On Suicide And Thinking About Death (And What It Means For Those Who Don’t)

I have a friend who thinks about dying often. Not in an abstract, what-does-it-all-mean way, really, but in a way that makes death seem as viable an option as grabbing a drink with a friend or seeing a new movie that just came out. It could happen at any moment, all it takes is the initiative.

We’re only 20 years old, and for that reason, we shouldn’t think about these things. We should think about finishing our educations and hanging out with friends and waking up each morning to a bowl of that cereal our mothers always give us grief for, because it’s far too sugary.

We’re only 20 years old, after all. Our lives have just begun.

Let me tell you a little bit more about my friend. By age 20, he has already dealt with the death of a parent, a life-threatening illness in the other parent, depression and anxiety, and a nicotine addiction. Just a few short months ago, he was a teenager, but now here he is, 20 years old, beginning a new decade, and all he can think about is: not another one.

None of this is meant to scare you or beg for pity. This is just a matter of fact. He is 20 years old, but he can’t imagine making it to 30 anymore than he can imagine what life will be like a thousand years from now. Ten and a thousand years may as well be the same thing to him.

Let me make this clear for you: I have never been suicidal. I don’t wear this as a badge of honor or pride — it is just a matter of fact. Sure, I have thought about death, and I have wondered, on occasion, what would happen if I left this world. But each time a thought like that occurs to me, I push it out of my mind and focus on the good in life: hot coffee in the morning, the sound of rain against a roof, the smell of freshly cut grass, the sound of my family laughing. These things keep me here.

But it is not that hard for me to empathize with my friend and see where he is coming from. I can understand him when he says that twenty is older than it actually is.

And now, with news stories like Robin Williams’s death reaching the enormity that they do, death and suicide have become hot topics in the American household. Why would they do it? How could they do it? How could someone kill themselves?

I just don’t understand.

Suicide and depression are sensitive topics. I want to share a quote I read recently, whilst reading about Robin Williams’s death, that I think explains the sensitive nature of this subject perfectly:

”Here is the tragedy: when you are the victim of depression, not only do you feel utterly helpless and abandoned by the world, you also know that very few people can understand, or even begin to believe, that life can be this painful.”
Giles Andreae

Not everyone understands, and that’s what makes it so difficult. Depression is not something many people recognize as a disease. For many, it is not the same as cancer or diabetes, but I assure you, it is. It is the reason my friend, who has the most beautiful mind I’ve ever encountered, sits on his rooftop and wonders about jumping off it. Many cannot accept it, and that is why stories such as Robin Williams’ death hit us so hard. Because it is real and it is a disease, not something to be ashamed of, and that’s difficult for a lot of people to accept. Because to some, an injured mind is the not the same as an injured body. I am so sorry that it is this way, and I wish with all my might that it was not.

I understand that people die every day. I understand that some of these deaths are due to suicide. I understand that you may be reading this and remembering someone you once knew who took his or her own life. And I understand that you may be angry, because they didn’t get this much recognition. And they deserved it, didn’t they? I’m sorry, because they did.

It’s unfair, really, how things like this work out. But I’ll tell you one thing: though not everyone receives remembrance on the scale that Williams has, it is through his passing that maybe, just maybe, people will begin to recognize depression as an illness, and not a passing affliction.

Maybe, just maybe, my friend will make it to 30. TC mark

featured image – Kees Van Mansom

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