Like everyone I have my own opinions about life, death, suicide, and depression. But to start I have to go way way back in time to college for you to understand where I am coming from. I believe it was my sophomore year when I elected to take two classes taught by the same professor (unfortunately his name escapes me). Good and Evil, and Philosophy. I thought that these two classes would be a breeze and easy A’s. Oh now wrong I was…
Like most young adults I thought that I knew what was right, what is wrong, and that I had a solid belief system. These classes proved to me how little I actually knew. They challenged how I thought, and what I believed. They forced me to think of things in whole new ways, and I struggled and put more effort into them than I did most electives. Even with all of my efforts I still barely passed either class. It was not for lack of trying, it was for lack of knowing myself enough, and for lack of exposure to different cultures, people, and ideas.
At the end of the philosophy class our final paper was to write what we believed in. What was our philosophy. This will be so easy I thought…until I sat down to write it. What did I believe? I shaped my beliefs on paper, created a rough outline, and sat with it for a few days. Upon reflection I thought I captured everything rather well, and submitted my paper. It was subsequently returned marked nearly completely in red pen, with a large C- or D on the front. How can you fail your own beliefs?
I read over all of the professors notes furiously, and what I learned from him was by far one of the most important lessons of any class I took. You cannot live a life in contradiction. You cannot choose only the good parts of a religion, or philosophy and ignore the rest. You cannot pull only what you want to believe in while ignoring the other stuff. Because when you buy into something you get the whole package.
If you are a strong believer in life rights for fetuses, i.e. you are pro-life. Then you cannot also be pro-death penalty. It is a contradiction to believe in the right to life only at the beginning of life, and not after one commits a crime. If you believe in life rights at one stage of life, you have to also agree for life at the other end. It also means that you should stand against the right to end of life suicide (or the right to die).
So here I am all these years later reading about Robin Williams, and seeing a multitude of people’s reactions to his death. My fist instinct is to be angry. This reaction is because I know firsthand how precious life is. I watched as one of the youngest humans ever to grace this earth struggled to survive even in the face of certain and unstoppable death. How dare anyone squander the gift of life…right?
But this is not my actual belief. Because of what I witnessed with Zoë I believe strongly, super strongly in the right to die. I believe that anyone who has end stage cancer, or any number of other conditions, diseases, or circumstances that are so disabling physically, that they want to end their life then they should have the right to do so. If this is my belief, then I must also add mental disease, and disorders to this list.
I am pro the right to die, pro-death penalty, and pro-choice. There I said it. I came out of my little closet of death. Now I know this will probably shock some, and cause others to stop reading this blog, but I believe it is also important to stand up for what you believe.
Now back to Robin. It is my understanding that it is speculated that the medication that he was taking could have caused his depression to spiral out of control, and cause him to believe that there were not other choices available to him, causing him to end his life. For this I am not upset at Robin, but rather drugs, and science. (Notice I said drugs and science, and not drug companies, and scientists). I am upset that with all of the research we have done, and all of the testing, and experiments, and all of the money spent we don’t have a better understanding of depression, or have drugs that are advanced enough to treat this condition effectively. It is not the drug companies fault (although I am not always a fan of their practices), and it is not the fault of hard working scientists and researchers. It is just that we are not advanced enough yet.
Yet look how far we have come! Now there are at least choices in drugs and treatments for individuals who are suffering from depression. There was a time where living in a locked psyche unit was the answer, along with lobotomies, and shock treatment (although this is still used today depending on the individual).
I don’t write this post without a bit of experience with depression. I have suffered from depression off and on since I was a teen. For me my depression has always been a motivator. When I see myself getting low I know it is time to rally and pick myself up and make the changes I need to make to stop being depressed.
In my late 20’s I became so depressed that I broke down in front of my primary care physician and I was prescribed an antidepressant. It worked a bit, possibly, but mostly made me severely motion/car sick. I went off the drug soon after.
I thought I knew what it was like to be depressed…then Zoë was diagnosed with cancer.
I don’t know if I can accurately explain all the forms of depression I suffered since December 26, 2011. But I do know that I have probably had every form except the urge to end my own life. I don’t know what that feels like. I am blessed. My will to live is stronger than any other instinct I have.
That being said one of the reasons why during these dark days past Zoë’s diagnosis I have not sought out medication for my depression was my previous experience with antidepressants. I know how they make you feel, and I understand that they are powerful drugs. I also know that they have the ability to cause suicidal thoughts, or tendencies. This plainly freaks me out.
What makes Robin Williams’ death so sad is the fact that it could have been the treatment that caused his death. If he was not on the drugs would he have felt the same? Perhaps, and that is also very sad. If Robin chose to kill himself because he could no longer live with the debilitating depression that he suffered then I have to accept his choice. Is it any different than the person with a severe disease that causes extreme pain wanting to die? I don’t know. I have never suffered his form of depression, but I have to believe that he made the choice that was right for him. If I found out that he had stage four colon cancer and he chose to end his life my reaction would have probably been, “Good for him, he is no longer suffering.”
Death is a topic that is not discussed enough in our society as a whole. I believe one reason is because not enough people have a clear belief regarding death. It is ultimately a mystery that we are all headed straight at. Each and every day we live on the edge of life and death, never know when it will be our time.
From the dawn of time death has been wrapped up in religion, philosophy, and politics. It is something that our society likes to hide in the corners of hospitals, nursing homes, and vast green spaces we call cemeteries. The truth is death is all around us. It is happening to us, it is happening on our streets, and in our homes, and one day it will happen to me.
It seems that when a talented celebrity dies we all can quickly form opinions about their death, but how many of us actually take the time to really think about death. How many of us like to be anti-choice, and pro-death penalty?
Death is serious. Permanent. And everyone’s right. I don’t have to like how someone dies, but I have to accept that it is their choice, and their right.
I hope that people stop arguing about Robin Williams’ death and start sending money to researchers and scientists to help us all better understand depression. I also hope that people who are so depressed that they are considering suicide do seek out help before making a permanent decision.
I will end this with saying that I hate suicide. I hate that people at any stage of their life can be placed in a position where they want to end their life. I am sure that this is shaped not only by my experiences with Zoë, but also because of my own fears about death. But I know, perhaps better than some that life will continue to push forward no matter who dies. Lucky for all of us life is persistent.
I know this too, as I sit here and write while feeling our son kicking , and twisting around in me.