Yesterday, I wrote a Facebook post where I described how suicide is not a choice, that suicide is not an act of cowardice in response to several statements about Robin Williams’ death. Labeling suicide a choice is equally as damaging as promoting it as a path to freedom – it makes it sound like someone who even only thinks of suicide is a coward, that they should ‘toughen up’ and deal with it, when that is just not how it works. It makes people feel hesitant and afraid to reach out because this is the equivalent of being brushed aside and labeled all sorts of demeaning things.
Someone whom I considered a friend took it upon themselves to comment on this post and let me know that RW was a coward for ‘taking the easy way out’. Apparently that was necessary in order to let us all know that his family suffers from what happened and that we should treat him as lesser for doing what he did. They linked me to an article that started with ‘I can’t comprehend it’ [suicide], but then apparently the author magically turns into an expert who speaks for all depressed and suicidal people. He makes similar claims while contradicting himself at numerous turns.
When I attempted to explain to my friend that suicide is not a choice, that it’s not a cowardly thing to do, they ignored my personal experiences and insisted on letting me know they know exactly what depression is from first-hand experience, even though they’ve never gone through it themselves – their girlfriend does. I’m sorry, but depression is such a complex condition that differs from person to person, you can’t really make a generalized claim, and you definitely cannot fully comprehend what it means to go through it if you never have. You can read up on it, you can gather information from different sources, but you can’t tell me that you know exactly what it’s like to be, for example, on LSD if you’ve never taken it. Depression and suicidal thoughts are no different. There’s a huge difference between knowing about it and having experienced it, and often knowing about it isn’t enough to form proper opinions.
After some arguing back and forth, I got so upset and stressed about this nonsense that I ended up removing them from my friendlist on every platform we were connected. I’ve become tired of their one-sided, dumb arguments that are apparently only in existence for the same of arguing. Afterwards I got a message letting me know they were ‘only playing devil’s advocate’. Well, I’m glad you think so little of me and the issues I stand up for that you feel it necessary to argue because you mistakenly think I’m part of a debate club, regardless of how it may make me feel. Add that to the multiple instances of trying to shove their religion down my throat despite my numerous statements that I’m really not interested, and you get this.
Let me explain something right now: when it comes to depression, there is very little choice in most matters. I’ve battled depression since I was 15 years old. I lost my best friend in 2010 and my life spiraled downwards so fast I lost grip on everything.
In 2012 I lost my job because I was sick all the time and couldn’t get myself to get out of bed. I knew I had to get out of bed and go to work. I knew that without a job, I would be without money. I knew what the right choice was – but I couldn’t do it.
I stopped eating, sometimes several days in a row. I knew I should eat, that I was depriving my body, that I was being unhealthy. I lost 40lbs within a year. No matter how much my body protested, eating wasn’t an option anymore at many moments. Even when I cooked food, I just stared at it and felt so sick at the thought of putting one fork full into my mouth that I just didn’t eat at all. I knew what the right choice was – but I couldn’t do it.
I stopped going outside, sometimes for weeks on end, even going so far as to avoid buying food or other groceries because I had no energy whatsoever. It took me several days to prepare for a 20 minute trip to the supermarket down the road. The only reason I went grocery shopping was because while I stopped caring for myself, I couldn’t do that to my cats. I went only for the sake of buying them food and litter. As long as I could take care of them however, I didn’t go outside. I knew I should have, I should have socialized more, talked to people – but I couldn’t do it.
I slept so much. 16 hours of sleep were normal for me. I was so exhausted all the time, so drained from energy that even waking up was utterly exhausting by itself. I knew it was bad, that I should stick to a better schedule, get up early and do something – but I couldn’t do it.
I didn’t apply for unemployment for almost 8 months. I was living off scraps of money that found their way to me, often no more than 45 euros a month. It’s a miracle I was never kicked out of my apartment because my landlord was family + he was suffering from dementia and lost track of his finances. My bills piled up, debt collectors weaseled their way into my life. Yet whenever I was confronted with the idea of having to explain myself, to talk about my condition, to get my welfare checks, I was so utterly and totally stressed out that my whole mind shut down. I knew that I absolutely had to get an income – but I couldn’t do it.
My mailbox became my biggest nightmare. All these angry letters sent me into flurries of panic attacks. Just looking at it and imagining what was inside made me throw up more than once. I couldn’t even get the letters out, nevermind open them to see what was inside. Did it even matter what they said? There was nothing I could do about them because I couldn’t do the things I needed to do. My mailbox got fuller, and fuller, and I knew I needed to empty it and go through the mail so badly – but I couldn’t do it.
Eventually I started thinking about killing myself. My relationship had turned sour, I was hardly worthy of being called a functioning human being. My few attempts to reach out were met with a lack of understanding, or institutions making me go through loophole after loophole to get help, which discouraged me so much I stopped trying. I got into therapy and then was told I couldn’t be helped because my living situation was putting so much stress on me that I had to move somewhere else first. I felt worthless. I felt like a burden. I couldn’t keep my promises, I was short and snippy all the time, I turned people who loved me against me. Eventually, I honestly just felt like I’d outlived my purpose on this planet. What did I have to contribute? I was wholly convinced I was only a burden to everyone, all the time. When people said they loved me, they were just being nice for the sake of avoiding an argument. Or perhaps to feel better about themselves by showing compassion to the biggest failure in life.
No matter which way I looked at it, everything that was worth living for was slowly being chipped away. I had no future. If I had one, all I saw was a struggle for the surface but never surfacing. Everything was dark, and worthless, and meaningless. I wanted to so badly. I knew that at certain times, if I had gone outside into the street, I would have stepped in front of one of the many speeding cars that terrorize this neighborhood. Let someone else do it. Saves me the trouble of having to get supplies or feeling too guilty about making my family sad if it’s someone else’s fault that I’m dead. All I wanted was for this never ending nightmare to stop. I woke up wanting it and fell asleep wanting it every single day. But going outside required energy I didn’t have. Planning to kill myself in another way required energy I didn’t have.
I’m still here. Did I make the right choice? No, not really. I never made a conscious choice. When I felt this way, there was no choice. I only had one option ahead of me on the path I was on, I just lacked the energy to die as I lacked the energy to live. I wasn’t even a full human being anymore at that point, I was a shell filled with nothing but suffering. Many people never knew.
Thankfully I wasn’t so terribly sick that I became entirely unresponsive to my friends. Every now and then, I felt a glimmer of warmth. Sometimes I got a small moment of respite from all the darkness and was able to see the world for what is truly is – opportunity, not destiny. I’ve been very lucky that I still had this. It allowed me to give in to my feelings for my now boyfriend. It allowed me to open up and start to piece my life back together with the help of my friends. I wasn’t sick enough yet to not be able to recognize this spark.
But oh, I was so very, very close that I still look back with amazement that I’m still here.
I didn’t have a choice in so many matters throughout this disease. That’s what depression does to you. I knew what the right thing was but my illness – not cowardice, not lack of willpower, nothing but my illness – prevented me from doing the right thing to make my life better. I didn’t lose 40lbs because I chose to. I didn’t not get welfare because I chose to. I didn’t not go outside because I chose to. There simply weren’t any options. That was the reality of my life for many years. In order to make a choice, you need to have options – nobody can argue with that – and they just weren’t there.
Well, the harsh truth is that when this illness progresses far enough, suicide is no longer a choice. It’s the only way out because there are no other options left. That’s how this works.
Are there depressed people who don’t kill themselves? I’m really, really glad many people never get this far in their illness and remain alive, even get better. Depression is experienced differently by everyone, and that means there are people who get sucked so deep into this dark and terrible place that they’ve already drowned. Their bodies just didn’t catch up yet.
If you still think suicide is a choice, then I pity you for not being able – or perhaps not being willing – to understand us. Not everyone succumbs to this disease. I’m glad many of us never do. But those who do are not cowards for their acts. They are desperate people driven to the last option available to them. If you are not one of these people and don’t suffer from depression and suicidal tendencies, try to kill yourself right now. Can you do it? Does your stomach turn over at the thought of slitting your wrists or your throat? Do you cringe at the idea of jumping off a tall bridge onto a concrete pavement? Do you gasp for breath at the idea of drowning yourself? Chances are, the moment you’re holding the razor ready or are standing on the edge of the bridge or spend more than 20 seconds underwater, you won’t do it. Something is stopping you. Suicide will make no sense to you. It’s not an option.
Well, for some of us, so is living. Remember that before you judge us with cruel words and condescending statements.
Note: If you’re having suicidal thoughts or generally feel very depressed and need a listening ear, please click on the following links and get in touch with someone: