Confronting Ignorance: Suicide Has Nothing to do with Being a ‘Coward’ or ‘Selfish’

10615793_10152597582102489_1251270017_nInitially I hadn’t planned on writing anything concerning the tragic death of Robin Williams. What could honestly be said that wasn’t already known?  But as I saw more and more comments from people calling his act “selfish” or “cowardly,” I’ll be honest – I got angry.

The last straw was a comment someone had left on my Facebook page Right Off a Cliff  which really began to eat away at me:

I have no sympathy for someone who takes their own life! That’s a pu**y [my edit] way out! Depression is a tough nut to crack, but this in not an answer! Riddle me this batman, how many prescriptions was he on?? depression didn’t kill him, BIG PHARM DID!

All of the overwhelming ignorance finally pushed me to respond.

Because once upon a time I too was depressed.  Granted not to the level I assume Robin Williams was.  I was never suicidal.  I never was into drugs, though I did drink.  Although I would never have considered myself an alcohol.  My depression manifested itself in the form of simply not caring.

You know what I cared about?  Whatever moment I was in.  That was it.  I felt bad if I hurt those around me, but only after the fact.  See, I think that’s what depression does to you.  At least it did to me.  It’s not that I didn’t care about my actions or about those who cared about me.  But I lived moment to moment.  Sure, after the fact when I realized I might have hurt someone, I naturally felt bad.  But in the grand scheme of things that didn’t matter.

Some moments were worse than others, some moments weren’t bad at all.  But in those moments I wasn’t thinking of others, I wasn’t even thinking of myself, I was just thinking about that moment.

And every moment was different.  When left with time to reflect, I was ashamed of how shallow and pointless my day to day existence was.  But then something would come up that distracted me from those feelings and I’d seize on that opportunity.

It was essentially an endless cycle. My behavior would trigger regret which I hid from by participating in some kind of behavior that distracted me from what I regretted.

At the time I couldn’t grasp how to stop.  In a lot of ways I felt completely out of control.  As if I someone else was controlling my actions while I was the voice on the inside of my head saying, “You have to stop this.”

I didn’t hate life, but I didn’t like it or myself either.  I used to think to myself how much easier death might be, because there’s nothing to worry about after that.  But I never thought about suicide.

Because as low as I got for a time, I can never imagine what someone like Robin Williams felt.  Especially at the very end.  What prompts someone with seemingly everything to live for in life to not want to live it anymore?

I don’t know.  I believe depression is different for everyone.  Because we’re all different and so are our experiences and struggles in life.

You offer most Americans $50 million (Robin Williams net worth) wonderful children and a career for the ages and they’ll take that in a heartbeat.  So, is it easy to judge what Robin Williams did?  Of course it is.  It’s easy to say he was cowardly, or selfish or even a “pu**y” as that one commenter did.

Then again, it’s also easy to be an ignorant asshole who has no idea what it is they’re talking about.  Which is what I believe these people are.

We have no idea what demons Williams was struggling with.  It was well known he had a problem with drugs and alcohol, but so do a lot of people.  And were those vices part of what he used to hide from his depression?  Were they what caused it in the first place?  We don’t know.  For someone to presume that he took the “easy way out” is both ignorant and reprehensible.

For anyone to be pushed to the point that they no longer want to live takes something significant.  Sometimes it’s life events.  Sometimes it’s simply mental illness.  But there’s something there that’s so terrible for those who do take that tragic step that they’d rather end it all to get away from it than to continue living with it.

And unfortunately far too many people reach that point.  Take for instance the figures from The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention that found that in 2011 there were 39,518 suicides were reported.  That makes suicide the 10th leading cause of death in the United States.  That equates to about 4.5 suicides every single hour.

So, how did I break free of my depression?  I honestly don’t know.  One day something just clicked in my head.  I finally mustered up the courage to try to change my life and realized I could do it.  I guess maybe in the back of my mind I always feared that I couldn’t.  Or if that I ever tried, I’d fail, then things would just be worse.  Everyday was a struggle, but everyday I got closer to becoming who I wanted to be and further away from the person I was.  Until one day I no longer struggled with it, because I was no longer the person I had been for all those years.

But I was lucky. I had the ability within myself to do that.  Unfortunately, some don’t.  Then there are some who fight it as long as they can, doing the best they can, until eventually they just can’t fight it anymore.  That seems to have been the case with Williams.

So, what has Robin Williams’ suicide taught me?  That no matter how upbeat, funny, lighthearted or jovial someone might seem on the outside, you never really know what they might be struggling with on the inside.

It’s why we should never judge anyone. Because you never really know what personal demons someone might be dealing with that you’ll probably never know about.

And your act of kindness might just be what made a bad day for someone turn into a good one.

It’s something I told my nephew recently when I was talking to him about not judging people.  We never know the path someone took to get to where they are at the moment we encounter them.  It’s like a car with 250,000 miles on it.  Unless you drove every one of them, you don’t know every path it’s taken for it to get to where it is now.

The same goes for people.  Unless you’ve lived their life, you don’t know what they’ve struggled through.  In fact, judging them only often compounds their problem.  Because like I said, you never know when your one act of kindness might be the difference maker in their life.

Allen Clifton

Allen Clifton is a native Texan who now lives in the Austin area. He has a degree in Political Science from Sam Houston State University. Allen is a co-founder of Forward Progressives and creator of the popular Right Off A Cliff column and Facebook page. Be sure to follow Allen on Twitter and Facebook, and subscribe to his channel on YouTube as well.


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