Death by suicide seems to be all around me these days; suffocating and all consuming like the dust storms of a time long gone and relegated to the history books. This week there was a man who threatened to jump from the Key Bridge in Arlington, VA. Thankfully, the police were able to take him into custody and thus averted a much more horrible outcome like the one that occurred on the same bridge in 2011. The week before a woman committed suicide by train at the Ballston Metro Station. What’s telling is that due to the number of suicides in the metro system over the years, the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority has finally decided to launch a suicide prevention campaign. It must be difficult on the train operators I can imagine. Just look at what the New York City train operators are going through and those deaths aren’t suicides but rather homicides.
Today I learned of the suicide of online programmer, activist and intellectual Aaron Swartz, An extremely talented 26 year old whom I’ve never heard about until today. Mr. Swartz was one of the architects behind Reddit, helped create the RSS standard and started the group DemandProgress which fought SOPA/PIPA last year.
The thinking as to why he took his life could be tied to the FBI and an overzealous US Attorney by the name of Carmen Ortiz–who should probably be vilified and suffer the Internet version of being tarred and feathered.
As Cory Doctorow writes:
Somewhere in there, Aaron’s recklessness put him right in harm’s way. Aaron snuck into MIT and planted a laptop in a utility closet, used it to download a lot of journal articles (many in the public domain), and then snuck in and retrieved it. This sort of thing is pretty par for the course around MIT, and though Aaron wasn’t an MIT student, he was a fixture in the Cambridge hacker scene, and associated with Harvard, and generally part of that gang, and Aaron hadn’t done anything with the articles (yet), so it seemed likely that it would just fizzle out.
Instead, they threw the book at him. Even though MIT and JSTOR (the journal publisher) backed down, the prosecution kept on. I heard lots of theories: the feds who’d tried unsuccessfully to nail him for the PACER/RECAP stunt had a serious hate-on for him; the feds were chasing down all the Cambridge hackers who had any connection to Bradley Manning in the hopes of turning one of them, and other, less credible theories. A couple of lawyers close to the case told me that they thought Aaron would go to jail.
The other line of thought into Swartz’s suicide was that he suffered from depression. Cory Doctorow goes on to talk about suffering from depression himself and how being alive allows you to change things but being dead does not. What’s astounding to me is the fact that Aaron Swartz had a lot of friends and a girlfriend. He wasn’t alone. Yet he decided to take his life. Maybe it was the pressure from the Ortiz-FBI bullying that added to his misery and pushed him over the edge? But even still was him taking his life the right choice?
Many people believe that human beings are the only known species in the animal kingdom who is capable of taking its own life through suicide. But why do we do it?
An answer to this question could possibly be what Liza Sabater proprietor of the blog the Daily Gotham says:
SUICIDE IS AN ACT OF LAST RESORT because the pain youre suffering –physical & psychological– is far greater than the thought of death
— liza (@blogdiva) January 12, 2013
The mental anguish that one goes through can be unspeakable. It makes you feel alone in the world and that nothing will solve your problems. You feel that the situation you’re in will never end. When I think about the young adolescents from the film Bully and teenagers like Jamie Rodemeyer who’ve taken their lives due to bullying I am extremely saddened. To be that young and have no hope at all is tragic. I’m glad that there have been people like Dan Savage who’ve taken the time to try and reach out to LGBT teens and say that things can get better. We also need to think about reaching out to the others who though not of the LGBT community are bullied as well.
What about soldiers who witness horrifying scenes everyday and come home to commit suicide? Some don’t even wait to return to the states. What drives them over the edge can be anything from a brain injury to PTSD. But the story is the same in that they feel there is no hope. They sense that the pain they are feeling will not subside.
Truthfully, it doesn’t matter if you are a famous and wealthy celebrity or an average person. You are still capable of going down the dark path to taking your own life. There have been countless movie stars and musicians who have succumbed to depression and other mental illnesses. There are sports figures like Junior Seau who suffered from brain injuries who’ve taken their lives.
As for me personally, I have an anxiety disorder and I take medication for it. I do have it under control but I do get extremely depressed sometimes. I was bullied a lot growing up and that has affected me to this day. I’m 33 years old and I am alone. I’ve never really had a girlfriend–unlike Mr. Swartz actually. Although, I’ve done things to ensure I’m not of the “uninitiated,” I should mention lest I’m ridiculed like that Steve Carell character from the movies. I don’t see myself as being attractive and I don’t really like myself all that much. I value my intelligence but not my appearance. You could say that I gave up on myself when it comes to seeking companionship years ago. So far I’ve been justified in my actions it seems as I’m not found to be desirable.
I’m not going deny that the thought of taking one’s life has never crossed my mind, but I could never bring myself to do it. I guess you could say it’s because I am a coward. I think it takes a lot of bravery to do that which is unthinkable and end it all. I fear going that route because suicide is something that you can not come back from. I suppose my pain is not at the point where I’ve run out of coping mechanisms. Yet, being alone and feeling like this is how it will always be will probably keep me fantasizing. In the end, the one thing that keeps me going is my will to fight for justice in the world for others. Being an activist and being involved in politics is my life’s calling and that is why I still go on.
I wanted to close with something else that Cory Doctorow mentioned which was that by Swartz taking his life he didn’t solve his problems . From what I can tell Mr. Swartz isn’t feeling pain, loneliness or suffering anymore. He has escaped all of his problems and tormentors. They can no longer get to him. Rest in peace Aaron.
Addendum – 2/9/13
I came across this sad story of a beautiful woman who committed suicide recently. She was a jewelry designer who appeared to be bullied a lot.
A young jewelry designer named Ashley Riggitano plunged to her death on Wednesday, the day of her 22nd birthday, according to the New York Post, after jumping from an upper level of the George Washington Bridge.
Riggitano, a graduate of New York’s Laboratory Institute of Merchandising, left a Louis Vuitton bag on the bridge’s walkway, filled with suicide notes that detailed the five people she didn’t want to attend her funeral. It’s believed that the notes, whose messages reportedly allude to excessive bullying, are aimed at Riggitano’s fashion colleagues from both work and school.
The really sad thing to me is how someone so beautiful could be in so much pain. She even had a boyfriend at one point and seemed to have everything going for her. The fact that she chose to take her life the day after her birthday is also shocking.
Addendum – 7/30/13
I find it sad but necessary to update this blog post once more with recent news that is more personal in nature than these other stories I’ve mentioned above. This past Sunday on July 28, a person I knew for a very long time committed suicide at the age of twenty nine.
I had not seen this person for almost a decade. I was very close to his family and was best friends with his cousin. After having a falling out with his cousin in 2002, I began a slow drift that eventually separated me from that entire family. While I’ve always had my mother, sister and father — the latter until I was 14 — I was never close to my own extended family, so the family of my former best friend was that for me.
This person leaves behind a lot of people who will surely miss him for the rest of their time on this planet. From what I know he became depressed and started to self medicate by drinking heavily. I know that he was saddened by his perceived lack of success in life. I believe he struggled with his education while growing up. Meanwhile his younger sister excelled at her studies and went off to college and became independent while he was never able to find his own way.
As time moved on and some of his cousins got married or moved on with their lives in other ways he grew lonelier. Like me he was never able to meet a woman and at least have the happiness of some companionship. After Hurricane Sandy happened last year I’m told that he moved back home with his mother. I guess that wasn’t able to help much either as he was still in pain. As Liza Sabater of Daily Gotham pointed out in her tweet, my friend was at the point where his pain was so great that all he thought about was ending his life to escape that pain. Well, his pain is now over and it appears that the burden of carrying that pain will be passed on to the shoulders of all those he leaves behind. They will shoulder that burden equally in his name and in his memory. Last summer, I heard of his troubles and I wanted to get in contact with him to share with him my experiences and show him that there is hope. I’m truly sorry that I never got that chance.
Death is hardest on those that are left behind. If you ever think of taking your life remember the sheer and utter devastation it will create for the people you know and love. You’re never that alone that no one will care so think again.