Saturday, November 12, 2011

"... perchance to dream ..."

Recently through my various personal online networks I shared an article by Richard Parker on the ABC's The Drum website, entitled Silence on suicide: just talk about it.  The author spoke well, and with the authority of some personal experience, and essentially asks that we endeavour, individually and as a society, to break out of this deafening silence.  In my sharing, I supported the view that we talk about this seemingly taboo subject, making the point that I would in every likelihood end my own life at some point - by means of ceasing the intake of sustenance and possibly also water - and that this at least might be a comfortable enough way in to some discussion on the subject - to bring in a little light to this seemingly darkest of conversational topics.  For those who don't know, I have a progressive, incurable, degenerative autoimmune condition.  And I'd like to go a step further than Richard Parker did here.

I got a really wide range of responses, and you can probably guess at them all.  None were unkind in the least though, far from it.  God got a fair run in its various religious and other guises, and the point was very well made by a few commenters that what I propose might be my final act is at a very far remove from the 'archetypal' suicide; following a cascade of negative, self-harming ideations, the sort of thing we generally think of as that most violent of acts towards our self.  True, and that's why we have that other, safely anodyne word 'euthanasia'.  Yet interestingly, some folk seem to bridle at applying either tag to what I suggest for myself.  I ask you though, if consciously and permanently choosing to cease doing a thing that is necessary for immediate survival is not paramount to a decision to end one's life, then what is it?  Technically, it is in fact suicide.

I want to suggest something.  I want to suggest that we start getting real with people who are 'at risk'.  I want to suggest that we don't just fall back every time to a safe, unthinking default position that suicide is always a bad option.  Because, in the hearts and minds of some people, some of the time, it isn't.  That deserves honouring.

There are places I go on the internet where people with certain types of chronic illnesses frequent.  Ostensibly, these places are to enable support from the crowd of fellow-travellers, and there you will find people who will talk about 'ending it all', by way of a cry for help one supposes, but we are to a person (myself included) so touchy about what we say, lest we somehow give any hint or nudge in that direction accidentally, that nothing much more than platitudes boiling down to "you're special and loved" ever seem to eventuate.  Just perhaps, the squeamishness, this paralysis that strikes and prevents us from discussing how suicide might seem an option, becomes in some situations yet another instance of disconnect for the hurting one.  Another click on the ratchet further away from the feeling of human family and inclusion.  another strech of lonely road being travelled, to nowhere.  Why can't we admit that it might, just sometimes, be or at the very least reasonably seem to be a decent idea to commit suicide?

One hears talk of the 'slippery slope' of euthanasia.  One of the commenters on my link and post told me they were in principle against euthanasia because of this 'slippery slope', which led to I'm not sure where in their mind, but they went on to say that what I proposed I might do if certain likely circumstances come to pass did not really amount to it.  Well then, what is it?  Is it not in fact a conscious decision, and set of actions, specifically designed to bring about my death?  It's suicide, plain and simple.  Euthanasia, if you prefer, which by another name is, precisely, suicide.

There are ever more chronically ill people in this world, all thanks to the marvels of modern medicine keeping us alive where not long ago we'd have died.  23 week term premature babies now are resuscitated (in most countries that is), despite the odds of them surviving very long being maybe 10% and that only a further tenth of those who do survive will make it to an adulthood relatively free of permanent damage and able to live a quality, unassisted life.  So a 1% shot, in other words.  Many of the other 9%, along with traumatic injury survivors, the chronically and irretrievably ill etc etc naturally enough, given a certain amount of suffering, reasonable expectation of its continuance, and a bit of perspective, might be thinking.........but for the fact that I AM alive, it might well have been better not to have been born, or survived.  And many do, in fact, end their own lives. I'm not judging, and it's always sad, whatever we might think.  Even if I truly thought someone had self-euthanased in the most conscious and even 'sacred' possible fashion, their death would still be a loss.  Preventable?  Certainly.  Desirable? WHO AM I TO SAY?

So how is a mental illness actually different, I wonder?  We seem fairly prepared to accept that someone like me, who experiences recurrent bouts of suffering and a steady degradation in life quality, might at some point feel like it's time to let go; that there can be a point at which the suffering truly outweighs the pleasure or even just the comfort in life, and that an end may fairly be sought.  But what if my illness were of the mental kind?  What if it took the form of recurrent emotional anguish and torment, of cascading self-hating thoughts, urge to self-harm and suicidal ideation?   What if it seemed that despite all my best attempts over years and years that the cycle endlessly repeated, with each new iteration only increasing the weight of angst and pain, as the remembrance of every previous "oh no here I go" moment crashes in around me?

I don't know either.  It's not a problem I experience, thankfully, but I know some who do, and some for whom that may well have been something like what led to the end of their lives.  I don't, and cannot, know.

One thing I do know though.  That there have been times when I've thought, after the suicides of friends I've had - and there have sadly been a few - when I've thought "at least they're not suffering whatever it was that drove them that far".  Certainly, that is an article of faith.  I cannot know what if anything they experienced after dying, and it's entirely possible that I'm just telling myself a story to ease my pain, or my conscience, or somesuch.  You know, all the "but I only saw him two days before....did I miss some sign?" sort of stuff that one must work through. Guilt. Regret, remorse, all that.  But then, how is it any different?

There is someone I hardly know, amongst my online contacts, who right now is actively thinking and talking about suicide, and I completely get where they're coming from.  There's probably always someone around each of us right now who has such thoughts. The details are unimportant - judgment is not helpful in these matters.  What is important is that they feel validated in their thinking, that they not just be told that "your thoughts are bad and what you must do is to find a way to think about other things".  They HAVE to think about suicide.  Why?  Because they ARE.  And we do people in that space no favours by handing out such conditional advice and support as to say that suicidal thoughts are there to be overcome. They're not. They're there to be experienced, and like anything that comes in life, experienced fully, that we might heal them fully, should we choose that opportunity and challenge. We need to be able to sit with people in such a state and help them work through it in a genuine way.  A way that allows that right now, suicide is one of a set of appropriate-seeming options.  Just telling them it isn't is anti-healing, whichever way you cut it.

I don't know if I'd sat down and had these sorts of talks with my self-departed loved ones if it would have made any difference.  I'm fortunate indeed in that I have friends with whom I have discussed such things on a deep and raw emotional level.  One time, I remember vividly a friend and I ending up rolling around in fits and stitches laughing at the precise images we would sometimes conjure up of self-harm and self-extinguishment, from depression or angst or whatever.  But the conversation had not started out that way at all.  No, not at all.  That friend, despite having attempted suicide, is still with us, not that this says anything about the value of talking about suicide, necessarily.

But it just might.  Not talking about it with a genuinely open and non-judgmental mindset is getting us where, exactly, anyway?  The statisticians tell us of an epidemic in parts.  Maybe it was ever thus.  But they say to get what you always get do what you've always done, and this taboo, I feel, needs to change if we are to change the number of times we grieve for those who choose that lonely, disconnected sort of suicide that leaves we survivors so wounded, bewildered and adrift.  And just as importantly, to help those who will survive the 'suicides' like I will very possibly be, who choose well and wisely, consciously, in a manner that honours both life and death in the Final Acts.

So go on. Tell a friend your REAL thoughts and feelings.  Get comfortable with it.  Help others be comfortable with it.  Help the 'whole' us relieve the terrible burden of pre-judgment and "thou shall not think these thoughts".  Be a hero, and say what you really feel.  Be more of a hero, and honour when someone tells you that suicide seems like the best way for them right now, that they might just, in the only world that matters to them in that moment, be right. Being OK with that, being real about it, is a necessary step to truly changing it, if that is to be done, anyway.  Go there.

I leave this post in honour of those I love who are no more, by virtue of a final deed.  As always, I thank them for coming.

My donation fund is still open, for however soon the time may come, and however it may come.  
That it may come in peace, is a hope.  We shall see, eh?


  1. In a way suiciude is the ultimate exprsession of free will, and yes, I read something by a war time poet who said that the knowledge of his own potential suiciude gave him great comfort. This makes a lot of sense. As to people in mental illness, depression and, I think, from my own experience of that, that it's very easy, when I've been in a state of depression, to think that it will never stop. In truth the depression has taken up a miniscule part of my life, and when it's over life is unquestionably worth living.
    I like this post. Thanks.

  2. Have you seen this?

    I was unable to get it to play correctly to hear her speak.