessarily, just 911. Or as my 28 year old brother would call them the "in charges."

  • sherryb23

    Well said.

  • emmalita

    Yes, this.

  • emmalita

    First of all, you can't save her unless she is willing to save herself. You have to take care of you before you can take care of her. It's the oxygen mask in the airplane analogy - if you run out of air, you can't help anyone.

    Second, at some point when she is on her meds, have an honest conversation with her about her illness and her kids. Her kids are learning from her how to take care of themselves, or not. The goal of having kids isn't to produce children who don't get depressed, but to raise children who know how to care for themselves.

  • Erica O.

    The distress and pain of those impacted is no less emotionally valid than the person suffering. I know my high-minded ideals and empathy-from-afar crumbled when faced with the reality of such a situation. It can take a while to see through your own hurt clearly enough to acknowledge the suffering of someone driven to such measures. But if you're tangential to the immediacy of the situation, shut your mouth and keep the judgement to yourself. You're not helping anything.

  • TQB

    The fire-window analogy is particularly moving because I can't read any of John Irving's books without picturing Williams as the main character (not just Garp). In the Hotel New Hampshire, a common refrain is "Keep passing open windows!" Ultimately, one character does not. I repeat the quote to myself often, and it's just been running through my head constantly since I heard the news.

    Admittedly, it's not a sentiment that meant shit when I was seriously depressed.

    I'm sorry for your loss, Dustin, and grateful for your words.

  • emmelemm

    Keep passing the open windows! That always stuck with me.

  • Berry

    "Sorry. Just not big enough."

  • $78742978

    Part of my problem with people's negative response to suicide, is that it makes it really hard to ask for help when you are suicidal. I went through a great deal that has recently come to an end, and at the worst of it I was feeling suicidal. I didn't want to die but I honestly felt like very few people would really give a crap because so many people were treating me so horribly. I didn't want to let them win, but I didn't see a light at the end of the tunnel. Do you have any idea how EMBARRASSING it is to say this to someone you love? I finally confided in my boyfriend, saying I was suicidal-ish, and his disappointment was palpable. From that point on, he no longer saw me or treated me as a strong person, but as a fuck-up that had to be maintained in order to not be broken. He forced himself to stay with me long after he was done with me because he was afraid he might break me. But while we were together, the contempt and constant criticism was a daily experience. He said he couldn't really consider me the mother of his child because "If you can't take care of yourself, how can you take care of anyone else?" I deeply regret confiding in him. It made him fall out of love and made one of the few supports in my life go away, and I still clung to him because I needed something. But... DID I KILL MYSELF, MOTHERFUCKER? No, I'm still here, even though I got the worst response possible to a cry for help. In the middle of cutting my wrists open I called my therapist, because I didn't really want to die. I just wanted like one person in my life to act like they loved me. Even without that, I managed to escape from the circle of assholes around me, and I'M STILL BREATHING, bitches. I'd really like all those people so quick to call it cowardly to go through what I did and live.

  • Sara_Tonin00

    Oh, wow. Hugs to you for coping with insult added to injury. My sister's depression was a contributing factor to her divorce - her husband said she didn't have the same drive she used to. I know he was often frustrated, and he wasn't innately equipped to deal with it, and he wasn't particularly interested in joint therapy. Please keep breathing.

  • $78742978

    I mean, I'm much better now. I cut a large segment of people out of my life, including my remaining family members (which is really hard for someone who has no nuclear family and takes the idea of family really serious, it was not a glib decision), and I just don't regret it in the least. I tried so hard to work it out with people and maintain relationships, but there was a tipping point and then I was like boom, done, had a lovely facebook meltdown, and spent my summer waiting it out to get out of that city. I escaped from the ensuing depression and emotional tumult and feeling that I was a worthless crazy person who no one would love by finishing my novel, and I'm about to start grad school. I feel much better about myself now, and my main realization can be summed up by this William Gibson quote: "Before you diagnose yourself with depression or low self-esteem, make sure you are not, in fact, just surrounded by assholes". I tend to be non-judgemental and accepting to a fault and find everyone interesting, and I have a big problem with setting boundaries, so I realize moving forward that people are going to have to prove that they're safe before I let them get close to me.

  • emmalita

    Damn woman, you are strong. Ovaries of steel!

    I told one of my friends, during a really bad period, that I had the strength of Wonder Woman because I didn't lie down on the floor in the middle of Target and just give up. You are a superhero for getting yourself out alive.

  • $78742978

    Yeah, for real, the strength of not giving up, or even just getting back up after you did give up for a while, needs to be acknowledged. It really helps during that period.

  • sherryb23

    Okay, I'd promised myself to stop posting about this but when I was driving to work this morning, I'd been so bewildered by my own reaction this--not simply his death but all of the ignorant conversations surrounding it--that I was desperately wondering where I could find an outlet for it. So thank you all for giving me a safe place with so many understanding people who get it.

    Because that's the thing. Like so many other people have said, I don't necessary WANT others to "get it" because they're in the same bad place I am. But at the same time, it can be so very isolating because your loved ones don't get it. They don't get why I stop showering or spend the weekends in bed or many of the other lows I sink to. My husband, as wonderful and understanding as he is, thinks he gets it. But he doesn't. Sometimes, the only thing that pulls me out of the suicidal ideation is something really strange. Not the thought of leaving my young child motherless, my husband a widower, my mother without a child. Not concern over how my actions would be seen or what anyone would think of me. It's the fact that I'm the breadwinner in the family. My husband is a freelance musician. Our local public school is dreadful so my daughter goes to a co-op private school. And if I died, they'd be left without a thing. I don't even know what they would do. And sometimes, that's the very fact that pulls me back.

    Okay, I really am done posting about me, me, me. But again, Pajiba, thank the gods that you are a safe and sane outlet for this kind of stuff.

  • Uriah_Creep

    I can guaran-fucking-tee that there are quite a few of us Pajibans who not only understand your pain, but are here to listen if that makes you feel even a little bit better. As Tinkerville says, no apology is necessary.

  • sherryb23

    Thank you. And thank you all. It really has helped. I began the day feeling a little desperate but even having the space to vent, much less the support, makes such a difference.

  • Dulce et Banana

    I know it's a tired metaphor that I use too often but, when you're at the bottom of the well and considering staying, WHATEVER it takes to make you swim for the surface is worth it because that's the goal - to tell depression to hit the road! {hug}

  • Mrs. Julien

    As my family's breadwinner, your reason makes absolute and perfect sense to me. Whatever works.

  • Berry

    That's not so strange. There are no bad reasons to fight another day. Also, what Tinkerville said.

  • Tinkerville

    Don't apologize, it's hard to find a safe outlet to talk about this and I completely understand how much of a relief it can be to talk about it in an understanding environment like Pajiba (seriously, this place is the shit) so you should feel welcome to talk about you, you, you anytime.

    I think it's impossible to understand what factors will be the things that keep you from going through with it and why. The Harry Potter books did more to save my life than therapy and medication combined. It's strange how the things that should be obvious motivators to keep going sometimes don't get through to us rationally and vice versa.

  • sherryb23

    Thank you so much. [cyber hug]

    And you're right, it is odd what I hang onto sometimes. Sometimes it's a video game, sometimes it's reading. Currently, there's a Bravo series on YouTube called the People's Couch. My husband doesn't understand why I spend hours watching it, but it's funny and it helps.

  • calliope1975

    Hell sometimes the knowledge of 10 years of planned Marvel movies is the only thing that keeps me going.

  • Berry

    I've told myself once or twice that I can't die before I've read at least half the books on my to be read -list.

  • emmalita

    I must read the end of the Dresden Files.

  • karen

    may it never end

  • emmalita

    So say we all.

  • Berry

    I must see couple of epic fics finished. Now, THAT is embarrassing.

  • ironypants

    You guys are really hitting it out of the park this week...and landing right in my lap. This last month I started taking anti-depressants for the first time IN MY LIFE and I am thirty-EFFING-six. So stubborn I was, and so stigmatized by the idea of being medicated that I spent most of the last ten years feeling helpless and hating myself for feeling that way and wanting to, to paraphrase another comment, not die exactly but also not be alive somehow, and hardly saying a word about it to anyone out of this ridiculous fear of attention and people thinking I was fishing for sympathy. Suicidal thoughts are maybe less selfish than self-centered, in the sense that when you're depressed it's impossible to see anything outside of your own brain's shitty view of the world.

    Really thoughtful, wonderful piece, Dustin.

  • rio

    Same here, started in may for the first time, and I have to admit it has helped a lot, and I'm 32

  • Fabius_Maximus

    Self-centered is a better word for it. Thank you.

  • emmalita

    I waited until I was 41, so you are already doing better than I did.

    edit: I am often confused about my age.

  • ironypants

    I actually went back and edited from "in my thirties" to my actual age because I realized the irony of being self-conscious after admitting chronic mental issues to a bunch of strangers.

  • sherryb23

    I was 35, so right there with you. And good for you for taking steps in the right direction. If anything, I hope that all of these comments show you how NOT alone you are.

  • ironypants


  • Guest


  • Maguita NYC

    I wish you all the courage and to find happiness in your own skin/mind.

    Comments like yours have me often wondering why so many ridicule "social media activism" and comment sections. It is stories shared that often make a difference to those most in need. And it is opinions contributed, no matter how divisive, that have us understand we are not alone to go through shit life throws at us.

  • ironypants

    aw thanks. We have a particularly awesome place to share stories, mostly free of trolls and reactionaries, and for that I am grateful. I started Pajiba for the snark but I have definitely stayed for the narratives and community, even thought I lurk most of the time.

  • Maguita NYC

    Then congrats on delurking! We'll just have to make sure we lure you often with our own brand of snark... Whether you're interested or not ;)

  • ellcoolj

    I too used to be one of the "suicide is selfish" people until my own experience with a family member choosing to take his own life.
    How much did you reach out for help?
    What steps did you take to battle your demons before taking the unretractable step?
    How close was that fire and what other ways of putting it out were there?

    Depending on the answers to these and countless others it might be selfish. In the case of Williams (and my own family member ) I don't have the answers to those questions

    Thanks Dustin for making us think about all this. And I mean think, not react.

  • Pink Freud

    When Ned Vizzini died last year, it had a profound effect on me, and it wasn't until I read about the eulogy given by the reverend at his funeral that I began to process what had happened.

    “Ned didn’t commit suicide. Mental illness took his life from him.”

    If you haven't read NV's book, It's Kind of a Funny Story, check it out.

  • I don't know that there's really a way to expect someone who is healthy to understand what depression really feels like. However, I don't know that there's really a way to expect someone who is healthy to understand what cancer really feels like, either.

    About a year ago, I was spending almost all of my time alone crying. I live alone, so that was a lot of time. Every little thing set me off, and the tears would last for hours. And honest to God, at the time, it felt like that was perfectly normal. That was a perfectly acceptable way to live.

    A friend to whom I may owe my life made a medication recommendation. I went ahead and tried it out. About a month later, I realized that nothing in my life had changed. Every little thing that set me off was still happening, but I hadn't cried in days. Living the exact same life had become an entirely different experience.

    I still have good days and bad days, and sometimes the bad days get really bad, but they're nothing compared to months and months spent in tears, believing that was normal.

    My particular issues never came together into any kind of suicidal ideation, but I look back on those months and I wonder what would have happened if there hadn't been a suggestion and a course of action that lifted me out of that place. How long living like that before the idea of death came up, and how long after that before it started seeming like the only answer?

    I think the idea of selfishness is misapplied when you're looking at suicide. When someone makes that choice, they are making it from an entirely different world, from an entirely different set of circumstances and values. And understanding what went into that decision may be too much to ask from anyone at all, even other people who have been there and made a different choice.

    Even if understanding may be a bridge too far, there's no reason not to react to that final, desperate act with compassion, both for whoever's now gone and whoever's left behind to pick up the pieces.

  • I got so busy spitting nails that I forgot to tell you what a great piece this was, Dustin. Even when it makes me sad... always worth it.

  • mzbitca

    SO sorry Dustin and what a great piece. What I find important is that often times people from outside who criticize as selfish focus on it has "giving up" or "not appreciating", basically from a belief that this person realized life could be better and just didn't fight to try and feel that when in reality they cannot imagine life or anything as a gift or anything positive coming and coming fast enough to justify staying in this immediate pain.

    When it comes from an immediate loved one it's just another way to express the anger that they're gone and that you actually have someone to shake your fist at in despair and it's them.

  • When my friend killed herself many years ago, she did it in a way that not only left her family and friends bereft, but also forced an unwitting stranger to kill her - violently and traumatically - in an incident that will probably haunt the rest of his life (and quite possibly affected his career). How to square that with the girl I knew? She was no angel or saint, but she was a kind person with a warm, generous heart. The only conclusion I could draw - to the extent that I can draw any at all - is that she either valued herself so little at that point that she truly believed the short-term mess of her departure was worth the long-term benefits of a world without her in it, OR she was in so much pain that she couldn't think straight enough to see ANYTHING but the nearest exit. Of course, there's also the possibility that her choice was quite deliberate and she was saying "fuck you all, deal with THIS" to a group of people that had really stopped seeing her as anything but the poor little head case (and the poor guy who became her unwitting accomplice was just collateral damage). I can't exactly ask her, so it could be any of those, all of them, or none.

    The point of that, however, is that I wouldn't hesitate to jump down the throat of anyone who dared to pass some self-righteous judgment on her as a whole, living person. You have NO idea who she was, and no right at all to judge her by the final act of an entire life. From her family and those closest to her - and from the poor SOB who hit her - I understand rage and anger and wouldn't pass any judgment on you myself for expressing it. But people for whom judgment comes NOT from personal pain/loss, just a vain need to jump into the fray and show the world what spectacular thoughtful super-mentally-healthy people they are? Please go fuck yourselves repeatedly with something that's on fire.

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