Every single day I think about the time I tried to kill myself. It is one of my strongest and most detailed memories. I mention it in passing in my talks as if it is just a point of reference, but it has a profound impact on my every thought. I have not heard the bipolar or depression world debating pro-choice vs. pro-life suicide, but it is an internal debate that I often have myself. I wonder if others have had similar thoughts?
My debate is further colored by the suicide of my best friend Santiago. I think about his hanging himself every day, and the effect it had on everyone around him. It is another memory that is so strong it could have just happened. It too has a profound effect on my every thought.
The other day I was showing a visitor around San Francisco and he brought up suicide when we drove by the Golden Gate Bridge. He asked how many people have jumped off (over 1,200 so far) and whether they have put up a barrier yet. I found myself sharing my internal debate and chose to take the pro-choice side.
As you can imagine, telling him that I am pro-choice freaked him out. He wondered how I could take such a stand and used the argument I have heard more than any: Suicide is the most selfish act; it emotionally destroys everyone that is left behind. My answer shocked both of us: The fact that you can’t handle your emotions does not give you the right to dictate my life! If it did, would you have the right to take my life because I made you angry? It seems that the most selfish act is demanding control of my very life to satisfy your emotional needs.
I shared my own suicide attempt and how devastated I still am about Santiago. I also shared my pro-life arguments. He had not really thought much about either, but found them interesting. Not so much, though, that the topic didn’t move on to other things as soon as the bridge was no longer in view. We were enjoying the beautiful sites after all, not debating the meaning of life.
I, on the other hand, have been mulling over the opposing points of view in my head and find it interesting that I can hold both perspectives as equally valid. Considering how the abortion and assisted suicide debates are so polarizing, I imagine there are some pretty strong views about suicide amongst the mentally ill. How can I be pro-choice when I know that at the time I didn’t think I had another choice to make? If I could make a rational choice, would that make it OK?
My father-in-law has late onset muscular dystrophy. His brothers all deteriorated to the point that they were kept alive in a state that he feels was cruel. He had a great life and is wanting to reserve the right to choose when it has gone too far. In his case, I am very pro-choice. If you advocate treating mental illness the same as physical illness, should we not see mental illness suicides the same?
These are incredibly difficult questions to ponder. Some would say that it is not healthy to do so and prefer to sweep them under the table. I am afraid that doing so means we never gain the understanding that may save (or respect) lives. If we can sort it out in our own heads, perhaps we can better help others to make rational decisions about their own choices. Perhaps we can come up with better pro-life arguments than “what about those you left behind.” I know in my case that argument would have had the opposite effect: it would have made me feel even more alone.
What do you think? Have you thought about it, too? Do you have similar experiences as mine?