Just Change the Way You Think

Today I am angry.  I am angry because I read an article by Martha Beck in O (Oprah’s magazine) that suggested that all a suicidal person has to do to avoid killing himself is to decide to change the way he thinks.

That, dear readers, is bullshit.  Yes, I am getting profane because when I think about Tony and all he went through – all he struggled with every single day – that makes me absolutely furious.  Is there anybody reading who really thinks, REALLY, that it’s just that simple?  Possibly this sort of easy-peasy approach might work for someone who’s experiencing a bout of low-level pessimism, because that person’s just going through a rough patch and sometimes “fake it ‘til you make it” is just the ticket in those situations.  But for someone who’s seriously depressed?  Seriously mentally ill?  That is an oversimplification so vast that I hardly know where to start refuting it.  If trying were all that was required, nobody would ever choose suicide.  But they do, Tony did, and part of the reason they do is because people go around saying and writing glib and ridiculous things like this about suicide:

 “If you’ve reached this dreadful pass, please recall that suicide is logistically taxing, and (as Hamlet pointed out) may not even work as a pain reducer.  Wouldn’t you rather steer away from the logical extreme of self-destruction and toward the conviction that your life is worth living?” 

 Maybe Ms. Beck has never known anybody who was seriously mentally ill.  Maybe she is coming from a good place and really thinks advice like that would help someone who’s reached the kind of low point where they feel that ending their own life, stopping their own heart, is the best option.  What I know, though, having loved someone who reached that awful place, is this: if my poor sad angry Tony could have done that, just flipped some switch, he would have.  I know this, for a fact.  I will never know exactly what he was thinking or feeling when he made the irreversible decision to end his own life, but I knew him.  He wanted to be happy.  He wanted to be relaxed around people.  He wanted the world to be a good place, to feel safe and inviting and warm.  BUT IT DIDN’T FEEL THAT WAY TO HIM.  It never did.  And no “give it the old college try” pep talk was going to change that.  Maybe medication could have.  Maybe extended, in-depth therapy and/or hospitalization could have.  It was never as easy as a pep talk.  If it were, the hundreds of thousands of words I used trying to help him see the world as a place that cherished him would have worked.

I can’t, right now, even discuss the reference to Hamlet.  The one thing allowing me to get up every day is the thought that Tony is no longer suffering.  I don’t need any suggestions that he might be. 

I don’t know when I’ll reach a place where I can look back and feel that what I did, everything I tried, was enough.  What I am realizing, more and more, is that I tried very hard.  So hard, harder than I have ever worked at anything in my life.  Harder than any job, harder than screenwriting, harder than any other relationship I have ever been in.  Tony tried too.  He fought so hard; oh God, he fought every single day against it.  He fought in the best way he knew how.

The attitude expressed by Ms. Beck, that right there, is why he wouldn’t get help.  Because we, as a society, have made it EASY for mentally ill people to stigmatize themselves.  To feel shame about something they cannot control, did not choose, and would rid themselves of in a heartbeat if they could.  We treat diseases of the brain, the ones that can’t be anatomically pinpointed and treated with a scalpel, like they are sideshow attractions.  I am very careful not to use this word unless it is truly warranted, but this attitude is shameful.  It is unacceptable.  It is literally killing people.

If someone wrote a magazine article claiming that a chipper attitude was all a person needed to beat cancer or multiple sclerosis or epilepsy or heart disease, that person would be pilloried.  Yet an article like this one shows up in O, and quietly breaks my heart on an April day.

I don’t know how, but I am going to change this.  My relationship with Tony ended in tragedy, but my determination to make people understand why we need to rethink our attitude toward mental illness will not.  It can’t.  I won’t let it.

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13 thoughts on “Just Change the Way You Think

  1. O Magazine is never going to publish the article that says, “Sometimes you do your best and it’s not enough. Sometimes good people have horrible things happen to them. Sometimes life is terribly unfair and sucks.” That doesn’t sell magazines. It’s not uplifting to tell people that sometimes the best-laid plans and best intentions get blown all to hell for no good reason.

    You are right and Martha Beck is wrong. I pray it’s because she (mistakenly) believes it’s that easy, and not because she’s willfully minimizing the anguish too many people go through. How nice for her to be that naive, right?

    Hang tough, lady. Sending this entry, or something like it, in as a letter to the editor. You have something to say and they need to hear it.

    • Thanks, Mir. I know you’re right, it doesn’t sell magazines, but man is my blood boiling. We’re on the same wavelenth, because I just clicked over here from my email, where I hit “send” on an email to the editor. I’m also going to post a link to this entry on Oprah’s Facebook page. Always, thank you for reading xo

  2. How do you feel about writing a scathing letter to the editor?
    I can tell you from my own experience meds and therapy in conjunction are the only way. I know my circumstances have changed since my mother got Stage 4 terminal cancer and even with meds, therapy and 1 time hospitalization I still struggle damn day. Never mind “walk a mile in my shoes” to that lady, live in my head then come talk to me. I quote Andrew Dice Clay since my brother and I found him amusing to the woman that wrote that article, “Ya, Keep talking, dunce!

    • I just sent a letter, Jovi, we’re on the same wavelength. I’m also going to post a link to this entry on the Facebook page. I’m so proud of you, Jovi, for doing the hard work that you’re doing. Much love xo

      • And anytime you feel that anger just bubbling (because I know it is) just hear me doing my best Andrew “Dice” Clay impression saying to that lady, “Ya, keep talking; Dunce!”

  3. Bravo to you Aimee for telling the truth and pointing out the discrepancy between perception re physical and psychological diseases. Maybe if enough people who have wrestled with mental disease and those of us who have lost a loved one to it speak the truth, there will be much more compassion towards those who suffer and hopefully, more effort to care for them. ❤

  4. I lost my mother, and recently my 19 year old daughter to suicide. They were the bravest people I have ever met. I believe that unless you suffer from bipolar or depression it is impossible to fathom. It is not something my mother or my daughter could “get over”. They both tried. My daughter once told me that she wakes up every morning in a sea of black oil with no light to guide her to shore.
    I found that in self, in my grief, I was losing them. Today, I try to stay present, I hold and smell a flower, I look at the miracle of life and I am grateful for the opportunity to live another day. I live in their grace. They are no longer in pain and in love and spirit we are closer.

    • Oh, Joe, I’m so sorry. I am trying to do what you say, to take time to remember the good things about the life I shared with my husband. I’m fortunate to have family and friends around me who helped me get up and live each day when it felt like I couldn’t. As sad as I am that Tony chose to end his own life, I am deeply grateful for my own. I hope to get to a point where I feel closer to him. Right now it is still so hard.

  5. Pingback: No room for ignorance or shame | sixwordsblog

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