Saturday, August 16, 2014

Suicide and Choice

A few days after Robin Williams killed himself a guy named Matt Walsh wrote a blog post about his feelings and opinions regarding what happened titled: “Robin Williams didn’t die from a disease, he died from his choice”.  It was shared by a lot of people on social media and there were many and varied responses to the post.  A friend of mine shared it on his page and there were a lot of comments to it that led me to respond to it based on my own experiences as a “survivor”.  I commented with some basic thoughts, but I wanted to expand on it more so I added some more thoughts and am posting it here.  Everyone has something to say, and for the most part I feel like telling everyone that really when it comes right down to it: your opinion and mine is completely irrelevant.  But no one believes that anyway.  We all want to think that what we have to say Must Be Heard!  So, in that spirit, here is my response:

I usually don't get into discussions like this but I feel the need to say something here. My father committed suicide when I was 14. My wife committed suicide 2 1/2 years ago. I'm a former (and probably returning) Marriage and Family Therapist. I also read the article.
He does specifically say that he has dealt with this in his own life for a long time which people seem to keep ignoring in their comments for whatever reason.  I do think he would have been better off waiting for a little while to post it when the communal pain has lessened somewhat and we process it better, but that’s just my opinion.
Depression has clinical, emotional and spiritual dimensions that must be dealt with together.  Drugs have a place in the process but are not the end all.  There has to be therapy and network of friends to sustain them. There are some problems with this.  You can’t force someone to make and maintain contact with other people.  This is their choice.  If you call someone they choose to answer the phone or not.  If you go to their house they choose to answer the door or not.   We all make bad choices in our lives, but most of the time those choices do not have lethal consequences.
Clinical depression is more than just a feeling that we can talk ourselves out of.  There is more than one dimension to it, but we often refuse to look at from a multi-dimensional standpoint.  Our medical society wants to throw drugs at the problem and get us out the door.  Our spiritual society has, until recently, treated it as a purely spiritual issue that can be “prayed away”.  It can’t be treated one dimensionaly.  There’s a book that was written several years ago titled, “Why do Christians Shoot Their Wounded”.  It talks about this issue in detail.  Chemical imbalances by nature are an actual physical issue, but we tend to treat it as a more purely spiritual issue because it is expressed in our behavior and the things we say while under the influence of the imbalance.
The people left behind to deal with the aftermath WILL feel guilt.  It’s a given.  They will always have to deal with it and ultimately come to their own conclusion that the choice of the person who died was only his/her responsibility.  Not theirs.  I know this to be true.  To say they didn’t have a choice takes the responsibility for that choice off of the suicidal persons shoulders and leaves others thinking that there’s no hope – that they can’t make a better choice.  It also inhibits those left behind from getting the help they need because they always feel if they had just done one thing different everything would be better.
Everyone wants to do something, or blame something, or give responsibility to something other than the one responsible: the suicidal person.  We can’t have it both ways.  We can’t deny the horror of the act, and say it wasn’t his fault.  The fault lies with no one else.  The truth is it just makes us feel better to say it one way rather than the other.
Robin Williams was a good man who had an incredible impact on the world.  Because he made a bad choice does not make him a bad person.  His final choice does not negate what he did in life.  We don’t want to say anything bad about the dead so we don’t speak honestly about the issues that death reveals to us.  Our concerns are in reality concerns about what we have lost.  Denying the responsibility of his choice doesn’t make him better/worse.  It doesn’t make him less loved.  It does make it supremely more difficult for those left behind to deal with the real world impact of what he did.  They will be victimized by their own thoughts.  “What could I have done differently?” “Why didn’t I say this instead of that?” “Why wasn’t I there?”
The fact is, they make a choice, and they will find a way to carry it out.  The fact is the truly suicidal person is not concerned with what will happen to those they leave behind.  I know this to be true as well.  They are, at that point, truly selfish in their choice.  It might possibly be the only truly selfish moment of their lives if they are someone who gave of themselves so much in their lifetime.  They are simply unable to see past their own pain in that moment.  There are many people who are truly noticed as much by their absence as by their presence.  The clinically depressed person often hides the signs of their depression very well.  They are consciously aware of what they are doing and putting a different face on for everyone else to see.  Robin Williams was one of the few who were very open about it, and the public was then able to live with the illusion that he was taking care of it.  This makes the fact that he made this choice that much harder to accept.  Because he was so greatly admired and selfless in life no one wants to speak the truth and admit that he was, in that moment, selfish.  We are often upset when someone speaks the truth that doesn’t match our perception of someone else.
His family will go through a great deal emotionally in the coming years. They know he loved them completely.  But he still killed himself.  The anger and resentment they will eventually have to deal with will be hell for them, because it’s almost impossible to reconcile love and suicide.  And do you know the sad part of this? There are multitudes of people out there in social media that will be angry at them for feeling that way. People who didn’t know him or his family who think they know better.  To those I would say now in a pre-emptive statement:

Shut. The. Hell. Up.  Leave them alone.  They don’t need you to help them grieve.  They have enough of their own and will choose those who will help them get through it themselves.

And finally, remember that Matt Walsh writes a blog.  It’s one person’s opinion.  Just as is my blog that you’re reading now.  You can accept it or not, but no one is asking you to live your life by what he says.  He says some good stuff and some not so good stuff.  He’s as human as you and I.  As human as us and Robin Williams.  He seems to be speaking from his personal experience with this issue, and it sounds like a pretty raw knee jerk reaction incited by his own pain in dealing with the issue.
What you do with it is your choice.
©Dan Bode 2014