Suicide Is Not an Act of Cowardice
Earlier this month, the radio host John Ziegler tweeted that David Foster Wallace’s 2008 suicide was selfish and cowardly. In response to these comments, Ken White argued on TheAtlantic.com that Ziegler’s tweets resurrected a dangerous myth:
“When you say that the victims of suicide are cowards, you’re telling depressed people that they’re weak and contemptible for what they feel,” White wrote. “You’re reinforcing the lies they’re already hearing in their head. You’re making it less likely, not more, that they’ll seek help.”
I am writing to express how appalled I am that Ken White chose to write an entire column bashing a couple of tweets I wrote about the long-ago suicide of David Foster Wallace without even bothering to contact me for comment, or to learn more about the real situation.
Had White done even basic due diligence he could have discovered that:
My relationship with Wallace was quite extensive (he shadowed me daily for at least two months while writing an epic Atlantic cover story 15 years ago). And my opinion that his suicide was “cowardly” was based on substantive reasoning.
Contrary to what White writes, my opinion on Wallace’s suicide has nothing to do with my perspective on his story about me, which White laughably claims I have “never gotten over.” Other than when I am asked—which is quite often—I never think about it. My only real problems with the piece are the many inaccuracies—which I detailed in a letter to the editor in 2005 and in an annotated online version of the article in 2018—and the very weird way in which it is written.
The tweets themselves were stupidly written in haste while I was at a party.
My view of suicide—which I am vehemently against except in extreme circumstances—is based largely on my own battle with deep depression after a 1994 car accident that killed my mother, and the several times that I strongly contemplated suicide in the years after that tragedy.
Because I now have a family, I fully expect that I will never commit suicide. However, if by some chance I do before I am old and/or terminal, no one would be wrong to call me cowardly for doing so.