The opposite of suicide is care. If suicide is defined by the act of intentionally killing oneself, then care is the act of intentionally preventing one from killing oneself. But, as I have mentioned in other essays, death is never singular nor is care. When one commits suicide one does not simply kill oneself, one kills parts of oneself that were in relation to others. My suicide attempt would not have simply suicided me. It would have suicided the mother-son relationship my mother has with me; it would have suicided the girlfriend-boyfriend relationship my partner has with me; it would have suicided the brother-brother relationship my brother has with me. This makes suicide a multiplicity. My suicide suicides others. Additionally, however, my suicide is always something that occurs not as a response to, but in a relationship to others/an Other.
It is for this reason that “13 Reasons Why” makes absolute sense. What “13 Reasons Why” does is it makes clear the relationships that fostered (not forced, but fostered) the cause of death, whereas prototypical suicide leaves the material world with questions. It is not that “13 Reasons Why” is an over-exaggeration. It is that “13 Reasons Why” is an exemplification, a drawing out of the lines that assisted in facilitating the suicide. Whereas the world is typically left to theoretically construct the social and relational causes of death, “13 Reasons Why” portrays a suicide that leaves no one in the dark. For example, Kalief Browder could have very easily made more than 13 reasons why he committed suicide in relationship to the social context that he was forced to endure. But, the fact that he did not does not mean that what he was suffering from was something internal. What he was suffering from destroys the external/internal binary. Suicide/Suicidal ideation/suicide attempts are both internal, as a procession of thoughts, thinking and behaving that is dealt with inside of oneself, and external, as a procession of behaviors, relationships, structural and institutional networks that operate outside of oneself. Suicide occurs in a context of sociality.
The same can be said of care. When one commits oneself to care, one commits oneself invariably to us-care. For example, for most of her life, my mother has worked as a support counselor for the mentally disabled. She has wielded her body, utilized her muscles, bones, energy and brains in dedication to the care of the mentally disabled. But even outside the kinds of care that have allowed my mother to support herself financially, my mother has taken seriously us-care as a way of living in all aspects of her life. Caring for my cousins as if they were immediate family – offering housing, tutelage, and wisdom. Caring for my friends as if they were her children – offering advice, guidance, and food. Caring for the homeless and the formerly imprisoned through opening our home to them and inviting them in to our place to stay. My mother is the embodiment of the practice of us-care. My mother is committed to a politics of care that recognizes the link between care and livability. The possibility of many to make it to the end of the day has relied on the emotional, physical and intellectual care of my mother. And then, when those around us are cared for, when their body-mind-and-spirit is attended to and well, it makes us feel more at ease. It creates cycles of care that reproduce the prospect of life. One does not have to worry about the specter of suicide. The caretaker themselves feel cared for and then, those who have benefitted from access to the caretaker can learn from the pedagogy that accompanies their care and recycle the techniques. One day every caretaker needs to be taken care of, and those who have received the care of the caretaker must appropriate the methods of the caretaker in order to recreate the cycle. Caretaking isn’t trickle-down; caretaking is spread-across.
One commits suicide when one feels devoid of care, when one feels care is absent and cannot be retrieved, when one feels the weight of a careless world. One commits to care when one attempts to alleviate the tremors and troubles of suicide, when one attempts to destroy the affective apparatus that attempts to concretize the absence of care, when one attempts to invade the careless world with weapons of reconstruction. We have taken suicide to be an act of killing oneself without an investigation to the relational aspects of the act of suicide. We only see the relational aspects of suicide in two brief moments: 1) At the funeral of the suicided person, or 2) At the hospital when the attempted suicide fails. For example, in the aftermath of attempting suicide, I had received tons of notifications from people whose relationality was importance in fostering my suicide attempt, friends I hadn’t spoken to in years, and persons I barely knew informing me how much they loved me and cared for me and hoped that I stuck around and survived. My attempted suicide revealed the relational aspects of the act of killing myself. But, it also energized people to participate in a practice/politics of care. By not looking at suicide, we fail to see the necessary relationality that has to structure of practice of care.
We have overlooked and underestimated the importance of care because we have not looked closer at suicide and have often taken the words of the suicidal to be misrepresentations of the world rather than reinterpretations of the world. Here is a wonderful example of the latter statement. When I was in the hospital and I was talking to the psychiatrist, I told her that I did not see suicide as a sign of weakness. I told her that for me suicide was harder than living and if I had more courage I would have finished the job. This, for the psychiatrist, was a clear sign of mania. For the non-suicidal, life is the hardest thing to do and suicide is easy. Suicide is a “permanent solution to a temporary problem.” For the suicidal, life is like breathing. It is done without thought. It is done compulsively. It is done “just because.” No one thinks to live. They just do it until they don’t. But if life is like breathing, suicidal people are people who like to count their breaths, who like to think about breathing every step of the way, who like to notice that breathing is more complicated than it has to be, and that stopping one’s breath is an end to all complications – temporary or infinite, past, present or future. A suicide attempt is an attempt to hold your breath until you pass out from it. For the suicidal, people who continue to choose life even though it’s hard to breathe are people too afraid to hold their breath until they no longer breathe. Holding your breath when the impulse and instinct is to breath requires strength. Choosing the permanent solution to the never-ending problem of depression, ideation, and absent care and relationality does not take weakness; it’s takes commitment.
When Ohio activist MarShawn McCarrel committed suicide, black activist, organizer and academic communities wrote about the importance of self-care as if what MarShawn needed was time and space to simply deal with his demons alone. However, if his “demons won” and they are multiple, why are the forces fighting those demons individual? MarShawn, like all of us, needed to hear, feel, and obtain us-care in a world that sees little value in it. What one hears in the words, “My demons won today” is an internal/external battle that breaks the dichotomy that exist between the two. Suicide is both an internal and external struggle that requires a continual interrogation of the internal since what is internal is always externalized in some form of another. Us-care is an internal and external methodology that requires the continual interrogation of the micro/macropolitical division since what is micro is always made macro when care is done correctly. Each and every form of suicide is a result of absent care. Each and every socio-political enigma is a question of: should we care or should we not care? For this reason, I’ll conclude with the words of the most radical caretaker I know, the woman who has dedicated her life to facilitating the politics of care, my mother, who has always told me, showed me, and taught me the radical importance of open, vulnerable, affective and effective care. In her rather simple words, “All we can do is care for each other.”