Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Aftermath: Suicide, Cynicism, and Celebration

I was sixteen years old when I stood in front of the bathroom mirror, door locked behind me, and every bottle of pills in our family's medicine cabinet sitting on the sink in front of me. I had a glass of water and a more-than-heavy heart. My life had gotten to the point where I didn't want to see one more day. I couldn't shake the depression I'd been feeling for months. Pressure, stress, negativity, abandonment, deep self-loathing, too many changes I wasn't prepared to deal with, and an inability to figure a way out of the hole of desperation I'd been gradually sinking into left me stark white with dark rings beneath my eyes, and no real hope of a future I wanted to be a part of.

One might think that I had a bad childhood, or that I was dealing with something that no one else could understand, but the simple fact is that I had a wonderful childhood, supportive and loving parents, a few really close friends, a Christian upbringing and belief in God, and still couldn't handle all of the sadness, the depression, the day-to-day traumas that we all face. I was no different from anyone else. I didn't have a substance abuse problem, I didn't have an addiction, I didn't have a mental health issue, I wasn't abused...


Obviously, something changed my mind and I'm here today and that's a different story for a different time.

Robin Williams appears to have committed suicide yesterday, and the world has lost itself in commentary. I've heard deep loss and grief, I've heard prayers and condolences, I've heard snark and cynicism, I've heard judgment and condemnation, I've heard love and admiration, and I've heard, periodically, just a glimmer of understanding.

There's a difference between sympathy and empathy. Sympathy is when you have experienced something yourself and can relate. Empathy is when you haven't, but you can feel some of what the person must be going through. If you've lost someone you love to suicide, you can relate to what the family is feeling. If you haven't, you may be able to empathize. Sympathy is 'feeling WITH'. Empathy is 'feeling INTO'.

I have lost a few people to suicide. They were not extremely close to me, but their loss affected me nonetheless. And the same situation holds true, with all of the same condolences and judgments and prayers and condemnations. What is it about something so tragic that makes us feel so much, so many things?

How SHOULD we feel?

What a question, right? There is no right or wrong feeling here. Certainly love should always be the guiding factor, but we can't help what our heart cries out. We never can. We just have to ask ourselves how we would want someone to speak if it was our husband, our wife, our son, our daughter, our best friend who was in such a place of desperation and depression that they could see no other path for themselves but to end their own life.

Do I believe in Heaven and Hell? Yes.

Do I believe that suicidal people are condemned to Hell? Absolutely not.

The bible says very clearly in 1 Samuel 16:7 that God doesn't see how humans see. We look at what we see on the surface, but God looks so much deeper, into our hearts. We have a loving and kind Father, a Father who understands our feelings, who understands our desperation, who understands our hearts even when our fellow humans have nothing positive to say about us. The same Father that gave Robin Williams the comic genius that he had, the unparalleled acting talent, the improvisational skills, the infectious hilarity we all felt when we watched him... that Father SYMPATHIZES with whatever Robin was feeling when he was in that place of tormented desperation where he felt he needed to end his life. That Father sent His Son to die for Robin Williams just like He did for each and every one of us. And everyone knows John 3:16, but the next verse is just as important IF NOT MORE SO: "For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through Him."

Suicide is heartbreaking. Judgment is even more heartbreaking.

Suicide is shocking. Condemnation is even more shocking.

Suicide is sad. Cynicism is sadder.

My dream -- my plea -- is that we spend less time talking and more time listening to each other. That we spend less time spouting off our ideas, our judgments, our criticisms and spend more time interacting on a positive, joyful level with everyone we come into contact with. That we empathize even when we might not be able to sympathize. And that we realize that our surface understanding of one another will never add up to the deep, thorough, complete understanding God has of our hearts and thoughts and souls.

May Robin rest in peace, his family be comforted, and our social interactions with each other be filled with empathy and devoid of condemnation in this and every tragedy.

Stephanie Jean

PS -- My husband and I had the pleasure of meeting Robin Williams after he performed locally several years ago, and he was humble, gentle, and greatly appreciative of his fans. I'll treasure that memory forever. And this cheesy, cheesy picture.


  1. Replies
    1. Thank you so much, Derek! Please feel free to share the blog on your Facebook or Twitter as well. The point of the Journey is to help as many people with as many struggles as possible! I appreciate your kind words and your readership.

  2. Touching story. Thanks for sharing, Steph.

    1. Thank you, Melissa! Thanks for reading! :)

  3. In regards to 'sympathy' vs 'empathy': It's a difficult line and defined differently in different places. The root 'sym' means 'with' (from dictionary.com: the fact or power of sharing the feelings of another, especially in sorrow or trouble; fellow feeling, compassion, or commiseration) and 'emp' means 'equivalent to' (the intellectual identification with or vicarious experiencing of the feelings, thoughts, or attitudes of another.) An empath can 'tune in' to someone's feelings without having gone through the exact same experience. (I've gotten a couple of responses saying the terms are mixed up, but hopefully this irons things out!) :)