Societal Reprimand or: The Pressure Cooker as a potential Trigger for Suicide (some graphic content and trigger warning)

Last weekend, the 19-year-old son of a distant friend of mine killed himself by slamming his car into a tree. The poor guy burned to death in his car, which had immediately caught fire when hitting that tree (the tree was now removed by city authorities). The driver right behind him came to his help, but was unable to free him from the burning car as the driver was locked in and jammed between car parts. I can only hope he wasn’t conscious when the entire tragedy went down…

As if this wasn’t horrible enough, he had been recently hospitalized in the same institution I got to “taste” some 30 years ago. In my case, four months of hospitalization and doctors, whom in retrospect I can only describe as utterly incompetent bordering on taking advantage of their patients, didn’t bring about any change. Upon being released without any difference from how I went in, I found myself in a state of mind that this young man must have been in. I also remember, how I had a nervous breakdown while driving and considering to slam my car into a tree or wall at almost every curve or bend in the road. My heart breaks when thinking that this is what went on with this young man right before heended his life in such a horrible, utterly tragic way. (not to mention his family and the unspeakable tragedy they’re now experiencing).

The poor guy had been committed to this same hospital weeks earlier after a failed suicide attempt. When learning of the reasons that brought him to this damned institution, they commented: “Well, we had better put some bandages on your injuries.” I can’t begin to describe the rage I’m feeling when hearing of their blatant failure – or disinterest? – in treating their patients accurately. The place should be closed down IMO. And the least they can do is to pay the family a large sum of compensation for failing to give him the attention and care he came in for in the first place. (I am aware that this would require an investigation; since I was there myself I don’t feel I need an investigation to arrive at that conclusion seeing as I had been treated with the same amount of disregard)

But there is a different point I want to make for which I’m taking the liberty of bringing this incredibly tragic episode up (and I’d like to think that this would have been o.k. with this young man or his family, seeing as I also keep their privacy by not naming names): From what I hear from people who were close to this young man, apparently he had faced similar challenges as I have been living with for as long as I can think. To put it in a nutshell, major depression was probably the most pressing issue he had been dealing with. For all of us, who ever underwent an episode of major depression, we certainly know that it is a hellish experience – to put it mildly. When you’re in the middle of another bout of “major D”, there really seems no point in prolonging an existence the nature of which seems to offer nothing but endless suffering without any hope or end in sight. Anyone who is not depressed and was lucky enough to never have experienced this extreme state of mind/emotions, is very unlikely to understand what it’s like. In other words: Those, who have never been there don’t even have an idea as to what it might be like. (It took me a long time to understand this somewhat basic, almost trivial fact). You can talk and vividly describe it all you want, but it’s unlikely you’ll get the point across. I’d surmise – and can tell from lots of personal experience – that this fact alone puts additional stress on anyone living with a severe emotional disorder like major depression (or probably just about any disorder on the spectrum of emotional-psychological “aberrations”), meaning to say: You can’t even count on being understood in your suffering by your peers. I don’t mean to be cold or compare types of suffering in their gravity. But let’s just say that someone with a visible physical challenge is more likely to be met with a share of empathy than someone who is “just always so down” (and when I have ridden out yet another episode of “D”, I can even relate to that position – to an extent….). But it’s actually a lot worse than the mere absence of empathy or understanding: From my experience – and this happened to me time and time again – you’re even at risk of getting actively shunned and bullied for your suffering! So there is the stress of needing to lift that rock day in, day out just in order to provide some degree of being functional, while your surroundings sanction you for not being as chipper as them! (maybe not family or friends, but co-workers, bosses, that sort of environment….) My theory is that the combined effects of emotional exhaustion at the peak of another episode as well as ongoing societal reprimand – individual and structural – create an unfortunate climax at the top of which a person might decide it’s not worth it to put up with all of this any more – and commit suicide. In my own experience I clearly remember – many! – days when I couldn’t help but think “People really don’t want me in this world!” I began to feel guilty for being ill and seriously contemplated kiling myself as an act of “societal hygiene”!

I believe this young man had arrived at a place, where not only he must have felt alone with his suffering, but according  to those who knew him also felt under enormous pressure of possibly never being “good enough” while deliberating – and possibly having experienced – that society has no room for people not performing at their 200% of personal productivity. This, coupled with something I’d call “emotional paralysis” in the midst of a depressive episode might have been the culmination point at which he made this tragic choice of ending his life in this way.

I am aware that I’m drilling things down to a very narrow angle of perception and that my somewhat “removed” (and remote) analysis won’t bring this man back, nor will it relieve his family and friends of the depths of grief they’ll now probably live with for their entire lives. The reason I have taken the liberty to speculate on this entire situation and trying to make “sense” where no sense can be made is this: I would like for non-affected parts of society to start cutting us some slack. In other words: We – as in: Anyone coping with an emotional disorder – have already proven our perseverance a million times over. We may have learnt that we can “fall back” on our perseverance (not safely, but so far…) So we may not necessarily need or want “help” from anyone other than just not making it any harder for us than it already is!

I’m afraid, another few decades might have to pass before some of this thinking makes it into the mainstream, let alone into the health and legal system in terms of creating parameters that are a little easier to navigate for those of us, who are living with major depression or another so-called “mental” disorder! Societal ignorance at large just took another life when probably all that was needed was a tiny amount of consideration, room, leeway.

You with me on that?

Update: For a more elaborate and scientifically corroborated discussion, please see Dr. Kerr’s epic post on this subject.

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