"I Just Want The World to Let Me Go"
Updated: May 25, 2021
Two young women we know committed suicide recently. From an outside perspective, both seemed to have a lot to live for - beautiful, smart, young. They had families and friends who loved them. They were carving out interesting and vibrant lives for themselves. And yet.
One of the women, B, left a note on her Instagram feed. To honour her final thoughts, I transcribe it in full here:
If there was an off switch to this life I would have pressed it long ago. I don't know how to not feel the way I do. My pictures make me seem happy, I'm not and I never have been. I don't know how to be and I am incapable of obtaining the illusive "happiness". It's nobody's fault but my own. But nobody can say that I haven't tried. I've travelled, I've saved money, gone to school, volunteered, started a business, gone to counselling, taken the pills, gotten sober, done everything and anything I can to feel better, but I just can't. It's just not possible for me. I realize I'm leaving behind a world of hurt. But please. Please understand where I'm coming from. Don't ask me to stay here and live in this pain because everyone thinks I should. I'm a burden, I'm told this daily. I'm beyond repair. I just can't. And I am so sorry. But I really truly can't anymore. I wish this had worked years ago. I just want the world to let me go."
What's not heartbreaking about that?
It's gotten me thinking about suicide and the taboo it still is in our society. Why is that? There are so many things we can talk openly and honestly about now but the secrecy and shame of suicide is hanging in there. Obituaries almost always list cause of death and ask for donations to favourite charities, but not suicides. It's like sex education - if we don't talk about it, no one will know it's a thing.
How is mental, emotional and spiritual pain any different from physical pain? Why do we give different meaning to, say, cancer than we do to depression? Each of these ailments have treatments, neither are necessarily terminal in and of themselves. But what if you exhaust all avenues of treatment? You've been through chemo and radiation; you've changed your diet and exercise regimen; you've taken all the medications they throw at you. All to no avail. The pain is only going to get worse, and you will suffer unnecessarily.
Isn't that exactly what B is describing in her note? She's tried everything. She's seen no significant changes in her mental health despite years of various treatments. More and more, terminally ill people are choosing doctor assisted deaths. Can we extend the same hand of compassion to the chronically depressed?
We treat mental illness like it is a weakness of character coupled with a paucity of grit and will. You're just not trying hard enough. Snap out of it. It can't be that bad. You're just looking for attention. We don't say the same things to people who have cancer or break a limb.
I am not advocating for suicide. I think it is tragic whenever a life is seemingly cut short. Isn't it the ideal to live a long, healthy, love-filled life? But we know that is not the case for millions of people. So, what do we do? Do we ignore their pain? Do we tell them to "get over it" or offer platitudes like "things will get better. just wait." No. We make the end of this life as comfortable, and safe, and full of love as we can.
What if we talked openly about depression and suicide? What if the suicidal person had a safe place to express their desire to end the pain? The mental health profession is focussed on suicide prevention and certainly that is important work. Many people suffering with depression just want a way out of the pain; they don't necessarily want out of life. In those cases, yes, let's strive to offer them options for living. But like the terminally ill cancer patient who gets to confer about ending their life with compassionate professionals, suicide is a choice and one that should be allowed to be made out in the open and away from the dark, secretive closet.
B was a friend of my son. He understands why she ended her life. He knew her well enough to know the struggles she has had. But what makes him sad is that he didn't get to say goodbye. He didn't get to tell her how important and dear she was to him. They didn't get a last chance to laugh together or to reminisce about their friendship. Why? Because if B had told people in advance of her plans, they would have pleaded for her to just wait awhile longer despite the chronic pain. A big part of the secrecy around suicide is the guilt. Guilt over "leaving behind a world of hurt."
But it's not about us, is it? Yes, the pain of losing a child or parent or friend to suicide is almost too much to bear. In large part, this is because it comes suddenly, shockingly and often violently. What if it didn't have to be this way? What if B were free to choose a date to die and then go about saying goodbye? Those in palliative care are surrounded by loved ones on their last, chosen day. Small gatherings at their bed side, photos shared, anecdotes rehashed, laughter and tears all communally shared. No shame. No guilt. No darkness.
What breaks my heart is that B and all those like her, died alone. No one was there to hold her hand, to stroke her hair, to kiss her cheek. A complete absence of human love at the very moment she transitioned out of this life. No one should die that way.