How would you define life?
A collection of cells that process nutrients and reproduce to increase their numbers? Single-celled bacteria? Or is it more complex? The desire to protect one’s self, an awareness of danger (no matter how big or small), even if the physical body is mechanical?
Everyone has been talking about the death of Robin Williams today, and I’m going to add my two cents to the mix.
It’s like I’ve lost a childhood friend. I grew up with Robin Williams, he was popular before I was born, and remained popular into my adulthood. We always think fondly of those who make us laugh, even if it is for a short while.
In a way, a part of my mind has made Robin Williams immortal, along with so many other actors I grew up with (William Shatner, Patrick Stewart, Harrison Ford, etc.). I don’t want to accept the fact that they are getting older, not just because I won’t be able to live through their characters, but also because it’s a reminder that I’m getting older.
A little selfish, I know. But we are emotional creatures, we humans. When my mother died, my first thought wasn’t “Patricia died” but “my mommy died.” This was MY mother. That was MY friend. It’s hard for us to sympathize with the deaths of people we don’t know, unless we can find someone in our life to relate them to (a child, a sibling, etc.).
We see celebrities as “ours,” because we watch them on television, because we follow their personal drama in tabloids, and as such, we feel we own a piece of them, we want to know everything we can about their deaths. We see it is a right. We paid for tickets to their movies, why not?
But it’s not.
I will never look at articles that delve into speculation of why or how someone died, or publish autopsies, crime scene photographs, etc. Am I mildly curious? Of course, I am human (I think). But everyone is entitled to some dignity and privacy, even in their last moments or after their last breath. And not just the deceased, but their families as well.
I consider it a breach of trust for someone in a public position (sheriff’s office, medical examiner’s office, etc.) to leak details surrounding someone’s death – whether that person is famous, infamous or just your average Joe. How is it serving the public’s welfare to disclosure such information? Will it foster trust? Or will it make people wonder if their deaths will be made tactlessly public?
Sometimes, a picture brings home a message, tells a story that people need to hear. For example, I recently read a story about an unpublished photograph taken of an Iraqi soldier during the first Iraq War. It brought home the reality and cost of battle, but very few people in America saw it. Instead, some of us see war as bloodless, like a game of Risk, because of the dispassionate way it is presented on the news, in the newspaper, etc.
Source: The War Photo No One Would Publish [warning: graphic]
Death affects us all equally. We will all breathe our last breaths one day, and the knowledge and memories in our head will cease to exist. If we are lucky enough to have our bodies cared for by our loved ones, then we are embalmed pretty much the same way, or cremated the same way. People still mourn for us, tears are still shed, no matter how famous we are, how horrific our crimes, or how ordinary we are.
What is it about suicide that captures our attention even more?
Is it the suddenness? The unexpectedness? How someone made the decision to end their existence permanently?
Reading about Robin Williams doesn’t just affect me as a fan, but as someone who has suffered through mental disorders for years, and as someone who was committed after a suicide attempt.
Many people find it hard to comprehend why someone would choose to take their own life, people that do are selfish, weak, cowardly, irresponsible, etc., for ending it. They killed themselves because a relationship ended, financial problems, childhood turmoil, whatever. It’s easy view it in black and white, slap a label on it, nice and neat, and move on to the next bit of gossip. Shades of grey don’t exist.
The decision to take your life isn’t to hurt your loved ones, or to get back at people, it’s because we’ve sunk into a black hole of despair, that we cannot see hope in anything. Nothing brings us joy or pleasure; we feel we are a burden to our friends and family, that we are worthless. It doesn’t matter how much money we have, or how successful we are, when that soul-sucking despair washes over us, everything is hopeless.
Life is too painful.
I once read that when a “normal” person (relatively speaking) gets depressed, their minds automatically adjust and think happier thoughts, as a survival mechanism. Those of us who suffer depression, we are flawed. Our brains don’t do that for us, we just sink deeper and deeper until eventually…we give up.
We just want the pain to end.
It’s hard for people to imagine or comprehend the desire to end one’s life, I know. Many people suffer through things I couldn’t begin to understand, cancer, surviving a horrific attack or war, losing a limb. I can learn as much as I can about it, the phantom limb sensation, going through chemotherapy, etc., but unless I go through it myself, it is knowledge without firsthand experience. It’s like Data in Star Trek studying human emotion; he knows what causes it, but he has never experienced it and thus can’t relate.
More than 30,000 Americans take their lives each year. 83 people per day. Young. Old. Rich. Poor. White. Black. Purple. Left-handed. Right-handed. Short. Tall. Blonde. Brunette. Only child. Middle child. PhDs. GEDs.
Depression affects 1 in 10 people in America. More than 80% of these people have not received help or care to cope and heal.
Next time you hear that someone committed suicide, don’t speculate on why or how or whatnot. Reach out to the family, if you can, and just be there for them, listen to their stories and share your own. They have a gaping hole in their hearts, one that they might never recover from.
If someone trusts you enough to reach out to you, to tell you that they are depressed, that they don’t see the point of continuing, don’t lecture them or tell them that they have a lot to live for, that their life is good. Listen to them, give them a shoulder to cry on, help them find a doctor who truly cares for them and wants them to get better. Smile for them.
Tomorrow, instead of sharing that funny meme, bring awareness to mental health. Volunteer your time at a suicide hotline, donate money to a suicide support group, have a smile and a listening ear for a stranger in trouble.