I’ve only recently heard of the deaths of two friends. Neither was a close friend, and I had fallen out of touch with both of them, so I hadn’t heard of either’s passing until well after the fact. As it happens, I heard of both deaths at the same time from yet another friend who I have remained in touch with; she had been looking up some of our old assosiates and so got the news.
The first apparently suffered from a fairly severe form of schizophrenia. He believed he heard voices. Whether due to the stigma, or some reason born of his illness, he kept the knowledge of his suffering to himself, and dealt with it by self-medicating: he drank a lot. Because of both the drinking problem and his own social troubles from the illness, he had some difficulty holding down jobs. When his last job fell through, he contacted his parents to ask them to put him up until he “got back on his feet.” His mom says, when he came to the door, he was exhausted and his skin had taken on a yellow tone. She took him to the doctor, who said he had advanced liver disease, and there was nothing to be done. He died within a few weeks.
The second, I know less details about, but I do know that there was a history of abuse in his family. It has been said the nature of the abuse was sexual, but I have never heard any more than that, nor had it confirmed. His sister committed suicide at the age of 16 (this is going back over 25 years), presumably because of the troubles in the family. When we were in high school, he and I used to have conversations about heaven – he found life so unendurable and depressing, he wanted me to talk to him about something that would cheer him up. I thought he had gotten past it; he married the girl that lived next door to me when I was a kid, and he became a school teacher. I once teased him about how he used to hate school so much, that now he made a career out of it. I thought he had adjusted. So I was shocked to find he had committed suicide. He wasn’t as well adjusted as I thought, and his personal demons caught up to him. He left behind his wife and a three-year-old daughter.
I understand very well how mental illness can dirve a person to self-destruction, and both of these cases are suicides in a sense. And both were needless. I find myself wishing I could have had a talk with either of them before it became too late … I don’t know that it would have made a difference, but I do know neither of them was seeing life or their circumstances very clearly. And that is exactly the nature of mental illness: your mind gets caught up in a process, where you are convinced things are a certain way, and no evidence can get through to convince you it’s only faulty perception; the eveidence itself is filtered through the faulty thinking, and only an outside source that is trusted has any hope at all of getting through. But of course, if the ill person has isolated themselves, there is very little hope of that. And at the heart of it is generally a deep, personal fear, something the person will avoid at any cost, that keeps them from seeing things any differently.
Though most people don’t go so far as to destroy themselves, I believe this kind of self-deception is very very common. People who “won’t listen to reason;” “that’s just his way, ignore him;” any number of quirky behaviors that we tend to brush off as mere idiosyncracies. Often, they are pretty harmless, but the fact they exist at all tells me there is a problem. It’s somewhat like comparing a cold to a flu. The former is almost always a very minor thing and not to be worried overmuch about, and the latter might range from a miserable and difficult time to something fatal.
All of us suffer from our sniffles and colds, and for some they are even chronic. We may treat the cold, and we might just ride it out. But for a flu, you really ought to get some help.
I wish my friends had gotten that help, but, sadly, it’s too late for them. I can only hope for others who may be feeling that badly, that they will find the help they need.