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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  • DerpDestroyer

    To be honest, suicide is an act of selfishness.

    I studied for a few years with a Buddhist mystic spiritual teacher who was a member of the Dalai Lama’s family.

    He taught me many extremely profound spiritual lessons and his teachings still are with me on a daily basis even today.

    We used to walk by tall buildings or high bridges, and he would remark, with profound sadness, “They’re lining up again.” I would always wonder what he was talking about. Once, when we passed the Golden Gate Bridge, he shuddered and remarked about these people “lining up”. I asked him, “Why are you reacting this way to a bridge? That seems really strange.”

    He replied, “It is because I can see all the souls of people who committed suicide here. The decision to end one’s life does not belong to the person involved. So, if a person commits suicide and ends their life early by mistake, they are trapped in a ‘transition’ zone where they must repeat the act of killing themselves over and over again for the rest of their physical lifetime.”

    Indeed, the deep sorrow and depression those who commit suicide is beyond tragic. I wish everyone who is on the verge of committing suicide would be provided this important information, because the incredible pain that awaits them on the other side isn’t something most consider. Instead of being freed, they are sentencing themselves to decades of spiritual imprisonment. Unfortunately, suicide doesn’t bring freedom from the pain of a physical lifetime, it only guarantees that one’s soul is “trapped” for a very long time.

    • Sieben Stern

      it’s one thing to believe non-provable ‘spiritual’ stuff, and another to hoist it onto others. I call BS. Keep it to yourself.

      • DerpDestroyer

        Ha! “Calling BS” has nothing to do with this. Doesn’t even matter, really.

        You think I would go out of my way to make this up, and then put it on the internet? I’m not a liar, I despise having more problems! That cynicism might be trying to tell you something.

      • Laura Hurt

        you can believe something but that doesn’t make it true. It can be true for you and you can live according to that. I for me don’t believe in a soul for one second. If I die, it’s all gone. There’s people who condemn suicide because of god. All well and fine, but your beliefs count for you, not for anybody else.

      • DerpDestroyer

        If you honestly don’t believe in your own soul’s existence, all I can say is that you are going to be pleasantly surprised at the moment of your physical death! And, to really be honest in this discussion, you must remove the concrete grip of your “beliefs”, which are created by your brain. If your “belief” system dictates that our lifetimes are only brain-tissue related, you are ignoring a full 2/3 of the human experience.

        To prove my point: try meditating sometime and see if you can stop your brain’s thoughts, and keep total silence in your mind. Try to do it for a full minute. It takes practice! Turn your brain and its incessant clutter off for awhile. It will give you incredible perspective and will also refine your perspective on what “beliefs” really are. Plus, it will make your brain stronger in the process.

      • Laura Hurt

        prove your point with evidence and we’ll get somewhere. Everything else is belief and subjective. Meditation, by the way, does not prove a soul. Thanks but I don’t agree that I am ignoring 2/3 of the human experience. You can believe that, but again, prove that with evidence and we’ll get somewhere.

      • DerpDestroyer

        Once again… it is impossible to provide “evidence” of elements that don’t exist in the third dimension.

        Asking a scientist in a lab coat to describe the soul’s multi-faceted existence through many lifetimes is going to get you nowhere. Obviously.

        Your brain’s natural fear that it’s concrete view of reality isn’t as concrete as it wants you to believe, makes you reject anything that flies outside it’s powerful grasp.

        The ego doesn’t want to entertain the fact that its viewpoint isn’t the only methodology humans exist in. Thus, your brain’s stubborn clinging to its methodology supposedly “reinforces” its power, when actually it exposes major cracks in its armor.

        If you really care to educate your mind, since it is the only element of your existence you care to acknowledge at this point, do some reading of spiritual matters and enlighten yourself. Or, just expand your brain’s grasp of these matters and shed light on your fear of these elements of human existence. Read “The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying”, “Wisdom of the Mystic Masters”, and “Life Beyond Life: The Evidence of Reincarnation” for starters, they are very profound books and also enjoyable to read.

      • Laura Hurt

        “Your brain’s natural fear that it’s concrete view of reality isn’t as
        concrete as it wants you to believe, makes you reject anything that
        flies outside it’s powerful grasp.”

        riiiiiight

        orrrrr, your natural fear of death makes you make up reasons why life is more than it is and makes you look for anything that makes death less scary.

      • DerpDestroyer

        You clearly choose your brain’s cynicism over expanding your consciousness, which is unfortunate. I can assure you, once your physical body and brain die, there is more to your existence. Sarcasm is poison, by the way, I would encourage you to release it from your life (eventually, it will take some time).

      • Laura Hurt

        You know nothing about me. I am not cynical at all about my life. I am cynical about people who try to tell me that their view on life is better than mine and that I am wrong. In basis of what can you assure me that there is more to existence? Right, your BELIEF. Belief is by definition subjective and unproven. There is no need for you to judge other people on basis of something that is made up, no matter how believable you may find it. Because without evidence, it is subjective and falls in the same category of made up as god, fairies, unicorns, dragons, flat earth and that the moon landing was a hoax. You can try to offend me with ‘choose cynicism over expanding your consciousness’ but to me that’s a compliment. Rationality is something worthwhile, because it’s dealing with what’s actually here instead of what you wish that was here. You should try it sometime.

      • DerpDestroyer

        I’m certainly not trying to tell you that you are “wrong”. I’m just challenging your brain-dominated view of your consciousness and your claim that you don’t “believe in the soul for one second”. People’s egos are stubborn creatures and don’t like to be challenged–at all! I would invite you to explore your own consciousness, and your answers strike me as those of someone who would really enjoy expanding their consciousness from studying this topic further.

      • Laura Hurt

        you keep insisting though that I try to discover something of which I said that I don’t believe it does exist. Which is saying that you are right because it’s there and I am wrong for saying it’s not. You will in no matter how many of your lifetimes be able to make me believe in something that is not there. That does not mean I don’t like to expand my mind, but I like to expand my mind with what is actually here. Souls and afterlife are not actually here. They’re a nice theory, very comforting for the people who need stuff like that to comfort them, but they are, without any proof of their existence and indeed, without proof of anything existing outside the physical world, highly unproven and ultimately not provable. There is nothing even remotely suggesting that what you state as a fact, has a reason to exist, except in the minds of those people who need stuff like this, as I said, to comfort them. Since I manage perfectly well to have a good and meaningful life without those things, I keep saying: no thanks, you can keep your fantasies, I’ll stick to rationality.

      • DerpDestroyer

        Your brain is what is talking here, trying to label everything as “wrong” or “right” or whatever it wants. You seem very solidly locked into this version of your consciousness, I would encourage you to broaden your perspective through studying this topic more thoroughly. What’s the worst thing that could happen?

      • Laura Hurt

        hahahahahahahahahahahahahahaha. Oh dear. You really have a problem with listening do you? I’m out, good luck to you.

      • DerpDestroyer

        You as well. You would do well with a few years’ introspection, I wish you well on the journey.

      • Laura Hurt

        I know, I was gonna let go, but jeeeeeez, wow, arrogant much??? You’re still holding on to that I know better and more. Again: you know nothing about me. You are telling me to get introspection because I disagree with you. If someone disagrees with you, you tell them, sorry I couldn’t convince you of my side, good luck. You are not telling them: I am still right, but ok, if you’re too stupid to see it, shame on you. Well, ok, you of course, CAN go around on the nets and tell people that, but you know what? It makes you sound like an arrogant twat who can’t listen and can’t cope with people disagreeing with him. I disagree with you. I am not narrow minded, I am not in need of introspection (you have no idea about my life so you wouldn’t know my introspection-me from my non-introspection-me), I am not letting my mind hold on to stubborn refusal to think deeper, I simply disagree with you. Wow, the arrogance is really astounding. You should do something about that, because unlike sarcasm, which is highly appreciated by most people, arrogance is really really really annoying and off putting. There. NOW I am done.

      • DerpDestroyer

        Forming all these ridiculous judgments about me, calling me “arrogant” etc, is, once again, all in your mind. Do you understand? The fact we even had this discussion in the first place would signify that you are probably about to embark on some very significant spiritual enlightenment, which is a wonderful thing!

        I hope I didn’t anger you, I only want to encourage you to dig deeper in this area. Only positive things can come from it.

      • Laura Hurt

        my god you’re dense….

      • DerpDestroyer

        More judgment from–guess where? Anyway, this has been (sorta) fun, I really hope you will take my suggestions seriously and expand your knowledge of your own consciousness, it can only benefit you.

      • Sarah Morison

        Oh, the condescension! Oh, the smugness! Try benefiting yourself by expanding your own consciousness!

      • DerpDestroyer

        Oh, the judgement. Hard to take information passed down from other sources as “smug”, unless you are projecting.

      • Sarah Morison

        You are not being honest with yourself. You are arrogant and your “hopes” for others are transparently not genuine, but only a feeble attempt to make yourself look more broad minded.

      • Marilyn Olsen Scheffler

        It sounds like you are reading straight from a book, not like you are having a discussion with someone.

      • Sarah Morison

        Try not to be so smug and “certain” of the unknowable.

      • DerpDestroyer

        I’m hardly “smug”, but of course this information will come across this way to people. And I take the responsibility for putting the information out there and the backlash it sometimes creates in people’s minds. I had a near-death experience, so I actually can report from that experience that the soul does certainly exist. The rest of these things taught to me are just theoretical elements at this point, I just like to share with people who claim “there is no such thing as a soul”, etc.

      • Marilyn Olsen Scheffler

        How do YOU know what will happen at the point of death? No one knows what death will be like.

      • DerpDestroyer

        I had a near death experience last year and saw a lot of the steps I’ve heard other people talk about who had NDEs. I experienced several of the same things other people describe, which was sort of creepy, but validated a lot of the unbelievable things I saw.

    • Sunnysmom

      Some very good psychics and other spiritual advisors I know would completely disagree with you and your purported Buddhist teacher. Each soul has its own path, you can’t possibly know how all suicides proceed on the other side.

      • DerpDestroyer

        Of course, there are multitudes of different situations, all are different. The point is, to believe suicide is “freedom” when it is anything but, needs to be shared with humanity. If people only knew. There are close members of my family who may have been swayed with this law.

      • Sunnysmom

        I guess my own opinion is I tend to agree that the soul doesn’t escape having to work certain things out on the other side after suicide. But not necessarily “trapped”, doomed or tortured by any means.

      • DerpDestroyer

        Its actually really interesting. Essentially, your soul (without getting too detailed) makes a choice about what type of life you want to have, who your parents will be, etc. Then, you enter the newborn fetus as a new human at the moment of birth. You live out the life you intended and learn the lessons you wanted to learn. It’s a “contract” with higher dimensions that can’t be broken, at least, it’s not a decision that can be overridden by the human brain. The decision to commit suicide cannot override the original life plan intended by your soul in the first place. This is apparently non-negotiable, but who knows how long the ‘trapped’ time period extends… the rest of your life? 10 days? 100 years? Who knows .This was how it was explained to me, and I’ve read other versions of this in Rosicrucianism and other spiritual texts. Really interesting, but of course some people are way too uptight to chat about this sort of thing on the internet.

      • Sunnysmom

        Well, as a survivor of suicide I have a pretty open and fluid spiritual mind. I’ve read many of the same concepts you mentioned in several books and am fascinated with these schools of thought. I know it all makes sense to my eternal being, the grief and sadness included, so I’m settled in this earth school and mindfully trusting the journey. My heart goes out to all victims and survivors of suicide.

      • KarenP

        Prove it. And if you can’t, don’t make claims about it here.

      • DerpDestroyer

        Hard to offer “proof” in the 3rd dimension of things that exist in other dimensions. You probably don’t believe in life on other planets, either, correct? Since it hasn’t been “proven” or whatever?

      • Marilyn Olsen Scheffler

        “if people only knew”. Like YOU KNOW???? You must not realize how incredibly arrogant you DO sound. It’s as if you are just wanting to impress everyone with the fact that you studied with a Buddhist and now KNOW ALL!!

    • Sarah Morison

      “For the rest of their physical lifetime”? Their physical lifetime ended with suicide. People commit suicide because the pain of living is so unbearable that death seems a better alternative.

      • DerpDestroyer

        For the rest of their original physical lifetime.

      • Sarah Morison

        Huh??

      • DerpDestroyer

        Part of the “contract” is also the time period that your lifetime will span on the physical plane. As it was taught to me.

  • CLoy

    Depression, even admitting to yourself that you are dealing with it, is a hard thing to do in today’s society.

    Thank you for taking a moment to show compassion, Cliff. Out here on the nets, outrage seems easily sparked and viral. Wish this compassion would be so viral.
    Everybody just take a moment and express (in any manner you wish) to your loved ones that you really do love them and are there for them. You never know how big of a difference that makes.

  • Sieben Stern

    “Everyday was a struggle, but everyday I got closer to becoming who I wanted to be and further away from the person I was.”
    I think that line really sums it up for me, and how some people can work their way out of depression. It’s making that decision every morning to find a reason to make one day better than the next, regardless of failure or success. It’s a choice that only you can make for yourself. Some people can do it, and others can’t.

  • Laura Hurt

    Suicide is selfish, but not all selfishness is bad. Only the person living that life can decide whether he has enough of trying to make it better. It’s just as selfish to demand of someone to stay alive just because you can’t stand losing them, while that person is absolutely miserable and feeling hopeless.
    I’ve been there, got turned away almost at the brink of the decision and am still here, three years later. But it could have been gone the other way very very easily. Staying alive is sometimes something that you are doing with just a little shred of hope that it will get better. If that shred is gone, staying alive is simply impossible, no matter how much you have outside of you to live for. People judging that as being a pussy don’t have a clue to the darkness that such a life is.

  • Matthew Reece

    I think that if anyone or anything is to blame for the death of Robin Williams, it is his two ex-wives who used the misandrist family court system to extort money out of him, which forced him to take acting jobs he did not want just to stay out of jail for non-payment.

    • Sarah Morison

      Wow. You use a forum like this for your own personal misogynist rant. Robin Williams struggled with depression long before he paid any alimony.

      • Matthew Reece

        Wrong. Standing up for men’s rights does not have to make one a misogynist, just as standing up for women’s rights does not have to make one a misandrist. And while it is true that Robin Williams had issues with depression which go all the way back to his childhood, the stress that was put on him by his ex-wives certainly did not help.

  • Cookie

    Depression is real, it is dark, it is heavy, and it can be overwhelming. I know it personally. At my worst, it was all I could do to make myself go to work in the morning. Everything else in my life, well, whatever. Housework — left undone; bills — left unpaid; personal grooming — marginal. I lived alone, so I had no one to answer to. Fortunately, a good friend connected me with an excellent therapist, who succeeded in dragging me out of my hell-hole through talk therapy. Therapy, however, only took me so far. Some depression can’t just be talked away, it is clinical — an actual chemical imbalance in the brain. For me, an anti-depressant is part of my daily regimen. It has given me my life back. As a friend told me, “you’ll still have ups and downs, but at least the elevator won’t go crashing to the basement anymore.”
    I don’t know what kind of demons Robin Williams wrestled, but I do know they had to be fearsomely dark and heavy to be willing to quit fighting them altogether. Sometimes whatever strength you have left just isn’t enough to keep on fighting; sometimes a lifetime of struggling is simply too long to do it anymore. The sadness is that he couldn’t find a way out, that this was the easiest way for him to let go of the burden. May his soul find some peace at last, and some comfort in eternal rest.

  • Cemetery Girl

    Robin Williams was a man in pain, like many others that suffer depression. To consider suicide takes an immense amount of pain. I can’t get upset if someone feels that’s the only answer to their pain. Name calling, belittling, it makes no difference to that person if they are successful in their attempt. All speaking negatively about someone that commits suicide does is just further hurt their loved ones. Grief is hard enough, don’t add to the pain by speaking ill. And it doesn’t do anything to help change the mind of anyone considering suicide either.

  • Marilyn Olsen Scheffler

    I, too, have experienced depression of the nature that kept me from wanting to even get out of bed in the morning. When the depression is really deep it shuts down a part of the brain that secretes the fluid a person needs to make decisions that make sense and keep you able to go on with your life. I don’t think that ANYONE who has not personally experienced this type of depression for themselves have any business making comments about what they “think”! I knew someone who used to say about suicide, “God doesn’t give you more than you can handle”. Well if that were the case then we would all be exactly alike and there would BE no suicides. When life has no meaning for you and your reasons for living don’t seem to be there anymore it’s very difficult to carry on your daily life as if nothing was wrong.

    • CLoy

      True, though at that point suicide isn’t the only option, COMPLETE apathy is an option as well which is how we end up with homeless and poverty exacerbating the problem. From the outside, one can see a downward spiral usually much more clearly than the person in it.
      I urge everyone to not give up on your friends who may seen to be making bad decisions, talk it through with them, let then know you care. That might be just the tool they need to get a handle on the situation.

  • Gerald Michael

    If one has reached middle age, has no family left, and no children, and makes plans for the suicide so it is as mess-less as possible, and distributes his or her estate in advance to charity, and realizes his carbon and Social Security footprint will terminate thus not depriving others, I would consider it “selfless” rather than “selfish.”

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