Rants, can'ts, shan'ts, dance…

Can Words Kill? The Case of Conrad Roy & Michelle Carter

Recently the death of Conrad Roy has been the subject of much scrutiny. The focal point of this scrutiny are text messages he received from his online girlfriend Michelle Carter that seem to be encouraging him to commit suicide. Ms. Carter has been charged with involuntary manslaughter. Most of the reaction to Ms. Carter’s texts has been understandably negative. The comment section psychiatrists are out in full force, diagnosing her as a sociopath and a narcissist. If all you read are the Huffington Post articles about it, you might be inclined to agree. However, if you actually peruse the court documents and read all of her texts to him and to her friend, you see that it is not what it first looks like. She seems to have been trying to be supportive of his wish to die while at the same time not really believing he was going to do anything and trying to mirror back to him what he was saying to show him that it sounds crazy. It’s a case of, “I don’t want you to but if you want to, I’ll support you because I love you but I want you to understand how crazy and stupid it sounds.”

This is not as odd as it sounds, especially since they had these kinds of conversations often. Kids (and even some adults) don’t have much of a grasp of mortality. Even when staring their own imminent death in the face, most people just cannot accept that they really are going to die. It’s just too absurd and too big, too fundamental for us to understand. Humans at our core are narcissistic; the fact that the world will go on after we die is unbelievable, therefore so is dying. It’s hard for people to understand and believe people they know and love can die, especially if someone talks about this kind of thing all the time but never really does anything.

The “online psychiatrists” who are maligning this girl have obviously had the luxury of never living with someone who feels that way. Someone who talks about suicide nonstop. Someone who refuses to get help for it. Someone who truly does want to die. I have a friend who is dying of cancer and flatly refuses chemotherapy. I argued for treatment many times. It’s not what he wants. I have to accept that. If he wanted my help with ending it his own way, I love him and I would help him. It’s not what I want but it’s not my life and I am not the one suffering. This was a young girl with psychiatric problems of her own. Was she wrong? Absolutely. Did she intend to do anything wrong, or to hurt him? I don’t know about that. I don’t think so. Beyond the explanations offered, something that many people haven’t considered is that maybe she was trying to be supportive by helping him not chicken out of what he really wanted. Sometimes, that is the only help you can offer.

Sound absurd? Not really. Many people don’t understand what it is like to live with someone like that. You cannot beg and plead with someone to live every single day. It’s emotionally exhausting but more than that, it doesn’t help anyway; after a while, you realize it’s just not what they really want. For some people, feeling suicidal is not a momentary or temporary feeling. It’s how they feel all the time. It’s not a “crisis.” It’s their every day life and nothing makes it go away. If someone truly does not want to live anymore, what right do you have to stand in their way? I’m not advocating suicide here. People should always seek help for themselves or their loved ones in a crisis. But if help doesn’t work, if someone truly decides that they just don’t want to live anymore, who am I to stop them? It isn’t my life and I’m not the one suffering.

It must be nice to sit in a place of enlightenment and ignorance, knowing fuck-all about how us scumbags live and pass judgment on what everyone else does. I don’t have that luxury. I know all too well what it is like to be around someone like that. He is alive today but not because I saved his life (though I literally did, on more than one occasion). He is alive today because after more than 30 years – 30 years – of feeling suicidal nonstop every single day, he decided he wanted to be alive. Help didn’t help him; he’s gotten plenty of it – for years. Medications, therapy, hospitalization, understanding, love, compassion… he’s gotten plenty of all of those things. They did not help. Nothing helped and to this day, it has not helped. He has decided to live with it for his own reasons, but it hasn’t gone away. It isn’t going to go away because the problem is a lot deeper than “Don’t kill yourself, your family loves you.” Again, I’m not talking about people facing a crisis or an emergency. I am talking about “permanent” suicidal feelings that the person cannot get rid of, that they have had every single day for years, maybe even their entire life. It must be hell on earth. It looks like hell on earth. It’s hell on earth to be around. I don’t begrudge people like that a goddam thing. And I don’t judge them, or their loved ones. People that do… well, lucky you, I guess. I know too much about it to do that. The boy in the story we are talking about here talked about suicide almost every single day for the entire time this girl had known him. I don’t judge her. We all do the best we can and she is a kid. If you’ve not had that experience, you do not understand what it is like at all, so save your judgments for something you actually do understand. This poor dumb girl is probably going to rot in jail because she mishandled a situation that even trained professionals with years of schooling often handle wrong.

One of the things I use this blog for is to tell hard truths, things that a lot of people won’t say. This is one of them. You cannot make somebody want to live. You cannot watch them 24 hours a day. You cannot live their lives for them. You cannot force them to continue to suffer a life they feel is intolerable just to spare your feelings. That is selfish. Suicide is often called selfish and I believe it is, but so is that. It’s the same with drug addicts, people in abusive relationships, people who refuse life-saving healthcare or anything else. If someone is determined to harm or kill themselves – either blatantly or through self-neglect, as my other friend is doing by refusing chemo – they will. That’s it.

So no. Words cannot kill. He was suicidal before he met her and he stayed suicidal after meeting her. It had nothing to do with her, but she is going to go to prison anyway because the law – and the majority in this country – think you should be able to somehow stop someone from killing themselves, even if they don’t want help and even if they are determined to do so. You can apparently kill someone with words in this country now, without even touching them. You killed them simply by not continuing to try for years to stop them from something they really want to do. Can’t wait to see what that turns into.

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