I spent most of one lunch period this week coaching a classmate on how to break up with his girlfriend.
Why did I do this? Why didn’t I attempt to use my considerable persuasive powers to mend this five-month relationship and convince him to work it out? Because I am, of course, a horrible, soulless monster who thinks that if your heart isn’t in a relationship anymore, you should end it.
“I just don’t want anybody to hate me, you know?” he said. “To know that I hurt someone that much? That would hurt me to know. I just don’t want to hurt anybody.”
Oh, kiddo. Welcome to the club.
“Sometimes you’re going to hurt people. And they might even hate you for it, and it might not be your fault, but it happens. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do it.”
To quote a friend, breaking up is about minimizing pain, not avoiding it.
Because you can’t stay with someone just because you feel bad for them. Or just because you’re afraid of hurting them. Or just because you feel guilty. There are few things more internally destructive than that. And 99% of the time, the other person will be hurt by your emotional check-out, even if you are technically still there.
Suicide, to me, is the ultimate breakup from the ultimate relationship. You’re breaking up with life.
I’m aware that this is an imperfect metaphor, but I think that the emotional experience of living with depression is analogous to the emotional experience of being trapped in a bad relationship. It’s everywhere you go, it colors everything you do, and maybe you just get used to living at a baseline of unhappiness and it stops feeling so bad. Or stops feeling like anything at all.
I am not of the opinion that suicide is always, unequivocally, a bad thing. A sad thing, yes. Painful, tragic, devastating to confront, yes. But bad? I have to confess, I’m fuzzy on that. I see pros and cons. Like, I feel terrible for Robin Williams’ family for their awful loss, but at the same time I feel…almost happy for Robin Williams himself, that he is no longer living with whatever unthinkable internal pain caused him to end his life.
I’m not saying that suicide was the only option or was inevitable. Or that it was even a choice, since depression wrecks your brain chemistry to the point where you arguably are not in full control of your decision-making. But I see responses from various people across the web who call him “selfish” for doing what he did, without acknowledging how selfish it is to demand that he keep living just for you, or for his family.
Nobody owes it to you to keep living. Doesn’t matter if you’re a family member or a friend or whatever you are; nobody owes you their life. No one owes it to you to live solely because you will be hurt by them not. Nobody owes it to you to be your symbol of hope and recovery and strength. People are just people. They are independent of you, and while it may be inevitable that we graft ideals and projections onto the people we admire, it causes a clash of expectations and reality.
There is of course a lot more to say on this topic, and I doubt that what I’ve said here hasn’t been said a million times since Robin Williams’ death. But it’s what I wanted to say, so here it is.