Thursday, 20 March 2008

When Does Self Interest Become Selfish?


I ask because of this post by Candace.

She states unequivocally, I have to say that I have zero sympathy for suicides (unless they are the actions of the terminally ill wanting to end their life on their terms). It is the most selfish, brutal thing you can do to your loved ones.

"Suicide is a selfish act," is a very common sentiment, and maybe for society's sake it need be. But I do not agree.

I have been a victim of depression. As a teen I sat with gun to head ready to end it all. What stopped me was my inability to explain my rationale in written form so that my parents would understand. I could not find the words to express my anguish at life. That caused me to rethink and to put the gun aside.

Fortunately I have (with one relapse) been able to pull back from that brink. But looking over that precipice in the face of death offers perspective.

What is not acknowledged by the mentally fit is that for the depressed, their mental anguish is a form of terminal illness. You find no joy in life, you have no ambition to go forward. Every interaction causes you internal pain and suffering. You withdraw from the world and live in 24 hour agony.

It is ironic that most successful suicides are often described by family and friends as, "They gave no sign they were depressed". No one knew I was, until I admitted it and started talking about it. Even then it took years for me to feel that I had it beat. But while afflicted, your emotions become numb. You feel zombie like as you move through your daily routines and interactions with friends and loved ones. You smile and laugh, but you feel numb and dead inside. You put on a mask of faked emotions to hide the true dread lurking inside. I guess its a survival reflex to help you carry on. But that mask also hides your suffering from those most likely to help you.

Many agree that physical suffering can be terminated with a suicide if it is chosen of the patients free will. But mental suffering cannot. Who is to say which suffering is worse for the patient undergoing the duress?

We acknowledge that physical suffering can be ended when it is in the patient's best self interest. We don't call it a selfish act. Why not? Is it because we can witness their pain, and thus assume some onto ourselves? Will we not acknowledge that their suicide offers us release as well, thereby it being in our own self interest as well? Their death relieves us of our pain as well as theirs, which makes it OK?

All acts taken in ones self interest are at some level, selfish. Would we not agree that with the level of consumption we enjoy in the West, that we are a selfish society? Look at how we hoard food, water, energy and other precious resources. Its there; we can take it, and we do. We don't share very well. We hide it behind the rationale that we earn our keep, and we can spend our hard earned dollars on what we want in our own self interest, but come on. We are a selfish people.

Let me also ask this, is it not selfish to force a person to live in mental pain day-in day-out so that you do not have to experience the pain of their loss?

Selfish. Such a harsh word. But most of us are selfish some of the time.

Depression is an illness, a disease. For some people it may even be incurable. Some are not as mentally strong as others, some have some episode that triggers it.

Myself, it apparently is genetic. My Opa suffered from depression which eventually degraded into dementia for the latter third of his life. That was painful for the entire family to witness. His eventual death (of natural causes) was a relief. His funeral had a weird carnival aspect to it. His children suffered so much from his rages and darkness that only his death freed them. There was a giddiness as we celebrated our freedom. I still remember my youngest cousin, standing with tears in her eyes, mourning the loss of her grandfather, looking confused as her aunts, uncles and older cousins laughed and celebrated. It is one of those singular moments that stay with you. The question to be answered is, if he had committed suicide before the dementia stole him from us, would it have been better for the family? Such a selfish thought, is it not?

My father suffered in his teens and 20s as well, and he confided he considered suicide more than once as well. So for those of us afflicted with depression, how can suicide be a selfish act? Its nature is in us, it is part of the fiber of our being. Quite honestly, that dark shadow calling me to the abyss of oblivion still lingers. It used to lurk not far from my thoughts at all times. Even now, though I feel I have it beat, I find it there tucked in a corner of my mind, lurking, waiting. I have lived with it for so long it almost feels like an old friend. Which may be why it slipped free once again about 5 years ago. Now I work to keep it from slipping free of the chains I put it in, and have embedded the lesson of that experience. But no matter what I do, it is never entirely gone. I will live with this my entire life. And my depression is a minor variant; even with what I have experienced, its been classified as mild. I ache for those who suffer from severe depression, their lives must be unbearable. So to those who are depressed and suicidal, you have my sympathies.


Mader said...


What a courageous and powerful post. I can't say that I've never known anyone who suffered depression; but I've certainly never known anyone who could explain and express it as you've done. And I can't say you've helped me to understand depression; but you've helped me to understand it more than I ever have before. At the risk of sounding trite, I wish you continued and lasting good health.

Catelli said...

Thank-you. Your comment matters more than you might think. It mattered more than I thought it would.

Not to be cute, but explaining depression is sort-of like explaining sex to a virgin. Until they partake, they have no idea what you are talking about. Not that a sympathetic ear or willingness to help and support from the non-afflicted should be discouraged.

If I had to summarize depression in as few words as possible. I'd say this.

Depression is an illness where the patient is deprived of the ability to feel positive emotions and the negative emotions, primarily anger, loneliness and sadness are accentuated. To the point that the patient could constantly feel extreme rage, isolation or despair. Or some combination of any or all three.

I hope that is a clear definition that makes it easier to understand the scope of what someone afflicted is going through.