Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Meandering Thoughts on Depression and Suicide

Suicide is not chosen; it happens when pain exceeds resources for coping with pain.
"I wonder why this is hitting you so hard," Stephen mused yesterday, more than 24 hours after I heard about Robin Williams's suicide. It was a question I asked myself.

The moment I saw the word "suicide" in connection with the news, I started crying and have had fits of tears on and off since then.


[This post is probably going to be a true "meandering" as I'm trying to work through some thoughts here. Thanks for bearing with me.]

Robin Williams was not my favorite actor or comedian. I have no personal connection to him. Yes, we have lost a great talent and a very kind and generous person, but I would not be feeling this way if he had died of, say, a heart attack.

It's the suicide, the depression, that haunts me: we lost another one.

The fight.

And: what if I can't keep fighting either?

Because there is no question that Robin Williams fought -- and fought hard -- to stay alive. Went to rehab multiple times. Reached out and let people know that he was struggling. Kept working to keep occupied. God only knows what else he did, but he did not go down without a fight.

But I think, at the end of the day, when he looked to the future he felt hopeless. Even if he got through this attack, there would be another.

I only know because that's what I have often thought. Too often.

Coward. Selfish.

I've heard the words "cowardly" and "selfish" bandied about. One glib newscaster opined that he was surprised that Robin Williams would commit such a cowardly act -- and got lambasted for it. Others have mentioned that suicide is incredibly selfish.

Well, to the first: I hardly think we can call it cowardly to risk everything in order to stop the pain. The act merely indicates the level of despair and desperation.

To the second: yes, let's be frank, it is selfish. When I am in the depths of depression and the sirens call me to rest, I am thinking only of me. Only of my own suffering. In that moment, the distress is this close to unbearable.

At its worst, the malfunctioning synapses try to convince me that my children and all the people who love me would be hurt, sure, but they would get over it. So what right have they to compel me to stay alive, stay in pain? Isn't my pain important?

If I were riddled with cancer, wouldn't they turn a blind eye to a morphine overdose? (If not outright help me end my suffering?) Why wouldn't they understand my need to end my mental agony?

Yah. Thinking errors. Big time.

So, yes, it's selfish. It is not egotistical or narcissistic. It is pain-blindness: the suicidal person simply cannot see past the pain.

That doesn't make it a good option. We need to be unequivocally clear about that.

Fortunately, I have always been able to turn back from the abyss. Most often, it's because I can't bear to hurt those I love -- and, despite the lies that depression tells, I know that their pain would not fade.

And I have someone to cling to, someone whom I have woken in the wee hours of the morning so he can hold me while I cry. (Why is it always in the wee hours?)

But I don't think the labels of coward or selfish help anyone: not the sufferers, not the bereaved, not those who are staring into the abyss. Desperate is a better word.

So what do we do with this?

In the aftermath of a very public suicide like this (where there is no whitewashing as "accidental" overdose), there is a significant risk of "copycat" suicides. The events trigger a crisis in those who were teetering on the edge. It is a high-risk time.

In dealing with others who have been depressed, and even in my own case, I have talked about "buying time." Doing what it takes to make it just a little further: five minutes, an hour, a morning. A night.

As this article suggests: do what you can to reduce the pain and to increase the resources.


Almost every article posted on the topic in the last 48 hours has links to suicide hotlines. Use them. Buy yourself just five more minutes.

Following are some resources that I have found helpful.

Suicide: Read this first. "If you are feeling suicidal now, please stop long enough to read this. It will only take about five minutes. I do not want to talk you out of your bad feelings. I am not a therapist or other mental health professional - only someone who knows what it is like to be in pain."

Some practical suggestions: 21 Tips to Keep Your Shit Together When You're Depressed "I've had depression for as long as I can remember. It’s manifested in different ways. I did therapy. I did Prozac. I did more therapy. My baseline is melancholic."

Centre for Suicide Prevention (Alberta-based)


  1. The one good thing to come out of all this is that people are talking about depression and suicide, frequently and openly. Thank you for adding your voice to the conversation.

    1. Very, very true. We have come a long way in the past 20 years.

  2. i to suffer from derision, there is so much talk of it the past few days, people that you least expect are sharing their struggles.
    Thanks for opening up and sharing your thoughts

    1. Thanks for sharing, Terri Lynn. Keep reaching out.

  3. I do not have depression... but I do have empathy. I feel for the seemingly never ending pain that people find themselves in. Pain is personal, deep and real... it does not matter if your pain is from a mental disorder or if it's from a loved one that has committed suicide, this pain, anguish and darkness is very real should not be judged or compared. This pain is for the person that is going through it and for the person/people that will help them through it, one common thread... suffering alone causes greater pain.

  4. I think its important for people to start talking about it, to know that it's ok. I think when you're suffering, you can feel really alone. In the end, we all do our best, and that's something we have to remember before we get too judgy.

    1. Talking about it is important, so people will get help. And I think your final sentence really says it all: in the end, we all do our best.


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