My Unpopular Thoughts on Suicide.

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The topic of suicide seems to be inescapable as of late.

With the passing of the iconic Kate Spade and the crass but endearing Anthony Bourdain, the topic has again been thrust into the social and moral lexicon. The constant media coverage and social media posts have led me to do some serious soul searching.

A little more than 10 years ago, I made the decision to take my own life. A less than ideal childhood led me to severe depression and a hopeless addiction to heroin and other drugs. After returning home from a number of months living as a gypsy “drag-rat” in Austin, Texas, I was emotionally and physically drained.

I overdosed on prescription medication and alcohol. I didn’t leave a note—I didn’t have the energy. I was exhausted.

I spent several weeks in the ICU and the psychiatric unit at the local trauma center. After several more years, I was able to gain a meaningful and lasting sobriety and live a life bursting at the seams with joy and fulfillment.

Those are my credentials—I’ve been there.

One more quick disclaimer before I proceed: suicide is sad. Losing people we love is tragic and traumatic. And there are often meaningful solutions and resources that can rescue suicidal people and give them the opportunity to recover and lead meaningful and productive lives.

But the reality for many people is that they suffer from clinical depression or a variety of other mental disorders, which can be resistant to treatment. These cases are similar to cancer or other physiological illnesses in that they are biological diseases. What many people seem unwilling or unable to accept is the idea that there are those for whom major depression and other mental disorders are terminal conditions.

As a society, when a celebrity dies by suicide, we tend to focus on the idea that their death could have somehow been avoided; and in the process, we neglect the fundamental truth that it may have been the ultimate conclusion to a terminal biological disease.

When we oversimplify the condition and establish that there must always be a cure or remission, we deny the deceased the dignity of dying. We place the full responsibility on their shoulders for their untimely departure instead of viewing their death as we would someone who has lost their battle with cancer or heart disease.

There is nothing amoral or selfish about dying—under any circumstances. As sentient beings we have the fundamental right to die. For someone who has tried in every possible way they know to overcome their mental illness, suicide is a dignified choice. If we could shift our social consciousness toward those who choose to end their own lives, we could help their friends and families grieve more effectively. Instead of shaming them or asserting there must have been another way out, we could accept that they made a decision that is immensely personal and the result of disease.

We can allow them the right to rest in peace, which is what they deserve.

Dying is the one thing in life we all have in common. It is something we must all do. Whether we go connected to various machines in a hospice center, suddenly at home from a heart attack, or on our own terms by suicide, we will leave behind people who feel sorrow and grief. Let us not belittle or depreciate one form of dying over the other. The reality is that those who die have a right to be remembered through the vivid lens of love, compassion, and life.

We are more than our ends. We are the sum of our life experiences and what we learned, what we gave, the joy we brought, and the pain we shared. We are imperfect. We stumble and we fall; some of us get up and some of us can’t. For those who no longer have the ability to go on, let us not shame them and focus on their end, but instead consider their lives and their deaths as natural and uniquely theirs.

If I had died—if I hadn’t woken up in the ICU—I would have wanted my family and friends to remember me as the authentic, love-filled person I was. That I craved experiences in every form. That I laughed hard and embraced my pain. That I sped through life with the top down and my hands in the air. And most importantly, that when I chose to get off the ride, it was my decision and my decision alone—that while I loved them very much, it was just my time to go.

Setting people free in life is a popular idea; we see it in all the self-help books. But when it comes to suicide, let us learn to set people free in death. There is nothing to forgive because dying isn’t offensive—it’s inevitable.

~

Relephant: The Simple Buddhist Trick to being Happy.

author: Chase Austin Zittrauer

Image: Twitter

Editor: Nicole Cameron

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Chase Austin Zittrauer

Chase Austin Zittrauer is a senior in the Cellular and Molecular Biology program at Louisiana State University in Shreveport, LA. He is a full-time helicopter dad to his rescue dog Clinton—although he’s sure he’s the one who’s been rescued. Chase emphasizes the possibility of recovery from alcoholism and drug addiction through a life of service. He is also an advocate for justice reform in his home state of Louisiana and a part-time mer-handler for his dear friend The Red River Merman. Chase has a blog in the works, which will be operational very soon.

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Adam Beall Jun 21, 2018 11:53pm

I'm pretty sure that te point of life and that which gives meaning, purpose and fulfillment has never been simply it to the end with the most years. Some of us live and learn a hundred lifetimes in a few decades, others piddle away ninety barely doing anything much at all but enduring and observing. There are many ways to kill ourselves: heart disease from decades of self indulgence, cancer from ten or twenty years of toxic exposures, three or five years of drug abuse, thirty years of smoking, two years of neglect, a few months of picking fights with gangsters, a few weeks of partying at our limits, a year without sleep, six months of isolation from other humans until we lose all hope, and one bullet in the brain, two slit arteries, or a bag around our neck to stop the heartache and turmoil. How much blame do we need to cast upon the suffering? How many families must force the expense of a life's fortune for the sake of a few months' longer torture near life's end at whatever age we may be?

Kathryn Griffin Jun 20, 2018 7:52pm

You have “creditals”? Really? What you write here is bullshit, plain and simple. It comes from a narrow world experience and that’s what you should lead with...not your self proclaimed deep and vast understanding of what it feels like to want to end your own life. For someone looking to this forum for support and hope, you offer neither.

Clarissa Romero-Flores Jun 16, 2018 6:09am

"Unpopular" thoughts yes... because the honest truth is too often easy to sweep under the carpet in order to be nice or socially/politically appropriate. I find your truth to be very kind and clear because it is written from a place of love and teaching. No harm intended. Those who are offended come from an understandable place of pain and that's ok too.

Paloma Foxhoven Jun 12, 2018 7:37pm

Thank you, Chase. My mom committed suicide on Thanksgiving last year after a lifetime of struggling with severe mental illness. As a young child I had to learn how to talk my mother off the cliff and come up with my own reasons for the meaning of life. I'm glad her suffering is over and I do see it as she finally succumbed to an illness such as cancer. Your article is what I've been trying to understand but couldn't find the words.

Kathryn Carlson Jun 12, 2018 5:36pm

Nicely done! I have the same outlook. In addition, by being afraid to traumatized your loved ones, you are forced to stay to make them happy. I have lived with clinical depression for years yet I am here because of my daughter. We are born and we will die. Why should not be able to choose when that time is? It is not a selfish act - actually it's quite scary and you have to have a lot of courage to do it. It is not cowardly. Why should anyone be forced to live in misery to keep other people happy? Thank you for this article. KC

Siobhan Hannon Jun 12, 2018 4:02pm

Just wanted to let you know I love what you have written. It is easy to see you are speaking from the heart and from your past experiences .... I agree whole heartily.

Katie Watson Jun 12, 2018 3:33pm

This has helped me process the loss of my dearest friend more than anything I’ve read on the subject of suicide. Thank you.

Sean CP Jun 12, 2018 2:30pm

This is a great post. Your point is very clear, and well explained. You are right to state that it is not a popular thought on suicide, but it is a very important point of view. Thank you for sharing!

Heidi Evans McArdle Jun 12, 2018 12:25pm

beautifully said. Still: glad you made it. I think it's more important to guide people to resources to release the stranglehold they are in than to empower permissions for those eager to help someone shuffle off the mortal coil.

Becky Kolbenschlag Jun 12, 2018 12:15pm

I love you 😘

Kari Zahar Jun 11, 2018 8:36pm

He said every possible way 'that they know'. Generally it's pretty well understood that there are other options not considered of which they were unaware. I completely agree with him that we shouldn't make someone else's death about us. Esther Hicks with Abraham said, "every death is a suicide." Obviously there was more context to that quote, but I found it pretty interesting.

Molly Burke Jun 11, 2018 7:00pm

While I respect and appreciate you sharing your story, I do disagree. When you say "For someone who has tried in every possible way they know to overcome their mental illness, suicide is a dignified choice" I find that somewhat problematic because I think it is rare to find someone who committed suicide who tried absolutely everything to overcome their mental illness. I work for a non-profit that in 2013 delivered a program about recognizing depression in young people and preventing suicide to almost 20,000 students, of which over 1,000 came forward asking for help." People with depression respond favorably to treatment 80% of the time and almost all get relief from their symptoms. Suicide never, has to be the answer if the depression is recognized and treated early enough. And there absolutely is a way to remember those who have died" through the vivid lens of love, compassion, and life" and acknowledging that they did not have to die without the use of shame. When someone close to us commits suicide, we can cry and mourn, but, you are correct; we cannot linger on what has been done forever. Instead, we can turn and change our mindset to educating young people about the warning signs so those at risk do not have to get past what you might refer to as the point of no return.

Kalyn Sells Williams Jun 11, 2018 6:16pm

Chase, it's an honor to know you. I couldn't be more proud to call you my friend.