Sometimes I wonder if I'm a sociopath.
I mean, everyone loved him, right? He was a great actor and a huge part of the life-background of GenXers worldwide, right? And the internet is outpouring all this grief, empathy and something I don't have a word for that's about depression and suicide as a phenomenon, the recognition thereof. All these things that I just don't feel.
I won't miss him. My thoughts on finding out he died were something along the lines of "Oh, that's a shame." And carrying on about my day. I was genuinely surprised to discover that lots of people, even people who are normally not affected by celebrity deaths, felt the need to express grief over this one.
I guess I just don't feel it as a loss when he wasn't really a part of my life except as an actor in things I watch for entertainment. I didn't know him, I didn't experience any form of two-way interaction with him, ever. What I saw and knew of him was always his representation of another person whose character was written and portrayed to make me respond in a certain way. It wasn't real.
So when the real person died, I was vaguely sad because the world's lost a good actor, but I didn't go anywhere near my real emotions.
I know a lot has been made of the depression/suicide thing. How sad that someone so well loved could feel so alone as to desire to take themselves out of life rather than continue to suffer. Well, yes. But here's where my opinion get somewhat controversial.
From what I understand, he'd been struggling with depression for a really long time. I don't know how old he was but he was well older than me, and I think it's fair to say that he'd had a lifelong struggle with it. I've experienced depression, and it's pretty fucking awful. And I see absolutely no reason why, when faced with the prospect of living for another 20, 30 or 50 years with the kind of awfulness that depression can bring on you, choosing not to is so bad.
Someone in our social group made the same choice a couple of years ago, and when I expressed this opinion in relation to that, at least one person took it upon themselves to berate me for having it. Because I was supposed to *want* this person to go on living, because living is the best choice. Full stop. End of story. Because *reasons*.
What reasons? Oh, they might get better, and then they will want to live! Which is true, but if someone's been round the track of feeling better, continuing to do everything right, then sinking down that hole again, and again, and again, despite their best efforts to do everything they can to prevent it, then who are we to judge whether they ought to continue going round that track till we deem it ok for them to not fight any more?
Exactly who are we thinking of when we decide that someone else should want to stay alive at all costs?
Yesterday, someone posted about the response to Robin Williams - particularly about people saying "Oh, but he had no reason to be depressed!" My reply to this was that saying that is like saying "Oh, but your Mum had no reason to get cancer!"
Because depression is an illness, right? That's the generally accepted view. And for some people, it's a chronic illness - one that brings about as much pain and suffering on an ongoing basis as many other more obvious illnesses. Yet most people will not disagree if you say something like "I really wish they would allow voluntary euthanasia for cancer sufferers." Because we recognise that there is a point where quality of life is so poor that the ill person could rationally make the choice not to suffer any more.
Yes, cancer is very often terminal. Depression will not kill you the way cancer will if you don't intervene. And for some reason, we as a society have decided that the only time suicide is a legitimate option is when you are going to die anyway. Otherwise, you must try to stay alive regardless of what you're going through, because you might miraculously get better and then what?
I would like to suggest that for people who suffer from chronic depression, the idea of a lifetime of going around that track may seem like a quality of life that isn't worth staying alive for. I would like to additionally suggest that if someone's been doing all the right things to be in their right mind, and they are still not in their right mind a lot of the time (and that lack of right mind causes them extreme suffering), then perhaps we are not in a position to judge the rationality of the choices they make.
This is the part where people usually go "So you reckon people with depression should just kill themselves?"
My answer to that is no. Of course not. But I do think that we should stop automatically assuming that suicide is an illegitimate option and that anyone who chooses it is automatically wrong to do so, that it isn't rational. I believe there are times when it is rational, and that as a society we are doing ourselves a disservice by not recognising our agency to decide this for ourselves. We prefer to let people suffer, because..
.. because God said suicide is a sin? Is that the only reason that life is so sacred that it's preferable to prolong it regardless of how full of suffering that life might be? On the off chance that things *might* get better - against all evidence to the contrary, in many cases?
So um, yeah. I guess I'm kind of pragmatic about death. You get that way hanging out with animals. We don't let them endure prolonged suffering.. well, actually, some of us do - those of us who can't stand to let go of our attachment to their presence in our lives. And others of us judge those people cruel for doing so. Yet when it comes to people, we accept that suffering is inevitable and worthy, and we judge people harshly for even suggesting that someone ending their suffering might be a better option. It's weird and wrong, IMO.
As a result of all this, what I feel about Robin Williams is the minor loss of someone I didn't know but who was famous, a great deal of sympathy for those who are more affected than me by his death, and a sense that maybe there is some rightness in this. I don't find choosing to die as repulsive as many other people, so to me it's not that different from if he'd died of cancer. And that's nothing to be that upset about, because, well, people die all the time.
And I ask myself, which is more sociopathic - an insistence that other people should want to be alive because we can't stand the idea that they didn't want to stick around with us? Or letting them choose for themselves and accepting that maybe that choice was better for them even if it wasn't good for us?
Also, I'm not charming enough to be a sociopath.