When You're Going Through Hell...


Winston Churchill may not have actually said, "When you're going through hell, keep going," although the quote is commonly attributed to him. On the face of it, that sounds like good advice, but it implies a way out on the other side. What if that way out doesn't exist, though?

In Canada, medical assistance in dying is legal for people with grievous and irremediable conditions. Initially, it was only available in cases where death was reasonably foreseeable, but that portion of the law was struck down. When the federal government revisited the legislation after the court challenge, it was revised to remove the reasonably foreseeable bit, and it was extended to be available to people with a mental disorder as a primary diagnosis (although that part won't kick in until 2023).

As someone with a chronic, treatment-resistant mental illness, that option certainly has an appeal to it. People don't seem to like hearing others talk about death as a reasonable option. It was interesting to see aghast reactions in the mental health Twitterverse to a New York Times story in December 2021 about the Sanctioned Suicide forum. Death may be painful for some people to contemplate, but what about when life is painful?

I have a blog where I sometimes talk about suicide, but whenever I do, there's a sense of needing to hold back on my endorsement of it as a reasonable option. I typically add the caveat that people shouldn't worry about me, because that's not something I want, nor does it help me in any way. I also self-censor when talking to doctors; once you've got the crazy person label and a history of suicide attempts in your medical records, talking about certain things is likely to result in an involuntary trip to the psych ward. There are good reasons for that, but it also creates a strong incentive for silence. I can see why forums like Sanctioned Suicide exist to give people a space to talk about the things that most people don't actually want to hear about.

Coming back to Winston Churchill's maybe-quote, at what point does keeping going lose its appeal while going through hell? At what point does one give up on the notion of light at the end of the tunnel in the face of abundant evidence that such a light isn't there? At what point does one just say fuck it?

I don't think there are easy answers to those questions; I also don't think there are wrong answers, and keeping going is not the be-all and end-all that it gets made out to be.

This is the first thing I've written on CloutPub. So why talk about something morbid? It's an innovative space, so why not talk about something I don't feel very comfortable being honest about in other spaces? To turn to another quote, this one from Glenn Close, “The mentally ill frighten and embarrass us. And so we marginalize the people who most need our acceptance. What mental health needs is more sunlight, more candor, more unashamed conversation.” For me, candor is saying that my mental illness is hell. If that frightens people, maybe that's even more reason to talk about it. I choose not to be embarrassed.

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