So, suicide is once more in the news. Today, news of Tony Bourdain’s apparent suicide in a hotel in France. A few days ago, Kate Spade, the designer. Add to that the stories about an increase in reported suicides, and it is once again a hot topic, as it always is when there is a high-profile suicide. I last wrote about it when Robin Williams died in 2014, and frankly, the same comments are popping up.
I’m going to quote myself because I don’t think I can say it any better than I did then:
No matter how long you sleep, you never feel rested, and it’s harder and harder to get out of bed. Perversely, you may also have trouble getting to sleep, and you may find yourself waking in the middle of the night, unable to get back to sleep. Your digestion is often disturbed — queasiness, constipation, diarrhea, or, thrillingly, alternating constipation and diarrhea.
Then it gets worse. There’s a pain in your chest, an ache that feels like your heart has been cut out with a rusty number 11 tomato can. Your muddy thinking starts to get a little obsessive: you remember every bad breakup — and blame yourself. You remember every time you did something dumb or hurt someone’s feelings, and the shame is as fresh as if it just happened. And — especially the first time it happens — you begin to think it will never improve, you’ll never be better, that the obsessive thoughts that you’re worthless and a burden to everyone are true.
It’s easy — and superficial and even facile — to respond by saying suicide is “cowardly” or “selfish,” and of course there are those who want to make it political (you know who you are) by saying Bourdain committed suicide because Trump’s popularity was increasing or even that since Bourdain was a liberal he deserves no sympathy. (And just for the record, you people who want to make it political: you’re not deplorable, you’re despicable.)
It’s also, however, understandable, because by saying suicide is cowardly or selfish, you can protect yourself from thinking it might happen to you too because you would never be that cowardly and selfish.
So, for the rest of you who might be able to muster enough compassion to think about something unthinkable, here are some unthinkable thoughts.
Suicide Rule One. People who commit suicide are not thinking clearly.
Now, like most rules about any human behavior, this one comes with a few — really a very few — exceptions. (We generally have other names for someone who throws himself on a grenade or who accepts a morphine coma in the last stages of terminal cancer.) Major depression, however, is pretty much defined as not thinking clearly.
Suicide Rule Two. There are lots of rationales for suicide: some people have a fantasy that they’ll be able to look back and see how everyone is sorry for how horribly the suicide was treated. And sometimes these are just symbolic attempts that went too far.
An awful lot of suicides are people who think, rationally, that it’s the only answer for unbearable emotional pain, or that they are so worthless that everyone they love would be better off were they to die and get out of their lives.
Those are the ones that really shock us, especially when they are public figures like Bourdain — worth millions, sleeping with a movie star, beautiful ten-year-old daughter, adored by many millions. But was he thinking, those last few hours, that he’d hurt his daughter and his ex-wife? That no one cared about him, just about his career? That he saw no way off the treadmill of constant travel? Fear that he was no longer doing good work? We’ll never know. What we do know is that he finally was up against something he couldn’t face.
Which brings us to Suicide Rule Three, which is, in case of doubt, refer to Rule One. Have sympathy for the people left behind, and for the person who at last lost the fight against the darkness.
If you or someone you know is struggling or just needs to talk, please call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-8255.