Wednesday, 13 August 2014

Please don't tell me suicide is selfish

Yesterday I wrote about Robin Williams and mentioned that at that point I'd not seen any talk of selfishness or cowardice. Of course since then there have been numerous examples, from Alan Brazil on TalkSport who said he has no sympathy, to Fox News anchorman Shepard Smith who suggested those who kill themselves are cowards (he has since apologised), through to the comments on social media and in the newspapers from the misinformed, ignorant or heartless.
When a loved one takes their life the aftermath is beyond anything I can really describe. Any sudden death is a terrible and tragic shock but with suicide comes so many questions, so much blame. After Simon died I tried to remember conversations we'd had, had I missed something? I trawled the internet looking for clues. There were none. Simon didn't have Robin Williams' fame and riches but he grew up in a stable and loving family. Even after he served time in prison we were there for him, visiting him when he was inside, providing a bed for him afterwards, listening to him when he talked without (I hope) judging him. Like Robin Williams though it's pointless discussing what he had. The sad fact is that he had a black hole in him, one he tried to fix with drugs but they just ripped the hole wider until it overwhelmed him. I can wonder whether Mum's death was a catalyst but perhaps it made no difference and he would have suffered the same anyway. The point is none of us can know the exact reasons why a person reaches the moment when suicide seems the only option. I don't know why it was that day, two years ago that Simon couldn't take any more and for all the media supposition we can't know why Robin Williams reached the moment where he couldn't bear it any longer. His moment will not be the same as another person's moment and there is never a straightforward reason why, depression is more complicated than that. What I never needed to hear afterwards though was that Simon had been selfish or that he had so much to live for.
When you lose someone to suicide you just need to hear "I'm sorry" or I'm here if you need me". No matter how well meaning the sentiment, hearing that your loved one chose to leave you and was selfish to make that choice is something that for me at least would have added to the anguish. I'm aware I can't talk for all those affected by suicide loss, some people do feel their loved one's decision was selfish. That is their right, it is not the right of others to make that decision. Robin Williams' family will be in complete turmoil right now, their lives have been torn apart, a myriad of competing thoughts will be filling their heads so much that they feel they could explode. They need time and space to slowly begin to learn to live without him there with them. They don't need people who only knew him through a screen saying he was selfish. People who kill themselves have reached a point where they can take no more, they may believe they are a burden to others. They do not choose to leave their loved ones behind, they don't feel they have any other choice other than ending the hopeless, overwhelming pain. When a person dies by suicide those left behind need compassion. Even if you still believe it's a selfish act I ask you what you hope to achieve by expressing those thoughts publicly? You are entitled to your beliefs of course but if you are concerned for the family left grieving then please keep those thoughts to yourself. The person who has died couldn't be kind to themselves, family will be blaming themselves, this is the time for you to do nothing more than to be kind.

Tuesday, 12 August 2014

O Captain! My Captain!

Tomorrow (13th August) will mark the second anniversary of Simon's death and if I'm honest I've been going through a bit of a rough patch recently. I've not been depressed, I wouldn't dishonour those who actually suffer depression by suggesting that, but if life is a roller coaster then I've been in a dip.
My cousin died of a heart attack which was obviously a terrible shock and recently I've been feeling pretty socially inept. I went on an annual camping weekend with forum friends but spent much of the time feeling awkward and out of place. I think knowing the anniversary is looming is really what's at the root of everything though, I've not been sleeping well and have been having flashbacks again.
So I've been planning to write something for a few days -  in the past it's helped me to clear my head, it's as if writing out the words releases the jumble of thoughts. Then last night I heard the devastating news that Robin Williams had died, most likely by suicide. Like many people I took to Twitter and among the many tributes I was touched to read several tweets that acknowledged depression as an illness and others that linked to helplines for the depressed and suicidal. I didn't spot any suggestions of cowardice or selfishness, although I've little doubt they're out there. I will never believe that Simon was selfish or a coward. I read an analogy last night comparing feeling suicidal to being on fire, if you're burning then you'd do anything to put out the flames; Simon, Robin Williams and all those who end their lives by suicide couldn't stand that pain any longer. It's a pain most of us won't know but I hope we can feel compassion and empathy for those who are suicidal. I did read a couple of tweets last night mentioning the thousands of suicide victims who won't be in the news today and while that's true, we won't hear their names, I don't think that means Robin Williams' sad death shouldn't be reported and grieved over. He was a man known to millions, his films have been enjoyed for decades. Dead Poets Society is one of my favourite films of all time. Before children I rarely cried at films (afterwards anything can set me off) but the "O Captain! My Captain!" scene was guaranteed to move me to tears, no matter how many times I watched it. It will be even more poignant and heartbreaking next time I watch it. Robin's death being headline news does not make the countless other deaths by suicide any less tragic or less important. Williams' death should be reported, I don't feel any bitterness that Simon's death didn't receive any media coverage. If anything I'm grateful that we were able to grieve privately and away from the world's cameras. I hope his family and friends will be given the space they need right now, I can't imagine feeling torn apart while being under the watchful gaze of the media. They are beginning their new lives as those left behind and my thoughts are with them and all those who have heard that most devastating news recently. Two years on and I'm mostly in a much better place than they will be right now. I've slowly put myself back together, it's an imperfect repair and the seams come apart at times but the patched up me will be ok, as I hope they will in time. Right now is not a time for criticising the cult of celebrity, instead perhaps Robin Williams' death can be a catalyst for open, frank and compassionate discussion of depression, addiction and suicide. Perhaps just one person will pick up the phone and ask for help today because they've see a helpline on Twitter or Facebook.
With that in mind here is a link to a list of international suicide prevention helplines. It's a US site and has a separate link at the top of the page for US helplines by state.
Depression lies but it is not a weakness. Picking up the phone and asking for help is not an admission of anything, you don't admit to cancer or heart disease, neither should you feel you should admit you have depression. Don't let shame stop you for you have nothing to be ashamed about. This might be the first step to putting out those flames.