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Ignorance: handle with care

May 7, 2012

I’ve generally avoided talking about this for many reasons. Chief among them is that I don’t want to say anything that would make things worse. I am not a mental health professional, or any kind of advocate, or counselor, or someone with any kind of expertise. I’m just a girl who’s spent most of her adult life battling mental illness, and like anyone who’s experienced it, I’m fucking sick of people talking out their ass about it.

***

It only took a few minutes after the news of Junior Seau’s suicide broke for my Twitter timeline to fill up with arguments about CTE and head trauma and mental illness and the lawsuit against the NFL and safety issues in the NHL and whether suicide is selfish and other things we all think we know about.

It took a little longer than a few minutes for this opinion column to appear and cause everyone to go nuts on the author.

In it, Gregg Doyel argues that we should watch a video of Luisa Seau (Junior’s mother) taken right after she found out about her son’s suicide. Doyel appears to believe that seeing her pain will make people who are thinking about taking their own lives change their minds. He says in that column that suicide is a selfish act.

I want to make this very clear: I have no idea what led to Junior Seau’s suicide, whether he was suffering from a mental illness, whether it had anything to do with any kind of injuries his playing career inflicted upon him. This post isn’t about things I don’t know about. It’s about one thing I do know about: suicide is not selfish, or cowardly, or preventable with videos of Luisa Seau.

Suicide is about when the pain has the last word, not because you are weak, or selfish, or a coward, but because that’s the nature of that kind of pain.

***

After Rick Rypien passed away last summer, my friend Loser_Domi wrote this incredible post, which includes an account of her own experience with depression.

From that post:

Imagine it—you already feel like shit, but then you feel worse because you have absorbed that you feel like shit because you deserve it. You feel as if crawling out of bed and putting on a brave face takes every ounce of energy you have because you are total and complete garbage. You feel worthless because you are worthless, and the act of feeling worthless makes you worth less. And if you try to get help, you have to be extremely cautious about where you go and who you ask, because you never know if your source of “help” will silently judge you as less of a person for seeking help. You may end up being labeled as someone who couldn’t hack living like “normal people.” Either way, you can’t really win.

Read her post, if you haven’t already. Re-read it if you have. It’s amazing, and honest, and important.

***

The only thing I can truly talk about is what my own experience and treatment was like, and how to recognize warning signs in myself. That’s pretty much the extent of what I know. I don’t know what anyone else’s depression is like (unless they tell me), or the right way to treat anyone with a mental illness, or the best ways to fight ignorance about it.

What I do know for sure is that I could not control my depression or anxiety any more than I can control whether a drunk driver is on the road at the same time as I am. I could not control my depression any more than I can control whether a plane I’m on crashes, or whether a building I’m in collapses, or whether my brakes fail, or…

What I do know for sure is that during the worst of it, good days meant my loved ones were the only reason to hold on. Bad days meant that I did not deserve them and that their lives would be a better place without me in it. Even though I know that not to be true right now, I was never more certain of anything else at the time.

What I do know for sure is that it was easier than you’d think to keep it a secret. In fact, it felt like the only option. Wherein lay the problem. I had so many options in reality and yet I was so ashamed of being the way that I was that I could not tell anyone.

What I do know for sure is that I did not choose it.

***

Ask a mother who has lost her child to cancer, a car crash, a suicide bomber, or a drug addiction whether Luisa Seau’s anguish is worse than hers, I dare you. Losing a child is losing a child is losing a child, no matter how it happens, and it’s never okay.

It’s never okay.

If you really want to prevent that from happening to more people, don’t tell people to watch a video exploiting a woman in the worst possible moment of her life. Get yourself educated about suicide and mental illness, and tell others to do the same.

If you want to prevent that from happening again, maybe don’t yell and curse and scream at someone who has said something ignorant. Losing your shit at people who say ignorant things is a way of saying “my outrage over what you said is more important than educating you about the subject matter.” In essence you are making it about you, and not the topic at hand. There’s always information you can direct them to, even if you don’t have it yourself. You can even direct them to said information without yelling, believe it or not!

***

But really, stop yelling.

***

People don’t like being told they are wrong about something. I don’t know if it’s always been this way or whether it’s been getting more common and pronounced these days, but people seem to take it really personally when you disagree with them or tell them, however nicely, they might want to check their facts.

Let me let you in on a little secret: It’s okay not to know something.

Ignorance in itself is not something to be ashamed of, but refusing to consider or acknowledge the fact that you might be wrong or that you might have something to learn, is.

Choosing to stay ignorant is not okay.

Even less okay? Passing the ignorance around.

Talking about something you don’t understand usually just makes you look like you’re trying too hard, but in the case of mental health, it can be dangerous.

So maybe I’ll stop with this post here, because I don’t know much more than this. I am not the right person to be talking about this. Neither is anybody who says suicide is selfish or cowardly, or makes you feel weak or worthless or crazy or like a freak for having thoughts about it.

If you do find yourself in crisis or having any suicidal thoughts call 1-800-273-TALK (1-800-273-8255)

 

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17 Comments leave one →
  1. May 7, 2012 1:32 am

    Bravo. Exactly what I was trying really hard to say that day, but couldn’t find the words.

  2. May 7, 2012 7:56 am

    You, my dear, are one of the bravest people I know. You are also one of the best people I know. I love you friend! Keep talking, hopefully it will open some eyes. (And ignore the haters, and focus on the love that comes back to you for it).

    • theactivestick permalink*
      May 7, 2012 9:16 am

      Not feeling all that brave right now, to be honest. Very much regretting posting this. I think that makes me the opposite of brave.

      • Artie permalink
        May 7, 2012 3:26 pm

        Far be it from any of us to tell you how you should feel, you should however take pride in the fact that you took on an issue with an approach that will hopefully get people thinking. If you reach just 1 person with this post, it will be one more than was touched or educated before your blog.

  3. May 7, 2012 9:20 am

    good stuff, Laura.

  4. chrisgrenon permalink
    May 7, 2012 12:27 pm

    Laura, great post. It baffles me that, in this era of information, there is still so much ignorance and stigma about mental illness. Posts like this one can make a difference in opening people’s minds and hopefully get them to seek more information. Great job, as always!

  5. May 7, 2012 12:56 pm

    Thank you for this post.

    In regards to the last section, I find it utterly bewildering (and, honestly, quite fascinating) that internet generation have gotten to the point where they are aren’t afraid of putting anything of their lives out for people to view, but seem unwilling to be found in the wrong, especially about themselves. Too often it seems that we want our opinions heard, but only if you agree with them. It only seems to get worse when the issues are important and need to be viewed with reason.

  6. Rick1042 permalink
    May 7, 2012 2:06 pm

    Just a great article. Straigth-forward, honest, to the point and right on the money. I tip my hat to you!

  7. May 7, 2012 3:09 pm

    Great stuff, Laura. Whether you feel brave or not you should know that the words you published are just that, brave.

    Truth is, until you know what it’s like to feel so desperate that you no longer want to live you shouldn’t judge or try to analyze a different person’s motives. It’s not easy to just give up and let go of life. The same “selfish” argument happens with every public suicide, it happened when Wade Belak left 2 daughters that he clearly left so dearly and decided to selfishely kill himself. It’s so easy to make that statement about someone isn’t it? What people don’t understand is mental pain can be much much worse than any physical pain, it can’t be tolerated, it shouldn’t be tolerated and sometimes seeking help isn’t as easy as preached. Instead of calling someone selfish, maybe people should focus on how much this person tried not to be selfish until they could no longer handle it and that doesn’t make them selfish, it just means they were in that much pain. Preach help not ignorance, again great job Laura.

  8. May 7, 2012 3:10 pm

    Thank you

  9. kidkawartha permalink
    May 7, 2012 3:15 pm

    “Not feeling all that brave right now, to be honest. Very much regretting posting this.”

    The fact that you do, Laura, indicates once again how much character you have and how thoughtful you are.
    I find that the worst part of Doyel’s attitude and presumption is that it is often the cause or at least a contributing factor, literally, of suicide itself. Our society views even holding the feelings to be weak/selfish/etc, and who would ever want to talk about and start processing something in an environment like that?
    What I do know as well, is that any society that doesn’t provide for those who would rather be dead or passionately not want to live anymore may be one not worth participating in, ironically. If it wasn’t for the very good disability program here in Ontario (as brutal as it is to be accepted), I would surely have found a way to over-ride my powerful, deep-seated internal prohibition against taking my own life. I have no idea how those who have no pathway to a new life with supports manage it. So the next time your government advocates slashing help for those with mental struggles, maybe you should do something about it, say something, stand up for those who, for many varied and complex reasons, are experiencing so much pain death appears as a release.

    Thanks again, Laura, for standing up for people like me who got sick and tired a long time ago of explaining to others why there were, and may, in the future, be times I’d rather be off the planet.

  10. Will permalink
    May 7, 2012 3:45 pm

    Thank you for writing this. Not very long ago I was also in therapy and felt the urge to lean in to the receptionist in the crowded waiting room to whisper the name of the doctor I was there to see. Maybe one day, if we all become more enlightened as a society about this, seeing a doctor for mental illness will be seen the same way as seeing the doctor for strep throat. People speaking out like this can do nothing but help.

  11. May 7, 2012 3:50 pm

    Really a good read! A couple of months ago I had a discussion with a friend. Someone who I rarely disagree with. Well, he had missed a concert because someone was so selfish (in his point of view) to jump in in front of the train he was sitting in. This time I strongly disagreed.

  12. gonastynats permalink
    May 13, 2012 4:31 pm

    I have a double whammy as concerns this: a) I tried offing myself in 6th grade. b) It wasn’t until 1994 I found out what brought it on. The term “schitzoid (sic) personality disorder” says it all.
    Note I use “disorder”, and NOT “illness/disease/ailment”. The key to mental health is by identifying EXACTLY what you have. None of this PC bullshit.
    Incidentally, thanks for following my (non-sports) blog.

  13. mcphee permalink
    May 26, 2012 10:02 pm

    Well said, Laura, proud of you. I remember discussing this with you a good while ago. This is an issue that has touched my family deeply, and reading what you have to say makes me feel better about people eventually getting it.

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