Suicide and the Illusion of Choice

Suicide and the Illusion of Choice

By

Jennifer Angelina Petro

 

A year ago yesterday (January 17, 2017), I got released from the psyche ward for the second time in two months for suicidality, a bipolar crash, and clinical depression, among other things.  That same day, a year later, a dear friend’s brother was claimed by suicide.  What is the difference between us?  Did I make a choice to live?  Did he make a choice to die?  Does someone who takes their own life have freedom of choice?  I argue no.  They don’t.

Freedom of choice involves the ability to make conscious, awake choices.  It involves clarity of mind and heart.  It involves a healthy mental, emotional, spiritual state.  People who are claimed by suicide do not have these things.  No one, in their right (meaning healthy) mind does such a tragic act willingly.  It may look like they made a choice.  They may even believe they are making a choice.  But they didn’t.

Someone high, someone drunk, someone under siege, someone under attack, someone in extreme pain of any kind cannot make conscious, clear choices.  And for some people, the depression, inner pain, outer pain, PTSD, bipolarity, and other mental illnesses are simply too strong to leave someone clear of mind and awake enough to make such a choice.  Depression is a monster that speaks lies in your head.  Well, sometimes it speaks, sometimes it whispers insidiously, sometimes it screams and drowns out all rationality.  And sometimes all it screams over and over is: “I can’t take this anymore.  I need to die.  This needs to end.”  And the disease of depression convinces that person that they are making a free choice—THAT’S part of the symptomology of depression and mental illness—it makes you think you are well.  It makes you think everyone else just doesn’t understand.  It makes you think you are in your rightful power as an individual to control your actions.  And these are all lies, these are symptoms of a disease.

I knew someone once who, when a friend was claimed by suicide, said: “That selfish sonofabitch.”  The victim had left two children.  To the outsider, this person committed a selfish act.  He was essentially an asshole.

Part of the problem with believing suicide is a choice is the definition of the word and the language surrounding it.

Suicide, as defined in most dictionaries goes something like this: the intentional and voluntarily choice to take one’s own life.

The words surrounding this definition are ones like: committed, took their own life, chose to end it all.

Perhaps it would be more accurate to say, “suicide claims the life of a suffering person.”  Perhaps words like the following might be more appropriate:

Tyrannicide—which may sound insulting, but a person who becomes ill enough to kill themselves is not killing THEMSELVES, they are attempting to kill the pain, the monster, the tyrant inside.  The person claimed by suicide is a victim, and in no way a willing victim. It is analogous to being possessed by a monster.  It’s the monster that pulls the trigger, it’s the monster that takes the fatal leap.  The person unwillingly and unwittingly hosting such a creature essentially—if untreated (and sometimes even if they are treated)—becomes powerless over the depression.

Some would say this analogy doesn’t work because possession implies a spiritual, demonic force.  I am not suggesting that—although, I believe that is possible (there are physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual diseases), I am more using the image to help people see that the person claimed by suicide did not make the conscious choice to end their own lives.  If the possession analogy doesn’t work for you—try thinking of the person with fatal cancer as being possessed by a monster that eats its host from the inside out.

Fideicide—the killing of faith. Someone overwhelmed by a disease can easily lose faith.  Someone claimed by suicide is trying to end their hopelessness, not themselves.  The disease has swallowed their faith.

Facticide—the killing of facts.  The monster of depression distorts the fact the ill person is worthy of living, is worthy of help, has the ability to choose otherwise.

Claim—the word “claim,” comes from the roots of words meaning, the act of shouting out, to demand, and to take sometimes by force.  This seems far more accurate than the deliberate and voluntary choice to take one’s own life.

Cancer claims lives, heart attacks claim lives, strokes claim lives, diabetes claims lives, Alzheimer’s claims lives.  Depression is every bit as much an illness as any of these.  Bipolarity is, PTSD is, and so on.  So is addiction.

Addiction and depression tell lies—it’s part of their symptomology.  So does bipolarity.  As someone who suffers from several mental illnesses, I know as soon as my head says, “You’re doing better, stop taking your meds,” that that is the disease talking.

Depression (and to be clear, I do not mean sadness, or the blues—I mean clinical depression) and addiction have the ability to smother rationality and the ability to ask for realistic help.  Just as Alzheimer’s takes away the memory piece by piece, depression takes away freedom, hope, the ability to seek help piece by piece.  Just as cancer little by little eats the body away, so does depression and other mental illnesses eat away at the ability to think clearly and rationally.

Saying someone chose to take their own lives—in addition to being inaccurate, is harmful to everyone involved.  It puts us in the power of blame, of judgment, and of the ability to slide into the need to protect ourselves from pain and the reality that depression is real, that depression stalks people, that depression is fatal.  Some people would much rather believe suicide is a choice because it separates themselves from the possibility to being devoured by a monster.  Lastly, it is crushing to the family of the victim to say they choose such a thing.  It implies deep self-centeredness, it implies they loved themselves more than their families and friends. It implies they didn’t care about others.  People who die from cancer are not abandoning their loved ones or choosing their own lives over theirs. They are not being selfish by dying.

When someone we love is claimed by suicide, the world collapses for the survivors.  It is devastating.  And people close to them often say things like: “Well, at least they are not suffering anymore,” which is exactly what one says when a loved one dies of cancer.  Inside we know suicide is a disease.  And combined with depression can be fatal.

People whose disease compels them to attempt suicide are not crying for help.  Attempting suicide is an expression of mental illness—a bursting of a cyst, the manifestation of a sickness.  And, also tragic, is the fact that many people cannot afford mental healthcare before its too late.

Suicide is also not a sin just as dying of cancer is not a sin.

Compassion, understanding, and an ability to listen openly and face reality is what we must offer when someone we love dies of suicide. No blame, no judgment.

And what of someone like me who suffers from depression and suicidality and is still alive?  Before my symptoms became overwhelming, I was able to seek and accept help.  My mental cancer was advancing in strength and severity, but it hadn’t gotten to the point of no return.  I was still able to have just enough measure of mental clarity and freedom of choice, to get help.

And that is the only difference between my friend’s brother and myself.  I am not better than him, stronger, I am not less selfish, or anything of the sort.

I am lucky.  I simply don’t have as severe an illness as him.  And that is of no credit to me.  Some people survive cancer.  Many don’t.  I survived depression and suicidality.  He was taken—claimed—cut short.  He was murdered by a cruel disease.

 

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline

Call 1-800-273-8255

Trans LifeLine: US: (877) 565-8860 CANADA: (877) 330-6366

 

 


 


All donations to this post go to suicide prevention.


Look For Signs, by Jennifer Angelina Petro

Look for Signs

By

Jennifer Angelina Petro

 

 

Having bipolar disorder is like…is like…..

Huh? Oh, um…ideas are coming, just wait a second,

I must write them down.  One is about air

And how we all depend on it to lift us in our lungs

And in the tires of our bikes and cars;

The other is about the wings of demons

And what would happen if the wings

Became angels and decided not to carry the demons

Around anymore.  Wait, I’ll be right there.  I just have to

Get these ideas down so I don’t forget them.

Huh? If I don’t write them down the Muse

Might get angry and start ignoring me—

Passing me by when she’s handing out gifts—

Just…..wait a second.  No…..wait.  Don’t wait.

I am not sure how long this will take—the poems will suck

No matter how they turn out anyways—all my poems

Suck.  Why wouldn’t they?  I’m a piece of shit.

Huh? Why would I say that?  Because it’s true.

It’s also true I am a visionary and these ideas

That are coming—the one about air and the one

About the wings of demons—as soon as I turn them

Into poems they will change modern poetics forever.

Yes, even though they’re shitty.  Modern poetics suck too—

And I am a modern poet.  So…wait….if you want to.

I am going to write these ideas down before we talk—

The Muse is waiting, she won’t be denied.

Huh? Where is she?  She’s here, inside, and she’s there

Behind the moon and that tree.  She’s in your eyes…

Wait….there is another idea.  This one is about

How we talk with our hands, and wait, there is another.

This one is about why we feel it in our teeth

When we crunch snow with our boots.  Oh wait,

You don’t feel it in your teeth when you walk

Over snow and it makes a crunching sound?

Told you these poems would suck.  No. No. No.

I am not saying the gifts from the Muse suck.

No. Never.  Ever.  Her ideas are always pure gold—

It’s just they distill through me and I suck

Which, of course, colors the ideas, making the poems suck

That I make out of the ideas.  You see?  No?  It’s OK.

No one does.  Just know this—air lifts you

By your lungs and by the tires of your car, demon wings

Dream of rebelling and flying off the demon’s back,

And, and, the next time you walk over fresh, wet snow,

Touch your hand to your jaw and feel the crunch

From your boots shooting right there in your teeth,

And then, once you know these things—once you believe me

That she will be upset if I do not write them down right now—

Then, maybe you will understand, maybe you will know

What it’s like to be bipolar, but probably not—by the time

You catch a glimpse of understanding I will be

Dead.  It’s inevitable, isn’t it?  I mean, I cannot go on this way

Forever.  God wants me home and demons are clawing at my heels

And the depression is crushing my bones—I feel it

In my teeth, and then, and then, and then…Huh?  Why?

Why kill myself?  The ideas the Muse will give me

Bodiless will be heaven-flavored and better than ever.  But don’t worry.

I will get them to you somehow.

Look for signs.

 

 

 

 


 

 

 




Donations go towards paying medical bills. 

Inside Here, by Jennifer Angelina Petro

Inside Here

By

Jennifer Angelina Petro

 

 

Inside here:

Regimented, monitored, life-signs checked,

“It’s time to eat,” and, “attention please,

Level two trauma alert, ETA four minutes,

attention please, level two trauma alert, ETA four minutes,

attention please, level two trauma alert, ETA four minutes.”

 

The meditation room is off limits right now

Since they don’t have anyone to keep an eye on me

While I pray.

 

“Attention please, level three trauma alert, ETA now,

attention please, level three trauma alert, ETA now,

attention please, level three trauma alert, ETA now.”

 

Inside here:

Suffering, shock-brained-slow-moving/talking people

Try to be friendly, “Welcome to the party,” another patient says

As I enter the craft room, “You are who you are,” she says

As I sit down amidst the stares, Zen-doodle coloring books,

Beads, tempera paints, crayons, and colored pencils,

And start to draw a golden dragon.  “You are

Who you are,” I say to myself as I add crimson wings

To the dragon that open out over a valley of Saint George’s

And Saint Michael’s—swords drawn—

Waiting for me to land.

 

 

 


 

 

 




Donations go to helping me pay medical bills.