Easy and selfish?

A short status update on social media by a friend of a friend had an impact on me that surprised me by the ferocity of it.

His update was about some news that he had just received about a close friend from high school. He is just over 10 years out of high school and this news came as a shock to him presumably. His friend has killed himself. Horrible news and I can understand his shock and how raw his feelings must have been. What he said however struck me. His words were to the effect that he is more angry than sad and that suicide is “the easy way out” and leaves everyone else in pain. What followed were other comments by his friends offering comfort and support. One other remark in particular that “suicide is the most selfish act” got me riled to the point that I jumped in and made a comment. Not enough to get it off my chest there though…

Sadly, I understand all too well that anger and that hurt that comes with losing someone from suicide. What sent me into an almost blind rage today was the publicly accepted sentiments that suicide is “easy” and “selfish”. In my mind, nothing is further from the truth.

Having watched my son go through hell struggling over wanting to die and not wanting to all in the same moment…after reading his journals and seeing what went on inside of him while he dealt with mental illness…It wasn’t the easy way out. There is nothing easy about getting to the point of ending your own life. Nothing easy about taking that final step that you know will end it all, forever. We, as people, are simply made to go the route of least resistance, the easiest way. That’s why so many of us live our lives in complacency and routine and unhappy. Because staying the course is easier than change. Suicide is the most profound change you can make. On top of that, we, as human animals, are hard-wired with a sense of self-preservation. That’s a basic instinct that is there. To overcome that and end your life when every part of a rational brain and body screams to fight, to live… that’s not easy.

Is it selfish? You could argue for and against on this one. People end their lives for so many reasons. Is it selfish to succumb to cancer? Is it selfish to die of a heart attack? No one would ever suggest that. Yet someone who lives with a psychosis and has a break and tragically ends their life is treated very differently. A major psychosis is an illness that destroys a person just as savagely as a terminal physical illness like cancer. “Simple” depression can become clinical and alter a person to the point that they are not capable of what we would consider logical or rational behaviour. What about the person who has a terminal physical ailment and chooses to end their life on their terms and on their timeline rather than become incapacitated? What about those that make the choice, in part, to spare their loved ones the pain of a long and emotional death of weeks or months? Selfish or selfless, or neither? It’s too complex to sum up with generalizations.

These two blunt comments made me so angry because they are so typical of how we, as a society and culture, still firmly place a box around suicide and try to make it fit neatly within the confines that make us feel safe and better. If we can label it and categorize it and point at it and say it’s not going to happen to me because of A, B and C, then it doesn’t scare us as much.

The truth is suicide is scary because it can’t be neatly explained and contained. Talking about it and being open about it is the only way we are going to make a dent in the impact it has.

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