Mental Illness

Suicide, Selfish or Not?

When I was younger, single, and without children, I never understood how someone could take their own life. How could life be that bad? How could you not get your depression under control? I mean, there are so many treatments available that something must be able to help. How could you leave your family behind? Leave your children without their mother or father because you chose to end your life? I have had a few friends end their lives due to depression and I couldn’t believe how they could just end it all. That was before I was smacked in the face with life.

I have grown up. I am married with three children. With the birth of my last child came the anxiety and depression. I was in denial for quite some time because I thought I was just overexhausted with just having had a baby and with two other children to tend to. I realized with the help of a few people that it was most likely depression that I was suffering from. I also realized that my childhood,  being a good one, was also a bit mentally harmful. I have issues with letting people in, trust issues, and trouble expressing feelings to those I care about. I was taught to be quiet, independent, and rely on only myself. A “children should be seen and not heard” kind of upbringing. Makes for a difficult adulthood when you won’t allow yourself to be helped. Asking for help was a sign of weakness, I thought. Whatever the situation at the time, it was my problem and therefore I should have to deal with it alone.  I finally crossed over the hill of denial and went to see the shrink. We tried MANY different antidepressants and MANY months of agony before finally coming to the right drug/therapy combo. There are some side effects that aren’t fabulous but overall I am doing much better. It was also recommended that I attend talk therapy as well. Found a fabulous doctor who noticed things about me that I had no idea of. She made me realize the childhood issues that were lying deep inside. Where before that I just figured it was a normal part of me. Now here is where I am going to get to the selfish or not part”¦

Like I said before, how could someone be so selfish by leaving their loved ones behind because of their depression? Now that I suffer from this horrible disease, I have a different outlook. There were many months where the only thing that kept me alive was my husband and my children. Had it not been for them I would not be writing this right now. I couldn’t get it out of my head that they would grow up thinking I had abandoned them. During this down time in my life it got me thinking. When someone has a painful terminal illness and they pass away, everyone always says, “Well at least they are out of pain and are in a better place.” Well, I consider depression to be a very painful illness”¦ emotionally and physically. It is so hard to get up in the morning and put a fake smile on your face. It is so hard to get out of the house and do the daily things life requires. These simple things to normal people are exhausting and painful to those who suffer from anxiety and/or depression. To me, suicide no longer seemed selfish. It seemed like heaven. The thought of no longer going through this personal hell sounded so wonderful and so peaceful.  I would no longer suffer from the horrible emotional and physical pain I was living with daily. No matter how many treatments or help you may receive sometimes it just doesn’t take away from the pain and exhaustion that we feel. For some it is terminal. For some it is the only way out. Is that selfish? Tough to answer that question from someone like myself.

Today, I am doing much better, but still have off days here and there. I try to use a few different methods I have learned over time to get through these tough days. I actually talk to my husband now about ALL of my feelings. Before, I would have just kept quiet and hurt deeply inside. I would have cried myself to sleep. My husband says that depression is extremely selfish. Not that he means it in a bad way but when you think about it depression is selfish. You don’t let anyone in. You keep your feelings to yourself. Pretending is a daily way of life for some. Fake is the way. It is a one man/woman ordeal. All you want is to be alone. Being alone makes it so no one can ask you questions about how you’re feeling. You don’t have to pretend, fake a smile, or lie.

There needs to be more support for those who suffer from depression and awareness to those who don’t. You are not alone out there in this big world. There are so many people there ready to take you in hand and help you fight for your life, literally. If you have never suffered from depression, you will never understand what it is like to live with that kind of pain and exhaustion. But I beg of you”¦ never believe depression isn’t real. Depression is real… not an excuse to be lazy.

Editor’s note: National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-8255

11 replies on “Suicide, Selfish or Not?”

well, suicide is intrinsically selfish. It is. that doesn’t make the feelings of wanting to do it or the pain of the people who do go through with it wrong in any way. If someone is fully suicidal then reminding them of the people who might be hurt by their actions won’t do fuck all. But when I was at an extremely low point in my life and at the time considering ending it all, thinking about my loved ones (especially my baby bros) went a long way to helping me keep my shit together.

My mother has said that suicide is selfish to me (I attempted suicide about 2 years ago), and I just felt like it was a slap in the face. I don’t think she was necessarily thinking about how I felt, or was reliving how she felt when I attempted suicide. Still, it just shows to me how little understanding my parents have about how painful and difficult depression is.

I’ve never understood the “suicide is selfish” thing. I think it’s selfish of other people to guilt suffering people into enduring lives they no longer want – which isn’t to say that suicide is justifiable. I’m only saying that it’s really shitty to turn someone else’s death into your betrayal. Very much “it’s not about you,” you know?

Glad you are feeling better! And you make a good point. I would say that on its surface, suicide seems selfish, but as you say those who have been pinned down by depression sometimes cannot see another solution.
I struggle with pretty severe chronic depression; it’s apparently something I’ll always have… the husband is hostile about the idea of suicide, understandably, and wary of medicating depression generally, even though he understands technically that it is something I need. I did share with him my thoughts at first, but now when I have them I keep them to myself. They are repetitive, and they scare him, and bring him down and even anger him sometimes. Which I get. Frankly, I have the same reactions sometimes; depression is so f-ing BORING to live with. All the same thoughts and the same responses to everything.
Anyway, I know he just wants me to be better, but that’s not really possible in the way he imagines ‘better’ to be. It’s instead something I take on as my own personal struggle. This feels lonely sometimes, but I find talking to friends or family makes it worse; people treated me like I’m eternally on my deathbed. Nobody even knew I had depression before I told them in the first place, and then they hardly believed it because I have learned to work with it, and i’m naturally an introverted person. So that made things lonelier, in many ways, feeling more misunderstood. I can’t undo that, but the more I keep to myself, or between myself and a therapist, the better.
I have decided myself I won’t choose suicide and will fight it instead, but if I eventually lose that battle, I suppose I have to live with knowing that none of them will ever fully comprehend that decision. I guess it’s another thing that keeps me alive; I would hate to hurt them in that way.

Book plug [I am not in any way affiliated with the author or publisher]: Andrew Solomon’s The Noonday Demon: An Atlas of Depression. Link is to the free first chapter in PDF online; it is the most broad and humane discussion of depression I’ve ever read. Opening quote:

“Depression is the flaw in love. To be creatures who love, we must be creatures who can despair at what we lose, and depression is the mechanism of that despair. When it comes, it degrades one’s self and ultimately eclipses the capacity to give or receive affection. It is the aloneness within us made manifest, and it destroys not only connection to others but also the ability to be peacefully alone with oneself.”

Your excellent post brought it to mind because the intersection of will and capacity with depression is something he discusses with great compassion and insight: how depression can hamstring the will to where a mild case might destroy someone while a severe case might be held at bay by another; how they might be the same person at different times, and that there can be no metric for how much someone can or should be “expected” by others to bear or work through or overcome. How much can someone with depression conceive of the selfishness of causing pain to others when his capacity to give or receive love is taken from him? What are the limits of perception, ability, and will?

I recommend it to everyone, no matter their own or friends’ status, because I can’t see how it doesn’t lend insight to everyone’s daily struggles, mundane or epic. Broad-ranging, compassionate, keen and accessible book. Reading it brought me empathy as well as concrete knowledge, and I found it a comfort against helplessness. I should note that while the subject matter is of course serious and it is in many places difficult to read, there are surprising moments of humor and grace scattered throughout the book. The friend who recommended it to me did so on blind faith, because she couldn’t bring herself to read it. Too close to home. I wish she could, because it was so illuminating to me, and I hope, to others.

Thank your for sharing this. I had PPD after the birth of my first son, which is why he is an only child. We did not handle it well, and I wish very much I had gone to talk therapy then, when I was broken enough to be able to be so open.

My understanding of suicide was somewhat the opposite of yours. Before, I figured suicide was a personal decision. Only after having a child and suddenly seeing the depth of love that I can have others, and others have for me. I realized that depression and suicide are selfish. That realization didn’t make it any easier to pull out of the depression and stop contemplation crashing the car. It is only when you can look back that you can see how the selfishness doesn’t help.

One of my friends killed himself a few months before graduation. I had never struggled with grief like that – it’s one thing when your grandparent dies, but when someone young, probably relatively healthy, with a family, new baby, and a job already lined up after graduation is gone, by his own decision, it’s not so easy to understand.

On the other hand, I also live with depression. I have never had suicidal thoughts, but I have felt the overwhelming hopelessness and self-imposed loneliness. I don’t know that he was depressed when he killed himself, but I knew he had lived with depression in the past. I don’t hold it against him (anymore – in the beginning I was so angry); I just wish he had talked to someone. I’m glad you got help and found something that works for you.

It is wonderful to know you’re doing better and in a place to write a piece like this.

It’s a very thought provoking idea (and you pose some very interesting points, too!), as to whether suicide is selfish or not. I’m sure my own opinions will change, as they have done already, but i’m on the fence. I haven’t had depression or any other mental illness but i have had to wonder, on more occassions than i wish to remember, whether or not my husband was alive.

But i digress, here’s to more support and awareness about depression and mental illness!

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