Scars That Never Forget

I have been thinking a lot lately about suicide. Please do not jump out of your chairs and start directing concerned phone calls or e-mails my way, because this is not what you think. The novel that I am now heavily into the rewrite phases of concerns itself deeply with death and what it means to different people, cultures, and what it means in a metaphysical and supernatural sense as well. My novel is a work of fiction if you did not know this already. I will re-iterate—I am not considering suicide as a personal option, I am only considering suicide and what it means to me.

Very often, when someone in our community chooses to end their own life, the largest response tends to be a mixture of very public sympathy for the person and their family and somewhat less public, but often vitriolic accusations of selfishness. We have all heard before that suicide is selfish. The idea is that by ending one’s own life, they are taking an easy way out—a coward’s way out. Meanwhile, they are inflicting untold pain and suffering on their loved ones and/or their community.

Suicide occurs at an abnormally high rate among teenagers and oppressed communities. As a teenager we go through a lot of difficult changes as we develop into adults. Additionally our world views are often shattered, or enhanced, or both. We come from limited understandings of our surroundings to infinitely more vast ones. There is also, strangely, a social emphasis on conformity. Those who do not meet some ambiguous status quo are taunted and tortured by their peers. On a personal note, I have always found it difficult to grasp the mentality of those who claim that their high school years were the best years of their lives.

Oppressed communities often deal with abysmally low standards of living while being exploited by their oppressors in just about every possible way that can be conceived of. Additionally, like teenagers, but on a much broader and horrendous scale, oppressed communities do not meet the standards of conformity placed on them by their oppressors. They are taunted and tortured for not meeting those standards as well as for when those standards are met. I realize that the language that I am using here might be a little murky, so let me give you a personal example.

Sometimes, though not often, I will wear my hair in braids. Because I do not do this often—and also, I think, because I am capable of passing as white—when I do wear them I am met with negative comments, teasing, or incredulity. Maybe the negativity is not intentional, and the ribbing is friendly, but that is neither here nor there because I am not trying to cast aspersions on individuals, but rather the society at large. The same individuals might, were I to be dressed in a three-piece suit, have something to say about my adoption of “white culture” as I am not wearing buckskins or whatever they are thinking. Hopefully this mild divergence gets the point across. I had no intention of this piece exploring these particularly themes exclusively, but they are real and present and not mentioning them would be a disservice to the original thought.

I cannot also claim that suicide is only explored by those who are suffering from the mistreatment of others. There are many people who have chosen suicide because of physical or emotional pain that they no longer wish to endure. Some of these individuals have had lauded and praised lives. Kurt Cobain is a more contemporary figure who is still celebrated twenty years after his death. He is also still condemned, even by his widow, these twenty years after.

So where am I going with this? I am wondering about the greater impact and meaning of suicide. Is it actually selfish in the way that it is often described? Most of us are taught that are lives are our own and we are to do with them as we please in order to achieve, ultimately, happiness. If one cannot achieve happiness, is it wrong to consider taking one’s own life? What if one believes that they will find their happiness in the after life? And here we come to an even more controversial aspect of this question. I know that many would consider this question from a faithful standpoint, but for those of us that are capable of accepting that our faith is not necessarily the faith of all, how do you feel about the idea that someone might commit suicide in an attempt to achieve bliss?

I do not know if I am going to get many answers here, because I very rarely get comments on this blog (to date) but I do get them sometimes and I am hoping that I can get some thoughtful, unique perspectives from some of you.

How do you feel about suicide?

5 comments:

  1. Suicide is a deeply personal decision and I prefer to refrain from passing judgment on someone who makes this choice. Some people are quick to call the dead person selfish, but the person can’t always be expected to suffer constantly while living on for the sake of others, can they? And for those who do have a strong belief in the afterlife, shedding the troubles of this world might sound like the best choice. The world can be a difficult place, and people get worn down and very tired.

    1. Part of the reason I posted this was because I was thinking something very similar to what you are saying: Why do we call someone selfish for killing themselves when the other side of that is that we want them to keep on living and suffering because of our own feelings? When we call someone selfish for committing suicide, aren’t we the ones that are being selfish?

  2. I think about suicide a lot. I have ever since I found out what it is. As a child, it was more of a “not today. Maybe tomorrow, but not today” situation. Now, as an adult, it’s more about the noose in the corner; suicide is always an option. If suicide is not an option, life is a prison. If suicide is an option, every day that I’m here, I’ve made the choice to be here. (This is very similar to the feelings espoused by Hunter Thompson, another notable victim of suicide.)

    I am not a risk for suicide, but sometimes, some days, I think wouldn’t it be nice to not wake up tomorrow. I will say that when I think that writing could end up being a career for me, I feel a sudden desire for a long life; this is not something I recall having felt before.

    People who have not been in the kind of pain that you would do anything to stop cannot understand suicide. They call it selfish, and that’s a viewpoint really lacking in compassion. It’s not their fault, though; they just can’t understand it. They can’t understand that once someone reaches those depths, they’re not capable of understanding that other people in the world think that they have value. I do think suicide is sad. I do understand that anger at those who were the authors of their own deaths is a normal part of the grieving process. But I will never accuse someone who opts for the final solution of selfishness. Because I’ve been there, and I understand where that comes from and how it feels.

    1. I get where you’re coming from. In a sense, I do think about my own personal option of suicide nearly daily. I think along the lines of, “Well, I could kill myself.” I know that I won’t, at least not now. It is more of a mantra to remind myself that I do always have an option if I cannot figure out something that will work better.

      Full disclosure: I have attempted, and obviously failed, to kill myself long and deep in my past. I remember how angry some people were with me. I remember being admonished as I was delivered to the hospital to be institutionalized for about a month. I remember losing friends over this, because they were so angry with me. I remember my ex-girlfriend telling me that if I had succeeded, she would have visited my grave site in order to spit on it.

      Of the few people who expressed their outrage toward me whom are still in my life, every single one of them will do everything they can to avoid me when I am discussing my emotional well-being. If I am upset or sad, they will leave my presence, or say things like, “Oh, let’s not go into this depressive stuff!”

      It makes me wonder at those accusations of selfishness.

      I have to admit, I was not planning on going into my personal experiences here, but your contribution made me realize that I need to acknowledge how that colours my perception of suicide.

  3. I only really feel comfortable sharing this in an anonymous manner, but I contemplate suicide almost every day. Similar to you, it’s always that gnawing thought in the back of my head that sometimes surfaces through the humdrum monotony of my life. And for me, I’ve realized this reflex is actually about control. It’s the notion that I can take control of my own life any time I want; that no matter what happens or how bad anything gets, I always have a way out. In a very strange way, this thought really helps me, and often helps me regain clarity and the feel of control over my situation.

    I do not think suicide is selfish at all. I have friends, family, and on the surface a very good life. I know many of them consider suicide to be selfish, and very disrespectful to those who are “left behind”. But I always ask them this: what if I were to simply pack up my bags, move to another state, and leave them all? If I severed all contact and started a new life. I am sure some people would be upset… but there would be that understanding that I was just making a choice for myself and doing what I needed to do, what was best for me. Even if it meant leaving their lives. So why is it that suicide is regarded as different? Why is suicide selfish, but packing your bags and leaving for a new life and setting just doing what you need to do, to make yourself happy? The only difference I can see is that people will take suicide harder, because when you simply leave there is always that small possibility you may come back. That leaving is easier to justify, to rationalize.

    And leaving just sits better with people. A lot of the belief that suicide is “selfish” stems from this fear, about how poorly the idea of suicide sits with people. I would tell you that the people in your life acted more out of selfishness for themselves than out of concern for you. They should have been concerned -why- things got so desperate you attempted to take your own life, and how they could make it better so you never felt you needed to again.

    Everyone’s life is their own to do with as they wish. People have the right to get a tattoo, have a child, smoke, or cut their wrists. If they wish to end their life, it’s in their right (in my opinion). While you may disagree with their reasons for ending their own life, and it may well be the case that had they decided not to and waited, things would have gotten better… it’s really not your choice in the end. Sure, be there for a suicidal friend. Support them. Even encourage them to live their life. But respect their decision: no one arrives at the decision to end their own life lightly.

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