“Suicide is Painless”

Posted on June 15, 2018

“Suicide is Painless”

Sometimes timing is a fascinating thing. After being sick and watching days’ worth of mostly depressing documentaries, last week’s post on the mental state of suicide was written two weeks ago since I knew I was going out of town last week. Between my writing and publication, Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain committed suicide. I don’t know much about Spade, except her name is on one of my wife’s purses, however, the death of Bourdain hit me hard.

I enjoyed Bourdain’s shows and his personality. Unlike many things on cable news, Parts Unknown struck a mix of genuineness, curiosity, and cultural appreciation that was educational, entertaining, and held more profound lessons about the current state of the world. For me, Bourdain was more an anti-celebrity searching for authentic experiences only found when one leaves the beaten path.

My immediate response upon hearing his death was confusion and sorrow. Bourdain had one of the best jobs you could dream of, had to make good money, and seemed to carry life wisdom hard won by overcoming past struggles.  From my removed perspective, it looked like Bourdain had so much in his life to make it worth living. For some reason as I was reflecting on the deeper meaning and lessons of his death the theme song from M*A*S*H* popped into my head.

I grew up watching the sitcom. Even though the Korean War that served as the setting seemed far away for a young kid in the early 80’s, the show and characters mixed comedy with the traumas of war in a way that brought humor to the deeper themes. It wasn’t until I was older that I learned there was a M*A*S*H* movie that pre-dated the sitcom. I expected the film to mirror the sitcom, but I was pleasantly mistaken. Gritty, dark-humored, and powerful, the movie presented a very different picture of war at a time America was struggling with Vietnam.

One of the lasting and haunting impressions of the movie was realizing that the theme song (only an instrumental version is used in the sitcom) was about suicide with the unforgettable and satirical title and reframe “Suicide is Painless.” As I think about Bourdain and other public figures lost to depression and suicide, I realize that we get the M*A*S*H* sitcom version of these celebrities. We don’t see their pain and hardships, the sides of them that might lend a sense of realness and depth to their work but becomes destructive once the cameras turn off.

Bourdain’s death is also a reminder that many people carry their hell inside even if their lives look ideal from the outside. In our work with those experiencing homelessness, poverty, and imprisonment, it is easy to see their struggles as strongly associated with surviving traumatic environments. We quickly identify the source of much of their distress and why most facing these environmental hells struggle with depression and mental illness. Bourdain and Spade remind us that even when the outside looks perfect, many carry the darkness of trauma with them privately. Even with their money and resources, they fail to see hope for some better future to make life worth living.

7 responses to ““Suicide is Painless””

  1. Sara Carrillo says:

    Over the decades of my life, there have been several people, either central or peripheral to my being, who have committed suicide. Each time, it leaves you with so many questions unanswered. Could I have done more? Should I have seen more? If I had just been there, could I have intervened? I remember, particularly a guy I knew in my very early 20’s. He was an army recruiter and we shared a love of Hispanic culture and Spanish, though we were both Anglo. We never dated, we were friends, and there were many nights we talked late into the night as I gave him reasons for continuing to live. Eventually, the Army transferred him and about a month later, he used his service revolver on himself. He haunts me because this was in the 70’s, resources were not available, telling his CO would have gotten him dismissed from the Army with that Section 8 Klinger was always chasing in MASH.I don’t know, even now, what more I could have done, I had no training in psychology except a couple of college classes, but I will always regret that I didn’t do something more.

    • Matthew Bennett says:

      Thanks so much for sharing. I believe I speak for those of us with years of training and experience in psychology when I say that we are often left with the same feeling of “what I could have done.”

  2. Lisa Taton-Murphy says:

    I believe it’s hard for anyone to understand the feelings of hopelessness that take over when one contemplates suicide. It comes in our darkest moments, when we feel things are always going to be hard, or we aren’t good enough or we just plain give up. Having felt this way, and realizing–with the help of a friend–that suicide is a “permanent solution to a temporary problem”, I sought help to get past my darkest hour. I thought of my children and my husband, and how hurt they would be; not so “painless” after all. My resilience I suppose is what brought me to reinvest in therapy, but resilience for those who have faced multiple trauma’s can’t last forever.

    I am trying to build my resilience so that next time a storm comes my way, I can get the hell out of it’s path. But I do understand that it doesn’t matter how many people love you if you can’t love yourself. And I think that’s where people land–not feeling worthy, despite all of their accomplishments.

    Just my thoughts on this, as I too had a gut-wrenching reaction to Anthony Bourdain’s death, knowing it only takes a second past no return. I hope too he found his peace. My peace has been loving myself again.

  3. Jen Baltazar says:

    My baby sister committed suicide 3 years ago this September. Being the eldest of us three girls I made all the arrangements myself because I could not place that burden on my parents who were already traumatized by this event, my father especially. My father whom is a Vietnam vet, had just found his baby girl, with a self inflicted gunshot wound.

    It took me 6 days to plan because 3 of those days were spent begging the Catholic Church she belonged to, to please do her services. The priest finally agreed.

    The priest who was a very kind man, came up with an analogy that I use very often when speaking about suicide in general; it went something like this:

    “When 9/11 happened there was tv footage of a man who jumped from one of the World Trade Center towers. As spectators we all knew why he jumped. His building was crumbling to the ground in an inferno and maybe he felt as if he didn’t have a choice but to jump. When people commit suicide maybe it’s because they don’t feel they have a choice. As spectators of their life we don’t know what their World Trade Center tower looks like because their tower is in their mind. And maybe they feel like the man may have felt; there is no other choice but to jump.”

    Everyone’s tower is different. Some are several floors of a happy life with very few floors of trauma or hurt. Some are several floors of trauma and hurt with very few floors happiness.

    • Matthew Bennett says:

      Thanks so much for sharing this Jen. I’m so sorry for your family’s loss, it is hard for me to even imagine how I would react if it was my sister. Not sure if you read last week’s post but I had a similar insight inspired by that same picture. I so desperately want to find a way where we can reach all people before they only see one way out, the goal might be too big and unrealistic but the hope keeps me going. Thanks again.

  4. Patsi Maroney says:

    Nice insight, Matt…none of us get through this life unscathed…take care & keep doing the good work.

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