by Stephanie Chandler
The recent news of several celebrity suicide deaths is a reminder that depression doesn’t care about fame or fortune or status. Though I didn’t know any of them personally, I can promise you that they didn’t want to leave their young children behind. What parent wants to leave their child? In the depths of illness and what’s known as “the suicide trance,” they quite likely thought their loved ones would be better off without them.
I used to view suicide as selfish, before I lost my husband to depression in 2013 and then set out to better understand what had happened. Learning that the brain gets stuck in the loop of the suicidal trance helped me make sense of it all. My husband was the least selfish person I’ve ever known. He would have never wanted to inflict such pain on his family, especially on our then 7-year old son, whom he adored.
Depression is an illness that lies to its victims. When in the suicide trance, they feel worthless and hopeless. They experience a level of pain the rest of us cannot begin to fathom—pain that has been compared to feeling like surgery without anesthesia.
A suicide attempt survivor told me: “It was like my brain was on fire. All I wanted to do was stop the pain. I wasn’t thinking about how it would devastate my family. At the time I thought I was a burden on them and that they would be better off without me.”
Suicide by adults is typically not a sudden decision. It’s most commonly brought on by persistent thoughts its victims have battled for years. Oftentimes those struggling with depression and suicidal ideation hide their pain from family and friends. When in social situations, you would never have known how deeply my husband was struggling. But back at home, where he should have felt his best, he retreated into an unreachable cocoon of sadness.
My husband worked for the same company for over 20 years. He was a steady force in so many ways, except that he battled depression daily. The only logical explanation for him dying by suicide was that he thought we would be better off without him. It seems to me it was more of a selfless act than a selfish one.
We need to stop using the term “committed suicide.” Our loved ones died BY suicide and FROM depression. They didn’t understand the devastation they would leave behind. They didn’t mean to inflict so much pain on us.
Now, almost five years since my husband lost his battle with depression, my mission is to live life with as much joy as possible—the kind of joy he wasn’t able to experience himself. I want to show my son how to appreciate every day while we honor the memory of his dad. It’s not always easy, but it’s a choice I strive to make every day. I know he would want nothing more than for us to be happy.
Your loved ones would want that for you, too.
Stephanie Chandler is a writer and speaker and resides near Sacramento, California. For more information: StephanieChandler.com.