Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Penelope Trunk tackles the suicide of Bill Zeller

And I’m glad.  There will be enough talking heads spouting their opinions, doing more harm than good. 

Case in point: A teenager in small-town Iowa committed suicide last July, and the local news anchor condemned the act on air with a stern reproach: “Suicide is never the answer.”  As though he could scare away suicide with his disapproval.   Of all the things to say, KWWL chose to render judgment rather than extend compassion. 

Perhaps I am uniquely sensitive to such remarks, having been suicidal for quite some time ... but isn’t that the point?  Scoldings convey reproach, instead of any sort of understanding or empathy. “If you’re hurting, there is help.”  A thousand other axioms might have actually been helpful in reaching out to others in pain.  Suicidal people chastise themselves enough without others chiming in.

So I’m glad that Penelope wrote about his death, because she can speak from a place of courage instead of fear.  Having experienced sexual abuse, she’s endured much of the same trauma.  When you’ve actually gone through terrible things, you know better than to say all the wrong things to people in genuine pain. 

I’m also glad Bill Zeller publicized his last words.  In so doing, he gave the public a glimpse into the despair that leads to suicide.  People will judge him regardless, but at least it won’t be for someone else’s version of why he did it.  

I understand, even though I don’t.  I can’t pretend to have any concept of the agony he endured over the course of his lifetime.  In a perfect world, he wouldn’t have been shamed into silence for his feelings.  He could have spoken his truth looking forward to compassion and understanding instead of condemnation.  But that is not the world we live in.  It is a world where people feel it is easier to die than to be looked upon with the stigma of mental illness.  It is a world where people internalize the hatred of everyone around them and pull the trigger.

My comment on Penelope’s post:

"He couldn't stand the idea of how the truth would cause people to think differently of him.  Was that really his own distortion, or did he accurately internalize the stigma that would befall him?  We, as a society, let him down.  Something is backwards if you can be honest in death, but not in life.
The sad part is, the shame and hiding reinforces the crippling alienation (when in fact, sooooo many people are hurting).
The sadder part is, people will pretend to be compassionate and empathetic towards Bill Zeller NOW, when they never would have in real life.  Same with all the publicized gay teen suicides over the past year.  GIVE PEOPLE YOUR LOVE AND ACCEPTANCE WHILE THEY ARE ALIVE.
Not a single thing he wrote seemed "crazy" or even "abnormal" *given what he has been through* - I guess I share your amazement that more people do not succumb to suicide given the trauma life inflicts on so many. 
Those who are suffering cannot speak their truths for fear of the condemnation of others - just look at your last post!!!  People cannot even conceive of the kind of despair so many go through.  They are the sort who judge suicidal people as selfish...all the while their only concern being how the death affects THEM.  Hmmm.....
When I write about trying to come back from the brink of suicide, I sure as hell don't do it with my name attached.  Would I ever work again (will I anyway, LOL), is there a snowball's chance I could be a legitimate member of society ever again? 
I almost killed myself 3 years ago.  And 2 years ago.  And last year.  There are a lot of days I feel as Bill did; the pain and darkness have been intertwined with your very being for so long that there's just no way out.  Most days I don't see a way back from all that has happened.  Your courage to keep trying gives me hope.  I have tried to "get help" but not found the kind I really need.  It's not as easy or available as everybody thinks ... and even if you DO get real help, that in itself incites revulsion in some.  Is it any wonder that people feel trapped and hopeless?"

Secrets kill. 


  1. We've traditionalized compassion. It's only to be dealt out to certain people under certain circumstances. Such as a condolence to a friend who has lost a loved one. It's Christianity. I know that news anchor had to be a backwards Christian. (there are compassionate Christians, they just seem to be less vocal than the idiots.)

  2. I love this comment, especially the last part. I know these people aren't ill-intentioned, but their ignorance puts people at risk. Great way to put it about traditionalizing compassion. The people who need it most aren't allowed to receive it.