A couple of days ago, S came to know that a colleague of his had committed suicide over the weekend. S told me the whole thing was completely surreal. A talented, thirty something man, with apparently nothing wrong in his life (on the face of it) chose to end his life.
It was S’s first encounter with violent self inflicted death. We spent some time just thinking how it would be – to get up one day and decide that life was so unbearable that you had to end it THAT particular day. Whether this man, had second thoughts while leaving his house, how he said goodbye to his family, whether he had taken his house keys along, whether he had taken his cell phone along or just left it behind because he would never need it again. The ordinary minutiae of leaving for work every morning – how strange it must have been.
My closest encounter with suicidal tendencies was a few years ago. A friend, who stayed in the US, broke up with his girlfriend of eight years. He was devastated and used to come online to seek solace through chatting – often with me. At that time, he was on pain medication for a fractured leg and after a point of time; he started regularly overdosing on it – to numb the pain he said– not so much the one in his leg, as the one in his heart.
I was petrified. Petrified that he would take that one pill too many consciously or inadvertently. And here I was in a different country, with no friends on the spot who could actually do something to help him. And all I could do was talk through the night knowing that it was not enough, but hoping desperately that it would hold him and stop him doing something stupid, if only till the next day.
I have battled with mind-numbing, paralyzing grief and despair in my life as well – where I didn’t know where to turn and who to turn to. Where death might have seemed like a welcome relief. But there was this one tiny self preservation voice, or voice of sanity or cowardice or something which held me back from seriously contemplating suicide.
So I know what it is to be in such a black place, that even the air you breathe is viscous with dread, but yet, not give up on life. But I still wonder what that point of no return is for the people who do.
Are the thresholds of pain different for different people? Or is it the levels of cowardice that are different (the jury is still out on whether suicide is the most courageous or the most cowardly act of all)
Is it the ultimate exhibitionist act of a self centred person? A part of me says that people who do take away their lives have to be necessarily, absolutely, selfish since they don’t think about the trauma they cause on those left behind. I had met a gentleman whose daughter had just committed suicide a few months before I met him ( for the most INANE reason imaginable) He was going through the motions of being alive – In reality, he looked completely wrung out, as if his whole life force had been drained out of him.
But then yet, another part says, that in mind which is so tortured with pain and hurt, can hardly understand and empathize with the pain their action will have on someone else-just like people suffering in the last stages of a debilitating disease like cancer, might behave atrociously –be wounding and nasty with family members –where it’s the pain speaking rather than the patient.
I wonder how long people stay in that zone between deciding to end it all and the actual deed. The shadow zone. The figurative dead man walking – self condemned but functioning. Trapped in a festering, tormented mind – but with the knowledge that he needs to appear normal, lest people find something amiss.
Do they count the last times – this is the last time I go to my bank, this is the last time I kiss my child goodbye, this is the last time I will feel the drop of rain on my face, watch a sunset or walk down a road traversed daily for the last thirty years …
I wonder how they decide that this is the way to end it all. The man, who died two days ago, threw himself on the tracks – a particularly macabre and gory way to end his life.
How they go about the mundane actuality of it – going to a chemist shop to buy the sleeping tablets or the innocuous razor. Deciding the merits of two equally distanced railway stations. Choosing which dupatta shall be the fatal noose.
And I think my heart bleeds for those left behind – always. A death, even in the ordinary scheme of things, invariably leaves a residue of regret and guilt – of things unsaid and fences left broken. How much more will it be in such a case – the burden of remorse and self reproach, the weights of all the could-have, would-have, should-haves, is something they might need to deal with through out their life, even if there was actually nothing else to be done, nothing else they could have done.
The greater tragedy is that there is no easy way to pick up these signals of a person who is contemplating death. No red flags which one can see and do something about. Body language and depressive talk is too simplistic, there are many, who quietly go about the business without making a fuss.
Even if correctly diagnosed, the way to help them, how to prevent it, how to do something thus becomes a matter of chance and individual skill. The skill to take them to the counsellor, the skill of the therapist in counselling, the skill of the person to come out of it and be motivated to live again.
I wish therapy wasn’t such a bad word in the Indian societal system – where a person who claims to be taking counselling sessions is automatically assumed to “mental” thus unfit – where depression is something to be derided, hidden away, avoided, not acknowledged rather than something which can be set right – if only with a little sensitivity and empathy. I wonder when society will have the maturity to realize that clinical depression is a malaise just like a viral infection and the person can’t just snap out of it and be happy, no more than a person can will a fever to go away but given the right treatment WILL go away.
P.S This is going to be a two part post because I would also like to write soon about the non-clinical urban depression – the malaise which seems to be hitting a lot of people I know. Young, urban professionals which I fear is grossly underreported and understood.
P.P.S. Very morbid post this. Hmm.