Suicide Is Not Selfish
I don’t want to hear another person say that suicide is “selfish”.
I am absolutely fed up and done with this idea that because someone took his or her own life, that someone acted selfishly and without consideration of the feelings of others and the impact such an act would have on the lives of others. Many of us were heartbroken after learning that Karyn Washington, blogger and founder of For Brown Girls, passed away in what appears to have been suicide. Those who were close acknowledged that she battled depression and was having some personal struggles. None of us will ever truly know what pain she was in, however, and that is why no one should refer to what she did as “selfish”. As a Black woman, I understand a lot of the unique burdens that we bear and have had to carry for generations. I have written about how we absorb so much pain, silently, because we’re expected to be “strong” and to endure everything and be the sources of strength for everyone.
In the days following the news of her passing, social media was, unfortunately, dominated by conversations about how selfish it was of her (and others) to commit suicide, and I admit that I was stunned at how careless and shameful the commentary has been in this time of grieving and reflection. The myth of the Black Superwoman plagues us to the point when any indication of hurt or pain is shamed, shunned, ridiculed, and belittled. Several months ago, Trudy of Gradient Lair facilitated an engaging discussion on how calling suicide “selfish” is victim-blaming. She and others explored how, for Black women, experiences with depression and trauma are often directly related to our being women and being Black and carrying the weight of this duality in a society that “others” both identities. Factor in religious expectations that require "more faith," intraracial expectations of loyalty and secrecy (when experiencing abuse), and the persistent disconnect between Black people and mental health care, there are so many things to consider when a Black woman takes her own life.
When Black women hurt, openly, we challenge others’ notions of what Black womanhood is—strong, fierce, unabashed, sassy, no-nonsense, caretaking, healing, saving, nurturing—and that makes many people uncomfortable. When we dare show “weakness,” we are blamed for being unable to be the mules everyone has come to expect us to be. We hurt. We feel pain. We struggle. And yes, sometimes in an act nothing short of revolution, we even put ourselves first. It’s a shame that too many find it hard to accept that we have the right to make decisions about our minds, bodies, and lives.
Karyn, I’m sorry for all that you endured that pushed you to the point of ending your life. I say, with great empathy, that I wish you eternal peace and hope that your suffering has ended, once and for all. My wish for you is that you’re enveloped in the loving embrace of our ancestors, many of whom made the same decisions and took the same actions. What you gave to us, purely of yourself, was more than you could ever imagine. You believed in the beauty of Black women and you did what you could to make us believe it too. Thank you.
Losing a loved one hurts. Most of us can relate to the feeling of losing someone who means the world to us, especially when it happens before we are ready to accept and process the loss. Are we ever truly ready, though? On April 19, 2007, I lost my mother to pancreatic cancer. She was only 51 at the time. While I knew the end was near, and had been preparing for her departure for several months, the loss still rocked me to my core and the shock and pain of losing her lingers with me still. There are always those “What if I had done more?” and “How could I have saved her?” thoughts that plague me from time-to-time, and I imagine that many people who lose loved ones experience similar moments of reflection and wondering.
There is something different about a person committing suicide, though, which elicits a different, almost angry feeling of betrayal. Many people think it is selfish to end your life when so many people love you, rely on you, need and want you around, and can’t imagine their lives without you. The angry feelings are often centered on what people need from you… for themselves. Some people make your life, your whole being, and your entire purpose more about what works to make their own lives better. People are concerned more about what they can no longer take from you and less about whether or not you were living your life happily for yourself. When someone takes his/her own life, that person is posthumously blamed for causing so many other people pain with little recognition or empathy for the pain that likely led to the suicide itself.