As almost everybody knows, Robin Williams passed away earlier this week. At this point, it would seem that he took his own life after struggling with some very serious depression. This event is obviously what motivated me to write this post. Let me say to start, I am saddened at his death and I write not to tear him down. Far from it. I have been thinking about this over the past few days and considered as best I can what to write.
In my estimation, many of the responses take the form of either head or heart responses. On the one side, you have the head responses (Matt Walsh at the Matt Walsh Blog would be an example of this, which I will not link to because it will probably make you mad or will agree with it and miss my point). This is the response rightly noting that suicide is not something good or something to be glorified, but they make the point like wielding a chainsaw at a whittling competition. The other response is the heart response (typified by “There’s Nothing Selfish About Suicide” by Katie Hurley over at the Huffington Post, which I will not link to because I won’t link to the Huffington Post out of principle). These responses note that suicide is the cause of deep depression and empathizes with those who have made that horrible choice from a cloudy and hurt filled mind.
The first can be written off very easily. Bashing on those who commit suicide shows a serious lack of empathy and understanding of the hearts of those who are hurting. And it shows a lack of understanding about clinical depression (of which I will come out and say that I am still learning more). Shame on that type of response.
The second is more difficult to deal with. I care for both the person and family who committed suicide, but I don’t want to say things out of empathy that are not true. But a phrase from the aforementioned heart article really stuck in my craw and has been mulling around in my head. Katie Hurley writes:
“Until you’ve stared down that level of depression, until you’ve lost your soul to a sea of emptiness and darkness… you don’t get to make those judgments. You might not understand it, and you are certainly entitled to your own feelings, but making those judgments and spreading that kind of negativity won’t help the next person. In fact, it will only hurt others.”
The “judgements” she is speaking of, as best I can tell, are made in the statement “Suicide is selfish and hurts those who are left behind.”
The question I have is: How does she get to make this judgement?
I am not attacking her, or her experience. She is transparent in the article that she survived the suicide of a loved one, which grief and pain I cannot understand.
But I can understand in my own right the deep pain of contemplating suicide.
And for me, it would have been selfish.
I don’t speak about this part of my experience very often, because like most people, it seems a risk to speak about it. And like Katie, it seems a lifetime ago. But at two times in my college years, I contemplated suicide, and during the second one, was very seriously close to acting it out in a way that would have ended my earthly life. I have continued to struggle with depression, through counseling at the time, and since then through striving to live life in a faithful and holistic manner in submission to God. I have never been treated through pharmaceuticals, although if I ever find myself in as hard of a place as I did in college, it is not ruled out. My change in how I view my depression is mostly through prevention.
And part of that is a deep understanding that my life is not my own. To end my life on my own initiative would be to take something that is not mine, destroy it, and take it away from those around me. I don’t think I am Jesus by any means, but 1 John 3:16 is a reminder to me: “This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers.” I have given my life to Christ, to my wife, to my soon to be child, to my broader family, to my brothers and sister in Christ, to everyone in the world that I am to serve in sacrificial love. My life is not my own, it has been bought with a price, given to God. I cannot take that life and destroy it on my own. It would be selfish.
I don’t know to what degree Hurley thinks you must have “stared down that level of depression” to be able to make judgements on the act itself. Yes, suicide is rarely done as a consciously selfish act. But though the lens I look at the world, it would be a selfish act for me that would inflict great harm on others. And to say that does not bring negativity into my heart or hurt others around me. From my faith in Jesus Christ, I have come to this conclusion and I do not do so out of negativity or condemnation, either towards myself or to others. It is simply how I weigh my life and understand it’s purpose. Let me just close with a few more thoughts about suicide.
1. Death is not freedom from pain or poetically beautiful.
Committing suicide does not end pain. Pain will continue after you die and if anything, the deep pain you are experiencing will transfer to others. The only time death freed anyone was in the death-destroying-death of Jesus Christ on behalf of others. We see shadows of it when others lay down their lives on behalf of someone else. I have found no other way to live life than in striving to lay down my life on the behalf of others. That is the way of following Jesus, and it is beautiful. Even in you don’t share my faith, I hope you can relate to this in how you see the world.
2. Find someone to “fuss” over.
The last time I struggled with suicidal thoughts, one of the elements was that I almost had to give up my dog for adoption. It sound silly, but having that dog to fuss over, to worry about and care for, was a big part of healing. Since then, it has occurred to me many times that I need to be fussing over things in my life. I need to be caring for the people around me, the world around me, involved in the outcome of things. Inevitably, this causes pain in your life because people and circumstances hurt you. But it is a kind of pain that is good for you, as pain in love is growth. Equally, you need to find people who will fuss over you. Maybe I should just say you need to find “love”, but that word is overused and doesn’t get at the action you and I need to take in being involved.
3. Never, ever, ever give up.
Like Jacob in the Old Testament, wrestling with the angel of God, do not give up. It will be long and difficult, it will hurt so very bad, but you will came out of it changed and with a new name. This story stuck with me through my first bout with suicidal thoughts. I know it may seem easy to give up, that others will pass you by and be better without you. But don’t give up. Don’t give up even if it comes back with a vengeance. Seek out others, professional help, whatever it is until you make it through. If someone brushes you off, keep seeking people out. You will find that fussy person. If some treatment doesn’t work, seek other treatments. Please don’t give up.
Well, this has not been easy to write for me but I hope it has been beneficial. If you need some help, I will do the best I can via a blog. Know that I will always point towards Jesus and the powerful way He has worked in my life. I strive not to give trite and religious sounding answers, I will just share what is on my heart and that is the main focus of my heart. My thoughts and prayers go out to the Williams family, and to all of you who are hurt by suicide or suicidal thoughts.
Live well my friend!