in the aftermath of robin williams’s death, some psychologists are cautioning the media not to portray suicide in positive terms because it can encourage suicidal ideation. they’re worried about copycat suicides, about people who were already suffering looking at williams’s decision and concluding that they, too, can escape the pain. i can say from recent personal experience that this is probably accurate. i can also say that i understand his decision.
some try to say suicide is illogical, that it is a “permanent solution to a temporary problem.” i would venture that there was nothing temporary about williams’s diagnosis of parkinson’s. he knew the disease probably as well as anyone who did not practice medicine: he played a fictionalized version of oliver sacks in the movie Awakenings. the film traces sacks’s work with parkinson’s patients and his experiments with l-dopa, which revived some of them for a time, though sadly not permanently. he was forced to confront the ramifications of the disease years ago. if he concluded he could not stick around long enough to find out just how bad it could get for him, can anyone blame him? which of you would tell him that he must continue to inhabit a body that would eventually lock him in? which of you would say it’s going to be okay?
“but,” you say, “don’t you have any idea of the hurt his decision has caused his family and friends? what about them? isn’t it selfish of him?”
my friend heather committed suicide a few weeks ago. we had known each other, though not in person, for over ten years. she was an incredibly sensitive soul who struggled with her own version of reality. i don’t know how well it always corresponded to the generally accepted version. but her clarity was startling. she understood her situation and her choices.
she was also desperately ill with chronic lyme. she had lost her home, her cats, her belongings. most of her family was dead and she claimed little support from those who remained. she asked me for help. she asked me to house her. i couldn’t–i was in the middle of a cross-country move–but i donated a bit of money and hoped i would soon be in a stable enough place to help her more. i never got that chance.
should i have told her to hold on? she’d already been gripping the ledge for ten years. her fingers were bloody from the effort of existing. what, realistically, was her best choice at this point? should i have told her that a cure would soon be found if she could only last? that god would save her?
i don’t believe in a god that promises the world if we only believe. i have been so, so fortunate in my life. nothing so dire has happened to me that i could not bounce back. and yet i will always carry scars: the scars of my divorce, of assault, of abuse. of friends who disbelieved. of fights that lanced my most painful, hidden tender spots. of goodbyes i never got to make.
i do miss heather. when i found out she died, i wailed. i lost time. i was blinded with grief. i cannot see cat-eye glasses or hear a violin play without remembering that she has left us. i read her poetry again and again. she tried and tried for so long, and then one day she stopped. i will always remember this. will remember as i remember ben, whom i met at age ten and whose birthday i mark every year with a facebook message into empty space. will remember as i remember all my friends who died too young, from driving on icy roads and from asthma attacks and from drowning in an inch of water in the bathtub. none of it ever becomes okay. it will never be okay that they are gone and i am here. and sometimes, often these days, i do not want to be.
what stops me? i don’t want to be gone, either.
today i am sitting on a patio, nibbling on fries and looking at pikes peak. i cannot promise myself next year or tomorrow or even the rest of today. i cannot promise that one day i will not, too, get tired. i cannot promise that i will believe in a sky-fairy god who will grant me enough money and enough friends and a great love and freedom from fear if only i ask. i cannot promise that i will not cause someone pain, that i will not be selfish, that i will not seek a permanent solution to a temporary problem. depression doesn’t seem all that temporary, anyway. i’ve had it stuck to my foot since i was a teen and i cannot shake it to dance the wall on its own, without me.
but i can say this: today i will pack up my fries and take them home with me, and i will finish them later. i will curl up with my cats and nap on the couch. i will ignore the lack of friends in my immediate surroundings, because i am going to sleep anyway and they can’t help me with that. i will get up, and i will load the dishwasher, and i will buy cat food. i will look at pikes peak. i will attempt to feel something. if i succeed, i will attempt to feel something tomorrow.