Okay, Let’s Talk About Suicide

So Henry Rollins got lambasted after tearing into Robin Williams for killing himself, for which he has already apologized in his Rollinsey way. And I wanted to write about it then, but I was so tired and there were so many thoughts in my head, chiefly that anybody surprised by Rollins’ outburst has either never heard of him, or is just pretending to be surprised in order to fuel the hate they’ve had on him for any number of the crazy things he’s said before this one.

Rollins is a meat head, but even a meaty clock is right twice a day, and I think he said some things a lot of people were thinking, but also, he made some points other commentators were willing to gloss completely over in their attempts to be sensitive to people’s feelings. Which is another reason I’m writing this now instead of a week ago.

A lot of people were quick to offer platitudes and empty babbling in the wake of a tragedy. I get that. There are some things so immeasurably horrible, so dark and terrifying that all you can do is lie your face off.

The day of the event I saw a woman who had tweeted the number to the suicide hotline, and the sentence “Because the world is better with you in it.” True fact, the world is also worse with you in it. What does that even mean? Because I have to say that I hope no one ever meets someone who the world is truly better off without, but that those people are for real out there. Unfortunately so few of them are prescient enough to do us all the favor.

We get so shocked when people take their own lives. Or when other terrible things happen, not just to good people, or even to bad people, but to real people.

We want to know if there is a rhyme or a reason, that there is a captain on this damn ship, even though we not only have no evidence that there is, we have piles of evidence to the contrary. Better there be an indifferent God than no God at all. Better we think that we can make up for their loss by some form of atonement after the fact. If I keep one person from killing themselves, I have atoned for allowing someone else to do so in the past. If I can be as good in my life as this now dead person would have been in theirs, I can make up for what the world lost when we lost them. If I just never step on a crack, this horrible sucking wound that has been left to me instead of my heart will never feel empty again.

But it will.

It is the curse of the living that we will watch our friends die, that we will see the world change around us, and we will be powerless to stop it.

I vacillate so wildly between thinking that suicide is a right every adult should have, to thinking that it’s the worst possible thing a person can do, to themselves, to their families. We want mental illness to be taken as seriously as physical illness, we want the stigma to be removed, and yet, if Williams had refused Chemo and died, it would be a totally different story. Instead, he refused mental health help and died of his disease.

What if, instead of making people so ashamed of their choices that they slunk off in the dark to die alone by their own hand, we were able to respect their decisions? What if nothing changed in the Williams narrative except for the stigma? What if the man died with dignity instead of scandal? What I’m saying is, what if we didn’t have to pretend that the pain of living in a mortal world could possibly be avoided, and instead embrace the people we love while we have them to love and didn’t aspire to delusions of permanence?

If there wasn’t such a stigma attached to suicide and mental illness, less people would get to the point where they choose suicide, and those who do wouldn’t have to die alone. So much of the pain in a suicide comes from not knowing, from not being there, from wondering what you could have done. If there was a way for people to know, as much as any person can know, and respect, as much as any person can respect, the decision, it would leave a much smaller mark on our collective psyche.

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