OPINION: Response to Henry Rollins’ Revolver OpEd “F*ck Suicide”

In a recent opinion piece published by Revolver Magazine, Henry Rollins took a rather hard ass opinion on suicide in general and Robin Williams’ suicide in particular. It is his opinion; I respect the man’s right to an opinion. However, I can’t let it pass without a response. The entirety of his piece can be found here. I will quote as needed in my response which is also, it should be noted, my opinion. I don’t pretend to be an authority here, nor do I pretend to be infallible. But I do feel strongly about this topic and I strongly feel Rollins is way off base.

robin williams

In the wake of Williams’ high profile suicide and the revelation that this man who touched the lives of so many with humor had suffered for years with depression, there was an outpouring of national attention on the topics of suicide and depression. It opened up a dialogue about these personal struggles that we can only hope will continue, a dialogue that may one day lessen the stigma that those of us who suffer silently with this disease face every day.

But the dialogue was not all positive. There were many people, famous and otherwise, who were angry with Williams for “taking the easy way out.” They spouted the clichéd idiom that “life is only what you make of it,” and decried Williams for failing to make the most out of it. Suicide, in their eyes, was a failure.

Rollins echoed these thoughts in his diatribe. He starts soft enough, echoing the shock and sadness that so many felt in the wake of Williams’ untimely death. But almost immediately, he crucifies the man with a cutting blow:

But I simply cannot understand how any parent could kill themselves. How in the hell could you possibly do that to your children? I don’t care how well adjusted your kid might be—choosing to kill yourself, rather than to be there for that child, is every shade of awful, traumatic and confusing. I think as soon as you have children, you waive your right to take your own life. No matter what mistakes you make in life, it should be your utmost goal not to traumatize your kids. So, you don’t kill yourself.

That is all very well and good. Clearly, as a parent, our first job is to protect and provide for our children. But Rollins’ acerbic damnation is both trivial and misses the entire point of depression. It LIES. It is a dirty, dirty liar. And it tells you things like you are a failure: at life, at parenting, at everything you do. It tells you that every life you touch is worse for your existence. It whispers that everything you love and everyone you love would be better off for your absence.

It is clear to me that Rollins either has never suffered from a deep depression or never had anyone in his life so close to his heart that depression was able to lie to him about how he affected their lives. His view of Williams’ suicide is so narrow as to be comical. We can be angry that he is gone; we can even be angry that he left so soon. But to judge him so harshly is foolish and unfair.

Rollins goes on to back up his severe take on suicide by explaining that he feels people who choose this path void their right to pity:

When someone commits this act, he or she is out of my analog world. I know they existed, yet they have nullified their existence because they willfully removed themselves from life. They were real but now they are not. I no longer take this person seriously. I may be able to appreciate what he or she did artistically but it’s impossible to feel bad for them. Their life wasn’t cut short—it was purposefully abandoned.

He goes on to add, “Almost 40,000 people a year kill themselves in America, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In my opinion, that is 40,000 people who blew it.”

The kneejerk reaction of anger in the face of suicide is not only understandable; it is expected. In the same way it is expected that we become angry when cancer takes someone too young, suicide steals lives. But to condemn a man for losing his battle with depression is both shortsighted and heartless.

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It is as careless as telling a hurting friend to just “choose happiness” instead of being depressed. It is as unfeeling as telling someone who is dying of heart disease to “think happy thoughts” for a cure. Depression kills. It is silent, but it is deadly. And the sooner we stop thinking of suicide as the easy, cowardly way out, the sooner we can turn the dialog about depression into one of hope and understanding.

How desperate must a person be to end the pain when the only option they see is one of ending it all? It is so final, so unforgiving. What hell must the day to day life of that person have been like to choose something they could never take back?

I’ve been there. I made a half-hearted attempt when I was much younger. And I’ve had suicidal thoughts as recently as this year. I feel only sadness and deep empathy for the level of pain that brought about his tragic end. I cannot condemn him. He lost a battle that was hard fought and I do not begrudge him the peace that I hope has found him now.

It is so easy to sit back on a high chair and judge a man who can no longer talk of his own pain. It’s easy to say what he should have done differently or talk of how he failed. The truth is that none of us, not even his wife and children, were in his head. We can never know exactly what his demons were telling him all of those years. To end his rant, Rollins states that he “[has] life by the neck and drag[s] it along. Rarely does it move fast enough. Raw Power forever.”

It must be nice to be so secure in your own life view that you think you can pass judgment on all those who have lost their fights. It must feel powerful in some way for him. But I cannot abide those judgments. I feel only pity and a sick sense of loss for those who could not see a way out of their pain. There but for the grace of good meds and better friends go I.