This post is a direct response to the post “Suicide is Not Beautiful” published by Carrie Anderson http://nursingclio.org/2013/07/25/suicide-is-not-beautiful/
I am a radical mental health activist and zinester, a feminist, a trauma survivor, someone who has lost a friend to suicide, and someone who has survived my own suicide attempts. While I think you are making some interesting points, I find the way you framed this article to be hugely offensive. To me it feels like you are perpetuating the horrendous stereotype of suicidal people being selfish attention seekers. Have you considered that those poets did not kill themselves to make a pretty show for the world but because they were deeply suffering and seeking to end their own suffering? In my experience, beauty has absolutely nothing to do with the vast majority of suicide attempts- it’s not about making art- it’s about making the horrendously painful nightmare life can become stop. Do I agree that people who encourage suicide are ugly? Yes. Do I agree the abusers and oppressors who drive so many to suicide are ugly? Yes. Do I agree the lack of resources needed for healing for many people with mental health issues is ugly? Yes. But are people who choose to end their own lives ugly, stupid, or bad? No.
Although I know many feminists will hotly protest this, I have to say; I feel very strongly that demonizing self-harm is a very anti-feminist stance to take. What is so much of the feminist movement about? The right to autonomy. The right to decide how to live our lives: to pursue careers of our choice, to own property, to choose whom we marry. And the right to be the sole person who makes choices about our bodies: to choose who we are having sex with and have the right to refuse sex to anyone, to choose to have a baby, take birth control, or terminate a pregnancy, the right to not be groped on a bus or beat by a partner, the right to not be devalued based on our physical attributes, and (more controversially) the right to use their own bodies to produce porn, to practice sex work. I am a big fan of the comic series A Softer World by E Horne and J Comeau. Comic #940 reads “Our bodies are ours to break, ours to throw into rivers, ours to light on fire, ours to launch into the depths of space.” http://asofterworld.com/index.php?id=940 In our society only certain types of self-endangerment or self harm or bodily altercation is acceptable. Extreme sports, and smoking cigarettes- both of which have the potential to cause death- are seen as acceptable, but suicide is not. Extensive body piercings and tattoos (which can cause physical pain to get) are acceptable- but cutting and burning is not. Political prisoners engaging in hunger strikes are not shamed, articles like this never talk about and shame the religious purposes “self harm” have served at various points (including fasting, and Buddhist monks self immolating)- but when a when a depressed woman kills herself it is unacceptable and she is crazy.
Many have criticized western feminism of not being inclusive. Our movement can only gain strength by acknowledging that if we want certain types of bodily autonomy, we should align ourselves with all other movements which fight to demand bodily autonomy of their oppressed members- including the disability movement and the radical mental health/psychiatric survivor movement. If women should be able to make the choice about their body to not always having sex with her partner, a physically disabled person should be able to make the choice to not be sterilized, institutionalized, or forced to receive medical treatment without informed consent. If a woman should be able to choose to have the bodily autonomy of having an abortion, then a person with mental health issues should be able to choose to not have to ingest psychiatric medications, receive electro convulsive therapy, or be hospitalized against their will. And all people should be able to be able to make informed choices about their own body- including societally unacceptable self injury and even ending their own lives. Do I encourage suicide? No. Non-coercive and non-abusive mental health care should be offered to all who wish to receive it. But how does the united states deal with suicidal people? Hospitalize them, restrain or seclude them, or medicate them against their will. All of these things have been considered torture by the United Nations (see page 15 under number 3) “Forced interventions, often wrongfully justified by theories of incapacity and therapeutic necessity inconsistent with the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, are legitimized under national laws, and may enjoy wide public support as being in the alleged “best interest” of the person concerned. Nevertheless, to the extent that they inflict severe pain and suffering, they violate the absolute prohibition of torture and cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment “ http://www.ohchr.org/Documents/HRBodies/HRCouncil/RegularSession/Session22/A.HRC.22.53_English.pd
Especially considering the wide spread torture of people with mental health issues in our country, it is not surprising suicide rates are so high. Do I desperately wish that people who are suffering after oppression and abuse were able to use their sorrow and trauma to motivate organizing activist movement to overthrow the patriarchy, racism, the abusive practices of western mental health? I wish for nothing more in the world. But trauma survivors and suffering people do the absolute best they can with their pain. And since all those huge oppressive forces don’t seem to be going away in the immediate future yet a trauma survivor or person facing oppression’s crushing depression, debilitating panic attacks and nightmares, unbearable flashbacks, and other experiences may persist- it is extremely unfair to blame survivors of violence for not being able to stop all of our cultures oppression and to have to tolerate continuing to be abused or oppressed, living with the aftermath of being abused or oppressed, or living with extreme pain and suffering for any other reason.
On a final note, saying there should be no more suicidal poets is saying there should be more suicides. Why do you think so many great artists have also happened to have mental health issues? Because creating art, music, writing, etc. is healing and is a way many suffering people are able to stay alive. So when you see a person writing about their suicidal thoughts realize- writing those words is keeping them alive that much longer- and daring to stay alive despite the unbearable violence and oppression women and people with mental health issues in particular face in this world, is the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen.