I confess, I’ve spent more time than usual on the internet in the past few days. I’ve read tributes to Robin Williams, I’ve read stories about him, I’ve read articles on depression and the idea of it being selfish and why that isn’t true, and I’ve looked at clips of Williams in movies I’ve seen and movies I haven’t. (I tried a bit of his stand-up, but I generally can’t deal with the f-word well, so that didn’t last long.) I just about died at the ‘John Wayne does Macbeth’ bit from “Dead Poets Society”–I’d forgotten all about that–and I’ve been continually impressed at the kindness in Williams’ eyes. Everyone who knew him or met him seems to have good things to say about him, which is impressive for, well, anyone.
This morning I happened upon a reaction to Matt Walsh’s contribution to the current media focus, which I hadn’t seen. The reaction piece criticized Walsh for choosing to write about suicide being a choice, and since someone I love deeply has struggled with varying degrees of depression for years, I looked up Walsh’s article to see if the reaction piece was more or less accurate (it was). Now, my feelings about Matt Walsh are mixed. Sometimes I sort of agree with what he’s saying but not with how he’s saying it; sometimes I guiltily rejoice at his willingness to be harsh (I’m thinking of his post about bad tippers, here–I sure made $2.15 an hour when I waited tables); and sometimes, as today, I think–he’s still pretty young, and he’s pretty free with strong opinions for one who has yet to experience a lot of his life.
And so, since I was strongly moved by the loss of Williams’ battle with depression, here are my thoughts on the idea of suicide being a choice. (The trending articles on depression and suicide not being selfish express their argument too well for me to need to add to them.) Once upon a time–before I had children, when I still slept a bit more soundly–I had an extraordinarily vivid dream that there was a very, very large bug on my shoulder, right at the base of my neck. The vivid quality of that particular dream was unusual for me, and coupled with the placement of the bug (bugs too close to my hair = AAAAHHHH in my world) I had the strongest reaction I think I’ve ever had to such a thing; I brought my hand up and RAKED my fingernails across my neck to remove the (phantom) bug from my neck, and in the process scratched myself so deeply that it bled.
Was that a choice?
I don’t pretend to know the motives of every suicide victim in this world, so I’m confining my opinions here to depression-related suicide. I myself had a bout with postpartum depression after my first child was born, and while it was real and fairly awful while it lasted, it was temporary and–at the MOST–moderate. (Possibly only mild; it’s difficult to judge after the fact.) That, I think, is the level of depression Walsh is familiar with, and that, I assume, is where he’s getting his ‘suicide is a choice’ take on the situation. The problem is that THAT is not the kind of depression, I suspect, that drives most people to suicide.
There is a kind of clinical depression so deep, so all-encompassing, that it alters your mental state in much more profound ways. My vivid dream WAS my reality in that moment; I did what I felt HAD to be done. Sure, I made a choice that resulted in a several-inch-long scratch on my neck (bleeding and surprisingly painful, no less!), but it was the only possible choice to be made in my mental state at the time. The kind of depression that kills is that kind–the kind that alters your mental state in such a way that your perceptions of reality and of your choices are not in any way connected to those of a relatively healthy person. I cannot believe that anyone who has truly watched someone struggle with that kind of depression would waste his or her time debating the morality of suicide. (We have a loving Heavenly Father who is far more capable of that than anyone on this earth is; He sees the battle in its entirety.) Instead, we mourn the tragedy when someone loses that battle–mourn for them, their family, their friends, and the world.