Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Across the Bridge

Today I saw the movie The Bridge, a documentary I have been actually wanting to see for a while. The Bridge examines the suicides that take place by people jumping from San Francisco's Golden Gate Bridge. While the movie is certainly as far from a comedy as you can get -- in fact quite a serious topic -- I found it enlightening and quite well done. Much of the movie was comments from the people who were close to those who ended their life. (The photo of the bridge is courtesy of Rich Niewiroski Jr.)

I'd like to comment for a moment on the answer to the question, "Why?" More accurately, "Why do people commit suicide?" It's not an easy question to answer, but (except in some unusual cases) the reason is not because the people are trying to reach "another plane of existance" or because they're just sad. It is very difficult for most people to understand the concept of emotional pain. It is a pain for which there is no escape, no medication that can just take it all away. Consider a life where situations you once found enjoyable no longer bring joy, and there is nothing left but an endless string of frustration and disappointment. Everyone around you says, "Just snap out of it," or, "You just need to get out and do something again." The problem is that none of this helps - in fact, it is counterproductive in that if the person could even imagine a way for those solutions to work, they would gladly do that. Or, consider being in a world where you hear voices and feel lots of different feelings around you all the time, and they never stop, kind of like playing a dozen TVs on different channels all simultaneously all the time, including some channels that have horrific situations or images. There is no way to get them out of your head, and they are constantly competing for your attention while you try to be part of the real world. If you're "normal" it is difficult (if not impossible) to understand how someone sufferering from depression or schizophrenia feels, and likewise they can't understand how you feel the way you do either. Someone suffering from "mental illness" (and I really dislike this term sometimes) feels very alienated where nobody perceives the world the way they do. For that person, suicide seems like the only way to end that emotional pain that is so overwhelming and so hopeless that it doesn't seem like there is any reason to continue living. Those who care about the person who committed suicide feel let-down and can't understand why their caring didn't help. Many people who commit suicide not only feel their own emotional pain, but they also feel that they are a burden to those who care about them. It isn't just a selfish act or an act done in spite, as I have heard some suggest over the years. Human beings have a strong will to live, and for someone to end their own life demonstrates just how much stronger their pain is.

If you're reading this and complating suicide - I will say what you have heard everywhere you go - stop and find help as soon as possible. There is help out there even though it may be hard to find. Ending your own life may seem like the answer to get rid of the pain, but it isn't. Really, it isn't. If you've read this and take away anything from it, know that even when things seem to be at their worst, there is probably someone out there who really does care about you, and you will end up causing them pain by ending your life.

Interestingly enough, I have another view of mental illness. If you think about it, life is all about perception. That's what psychologists say in their long-winded kind of way. Who says that the perception held by the masses is the right one? While there are truly warped perceptions of reality resulting from mental illness that are clearly not productive, I think there that are some that the masses could learn from. Take, for example, my complaints about strong perfumes being put into everything, and driving me crazy because they overload my sense of smell. Nobody else seems to notice, and it's because their perception of "clean and fresh" has been (in my opinion) warped by S.C. Johnson and other large companies who are (quite successfully) selling the idea that a world without background odor is bad. This excessive background odor (and background audiable noise too) is overwhelming and irritating to me, and causes a great deal of distress. Who's reality is right? I'd argue that the natural world was absent of chemical perfumes long before S.C. Johnson came on the scene, and I feel that it was better back then. It could also be argued (certainly not by me) that perception is shaped by society, and strong, lingering, annoying "background" chemically-induced odors are a normal fixture in society as it is today. I wonder sometimes if some conditions that are considered mental illness or of "oversensitivity" to certain things are the normal mind and body's reaction to the quite unnatural and, in some cases, destructive lifestyles that modern society has adopted. Keep in mind that I'm not a psychologist, and don't even play one on TV (although a long time ago, I played with and made modifications to the old Eliza computer program).

In light of the amount of frustration I've been feeling the past few weeks, it has been thought-provoking to take this little detour across the Golden Gate Bridge.

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