"Suicide is selfish" and other myths
Published: April 20, 2011
I talked to a friend and fellow military spouse, Diana Hartman, about her experiences with depression, suicidal thoughts and her hard-won recovery for the latest Spouse Calls column (April 19.)
She told me frankly that she believes there is no conventional wisdom about suicide, only myths and false assumptions.
Some may take exception to her thoughts or the way she expresses them, but I never argue with a warrior about life on the battlefield. Others who have been there may have differing views, but here are Diana's least favorite misconceptions about depression and suicide, in her own words:
Depression is sadness: When I was depressed, and I know this is true for many, many people, I was numb. It is a numbness that goes so deep. It becomes a vacuum, It becomes a vastness, an emptiness that nothing will fit. That’s why it doesn’t work to say “Well you have a reason to live, you have your family.” Because now you’re trying to put something in there that won’t fit, because the emptiness is so vast.
It’s like the dark matter in the universe. You can’t find it, but you know it’s there and you know it has intense mass and density and you can’t replace it with anything. The physics of the human soul is the physics of the whole universe. How are you going to work around it, how are you going to get it to focus back on its solar system?
Everybody’s got dark matter. Everybody’s got black holes. Some of us are staring to get sucked into our own black holes.
Suicidal people are selfish: That’s rich. Just about every single person who ever committed suicide telegraphed their intent. If you know something is wrong or you even suspect something is wrong and you don’t do something -- there's your selfish.
I am all about telling someone whose loved one committed suicide that it is not your fault, because it absolutely is not your fault, but don’t ignore that little voice telling you that something is not right.
People who threaten suicide are just seeking attention. Duh. Of course they are seeking attention. Why are you not giving it to them? We’re not talking about a child on aisle three throwing a fit because he can’t have Cocoa Puffs. We’re talking about a person with big issues. They’ve used all the tools in their belt, and now they’re out on a limb, saying, “I’m just going to kill myself.” Maybe they are a drama queen, so what? Maybe that’s the only tool they have left.
When society does not feel comfortable with a particular condition, whoever is suffering from that condition is often victimized by society.
Maybe people think it’s contagious, or maybe it just makes them feel uncomfortable. Instead of saying “I feel uncomfortable around you,” it’s easier to say “You’re crazy, get out!” or “You’re not really suicidal, you’re just doing it for attention.”
Suicide is not an option: Stop telling people that suicide is not an option. It absolutely is an option. What happens when you say “Let’s take that off the table”? Well, they don’t take it off the table. You can say "Take it off the table," but they take it home.
Being shut down one time about suicide shuts that person down, and now you have to work even harder to get through to them about it.
Whether we like it or not, the depressed person is going to explore that option, it’s a given. It’s like teenagers and sex. At some point they’re going to do it, So what do we do, do we just tell them no? They’ll just take it home and mull it over in an unguided and inappropriate environment.
I’m not saying suicide is a viable option. I’m saying suicide is an option. You can’t take the viability out of it without helping them understand why it’s not a viable option to them.
You have to find out what is important to them what’s not important to them what they even still care about because a suicidal person is suffering with depression, which is a giant vacuum sucking out everything, your self worth, whatever is important to you whatever you want to do, your energy level, your reason, your logic.
Don’t be too pushy: There was one person who would not stop bothering me. She was obnoxious. She was nosy. She would not stop talking, and she became a very, very good friend of mine.
She was a woman who had suffered from depression and suicidal feelings tool –
and there was a point when she realized my husband could not deal with me any longer. Here was a Marine who deployed on a regular basis trying to do all the housework, pay all the bills, keep up with two kids – one who was extremely challenging, spirited and mildly destructive – plus he had to go to work every day. He had a third child in the house, me. It was too much for him.
My friend saw that, and she came to my door one day and said “I have arranged a room at the hospital for you. We have to go now, because they’re not going to hold it. If you’re not going to go then we can’t be friends anymore.”
For my friend Robin and I, suicide is no longer an option because we have resolved the issue inside upside down sideways, diagonally, every which way you could possibly go. No matter how sad we get, no matter how much despair we feel, we know that suicide is no longer -- for us -- an option.
I can’t even consider it.
It’s kind of like the person who is diabetic, can’t even consider – without dying or going into a diabetic coma – eating a birthday cake. I can eat it and I will not die. But for the diabetic it is absolutely positively not an option, and they know it.
I have such a deep abiding wide-spread grasp of my condition as it exists, that I know what my boundaries are. Suicide is not in them.
For people who are nowhere near where I am, it absolutely is an option, and they have to be helped through that, because they are going to think about it.
People make bad choices because they are sick. You do things when you are sick that you don’t do any other time.
Even when suicidal people say they don’t need help, when they say they are fine – keep knocking.
If you have questions or comments for Diana, she welcomes email at firstname.lastname@example.org