From August 11, 2014

I have known personally four people who have killed themselves. I know of at least two others who ended their lives, and at least two family members who tried to.

When I was 17 I answered the phone late one night. It was the local police. They asked me if I knew someone, and gave a loved one’s name.

“Yes,” I said. And then, instinctively, “what has she done?”

The police described a drug scene with my loved one and a stranger who had supplied the drugs. They said they had received a call from someone in another state, someone in another state who I’d never heard of, who said my loved one was going to kill herself. Police and an ambulance responded took my loved one, nearly overdosed, to the hospital.

That, I knew, wasn’t the first time this person I loved so much had attempted suicide. There were several previous attempts. Hearing about them was no surprise. Neither was it a surprise to hear that another close family member had attempted suicide when I was very young. Depression leaves deep, noticeable scars.

When I was much older, in my 30s, word came that a co-worker had shot herself. I was stunned. I didn’t know her well, but she was someone I admired. I was shocked by how hard it hit me. It brought back thoughts of my loved ones’ attempts to end their struggles with depression and anxiety. Over the years I knew other people who escaped suffering of one form or another by taking their lives.

How unbearable must life be to decide that the easiest way to end the pain is to end all life? One must come to the conclusion, only imagined, that there is no other option. Desperation writ final.   

From the CDC: In 2009, the number of deaths from suicide surpassed the number of deaths from motor vehicle crashes in the United States. Traditionally, suicide prevention efforts have been focused mostly on youths and older adults, but recent evidence suggests that there have been substantial increases in suicide rates among middle-aged adults in the United States

Here’s a pet peeve: the flip comment, “god doesn’t give you more than you can handle.” Really? Seriously? What about victims of suicide? They had more than they can handle. Don’t tell me they weren’t godly enough. What does that even mean? Don’t go there. It’s not fair to the victims or to anybody’s god.

The reality is depression is an illness. It’s a chemical imbalance. The demons it creates are real, they’re powerful, and they’re difficult to defeat. Science hasn’t provided enough answers for everyone. Stigma prevents some people from getting help. People who perpetuate stigma and stereotypes prevent people from getting help.

People who commit suicide aren’t weak. They’re not ungodly. They’re not weird. They’re ill. They’re tired, exhausted, beaten by a disease just as powerful as cancer. We might see them as extremely powerful, powerful enough to sway our emotions during a 30-minute sitcom or a two-hour movie.  Powerful enough to work a day job and keep a family afloat for a while. They are handsome, beautiful, talented, sincere, intelligent. And they fight the disease as long as they can until, ultimately, they give everything.

Of course, I never knew Robin Williams. He made me laugh. He scared me a few times (“One Hour Photo”). He brought characters to life. But his death, from a disease much more powerful than himself, reminds me of others I’ve known who were not famous, but who fought the same foe, and lost.