And every time one of them did, it was called suicide. McQueen commits suicide. Koenig commits suicide. They killed themselves. That’s what the news sources and the blogs said. They did it. And every time I read it I became more frustrated, because I know they didn’t do it.
Mental illness did.
They died of a mental illness. Just like Michael Landon died of cancer or Dick York died from complications of emphysema. To say they committed suicide, as though it were a choice for which they were fully responsible, is to underestimate a disease that doubles the mortality rate of its affected population.
I understand why people want to place the blame for deaths that are caused by mental illness in the hands of the person who is dead. I cover it in this speech that I used to give for the Canadian Mental Health Association. I question, though, why we don’t have the same instinct for men like Landon and York. After all, they were both heavy smokers. They both contributed in some way to their own death. Still, when the death occurs, we credit the disease. We understand that nobody wants to get cancer. Who would? And their battles, despite their eventual loss, were considered brave.
But these folks who died as a result of a mental illness, will we ever see their fights as brave? Does losing their fight earn them the titles that I’ve seen around the internet – cowardly, selfish, weak, even laughable? I know this fight, intimately and personally. I’m alive not because I am a better or braver person than them, but because I apparently suck at suicide. And I have the literal scars to prove it. Now that I am comparatively well, I’m seen as having successfully beaten it. (Much credit due to Boba and Ty and Big Sister.)
Like with cancer, however, I have to fear that this remission will end and that my neuro-chemical make up will once again malfunction and I will lose my fight against this disease. And if I do, you will call it suicide, when in truth, I will have been beaten by something that I did not want and have fought as well as I humanly can. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t plan to lose. I’ll fight. I might be the Lance Armstrong of mental illness*. But if I’m the Michael Landon, I hope I get the generosity that he did. Sure he smoked 4 packs a day – but in the end, it was the cancer that killed him.
*Written before the big steroids brouhaha.