Why we need to think again about suicide since Robin Williams’ death

Taking your own life is not easy. I know I’ve tried, and obviously failed. When you commit suicide you haven’t lost a battle with depression or illness or whatever it maybe. No, you have won – you have taken the final step away from an insoluble problem.

Richard Butchins, an award winning documentary maker and author, tells his painful story of suicide

Taking your own life is not easy. I know I’ve tried, and obviously failed. When you commit suicide you haven’t lost a battle with depression or illness or whatever it maybe. No, you have won – you have taken the final step away from an insoluble problem.

One day, I’ll take my own life and that’s ok. It’s mine to take (unless I were to hurt others in the process). I am a disabled man with little if anything to look forward to in life; apart from increasing ill health and poverty in a society that’s shown itself to be virulently anti old-age.

My lover took her own life last year, she, like Robin Williams, hung herself. She left no note but I found out from reading her diaries that she felt that life had come to a full stop for her. That there was in her words “No way out”  and that she did what she did out of bravery not cowardice or desperation but a reasoned and logical, albeit a bleak logic, choice.

I have no information around Mr William’s death other than what’s already in the public domain but I suspect he knew all to well what having Parkinson’s disease entails and perhaps that factored into his choice.

People do not commit suicide in the depths of despair. There is not enough energy down inside that trench. It’s on the way out of the despair when you can see things more objectively that you have the energy to take action.

Once I wrote a lengthy suicide note that, in a twist of irony, caused me to carry on living. It became my novel on the futility of existence – Pavement. It’s no surprise to me that many suicides do not leave letters of intent. That much thought often hinders action. I ended up needing to know what would happen in the story my own suicide note had become. I suspect that many more people consider suicide than is commonly known about but the primitive survival instinct inside each of us is hard to overcome. I once attempted suicide by hurling myself from a bridge fully clothed but it’s harder to drown than you might think – if you can swim and you are conscious then you will.

I am not sure why our society has such a sanction on suicide when we seem happy enough to cause and create societal death on a huge scale. Perhaps the freedom inherent in the decision to take your own life is subconsciously felt as a threat to the cohesion of society – what if everyone realised his or her life is ultimately pointless?  I also question the sanction that the religious have against self inflicted death, surely if there is a paradise then we should all promptly top ourselves and hop on the stairway to heaven, but nope, it’s a surefire way to Hell if we kill ourselves. Personally I don’t believe all this nonsense.

When you die it’s over and that’s a thing to be thankful for, I know I will be.

Richard Butchins is an award winning documentary maker and author – his first novel Pavement is out this year. You can buy it here

7 Responses to “Why we need to think again about suicide since Robin Williams’ death”

  1. cacheton

    I found this post from Twitter – the tweet started with the words ‘Suicide is painless’, yet here Richard ‘tells his painful story of suicide’. Where does ‘painless’ come from?

    “what if everyone realised his or her life is ultimately pointless?” They don’t, because it isn’t. It seems to be to many people, and not just to those who think about suicide. Religions are of minimal or no help, as you point out, as their beliefs are illogical whereas suicide is a rational choice for someone whose subconscious belief system obscures the point of life to the conscious mind.

    The key is unraveling the subconscious belief system. It really is possible, though it does not appear to be very common. I am one of the lucky ones who managed it, at least to the stage where life is far from pointless.

    Western society is ill equipped to deal with the pain of human existence, where few explore that ‘place’ between science and religion, where science insists brain=mind to keep the study of mind within the domain of science (and there is ultimately no point to life) and religion proposes incompatible beliefs which enslave minds rather than freeing them (insisting the point of life is ultimately to do with what ‘God’ decides to do with ‘you’ when your physical body dies). But it is possible to walk in between. Honest. And good luck.

  2. Guest

    Ah right, so you attack theists while saying selfish actions like suicide are rational.

    And that your magic unravelling is the answer. That your form of spirtuality is a better shackle, that infesting science with things which don’t belong in it…

    The tool for investigating beliefs is philosophy, not science. Period.

  3. Gary Scott

    Killing yourself is to relieve the pain, physical and/or mental you are experiencing. Anything could cause this and wishing yourself dead rather than continue in unbearable suffering is a normal reaction to this state of affairs. If you have suffered terribly yet never felt this then your suffering has not been UNbearable. This is subjective, not weakness though. A professional sportsman paralysed may find it unbearable whereas Stephen Hawking has done his best work whilst almost completely paralysed. Realisation of the possibility of relief of your suffering by ending of your life is, in itself, a joy. Nothing is better than knowing that it can be stopped. A stone in your shoe is bearable when you know you can take your shoe off, when the stone cannot be removed it will, in time, become something which will drive you mad. I had these experiences with physical pain and also with mental pain. Planned the date, the time, the method and gave myself a little time so tidy up my affairs. I did not fail in my attempt. During the interim period I tried a last ditch attempt at treatment. I had ECT, it saved my life. Its not as you see it in films, you get a full anaesthetic, you feel nothing. Easier than going to the dentist and quicker too. If you’re going to kill yourself, try it, it won’t make things any worse and if it doesn’t work you can still go ahead anyway.

  4. Kay

    Ouch. That was uncomfortable, challenging reading and I suppose that was your intention, Richard. It was matter of fact, informative and funny too – like your style! You speak from your own experience and I can’t argue with that. But hey-ho – I’ll give it a go.

    “When you die, it’s over and that’s a thing to be grateful for” Perhaps, for some. Would you include very young teenagers? The ‘insoluable problem’ of a 14 year old is surely an episode in the course of a long life of bumps in the road, wrong turns and collisions. The episode may be scarey, isolating, demeaning and appear catastrophic, but it may only be temporary.

    I can accept that death is something to be grateful for, if you are suffering from a mental illness. I recall the friend, with a history of bipolar disorder, who hanged herself when her husband popped out for a newspaper one morning. I recall the baffling words written on the walls beside the remains of a young man: “Oh Mark Bolan, why did you die?”. and the young father, released from a mental hospital for the day, who hanged himself while his wife went to pick up their child from nursery. I can also accept that people who make the trip to Dignitas make a rational decision backed up with a plan.

    There is another (but thankfully small) number of suicides that I find appalling. They include: the narcissist, who killed his wife, daughter, dogs, a stable full of horses and set fire to his house and cars before killing himself, rather than admit and confront his debts and business failures; or the man who killed his children as well as himself, to spite his estranged wife. I presume that these types of suicidal men saw ‘the futility of their existence’, whether in reduced circumstances or separated from their children, but would you say that society was to blame for their problems? Nah, neither would I. .

    To be fair to you, I acknowledge that the structural shifts in society devalue, isolate and impoverish those who deserve better. You must be right when you talk about societal death or how else can we explain the fact that that suicide is the biggest killer of men under the age of 45 years – thousands and thousands of boys and men, year upon year upon year? I would be very disheartened to think that we could not prevent a significant number of those deaths. Don’t say it is so.

  5. Guest

    That’s is a nasty, selfish view from a self-confessed extremist.

  6. Cherie

    This discussion is quite scary to read. I say this because it is giving the notion that suicide is okay. Don’t get me wrong, I believe that everyone from the greatest to the least of us as had the idea of suicide cross our minds; however, very few actually commit this act. It is even scarier to read that many believe once you die, its all over, nothing else…This is so far from the truth. When our bodies return to the earth, our souls continue to live either in Heaven or Hell. If one has accepted Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior, then they will spend eternity with Him in paradise (Heaven). However, if you have refused His gift of salvation, then you will spend an eternity in Hell. It is not my position to condemn anyone especially those who decide to take their own lives; however, I do challenge everyone to consider this….Do you really want to take the chance that by taking your life, you have committed the ultimate sin and will be forced to spend eternity separated from the grace and love of God? And for those who do not believe there is a God….Do you really want to chance that you are wrong and there is a God who sees and knows all and loves you unconditionally? If those of us who do believe there is a God, what harm is it to believe that every life on this earth has purpose whether you know it or not. Your purpose may be to inspire someone with your story. I will say this last thing and be done….”Our life is not our own but has been bought with a price that no man can repay”. Please think twice before committing such a permanent act. Know that although life is hard, thiis hardship is just for a season and if you hold on, this will pass and better things will come your way.

  7. pjdenyer

    ” ‘suicide is painless’ […] where does ‘painless’ come from?”

    They were quoting a song title, the theme from M*A*S*H.

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