People who choose suicide often do so under pressure

Having perceiving people who die by suicide to be selfish and weak, the writer has since realised that this understanding is a symptom of the cruelty we have normalised as a society.
Having perceiving people who die by suicide to be selfish and weak, the writer has since realised that this understanding is a symptom of the cruelty we have normalised as a society.
Image: Pixabay

I have ruminated on the topic of suicide for years, and particularly the last months as I recounted my own experiences of contemplating life.

Before the announcement of the South African woman in quarantine in Kenya who killed herself, I anticipated that many would choose to end their lives amidst the Covid-19 pandemic.

While we are rightfully concerned with the death toll attributable to viral infections, we should also consider how we perceive death and its causes. Like most people who were raised to internalise religious doctrine, I understood suicide to be a sin against God for which the eternal punishment of hellfire is suitable.

I understood people who die by suicide to be selfish and weak for refusing to live and leaving their loved ones behind in pain. As I was introduced to the world, I realised that this understanding is a symptom of the cruelty we have normalised as a society.

It is said that nobody dies of natural causes under white supremacist, hetero-patriarchal capitalism. We die from the constant demands for our labour and the abuse we endure in trying to resist those demands.

I have written in my book Khamr: The Makings of a Waterslams that "suicide is a complex entanglement of subversive, radical self-care and submission to society. We choose ourselves in the moment we decide to end lives of suffering and constant provocation".

"As [queer] people, we make ourselves unavailable for the constant disrespect and slow dying inflicted on us through sustained forms of gentle violence that leave us questioning our own sanity. We take back a power that we have been barred from exercising: the power over our bodies."

Surely, this rings true under the conditions we currently find ourselves in and that for some, staying just isn't enough. We must recognise that those who choose death have sent a bold and damning message to us that says this world we have created is not enough. Every bodily reflex that pulls us towards survival and the shame of over-utilising free will was not enough for the person who died by suicide.

When we look at the world we have created, can we honestly disagree?

I am keenly aware of the potential for my words to be construed as an encouragement of suicide and it simply is not. It is a call to reflect upon how the society we have created as a global community is wholly unconducive to life.

It is also a demand for retributive justice for the memories of those who were brave enough to choose death in spite of the shame they were shackled to. I am aware that for some, these words will pierce painfully, and that many people who have since died by suicide might not have wanted to die... but that they could find no other choice.

There will be many suicides during this time, and they too must be attributed to the death toll of this pandemic. They must be counted amongst the people we failed to provide care, security and help for when they needed us most.

I, too, have contemplated my own death many times under a system of domination which still seeks to annihilate me. For now, I have found reasons to live, but for those who can't, suicide is just another way in which people die.

The South African Depression and Anxiety Group is available to help people in distress 24hr on 0800 21 22 23.

*Khan is an author and PhD critical diversity studies candidate

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