Celebrity Suicide and Radical Acceptance

When Robin Williams killed himself in 2014, there was a 10% increase in suicide for the four months following his death. That worked out to roughly 2,000 extra deaths in four months.

I can't explain all of these copycat suicides, but I can talk about how they used to affect me.

For the majority of my life, suicide sat on a stool in the back of my mind, a  temptress whispering in my ear that she knew a way out. My strategy used to be a constant activity. I never sat with silence if I could avoid it - I drowned out the siren call of death.

But, when someone famous, like  Robin Williams, killed themselves, that siren call became all but irresistible. Not only were these people not in pain anymore, but everyone talked about how wonderful they were. Suicide made them unassailable.

The reality that we exist in tells us that we aren't enough. Our society tries to convince us that buying some product will make us better people. Reading a book will help us "find our truth." There is always some next step that we need to take to be good enough. We bombard everyone with the idea that judgment comes from all sides, and that to be "enough," we must be financially successful but also effortlessly cool and possess all the right stuff.

To someone like me, suffering from mental illness, those messages felt overwhelming. I was running up a "down" escalator, hoping I could get to the top and rest. Suicide looked like a shortcut.

Gone would be all those emails to which I never responded and deadlines I missed. Forgotten would be the slights that I imagined my friends and family holding against me. After I died, all anyone would talk about was how great I was. That fictional version of me would be better for them than the real me. I read Robin Williams' obituaries and daydreamed about what people would write about me.

With the passing of Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain, I am reminded of how far I have come. I no longer feel the temptation to kill myself. Freeing myself from this is my most significant accomplishment of the past year. I achieved it through meditation and radical acceptance.

I want to talk about radical acceptance because it is powerful and counter-intuitive. When my therapist suggested that I try radical acceptance, my reaction was to say, "I refuse to accept the world as it is. People are suffering, and I have to be doing something about it."

Mary, my therapist, helped me to reframe this idea. I wasn't accomplishing much by viewing every problem or issue as a fight to be fought. I was only being overwhelmed by the magnitude of what I was up against. Radical acceptance allows for the truth that it is impossible for me to change everything. I still dream of a better world, but making every change isn't my burden.

The idea of radical acceptance can be vague, so here are some examples that helped me:

Feeling: Sadness
Old internal monologue: Why am I sad? What can I do to address my sadness?
Radical acceptance internal monologue: It is okay to feel sad.

Feeling: Lonely
Old internal monologue: Call a friend then. What would I even say to them? Wouldn't it be weird to text them out of the blue? What if they don't respond, won't that be worse?  Are you too scared to call a friend?
Radical acceptance internal monologue: It is okay to feel lonely.

Feeling:  Anger
Old internal monologue: What an idiot. It is going to feel so great to tell that dude on Facebook what an idiot he is.
Radical acceptance internal monologue: It is okay to feel angry.

Feeling: Undeserving
Old internal monologue:  Why can't you be better at work? Why aren't you writing code right now? You know what needs to be done. Goddamn, you are lazy.
Radical acceptance internal monologue:  It is okay to feel like I'm not good enough.

The key to radical acceptance is compassion. Radical acceptance isn't "giving up" or "surrendering," like I first thought. Radical acceptance cracks open the door to let in self-compassion. It acknowledges that emotions are part of the human experience and that the feelings that arise in any given situation are just that -- feelings. Feelings don't determine our worth, but our judgment of those feelings causes tremendous pain.

We live in a world where competing narratives beset us. On one side  everything tells us, "you are not enough." The other is full of self-help gurus telling us that we are above such petty consumerism, which then leaves us riddled with meta-guilt every time we feel inadequate.

In this world, accepting that "sometimes I feel like I'm not enough, and that is okay" is radical. And for me, taking the world as it is allows me to participate in it more freely and without constant fear of self-judgment.