Selfishness and suicide.

[Trigger warning:  suicide]

Christina here…

I received a text message from my dad 2 months ago:

Dad: “Do you remember Shawn (lastname)?”

“Of course I do”, I thought. Shawn and I lived together as roommates for a few years. We met in high school. We picked up odd jobs together with my dad, who is a general contractor. We screwed together. Not like that. Like this:

Christina and Shawn screwing together decking with drills

Of course I remember Shawn, Dad. Then I thought: “Why is he asking if I remember Shawn?”

Oh. Fuck.

I haven’t talked to Shawn much in the last two years. Maybe dad bumped into him at a store. Maybe he was in the news. I hoped he wouldn’t tell me what I feared.

Dad: “He killed himself.”

I didn’t feel stunned. I thought, “that figures.”

Of all the ways for Shawn to die, this way sat at the top of the list of probable causes.

Over the next few days, I thought about him a lot. I wondered why I wasn’t upset. I felt nothing – the way you feel when read the news and some celebrity you’ve never heard of has died – you might feel a pang of sympathy, but don’t cry.  If you dwell on death at all, you don’t think of the bereaved – you relate by thinking of your friends and family and how you might react if they died.

I started to wonder why I wasn’t upset.

Shawn was one of those guys who was a great friend but a bad roommate. He was a fiercely loyal friend and would basically travel to the end of the earth to defend you. We had tons of fun together. One winter while we were both unemployed, we invented a gamed called “unemployment ball”. The rules: sit at opposite ends of the house on the floor. Bounce a ball back and forth to each other. After the first bounce, your partner has to close his or her eyes and try to catch the ball, using only the sound of the ball as tour guide. Another time, we were driving back from a friend’s house when we spotted an orange a-frame traffic barriers assembled in the middle of the road. I said, “I want that.” He said, “stop the car”, got out and put it in my backseat. I have tons of these stories of him. I also have stories of him threatening to throw my friend’s dulcimer down the stairs if she didn’t move it out of the living room.

It actually took me three or four days for Shawn’s suicide to really sink in. I don’t know why. I felt angry at myself for not feeling more.

Once, we made a pact together: in the dim light of his bedroom, cuddling together, we promised to call each before taking action to kill ourselves.  The dude had a lot of issues with anger, depression, loneliness, employment, parents, and relationships. His family has a history of suicide.

I felt angry that he broke his promise. I called him a bastard and a fucker. I was angry at him for taking himself away from me. Angry at myself for not calling more, inviting him over, making him more a part of my life. I felt sad that his life got so bad he needed to make it stop. I miss him. I keep remembering events from our lives that feel long forgotten and buried.

I decided at some point that I am being selfish. Being angry at him is the wrong choice. Who am I to say that he didn’t make the right decision? He probably wanted everything to stop – and everything stopped. I’m glad he is no longer tormented.

I forgive him, but here’s the thing: There is no one to forgive. There is no one to be angry at. When I talk to him, I’m not talking to anybody. He isn’t listening. I’m just listening to myself.

I may as well be trying to ascend the stairs of a razed building.

Learn more about Christina and follow her @ziztur.

 

 

About christinastephens
  • invivoMark

    “Once, we made a pact together: in the dim light of his bedroom, cuddling together, we promised to call each other if we ever felt like killing ourselves.”

    1. Don’t ever do this. This sort of pact is meaningless.

    2. If you ignore #1 and do this anyway, when the person gives you that call, don’t immediately go to the police and get a restraining order against them. Because that will fucking suck for them and they will fucking hate you and wish evil things upon you for the rest of their (possibly quite short) life.

    • http://brutereason.net Miriam

      Wow, that was a major failure to show sympathy.

      First of all, when someone writes a post like this, a nice thing to do is say, “I’m sorry for your loss.”

      And second, as Christina points out, pacts like these can really, really help some people. When I was trained for suicide prevention, I was taught that saying things like “I want you to stay alive” helps people understand that they ARE cared about and that they WOULD be missed. It doesn’t help everyone, of course, but it’s one more thing that you can do.

      And third, by all means, produce evidence of your PhD in clinical psychology and your certification to practice therapy. And also, cite research. If you’re going to make definitive claims about what works and what doesn’t, back those up with evidence and credentials.

    • http://www.chronos-tachyon.net/ Chronos

      I entered a one-way version of this pact when I was 12: my sister asked me to make that promise, and I did. As it turned out seven years later, it was the only reason I didn’t kill myself in my freshman year of college.

  • christinastephens

    1. Actually, having this same pact with JT prevented me from suicide, so you’re wrong.

    2. Why would I get a restraining order? That makes zero sense. I think you misunderstood. We’re not making a suicide pact to commit suicide together. We made a pact to call each other if we were ever contemplating suicide.

    Regardless, I changed the wording for clarity.

    • Azkyroth

      2. Why would I get a restraining order? That makes zero sense.

      I inferred he was speaking from personal experience. :/

      • invivoMark

        This.

        I apologize that my post was misunderstood. It was poorly written and not well thought out. But then, thinking on this issue has always been muddled for me.

        Christina, I am very glad that you are still alive today, through whatever means that got you here. You are incredibly lucky to have a good friend like JT, to have someone you can trust and who reciprocates that trust. Most people are not so lucky.

        I shouldn’t have made an unqualified statement like I did in my first post. If this sort of thing keeps good people around longer, then I’m all for it. Certainly, your experiences prove that it’s possible.

        However, in my experience, discussing suicide with anyone – family, close friends, strangers, doctors and therapists – is universally a bad idea for all parties, no matter how much you think you can trust them. I am glad that you got the help you needed, but I still would never recommend it.

        • http://brutereason.net Miriam

          Thank you for your apology and the explanation. However, I still disagree with you about talking to people about suicide.

          Every time someone in my community has killed themselves, their close friends and family have said things like “I didn’t even know they were feeling this way” and “Why didn’t they tell anyone?”

          It’s easier to help someone who speaks out than someone who keeps their terrible feelings to themselves. Discouraging people from reaching out when they’re feeling suicidal is NEVER the answer. That stigma is what prevents them from getting the help they need.

          • invivoMark

            Talking to people also makes you more vulnerable. Suicide is a social problem, not a physical one – you do it because you’re lonely, not because you’ve got an earache.

            The problem with talking to people about suicide is that it strains relationships. People don’t know how to react, or how to deal with you. Some will withdraw from you because they’re too afraid to say the wrong thing. Some don’t want you around them any more because suicide is an unpleasant topic and they don’t want to have that conversation. Even my therapist basically told me not to discuss it with him, because that would force him to make phone calls and complicate my life further.

            Talking about suicide can make you more alone than you already feel. At least, that is what my experience tells me.

      • JohnH

        And I inferred there was more to his story than just “calling” as per the pact.

        • invivoMark

          Fuck you. You don’t know anything about me.

  • http://polymathicintentions.blogspot.com Amber C-F

    Life is tricky sometimes. We all make promises and pacts, and some people break them. I just take it as a sign that they truly wanted, in that moment, to die. They knew you were there if they wanted a shoulder to cry help into, and they chose to be alone. It doesn’t mean it was logical, it just means that you offered help and in those moments they didn’t want it.

    As for the comment from inviv…. There is good research showing that discussing a friend’s suicidal ideation is actually going to decrease the likelihood that they make the leap from contemplation to suicide attempt. Promise support to every friend you have, and be sure to offer an ear, a couch, and sympathy if they ever come knocking. At least that is the advice that I would give, but then again, I don’t have a PhD in clinical psych either.

    -amber

  • RuQu

    I just found out last week that someone I knew died really young. No word on what happened, but a few of us immediately jumped to “self-inflicted.”

    Suicide is what it is. It can cause a lot of pain for the survivors, and in that way it is often seen as a “selfish” action, since it ends your pain but causes it to others. There is a remarkably high instance of it in the military, and it doesn’t get talked about enough. I think part of the problem, though, is our attitude about it. If people were better at accepting death, and not blaming themselves for someone else’s suicide, there would be less pain for the survivors and the deceased would still be at peace.

    Sure, there are cases that are temporary and/or preventable, but there are also just people who want out and our society doesn’t really provide them any options.

    • drax

      This

  • J*

    He probably wanted everything to stop – and everything stopped. I’m glad he is no longer tormented.

    Thank you for this! This is how I feel and most people don’t get it. When someone dies of cancer, it’s a tragedy, but people take some comfort that the person isn’t suffering anymore. Depression is a real disease and it’s one that’s often fatal, but no one takes that same comfort when depression is the killer.

    • drax

      This too

  • Chervil

    Being angry is the wrong choice? Says who? Who wouldn’t be angry when a friend or loved one says “everyone is better off without me” and you know that’s not true. I don’t think it’s possible to experience this and not feel that you could have done more, who wouldn’t? It’s an enraging, yet powerless position to find yourself in. We do not deal with suicide well, look for those warning signs, they say. What do they know, nothing. Conventional wisdom strikes again.

  • Amyc

    @invivoMark

    I know you’re speaking from personal experience, but Amber C-F is right. Talking about your suicidal ideation does help. I wouldn’t be alive today if I hadn’t learned to talk about these feelings with a couple choice friends and my significant other. Yes, talking about it makes you more vulnerable, but then again, you’re already vulnerable when you’re fantasizing and thinking about suicide so you may as well be vulnerable with somebody who loves and cares for you. It sounds a lot like you’re just telling people to repress how they’re feeling and that’s not a good thing. If that’s not what you meant, then please explain it better. I would never advise someone thinking about suicide to stay quiet about it.

    • Sithrazer

      I had a more detailed post going, but it kept getting long and winding, and the more I wrote the less sure I was about posting it. So I’ll share the short version of a personal anecdote instead:
      I’m doing much better now, but I still regret having said anything.

      • drax

        And this as well

    • invivoMark

      I wouldn’t tell anyone to simply repress how they’re feeling. To say so would be to trivialize those feelings (implying that they can just be “repressed” and they’ll go away).

      I don’t have a good answer. Maybe there isn’t one. Or maybe there is, but we just haven’t found it yet. I’ve already admitted that talking about it with close friends can help for some people. But only if you’re lucky.

  • baal

    I think anger is a reasonable emotion under the circumstances and the loss of even a somewhat removed relationship is still a loss and you have my condolences.
    One of the reasons I’m so pedantic in my comments about intentional othering (including when pro-social justice folks do it) is that depression is one of the most common impacts of ‘you don’t belong’ or ‘there is no place for you in society’ messages. I’m not 100% against othering it but really want beyond clear evidence that a person is not an unsolveable idiot or bears actual malice before they get even a verbal beating up.

  • John Horstman

    Ugh, it’s hard to organize my thoughts on this into a coherent comment, especially on these muscle relaxants (interesting side not: my chronic back problems haven’t played any role in my evaluations of whether I wish to continue existing). Basically, I think being angry at someone for killing hirself is extremely problematic, as it suggests that one feels that someone else owed one continued existence (and not just continued existence, but continued suffering) so one wouldn’t have to be sad at no longer seeing a friend. Let me do a slight framing shift: I don’t think any of us would consider the anger of someone stalking another person to be justified once ze has to abide by a restraining order and can no longer see the stalkee again. Suicide is similar: you’re upset that you’ll never be able to see someone you cared about again, but that’s not really the central issue. The central issue is that person’s agency, hir ability to dictate the terms of hir own life (or to opt to no longer exist). Being angry at someone for not doing what you wanted is problematic when any expectation that you had a right to dictate their behavior in the first place is unreasonable. Now, obviously, we can’t control how we feel about things, but we can try to figure out the roots of our feelings and see if they’re based on problematic perspectives that we might want to try to change. I think anger at someone who killed hirself is grounded in such a problematic perspective – the idea that other people owe one continued existence – just as the stalker’s anger is grounded in a perspective that the stalkee owes the stalker hir presence and social interaction without ever agreeing to it, and I think it’s possible (and desirable) to change such perspectives.

  • Jono

    Stalking is a really odd equivalence to a friend’s suicide. People react to grief in different ways and to suggest the poster here had unhealthy feelings comparable to that of a stalker is… strange. The anger was brief and passed. Suicide is normally not about letting people do what they want to do, the vast majority are seriously depressed people. Seriously ill people, requiring treatment. Depression is treatable. Depression is manageable. People can and the majority do get over it, though they may relapse.

    As for the telling people thing… I’m sure I would have killed myself if a didn’t talk to two or three trusted people. Am I vulnerable to them… well, no, that is what friends are for. That is why I chose trusted ones. And even though I may be a bit awkward if the subject of suicide comes up around them, I don’t regret for a minute that I reached out. If you don’t feel up to mentioning the s word, then at least reach out by saying you are depressed, in whatever words you feel comfortable with, to people who are able to listen to and absorb that information.

  • http://www.psychalive.org Elizabeth

    Really interesting post about a really difficult topic. Thank you for writing this. I found this piece on “Do’s and Don’ts of Suicide Prevention” http://www.psychalive.org/2010/03/the-do%E2%80%99s-and-don%E2%80%99ts-of-suicide-prevention/ to be really helpful if any of you are interested.


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