Imagine a person, who has decided for you how you feel, but you don’t agree with it. But no matter how often you tell them it’s just not true they still insist they are right, that your objections are lies. They decided what would be best for you, without your input. And if you do give input, it’s pretty much dismissed. They decided for you what you can and can not deal with, again without you having any say in it. And nothing you can say or do will even begin to change their mind.
This denial of your feelings, your agency, your abilities will keep up for years. Maybe even for as long as you know them.
But it’s actually much worse. You feel like convincing them of your true feelings, your true choices, your true ability is literally a matter of life and death. Because the opinions of the person you love are: “You don’t care”
“You don’t love me”
“You’d be better off without me”
“All I am is a burden to you”
“You shouldn’t have to put up with me”
Fear and frustration will at some point turn into a personal failing in your head. “I haven’t done enough to show I care”
“I haven’t done enough to show love”
“I haven’t done enough to show how much they mean to me”
And when you’re exhausted by your efforts that just didn’t make any difference, you feel you can’t freely show how much you’re struggling with the situation. If you do, if you slip up even once, it will be taken as absolute proof they had been right all along.
All that fear, frustration and failing turns to anger. And then you scream it, if only inside your own head: “You are just fucking selfish!”
All of the above is personal experience dealing with a closeted suicidal-depressed partner. He was able to put on that happy mask for the outside world, but I got to see the full force of his depression. I got to deal with it. By myself, with no training and no idea what to do but reply “No I’m not” to every “Yes you are”. He would get angry if I suggested seeking help. So the two of us kept at it, alone. Barely keeping our heads above those dark, dark waters.
I was in the “suicide is selfish” camp for a long time. I would have the discussion way too often. Any time anyone took their own life, someone somewhere would say it was selfish. Others would get angry about that. And I would jump in saying “But it is, though. Suicide and depression are selfish.”
Don’t get me wrong, I never thought it was a choice to be depressed. I never thought they could just stop it. I never thought the pain wasn’t real. But was the behavior of a suicidal-depressed person lacking in consideration of others? Hell yes. They didn’t consider you, they made up a false version of you in their own head and considered that.
Honestly, it was either go with “they are selfish” or go with “I am not good enough — I am useless”. Judging the depressed person selfish was self-defense. Judging a depressed person selfish didn’t come lightly. It certainly didn’t come from a place of moral superiority. And it came with a whole lot of fear, frustration, helplessness and anger. And a bit of resentment and jealousy. Why was he allowed to break down, while I had to remain solid at all times?
Dealing with depression and suicidal thoughts is brutal. Dealing with a loved one with depression and suicidal thoughts, without help, is brutal. Maybe not the same flavor of brutal, but still fucking brutal.
You might have noticed the past tense in I was in the “suicide is selfish” camp for a long time. I am not anymore. What changed? Dealing with a suicidal-depressed loved one with help. Having a social worker, a psychologist and friends and family who know what’s going on, in our corner. The difference in experience is like night and day. It’s not easy. But it’s not that frustrating either. There’s no resentment. I am not angry at all. It’s very easy for me to see now that suicidal depression isn’t inherently selfish. It can just manifest in ways that can be experienced as selfish.
You know, maybe my experience isn’t universal. Maybe there really are assholes who pass out “selfish” judgement from on top of their high horse. But I very rarely see detached, casual accusations of selfishness when it comes to suicide and depression. What I see more often, are passionate rants. And I know where they are coming from. Depression is a much more prevalent issue than anyone cares to admit to, after all.
In my mind saying suicide is selfish is as much a result of the stigma of metal illness as suicide itself. We need to break the stigma for the sake of all involved. Try to listen for the frustration hidden in our language. Shaming people for experiencing the isolation of depression isn’t going to help much. And that holds true for both sides of the experience.