Thursday, July 17, 2008

Is Suicide Selfish?

A question that has come up again and again during my radio interviews for Surviving Ben's Suicide is "Is suicide selfish?". I have pondered this question for fifteen years now. I understand where people are coming from, when they believe that people who take their own lives are selfish. However, I have come to understand that suicide, in every case of which I am aware, is not about selfishness.

I can't speak for everyone, and I hope that others will comment about their experiences and thoughts on this, but in Ben's case, he had been struggling with the pain of mental illness--he was bipolar and borderline--for years. He had been fighting courageously to find a way out of the darkness that surrounded him. He went from therapist to therapist and tried several medications that were prescribed to him. Some medications worked for a short period of time, but none had a lasting positive effect, and they all seemed to have severe side-effects. Ben told me that he felt as if a wool blanket was pressing in on his brain. He felt suffocated. He began to be confused about who he was. He felt like he was losing his mind and his dignity. Nobody had an answer for him.

In the end, I am not sure that suicide was even a choice for Ben. He seemed to be consumed by mania, because during his drive from his apartment in Washington DC to Maine, where he took his life, he kept journal entries that became sloppier and sloppier and harder and harder to decipher. He took his life, but he was clearly not in control of himself at that point. How can we justify calling that selfish?

That is not to say that survivors are not victims. I believe we are. We are left in the wake of the most unimaginable tragedy. Not only do we have the emotions of guilt, shame, anger, and profound sadness to cope with, but many of us also have financial entanglements. Some have children to comfort and support. Others have businesses to keep afloat. But my question is who is the victimizer? Is it the person who committed suicide or the illness that took him or her or the failure of modern science not to adequately help the deceased?


Severine said...

My sister ended her own life three months ago, and I found your blog really helpful. I had never really thought about suicide as not being a choice. My sister was bi-polar, too, and it makes me feel better to think that perhaps she was not in control, when she killed herself, because then, maybe I couldn't have been in control of it, either. I am still struggling so much with my emotions over her death and I will keep reading your blog. Thanks for sharing and caring.

Venerate the Plough said...

I think that the most frustrating thing about this is that on one day I feel it was selfish and I feel strength from anger over his selfishness and then on a different day I come to a completely different conclusion and feel nothing but guilt for having thought he was so selfish the day before. I guess I am in a place where there seems to be no resolution, and I hang on that fact, unable to move forward with many parts of my life because of it. I dont think I will ever love romatically again. I am so empty so much of the time, and as time goes on I simply grow accustomed to the emptiness...