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The Words You Don’t Get to Call Someone Who Died by Suicide

Steve Austin
photo of young man standing in car parking garage at night alone

“What a selfish bitch.”

I thought I might stop breathing. I hadn’t heard someone say something so harsh and ignorant in years. Not in person. Not in real life. 

Sure, I’ve seen the unthinkable things cowardly trolls say from behind their screens on social media. But no one has ever had the nerve to say something so devoid of compassion to my face.

I stopped in my tracks. The guy who said the terrible thing was a good acquaintance, fully aware of my journey with mental health and a suicide attempt. We were out for a walk, and I could not believe he uttered those hateful words.

What a selfish bitch.

It bounced around in my guts and echoed through my ears for a while. I put my head down and furrowed my eyebrows, searching for help. But it was well after regular working hours, and the parking lot was almost empty. I stared at the dusky path in front of me and wasn’t sure if I could take another step. I’d had the wind knocked out of my lungs.

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What a selfish bitch.

Even if he thought it, why the fuck would you say something like that aloud? And to me? Are you serious right now?

I’ve lost family and friends, a co-worker, a classmate and a fellow mental health advocate to suicide. I’ve grieved with you over losing Robin Williams and Chester Bennington, among others. The pain is nearly unbearable. The loss never recovered. It feels like the gaping hole can never be filled when someone leaves earlier than we expect.

What a selfish bitch.

You don’t get to say that.

If you’ve never felt entirely alone while surrounded by people, you don’t get to say that.

If anxiety has never corroded your insides like battery acid, you don’t get to say that.

If you’ve never tried seven different medications, desperate to feel “happy” again or just a little less “I want to die” again, you don’t get to say that.

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If you’ve never come to the place where you’d rather die than face another moment of this living hell, you don’t get to call someone selfish.

It’s not OK. It’s not OK. It is not OK.

It’s not OK to say that someone whose mind attacks them every waking moment of every single day is selfish for wanting the “madness” to end. It’s not OK to call a woman selfish for giving into her desperation and considering every single option at her disposal to cool the fires of her living hell.

If you’ve not been there, you don’t get to say that.

You don’t have the right to demonize my despair. You are not allowed to minimize my pain. I do not give you permission to spew toxic ignorance over something you cannot possibly understand if you haven’t lived my experiences.

What a selfish bitch.

The Kindergartener’s golden rule is this: If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.

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Remember that.

And if you’ve lost someone to suicide and you’re crushed and angry and sad and something more profound than all of those things combined, I’m so sorry. Grieve the time you no longer have with them. Weep for the pain they were walking through. Scream at the heavens for not doing something. All of your feelings are valid. But please don’t call them selfish.

It’s not fair. And it’s not true.

You don’t get to say that.

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