On Tuesday, July 7th, 37 year old Dennis Clevenger jumped to his death from the top level of a parking garage in The Woodlands, TX. There was a brief article in the community newspaper, some mention of it on local Facebook pages, but for the most part, it went unnoticed. No news crew from Houston made their way up I-45 to cover the story, even though several reporters from various stations call The Woodlands home. There was little else said. The only comment in the online version of the community paper was anger at the paper for posting s picture of the body covered by a sheet taken from above. A Google search of Dennis Clevenger didn't reveal much, nor did a search on Facebook. For the most part, the life of Dennis Clevenger was limited to a mere six paragraphs. We have no idea as to why Dennis was on that parking garage that day. It seems that the reporters from the paper ran a quick Google search themselves, and when they found nothing, moved on.
Unfortunately, an opportunity to educate the public, to bring to light to the far reaching effects of suicide, or to talk about the stigma of mental illness went away. This seems to be par for the course, not only in communities such as The Woodlands, but communities throughout the country.
I went back through the comments on Facebook to see if any one had comment. Perhaps some one would have talked about how Dennis had suffered a series of setbacks recently, or had battled depression, or been recently divorced and lost his kids in a heated custody battle. Nope. No such luck. The comments were heavy on the "oh my", "such a tragedy", and "prayers for the family" to the "I had to find a different jogging route", "this made me late for work", and even one ignoramus who referred to Dennis as "cowardly" because he "took the easy way out". I could let this jackhole get off easy. After I explained that his view was one of pure, unadulterated ignorance, I asked if he suffered from mental illness, if he had ever suffered from emotional pain so crippling that it physically hurt, and if by saying that suicide was cowardly, would he be willing to come and debate his views to my survivors group. I even told him when and where we met. The next thing I knew, the jackhole's comments disappeared. It was jackhole's ignorance that led me to thinking about one of my favorite quotes from literature, "Ignorance is fatal."
The quote itself is from Usher II in Ray Bradbury's The Martian Chronicles. In this story, our protagonist Mr. Stendhal plots revenge on the Moral Climates people. These are the people on Earth that had deemed science fiction and fantasy inappropriate and ordered all of these books destroyed, including Stendhal's (see Farenhiet 451). Now the same group had come to Mars and set about telling others what they could read and believe. The head of this group was Mr. Garrett. Garrett arrived at Stendal's house, and watched as other members of Moral Climates were killed off one by one in methods directly from Stendahl's (and my) beloved Edgar Allan Poe. Finally, Garrett, the last one left alive, was led into the catacombs and was in the process of being walled up alive by Stendhal in much the same fashion as Montresor had walled up the unfortunate Fortunato in The Cask of Amotillado. Stendhal lectured Garrett about how his ignorance and arrogance had led him down there. Garrett had never read Poe or he would have realized what was about to happen. Instead Garrett had allowed others to tell him what was bad and not acceptable rather than deciding for himself. As Stendahl places the last few bricks into place. he reminds Garrett that "Ignorance is fatal" as he places the last brick into place.
I see the jackhole on Facebook as a modern day Garrett. Based upon what he had said, he subscribed to some very outdated and erroneous information. Had he bothered to do even the most rudimentary research into suicide and the causes behind it, he might not have sounded like such a jack hole. I think that for the most part, people who suffer from mental illness battle it for as long as they can. I tried to use the analogy of a terminal cancer patient choosing to end their life on their own terms rather than live with excruciating and debilitating pain, but then I got to thinking about the analogy itself. People with cancer aren't afraid to come forward and discuss their illness. If some one in the community has cancer, others will rally around that person, they hold fundraisers, open Fund Me pages, and bring casseroles. On the other hand, if some one in the community suffered from mental illness, no one holds a bake sale, probably because no one knows. The family will keep it to themselves, that is if they even admit that it is happening. And why does this happen? Because people choose to be ignorant about it. Instead of, "That Timmy is a fighter. I hope he beats this," we get "Stay away from Timmy. Kid's got a screw loose. Best thing they can do is ship the little nut job out to an asylum. God I hope he didn't give it to our kids." Little do they know, mental illness, like cancer is not contagious, but, it can be just as deadly.
It is this ignorance that is truly fatal. It is ignorance that keeps parents from admitting that their child night have a problem. It is ignorance that keeps schools from openly addressing the topic of mental illness and suicide with students even though a student is much more likely to die of suicide than a fire or shooter in the school (both of which they are required to have multiple drills for). It is ignorance that perpetuates the stereotype of the mentally ill as writing fan letters to Jodie Foster or planning the next Columbine. It is ignorance that makes jackholes on Facebook say that some one who dies of suicide is a coward rather than saying that the person's desire to end their pain outweighed their desire to live.
So tonight, I want to tell Dennis Clevenger that I hope he is at peace. That where ever he is, the pain is over and cannot hurt him any more, "Requiescat in Pace". And for those that choose not to fully educate themselves, or regurgitate what they have been told without verifying what they are saying, "Ignorance is fatal."