TW: Self-harm, Suicide
When you are in the middle of a desert, only the distant horizons or huge dunes meet your eyes. You are forced to let the winds decide in which direction you are to walk, with all the sand that has gone in your eyes, making your vision increasingly blurry. You carry on with the drudgery, walking on bare feet along the hot sands. Most of the days are uneventful, and you don’t find yourself moving anywhere despite all the walking. But there are sudden sandstorms, savage and overwhelming. You gag because of the sand that has got in your mouth, and in the middle of your attempted flight, you tumble down a huge slope and end up in some sort of a pit. The ruthless storm is now burying you inside, and you can only try to swim your way out of the dust that threatens to swallow you whole, all the while crying a voiceless scream.
After days and days of fighting the odds, you learn to choose your steps wisely. But there are still things that could bring failure; a betrayal by your muscles and bones, for instance. The body only rarely withstands what resolve can. So I hold on to the trivial stuff I can use to get through every next minute – that waning flicker of a shadow that I dearly hope would be another human, those few lines from the book that I am yet to finish, and anything worthwhile that remains inside my head.
These are more or less the kinds of sensations I undergo when I am in a tussle with my suicidal thoughts.
My tendencies to attempt suicide are not automatically born out of my hatred towards living. To put it simply, there are many different scenarios that I encounter where staying alive demands an immense amount of energy that I cannot afford then, or not existing at all seems like the most suitable alternative. And these don’t mean I hate life as it is. It is more like avoiding something that you find unable to cope with; something that shows no semblance of attachment to you.
Don’t get me wrong here – I lead a life that can be called as decent at the least, with enough social connections, conditions that help me stick with a job that I am moderately successful at and spend time on other things I like, a stable family, and other basic privileges. In a nutshell, I am equipped with everything that one needs to have to safely work out your ambitions and plans for the future.
When I read about possible signs that might imply suicidal tendencies, I don’t usually see many that reflect in my behavior. But I frequently contemplate ways to achieve that specific result. Besides, there are a lot of other things that discourage me from going ahead too – letting down a lot of people who look up to me and value me (ironically the same thing that sometimes leads me on), or remorse for ending my suffering in one stroke but at the same time ensuring that the rest of the people in my life get to suffer for a lifetime due to that very action.
When I think about it, the signs were more or less there right from my school days. I don’t recall any incident that resulted in these manifestations, but they had nevertheless started showing. I was always interested in that breed of poetry where the topics had a negative touch. Earlier, I had dismissed it by telling myself that such topics are easy to weave words around. Even though the darkness and pessimism in my writings reduced by the time I entered college, remnants of these still popped up in the subsequent pieces that I wrote in the next 3-4 years. But again, I can unarguably say that the content I created has in no way exacerbated my penchant for suicide. To be frank, it was my only reliable outlet as I was completely abstinent from alcohol and drugs during my first three years in college, by choice. Even though I did start consuming alcohol later, it never entered a period where I was overly dependent on it or was consuming too much of it.
But the temptation was real – the mere promise of forgetting everything and ‘living in the moment’ with a small nudge from these drinks and narcotics. But I was too scared. I had always thought about myself as a vulnerable person, and I repeatedly entertained imaginary scenarios where I let my guard down and ended up making my life even more miserable in some way or the other. Despite all these, I had started to engage in self-harm, and thereby a downward spiral from which I couldn’t escape for a while. I still wonder why I resorted to such methods during those days, but I have also realized that gauging your situations once you get out of them is somewhat less difficult and entirely pointless, and sometimes there is absolutely no way you can rationally analyze your past actions, especially when you are put under duress by your own emotions.
During the same period, there were multiple instances of suicide in our college. And the manner of reception these unfortunate incidents had been met with was almost the same – shock, uncertainty, disbelief, guilt. I also sensed a general oneness along the lines of ‘we should have known’,’ only if they could talk to someone’, and the usual discussions about seeking help and reaching out. Almost as if these could have been consequences of a largely unknown phenomenon, and as if asking for help would have fetched exceptional results. It was just another representation of how things existed in our society, with the excessive stigma around suicides as a rare and shameful happening. That too, with no emphasis whatsoever on the need to be in dialogue with people who exhibit even mild traces of discontent or restlessness repeatedly. Around then, I was coming across a lot of edgy, unpleasant jokes and memes on the topic too. Honestly, until I actively started searching for information related to mental health and suicides, those were the only kind of content I was being exposed to constantly.
I don’t know yet whether I am in a safe space or if it is just a hiatus. For all I know, it could come back to me tomorrow while taking a bath, when I am outside running an errand next week, in the middle of sleep sometime in the coming month; it could even be in the next five minutes. I haven’t sought professional help yet, even though I have whole-heartedly tried to. But I do mean to go first thing after this pandemic is somewhat subdued. I hope that once I do, I will be able to finally have some answer to the kind of feelings I have been going through, or at least a sense of closure. I don’t know if I will finally be able to identify some sole reason behind these morbid thoughts, or whether I will be diagnosed with some disorder. Hell, I am not even confident whether these reasons alone, with no regard to my living conditions, social identity, or family history can be considered as fairly accurate. But overthinking is not going to yield much use, as most of these don’t come within my purview. Till then, I have to get by with whatever means are at my disposal, but at the same time, I can’t pinpoint things that might help me when the phases hit.
On the bright side, it has become increasingly easier and less painful to admit when I feel suicidal. Part of it can be owed to the realization that the idea on its own need not be as dangerous as it sounds. For the lack of a better phrase, this feeling isn’t always black and white – wanting to live or die. I could feel like dying on the worst days, and on most other days it’s just that the desire to live doesn’t really look exciting or colorful or even mildly positive. On some days, I am just satisfied with trudging along the desert and not falling, on others, I feel ashamed of myself for thinking about giving up and not trying enough.
After I narrated my experiences with suicidal habits and self-harm publicly almost a year ago, I had always wanted to write a second account; like a follow-up. But due to the fear of being judged as hackneyed or bland, and because I didn’t want to make it another detailed, dark commentary about my feelings without any definite ending, I was pushing it further away.
But ever since then, I feel that many of my friends have become more receptive too. Still, I feel extreme paranoia about how they might respond to me, and thinking about all the things they might not be telling me for the fear of making my state of mind worse while acting all cool on the outside. I also feel insecure by thinking whether revealing too much would affect my relationships with them adversely – that it would completely alter the way they see me, micro-analyzing the way I walk and talk. These are some things I always make a fuss over. I will never want them to keep such a misunderstood image of me for long periods, and them being overly conscious and uneasy around me is the last thing I need on top of my anxieties. There’s always a dilemma where you have to choose between letting them see the importance and the gravity of this disclosure and pushing them into a thought process where they mistake me for someone who wants to die every single day of the year.
If I may take the liberty to evaluate my own experiences, I can say that during my entire life I have stayed in that murky area that comes between having very benign, short-lived thoughts about harming yourself and actively pursuing thoughts about suicide. When I open up, it is not intended to create panic or distress (sadly, most of the reactions are either too apprehensive or too lukewarm). No, I am not minutes or hours away from doing it. And I am not putting the onus on anyone to step in and convince me not to do it. In 9 out of 10 times, I would just be looking for some sort of respite from the crushing sense of isolation and searching for some kind of connection or bond – to assure myself that whatever is going on with me isn’t such a bizarre occurrence. Considering all these, the probability of all kinds of wrong assumptions that can be made as a result of confiding in someone is extremely debilitating.
And I don’t think my experiences are in any way a reliable source for judging the behavior of people who go through this. But this doesn’t erase its validity either. Suicidal ideation is something that knows no social barriers or divisions like class, gender, race, or sexuality (even though there are stark differences in the number of people who die because of this from different communities). And along with the widespread notion that beginning to develop any similar inclination towards it is inherently bad, many among us don’t even feel bold enough to divulge anything. And again, just because one has developed suicidal ideations doesn’t mean that they are always thinking about taking their lives. Like, the sole interpretation of suicidal thoughts relies on the idea of hate and resentment towards the life you live; the apathy factor seldom comes into the picture. Nor does the facet of passive thinking.
It has been almost one year after college or one year as a working professional. It feels tremendously taxing sometimes, but these moments are still manageable. I am looking forward to a day where I can live without any such instincts. But it also comes with the daunting truth about the inevitability of these thoughts. I have had enough delusions about winning that ultimate battle, but I don’t plan on feeding them anymore. Am I comfortable with what I have at the moment? To an extent, yes. But being comfortable doesn’t always translate to a content life, does it? I can safely assume that my ideation hasn’t become severe yet. For one, I don’t constantly dream about my death by various means, I don’t actively search for methods to take my own life, I haven’t had to try hard to distract myself from voices inside my head that tell me to end my ‘misery’. Most days go by without any major setbacks, and I have noticed that I seem to be okay as long as I am not obsessed with finding the edge of the desert I am stuck in. I have to gradually teach myself that the edge won’t necessarily be a refuge and that I need to think about it only when I stumble across one. That I have what it takes to survive here. And most importantly, not to be scared.
Because why should I be frightened if I am not alone in this journey?
Also, you wouldn’t have asked for my two cents, but all of us will be going through some kind of emotional disaster or mental health emergencies at some point in our lives. The key is to find the courage, and a secure space to talk. Talk about all the things bothering us, the things that we would rather have instead, the things we are looking forward to excitedly. As someone who has experienced first-hand the kind of effect healthy conversations can have on potentially dangerous thoughts, I have learned that in the end, it is all about the things that make us want to keep living. These can do so much towards providing us with the necessary arsenal to fight everything out there, and simultaneously help us heal all the cracks and wounds.
(I know I still haven’t done justice to all the things I wanted to convey through this piece. I really hope I can some day, if there is a next time.)