Lolsuicide! April 10, 2009 8:26 PM   Subscribe

Not so much a callout to thread behavior as a..."really?" This is the thread in question.

Completely ignoring the meat of the article, I'm kind of shocked and saddened by the "LOL RAILJUMPAR" attitude of a couple folks in the thread.

I'm sure it's because my friend took his own life last summer, and I'm even more sure that most people don't care.

The decision making progress when one chooses to take their own life isn't about selfishness or even a preoccupation with sadness---it transcends what most mentally-well people can even understand.

So maybe that's why we make fun, because it's socially unacceptable to kill yourself, and we don't understand it, and it scares us because it's so very far from what we'd ever do.

But the discussion as a joke? I look at it as threads of humanity shining through in the darkest moments of the end of a soul. Nothing matters, because I'm killing myself...but I'm still taking off my shoes. It's the note of finality, I think.

I don't know, I'm rambling. That's just one of those threads that sometimes really surprises me, didn't expect that reaction...here.
posted by TomMelee to Etiquette/Policy at 8:26 PM (176 comments total) 18 users marked this as a favorite

The decision making progress when one chooses to take their own life isn't about selfishness or even a preoccupation with sadness---it transcends what most mentally-well people can even understand.

I find those responses to suicides in the thread upsetting as well.

It took me a while to realize that there is a huge swath of the human population that doesn't sort of continually have back-of-brain thoughts of suicide in their heads at all times (and you guys know me, I'm generally an incredibly happy and decently well-adjusted person, but I thought everyone was like that) and when I found out I was surprised. Maybe this sort of thing is so inconceivable that making jokes seems okay. I was pleased that most people weren't making jokes about suicide, so that's something.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 8:36 PM on April 10, 2009 [47 favorites]


Nothing matters, because I'm killing myself

Um, what?
posted by dead cousin ted at 8:39 PM on April 10, 2009


My sister killed herself. In the time between that day, which pretty much destroyed my family (and depending on the day, me) I've learned several things, one of which is that there is nothing that cannot be joked about, and that pretty much no matter what you say, you can hurt someone, somewhere.

It's not something that I enjoy, but all in all, those of us who perhaps might be hurt the worst by this sort of thing have - to a person - been through worse, no?
posted by nevercalm at 8:42 PM on April 10, 2009 [5 favorites]


I noticed it too. I think it's an unfortunate byproduct of the all-out rush to get in an early, favorite-grabbing one-line snark.
posted by googly at 8:44 PM on April 10, 2009 [9 favorites]


Uh yeah I fail at reading comprehension. Ignore me.
posted by dead cousin ted at 8:49 PM on April 10, 2009


If you have a raw spot, Metafilter will either rip your heart out or be the balm of Gilead, no telling which way it will go. Sometimes it's because the poster frames a topic a certain way or sometimes the trajectory is set by the first few comments. I sympathize with you, I've been there. Sometimes all you can do is close the thread and move on because once it's all jokey and snarky, there is usually no turning back.
posted by madamjujujive at 8:51 PM on April 10, 2009 [10 favorites]


...meant to also say - so sorry about your friend, TomMelee.
posted by madamjujujive at 8:54 PM on April 10, 2009


As a supposedly well-adjusted person with no outward signs of depression, I completely agree with Jessamyn.

Those of you who don't have those kind of back-of-brain voices; speak!
posted by lalex at 8:55 PM on April 10, 2009


dead cousin ted (eponysterical, no?) I should have italicized that or something. Not my train of thought.

I don't mind the joking so much as I mind, I can't even say mind, it's not about minding...

But...what about a dialogue?

I realize that lots of folks say on a forum what they wouldn't say in real life, whether they're much more open or much less kind, for some reason I'm just one of those folks who expects MeFi to be a little more than, say, Fark. (o snap I did it now.)

And Jessamyn---I had to read your comment like 10 times to get that you were saying the comments of "zomg selfish" bothered you too, on first read it looked to me like you meant I was totally misguided. I think I read it correctly, no?
posted by TomMelee at 8:56 PM on April 10, 2009 [1 favorite]


I've had two close relatives commit suicide. My daughter had a best friend (and a year later, the friend's mother) commit suicide. My husband has been the first responder to several suicides. None of them were shoeless. I've planned my own suicide in various ways over the years (kind of in the "back of the brain" way jessamyn mentioned above) and none of the scenarios I've envisioned involved removing my shoes. So, I guess what I'm saying is that the shoeless aspect of the post was what was so weird to me, not that people were making jokes.
posted by amyms at 9:10 PM on April 10, 2009 [2 favorites]


Those of you who don't have those kind of back-of-brain voices; speak!

I don't really have those kind of back-of-brain voices. I'm not free from random dark thoughts bubbling around in the back of my head, and I have the occasional macabre daydream, but for whatever reason suicidal ideation isn't part of the mix.

The spectrum of my sense of humor runs pretty deep into the black, regardless. I laugh at some pretty awful things, whether out of empathy or just out of having a fairly robust shoulder-devil hanging around, but I'm also not shocked or unsympathetic toward folks who sometimes can't or won't laugh at the same things.

Suicide jokes seem to me like a perfect storm of emotional conflicts—there's something (as folks in the thread in question acknowledged) cartoonish about some of the imagery of these situations, and that's both awful and darkly funny, the intersection of despair and impulsive self-destructiveness with the cult of Mel Blanc and the power of taboo violation.

I'm going to side with the emotionally vulnerable over the chuckling crew when it comes down to which side gets to drive the question of civility—a joke can always be stowed, and it's just decency to be aware of how folks around you feel and stow it for another day if you're upsetting them—but I understand both sides and don't think there's a simple answer to this kind of social question.
posted by cortex (staff) at 9:16 PM on April 10, 2009 [7 favorites]


When I was 12 or so my friends mother fell down a flight of stairs and broke her neck (she recovered). When my friend told me about it, I laughed, probably because I didn't know what else to do. I've grown up a lot since then.
posted by KokuRyu at 9:18 PM on April 10, 2009


"...I've found out why people laugh. They laugh because it hurts so much… because it's the only thing that'll make it stop hurting"
posted by MiltonRandKalman at 9:40 PM on April 10, 2009 [1 favorite]


I think it's an unfortunate byproduct of the all-out rush to get in an early, favorite-grabbing one-line snark.

Favorites kill.
posted by Rhomboid at 9:54 PM on April 10, 2009 [5 favorites]


There were jokes about the 9/11 disaster within minutes of it occurring...
posted by ODiV at 10:01 PM on April 10, 2009


"It took me a while to realize that there is a huge swath of the human population that doesn't sort of continually have back-of-brain thoughts of suicide in their heads at all times (and you guys know me, I'm generally an incredibly happy and decently well-adjusted person, but I thought everyone was like that) and when I found out I was surprised. Maybe this sort of thing is so inconceivable that making jokes seems okay. I was pleased that most people weren't making jokes about suicide, so that's something."

I've got those, and the only thing that got me through a vast swath of adolescence is joking about them.

It's "Ha ha ha, I've got to consciously dismiss that option again."

Yesterday, opening "What Color is your Parachute" at random and starting out with an anecdote about someone killing himself with a plastic bag and joking with my girlfriend that my ADD would keep me from ever going like that—I'd forget why I had the bag on my head.
posted by klangklangston at 10:02 PM on April 10, 2009 [1 favorite]


So, I guess what I'm saying is that the shoeless aspect of the post was what was so weird to me

I thought it was a fascinating angle from which to approach the subject. Thought-provoking, even.
posted by mediareport at 10:03 PM on April 10, 2009


Those of you who don't have those kind of back-of-brain voices; speak!


Uh, hi. You are freaking me out.
posted by CunningLinguist at 10:06 PM on April 10, 2009 [3 favorites]


I thought this was going to be a callout regarding the extremely sexist title "Barefoot To The End." I would have gone with "At The End." I was confused.
posted by uncanny hengeman at 10:08 PM on April 10, 2009


Put me in the never thought about suicide. I have thought about killing, just not myself. I was driving with my son on a dirt road in upstate NY when we came upon a hunter with a rifle. My son asked me what was preventing him from shooting us. I told him I did not know. As for suicide being funny, not so much.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 10:14 PM on April 10, 2009


Jessamyn: It took me a while to realize that there is a huge swath of the human population that doesn't sort of continually have back-of-brain thoughts of suicide in their heads at all times (and you guys know me, I'm generally an incredibly happy and decently well-adjusted person, but I thought everyone was like that) and when I found out I was surprised.

Yeah... my aunt killed herself when I was 5. Drowned herself in a fjord (what a Nordic way to go). I've been aware of the possibility of suicide since. I never stand near the edge of a cliff or a big building without wondering what it would be like to leap off (not seriously, just wondering what the feeling would be like). I thought everyone was like that too for the longest time.

I can laugh at suicide joke, I can even make them, but if there are too many I have to leave the room. I generally stay out suicide threads on MetaFilter.
posted by Kattullus at 10:16 PM on April 10, 2009


Remember how you feel next time you tell a joke/laugh at a joke about cancer, AIDS, getting shot, falling off something, or even when you read a Darwin Award book.

Which is not to say I don't agree with you. But if you laugh at one type of meaningless death, you laugh at all of them.
posted by Damn That Television at 10:20 PM on April 10, 2009 [1 favorite]


I thought it [the shoeless aspect] was a fascinating angle from which to approach the subject. Thought-provoking, even.

Oh, I totally agree, mediareport. I was just saying that the oddness of it (relative to my own experiences) was what was in my mind as I read the post and the ensuing thread, rather than the jokes.
posted by amyms at 10:27 PM on April 10, 2009


Contribution to this snap poll: I've always had the back brain voices, since I was a little kid, but for the last couple of years they've been right at the front and oftentimes all I can think about to the distraction of all else. But I usually just assume that everybody else is better-adjusted than me and doesn't have these issues.
Opinion on that thread/this callout: Some people make sick jokes as a way of dealing with things that affect them powerfully. I tend to do this (sometimes offending people who don't understand this mechanism in the process) and I see a little of it in that thread. Some people make sick jokes because they are self-absorbed douchebags incapable of empathizing with others, or of seeing another point of view than their own. There's a LOT of that in the thread.
posted by nowonmai at 10:34 PM on April 10, 2009 [2 favorites]


Those of you who don't have those kind of back-of-brain voices; speak!

I've never ever had such a thought, not even an inkling. Not even back when I actually was clinically depressed. Taking the prozac, going to counselling, not working, totally out of control of my life and my thoughts, wasting two years on internal sabotage, but never ever a single thought of suicide. I have too much to do in life to give up. That voice just isn't part of me. It seemed like in my support group some where like me and some weren't. We were all utterly fucked up but none of us were actually suicidal (it was a support group for people recovering) and I don't think the voice was necessarily part of the disease. That's just how some people are. But neither was humour really, there wasn't any joking or laughter at our meetings, and even now suicide or mental illness aren't things I can laugh at.

But then I didn't read the thread in question because even though I'm now 100% totally stable and sane and will be forever after there are still things I don't really need to dwell on or find out about.
posted by shelleycat at 10:43 PM on April 10, 2009


I found the tone of that thread quite disconcerting, as well. I've never lost somebody to suicide, but I've had a couple close calls with friends and family.

I have those back-of-the head rumblings Jessamyn was talking about; every now and then (maybe a couple times a year), I'll see a cement truck coming along, and I'll think "Jeez, if I just took a couple steps to the right, that would be it, I would die. There's nothing stopping me, just my willingness to keep walking in this direction instead of that one. My own will to live is literally all that's keeping me alive, and that's hardly an insurmountable barrier..." Then I'll suddenly notice what I'm thinking, and I get pretty wigged out. It's not that I want to kill myself, but every now and then I happen to notice how easy it would be. Death surrounds me all sides, as it does all of us, and it is quite frightening to realize that so strongly.

I can only suppose the the jokesters in the thread in question have never had the misfortune to experience that particular fear. Either that, or, like klangklangston, have experienced it so often that tasteless jokes are the only way for them to handle it at all (in which case I am more than a little sympathetic).

My brother often likes to say that "no one has a right not to be offended." I basically agree with that, but I also think that there is such a thing as common decency, and making public jokes about suicide does not fall within that realm. What to do about it, I have no idea. I guess this is just one of those "I'm a jerk; you're a jerk; WTF do we do now?" scenarios; on the one side, there are tasteless jerks, and on the the other there are sensitive jerks. I guess there's nothing for it but to go on being jerks together.
posted by Commander Rachek at 10:55 PM on April 10, 2009 [2 favorites]


I first tried to hang myself when I was eight, shortly after I had been molested. I've come close a few times since, but at this point I've come to peace with the worst of my demons.

My stepmother fatally shot herself in the head. My Dad found her body an hour later when he returned home. The impact on him was terrible.

I would never presume to tell other people what they can joke about but when it comes to suicide, I won't be laughing with you.
posted by double block and bleed at 10:59 PM on April 10, 2009 [2 favorites]


Those of you who don't have those kind of back-of-brain voices; speak!

I have never had any thoughts of suicide, even when I was depressed, and am really shocked and frightened that people have these kinds of thoughts in the back of their minds.
posted by rhapsodie at 11:40 PM on April 10, 2009


I've never really considered suicide insofar as I haven't thought about the step by step process I would need to follow in order to check out. Perhaps this is a bit of a contradiction of the last sentence in that while reading an article about suicide, I did decide that if it ever does comes down to that, I'd use the automobile carbon monoxide poisoning method. It's pretty sure fire and it's quite painless compared to other means of suicide, but there is a risk of being "rescued" and suffering permanent brain damage as a result, therefore you'd have to make sure there's no chance of discovery or interference by anyone. It was just a quick mental note that I'd use this particular method if I ever have a very painful terminal disease.

But even though I haven't thought about suicide per se, there have been many points in my life when I've thought, "You know, it wouldn't really be a tragedy if I went to sleep tonight and never woke up tomorrow". I've had that thought a few times in the past ten weeks, following the most terrible and unbearable single thing that has ever happened (or will ever happen) to me. However, there are obviously things that have kept me going/functioning through it, most of them to do with the love and caring of friends and family and how there are individuals (and animals) who rely on me and would be devastated if I wasn't around. Again, it's not just that their support and reliance on me has prevented me from suicide or suicidal ideation (which as I said I've never really considered), but it's made me reconsider the whole I-hope-I-die-in-my-sleep wish.

Regarding the joking in the thread, some of it is definitely tasteless but then again there are also genuinely humorous comments. You can't really deny people their gallows humor, it's one of the tools I myself used (and continue to use) to deal with the recent tragedy in my life.

Sorry about all the slashes and parentheses, not to mention using MeTa to whine about a personal experience which has nothing to do with the thread.
posted by Devils Slide at 11:47 PM on April 10, 2009


...if it ever does come down to that...
posted by Devils Slide at 11:48 PM on April 10, 2009


The problem with this is that pretty much everything, everywhere, ever, is going to be profoundly offensive to somebody on some level, and things that are profoundly offensive to some or even most leave others shrugging their shoulders. I get grumpy at bacon threads but something like this just leaves me cold.

I guess in an ideal world we'd all have a single perspective on absolutely everything.
posted by turgid dahlia at 11:55 PM on April 10, 2009 [1 favorite]


I'm actually more than a little surprised by the several people in this MeTa who have chimed in to say not only that they never have suicidal thoughts, but that they are moreover freaked out by the thought that some other people often do.

It's fair to go through life without wanting to off yourself; all the best to you. But to be surprised that some people think about it all the time? Really? Even though on AskMe, every second person who asks a humans relations question is depressed, has/had a traumatising childhood experience, deals with really fucked up family life, or is in dire need of therapy?

I'm not trying to pass judgment. To some extent it makes me happy that some people manage to lead not-morbid lives. But I guess the same way that you find it incredulous that others think about suicide a lot, I find it incredulous that you haven't considered the possibility of their existence before.

That probably says more about me than it does about you.
posted by Phire at 12:04 AM on April 11, 2009 [1 favorite]


I thought this was going to be a callout regarding the extremely sexist title "Barefoot To The End."

Wait, I don't get it. What is sexist about the title?
posted by lunit at 12:05 AM on April 11, 2009


Adipocere came the closest to explaining in the thread why I think it's wrong for people to claim suicide is so selfish without fail when someone does commit it. Since I cannot articulate what I personally feel, I will post an excerpt from the book that shaped my attitude toward suicide. Steppenwolf formed so much of who I am and what I believe.
On the other hand, all suicides have the responsibility of fighting against the temptation of suicide. Every one of them knows very well in some corner of his soul that suicide, though a way out, is rather a mean and shabby one, and that it is nobler and finer to be conquered by life than to fall by one's own hand. Knowing this, with a morbid conscience whose source is much the same as that of the militant conscience of so-called self-contented persons, the majority of suicides are left to a protracted struggle against their temptation. They struggle as the kleptomaniac against his own vice. The Steppenwolf was not unfamiliar with this struggle. He had engaged in it with many a change of weapons. Finally, at the age of forty-seven or thereabouts, a happy and not unhumorous idea came to him from which he often derived some amusement. He appointed his fiftieth birthday as the day on which he might allow himself to take his own life. On this day, according to his mood, so he agreed with himself, it should be open to him to employ the emergency exit or not. Let happen to him what might, illness, poverty, suffering and bitterness, there was a time-limit. It could not extend beyond these few years, months, days whose number daily diminished. And in fact he bore much adversity, which previously would have cost him severer and longer tortures and shaken him perhaps to the roots of his being, very much more easily. When for any reason it went particularly badly with him, when peculiar pains and penalties were added to the desolateness and loneliness and savagery of his life, he could say to his tormentors: "Only wait, two years and I am your master." And with this he cherished the thought of the morning of his fiftieth birthday. Letters of congratulation would arrive, while he, relying on his razor, took leave of all his pains and closed the door behind him. Then gout in the joints, depression of spirits, and all pains of head and body could look for another victim.


No one can know what someone else has had to bear, and surely of all decisions the one to end your life is most wholly your own.
posted by winna at 12:06 AM on April 11, 2009 [2 favorites]


rhapsodie, we had a recent AskMe about people's thoughts somewhat less-than-cheerful thoughts. Suffice to say, many people have private musings which are not all light and fluffy. Some are most certainly dark, suicide or not, and are not always confined to the backs of their minds. For example, when I see a hammer, I immediately wonder it would be like to take it in both hands and bash my own teeth in. These thoughts come to the fore: how much force would it take? How many blows to knock even the jagged remnants from my gums? Could I hit at an angle to get even some of the roots out, or would I need the claw end for that? Would I pass out from the loss of blood before I finished the job? Could be, because I'm sure those chunks of tooth would be cutting my lips and not coming out too cleanly. The front ones would come out fast, but it would take a while to get back to the molars, so I would probably have to wake up from my faint to finish up. My tears would probably keep my lips from scabbing together while I was out, so that's a plus. Then I think a ballpeen hammer would probably be best for that sort of thing, because I would want something small I could fit in my mouth to get in the back.

But these are, after all, only thoughts. Nothing of which you should be afraid.
posted by adipocere at 12:14 AM on April 11, 2009


If you can't hear the sirens then you're deaf. But for God's sakes make them your bitch not vice versa.
posted by Burhanistan at 12:17 AM on April 11, 2009 [1 favorite]


BTW: the thread started badly but it did get better (roughly from this point onwards).
posted by rjs at 1:21 AM on April 11, 2009


I was also a little disconcerted by some of the reactions, but I realize that people deal with painful and emotionally difficult situations with humor. Sometimes that's very dark or almost seemingly 'inappropriate' humor. But common decency needs to be respected too. Eventually though, the majority of the thread grew into more valuable discussion.
posted by cmgonzalez at 1:26 AM on April 11, 2009


Maybe this sort of thing is so inconceivable that making jokes seems okay.

Or maybe LOLSUICIDE is the kissing cousin of the Darwin Awards.

Also: Humour is, I think, a gut-instinct function. Sometimes the things that tickle our funny bone are, upon reflection, stupid, offensive, whatever. The thinking comes after the gut reaction. I've dealt with a couple of suicides in the past year, they weren't fun or funny, and a bunch of my close friends have serious, suicide-is-an-option mental disorders. Hell, years ago there was the person I slept with and who offed themselves a few weeks later.

But you know, honestly, when my mind's eye sees someone swan-diving off a high point in the mall and landing on some poor kid in a massage care, long before my brain gets to think of the kid, or the people I know and how they felt, or any of those higher-being type functions, my gut is going, "nyuk, nyuk, that's pretty funny."

Stupid gut.
posted by rodgerd at 2:28 AM on April 11, 2009


Phire, I think it's more the confessions of suicidal ideation from people who are not depressed, traumatised, trapped in toxic situations or in dire need of therapy that are freaking us out.

It's really alien to me that a person can be perfectly okay and yet seriously consider killing themselves, because according to my worldview if you are seriously considering killing yourself, then you are no longer perfectly okay.

Back-of-brainers, can you explain what it's like? Is it more like a hypothetical thing where you're like "If it came to it, I'd sooner take a suicide pill than submit to torture" and the subject just comes up with greater than usual frequency as a daydream? Is it more of a sudden mad urge to be waited out/overcome?

I guess my point is that if a loved one is suicidal through mental illness or an unbearable situation, I can help them seek treatment or try to fix their situation. If they're suicidal for absolutely no reason whatsoever, there is nothing I can do.

And that's horrifying. Why wouldn't I be freaked out?
posted by the latin mouse at 3:28 AM on April 11, 2009


I can't speak for everyone, but I personally think there might be a bit of a mix-up between actively suicidal and entertaining thoughts of death. I guess I see those two as inherently different. From a personal perspective, it's not really an urge or desire to do it, but more an idle thought.

Based on my own worldview, suicide just isn't an option for me for a lot of reasons, though I fully understand that others will reach for that option. That said, it might be perfectly natural for me to be extremely stressed about something, and have a niggling thought in the back of my head saying "Hey, what if you just went to sleep and never woke up? Then all this stress will be gone!" Or if I'm standing at the side of a road waiting for cars to pass, to consider what would happen if I stepped onto the road a few seconds earlier or later. Or even if I'm standing on the of a really tall building, I look down and wonder how much it would hurt to jump off right now.

This doesn't happen constantly, and even when it does happen I tend to laugh at myself a little because these thoughts can be pretty absurd sometimes. But this does happen, and more often when I'm stressed. I guess I see it as an awareness of how much opportunity there is for death around us, rather than an active desire to stop living.

This awareness, combined with the knowledge that there are so many people who are scarred enough to take advantage of that awareness, makes it not so surprising to me that many MeFites might have those back-of-head thoughts. Does that make sense, sort of?
posted by Phire at 4:29 AM on April 11, 2009 [2 favorites]


I feel like there might be a disconnect happening here between the "thinks about suicide" group and the group that never thinks about it. Maybe the latter thinks the former is walking around all day making real concrete plans they never carry out? I don't presume to speak for anyone else, but for me it's not like that at all.

It's hard to explain, but my thoughts of suicide are more of a reflex. It's like I'm always aware that taking my own life is an option, no matter how remote and unthinkable. For example, if I'm frustrated about my job and thinking about alternatives, my mental process usually begins with "well maybe I should just quit" and ends a few synapses later with "I should just walk away from it all with just the clothes on my back and just be homeless or I should move back in with my mom or, fuck it, I should just kill myself."

Remember that AskMe thread this summer about "blurting," the involuntary vocalizations most of us make when recalling embarrassing memories? It's almost exactly like that for me. If I think about something humiliating, I blurt "oh my god" out loud; if I think about a depressing aspect of my life, I blurt "fuck it, I should just kill myself" in my head. Then I move on with my life.

I visited a therapist a few years ago after my father passed away, and--very begrudgingly--I admitted this habit of mine. After we talked it through and he ascertained that I wasn't a suicide risk, he told me that this was very common and, by acknowledging suicide and then dismissing it, it could even be healthy.

Again, I don't speak for anyone else in this thread...this is just what it's like for me. Not exactly a tic, really--there's a genuine emotional trigger for it--but far from the anguished howl of utter despair.

(I would hate for this comment to be misconstrued by someone genuinely suicidal as saying that thinking about suicide is perfectly fine in all cases and conditions. If you're reading this and your suicidal thoughts are real or overwhelming or frighten you, continuing to dwell on them is the worst thing you can do. Talk to somebody you trust, or call 1-800-273-TALK.)
posted by Ian A.T. at 4:34 AM on April 11, 2009 [9 favorites]


You owe me a Coke, Ian A.T.
posted by Phire at 4:49 AM on April 11, 2009


If I ever commit suicide, it will be a thought-provoking and mind-blowing piece of performance art. No, I am no joking. Nor am I considering it any time soon. Too much stuff yet to do!

I've never been suicidal (I get homicidal urges instead... but more like the "I crush your head" kind than detailed plots of trenchcoated revenge). But I have been the suicide watch for a friend or two. I'm glad I was there for them, but I wouldn't want to be there again. Suicide's an incredibly heavy decision to make, and one which has never added up as an equation for me. I mean, I can always just walk the earth helping people and having adventures like Jules from Pulp Fiction talked about, right? Even if I've got nothing left in life, there's a whole world out there.

Maybe some day, I'll make this whole comedy thing work. And maybe I'll finally be able to put all my thoughts about suicide (not suicidal thoughts!) into a routine that makes people laugh. Something that people watch when they're in a suicidal ambivalence that says, "Hey, it's bad, but think about all the stuff you'd be missing." Or something better than that that I haven't thought of yet. I'd like to think that this is the underlying purpose of comedy; it's certainly there behind every one of my jokey comments on this site. Lighten the burden a little bit, say: "yeah, we're all in it, up to our ankles or worse," and generally reflect that every coin has two sides. People are still going to commit suicide. Heck, in Futurama, they have streetcorner booths for it. As we move towards greater personal freedom, that's a freedom we're going to maintain (expand?). But the goal is to make it so people never feel they have to commit suicide.

Humanity is a process. It is a process of gradually freeing ourselves from a purely reactive, instinctual level of living to exist in a more intentional, thoughtful decision-making. Romantics call this "controlling our own destiny." As it's a process, we'll likely never get all the way there. At the base of it, we remain chemical reactions—albeit of increasing complexity. All of us wrestle with control: over our life's direction, over our baser urges, over our very nature. And, in essence, this is what many suicides are about. The organism asserting its right to secede from the superorganism of humanity. To defeat its own purpose as a cog in the reproductive cycle. This may manifest as a message to one's parents that they can't control you; but underneath, or on another level if you prefer, the message is the same: I am aborting my own program, in defiance of every natural instinct of self-preservation. But—and this is why I've never realistically engaged in suicidal ideation—the "joke" is on them, because the decision is still born of the same organic programming that they're wrestling with (known to us as instinct, family, society, etc.). So it's a false sense of control. And sadly ironic for those who do it because they feel they have no choice. They have made a choice, within the bounds of their organic programming. That may not seem like a choice; I did it because I am a chemical reaction obeying physical laws. But it's the only kind of choice we have.

This is my long-winded and philosophical (moar liek sophistry amirite?) way of saying to anyone who is feeling suicidal because they're out of options, because they have no other choice: You do have a choice. Unlike many, I don't think of suicide itself as a bad thing. But I do think it's a bad thing to make a choice without evaluating all the data, or to make a choice out of a desperate feeling that one has no choices. So if you're going to do it, think about why you're going to do it, and be honest with yourself. This is our greatest asset as humans: our ability to think. Our second greatest asset (both born out of and given birth to the first) is communication. Reach out to the people in your life, and ask them to evaluate your decision. Have them check your emotional math, see if you've missed anything. If you're going to commit suicide, do it from conviction, not ambivalence. And before you go, ask yourself: Is there any way my life could be used to help ease the pain of others?

Which is why when I die, I hope it's entertaining or thought-provoking. I'd love to leave a real headscratcher for the ages. Wouldn't we all like to die as we lived?
posted by Eideteker at 5:00 AM on April 11, 2009 [3 favorites]


I was having some fun in that "Cops hate knives" thread. The next day, the president of my son's small college emailed that one of the students had been stabbed to death by another student. No names or details, and I had the usual immediate parental reaction. My son wasn't either of those kids - a male student killed his girlfriend at his residence a few doors up the street from my son's. It was all near enough that I wish I hadn't played in the knives thread at all. Maybe I'll remember, the next time the subject is death or injury.

I'm not saying "hey, don't make jokes!" I may not laugh, though.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 5:01 AM on April 11, 2009


Hey everyone...this thread > that thread, by far. Thank you. It's ok to talk about things that make you squirm.

The only response I want to make is to Eideteker, and that response is to say that you can't really take an analytical, reason based approach to comprehending the mind of the truly suicidal.

I'll give you a case in point. My friend who did himself in was bipolar, with dual degrees in civil engineering and sculpture. He was an engineer's engineer on his non-manic days, data driven decisions and the whole thing. He never elected to work in the field because he found it droll and unfulfilling, instead he worked with me---with children. On his manic days, or weeks, or months, that analytical part that makes decisions was muted by the manic voice.

What is amazing is that through years of that---he never attempted anything, even through a couple involuntary hospitalizations. He also vehemently denied that he had BPD, insisting instead on PTSD and sleep disorders. He didn't kill himself until he'd come down from a long manic episode, and come to grips with the idea that he had the disease, and that moreover the disease had him, and that he would always be beholden to medication and, in his eyes I think, a burden to his family and friends as a constant risk. He'd burned his chances to continue working with at-risk youth, and realized he'd be relegated to working in that tie-wearing, 9-5 world he hated so much.

So he drove to his favorite spot, with a fantastic view. He took a months worth of Lithium, and he went to sleep. At some point he tried to exit the car, but for reasons unknown. I choose to believe it was because he realized the days were 90 degrees and it would take a couple before anyone would find him---I elect to think it wasn't in a lithium-induced stupor.

He didn't do it because he didn't have choices, and if he was here he'd say that to you himself. I can't speak to why he did it, don't even want to try. But I certainly know that I can't analytically tell you why one series of thoughts led to ideations and actions.

Still, I really feel like this is a good MetaTalk thread, certainly better than the originating thread.

Oh, one more thing. I'm not all sensitive about it, and if you dig up my previous question right after it happened, I don't cry about it. I, like he, is a little more concerned with the human condition, and the scarily empty and lacking treatment for (many of) the mentally ill.
posted by TomMelee at 5:38 AM on April 11, 2009 [3 favorites]


I am of the group who think about suicide sometimes. It depends, really on my state of mind at the time. Several years ago, I went so far as to plan the whole thing out, including considering the effect it would have on my kids and had figured out a way to make it look accidental so they wouldn't have to live with the additional pain and making sure they would at least have a good financial start to life. In fact, I nearly undid all my planning by putting the plan into effect on a whim, but stopped myself at the last instant. That very night, I chatted with someone on #mefi who, without even realising it as far as I know, made me realise that I wanted to live.

I still think about it from time to time, but I no longer think I'll actually do it. It's now just one of the ways I deal with the shit that life throws up. I still laugh at suicide jokes, but it's the sort of laughter that comes out because you don't want to cry.
posted by dg at 5:57 AM on April 11, 2009


So many good thoughts in this thread, though to my eyes relatively few about the issue regarding the common tone in the original thread--which struck me as too-often atrocious. Maybe it's my perception, but that thread struck me as another big example of what feels like a whole lot more snark, ugliness here. The thread about the woman who lost it at an Asian airport was another one.

At the risk of stating the obvious, shades of gray. Sure, completely snark- and ugliness-free Metafilter/Ask/Talk is unrealistic and arguably not desirable, but again, feels like there's been a good bit more of that in recent times... along with people calling each other morons and such over differences of opinions/misunderstandings, people taking a "Texas sucks" line, etc. ...etc. ...etc.

If someone asked me if this place was getting more or less like Metafark, I'd go with the former.

(FWIW, my perspective: I first wandered by in '02, lurked for three years while visiting often, signed up 12 days shy of four years ago.)
posted by ambient2 at 6:03 AM on April 11, 2009


Those of you who don't have those kind of back-of-brain voices; speak!

The job is respectable, the marriage good, children fine. Still, the nice cousin occasionally asks "Do you still think of killing yourself, sometimes?" These days I say no, to not cause worry.
posted by gnuls at 6:06 AM on April 11, 2009 [2 favorites]


"The only response I want to make is to Eideteker"

Hah, eat it, everyone else. Suckers!

"you can't really take an analytical, reason based approach to comprehending the mind of the truly suicidal."

Indeed, I think this was the gist of my comment. Or rather, maybe the reason that I've never really considered suicide is because it's not really a decision based on an analytical approach. I certainly don't claim to have all the answers. But I hope my comment was helpful to a certain kind of suicidal person, because you can't catch everyone with the same net. I also hope it was helpful to people dealing with suicidal folks (both attempted and successful).

We could debate over the phrase "truly suicidal" but I don't think that would be useful. But I think it means you intuited that my comment was not directed towards all. I didn't know your friend, but I certainly would like to have been there to listen to what was going through his mind towards the end. We both agree that society has a long way to go with regards to mental illness (though I would shy away from calling folks "the mentally ill" as that's somewhat stigmatizing; they're otherwise human victims of a disease).

I was actually a counselor for some time, and was trained rather extensively in handling suicide. As alluded to in my earlier comment, this may have saved at least one friend's life (I knew at the very least to make her promise me she'd check in tomorrow). So don't worry about me getting all analytical and philosophical on someone thinking about committing suicide. I know better. I just wanted to compose my thoughts on the subject as aided and abetted by my own insomnia. I mean, suicide's like this thing, you know? And it's really hard to talk about because people are either "OMG DON'T TALK ABOUT SUICIDE" or "OMG ARE YOU FEELING SUICIDAL LET'S GET YOU SOME HELP". So this is good. We're talking about it. We're joking about it, because we're uncomfortable. We're getting angry, or sad, or hurt. In other words, we're moving forward. Let's keep it up.
posted by Eideteker at 6:14 AM on April 11, 2009 [1 favorite]


And Jessamyn---I had to read your comment like 10 times to get that you were saying the comments of "zomg selfish" bothered you too, on first read it looked to me like you meant I was totally misguided. I think I read it correctly, no?

Yeah sorry I realized afterwards it seemed unclear with the pullquoting and all.

my thoughts of suicide are more of a reflex. It's like I'm always aware that taking my own life is an option, no matter how remote and unthinkable.

That may be my feeling too. I don't have any built in moral compunctions against it as I think many people do, suicide just doesn't make logical sense almost all of the time, to me. I think for a lot of people, that calculation is either more tenuous, based on bad information, bad thinking or just a sort of black hole of emotion that doesn't let any light in or out.

As the person on MeFi who writes the long emails to people whose AnonyMe suicide questions don't get approved, I have a hard time stepping outside of both the seriousness and the urgency of the way that sort of thing feels from the inside.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 7:40 AM on April 11, 2009 [2 favorites]


For as long as I can remember, I've had a head full of dark thoughts, and it wasn't until I was in college that I came to realize that this wasn't the norm; that people weren't frequently looking around them thinking about what could be killed, what could kill you, and what could be used to kill one's self.

I think that is why so much of my way of looking at things is based in peering into this darkness and seeing what sort of funny can be made out of the scary. I honestly think I would have gone crazy if I hadn't developed a mechanism that made the spooky urges into something other than a compulsion, something that turned them into a source of surreal amusement for myself.

Weirdly, I suspect it was these very destructive impulses that made me respect life as much as I do, because there are times when everything seems sort of brittle and ready to fall apart, and that kind of terrifies me, so my reaction is to try to get people to pull together and rally around the idea that we really all need to sort of look out for one another.

But then, I'm unexpectedly working on a Saturday, and that shit's got me mopey and tired. As a result, it might just be making my writing all melancholy and angsty.
posted by quin at 7:42 AM on April 11, 2009


It's really alien to me that a person can be perfectly okay and yet seriously consider killing themselves, because according to my worldview if you are seriously considering killing yourself, then you are no longer perfectly okay.

Back-of-brainers, can you explain what it's like?


I'm a back-of-brainer, and for me, it's not a thing that I "seriously consider." It's just kind of there. I've never made any concrete plans or had the urge to, but it's an easy thing to think about when you drive across the Golden Gate bridge frequently. I was a back-of-brainer long before I moved to San Francisco, though.

For me, it's just out there as an option, the way fish tacos/fried chicken from that place I like/homemade white bean stew are out there as options for dinner; I'm not actively making plans for any of them (well, except for the white bean thing - that's on the menu for tonight), but the possibility is there, and I'm aware of it.

A friend of mine killed himself a few years ago; his girlfriend was a good friend. Someone else close to me lost someone very close to them to suicide. I've seen and felt what it does to the people who are left behind, and so (again, for me), it's not an option I'm likely to take, ever, because I can't bear the thought of hurting people I love that way.

When my mom was really sick, we talked very briefly about whether or not she might take her own life. I bought a book - a famous one, written by a guy, can't remember the title - about suicide. I never read it. Couldn't bear to.

I don't know if there's an official psychiatric distinction between "suicidal ideation" and "back-of-brain." Anybody know?
posted by rtha at 8:09 AM on April 11, 2009 [1 favorite]


It seems to me that there's plenty of room between "Suicide is something that should never be joked about ever, in any context" and "Suicide is funny and jokes are always in order." I'd expect that most, but not all, people, might laugh at an Onion headline involving suicide, or some stupid bar joke that starts with a guy standing on the railing of a bridge. I'd also expect that most, but not all, people, know not to respond to "My mom killed herself when I was ten" with "That reminds me of an amusing anecdote..."

The question, I think, isn't whether Suicide Is Funny, but whether a thread about a strange quirk of those who are about to kill themselves is fair game for Darwin Award-style jokes.
posted by lore at 8:11 AM on April 11, 2009 [1 favorite]


I also sometimes think about is as an option. I have no desire for it, and, like Woody Allen once said, I don't want to achieve immortality through creating great work, but, instead by not dying. But you never know which way this world is going to turn. If I had been in the Twin Towers a few years ago, and the options were to be cooked alive or to step out a window, would I have done so? If I were diagnoses with alzheimers, and began the slow and tragic decline that I have witnessed, would there be a point when I would want to check out? What is I had terminal cancer? What if I simply couldn't stand the world anymore?

I thin discussions about humor and tragedy are useful, because there are ethics to humor, or, at least, there can be. And there is a difference between recognizing the absurdity of something and riffing on it, even when tragic, and gloating about it and mocking those who suffer. I try to be aware of that line when I joke. It's hard when your first reflex is to try to be funny, but I generally try to keep the question of "who is the target of my joke?" somewhere in mind, so that, at the end of the day, I don't feel like a bully.

The other question raised in the thread is one of selfishness, but I almost always find that that discussion is less than useless. Yes, suicide is, by its very nature, a selfish act, but so what? Do with think carping on its selfishness and reminding people that the act will hurt the ones we love really do much more than heap additional shame onto people who are suicidal? I don't know how many of you have read many, or any, suicide notes. A small percentage are vindictive, but the overwhelming majority are documents of sorrow. The people who write them are already aware of the pain they will be causing, and apologize for it in advance, in heartbreakingly naked language. People don't generally kill themselves because they have weighed other options and decided suicide is the best of several. They kill themselves because it has, for them, become the only option. Whatever is compelling them to take their own life -- and, in a vast majority of cases, it is chronic depression -- isn't allowing them to think all that clearly. How selfish is it, really, to take an option when you honestly don't think there is any other option at all?

Discussing it in terms of selfishness just further heaps shame and scorn upon someone whose already dealing with too much. I think it is useful to think about it in terms of disease -- after all, depression is an illness. We must consider it a potentially fatal illness. We don't get mad at cancer when it takes a life, or blame the cancer victim. I don't think we should blame the victim of depression either.
posted by Astro Zombie at 8:13 AM on April 11, 2009 [5 favorites]


Note to self: proofread.
posted by Astro Zombie at 8:15 AM on April 11, 2009


I'm a serious back-of-brainer. I have never attempted suicide, but there were long periods during the worst of my youthful depressions (from about 13 to 15) I prayed daily for God to please let me just die. Even as a functional, happy adult, a small part of me has always still assumed that someday I will die by my own hand -- that one day I will be in too much pain or too confused to entertain other options, and that urge which has always been quite passive and manageable will grow too strong for me to resist.

I know that sounds scary, but if anything this instinct is the only reason I've thrived at all. There was a point where I realized that I had no problem opting out of life, but if I was going to stay and persist, then it would be completely on my own terms; I literally had nothing to lose. This gave me the boost I needed to shrug off a lot of the guilt and baggage that had kept me quiet and obedient my entire life, honestly the life I have now is several orders of magnitude better than anything I dared hope for myself when I was young. Every day I'm grateful to my former self (selves, really) for deciding to let this play out and see what could happen.
posted by hermitosis at 8:21 AM on April 11, 2009 [6 favorites]


Phire, I think it's more the confessions of suicidal ideation from people who are not depressed, traumatised, trapped in toxic situations or in dire need of therapy that are freaking us out.

Yes. This is what I meant. Especially Jessamyn's comment. She has always struck me as one of the most grounded and level headed and wise people I've ever "met," and to think of her with background voices is scary. And now the thought of her having to write to those wanting to post suicidal AskMes is heartbreaking.

I last thought seriously about suicide when I was a teenager, almost 30 years ago. Something happened at school or whatever and I began planning to check out. I can remember the loud click in my head - the only time that has happened - when I realized that hey, I could do it tomorrow. Then it became a source of strength: an option I always had up my sleeve. I never thought about it seriously again. No matter how crappy things get, the ride seems too short to me to get off early. (Obviously, it's easier to make this calculation if you don't have demons chewing on your brain.)

Back in 2005 we did it better, FYI.
posted by CunningLinguist at 8:26 AM on April 11, 2009


as a..."really?"

I'm so sick of one-liners cultivated from SNL...
posted by wfrgms at 8:31 AM on April 11, 2009


I am an on-call crisis worker for a rural ER. Once a week at least, I am in the room with someone who is waking up and wondering why they aren't dead. Occasionally I do suicide talk-down by phone, tenser than a hostage negotiation. I can't pretend to know the extent of the sadness and despair of those who show up or call out, other than just comparing it to my own paler shades- desperate at times but not desperate enough to be on the stretcher or the other end of a tear soaked phone. What's surprising in all of these situations is that levity is a powerful elixir, and even as they are being stitched up or drinking charcoal, the faintest smiles emerge. We all need to laugh, even in the wake of personal catastrophe. Those who survive are fortunate enough to laugh at themselves, on their own terms, in their own time. For those that don't, none of us can pretend to know the pain that preceded their deaths. Yet we also can't know their joy and relief in having reckoned with the absurdity of it all. Suicide is intensely personal, and as such is judged far too often by those who have little connection with the person. It's hard enough to stand there with my clipboard and check off little boxes on my assessment. Mortality is terrifying as it is liberating (as in the Steppenwolf), and sometimes all we can do is laugh along with the whole damn thing, even in the face of tragedy. But to laugh at the mortality and tragedy of a person may exposes fears of our own. We're all probably a little afraid, anyway.
posted by moonbird at 8:37 AM on April 11, 2009 [5 favorites]


rtha - I always relate those back of the brain thoughts to something akin to winning the lottery or any other fantasy- the thought alone lets off steam, and provides a quick masturbatory relief to the present feeling. Ideation moves closer to a preoccupation. At work, having a plan, the means to carry it out, and an acute desire or lack of will to live are when the threshold is crossed.
posted by moonbird at 8:41 AM on April 11, 2009


It's fair to go through life without wanting to off yourself; all the best to you. But to be surprised that some people think about it all the time? Really?

Well, put yourself in the perspective of someone who has never really had however-idle thoughts about killing themself and hasn't had this kind of conversation with anyone who has. Why would the assume people are thinking about it? The basic cultural information available, barring a discussion like this or some other reason to dig into the topic, is something like this:

- People who kill themselves have suicidal thoughts.
- People who attempt to kill themselves have suicidal thoughts.
- I don't have suicidal thoughts.
- I don't know anyone who has suicidal thoughts.

Which, taken at face value, adds up to a pretty straightforward assumption that people who think about killing themselves and people who try to kill themselves are in one bucket, and people who aren't on that whole suicide trip are in another, and that's that.

Most folks probably, even at that, have a slightly more nuanced take—recognizing e.g. the idea that someone going through an unusually rough patch and/or seeming unusually depressed might dwell on suicide even though you don't think of them as "the sort of person" who would "normally" think about suicide, etc.

But absent the knowledge that happy, healthy people have these back-of-mind thoughts, why would someone assume they do? The same goes for any number of other stigmatic internal phenomena, too, I figure—alcoholism or other addictions? Anger management issues? More positively in general but still taboo, kink? If you haven't really personally encountered or otherwise studied these things, why would you assume they're going on in someone's head out the blue?

The difference being, I suppose, that some things are easier to encounter than others. Everybody knows about alcoholism and about suicide hotlines, but probably a lot more people have personally encountered alcoholics in mid-struggle than they have a suicidal person in the throes of a suicidal episode. The dynamics of the two situations are just so different, the odds fly off balance.

So maybe Joe Average has a much better chance of understanding that people around him who don't look like alcoholics might nonetheless be experiencing addictive thoughts then he does of understanding that people around him who don't look unhappy might nonetheless be experiencing idle suicidal thoughts?

Armchair pop psychology, I know. But it doesn't shock me that people wouldn't know or guess, in a vacuum, that other people are thinking, even idly, about suicide. And I think for various reasons this is an easier vacuum to maintain.

Look at how, say, suicide vs. alcoholism is treated in pop culture: suicide is a sudden terrible event, maybe something that gets featured over the arc of an episode of a television show if it's really going to get explored, maybe something that gets five minutes of foreshadowing. You don't get many TV characters who are constantly and credibly contemplating their own deaths. Maybe a matter of convenience—it'd really fuck up the average show if one of the main characters killed himself, and barring that you'd have someone constantly on the edge of killing himself over the long arc of a narrative? Cheery. That'll test well with the Nielsen folks.

Alcoholism, though: you can struggle and fail and redeem yourself and succeed and resume struggling and it just makes for dramatic material. A failed alcoholic musses things up but lives another day. He can struggle very visibly with the terrible consequences of his addiction and still be breathing. He has the advantage of nobility, if the writers want to give it to him, of making mistakes and learning from them. It's easier to write an alcoholic, because his mistakes are reparable. How many alcoholics and drunks have been long-term focuses of TV shows, and how many suicidal folks?

Again, not to imply that everybody gets their information in totality from popular media, or that there is some binary partition of people into the Knows About Suicidal Thoughts and Doesn't Know camps. But I can see it happening very naturally that folks who don't have those thoughts wouldn't think that most other folks would have them either.
posted by cortex (staff) at 8:44 AM on April 11, 2009


It's really alien to me that a person can be perfectly okay and yet seriously consider killing themselves, because according to my worldview if you are seriously considering killing yourself, then you are no longer perfectly okay.'

Agreed. It's not that thoughts of suicide are so rare, it's that they're almost always indicators that something you're experiencing is very bad for you and needs to end. I do think that people who choose suicide make a mistake in thinking that that something is conscious life. I see it as a logical error. Also, a friend of mine in high school committed suicide. Regardless of what he was experiencing, I can't help but regard the decision as intensely selfish in the simplest sense. His own estimation of his pain outweighed his estimation of the pain others would feel, in many cases for the rest of their lives. His calculus was off. It wasn't a rational estimation and, looking at the whole thing from a pragmatic point of view, his problems would have passed, but he traded them for a whole set of problems for many people which will never pass. I hold with those who view suicide as tragically sad, but logically I think it is almost always selfish in the barest sense of the word, in that it serves the needs of the self at the significant expense of the needs of others, unless you have absolutely no close relationships with anyone.

As for casual thoughts/jokes of suicide, it strikes me that it's probably a problem endemic to consciousness itself. As human beings we know from a young age that we have this ultimate power of taking life, even our own, and we have to learn to master that early on. But I do think it's worth paying attention to, and if the thoughts become obsessive, I suspect something needs attention. Suicide is very common, more common than murder, making it seem that we actually have more problems fending off aggressive impulses to ourselves than vengeful, angry, and aggressive impulses toward others. The fact that a lot more people consider suicide than attempt suicide or attempt it successfully (9th most common cause of death) points to the mathematical necessity that a very large number of people have suicidal thoughts. But I think it's important to be alert to changes in the thinking - if there is a frequent, idle reflection that 'yeah, it's in my power to end it all, but I'd rather not today', that is at a different place on the continuum than thinking about it with seriousness, making plans, making the decision while in emotional pain, etc.
posted by Miko at 8:45 AM on April 11, 2009 [6 favorites]


I have a family history of depression going back at least three generations. My left hand is now missing one of the two tendons that move your wrist forwards and backwards. Separately, I've pressed a revolver loaded with hollow-point ammunition against my temple with my finger on the trigger. And though my life is quite contented now, I'm always mindful of the fact that age and illness insure darker days ahead. Barring accidents, I fully expect that I will tire of life before it tires of me. When that time comes, I hope for the physical courage to end things on my own terms.

I will do what I can to lighten the chore for those cleaning up my mess - even if that's only leaving a note of apology. I will almost certainly leave my shoes on - as bare feet have a pathos I'd just as soon avoid. And if anyone chooses to laugh - whether from callousness or a threatened sensitivity - my shade, if any, will not begrudge them. Given that they will be continuing a fight I abandoned, it would be hypocritical to do otherwise.

I do not think that an artist may take total despair as a subject; we are too close to it in daily life. - Orson Welles
posted by Joe Beese at 8:51 AM on April 11, 2009 [6 favorites]


Somewhat related: I've read and heard that EMTs and doctors often report that there is evidence of regret at many suicide and attempted suicide scenes. Making a phone call, asking for help, trying to make it to where people can find you in time. All this indicates to me that thinking can change after the decision has been made, that suicidal thinking is ill-informed thinking. One thing I have always vividly remembered from the often-referenced piece ""Jumpers" about Golden Gate Bridge suicides was this:
Survivors often regret their decision in midair, if not before. Ken Baldwin and Kevin Hines both say they hurdled over the railing, afraid that if they stood on the chord they might lose their courage. Baldwin was twenty-eight and severely depressed on the August day in 1985 when he told his wife not to expect him home till late. “I wanted to disappear,” he said. “So the Golden Gate was the spot. I’d heard that the water just sweeps you under.” On the bridge, Baldwin counted to ten and stayed frozen. He counted to ten again, then vaulted over. “I still see my hands coming off the railing,” he said. As he crossed the chord in flight, Baldwin recalls, “I instantly realized that everything in my life that I’d thought was unfixable was totally fixable—except for having just jumped.”
This is a pretty interesting and succinct piece about suicide prevention and the "triangle" of motivating factors: the wish to die, precipitating distress, and a suicidal plan. That would indicate to me that the presence of the first one is two big factors away from resulting in a suicide, and the piece notes that the wish to die "occurs in everyone and is no different than any other wish. It often co-exists with the wish to live. Time often helps people to change their minds about the wish to die."
posted by Miko at 9:04 AM on April 11, 2009 [1 favorite]


the thought alone lets off steam

I think that best describes how thoughts of suicide work for me. When I think through a suicidal scenario, it gives me a level of comfort, knowing that I do at least have some level of control over my life, especially when things get overwhelming emotionally. Knowing that I can commit suicide if I want to gives me the peace of mind to not do it, if that makes sense.

Planning it also helps me to recognize that I could probably never actually go through with it because there's too much risk of not succeeding. My biggest fear is that I would be one of the people who gets rescued at the last minute, but I'd have done enough damage to be in some kind of vegetative state. I can imagine a scenario where I'd be paralyzed and unable to speak, but I'd be perfectly mentally aware of everything that was going on around me, and I'd be put in some kind of an institution with abusive "caregivers." I know that sounds like an extremely morbid thing to think about, but it's the one sure-fire thing that scares me enough to keep me from following through.
posted by amyms at 9:06 AM on April 11, 2009


I was always a back-of-brainer (and many years ago, very much a front-of-brainer). My best friend and I used to joke about how it was the emergency escape hatch, that if things ever got too bad, you could always just off yourself. We used to joke all the time about how this song or that movie or the other book made you want to take a warm bath with a razor blade. Last February he did just that, but it wasn't a book or a song or a movie that did it, it was lifelong untreated depression. February had always been the worst month for him, he killed himself on February 28th last year, and I said to one of his other friends that I believed that he'd intended to kill himself on the last day of his nemesis month, and the asshole had forgotten that it was a fucking Leap Year. Yes, a joke (that made those who knew him laugh, because he was like that), but also the truth - I knew how grim his life had become, and how much tunnel vision he must have had, and as it turned out, the black dog that tended to get the better of him in February finally won in 2008. It being a Leap Year was just that extra kick when he was down, the longest shortest month had extra power last year. I don't think the actual date was relevant, but it was symbolic. It was a way to understand where he'd been, and why he'd done it. He euthanized himself.

I hate the "selfish" argument. Aside from the fact that I think it's pointless and pompous and entirely semantic. Aside from the fact that it ignores that each suicide is different, even if they all end up the same. It's just not true. I believe that most suicides are euthanasias, oblivion is preferable to continuing to live in pain. In some cases, that pain may be temporary, or treatable, certainly, but wanting pain to stop is not selfish, it's normal, it's understandable.

So I guess, rambling back to the original point, having been in the Pit of Despair myself, and having lost my dearest, closer-than-a-twin-brother best friend of over a quarter century to it, I can still see why sometimes, some of us still have to joke. You don't joke instead of crying, but sometimes humour is the least overtly painful way to publicly acknowledge the deeper truth of something.
posted by biscotti at 9:09 AM on April 11, 2009 [11 favorites]


when my mind's eye sees someone swan-diving off a high point in the mall and landing on some poor kid in a massage care ... my gut is going, "nyuk, nyuk, that's pretty funny."

My gut is going, "what a stupid, inconsiderate asshole." Nobody is in so much emotional pain that they can't spare a moment to make sure they're not going to land on someone. Nobody is in that much pain.
posted by jayder at 9:14 AM on April 11, 2009


I hate the "selfish" argument [...] wanting pain to stop is not selfish, it's normal, it's understandable.

Amen.
posted by amyms at 9:21 AM on April 11, 2009 [2 favorites]


wanting pain to stop is not selfish, it's normal, it's understandable.

The selfishness lies not in wanting your own pain to stop, but in deciding that causing many other people even more individual pain is fair.
posted by Miko at 9:24 AM on April 11, 2009 [3 favorites]


Nobody is in so much emotional pain that they can't spare a moment to make sure they're not going to land on someone.

...and almost every suicide lands on someone. Metaphorically. I'm not sure why we don't look at the social-ethical implications of this act as fully as we do the ethical implications of other moral choices. I'm not trying to be a jerk, but our emotional involvement, our desire to be supportive and empathetic about pain, sometimes fails to take in the ripple effects of what is an ethical decision.
posted by Miko at 9:27 AM on April 11, 2009 [1 favorite]


cortex: "
Well, put yourself in the perspective of someone who has never really had however-idle thoughts about killing themself and hasn't had this kind of conversation with anyone who has. Why would the assume people are thinking about it? The basic cultural information available, barring a discussion like this or some other reason to dig into the topic, is something like this:

- People who kill themselves have suicidal thoughts.
- People who attempt to kill themselves have suicidal thoughts.
- I don't have suicidal thoughts.
- I don't know anyone who has suicidal thoughts.

Which, taken at face value, adds up to a pretty straightforward assumption that people who think about killing themselves and people who try to kill themselves are in one bucket, and people who aren't on that whole suicide trip are in another, and that's that.
"

That's a fair analysis, cortex. I do remember occasionally idly talking about this when I was in High School, when things got stressful enough that I was rambling out of sheer frustration, and being really surprised at how people reacted to the mere mention of "ending it". To me, the calculus never added up - it wouldn't happen. But to my peers, it seemed inconceivable that I could entertain the notion of death without it being fundamentally threatening to my emotional wellbeing.
posted by Phire at 9:29 AM on April 11, 2009


The selfishness lies not in wanting your own pain to stop, but in deciding that causing many other people even more individual pain is fair.
posted by Miko at 12:24 PM on April 11 [+] [!]


And what about the folks who either think they don't--or actually don't--have anyone they're "leaving behind"? The reality is that years of severe depression (or perhaps the isolation or family dysfunction that preceded/created it in some cases) doesn't leave many folks with a next of kin or anyone to attend a funeral service.
posted by availablelight at 9:52 AM on April 11, 2009 [1 favorite]


It took me a while to realize that there is a huge swath of the human population that doesn't sort of continually have back-of-brain thoughts of suicide in their heads at all times.

Up until today, I thought I was the only one who did that in a completely non-ideation kind of way. It freaked me out that I did that but having read this thread, I'm am incredibly relieved.
posted by otherwordlyglow at 9:55 AM on April 11, 2009


Phire: I can't speak for everyone, but I personally think there might be a bit of a mix-up between actively suicidal and entertaining thoughts of death.

Exactly. There's a vast gulf between considering suicide and having morbid thoughts. I don't think I've ever seriously contemplated killing myself but my recollections of my most severe depressions are not very clear. Wondering what it would be like to die, even by one's own hand, is not the same as wishing to be dead.

On another note... once me and a friend had to stand suicide watch for an entire night. Pretty much the whole time we talked about Far Side and Calvin & Hobbes. Humor in bleak moments is beautiful but making fun of real life human beings who've killed themselves is problematic.
posted by Kattullus at 9:59 AM on April 11, 2009 [1 favorite]


wanting pain to stop is not selfish, it's normal, it's understandable.

Since when is being selfish not normal and/or understandable?
posted by pokermonk at 10:06 AM on April 11, 2009


The selfishness lies not in wanting your own pain to stop, but in deciding that causing many other people even more individual pain is fair.

Extreme psychological distress does not lead to reasoned debate about "fairness", it leads to wanting the pain to stop. You are assuming a rational thought process and/or ability to see outside one's own pain which is likely not present in most suicidal people.

Since when is being selfish not normal and/or understandable?

what
posted by biscotti at 10:19 AM on April 11, 2009


This is such an interesting discussion. Thanks to all who are contributing so thoughtfully.
posted by rtha at 10:28 AM on April 11, 2009


The selfishness lies not in wanting your own pain to stop, but in deciding that causing many other people even more individual pain is fair.

People who contemplate and/or commit suicide are not "deciding" to cause other people pain. Deciding to end one's own pain does not mean that one has actively decided to bring pain to others.
posted by amyms at 10:57 AM on April 11, 2009


i have to admit that the black humor in my heart found something darkly funny and absurd in the details of that post. so i understood the joking, even the tasteless bits. i fall in the camp of 'yes, i've imagined my own suicide in tremendous detail on multiple occasions, though i have never actually had the urge to die.' and i have known people who made that painful and tragic decision. is this why i can allow myself to laugh at something that is not really funny? curiously, i cannot laugh at or make jokes about rape however. aids, yes; famine, sure; war, why not? but why this line at rape? rape jokes offend me and make me sad. is it because i (male) do not live with the same potential reality of rape that i do with death/suicide? i wish i had more direction to this comment. just tossing it out there.
posted by barrett caulk at 11:06 AM on April 11, 2009


for those of you following at home my bro is back in the nut hut. the other day i went over to his place to give him his pills and when i called for him, he didn't answer. IMMEDIATELY i thought, "i will find him dead in there." i didn't, but as someone who now has this as part of the rest of her life . . . i guess i can't laugh at it.

it IS pretty funny that he tried to get himself arrested, though.
posted by liketitanic at 11:39 AM on April 11, 2009


Deciding to end one's own pain does not mean that one has actively decided to bring pain to others.

I'm afraid it often does mean exactly that. It is one of the repercussions of the decision.

Though I certainly understand that people's brains are generally not working well (in most cases) when they decide to commit suicide, I'm not sure that our natural empathy or any degree of understanding of their state should necessarily mean that we suspend all judgment of their ethical choice. We don't really do this for murderers of others, even though they too are often in terrible emotional extremity. We understand that the choice to murder others has repercussions, and those who do this are held in some way accountable, even if they were under stress.

Think of the recent incident in Binghamton, in which someone who was apparently quite mentally ill killed others and also killed himself. Yes, he has my empathy because he was in a world of pain and fright and was clearly suffering from misunderstandings of reality. But had he survived the attack, he also would have borne responsibility for the terrible suffering he caused others by killing people who must now be mourned by their survivors.

People who commit suicide are not doing something that has no victims and no repercussions. Though I think we can certainly be empathetic and understanding, and am certainly very interested in using anything we know is effective to prevent suicide, I have trouble with exempting people who choose suicide from the same standards we put on others - that they be seen as responsible for the choices they made, even though they may have been under immense distress when making them. It always troubles me when people look at suicide as either something wholly worthy of only pity or even as a simple act of self-determination worthy of respect. For those in the surviving community, it's rarely so simple. They suffer the repercussions of the act, for as long as they live.
posted by Miko at 11:42 AM on April 11, 2009


Miko: This is going to seem perhaps unnecessarily violent, but I hope you'll bear with me.

Imagine one beautifully sunny day, you're happily out on a stroll in the countryside, when you are knocked out from behind - kidnapped, bundled into the back of a van, and thrown into a pitch-dark cellar. No windows, no way out.

Your kidnapper never explains why you are there. He begins to torture you - with "advanced forms of torture": electric shock, submersion in water, sexual violence, and various forms of psychological torture, results of which "are virtually undetectable to an untrained eye."1 Force-feeding you enough day after day to keep you alive. Allowing you about an hour's sleep a day - then the torture resumes.

You try to stay sane, to keep hope alive that you will be rescued. Every day it is crushed as your torturer re-enters the cellar. You try to keep count of the number of days you've been there... but soon days bleed into weeks into months, until it seems you have been there forever. And will be there forever. Your mind is a fog, and your days, if they're still distinguishable as days, are nothing but pain. You realise no one is coming.

One day, with what little ounce of strength you have left, you grab the knife he cuts the food to feed you with and tries to overpower your murderer for your only way out. But you are weak, your reactions are slow, and your torturer merely laughs at you as he grabs your wrist and pulls the knife out of your hand. He knows you are too weak to fight him, otherwise he wouldn't have left the knife within your reach. You try the same thing countless times in many countless ways before you know it too.

One day after many days or weeks or months that you've lost count of, you give up. You let go of your hope. The knife can't be used against your torturer, but you realise you can use it on yourself. You can rob your torturer of his sadistic pleasure - and you can stop the pain. This is the only thing you have left in your control. You try to remember your loved ones' faces, but now they are foggy, out of reach even in your mind. You pray they have moved on, or will move on, with their happy lives. You take your only way out that you know.

Your torturer sees that you are dead, cleans up the evidence of his torture and leaves.

A week later, your body is found when the police, finally combing this area for you, pass by the abandoned house your body is in, see the front door left open, and investigate. Who knows if you might've been saved had you not ended your life a week earlier! Or perhaps the police would've passed right by, and you would've never been found.

Your loved ones, who have also been desperately searching for you all this time, are brought to the scene. There is no evidence of anyone else having been there but you. The investigators inform your loved ones that all signs point to a suicide. There were no signs of struggle. The torture inflicted on you is undetectable and undetected.

Your loved ones are filled with anguish. Why on earth would you be so selfish as to kill yourself? Whatever troubles you had, you must've known they were out there, worrying sick about you, loving you, looking for you, trying to save you. Whatever suffering you were under, you must've known you would one day be found, and you would get the help you need. What selfish coward throws herself in a cellar in an abandoned house in the middle of nowhere to end her own life, when she knew there were so many people out there who would be devastated by her death? What pain could you possibly have been under, to have thought it worth causing so much pain to all the people who love you? Over your dead body, lying there, and forever from then on when your loved ones speak of you, they will agree how fundamentally selfish you are, how inconsiderate you are of the ripple effects of your selfish decision.


Do you see what I'm trying to say? Mental pain cannot be seen. There is no more desperate act than suicide. It is the very antithesis of any living creature's strongest, most fundamental biological drive: to live. To say that a person should've lived regardless of how much pain he or she might've been, when you have no way of knowing, seeing or assessing this pain, to complain as to how illogical suicide is, when the very nature of reversing a living creature's most fundamental drive should clue you in to the fact that the person's decision-making process might've been broken - when even in death, the person cannot escape your judgement, cannot have your forgiveness - do you see what I'm trying to say?
posted by dolca at 11:50 AM on April 11, 2009 [22 favorites]


Just before I read this thread, I opened my email to find that a very old friend's mom killed herself on Friday - there was a time when she and I were pretty close, too, and I was also close with her other kid for some time.

This is the 4th suicide I've been "witness" to since last April - my friend's dad, my best friend's partner/my friend, my friend's mom, and now another friend's mom/friend.

It is taking all of my strength not to get in a huge fight with those of you in the "selfish, but what are ya gonna do?" camp right now because I am SUPREMELY pissed at all 4 of these people after having witnessed the hell they have put their loved ones through. Which never ends. (I'm surely not mad at you guys, it's just so frustrating)

No point, I guess, but Miko I really appreciate your responses above.
posted by tristeza at 11:55 AM on April 11, 2009 [1 favorite]


Hi, back-of-brainers

I'm surprised and almost a little relieved there are so many of us. It's something I think about but don't talk about people I'm afraid other people won't understand and I'll just worry them. I guess I sort of thought about actually doing it in middle school, like I sort of thought about actually cutting in high school, but it was always more about the process of thinking it through--going through a plan and checking whether I could talk myself out of it. Just now I've figured it out, I think: that process was a mechanism for making sure I was actually okay and had good reasons to not hurt myself and to keep on living.

These days it's just a bizarre, fascinating idea that percolates and comes up now and then. As several others have said, it's not about being unhappy or feeling like I have nothing to live for, it's about the ease and suddenness with which I could stop living, almost without deciding to: Hey, what if I just stepped into the street right now? Geez, what if I just stopped making an effort to swim? Hey, this cliff is really sudden... I wonder what it would feel like? I wonder what really happens to consciousness?

Not something I'd ever do, ever ever ever, just...it's such an interesting idea, in the abstract. It's just a thing. To think about.
posted by hippugeek at 12:08 PM on April 11, 2009


Miko, I think we're arguing semantics, maybe? I understand where you're coming from, but I don't agree that a suicidal person actively "decides" to bring pain to others.

Of course the survivors suffer pain and anguish and grief, no one is denying that -- I've experienced it myself, along with all the attendant "what ifs" and "if onlys" -- But to say that the suicidal person actively chose to bring pain upon others is ascribing malicious intent to their actions. If you're going to argue that suicide is selfish then you also have to concede that it's selfish for the survivors to claim that their grief is more important than what the deceased was going through.
posted by amyms at 12:11 PM on April 11, 2009 [2 favorites]


Back-of-brainers, can you explain what it's like?

I've had a couple of serious bouts of depression in my life. The best explanation I can give is that it is like the line from the Squeeze song: "Trying to be good by not being around." After you have had several people make clear to you (or so it seems in your depressed state) that their lives are made happier by your absence than your presence, it is not a huge leap to believing everyone feels this way about you. And from there, a fairly small step to seeing one easy or maybe not-so-easy act you can perform that will make everyone you know happier. And this same act will alleviate your own misery, so for a purely utilitarian point of view (bringing the most happiness to the greatest number), it is the simple and obvious choice.

I don't really feel like that now, and I haven't in years, but I still know what it felt like. And honestly, one thing that kept me alive during the last bad stretch was the knowledge that no exit route is foolproof. Climbing over my balcony railing and dropping ten stories to the pavement below would be a good bet, but it might not be fatal, and then I would be stuck in a shattered body with nothing but my suicidal mind working.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 12:14 PM on April 11, 2009 [3 favorites]


Where I work, we got a new health insurance plan, and we all had to fill out questionnaires with questions like "Do you do drugs?" "Do you have cancer?" and "Do you have thoughts of suicide?"

We all agreed that the suicide question was silly since everyone probably should answer yes, but probably nobody does, but apparently, some people can actually honestly say no to that question.
posted by Stylus Happenstance at 12:16 PM on April 11, 2009


The selfishness lies not in wanting your own pain to stop, but in deciding that causing many other people even more individual pain is fair.

The depressives I know ho have seriously contemplated suicide while in the grips of their disease have, for the mot part, told me that one of the delusions they suffer from is that they would be making everyone else's life better by killing themselves. It's the nature of the illness for many people; they convince themselves they are such a worthless, hideous burden on those around them that suicide will liberate their friends and family.

Suicide as a result of mental illness is a symptom of the illness. Berating people for being "selfish" for depression-induced suicide is as clueless as berating someone who is dying of cancer for being too selfish to live.
posted by rodgerd at 12:23 PM on April 11, 2009 [1 favorite]


If we are going to call someone wanting to end their own unbearable pain selfish, isn't it just as possible to think of the people that they leave behind as being selfish in wanting that person to continue living in pain?

I understand that there will be grieving, and questioning, and guilt, and all of those horrible feelings that accompany the death of a loved one, but if the person who committed suicide was really in so much pain, who are we to demand that they continue living with their pain for our benefit? Do we think that we have more of a right to their live (or death) than they do?
posted by newpotato at 12:34 PM on April 11, 2009 [5 favorites]


Miko, I think we're arguing semantics, maybe? I understand where you're coming from, but I don't agree that a suicidal person actively "decides" to bring pain to others.

If you read the writings or journals of people who have attempted or committed suicide, or have discussions with those who have attempted or planned it, it is not uncommon find areas where they have considered and then rejected the significance of their actions on others. I agree it's not rational and it's a very poor estimation of the reaction tied up with their own concerns about self-worth, but it's not always unconscious. It's not malicious, but it is narcissistic.

I think that calling it "selfish" is a colloquial way of noting that the choice to commit suicide is not an ethically neutral act, in that it causes irreparable harm to others. I'm very empathetic to the emotional pain, but not willing to use that as a justification for the harm, any more than I'm willing to use pain as a justification for the harms caused by murderers. That just doesn't make any sense to me. As I said, empathy and understanding are called for, so I'm certainly not berating anyone, but the act is an ethical choice that causes harm no matter how you slice it. Casting the pain in such dramatic and dire terms is part and parcel of the romanticization of suicide that is a thread running through Western society.

Without diminishing the experience of any one person's pain and while understanding that some people may be so mentally ill they suffer constant emotional pain that never goes away, I can note that in a great many cases, emotional pain is often very treatable; it's often situational; it often changes with time; it often responds to drug therapy; it often responds to changes in lifestyle; it is often cyclical; and so on. Yes, pain causes suicide, but suicide is most often not the only available solution to emotional pain.

It seems to me that, as compassionate humans, we can understand and work to heal the pain people experience in depression while at the same time not turning away from the lifelong, emotionally crippling harm that suicide often causes its survivors. I don't believe having empathy for sufferers necessitates that we ignore the effects of the actions they're responsible for, any more than empathy necessitates that we ignore the effects of the actions of murderers movitavted by similar desperation or pain.
posted by Miko at 12:52 PM on April 11, 2009 [2 favorites]


Back of brainer here. I don't do it because I have a highly developed sense of social justice, am very competitive, and have a big ego so I want to do well.

I have a question for Miko and the others in that vein - what's someone to do, if they feel like killing themselves, but they don't want to be selfish and unfair to their loved ones?

Yes, they could:

Ask for help - sometimes the loved ones have been asked too many times and don't want to help
Try to heal self with meds, therapy - sometimes works, but sometimes it doesn't
Serve others - some people's mental illness makes it difficult to do this effectively

Do you believe that there is any point at which a person with mental illness should be permitted to kill themselves - a point at which it would cease being unfair to their relatives?

This is a very interesting question to me because there is a right to die movement that allows people with terminal cancer or Parkinson's or Alzheimer's to do this with the active support and encouragement of their families, and a whole retinue of doctors and psychologists who are part of the movement and are developing a practice to enable families to come to terms with the choice of the terminally ill person.

But when a merely mentally ill person chooses suicide after years of pain, trying to fit in, trying to work to standards he or she can't meet - they are branded as selfish. They don't get the counselling and support for themselves and their families that the cancer patient at Dignitas gets, and they have to choose dangerous methods.

I believe that the fact this holds true for physical illness and not for mental illness is one of the biggest pieces of evidence for persistent and continued stigma of mental illness.

If mental illness didn't have so much stigma attached to it, if it were taken as seriously and neutrally as diabetes, cancer or a broken leg, if treatment were discussable as openly as a Lamaze class would be, if mentally ill people knew they could go to the suicide booth and terminate themselves safely after years of counselling, I believe that far fewer people would try to kill themselves.
posted by By The Grace of God at 12:57 PM on April 11, 2009 [4 favorites]


Missed a bit.

Im past that point now, but at my lowest points I never made plans to kill myself but I did feel trapped by the love of my loved ones, who would have been hurt by my decision. I thought I would spend the rest of my life methodically working, exercising, doing hobbies, going on social outings, and coming home to horrible psychic pain that I felt ASHAMED of talking about to my friends. My smile felt like an obligation. None of this changed until my objective situation changed, but if I'd been sicker maybe I wouldn't ever have felt better. Should a person in that situation go through the motions in awful pain for the rest of their lives?
posted by By The Grace of God at 1:00 PM on April 11, 2009 [1 favorite]


But if you laugh at one type of meaningless death, you laugh at all of them.

All death is meaningless and, yeah, we can laugh at all of it. It's gallows humor. Some people don't understand that. I've said it before; the people who don't get it are the ones who haven't quite internalized that we're all on the gallows.
posted by Justinian at 1:03 PM on April 11, 2009 [2 favorites]


I've had two very powerful feelings of wanting to be dead. Ordinarily, I am one of the most positive, Pollyanna people you'll ever meet.

The first time I really wanted to die, I had this thought that if the whole house burnt down around me, I wouldn't even care. It would end my suffering, and I wouldn't have to deal with anything anymore. I recognized it as a sign of depression, and tucked it into the part of me that wasn't hurting as some sort of factoid. Wow, you're so depressed you don't even care about yourself anymore. Interesting.

The second time came a few months later. I was all cried out, emotioned out, sick of this shit, big thought popped up JUMP OUT THE THIRD FLOOR WINDOW HEAD FIRST.

The only thing that stopped me was that it would kill my mother, probably causing her to jump off a building herself, because she is that depressed. She has told me many times that she would have already killed herself if it weren't for the fact that it would hurt me so terribly bad.

My depression was due to my situation. Hers has been around organically forever. I would say that (especially for my dear mum) the decision was made that the suffering of your loved one(s)should you succeed became more important than ending the emotional pain itself. It would have been selfish of either one of us to go through with it, knowing that the pain caused would be equal or greater to the pain that you would be escaping.

Alternately, my best friend's Mom committed suicide when she was 6 years old. My friend would say that it is not a selfish thing to do, as she has found an admiration for her mother for having the balls to do it. The ending of her own pain seemed (to her) to be worth the suffering of her daughter. To my friend, she has found comfort in thinking her mother was strong for doing what she did.

It seems to somehow be both noble and selfish, and so, so heartbreaking. May we all find something today to live for.
posted by Grlnxtdr at 1:15 PM on April 11, 2009


Suicide is not a singular thing. People kill themselves in a multitude of different mental states and for some of those it is fair to say that the act is selfish. Suicides have been committed out of everything from spite to a sincere belief in a cause (there are a lot of things to say about Thích Quảng Đức but I don't think anyone would consider him selfish). It's a complicated subject.
posted by Kattullus at 1:26 PM on April 11, 2009


Remember how you feel next time you tell a joke/laugh at a joke about cancer, AIDS, getting shot, falling off something, or even when you read a Darwin Award book.

I am sure that some day I will go out by choice. No need to put your dancing shoes on yet, folks, but I have listened carefully to the back of my brain and am sanely confident that it knows what it is talking about.

I suppose some people get there from a less reflective path, and it seems a tragedy. Maybe they were too impulsive, or let their depression get the better of them. But there are plenty of rational, sane, good suicides.

Dying is pretty fucking funny, no matter how it happens. Don't be such a wet blanket. Nothing like a freak death, especially one that has a good set up or some sort of ironic twist, to bring out the most resonant full-bore belly laugh from me.

James Fixx had a heart attack while jogging!

Tadeusz Borowski spent the war in Auschwitz and wrote a memoir of his time there, and the brutal things he did to survive. After the war he committed suicide by gassing himself with his oven, in his apartment! Get it?

Lighten up people.
posted by Meatbomb at 1:27 PM on April 11, 2009 [2 favorites]


(Of course, there are plenty of other things we do which are selfish and hurtful to our families and friends, but which would not be considered anything other than reasonable or pariseworthy decisions on MeFi; I doubt you'd find anyone stigmatising an Indian from a traditional Hindu family to marrying outside caste and race as a 'selfish' no matter how upsetting or difficult it would be for family.)
posted by rodgerd at 1:32 PM on April 11, 2009 [3 favorites]


go to the suicide booth and terminate themselves safely

There's an excellent Robert Silverberg novella from the early 1970s with a "suicide booth" kind of premise. It was thought-provoking enough that scenes from it still pop into my mind from time to time. He touches on some of the issues being debated here.

I can't find the text online, but here's the synopsis:
Medical advances lead to longer and longer lives, but babies are still being born. As part of a philosophy of population control, a kind of ritualized suicide (complete with counseling and final requests) called "Going" is favored by people who feel they've done enough for one lifetime. They willingly depart, making room for the next generation. It's 2095, and composer Henry Stuant, at a well-preserved 136, suddenly decides it's time to Go. He's written his last string quartet, published his last commentary, traveled everywhere he ever wanted to go, done everything he could want to do. But when it comes down to it, why can't he let go?
posted by cybercoitus interruptus at 1:53 PM on April 11, 2009 [1 favorite]


An earlier discussion on this topic.

I recently learned of an old high school friend who killed herself. She was married with two sons.

[...]

I'm glad you're here, KevinSkomsvold.
posted by mattdidthat at 2:40 PM on April 11, 2009


My father, my sister, and (before my time) a maternal aunt all killed themselves, my mother halfheartedly attempted it once or twice, and I have no problem making or LOLing at jokes about either suicide in general or those deaths in particular. I also don't consider them "selfish" -- except in the sense that their actions were not done to me or anyone else they cared for.

Because, y'know, not everything that other people do is about us. It was just the only thing that, in their perhaps broken (perhaps not) judgment, they could think to do at the time to stop their excruciating pain. People do the best they can with what they've got, and sometimes it hurts or helps others, but it doesn't pay to go around thinking of everybody's actions, even hurtful ones, as somehow being aimed at you.
posted by FelliniBlank at 2:43 PM on April 11, 2009 [5 favorites]


We all agreed that the suicide question was silly since everyone probably should answer yes, but probably nobody does, but apparently, some people can actually honestly say no to that question.

Yeah, I really don't. Before the thread on the blue, even the concept hadn't occured to me in as long as I remember. I only think of it when it's on TV, or I read about one in the paper or on the net. Not that my life is always sunshine and roses - it just never comes to mind, even when I feel like everything sucks and isn't ever going to change.

Serious question for the apparent majority I never knew about - not intended to offend anyone: does it help at all when considering suicide that you know people consider it a contemptuous thing to do? Because I think if I did consider it, I would maybe kind of hope for getting hit by lightning or run over by a bus, or something, but not be able to cause it myself, because that's the chickenshit, loser way out. Obviously, I can't really know that because I'm not in that situation. Is it a consideration in your calculations that, while they may actually "be sorry when you're gone," they will ALSO think you're a dumb fuck piece of garbage? Or at that point does it just not matter what anyone is going to think?
posted by ctmf at 3:10 PM on April 11, 2009


Miko: I think that calling it "selfish" is a colloquial way of noting that the choice to commit suicide is not an ethically neutral act, in that it causes irreparable harm to others.

This is not true. On what basis are you making the statement "it causes irreparable harm to others"? The grief? People recover from grief eventually. The guilt? It stems from the cognitive distortion of personalization - assuming guilt for things that go wrong outside of your control. It is illogical, yet I wouldn't blame someone who has lost a loved one to suicide for it, even as I try to talk them out of it somehow. Because we are human beings, and we don't have perfectly logical brains.


I'm very empathetic to the emotional pain

You are not. That statement is incompatible with claiming it is narcissistic. "Casting the pain in such dramatic and dire terms is part and parcel of the romanticization of suicide that is a thread running through Western society" is not empathy.


Without diminishing the experience of any one person's pain and while understanding that some people may be so mentally ill they suffer constant emotional pain that never goes away, I can note that in a great many cases, emotional pain is often very treatable; it's often situational; it often changes with time; it often responds to drug therapy; it often responds to changes in lifestyle; it is often cyclical; and so on.

I can also note that in a great many cases, cancer is often very treatable; people often contribute somewhat to it through their actions; it often changes with time; it often responds to drug therapy; it often responds to changes in lifestyle... and so on. Do you consider someone who leaves you through cancer selfish? How about schizophrenia? Manic-depression?


Yes, pain causes suicide, but suicide is most often not the only available solution to emotional pain.

No one is saying it is. But it can be a tragic consequence of emotional pain. Like death can be a tragic consequence of cancer - even though death is most often not the only available solution to cancer.


It seems to me that, as compassionate humans, we can understand and work to heal the pain people experience in depression while at the same time not turning away from the lifelong, emotionally crippling harm that suicide often causes its survivors. I don't believe having empathy for sufferers necessitates that we ignore the effects of the actions they're responsible for, any more than empathy necessitates that we ignore the effects of the actions of murderers movitavted by similar desperation or pain.

People who commit suicide are not the equivalent of murderers. Murderers directly cause physical harm to others. People who commit suicide do not. You see the difference? The physical harm is to themselves - the emotional fallout is a side effect that you are arguing they should have considered above their own emotional pain - and people are trying to ask you to consider that perhaps you are not aware of the extent of the emotional pain, or how easily our human brains can go wrong.

Is it the prevailing worldwide scientific and medical opinion and recommendation that suicidal people should be less narcissistic and reconsider their effects on others? If not, why not? Do you know better than them? Perhaps you should write to them, and ask them to reconsider their medical advice?

As others have mentioned, it is actually selfish to consider your pain from grief or guilt above the pain of the person who committed suicide. They had to resort to the ultimate act of desperation, rightly or (most often)wrongly. I'm really sorry for your loss. But let it go. They died of an illness, a flaw in human brain chemistry, a misfiring brain synapse - scientists to this day are still trying to find out what. Let it go - it's not your fault, nor is it theirs. They've died now. They're gone. You holding them responsible are not going to bring them back, or stop anyone else from doing the same thing. Have you read The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat by Oliver Sacks? Our human brains are fucking fragile things, so easy to break. So is our humanity. There but for the grace of God/deity of your choice/blind luck go you and I.
posted by dolca at 3:12 PM on April 11, 2009 [8 favorites]


With complete and grave sympathy for the suffering endured by the loved ones of suicides, I assert as a moral principle that nobody is owed anyone else's pain.
posted by Joe Beese at 4:34 PM on April 11, 2009 [3 favorites]


1. I am back-of-brainer, although the frequency of such thoughts ebbs and flows over the years.

2. As to whether suicide is selfish: when you're in that state of mind, it's really pretty easy to convince yourself that you are so spectacularly awful that no one would miss you and everyone would get over it pretty quickly. In my own whacked-out rationale when I was in a particularly bad spell, I had decided that all of my friends and family would be just fine without me, except for my elementary school aged brother and sister - I couldn't quite reason myself into thinking that they'd get over it soon enough, and that's probably the biggest thing that kept me from doing it. (I'm better now.)

3. When I was 12 or so my friends mother fell down a flight of stairs and broke her neck (she recovered). When my friend told me about it, I laughed, probably because I didn't know what else to do. I've grown up a lot since then.
I, um, laughed on 9/11. I'm from the DC area, and when the school administrators announced to the students that the Pentagon had been hit, I just let out this gigantic, guffawing "HA!" I still have no idea where that came from. I guess it was just too strange and horrible a thought to process properly. I have always felt deeply, deeply ashamed about this.
posted by naoko at 4:41 PM on April 11, 2009


Serious question for the apparent majority I never knew about - not intended to offend anyone: does it help at all when considering suicide that you know people consider it a contemptuous thing to do?

In the same spirit of not meaning to offend: my immediate reaction to 'suicide is for losers' is that proponents of it are people who are self-satisfied, self-righteous prats with no idea what kind of torment inescapable emotional pain can be.

At some low points in my life the simple act of thinking was an unbearable burden. If I could have successfully resolved the problem, I knew I wouldn't hurt any more. That had far more weight than the nebulous disapproval of a bunch of Babbitts.
posted by winna at 4:44 PM on April 11, 2009


Because I think if I did consider it, I would maybe kind of hope for getting hit by lightning or run over by a bus, or something, but not be able to cause it myself, because that's the chickenshit, loser way out.

Am I misreading you? Because it sounds like you're saying that making someone else take your life is less chickenshit than doing it yourself.

For the record, I'm a back-of-brainer (as I said above), but I don't consider myself to be someone who considers suicide, if that makes any sense. I'm aware of its existence, and of its (so far, fairly tangential) effect on my life. I've never made concrete plans, but it's not like I've never thought about it either.

Given what I know about the mindset of my friend who committed suicide, I'd say he didn't think much about how he would be perceived after he was dead. In the depths of his depression, he already thought everyone hated him and was angry at him or at choices he had made; I know that some folks in our circle of mutual friends had an idea of just how depressed he was, and tried their best to show how much they cared for him and valued him. I never witnessed anyone be mean to him or anything like that. But he believed that he was an irredeemable fuck-up who was only capable of hurting his friends and family.

He was depressed. He wasn't rational. Some people commit suicide as an act of FUCK YOU ALL, but many are just incapable of seeing themselves as other people actually see them. That's one of the worst things that depression does.
posted by rtha at 4:50 PM on April 11, 2009


I've thought about suicide for as long as I can remember. Since I was little. There were a couple of almosts in my early teens.

What I had, if one cares for labels, was called in those days Unipolar Depression. Now it's called Major Depressive Disorder, which is about the least accurate description evar. Put simply, it's just a constantly low mood. I still have it, albeit minus the copious teenage angst. In any case, it's not nearly as Major as something like Bipolar, where you get those big swings. Those are what kill you. MDD, I'm grateful to say, tends to make people lazy; add my ADD, and it wasn't difficult to avoid the levels of obsession and, more importantly, motivation and give-a-shit-ness required to get beyond I am going to kill myself. (A trial run of Paxil at age 13 got me the closest. I cheered when they black-labeled it a couple years ago.)

Whenever thoughts moved into I will actually kill myself territory, I'd happen to think of someone finding my body and I'd realize what a shitty thing that is to inflict on someone (although, honestly, that was a selling point a lot of the time), or I'd suddenly become aware that it wasn't me but my disease or my hormones or just a bad day or whatever, or I'd consider, selfishly, what I would gain out of the bargain (which wasn't ever a bucketful of awesome).

But more than the MDD laziness and the ADD scatterbrain, I think it was mostly the Social Anxiety that saved me. What always snapped me right out of the whole idea was the idea of being remembered as a cliché dumbass teenage attention-whore Kurt Cobain copycat loser. Hey, it was the mid-nineties; that seemed rather likely. Thank fucking god for all those (imaginary?) judgmental assholes and my desperate need for their approval!

(I actually am a bit surprised--skeptical, even--that there are adults who have never even thought abstractly about suicide.)
posted by Sys Rq at 5:14 PM on April 11, 2009 [2 favorites]


Because I think if I did consider it, I would maybe kind of hope for getting hit by lightning or run over by a bus, or something, but not be able to cause it myself, because that's the chickenshit, loser way out.

I felt exactly like this, actually. When I was an immature self-righteous 16 year old. I think, generally speaking, it's a facile outlook that doesn't survive much self examination of the kind I most certainly avoided at 16.

There are all sorts of reasons to kill yourself; some of them are very bad reasons and to be discouraged. Some of them are very good reasons and, while not to be encouraged, are understandable (terminal painful illness, etc). I'm a lot more likely to give someone the benefit of the doubt these days.
posted by Justinian at 5:25 PM on April 11, 2009


Those of you who don't have those kind of back-of-brain voices; speak!

Speaking. I have gotten used to the idea that there are a lot of back-of-brainers, so I am not surprised by this thread, but once upon a time I would have been. One thing that a lot of the back-of-brainers seem to have in common is experience with suicide; no one I know has taken their own life, so that may be a factor.

In any case, this is one of the best MeTa threads in a while; thanks for posting it, TomMelee.
posted by languagehat at 5:44 PM on April 11, 2009


People who commit suicide are not doing something that has no victims and no repercussions.
True, but people who consider suicide because of depression don't think like that at the time. Often, they have thought through all the factors in a (to them) logical manner and, having weighed up all the repercussions, decide that the way to do the least harm all around is for them to die. If I hadn't been through this process myself, I would scoff at it and talk about how illogical suicide is but, to the person concerned, it is often the most logical choice they have ever made in their life. To the outside observer, of course, it's a bizarre and ridiculous set of decisions and rationalisations. That doesn't make it less real to the person themselves. It doesn't change the logic in their own minds.
posted by dg at 5:46 PM on April 11, 2009 [1 favorite]


I am a back-of-brainer most of the time; the times it has gotten out of the back-of-brain and into the front have been very, very scary for me - but only in retrospect. At the time, it seemed perfectly normal and rational course of action. I think it is a part of the reason why I work where I do - we deal with people with suicidal thoughts every day. It makes no sense to me that I have these thoughts - I have a good life, my struggles have been mild in comparison to many, and there is no family history - but I do have them.

So, I completely understand the black humour around the topic, as a means of staying sane/normal/rational - I've participated in it myself, but only in my work setting. I find it extremely uncomfortable on Metafilter, largely because I don't know you folks the way I know my staff and volunteers, and how a joke about the topic after a tough call is sometimes the only way to move on and answer the next. But I'm always leery of participating in these threads when they show up in the blue.

I've spoken with suicidal people and seen them come out the other side; I've also spoken with their families in the aftermath of a completed attempt. Suicide is about the death of hope - the individual has lost it, and can't find it back. And if the attempt is completed, it is the death of hope for those left behind - the family and friends who despite everything (including the burned bridges due to emotional pain) still hoped they would get their loved one back.

There are no good answers to it, in the aftermath. Just the hope that we can help everyone else come to terms and not see it as an acceptable option in the future.

Suicide is a permanent solution to temporary problems.
posted by never used baby shoes at 6:15 PM on April 11, 2009


Suicide is a permanent solution to temporary problems.

That depends on the problems, doesn't it?
posted by Justinian at 6:30 PM on April 11, 2009


You know who else found a permanent solution to temporary problems?
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 6:43 PM on April 11, 2009 [4 favorites]


I believe that the fact this holds true for physical illness and not for mental illness is one of the biggest pieces of evidence for persistent and continued stigma of mental illness.

I agree with this. I suspect that people who don't haven't truly considered the pain that mental illness can bring. I'd recommend Sarah Kane's 4:48 Psychosis to help explain it to you.
posted by Bookhouse at 6:48 PM on April 11, 2009


What perplexes me is how many people seem to accept it as given that this "irreparable harm" suicide causes to others is somehow more painful or debilitating than losing a loved one in a different way. I mean, other causes of death may be easier to rationalize, but is it really "worse" (whatever that means) for those of us around her that my sister offed herself rather than having been hit by a bus or succumbed to pneumonia or shot in a hold-up or died in her sleep at 92? Of course not. Are people whose babies are stillborn or those who nurse spouses through liver cancer less "irreparably harmed"?

The notion that some deaths are "senseless" and others more explicable, that some are inherently less wasteful or whatever than others is just more of our manic tap-dancing and la-la-la-I-can't-hear-you in the face of the sometimes dreadful consciousness of mortality, ours and others'. The suicide fantasies some people entertain (often in the same vein as the "how would you dispose of a dead body?" AskMe thread) are another way of managing the dread. Plenty of us have idly planned the perfect murder in our heads without anyone worrying about our "homicidal ideation" -- although these days, it seems that confessing anything but the blandest, beigest, most yawn-inspiring inner life results in a furrowed-brow-fest.

The problem seems to me not that our culture superficially "romanticizes" suicide (although it does do that) but that it has utterly de-naturalized all forms of death. Maybe I'm sort of inured to it because I've done hospice volunteering, enforced a DNR for an immediate relative, had a bunch of beloved elderly/ailing critters given the Pink Shot in front of me, but if you live long enough, nearly everyone you know is going to pre-decease you, and if you can't toughen up enough to take that, then it's best to limit your interaction with others. I hope that people contemplating suicide choose to live instead, but assessing one's own quality of life is an intensely personal thing, and being troubled, tired, struggling, or fed up does not automatically make somebody narcissistic or non compos mentis.
posted by FelliniBlank at 7:19 PM on April 11, 2009 [7 favorites]


I think that people see suicides as more harmful because the survivors are left with the guilt that they could have/should have/would have if only they'd known done something to prevent it (perhaps, in a lot of cases, because they knew the person was hurting and didn't reach out to them - not all guilt is misplaced). Which ring me to the thought that being more upset about suicide than (say) someone getting caught up in a robbery is at least as selfish as the concept that suicide itself is selfish. Is it selfish only because of the guilt that people left behind will feel? If you could do it in such a way that those left behind would feel no guilt, would it still be selfish?
posted by dg at 7:32 PM on April 11, 2009


Is it the prevailing worldwide scientific and medical opinion and recommendation that suicidal people should be less narcissistic and reconsider their effects on others?

The first words spoken by a therapist that brought my closest friend to a realization of what she'd attempted, after she had tried to kill herself, were, "Your death would have been a black mark forever on the lives of your friends and family." She cried when she heard this, and repeated it over and over to me -- "a black mark, a black mark" -- and it was the first inkling of hope I had that she might be glad she was found and survived.

I don't think she's -- I hope she's not -- kept alive today by guilt and worry about us, but I do think it broke through to her before anything else could.

Anyway, she can't be selfish, because nothing else got through to her but the pain she would have caused others. But how could she not have known that? But -- etc.

If she had died, I would never have known how she would have been pained by hearing about that black mark. Maybe I would have been angry forever.
posted by palliser at 7:57 PM on April 11, 2009 [1 favorite]


The first words spoken by a therapist that brought my closest friend to a realization of what she'd attempted, after she had tried to kill herself, were, "Your death would have been a black mark forever on the lives of your friends and family." She cried when she heard this, and repeated it over and over to me -- "a black mark, a black mark" -- and it was the first inkling of hope I had that she might be glad she was found and survived.

Her decision-making and sense of connection to her family and friends came back. She came out of the fog, and her therapist reminded her what she nearly did in the fog.

If she had died, I would never have known how she would have been pained by hearing about that black mark. Maybe I would have been angry forever.

That's just it. You might not have believed that her brain could shut out the idea of the black mark - or twist it into some kind of positive. And after a moment of madness that took her life, you might've spent the rest of your life thinking the worst of her, because you can't know.

People do the best they can with what they've got, is what I'm trying to say. I'm a lot better than I was depression-wise than many years ago, but there are often still times I wish I didn't exist. The strange thing is that because of my recovery, I've also started being afraid of death, having once again interest in many things in life and having so many things I want to do, and realising how any day my life could be snatched away from me. The two co-exist in me - and however bad things get these days (and they have been) I try my best not to let my mind wander anywhere past "I wish I didn't exist" to contemplating making plans, and a huge part of that is that I can't even imagine hurting my best friend.

But that means my mind is still mine. I get to feel connected to someone. I've felt that sense of dissociation from people, when people are not people, and everything and everyone (including your loved ones) is just a bad dream you want to end. I've had the twisted thoughts where I thought nobody would be the least bit affected, or that it would be better for all concerned. This is the kind of thing I can only assume the people who think of suicide as selfish don't know. I'm just thankful I don't feel like that anymore - and hope I won't ever feel like that again.

Having re-read the whole thread, I just want to give you all a hug.
posted by dolca at 8:45 PM on April 11, 2009 [2 favorites]


FelliniBlank: What perplexes me is how many people seem to accept it as given that this "irreparable harm" suicide causes to others is somehow more painful or debilitating than losing a loved one in a different way.

My aunt killed herself when she was 19, in 1986. My grandparents have never recovered. Admittedly there were all kinds of factors that prohibited closure, such as that the body was never found, but still... my grandparents aren't unique in this.
posted by Kattullus at 8:51 PM on April 11, 2009


Kattallus: did your grandparents get any support, especially from mental health professionals?
posted by dolca at 8:54 PM on April 11, 2009


I find this interesting, because I went through (untreated) depression for several years when I was a teenager. I still have erratic self-esteem.

In what I've previously assumed to be an unrelated quirk, I sometimes am struck with a thought - say, while holding a knife, or standing on the edge of a long fall - of what it would feel like to have that knife cut through my neck, or to jump and feel the wind. I don't dwell on it, I don't yearn for it, it's just sort of a brief flash, like, "Oh, hey, I wonder what that's like?"

I also have a very serious issue with suicide and put myself firmly in the camp that believes it to be selfish. I restrain myself from acting on the impulses more or less because of that belief, along with a sort of, "Fuck you, I'm pushing on regardless" sort of mental stance. This was largely how I came out of my depression, as well; I decided that the best way to show the world how little I fucking thought of it was to keep going through whatever shit it could shovel on me. (Oddly, this is also why I insisted on receiving straight A's in my classes, too. I'd long since decided school was not worth paying attention to, but when they told me they'd fail me if I didn't start, y'know, completing assignments, my instinctive response was, "Fuck you, I could do this shit blindfolded," after which I always put forth enough effort to get the A and then carried on ignoring it.)

I wonder how the mix is different in others, that they end up in a different place. I wonder how much of my life and personality has been ruled and shaped by this weird automatic "Screw you, I can do this!" response to criticism, real or perceived. I don't think I've ever seen it quite so clearly, or made the connection between the random idea-flashes and my never-treated depression and somewhat idiosyncratic method of self-therapy.

This thread has been very interesting.
posted by Scattercat at 12:19 AM on April 12, 2009


This is the kind of thing I can only assume the people who think of suicide as selfish don't know.

I think it's wrong to assume that those of us who think that don't know it. It's worth considering that we do know it, and in retrospect, can recognize it. Though again I think it's the colloquial word "selfish" that's causing problems, when we're really talking about the isolation and self-centeredness that are symptoms of depression itself.
posted by Miko at 6:20 AM on April 12, 2009


People who commit suicide are not the equivalent of murderers. Murderers directly cause physical harm to others. People who commit suicide do not. You see the difference?

Of course I see the difference in who the physical harm falls to, perpetrator themselves or perpetrator to others and, sometimes, themselves. But to the survivors of the dead, there is not much difference. An act of irrational violence resulted in the death of a loved one. Since I'm focusing on the survivors in this discussion, I think that's important to note.

people are trying to ask you to consider that perhaps you are not aware of the extent of the emotional pain, or how easily our human brains can go wrong.

I have considered it. Again, please don't insist that I just don't get the pain. It's patronizing and you simply don't know that. Emotional pain is actually a rather boringly consistent experience person to person - it only feels unique when you're the one in it. Once outside, it has discernible patterns and shapes. I don't think it's a terrible thing to acknowledge the fact that people in depression are enmeshed in an obsession with their own unhappiness and unable to put it into perspective. That can cause them to do things which will never be accepted or understood by their families and friends. No, it's not nice and they usually can't stop without help, and yes it often has a lot to do with the fragility of the brain, but that just doesn't negate the impact of the act or render it neutral in its impact on others.
posted by Miko at 6:31 AM on April 12, 2009


As a back-of-brainer, I see it as an option. A scary, painful option. I've had a couple prolonged periods of depression during which I got close, notably while I was in a dreadful job at which I was sexually harassed daily - it got to the point where I had to talk to my partner during my drive or there was real likelihood that I'd accelerate into a pylon or concrete barrier, or off the bridge into the river. Prozac and a new job helped with that. I first thought of - and made a half-hearted attempt at - hanging myself when I was 10 or so, after learning that's how my grandfather did it and figuring it would be a way out of what I saw as a shitty existence.

What has stopped me hasn't really been a "oh, things will get better" realization. It has been fear. Fear of pain while on the way out. Fear of not completing the job and being embarrassed and ashamed at having screwed up something that should be so easy to do. Fear of how the person finding me would react. Fear that somebody would still have to pay my debts.

I've seen how it affects survivors long term. Finding the body of a loved one who shot himself can screw you up. I think the violent suicides are probably harder to deal with than those that don't involve blood and brains. Suicide runs on one side of my family. Within weeks of my grandfather's, his twin got off the train, too. My uncle found his father, and it changed him forever.

In some ways, it is selfish. But there are times that it's not. I think terminal illnesses (some would argue as to what's terminal - cancer? debilitating paranoid schizophrenia?) is a situation in which it's not selfish, but rather going on your own terms. Also, though, I'm seeing this as the sort of thing that you give people a heads-up. I've had conversations with my father about checking out; I know we've both seriously contemplated it and found ways through those times. He has let me know that if he's ever terminally ill, he's going out his way.

I dunno. I think most people who actually go through with it think about it long and hard before deciding it's the right option. It's scary, but sometimes life is a whole lot worse.
posted by sadiehawkinstein at 7:24 AM on April 12, 2009


dolca: did your grandparents get any support, especially from mental health professionals?

Yes.
posted by Kattullus at 8:07 AM on April 12, 2009


Back-of-brainers, can you explain what it's like?

It's another voice in your head, almost, but not quite another personality. It is very much me and part of me, but it's kinda like a kid setting in a corner of my mind, watching the world go by on a television and commenting on what it sees. Keep in mind that it isn't necessarily that concrete, that's just the best way of describing it, a sorta of background stenographer and watcher.

This voice is not bad or good, it just is. As I'm typing this, it's making a list of things I need to do today, tomorrow, next week.. When I'm doing those things later on, iit will of course be thinking of other things. It thinks ahead and plans, trying to get things done. It's probably a feature of my abusive childhood and the survivor instincts I learned from it. They say that developing another personality happens with children as a defensive mechanism, 'cause a child can't fight back, so it does it's best imitation of running and hiding i.e. making another personality to deal with the abuse. I imagine that kids develop imaginary friends or secret worlds for much of the same reason.

As to suicide and the voice, it took me a while to realize that it was separate voice that I didn't have to follow. In realizing that I had to make it more of a concrete "voice" in order to separate it from other thought processes.

I did indeed try suicide once. It was a reaction to severe stress (19, "love", college, life, etc.), aided by not having the skills to deal with the stress. The voice isn't perfect and can sometimes be destructive, either to others or to one's self (I believe I understand the people who go on killing rampages, without condoning it). So the voice said "fuck it, we're in control, not all these other things and people and it hurts so bad, we're outta hurt." It was really that simple. It's like if you're in a house that's on fire, you try to get out. If there are difficulties, say a blocked door, your body goes into overdrive and finds the strength to move that door. But what can do if the fire is in your head, it's in you, where can you go to escape it? Everyday you feel like you're metaphorically burning and you can't put it out, you can't escape. Suddenly a shotgun or sleeping pills can seem like your best friend, because whatever pain they may cause, whatever grief you may leave others, the sheer agony that is your life will find be over. You won't have to think about it and why you can't escape it or what you've missed to or lacked to find the key to open that door to escape, which others keep telling you is there, but you can't see it or find it and they all look so well adjusted, why can't you be, maybe it would be better if you checked out, you don't belong in this world, and christ it hurts, this endless negative feedback loop of pain. Yes, that sounds emo and over dramatic and how can a person live and think like that, right? That's pretty much the point.

So, suicide.

My big plan was to take the pills and quietly go out back somewhere and die. The voice helped me decide that sleeping pills were the best and two boxes of it should do the trick, just take'em, go out back and quietly die. But it was raining and cold, and who wants to be uncomfortable when they're dying? So home I went, where others were and they figured things out and off to the hospital I was sent and saved. When I woke up and was clear headed, I was thankful to be alive. But part of the voice was gone also, probably the most self destructive part. I was free of the very worst part of it and I instantly understood why some people cut (which I had never done), it can take the pain away. At that point, lying in bed with my wrists strapped to the bed, I knew that I didn't really want to die, but that there was something different about me and no one around me understood that, but that was ok, they still loved me, even if they didn't understand me, so it was up to me to understand myself. I knew/the voice knew that there would be questions and counseling and other bullshit that wouldn't help me, but to go along with it so I could carve out my own space to figure out how I was different and how to survive with that. The best counseling about my suicide was when I thought about what I did while taking a long, solitary walk over a school baseball field on a cold day. There I acknowledged what I had done, it's impact on me and others and came to the realization that life was a better choice. This was a more rational choice, made with the voice's help. While I was alive I could do things and if I followed a few simple rules, not be strapped to beds and subjected to endlessly piss poor mental probes. Where I dead, I couldn't do things, like enjoy the cold of winter day or long walks. It was that simple.

Since then, the voice has been more helpful in the sense of being less self destructive, helping me to survive. However, I stayed far away from the military. I knew the voice would enable to kill other people and probably live with that, based on the premise of "better them than us," while probably enabling me, with it's careful noting of everything, to be a good, methodical solider. Like I said before, the voice isn't good or bad, it's just how it's used and I instinctively knew that it could make be great at doing certain things, but that greatness would not fulfill me.

These days the voice helps me be creative and observant and it's a huge bullshit detector. It helps me keep track of things and is probably partially responsible for my excellent memory. It's still somewhat self-destructive, but on a minor scale and only when I feel trapped. I know this instinctively now and usually try to find ways to feel untrapped while raising kids, doing the nine to five and the generally boring suburban life. This is how I survive with it, by carving out a piece of space and time for myself, be it my own room in the house to tinker with things or whatever (let your SO have their own space!) or time out by myself. Yes, the voice has been watching, listening as I typed all this up. It has no opinion on it, it's not that alive or conscious. At most, it's wondering how typing all this up has made me behind on the other tasks I have to do today and how I'm going to make up for that lost time. It's not saying "Hello Mefi!" or "Burn things!" I suspect this varies from person to person.

This is the most thought I've ever given to what the voice is and it feels good to finally acknowledge its part in who I am. Thank you.
posted by gnuls at 8:09 AM on April 12, 2009 [5 favorites]


does it help at all when considering suicide that you know people consider it a contemptuous thing to do?

Not at all, it made me feel more isolated, alone, misunderstood, wrong, broken and unworthy of life, and thus more suicidal.

What perplexes me is how many people seem to accept it as given that this "irreparable harm" suicide causes to others is somehow more painful or debilitating than losing a loved one in a different way.

Those left behind are left feeling terrible because unlike cancer, they feel they could have helped a person who commits suicide. If only that had seen the signs or understood you better, done something, said something, etc, etc.
posted by gnuls at 8:21 AM on April 12, 2009


I have considered it. Again, please don't insist that I just don't get the pain. It's patronizing and you simply don't know that.

Okay, how's this: I don't know it either. I don't know it because I'm still alive, writing this to you and not dead. But even if I were a ghost who died from suicide coming back to comment on this thread, to say that I knew suicide was selfish because when I committed suicide, I was selfish? I still would be wrong in my assumption. Because people are different, have different brains and experiences, and none of us can know what others have been through. None of us can peer inside someone else's mind. Which is why

Emotional pain is actually a rather boringly consistent experience person to person - it only feels unique when you're the one in it.

is a baseless assumption to make. How do you know this? The manic-depressive Spike Milligan apparently said, after hearing a woman screaming in childbirth, "She was howling in agony. Fortunately, it is a language I speak fluently." I've been through a lot, but I wouldn't claim to know that. Do you?


I don't think it's a terrible thing to acknowledge the fact that people in depression are enmeshed in an obsession with their own unhappiness and unable to put it into perspective.

It isn't. I agree. But I'm resisting your moral judgement of it, because it is to me a symptom of an illness, and you're holding people responsible for a symptom of their illness. Say someone who is schizophrenic kills him or herself. Would you really judge that, and say it is not morally neutral? If not - where is your line drawn, and why?


That can cause them to do things which will never be accepted or understood by their families and friends.

Upthread, people have mentioned both families and friends who have been devastated by suicide, and families and friends who have recovered from it, accepted it, lived with it and carried on with healthy, happy, fulfilling lives. Why are you insistent on blaming it on the person who committed suicide? Who not focus your energies on making sure families and friends get the support they need, and are shown why they should not blame themselves for the death of the person they love?

I'll ask this question again: What do you hope to achieve by your moral judgement? Do you really think it matters to most people who commit suicide how they will be thought of after they are dead? Do you think it would stop them? Do you think it would comfort the people left behind, to be angry all their lives at the person they love, to see them as selfish, narcissistic human beings? Do you really see our society as one that's overly-understanding of people who commit suicide? One where there isn't already incredible stigma about suicide and mental illness? And yet people continue to kill themselves. So what do you hope to achieve with your call to moral judgement? Other commenters have brought up the question of whether by calling it selfish and narcissistic, you are adding further to the stigma facing people with suicidal thoughts, making it harder for them to talk about it and seek help. Do you see how unhelpful it is?


No, it's not nice and they usually can't stop without help, and yes it often has a lot to do with the fragility of the brain, but that just doesn't negate the impact of the act or render it neutral in its impact on others.

Again, no one is saying it does. But does moral judgement of suicide help with the impact of the act or render it neutral in its impact on others? Do you think it's better on a loved one's mental health to be angry all their lives with the person who committed suicide, and think of them as selfish and narcissistic people who made a conscious choice to leave them behind - or for them to think of it as an illness that took away someone they love?
posted by dolca at 9:03 AM on April 12, 2009 [1 favorite]


Kattullus: I'm really sorry. I really believe that people can be helped to recover from the suicide of a loved one, especially if they can be shown that what took the person they love was an illness, an accident of the brain, and that it is not their fault. Unless people have been abusive in some way towards the person who committed suicide, no one should have the responsibility of carrying another person's life. If your grandparents could be helped to see it as an illness, then the grieving process should be the same as for any other illness. I don't know the details of your grandparents' situation of course, so please forgive me if I seem to be simplifying things - I don't mean to. I just don't think blaming it on the person who committed suicide helps, and that if anything, understanding and a shifting of perspective towards seeing suicide as an illness or accident of the brain would be much more helpful for the healing of the people who are left behind.
posted by dolca at 9:17 AM on April 12, 2009


Dolca,

Miko's comments, however distasteful and seemingly cold, can be better understood in the light of attending to those who need help and still able to get it. The dead are gone and taken care of, usually in a matter of days, while those who are grieving take far longer to recover, if they ever really do.
posted by gnuls at 9:27 AM on April 12, 2009


Back of brain suicide thoughts. This one is weird for me.

So, I've had my demons with depression and ADHD, and possibly bipolar - though that's never been confirmed. (I had one manic incident with Prozac, and that's it). The only antidepressant I've been on that worked was Wellbutrin - so I was on it for nearly a decade.

When things got stressful, the back-of-brain thought would turn to suicide. Without fail, just thinking about it. (For the record, I only tried it once, in high school. For the record, 6 Alka Seltzer will not do you in. Yes, you may laugh.) So, I made it a game. A weird macabre game. Lately, Obama has been a 'goal' - I can live until Obama wins the Primaries. I can live until Obama wins the Elections. I can live until I've seen the Inauguration. I can live until I've seen his puppy, etc. I never told anyone, because I thought everybody did this. (I also had that 'must jump!) feeling from bridges.

Then, for unrelated reasons, my doc and I took me off the Wellbutrin three weeks ago, and that little voice *stopped*. Now, it seems as alien as walking on Mars. I should have clued in myself that it was medication related, because they'd seem to come only in the evenings, and that'd be when the medication was wearing off. Since then, I've had no thoughts, and no depression. (The ADHD is back like a bitch however, but that's a different story.)
posted by spinifex23 at 9:41 AM on April 12, 2009


Those left behind are left feeling terrible because unlike cancer, they feel they could have helped a person who commits suicide. If only that had seen the signs or understood you better, done something, said something, etc, etc.

In the perennially-recommended-in-Askmetafilter book Feeling Good by David D. Burns, he writes about this through the case of "Kay, a thirty-one-year-old pediatrician whose younger brother had committed suicide in a grisly way outside her apartment" (from page 251 in my copy). Her brother actually called Kay on the day on his suicide to ask about the effects of carbon monoxide on the blood for a talk he was about to give in class, and because Kay was a blood specialist, she thought the question was innocent and gave him the information without thinking. She didn't talk to him very long because she was preparing a major lecture to deliver the following morning at the hospital where she worked. He used her information to make his fourth and final attempt outside her apartment window while she was preparing her lecture.

You can understand the devastation. She herself became suicidal, as she blamed herself for his death.

Here's how David Burns helped her:

"First of all, I emphasized that if she were responsible for her brother's death, she would have had to be the cause of it. Since the cause of suicide is not known, even by experts, there was no reason to conclude that she was the cause.

I told her that if we had to guess the cause of his suicide, it would be his erroneous conviction that he was hopeless and worthless and that his life was not worth living. Since she did not control his thinking, she could not be responsible for the illogical assumptions that caused him to end his life. They were his errors, not hers. Thus, in assuming responsibility for his mood and actions, she was doing so for something that was not within her domain of control. The most that anyone could or would expect of her was to try to be a helping agent, as she had been within the limits of her ability.

I emphasized that it was unfortunate she did not have the knowledge necessary to prevent his death. If it had dawned on her that he was about to make a suicide attempt, she would have intervened in whatever manner possible. However, since she did not have this knowledge, it was not possible for her to intervene. Therefore, in blaming herself for his death she was illogically assuming that she could predict the future with absolute certainty, and that she had all the knowledge in the universe at her disposal. Since both these expectations were highly unrealistic, there was no reason for her to despise herself. I pointed out that even professional therapists are not infallible in their knowledge of human nature, and are frequently fooled by suicidal patients in spite of their presumed expertise.

For all these reasons, it was a major error to hold herself responsible for his behavior because she was not ultimately in control of him. I emphasized that she was responsible for her own life and well-being...This discussion was followed by a rapid improvement in her mood. Kay attributed this to a profound change in her attitude. She realized we had exposed the misconceptions that made her want to kill herself. She then elected to remain in therapy for a period of time in order to work on enhancing the quality of her own life, and to dispel the chronic sense of oppression that had plagued her for many years prior to her brother's suicide."
posted by dolca at 9:43 AM on April 12, 2009 [4 favorites]


gnuls: I totally understand where she's coming from, and don't think any less of her for it. I just don't see how it helps anyone: the people left behind, or people who are contemplating suicide. It doesn't seem to me to be healthy, helpful or constructive. But I've written enough in this thread. I'll bow out.
posted by dolca at 9:49 AM on April 12, 2009


I think something that's being lost in the selfish/not selfish debate is that the selfishness of the act doesn't take away from the pain that suicidal people feel. Being self-centered is part of the illness; it makes you block out other people's points of view and focus only on yourself and how much you hurt. Instead of trying to figure out what other people actually think and feel, you project on to them whatever fits in with your warped world-view. That's one of the reasons depression sucks so much; you completely lose the ability to relate to other people. It's a very bad consequence of the disease, especially because it feeds on itself, but it is what it is: selfishness.

When I said above that I'd never lost somebody to suicide, that was only about 90% true. A year or so ago, my great-uncle shot himself in the head, leaving his body to be found by my great-aunt. He had Parkinson's, and had long been unable to care for himself; if he had waited much longer, he probably couldn't have pulled the trigger. I didn't know him real well, had met him maybe a half-dozen times in my life; I was definitely saddened, but it was not a huge emotional event for me.

My dad, on the other hand, was pretty pissed off; he felt it was a real asshole thing for someone to do to their family, and especially their wife. Frankly, I agree with him. When my great-uncle was still alive, my great-aunt had had to expend a lot of energy caring for him, and he could be pretty cranky a lot of the time. The desire to relieve her of this burden was doubtless part of his motivation. But after he killed himself, she suddenly had to deal with the trauma of finding his body, the loneliness of having lost a lifelong companion, the embarrassment that a suicide in the family brings to conservative small-town dwellers, and the guilty feeling that it was her fault for not taking better care of him. My great-uncle didn't intentionally visit any of this on his wife, but it was still an inevitable consequence of his action, (and he was probably well enough to realize that if he'd just given it some thought).

But, that's what depression does to you; it turns you into an inconsiderate dick. That's part of the tragedy. I've seen it happen to more than one person I care about, including (in smaller doses) myself; but I didn't really understand that's what was happening until I saw my dad get so angry at his dead uncle. I may have previously entertained notions of suicide as a dignified way out of extreme misery, but now I see it for what it is: messy and painful for those left behind to clean up. With many suicides, the death is only half the tragedy; the rest of it is that the person was so far gone that they couldn't help but be an asshole, no matter how much they wanted to the right thing.

I totally understand where she's coming from, and don't think any less of her for it. I just don't see how it helps anyone: the people left behind, or people who are contemplating suicide.

It's helped me better understand myself, my handful of depressed friends and family, and depressed and mentally ill people at large. It has also given me a huge motivation to keep a handle on my fits of depression so as to avoid becoming suicidal in the first place: to put it bluntly, I don't want to be that kind of an asshole.
posted by Commander Rachek at 10:27 AM on April 12, 2009 [3 favorites]


This thread is worthless without a first-hand report from someone who's committed suicide.
posted by Eideteker at 6:52 PM on April 12, 2009


The selfishness lies not in wanting your own pain to stop, but in deciding that causing many other people even more individual pain is fair.

Wow. I've never openly discussed this with any identifying information attached but this statement needs to be addressed. I've survived a suicide attempt and wasn't smiling when I woke up. I wasn't relieved or happy or even able to respond with anything but the thought "Jesus. You can't even manage to off yourself". I was very very depressed at the time and truly felt that my parents and children would be MUCH better off in the long run if they didn't have me in their life. I honestly thought that I was making things better for them.

Deep, profound and prolonged depression is (at least for me) something like swimming out to sea. You suddenly look back and you're in deep water and very far from the shore. Then the waves start coming and while you're struggling to keep your head above water, the sea wants you more. You keep struggling and the waves keep pounding and finally you give in. It's very much like drowning. Or being smothered by heavy black quilts.

Suicide isn't something fun. It felt like the only option left to me. After an extended inpatient stay and a long trial and error period finding the right meds, I no longer have that overwhelmed and suffocating feeling. I've gone on to make a good life for myself and suicide isn't an option now. But I won't ever forget how unbearable waking up was those years ago knowing that the people I loved most in the world would be so much better off without me.
posted by hollygoheavy at 8:07 PM on April 12, 2009 [9 favorites]


I was definitely a back-of-brainer in my teens, but I had another run-in with the suicidal consideration recently. More of a front-of-the-brain thing. It comes down to deciding what sort of life you want live, and having the option to opt out.

Oddly, the cancer diagnosis didn't do it: the surgery and treatment, while utterly terrifying, didn't even do it. When I was in terrible full-body joint pain and in a deep low-thryoid-hormone depression, complete with that "I'm watching myself from a distance" feeling and unstoppable crying with no feelings behind it whatsoever, I didn't have a single thought about suicide.

But after all that was done, I went through a period where I just couldn't stop feeling exhausted. I could sleep 20 hours a day, and in the 4 hours I was awake all I wanted to do was sleep. After a few weeks of this, it hit me suddenly that if this was what the rest of my life was going to be like, if this was the new normal, I didn't think it would be worth it. I couldn't work, I couldn't enjoy anything. I love my friends and family, I love my husband, and I don't think any of them would want me to be that miserable for the rest of my life.

Turns out it was just a case of severe anemia. Once I knew it was treatable, that suicidal thought retreated again.

I think there's some comfort in the idea of having some modicum of control over the way we're going to live our lives. In the pit of despair, we'd feel even more trapped without that one last grasp at controlling our own fate.
posted by Hildegarde at 9:52 PM on April 12, 2009 [1 favorite]


Miko, part of the disconnect seems to be that you continue to ascribe to suicides the sort of rational wholeness that makes ethical judgements legible. In many cases (certainly in the cases that we're—mostly—discussing here), people who commit suicide are not in possession of that wholeness and so can't be judged according to the sort of ethics we generally hold each other to.

My question to you is, to what end the judgement of someone who commits suicide? On some level, ethics are a way of pre- and proscribing behavior for the benefit of us all: murder, adultery, fraud ... these things tend to harm the species more than they help so we judge them harshly. What good does judging suicide do?


Though I certainly understand that people's brains are generally not working well (in most cases) when they decide to commit suicide, I'm not sure that our natural empathy or any degree of understanding of their state should necessarily mean that we suspend all judgment of their ethical choice. We don't really do this for murderers of others, even though they too are often in terrible emotional extremity. We understand that the choice to murder others has repercussions, and those who do this are held in some way accountable, even if they were under stress.

When I think about the judgement people pass on suicide I think about Rev. William G. Sinkford's response to the Knoxville Unitarian Universalist church shooting:

"The shootings here in Knoxville have shocked and grieved us all. The Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA) is providing all of the support we can muster to minister to those touched most immediately by this horrific tragedy. This crime was the action of one man who clearly must have lost the battle with his personal demons. When I was asked if the shooter would go to hell, I replied that he must have been living in his own private hell for years."
posted by wemayfreeze at 1:32 AM on April 13, 2009 [2 favorites]


Another way of thinking of that question:

You write re: murderers, "those who do this are held in some way accountable, even if they were under stress."

What does it mean to hold someone who successfully commits suicide "accountable" for their actions? What about someone who attempts but does not succeed?
posted by wemayfreeze at 1:34 AM on April 13, 2009 [1 favorite]


I actually am a bit surprised--skeptical, even--that there are adults who have never even thought abstractly about suicide. - Sys Rq

It's not exactly like that...

As a quid pro quo to all the Back of Brainers who've described themselves upthread, I'm going to try to explain what it's like to be a... well, a No Brainer, I guess.

Firstly, I do have an awareness of my own mortality, but it is never couched in terms of deliberate self-harm. If I'm walking on the edge of a steep cliff, I can pretty much guarantee that I will be just as preoccupied with the thought of my own death as a Back of Brainer. The only difference is that they're picturing themselves jumping and I'm picturing myself stumbling or being pushed.

Felliniblank likened suicidal thoughts to the 'How would you dispose of a body' AskMe and that's actually a pretty good comparison. If I'm reading that AskMe thread or watching a movie about a murder, I may well spend a little time wondering how I would dispose of a body or thinking about what set of circumstances might drive me to murder. On the other hand, if I were to find myself thinking about murder frequently over the course of my day to day life with no immediate provocation, I would assume that I was unwell.

Same with suicide. I may idly wonder whether I would have the 'nads to throw myself on the grenade to save my squad because I just watched a war movie. I may read about how somebody committed suicide and think 'That's not how I would do it.' What I don't do is think about suicide unless somebody else brings it up. I don't have the constant sense that the Back of Brainers have mentioned that suicide is "always an option".

There are literally millions of things in the world that might kill me, but I'm not one of them.
posted by the latin mouse at 5:19 AM on April 13, 2009 [2 favorites]


who have never even thought abstractly about suicide

I'd make the distinction between "have ever thought abstractly about suicide" and "has thoughts about suicide". I've ever thought abstractly about a wide variety of things, sometimes just for the sake of thinking abstractly about them. I'm sure I have thought about suicide in abstract at some point—it's a big topic, it'd be hard to route around, etc.

But that doesn't mean those thoughts are recurring or involuntary. I have stuff like that, but suicide's not one of those things that seems to come up.
posted by cortex (staff) at 7:03 AM on April 13, 2009


But does moral judgement of suicide help with the impact of the act or render it neutral in its impact on others? Do you think it's better on a loved one's mental health to be angry all their lives with the person who committed suicide, and think of them as selfish and narcissistic people who made a conscious choice to leave them behind - or for them to think of it as an illness that took away someone they love?

Late to the thread, but...

A close friend killed himself a few years ago, and this is exactly what I've been thinking as I've read through this thread. My friend was brilliant, bi-polar and deeply troubled. His problems had already caused me serious concern; in fact trying to take care of him led to something of a breakdown of my own. For my own sake, I was forced to draw some very deep lines in the sand regarding how much help, and what type of help I could give him. Within a couple of years, he was dead.

I know I'm not the only one that tried to help him. I know his family went through the same worries and concerns that I did...in fact, they went through much worse, and over a much longer period of time. I know that they still love him and grieve for him, as I do.

Since his suicide, I have often wondered if I should have done more. I know there are things I could have done that I didn't, and I wonder if these things could have made a difference. But I refuse to take the blame for his decision.

Thinking of his final act as one of selfishness makes me feel like I am a victim...like I am giving him the control to determine how I feel. And that his final act was one intended to create suffering rather than alleviate it.

No. He is not here to give context to his death, and only those of us that survive can try to make meaning of it. Once again, I have to draw the line. As wonderful as Bart was in so many ways, he was also deeply manipulative to his friends and family. And as much as I still love him, I will not allow him to victimize me in his death. It was not my fault, and I will not allow his illness to make it my fault.

Though it came at great cost to his friends and family, he has found the end to the years of suffering brought about by his mental illness. And even if his last act was the embodiment of selfishness, I can only forgive him for it.
posted by malocchio at 8:46 AM on April 13, 2009 [1 favorite]


Back-of-brainers, can you explain what it's like?

For me it's a very specific way of touching base with myself. "If killing yourself were as simple as a switch you could throw right this instant, would you?" as sort of a way of asking if whatever emotional trauma I feel I'm going through is manageable, approachable, surmountable. In fact, the asking the question is often the release valve for me that puts me back on track to actually working through whatever the issues are. It's not, for me, so much of a Black Dog thing as it is a fight or flight mechanism. A corrolary is my weird koan "Why do I always feel like running away from it all at exactly the time when I can't?" which is the question that, in the asking, answers itself. I've never gotten further than that level of thinking about it, so I'm okay talking to people about it and I feel that talking to people about it helps contain it.

I've been fortunate to not have lost someone I've loved to suicide -- except in the abstract way that I loved David Foster Wallace or Kurt Cobain and I was sad that they were so alone and miserable -- but I've had family members and close friends who have. I've also had the very recent experience of having to ask a family member if they were suicidal (someone close to them said they were, they say they aren't) and feeling very weird and put-upon by the urgency someone's potentially suicidal thoughts can bring to a relationship. I also had to, like malocchio, draw some lines which make me very uncomfortable.

I'm not sure at what point you can say that a chronically depressed person -- someone who by defintion lacks some of the toolkit they need to help heal themselves or even ask for help -- hasn't done enough to try to save themselves. I hope I'm never in a position to have to ascertain that for another person, or for myself.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 9:32 AM on April 13, 2009 [1 favorite]


Miko's comments, however distasteful and seemingly cold, can be better understood in the light of attending to those who need help and still able to get it.

Absolutely my point. In developing a culture in which we ascribe to emotional pain a power so unconquerable that the choice to kill oneself is met with only empathy and understanding and an assumption of the reasonableness of the act, and not attempts to honestly tackle and address the pain itself as a symptom of depressed and mistaken thinking and to restore a healthy perspective, we may be rushing to be part of the celebration of the inherent drama of depression and suicide that makes it so seductive in the first place.

I'm sorry that it's upsetting for some to acknowledge the narcissism of depression, but it is part of depression and is one of the key things that allows people to become obsessed by and then overwhelmed by emotional pain. It is one of the most important things to focus on in the treatment of depression. I don't celebrate this aspect of depression. It's quite destructive, obviously, so it needs to be honestly acknowledged, head on, so that those who are experiening better mental function at any given moment can more clearly recognize and be direct about how vital it is for people suffering depression to get help. In other words, I think that it's possible for the attitude of only pure empathy for those who are suicidal to in some way be seen as suicide enabling, and the language of it sometimes only serves to convince those obsessed with suicidal ideation that things really are that bad, will always be so, and that suicide is a completely understandable and rational response to emotional pain - or that at least, it's so all-pervasive that the sufferer stands little chance of choosing against it.

deeply manipulative to his friends and family

It's important to me to acknowledge this, too. Not in every suicide, but in many suicides, this is part of the confused thinking - knowing that this final act has a power over relationships with nothing else seems to yield.

I'm sorry that these ideas are so uncomfortable to contemplate, but I defend their truth and have certainly done a lot of contemplating of them myself. Depression is most certainly a risk factor for suicide, but the more extreme and romantic the language about the terror of the pain gets, the farther we are from usefully treating the illness. I'm taking a matter-of-fact approach here. When I say that pain is not a terribly unique experience, I mean it. Those who survive find that others have trod in their steps - it's just not unique. We know a lot more about it, and it's more prosaic and more predictable than the heightened rhetoric would suggest. We know ways to treat it, we have many very effective methods. They're not always successful but a lot of the time, they really are. The fact that some people have died by suicide isn't evidence that their pain was unmagaeably greater - in most cases, they were just luckier, and got found in time in treatable condition.

It's imperative that we understand some of what's happening in depressed minds so that we can use the most effective tactics to prevent the premature end of life. My attitude is one that recognizes the utility of being clear about the boundaries of individual responsibility - ironically, the kind involved in the successful treatment of the woman described in _Feeling Good_. Other people aren't responsible for the decision to commit suicide, but they certainly can take responsibility for recognizing the weaknesses in thought, and the clear patterns in behavior, that indicate a risk for suicide and doing something about it. Talking about how toweringly unfaceable emotional pain is, and how helpless the sufferer is against it, doesn't generally provide this kind of assistance. People in depression can gradually heal by understanding they have more, not less, power over their choices and actions, and that they have more choices than they are currently aware of.

So, though I might sound sort of clinical, I'd have to say I'm far from cold on the topic. I just can't bring myself to cheerlead for depression and its twisted thinking. Emotional pain is a serious but treatable mental health problem.
posted by Miko at 10:05 AM on April 13, 2009


People in depression can gradually heal by understanding they have more, not less, power over their choices and actions, and that they have more choices than they are currently aware of.

...and the confident assertion that healing is possible, and the support of others in seeking it.
posted by Miko at 10:09 AM on April 13, 2009


This is a very good thread. Thank you for sharing, folks.

I'm a back-of-brain person. I can't remember that voice not being there. I'm not surprised that there are people who aren't b-o-b; I guess I've always known my brain was different. However, it did surprise me that those who aren't a b-o-b person were surprised about those of us who are.
posted by deborah at 11:13 AM on April 13, 2009


Miko I quite honestly think this is the first time I've ever disagreed with you on an issue. I'm not a terribly prolific poster here but I am quite the dedicated lurker. This comment of yours:

In developing a culture in which we ascribe to emotional pain a power so unconquerable that the choice to kill oneself is met with only empathy and understanding

makes me wonder if you've ever experienced a true and clinical deep depression. I realized everyone has pain and everyone has blue or down periods, but clinical depression is a whole other animal. The quote about agony being a language that one is fluent in is spot on. I've howled in agony not only in childbirth but in psychic and emotional agony as well. It's a very very isolating condition, especially when family and friends can't comprehend what you're going through. You look fine but your brain isn't. There's not a whole lot of understanding going on from people who haven't felt this issue. There's an incredible amount of judgement and "snap out of it" that you get when you reach out for help. When I say that to me, I felt that my family would be sad for a very short transition period followed by an enormous sense of relief-I think you feel that is selfish, when to me that was the most unselfish act I could do at that time. I felt I was giving my family a better chance at normal and being drama free for the rest of their lives.

And when you're in that kind of pain, it feels unconquerable-it feels every bit as overwhelming as end stage cancer where suicide is a welcome respite. The hardest part of that is the fact that with a physical disease process, you have outside evidence of the pain-when it's mental illness, there is nothing but your word for how deeply you're affected.
posted by hollygoheavy at 11:41 AM on April 13, 2009 [3 favorites]


makes me wonder if you've ever experienced a true and clinical deep depression

Yes, but I actually don't think it's pertinent. I'm taking a birds-eye view of the entire phenomenon as best I can.

I think you feel that is selfish


Leaving what I feel out of it, I think I understand why many survivors do feel it is "selfish," and I think I recognize that it is in the most basic sense self-centered and part of the isolation of depression - which I've said repeatedly. The fact that it's a symptom doesn't, to me, make it not self-centered. It's a problematic symptom of depression.

felt I was giving my family a better chance at normal and being drama free for the rest of their lives.

..and were unable to understand that your family's point of view might be different. Because of your emotional state, which was the problem.

And when you're in that kind of pain, it feels unconquerable

But clearly, it wasn't. Would it have helped you to hear more messages about how unconquerable it was?
posted by Miko at 12:01 PM on April 13, 2009


And when you're in that kind of pain, it feels unconquerable

But clearly, it wasn't


I guess this is the sticking point for me. Do we assume that all chronic depression of the sort that leads people to want to commit suicide is treatable? What was so poignant to me about David Foster Wallace's suicide was how much it seemed that he and his family had tried literally everything and he was still in terrible turmoil. I sort of feel that this approach -- which I'm otherwise not disagreeing with -- has a certain implicit "if you committed suicide then you and your people didn't do enough to get you the care that you need" piece associated with it.

I can see why it's important to further the belief that chronic depression is often treatable. But I wonder if that's at the expense of implying that chronic depression is always treatable which I would think the existence of so many suicides would seem to show is not the case. And then there are people who commit suicide not because they're in the grips of some sort of absolute despair but because they've made choices to not live the life they have (possible because of chronic illness, radical life change, progressive debilitating disease) and I feel uncomfortable telling people that it's against the rules to decide to end your own life for any reason.

I could say I don't agree. I could say there are options. I could say I wish we lived in a different world. But anything I say doesn't change the fact that I feel that saying that suicide is avoidable to me somehow seems disrespectful for those who have committed suicide and that's the part I find myself getting hung up on.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 12:10 PM on April 13, 2009 [6 favorites]


Do we assume that all chronic depression of the sort that leads people to want to commit suicide is treatable?

No, but I assume most or a lot of it is, and that assumption holds until everything has been tried. I think from a public health standpoint it's best to assume that every case is treatable.

And then there are people who commit suicide not because they're in the grips of some sort of absolute despair but because they've made choices to not live the life they have

Totally true, but for purposes of this discussion I've been setting those people aside. I do hope that people like that have a living will, have discussed this plan with family, made preparations to ease the event and aftermath in whatever way possible, etc.

saying that suicide is avoidable to me somehow seems disrespectful for those who have committed suicide

I don't know if it would have been avoidable for all of them. I do know that it was avoidable for some of them. And from a totally utilitarian point of view, if hearing that "some people are destined to commit suicide and aren't going to win this battle" causes a depressed person who was otherwise treatable to latch onto that thought and obsess on it until they actually think themselves into that category, then it's not a statement that I think is helpful to make. Remember that when you're depressed you are apt to believe things which aren't true but which support your general negative worldview. The assertion that some people are just plain marked not to make it strikes me as one of those potentially negative beliefs - even if it feels true, wouldn't it be a good idea to seek alternative explanations, just as one does in depression treatment to break down the power of irrational beliefs?

I'm not sure about the disrespectful/respectful issue. Respect is generally something we say is due to the dead, but it's not universally given even for people who die naturally. I think you'd have to know the individual circumstances to make an estimation of whether respect is something you want to give the dead person (getting back to the genesis of this thread - is respect warranted?) . When people do die by suicide, their survivors sometimes have a lot of difficulty sorting through the other complicated feelings, which are real and legitimate too, to ascribe feelings of respect. On the other hand, in a case like that of David Foster Wallace or Hunter S. Thompson, maybe they had all been through enough to understand and feel respect and not be left with a greater struggle; I certainly heard some of that in the interviews after the fact. And the manner of death doesn't negate the value of a person's life. I'd like to think that in those cases where the person really does feel it's simply unavoidable that the suicide has in some way been 'negotiated' with the family or survivors to reduce the likelihood of their shock, doubt, anxiety, and grief. I think the sudden, impulsive, emergent, and 'surprise' suicides and attempts are more difficult for the survivors.
posted by Miko at 12:30 PM on April 13, 2009


he and his family had tried literally everything

One really sad thing about that story is the drug therapy aspect, and how he had managed a life of stability but in the end ran up against the dilemma that the drugs he was on had side effects he didn't like, but without the drugs he became unstable. This New Yorker piece gives a sad chronicle of the last weeks of his life at the end. He had a writers' block and believed that there was something about his antidepressant that was preventing him from writing exactly as he wanted. I'm excerpting but the whole thing is well worth reading:
The distorting effect of being on antidepressants was something that had long bothered him...There were other important reasons to get off Nardil. The drug could create problems with his blood pressure, an increasing worry as he moved into middle age. In the spring of 2007, when he went to the Persian restaurant and left with severe stomach pains, the doctor who told him that Nardil might have interacted badly with his meal added that there were better options now—Nardil was “a dirty drug.”

Wallace saw an opportunity. He told [his wife] Green that he wanted to try a different antidepressant. “You know what? I’m up for it,” she remembers answering. She knew that the decision was hard for him. “The person who would go off the medications that were possibly keeping him alive was not the person he liked,” she says. “He didn’t want to care about the writing as much as he did.”

Soon after, he stopped the drug. At first, he felt that the process was going well. “I feel a bit ‘peculiar,’ which is the only way to describe it,” he e-mailed Franzen in August. “All this is to be expected (22 years and all), and I am not unduly alarmed.” ..

...At one point after getting off Nardil, Wallace decided he should try to do without any antidepressant. Given his psychiatric history, Green was worried. Her husband, she remembers thinking, would need “a Jungian miracle.” In the fall, Wallace had to be hospitalized for severe depression.

When he came out, doctors prescribed other antidepressants. But, according to Green, he was now too panicked to give them time to work. He took over the job of keeping himself sane, second-guessing doctors and their prescriptions. If he tried a new drug, he would read that a possible side effect was anxiety, and that alone would make him too anxious to stay on the drug. He was in a hall of mirrors of fear.

...Not every day was bad. He taught. He e-mailed friends. He and Green tried to maintain their lives. Always self-critical, Wallace would rate good days as “B-plus” or “cautiously optimistic.” They joked about the unthinkable. Green warned him that if he killed himself she’d be “the Yoko Ono of the literary world, the woman with all the hair who domesticated you and look what happened.” They made a pact that he would not make her guess how he was doing.

During the spring of 2008, a new combination of antidepressants seemed to stabilize him...
about 10 days after... Wallace checked in to a motel about ten miles from his home and took an overdose of pills. When he woke up, he called Green, who had been searching for him all night. When she met him at the hospital, he told her that he was glad to be alive. He was sorry that he’d made her look for him. He switched doctors and agreed to try electroconvulsive therapy again. He was terrified at the prospect—in Urbana, it had temporarily taken away his short-term memory—but he underwent twelve sessions. They did not help.

Caring for Wallace was exhausting. For one nine-day period, Green never left their house. In August, her son suffered an athletic injury, and she wanted to be with him. Wallace’s parents came to look after David. “It’s like they’re throwing darts at a dartboard,” he complained to them about his doctors. They went with him to an appointment with his psychiatrist; when the doctor suggested a new drug combination, Wallace rolled his eyes. Eventually, Wallace asked to go back on Nardil. But Nardil can take weeks to stabilize a patient, and Green says that he was too agitated to give it time to work. Still, in early September, Nadell spoke with him and thought that he sounded a bit better.

Green believes that she knows when Wallace decided to try again to kill himself. She says of September 6th, “That Saturday was a really good day. Monday and Tuesday were not so good. He started lying to me that Wednesday.” He waited two days for an opportunity.
I don't think the only way to see this is as the story of someone whose pain was too great for him to live. In many ways he wanted to live, and said so. I see it as a story about an illness, one with treatments that work for a lot of people but aren't effective in every single case, treatments that are still too blunt and poorly targeted, treatments that aren't consistently followed, doctors who are forced to test approaches because we still don't know enough. Everybody tried, and these treatments failed for a few reasons, not just one, and it's a bit hard to say whether the treatments actually failed or just didn't work quickly enough. I'm the first to say that psych meds are the contemporary equivalent of rusty saws and blunt knives, not what we would like but the best we currently have. They're far from perfect. But that failure of this case of treatment is not enough for me to state that treatments like this are never worth trying or that we shouldn't assume they can be successful when the right support favtors are put into place.

DFW was 25 years old when he made his first suicide attempt; he hadn't written The Infinite Jest yet. Depression treatment certainly lengthened his life, and allowed him to experience love and to produce one book he was very proud of, and many other writings which have enriched a lot of people's lives. He didn't consistently live in emotional pain despite having such serious episodes of it. I think it was good that people (including him) didn't decide that the fight against depression wasn't worth waging. Not every fight with depression is won, but I think the fights are generally speaking worth it.
posted by Miko at 12:58 PM on April 13, 2009


So - was David Foster Wallace selfish?


Not every fight with depression is won, but I think the fights are generally speaking worth it.

Who. Said. It. Wasn't?
posted by dolca at 1:09 PM on April 13, 2009 [1 favorite]


So - was David Foster Wallace selfish?

It seems like there's a tremendous urgency to demonize me here, but I'm just looking head-on at some basic aspects of the interactions around suicide.

So, yes, -- if you believe the definition of "selfish" is something like "prioritizing the desires of the self over the desires of others," then I guess you believe that prioritizing the desire to kill oneself over the desires of others to have you remain alive is selfish. What I've been trying to say in this thread is that, though it may be uncomfortable to note, if the word "selfish" has any meaning like that, then suicide can certainly be called a "selfish" behavior. Is it selfish to commit suicide? Yes. Is it selfish to want a person who wants to die to live? Yes. It's all selfish. That's what selfish is. I mean this in a very basic way.

However, I'm not sure where it gets us to beat me up over this observation. The more important question is whether the depressed person has any control over their desires, and if so, how much; and secondarily, assuming that they have any better control over their desires, what can the community around depressed people do to emphasize that there is often a road to more control over personal desires available than one currently is experiencing?

I have to apologize in that I seem to have touched some very personal and painful nerves here. My intent has been threefold: to show that what survivors say and feel about suicide has legitimacy, to support the idea that we aren't responsible for other people's suicides though I think we are ethically bound to help prevent them when we can, and to argue that painting depression in dramatic and intimidating terms as a beast that can't be vanquished does more harm than good for people who are struggling with depression, a biochemically based mental illness that can be influenced and often improved through therapeutic approaches.

I'm sorry that what I'm saying and maybe my tone seems really cold according to many of you and feels hurtful. In all honesty I'm mainly just trying to be dispassionate - to avoid anger, extremity, drama, accusation, etc. - because I see those as part of the maelstrom of drama surrounding the discussion of suicide. I'm doing my best to take a view that can take in the perspective of both depressed person and recovered depressed person, survivor and current support person.
posted by Miko at 1:54 PM on April 13, 2009


I think you're doing fine, Miko. With a topic like this, you can't help stepping on toes whatever you say, but your approach is humane and well worth presenting.
posted by languagehat at 2:25 PM on April 13, 2009


I also think you are doing fine Miko and this thread is wonderful and illuminating and especially helpful to me, who's trapped in an immense responsibility and has been feeling like shit for the last 2 weeks.
posted by By The Grace of God at 2:44 PM on April 13, 2009


I have to apologize in that I seem to have touched some very personal and painful nerves here. My intent has been threefold: to show that what survivors say and feel about suicide has legitimacy, to support the idea that we aren't responsible for other people's suicides though I think we are ethically bound to help prevent them when we can, and to argue that painting depression in dramatic and intimidating terms as a beast that can't be vanquished does more harm than good for people who are struggling with depression, a biochemically based mental illness that can be influenced and often improved through therapeutic approaches.

First of all, I'm fine with your tone; it's great to discuss this stuff dispassionately. I can seldom do that in real life, because someone who has had a couple of suicides in the family often isn't "allowed" to be rationally analytical or accepting or otherwise OK about it (unless we're "in denial," aaaaaaaargh). A spirited intellectual debate on this topic is a fucking breath of fresh air.

You rightfully dislike the dramatizing of suicidal depression and the (often false) portrayal of it as insurmountable, but isn't it just as problematic and melodramatic to portray "surviving" a loved one's suicide as an "irreparable," permanently scarring event? Yes, I do recognize that it can be that way for some, but it's not at all that way for others of us, -- it's just another crappy thing that happens in life that you find a way to cope with. If you make it into this insurmountably traumatizing grief, isn't that potentially just as dangerous and defeating as the image of suicidal suffering as a juggernaut? Within a few to several months of my sister's death, I was absolutely fine again, just as I was after grieving over other family croakings, but even now, fifteen years later, there are plenty of people who would refuse to believe that I could possibly be OK and not somehow profoundly scarred by this "betrayal," this thing that was done "to me."

Yes, some people, like Kattulus' grandparents, never recover from a loved one's suicide, some experience crippling guilt, self-recrimination, rage, blaming the dead person, vengefulness, etc. But many people also react to natural, accidental, or homicidal deaths the exact same way. Those self-destructive yet natural emotional responses are not specific to suicide -- or they don't have to be, but if we dramatize suicide as [menacing music] "something you can never recover from," then we condition people to respond in really unhealthy ways.

Joe Beese notes that we don't owe anyone our pain, but as one of those self-determination libertarian jerks who drive Miko crazy, I'd say more broadly that we don't owe anyone our lives. My big sister, whom I loved and miss unimaginably much, did not owe me her life. It would be exponentially more selfish of me to expect her to live only because I wanted her to than for her to decide she didn't want to continue living. I regret her choice and given the chance, I'd have tried to talk her out of it, but I respect it as hers to make since she was not incompetent despite having some suffering and brain-chemistry issues. I wasn't in her head, but I'm pretty sure that her decision to kill herself was not some irrational "I'm in so much pain I can't think straight" gesture (and in any case, pain sometimes focuses our thinking rather than clouding it) but that she looked back at the 43 years of her life and forward at what the rest might be like and opted out. Yes, there was some wreckage and baggage left behind, but almost nobody's exit, natural or un-, is 100% zipless. I suspect that my father's suicide was based on a version of the "they and I will all be better off without me" rationale, and (this'll sound 10 times more callous than Miko ever could) that was arguably a reasonable prediction in the circumstances. Neither of those is a crazy or stupid or meaningless reason for choosing the big dirt nap, even though I'd choose differently.

I do have a relative or two who, on some level, "never recovered" from some of these events, but it's mainly because they're just generally not all that resilient and don't recover easily from stuff that doesn't even faze the rest of us. But I wonder sometimes whether it's also partially because 5,000 people kept spouting well-intended crap like, "Oh, suicide, that's the worst thing on earth. How could (s)he do that to you?" We seem to inject that "to you" or "to me" unnecessarily into so many of our relationships: "He slept with someone else? Oh, how could he do that to you?" "My job is being eliminated? How can you do this to me?" People who commit suicide haven't cornered the market on self-involvement, not by a longshot.

I dunno, if anything positive came out of my Family Festival of Corpses, it was learning over time to replace the "boo-hoo, why does everyone do this stuff to me?" response with "wow, that was a fucking horrific thing that happened -- how am I going to deal with it?"
posted by FelliniBlank at 3:33 PM on April 13, 2009 [5 favorites]


and to argue that painting depression in dramatic and intimidating terms as a beast that can't be vanquished does more harm than good for people who are struggling with depression, a biochemically based mental illness that can be influenced and often improved through therapeutic approaches.

But it is dramatic and intimidating and I'm not sure it can be vanquished, maybe managed at best. You seemingly want to take away or disparage tools that people use to manage to depression,things like giving it a name, a face, something to at least apply some semblance of control. I'm not sure what you mean by "we may be rushing to be part of the celebration of the inherent drama of depression and suicide that makes it so seductive in the first place." I've heard a lot of names applied to depression and suicide, but seductive isn't one of them. I honestly have clue what you mean here or what you're trying to prevent that is so horrible.
posted by gnuls at 3:36 PM on April 13, 2009


I actually find myself agreeing with you now, Miko, especially as regards your statements about the narcissism and self-centredness of depression. I have a knee-jerk reaction to the assumed moral judgment and intent implied by these words, but they are symptoms. I think you are speaking the truth here, my best friend was very self-centred in many ways (after his death I remember talking to one of his other close friends about how I was slowly realizing just how much of my friendship with him was about him). It was one of the symptoms of how he was broken, he had very real trouble getting outside his own head, and (now that I have some distance for perspective) he had quasi-delusional ideas of reference in terms of how other people interacted with him. We used to joke about it, and we had shorthand terms for it, it happened so often.
posted by biscotti at 3:44 PM on April 13, 2009 [1 favorite]


It seems like there's a tremendous urgency to demonize me here

"Miko I quite honestly think this is the first time I've ever disagreed with you on an issue."
posted by hollygoheavy at 11:41 AM on April 13

"I totally understand where she's coming from, and don't think any less of her for it."
posted by dolca at 9:49 AM on April 12

Some of us disagree with you strongly on one thing. I can't speak for anyone else, but I have absolutely no urge to demonize you here or anywhere. If anything, for me the frustration I'm feeling right now is increased tenfold because you are so often the voice of reason, and because I respect you. But you are wrong on this one. Just this one. My frustration with you feels like the frustration I imagine many people felt in the thread about parents forgetting their children and leaving them behind in their cars to die. It's a frustration with the steadfast refusal to even consider tempering judgement with empathy, and take into account just how flawed our human brains are and give people the fucking benefit of the doubt.


So, yes, -- if you believe the definition of "selfish" is something like "prioritizing the desires of the self over the desires of others," then I guess you believe that prioritizing the desire to kill oneself over the desires of others to have you remain alive is selfish. What I've been trying to say in this thread is that, though it may be uncomfortable to note, if the word "selfish" has any meaning like that, then suicide can certainly be called a "selfish" behavior. Is it selfish to commit suicide? Yes. Is it selfish to want a person who wants to die to live? Yes. It's all selfish. That's what selfish is. I mean this in a very basic way.

No - you don't get to retreat to semantics every time. You said this:

"I think that calling it "selfish" is a colloquial way of noting that the choice to commit suicide is not an ethically neutral act, in that it causes irreparable harm to others."

That is what you meant by selfish. You said so yourself. Further, selfish is not a neutral word. It is negative and derogatory. OED: "Devoted to or concerned with one's own advantage or welfare to the exclusion of regard for others." You cannot use a word like that on an emotive issue like suicide and pretend bafflement at why people are upset and object strongly to it. The people who have died by suicide cannot come back and defend themselves. They cannot explain their reasoning and their state of mind at the time - and if they could, it doesn't seem like you would believe them anyway.


'Dearest, I feel certain I am going mad again. I feel we can't go through another of those terrible times. And I shan't recover this time. I begin to hear voices, and I can't concentrate. So I am doing what seems the best thing to do. You have given me the greatest possible happiness. You have been in every way all that anyone could be. I don't think two people could have been happier till this terrible disease came. I can't fight any longer. I know that I am spoiling your life, that without me you could work. And you will I know. You see I can't even write this properly. I can't read. What I want to say is I owe all the happiness of my life to you. You have been entirely patient with me and incredibly good. I want to say that - everybody knows it. If anybody could have saved me it would have been you. Everything has gone from me but the certainty of your goodness. I can't go on spoiling your life any longer.

I don't think two people could have been happier than we have been.

V."


Virginia Woolf's note to her husband before her death from suicide. Does this really sound selfish and narcissistic to you? Did that article about David Foster Wallace make him sound selfish and narcissistic to you? I asked you questions such as whether you think someone who had schizophrenia or manic-depression and killed him- or herself because of it is selfish or narcissistic, and you refused to answer. Because why? Because you realise you made a blanket statement of judgement, and that it revealed some of how you view depression.

And you repeatedly set up the straw man of some of us romanticizing depression and suicide and "painting depression in dramatic and intimidating terms as a beast that can't be vanquished", when none of us ever said anything like this. Many of us fought and are fighting depression every day, and it is you who were being patronizing (and insulting). And we all recognize the effect on loved ones. Some of us are disagreeing with where you place the responsibility, and your characterizing people who already have such desperately sad ends - whatever the reason - as selfish and narcissistic and deserving of our judgement. You weren't just pointing out that depressive thought could often be of a self-fixated nature: "Metaphorically. I'm not sure why we don't look at the social-ethical implications of this act as fully as we do the ethical implications of other moral choices. I'm not trying to be a jerk, but our emotional involvement, our desire to be supportive and empathetic about pain, sometimes fails to take in the ripple effects of what is an ethical decision." You also compared them repeatedly to murderers, remember?

If you have had depression, you must know that treatments for depression are largely a matter of trial and error. There is a lot of hope, and many, many people recover - but there are no guarantees. And that's assuming everyone has access to all available treatments! Is the world really so black-and-white to you? The idea that you would characterize the people we lose through our limited current scientific and medical knowledge, sometimes lack of resources, sometimes just blind luck - as selfish and narcissistic got to me. Can you really not understand that?


The more important question is whether the depressed person has any control over their desires, and if so, how much; and secondarily, assuming that they have any better control over their desires, what can the community around depressed people do to emphasize that there is often a road to more control over personal desires available than one currently is experiencing?

First question: NOBODY KNOWS. There are opinions, but no one knows. Second question: we don't stigmatize them by calling them selfish and narcissistic. We offer them support and therapeutic resources, try our best, and hope for the best. And when it works - which will hopefully be the majority of cases - wonderful. When it doesn't - can't you as least respect their deaths enough to not judge them? They are fucking dead.

Others and I have made the point that this kind of judgement only adds to the stigma surrounding mental illness, and makes it harder for people to seek help - completely counterproductive to what you say you are wanting. It increases the shame that so many who have mental illness already feel in this society, and further isolates them. I've also tried to explain to you why I think this kind of judgement actually adds to the suffering of the survivors and loved ones who are left behind. If you don't think of the person who committed suicide as a selfish and narcissistic person who made a conscious decision to leave you, and instead think of it as an illness - or when it's impulsive, a mistake of the human brain - then you don't have to carry around the anger and hatred and guilt and doubt for all your life. Isn't that what you want for the survivors?

None of this have been or is intended to demonize you in any way - but you can understand my reaction, can't you?
posted by dolca at 4:13 PM on April 13, 2009 [10 favorites]


Miko, I don't think you're trying to be hurtful, far from it. I've probably read hundreds of your posts on Metafilter, and I have a great deal of respect for you. Really, you're no fun to argue with because you are rational, level-headed, and never rise to baited attacks. :)

But yeah, your comments triggered something in me. When I read a comment to the effect that "most depression is treatable" or "most suicides are preventable," it seems to create this impression that the survivors didn't do enough. That we failed the ones we loved. And most of us naturally tend to blame ourselves anyway, even when we did everything humanly possible to help. We did our best, and failed, and then it feels like someone is coming along and saying, "well, you must not have tried hard enough."

This isn't really a rational interpretation of what you've been saying, but for some reason it's my emotional response. It has taken a lot of heartfelt introspection to come to term with my friend's suicide, and the wounds still run so deep that the stitches come undone rather easily. While that's my problem and my problem alone, you do seem a little bewildered from the responses you've received, and I'm just trying to explain my own response. It doesn't make much sense on a rational level, but it strikes an emotional chord. It's not easy to acknowledge, or admit, or write about, or try to explain. I don't think I've done a good job, but I sure wouldn't bother to sit here and write this if you didn't already have my respect.

If this were cancer, we wouldn't have this discussion. We'd say that many cancers are preventable, many are treatable, and some are fatal. We would accept that doctors do their best to save their patients, with mixed results. And no one would claim that regarding the deceased patients like victims of cancer was somehow taking a defeatist attitude, or an argument that cancer could never be vanquished.

And sure, it was selfish of my friend to kill himself. Like you said, it would be selfish for me to want him not to kill himself. But usually, when I remember him, I don't think about how he died or why he died, but I remember his laugh and his smile. And that's also a bit of selfishness on my own part, one to which I'm entirely entitled.

I don't care if he was selfish. I don't really care who is to blame. I don't care if what he did was "right."

I just miss my friend.
posted by malocchio at 4:23 PM on April 13, 2009 [3 favorites]


My big sister, whom I loved and miss unimaginably much, did not owe me her life. It would be exponentially more selfish of me to expect her to live only because I wanted her to than for her to decide she didn't want to continue living.

This is a really important point, I think (he says, jumping into a fantastically complicated and unbelievably awesome discussion others are having quite well without him). To me, people are intrinsically selfish. We do things because we want to or because they fill some need within us. Even when we are doing great things for other people at great expense/pain to ourselves, at the heart of these deeds is a desire to feel good ourselves. It's pretty much impossible to be truly selfless and still be human, I think. Perhaps selfish is to strong a word - maybe self-centred is better.

My take on what Miko is saying is that we have failed many of those who commit suicide. However, it is not the individuals concerned, either the person who committed suicide or anyone around them, but it is society who has failed that person. Because our society is so afraid of death and, in particular, afraid of suicide, we live in a world where people don't see that they can access help or that they can talk about their plans with people who care. As a "society", we fail one another in so many ways - this is just one of them. It doesn't mean there is any individual blame to be laid - we have collectively failed one another.
posted by dg at 4:54 PM on April 13, 2009


But you are wrong on this one.

Talk about narcissism. Try saying "I disagree with you," why don't you? There is no right or wrong here, and you are not helping your cause by beating that drum. Others who have disagreed turn out to be capable of saying "I have a knee-jerk reaction to the assumed moral judgment and intent implied by these words, but ... I think you are speaking the truth here" and "This isn't really a rational interpretation of what you've been saying, but for some reason it's my emotional response"; you're the only one who just keeps banging the drum, at greater and greater length. What exactly are you getting out of this?
posted by languagehat at 5:15 PM on April 13, 2009


Because you never say people are wrong, languagehat? In much more forceful language than that? I've tried a variety of ways to explain my disagreement. I do believe she is wrong on this one, and that her view is actually (unintentionally) harmful to what she cares about. I just keep banging this drum because I wished someone Miko knew and respected would explain what I wanted to say better than I did, but didn't feel anyone quite did that. I just kept banging this drum because this is a discussion that I care about, and it is personal to me just as it is personal to so many commenters in this thread. I keep banging this drum because this is an open thread, and I was under the belief that contribution to the discussion would be welcomed. But I'll stop here.
posted by dolca at 6:01 PM on April 13, 2009


And when you're in that kind of pain, it feels unconquerable

But clearly, it wasn't. Would it have helped you to hear more messages about how unconquerable it was?


To be very and brutally honest, I can't say that 100% it's been conquered. It's being held at bay for now. I live with the worry that the blackness will come back and wonder if I can beat it again. I've been on several different medications, some with really awful side effects (give up sex for the rest of my life? Nobody wants to do that. Dizziness, crazy dreams, loss of memory? No thanks. Weight gain, nausea, weight loss? I'll pass). I can tell when one medication is losing its efficacy and then I have to wean off that one and begin the merry go round to try to find the next holy grail anti depressant. But I'm alive today and when I say that suicide isn't an option now, I mean right this very moment-I can't make promises that next month or next year I may want to reserve the right to not live with that pain.
posted by hollygoheavy at 6:20 PM on April 13, 2009


Miko- fwiw I am not offended by your thoughts nor do I think you're judgemental or "wrong" in what you're saying. This is what discussions are made of, point and counter point. The things you bring up are absolutely worth thinking about and have stimulated a lot of thought and discussion here and I'm sure in the heads of most of the people posting here. I don't think you're being patronizing or dismissive of people who are struggling-you're pointing out other sides of the issue. Keep going, ok?
posted by hollygoheavy at 6:28 PM on April 13, 2009


Many people who commit suicide are out of their minds. One of my closest friends has a history of failed suicide attempts (far in the past now, thank heavens). The suicide attempts weren't the results of logical thought but psychosis. I know that there was no thought because once during a psychotic episode, this friend, one of the dearest people in the world to me and who holds me as one of the dearest people in the world, went after me with a knife and I had to wrestle my friend down and take the knife away. I do not for a second think that this had anything to do with anything except the fact that my friend was in a delusional state.

Suicides happen for all kinds of reasons. Reducing them all to a single motivation or explanation helps only a few at best.
posted by Kattullus at 9:34 PM on April 13, 2009 [2 favorites]


Because you never say people are wrong, languagehat?

Of course I do. People are frequently wrong, including me. But I call people wrong in areas where there is a right and wrong answer (etymology, for instance). This is an area in which sensible people recognize that they can have no more than an opinion. Do you think all your opinions represent The Truth?
posted by languagehat at 9:27 AM on April 14, 2009


Dear languagehat,

1. not in accordance with what is morally right or good: a wrong deed.
2. deviating from truth or fact; erroneous: a wrong answer.
3. not correct in action, judgment, opinion, method, etc., as a person; in error: You are wrong to blame him.
4. not proper or usual; not in accordance with requirements or recommended practice: the wrong way to hold a golf club.
5. out of order; awry; amiss: Something is wrong with the machine.
6. not suitable or appropriate: He always says the wrong thing.
7. (of clothing) that should be worn or kept inward or under: You're wearing the sweater wrong side out.

You are wrong.
posted by Sys Rq at 10:39 AM on April 14, 2009 [2 favorites]


languagehat: I do find it hard to believe that you're having a go at me for saying someone is wrong on Metafilter. In Metatalk. From you.

For what it's worth, what I actually said was "But you are wrong on this one. Just this one." As she was feeling demonized, I was attempting to emphasize that it was a problem with a very specific idea, a specific thing that she said, rather than anything about her, whom I stated my respect for. Nor do I make a habit of telling people they are wrong, offline or online or elsewhere on Metafilter. I tried in several different ways to show her what I felt to be the impact of what she said - if you look at the tone of my previous comments, hopefully you can see that I was practically pleading for her to understand. It wasn't until the second-to-last comment before this that the frustration started getting to me, but even then, I respect you, and you are so often the voice of reason and right on so many things, but you are wrong on this one is tame by any standards - let alone that of Metafilter and Metatalk. You cannot be having a go at me about this - anyone who objected to the atmosphere of "robust debate" on Metafilter and Metatalk would be roundly mocked for being delicate snowflakes or some such. Saying someone is wrong on one specific thing, preceded by an expression of respect and with no personal attacks, snarks or personal insults - there's just nothing to object to.


This is an area in which sensible people recognize that they can have no more than an opinion.

That was exactly what I had been trying to get Miko to acknowledge all along - but in terms of the reasons what makes people commit suicide. As for whether blame and judgement is helpful to people who feel suicidal, people who died from suicide, survivors and loved ones, or people with mental health problems in general... I am comfortable with saying that she was wrong, I've taken pains to explain my reasons why, and I will stand by that. If she or anyone thinks I'm wrong on this, I welcome counterarguments - this is how I learn. I've presented the reasons why I think it is harmful. I welcome reasoned rebuttals - if whether moral judgement on suicide is helpful is really "an area in which sensible people recognize that they can have no more than an opinion", then I would very much like to hear the reasons as to why it is helpful and constructive.

All I wanted was a withdrawal of her blanket association of suicide with selfishness and narcissism, and her comparison of people who commit suicide to murderers. It was not a big deal. I objected to something she said - it happens all the time on Metafilter. I did not mean to make her feel bad or demonized.

And for what it's worth, I was reading dg's comment before I saw yours, and thinking that even though I don't see in her comments what dg saw, it was perhaps a good time for me to de-escalate whatever this was by saying that if that's what she meant, that's something I could very much be on board with. It would've been another way for me to try to say there were no hard feelings. That was until you jumped in.

So Miko, if you're still reading - no hard feelings (and never any intention to cause any), and if I've miscommunicated, my sincere apologies. I guess we can agree to disagree on this one.
posted by dolca at 11:06 AM on April 14, 2009


But yeah, your comments triggered something in me. When I read a comment to the effect that "most depression is treatable" or "most suicides are preventable," it seems to create this impression that the survivors didn't do enough...This isn't really a rational interpretation of what you've been saying, but for some reason it's my emotional response

I ended up thinking about this idea more than anything else last night. I see that this is what's happening and I'm not really interested in causing that reaction in people. I still think there are some really important things to be said about the ethics of suicide and how to prevent it. I certainly don't think we can always prevent it, but I don't think you can tell the preventable cases apart from the unpreventable cases without trying everything and always assuming that recovery is possible - that is what we do with most cancer patients (not all).

Also with regard to the cancer analogy, a couple of my friends who have had cancer have had some impassioned views on the topic of moral judgement - they have felt judged for having cancer ("you smoked! you drank too much! you never ate right! you should have gotten that checked out earlier!") and they have felt that society placed a great deal of responsibility on them for fighting cancer ("there might be a miracle! Pray! Keeping a good attitude, stay postive and hopeful! Eat macrobiotic! Follow treatments to the letter! My sister-in-law tried [X wacky treatment] and it worked, you should do it too!") etc. For the small subset of people whose cancers are too advanced to be practically treatable, sometimes they will choose hospice or stop treatment and still incur resentment from loved ones for not continuing the fight. Cancer or any other terminal illness doesn't preclude the same set of impacts and decisions and reactions that suicide carries with it - it may be slightly less complicated in that the illness is visible and the death if it's coming doesn't need to be forced, but it's not really a clean and clear moral world either. So I don't think the cancer analogy is actually that supportive of the argument that we treat people completely differently because of the nature of their illness.

I think there is a general social bias toward people staying alive as long as they can and doing their best to avoid self-harm. Maybe dg's right that this comes from fear of death; it also comes from just pain fear of grief, loss, and change, all very human. And there is a role that responsibility plays in taking care of your health, though of course, not everyone is equally capable of self-care, which is the difficulty in making blanket statements about the decisions of suicidal people. And we're entirely irrational about self-harm - we do risky things all the time, like driving, and eating too much cholesterol, but we don't generally consider those behaviors to be moral failures unless someone's been warned against it specifically. But we know they do cause harm and we don't insist that everyone live as healthily as possible all the time, despite giving it lip service. We do tend to think that active self-destruction has a moral dimension, as with smokers and alcohol addicts. I don't know, all that is kind of interesting too.

I also think it's true that not everyone has or gets all the resources that would be helpful. I don't think most people get anywhere near the level of mental health support they need, either through natural social channels or from professional aid, let alone people with serious and acute mental illness. We can see that the safety net is just full of holes. I would never say someone with depression didn't "try hard enough." I would say that in a lot of cases, they didn't get what they needed, were perhaps prevented by the depressive symptoms from getting what they needed, or just prevented by more prosaic obstacles, like no money for a therapist or doctor, or an unhelpful family, or a bad drug interaction, or the limitations of drugs, or isolation, or lack of understanding.

I think it's really important that we teach everybody how and where to ask for help when they're very young, and keep reminding them; we need to have more places to ask for help and better, cheaper, quicker responses, and we need to lower the barriers to saying "I'm really miserable. I'm in trouble" and having that be a big deal. Because I do recognize that depressed people are not fantastic at making decisions and treating themselves, so that blame isn't a very helpful approach no matter how lousy the actions they're doing might be. So I think that the society as a whole needs to have many more mechanisms for reacting in a useful way when someone says that. And we need to be teaching people, again when they're very young, that they have both permission and a responsibility to say that stuff and activate that support system as soon as they're aware of a problem - just as we'd teach them they should tell someone when they have a painful toothache, or when someone is treating them inappropriately, or when they have a weird looking cut that isn't healing or whatever. And we need to continue teaching people what to do and recommend and where to call when someone tells you this stuff. I'm kind of taking a harm reduction approach here. If we do have a bias toward reducing the overall harm people create for each other, then we can ascribe some responsibility both to individuals and society for maintaining all of our mental health. When the individual can't manage it, hopefully the social mechanisms kick in (that happens so often in serious depressive situations, but not quite often enough). When the societal support doesn't kick in, and the individual doesn't have the wherewithal, I think the outcome is not so good. Over my lifetime I've seen a lot of change in how depression is talked about in the public sphere. First of all, it's talked about. Second, people often know the 'warning signs' and know that you can treat it. But it's still not known enough, and still feels unique when people are in it. and I think as a society we are not yet handling it as well and as directly as we could.

So what I was thinking about is that, though these ideas certainly interest me a lot, I think that it's awfully hard to have a discussion about them because there are some visceral and personal reactions that naturally arise. Since I really don't want to make people feel bad or blamed or whatever, I don't really want to carry on here. It goes back to what Astro Zombie said at the beginning of the thread about the "selfish" idea - sure you can use that word, but it doesn't get you anywhere. It ends up focusing more shame on people already suffering from a low self-opinion. I really have no interest in doing that. However, as someone familiar with depression, I also find that it can play a lot of tricks. It is great at defending itself, and I find a lot of refuge from it in taking a step back and looking at what it's doing from a more mechanical perspective. In many cases, it's causing blinders to go up, filtering out messsages from reality, and being very selective about what information makes it to the conscious mind. When I find that happening to me, personally, it's quite helpful for me to remember that the story is bigger than the one I'm telling myself right now. For me, the very awareness of the ethical impact of the decision to commit suicide is a powerful deterrent to serious ideation about it.

I think it's important to acknowledge the complexity of the phenomenon. Depression is shitty - we think it is bad not just because it feels bad to us, but because it makes us do things that are bad for others, too. And it's even capable of making us tell ourselves we're just being smart and considerate and making a good decision. That stuff is poisonous, but it's what happens. I wish we could talk about it, and how to short-circuit it, without anyone feeling personally attacked or misunderstood, but it's pretty hard to do.

I personally don't feel that a holistic view of depression that takes in many perspectives and includes an acknowledgement of how the symptoms work in one's head is counterproductive to people seeking treatment. If anything, for me looking directly at the symptoms of depression as a decently understood phenomenon is what destigmatizes and normalizes the experience. It is incredibly common and we're getting better at treating it all the time. Though it can feel like it, it's not some invisible mystical force that preys upon us, it's an interaction between a brain out of balance and external situations that triggering problems. It results in some very predictable kinds of thoughts, feelings, and actions. Many of those actions are harmful to ourselves and others and are worth preventing. The thoughts are hard to live with and are worth seeing as symptoms, treating and relieving. I don't like the idea of these aspects of depression being unutterable - because to me, that way lies of shame.

So I don't really have a strong desire to continue arguing with people I have lots of respect for, because I really don't intend to add to anyone's shame or despair and it almost seems like, contrary to my purposes, I am doing that. Which is a failure on my part, since I'm trying to talk about something I think is hopeful - that we can understand and talk frankly about this specific kind of suffering and its effects and figure out ways to help people heal. This approach really helps me feel stronger in the face of depression and lay down some new mental pathways when things look bad. Some of what I'm thinking about is really interesting to me, depression as a social illness that, like addiction, affects groups of people and not just the suffering individual, but this probably isn't the forum for it, and also I'm outside my area of expertise because I don't have the professional knowledge that might give a more useful framework for talking about this stuff in an informed way which doesn't push buttons.
posted by Miko at 12:15 PM on April 14, 2009 [3 favorites]


Miko, have you read Feeling Good? If not, can I recommend it to you? I really think it contains a lot of what you are talking about, and I think you'll like its direct, no-nonsense and fiercely logical way of tackling depression. As you know, many Mefites have found it very helpful, including myself. :)
posted by dolca at 12:53 PM on April 14, 2009


Miko, have you read Feeling Good?

Yes, that's one of many books that have informed my view of the whole issue.
posted by Miko at 12:56 PM on April 14, 2009


Then I guess we are at least in agreement on that. I wish a lot of what's in that book were taught in school - I think there'd be a lot less pain in the world if it were.
posted by dolca at 1:05 PM on April 14, 2009


This is an amazing and comforting thread. CunningLinguist, sorry to have freaked you out; certainly wasn't my intention.
posted by lalex at 11:40 PM on April 16, 2009


Theora55 just posted this article, "How Not to Commit Suicide," in response to an AskMe, and it is amazing. Definitely something anyone who participated in this thread would be interested in. It details the process of suicide hotline counseling and how they work with the thinking of a suicidal person, and samples points of view from emergency professionals and psychiatrists, survivors and right-to-die advocates. It's intense but very realistic.
posted by Miko at 5:13 PM on April 30, 2009


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