“When you get flak even for dying, what hope of living?”: a suicide survivor’s searing story
A few months ago, in the wee hours of the morning, I found myselfdialling a suicide hotline number I found on the internet. No-one picked up. Idialled again; again there was no answer. My inner turmoil at that moment was whethertheir not picking the phone was a blessing or curse. I mailed them with justthree words: I need help.
I had just left my job, had had a huge argument with my husband, hadjust been diagnosed with diabetes and I was tired. Most of all, I was tired.The decision to kill myself came from the exhaustion I felt in dealing with mylife. The hotline people called back after a few hours, a very calm lady spoketo me for half-an-hour, then called me again in the evening to check on me.
By then I was annoyed that she was repeating things I already knew.
I was tired of trying and failing and trying again. Tired of notbeing able to focus on anything in life and therefore everything gettingmessier than before. There is no end to this continuous loop of trying andfailing. The only reason this is not a story written by a ghost is because Ihave been through this before. 10 years ago.
I now know the steps to take if my mind starts going in thatdirection.
When news of Pratyusha Banerjee’s apparent suicide started trendingon Twitter, I started to feel very uneasy. With each new news item that flashedonline, that uneasiness rose. Speculation was rampant. One news channel flashedthat she might have been pregnant (One India) and a newspaper (HT) carried a pieceabout how her hailing from a small city led to her being disillusioned by theglamour and subsequently killing herself.
Another pointed at her being bankrupt and/or heartbroken.
One celebrity family friend, Dolly Bindra, went public about theconversation she had with Pratyusha’s mother.
In all this, the uneding questions on loop.
Why did she not ask for help? Why was she so selfish? There wereother ways to deal with her problem, why couldn’t she see them? She should havemet a psychiatrist.
And the underlying implications.
She was a loser who could not deal with her problems. She shouldhave realised she is luckier than most. How could she throw away her gift oflife? Etc etc etc. People, alive, proclaiming what the dead should have done.
These are questions I have been asked by my near and dear ones whenI, unsuccessfully, tried to do it too.
Some of these seem legit. Some come from people who are trulyconcerned. But all they made me feel was misunderstood. Do you think I don’tunderstand the consequences of this decision? I knew that killing myself wouldhurt my family. I knew there would be a police enquiry. I didn’t even want to leave aletter lest someone was arrested for abetting my suicide.
It is never one thing that leads to taking such a drastic step. Duringthat phase, I had lost the will to try again. It is not as if I thought I hadbeen dealt the worst hand by life. I merely wanted to give up playing that handbecause it didn’t seem to make sense.
Even today, those thought recur. But I carry on because it would hurt myloved ones if I didn’t. I still don’t think my living will make any significantdifference to anyone in the world.
Help isn’t always helpful
My father and a couple of my friends got me professional help. Doctorsand counsellors who have helped hundreds of people in times of crisis. Thereremains a big problem there. Going to a psychiatrist in India continues to beloaded with one judgement – you’re kind of ‘mad’. It might have been my frameof mind – but I kept feeling they would tie me up if I told them what I was reallyfeeling. For the first few sessions things seemed better, then I started gettingbored with what they had to say and ask. Was I on drugs? What did I do allweek? I already knew the reasons I shouldn’t kill myself, but the reasons todie outweighed the reasons to live, and that didn’t change with those sessions.I started to feel resentful. I’m alive, aren’t I? Why are you bothering me withthis mundane s**t? I would refuse to take medicines on days I felt better –because I didn’t want to be dependent on them. And eventually after a fewsessions I just stopped going.
Very few people knew I was taking help. Most didn’t know I needed any.They saw this chatty, energetic girl who smokes, drinks and can party allnight. Why would I tell anyone I was upset – I was, supposedly, a fighter.Except I wasn’t. And always, the temptation lurked. I wouldn’t have to put upthe farce of trying to fight everyday if I just ended it.
It didn’t happen one night
10 years ago and six months ago – both times, the decision to diewasn’t momentary. It wasn’t one thing that led to me wanting to end it all. Itwas weeks and months of frustration of not attaining what other people seem toeffortlessly achieve.
Social media doesn’t help. You no longer feel your friends arestruggling with the same problems as you. People are calling it Facebook depression.Because it’s all hunky-dory out there. Everyone is travelling, having babies,getting promoted, looking beautiful – while I am struggling to even foldclothes and make my bed. I can never be as good as any of the 700+ friends onmy friend’s list.
Common sense dictates they probably have as many issues as me,they’re just not sharing their troubles online – neither was I, after all. But naah, there’s the voice in my head,telling me no-one could be as miserable and underachieving as I am.
On the bad days, the really bad days, I looked in the mirror and found myselfwondering what use I am to this world. I’m a horrible daughter, a horriblewife, a horrible friend, I would be a horrible mother - the people who love memay not think so, but for me I couldn’t see reason to believe otherwise. On thebetter days I felt loved and wanted – but when despair hit, those feelingsfaded away. And the seductive voice in my head, again, saying, maybe ending itall would make them see my importance.
A friend jokes about my suicidal phase and callsme cat because I survived seven suicide attempts and have two left. Most havecalled me ‘emo’ at one time or the other. I know they aren’t saying it to hurt– that’s how they see it. That I am choosing to be this way. Choosing to haveexcessive ‘feelings’. Yet, I’ve never been given a worthwhile reason as to whyI shouldn’t do it. What if I don’t want to face all the struggles of life likeothers? What is so wrong in giving up? If it seems harder work than it’s worth,why should I be denied the right to stop?
Illness, not madness
I know and understand that depression is an illness, but there continueto be endless stigmas attached to the issue. Most of all I am scared ofdisappointing those who love me. I don’t want them to question what they didwrong when I go to a professional. Idon’t want them to think I am crazy. The idea of death seems like a blessedrelease from these anxieties.
Which is why, when I heard about Pratyusha, and other celebritiesbefore her, all I felt was an aching sympathy.
These celebrities face so much pressure, public glare, sexualharassment, all manner of failures in search of that illusory success. And evenwhen you’re somewhat successful – there’s always more. There’s someone elsebetter, prettier, fitter, more talented, more connected. I’m pretty surefailing when you are famous is worse. Imagine not being cast anywhere andmoving on, only to see, even years later, that a magazine has done a story onyour failures. Imagine waking to every personal thing blown out of proportionin gossip columns. “You wouldn’t believe why this actress was dumped”.
Even death has only got her flak, imagine living through thisglare.
It takes a Deepika Padukone coming out about her depression to makethis country start talking. According to a WHO report in 2014, India accountedfor the highest estimated number of suicides in the world in 2012. Yet, eventhree years later I found only four numbers online, two of which didn’t work,no-one answered at the other two, and only one of them called back.
And yet, seeking help is all you can actually do.
I know how help, intentionally given or accidentally received,makes a difference. Because the last time (a decade ago) I actually attemptedsuicide, seconds before cutting my veins a dear friend called. She wasconcerned I was about to do ‘something stupid’. She asked where I was and whatI was doing. I was trying to pretend things were ok. But when she announced shewas on her way over to my room with food, I broke down. I bawled as shelistened. She just sat there, heard me through quietly, and told me to wait fora week before I did anything. She didn’t question my decision – all she did wasto tell me to wait.
I needed her to just hear me. Because a decade after, I’m stillhere.
Unfortunately for thousands of people that help is not around.There are virtually no forums to discuss this without being judged. There areno self-help groups, or easy-to-reach counsellors. There are teens who face thepressure of exams, youth who go through heartbreak and the pressure to achievelife goals quicker and quickler, people who are not able to juggle careers andpersonal lives, and those who lose their jobs and have families to support.
There are hardly any doctors who don’t charge an insane amount ofmoney.
No hotline numbers that work in the middle of the night when peoplefeel the loneliest.
It’s an insane world out there. For many of us, it seems to make nosense to carry on. But we do. We try and fight. All I wish is that people wouldjoin our fight instead of pushing us further down the precipice.