Courage Isn’t the Issue

Over the past couple of weeks, I’ve seen these Bravelets on Facebook several times and, while I applaud the idea behind them and the many battles they signify, they strike me as being a little off the mark as far as suicide goes.

suicide braveletLet me say plainly – I applaud the idea behind the bracelets and this piece is in NO WAY intended as criticism or discouragement of any kind. The jewelry just made me start thinking and I now share those thoughts with you.

As I think I’ve mentioned before, I know personally and know of more people who have committed suicide than I know people who have died from both car wrecks and cancer combined. Maybe that says something about my demographic, I don’t know; but, I don’t think so. We have all these public service announcements about vehicular safety and we raise millions for cancer research. Where are the PSAs for suicide awareness? Where are the suicide awareness and prevention walks, marathons, and telethons? While there are more of them than there were even five years ago, there still aren’t many.

We don’t want to talk about self murder. So, we don’t. We stick our heads in the sand and pretend it’s not real. Unaddressed, the problem grows. We simply must have this conversation.

I’ll start.

There is surely no one cause for suicide – there is no one tipping point, no common “straw that broke the camel’s back,” no single thing that causes people to choose to end their own lives. Often, the decision is put down to weakness or cowardice. I think it’s insulting to the victims and their loved ones to suggest that it’s that simple.

As humans, we want reasons. We need Why. I’ve heard some suggestions, even, that we invented religion to satisfy our innate need for causality. (And, lemme make clear that the whole question of religion is a great big can of worms that we ain’t even gonna think about opening up here. Like, ever. I’m way too “live and let live” for that.) With respect to death in general, we often ask for a Why? In the case of what is perceived as premature death and certainly in the case of self-murder, we clamor for one.

In Marsha Norman’s play, “‘night, Mother,” the suicidal Jessie says:

“Mama, I know you used to ride the bus. Riding the bus and it’s hot and bumpy and crowded and too noisy and more than anything in the world you want to get off and the only reason in the world you don’t get off is it’s still 50 blocks from where you’re going? Well, I can get off right now if I want to, because even if I ride 50 more years and get off then, it’s the same place when I step down to it. Whenever I feel like it, I can get off. As soon as I’ve had enough, it’s my stop. I’ve had enough. “

It’s not that Jessie’s life is so bad, it’s just that she doesn’t see it getting any better and she’s just tired of living it. She wants to get off. Her reason, her causality, her Why is plain, old, unglamorous fatigue. She’s just tired of living her life.

I didn’t see the play. In the late 80s, I saw the insanely powerful movie starring Sissy Spacek and Anne Bancroft. (If you can find it, watch it. It’s wonderfully done and those two women are brilliant.) Other than a general hopelessness that her life was ever going to improve, I don’t recall any other specific reason being given for her fatigue. For many with chronic depression, though, there is a very specific reason for it. We’ll talk about that tomorrow.


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