Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Some Reflections on Suicide

I'm a little surprised at the vast response to Robin Williams' suicide, with most media and social networking posts seeming to emphasize the "tragedy" of it, the issues associated with mental illness, etcetera. While his death is sad to those he leaves behind, because of course there were people who loved him and will miss him, and because so many of us admired his wonderful talents, which are now lost forever...I think it is disrespectful to say that he didn't know what he was doing.

As an existentialist, I really believe only each individual can judge the quality of his or her own life. A life that looks miserable to others may be very happy, a life that looks awesome from the outside may be very sad. Only you get to judge the quality of your own life. I have always believed very much that if you determine your quality of life makes life no longer worth living - if you feel the effort to change it is not worth it, or you just don't want to continue, there should be no shame in that, it is a viable choice, though a permanent one. Yes, it can hurt those you leave behind - but so will your death in a car accident.

So, Robin Williams got tired of being Robin Williams - he had had enough. There is no shame in that. He had a lot of struggles, he got tired of fighting. While we will never know all the struggles he had, we know from some things he said that he had two divorces, he had financial struggles, he'd battled drug addiction, he'd battled alcoholism and had recently relapsed and sought treatment, and that he had a lot of fear and anxiety and depression. I don't think that deciding those struggles were no longer worth fighting makes him crazy. He made a choice, a choice we all have to make on a day to day basis: to be or not to be, to go on or give up. Whether that choice was emotional, logical, or a combination, it is still only his choice to make, not society's. We don't get to second-guess him and say "So sad, his life was worth living" or "It would have gotten better so he should have stuck it out." It was his choice alone to make - he decided it wasn't worth it to go on, the struggles were too much. I can respect that choice.

Assisted suicide should be legal for those no longer able to act on their own who are suffering, and when someone decides on suicide (an adult, not a kid who doesn't have judgment skills yet) instead of saying it is a tragedy, we should recognize that while it may be a loss to others, maybe for that person it is not tragic at all - maybe it is what they truly wanted, not to struggle on. Their suffering is finally over.

In many cases suicide can even be better for everyone: case in point a Boise guardsman who just killed himself in a cabin after murdering a woman in Washington earlier this month. Now we don't spend money on a trial, it's over - he took a life and then his own. While I am sure that those he left behind will suffer at losing him, and at his decision to be a murderer, his choice was not to live on, perhaps with too much regret or guilt, and in making that choice he brought the case to a close and the criminal justice system doesn't spend more time on it, nor do taxpayers support him in jail.
Being analytical about suicide is not a failure to be compassionate; they are not mutually exclusive. I have compassion for Robin Williams' choice, compassion for the loved ones he leaves behind who are suffering at their loss, but I think I also give Mr. Williams the highest respect by not assuming I knew more about his mental state or his quality of life than he did and not second guessing his decision. If he had cancer and was suffering, would it be tragic that he took his own life to prevent further suffering? I think not. Just because he may have had a mental vs. physical illness, that doesn't mean his suffering was less or that he doesn't have the same right to decide when to end his life.

Atheists are often annoyed when other say that they are praying for them - because atheists don't want to be prayed for. Religious people who want to privately pray for others, knock yourself out, but when you tell an atheist you are praying for him or her you are basically saying that you don't have any respect for the atheist's worldview, that you know better, that your worldview, one that contains a God, is better - that your prayers are therefore a good thing that the poor atheist doesn't know they need, but they really do. This is very condescending and annoying, not at all respectful. You don't get to tell others how to feel or how to think - each individual makes their own choices. I can't help but think that Robin Williams might be similarly annoyed by all the statements that he was too mentally ill to make good choices, that his decision to take his life was a terrible mistake, that he couldn't possibly have been acting rationally, etcetera. It all adds up to others thinking they know better than he did what is best for him: a fallacy.

The truth is, we don't know, can't know, will never know how he felt, what he thought, and why he decided to end it all. It is possible he left a note or made some effort to communicate some of those things to those he loved, but regardless of what he chose to share, there is no question that nobody knew what it felt like to be him. It is possible that with more effort and more struggle he could have turned a corner and been happy again one day. It is also possible that he simply didn't feel like finding out, or making the necessary efforts to get to that point. I don't think we should come in, like praying Christians to the atheist, and say we know better - we are right about what the world could hold for him and he was wrong. I don't think he would have wanted our sympathies and our patronizing, paternalistic responses to what, for him, was obviously a great deal of personal pain.

If people want to take this chance to raise awareness of some actual problems people face, such as severe depression, and of the available treatment options, fine. So be it. I get it. But let's not make it all about Robin Williams, and assume he was wrong to do what he did. And let's not make suicide out to be an evil or misguided choice which is never right. It can be the right choice for some people in some circumstances. When someone makes that choice, it's not about you, or us, it is only about them. We should not be so arrogant as to assume we know what is right for them.

Thursday, July 17, 2014


I really wanted to see seahorses in Raja Ampat, and I imagined them as I'd seen them in the aquariums - cute, clinging to plants, looking adorable.  This was not to be.  It turns out that the pygmy seahorses, the teeny ones, are deeper than a snorkeler can see - and so small most divers have a very hard time seeing them too.  They have great camo.  What you can see, however, is the larger "common seahorse" and we were told to look for these in "just a few inches of water."

Sure enough, one of our guides found one  - and another nearby - very near the beach in the sandy area where just a few inches of water covered them.  When he said 'Seahorse" I swam over really fast thinking I might miss it.  Then I saw this:

"Ummm," I asked him, "Is it dead??"  "No, it's fine.  That's just how they are." He replied.  Oh.  It looked very sad and depressed and totally lethargic.  It just sort of floated in the waves not moving on its own.  Here are a few views from right over the top of this male:

The second one was brighter in color, but not any more active or less sad looking.

"Less like a horse and more like Eeyore" my clever husband remarked.  Absolutely true.  I ended up feeling bad for the poor things.  We saw one other seahorse on another day - same level of lethargy and melancholy.  I was really glad I saw them, but this is an instance where the reality of wildlife in the wild differed sharply from expectation.

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Two Neat Fish

We saw these two very cool fish as the first sighting on a lagoon snorkel - but unfortunately I have already forgotten what type of fish they are!!  Ah well, I still enjoyed seeing them and they were a bit unusual.


Alot More Nudibranch!

The variety of nudibranch we saw was astounding - here are several more varieties.  The colors and patterns are just amazing.

The bright yellow ones are nudibranches, and the pale yellow ribbon is actually nudibranch eggs - which we got to see being laid on this snorkel.


Archer Fish

In about three snorkel spots we saw these archer fish, which are very arrow shaped.  These are the best pictures of them I managed to get.  I haven't seen them elsewhere.



We had a lot of wonderful shark sightings on this trip.  Most of them I did NOT get photos of!  I saw several black tip reef sharks, usually towards the deep, where the reef or wall would fall off.  They swam by quickly - too quick for a photo.  I had an AWESOME sighting outside Raja Ampat, near Komodo, of a black tip that was very close to me in shallow water - but of course I didn't even have time to turn the camera on before he was gone.

I also saw a white tip shark - again, very quickly.  Also, an epaulette shark, which was in shallow water and swam RIGHT past my shoulder, very, very quickly.

Ironically, I never saw this shark - but those who could free dive did, so I have a photo of it taken by someone else!!  It's an adult brownbanded bamboo shark that was hiding under some coral.  I was trying to photograph a porcupine fish who went under this coral - when some in our group looked down to find it, they found instead the shark!  

Finally, we saw a very cool wobbegong shark.  Although I did see it, it was at a fairly decent depth along a wall, and only those who dove down got a good look.  All the same, I have a free diver in the family so we have some nice shots of it!!!


Another Puffer

I have no idea what type of pufferfish this is, but I love puffers.