People having suicidal thoughts and tendencies simply need one patient ear to pull them back to life. Punya Srivastava finds out ways to hold a secure space for such people
Suicide. One of the most painful, yet inexplicable acts performed by human beings. We are wired to live and fight for survival, yet conditions can become so overwhelming on earth, that often people decide to opt out, much before their natural time. Especially the recent spate in suicides by youngsters owing to the dreaded Blue whale game was making me wonder and question this act.
And then one day, a friend of mine shared how he was having suicidal thoughts, on and off, since the last few years. I panicked! Suicide was never meant to come this close to me! It was meant to stay in news reports, it was something that happened to unknown strangers, not my dear ones. And here was my friend talking of embracing death. That horrified me. “I would atleast find peace,” he confided in a voice that betrayed an ardent longing.
Suddenly, I felt helpless. However, I realised that he was battling a downward spiral; he was trapped within his own mind. I tried to offer him the only thing I could at that moment - a patient ear sans any judgement or advice. Though it was not easy to see him so broken and not offer suggestions which I thought, were needed to bail him out.
With depression acquiring endemic proportions across the globe, we often come across tormented souls desperately seeking release from their agony. However, depression is not the only contributor to increasing number of suicides. Other reasons include mental illness, terminal illness, traumatic experiences like failed relationship, sexual assault, bullying, and sudden or prolonged unemployment. To add to the injury, an apathetic environment at work and home might speed up their decision to end it all. ‘Good riddance to bad rubbish’, is the most popular stance amongst suicidal people.
According to Hyderabad based breath master Partha Gupta, two prominent reasons push people towards suicide. “Such people suffer from vacuum; a space that was brimming with someone’s presence or the vision of one’s dreams which now seems empty. They are unable to plug this vacuum, and hence, have this urge to give up on life. Another aspect is lack of life force energy or praana in one’s breath. Thought, breath frequency and energy are intrinsically connected and impact each other. In a depressed person, thoughts completely replace praana,” he says.
Partha shares a case study from the year 2008 to illustrate his point. One day, he received a call from a guy named Srinivas (name changed) who was suicidal, because of failing to secure a job even after finishing engineering four years back. Partha told him to come to his house. “I saw a shabby, smelly guy wearing crumpled shirt and pant looking, pale and unenergetic, standing at my doorstep,” he says. Partha asked a dtermined Srinivas if he wished to give one last opportunity to life and put off the decision for just a month.
“I told him to get up in the morning at five and go for a jog, come back home, take bath and spend his time the way he wanted. At six in the evening go for a brisk walk or a jog again. I told him to follow this routine for the next 30 days,” says Partha. On the 31st day, Srinivas came to meet Partha along with his father who couldn’t thank him enough for saving his son’s life. “I saw a smart guy, with a good hair cut, ironed clothes, bathed and smelling of fine deo, at my door,” says Partha of Srinivas’ transformation.
What happened in these 30 days? “I gauged at first glance that he was depressed and not breathing well. There was no praanic quality in his breath, and he was taken over by the mind. I had to merely devise a method to fill him up with praana. Hence, I asked him to jog twice a day,” he says. The idea was to provide Srinivas with some good lung activity so that his blood circulation and oxygen intake improves. He started feeling healthy with smoother respiration within the first seven days. “His improved breathing injected him with more praana and relaxed his brain that started thinking well. Within two weeks, he began to contact his friends, send CVs to companies, eat well, and feel fit. Life began to respond to him. Simple!” he adds.
Mumbai based Access Consciousness Bars and Body Process practitioner and facilitator Vyjayanti Tejuja says that a person tends to feel suicidal when his mind comes to a dead-end. “Hence, it is very important to recognise that anything happening in your life, even if it is the surfacing of suicidal tendencies, is a phase. Its is not you, but an emotion you are going through. And it has an expirey date.”
She also urges people living living close to a suicidal person to understand that each person has a different thresholdof tolerating pain of tolerating pain. What is frivolous toto you may be difficult to them.”
Hence, let us equip ourselves with knowledge, and compassion for people battling suicidal tendencies. Let us learn to hold space for them. A research on suicide via suicide prevention guides, written and verbal accounts of suicide survivors and talk with therapists like Partha Gupta and Vyjayanti Tejuja, revealed the following guidelines to be kept in mind while dealing with a suicidal person.
Ask direct questions
Asking the person directly, “Are you suicidal?” does no harm. It doesn’t put the idea of ‘killing themselves’ into their mind. A person becomes suicidal over a period of time, not in a day. Hence, it is safe to question them directly about their feelings. However, one can only pursue only till the suicidal person’s ego self allows. Once you cross that limit, the person, who already feels vulnerable, will retreat into a shell and lose trust in you.
Listen without judgement
Popular English spiritual teacher Jeff Foster recounts an incident when he was called to dissuade a single mother who was methodically planning her suicide so that she could ‘move on’ without any sense of responsibility holding her back. “I let her talk and talk. She had a lot to say, and I said very little. I simply got on her side, saw and felt things the way she did, allowed her to experience what she was experiencing, and allowed her experience to become mine, intimately so,” he writes in his blog.
What Fosterhad done had done was to simply listen without judging her. Wh anybodyereas, most of us tend to get judgemental about the person who committed this act successfully or unsuccessfully. But when we step down from our moral high horse and make an effort to understand them, we realise that their pain is the accumulation of the unacknowledged part of their human journey which has snowballed exponentially,exponentially, and they don’t know how to handle it. how to handle it.
Drop the blame
“ The human mind is a strange phenomenon. In its cruel moments, it can make death appear more beautiful than life, more attractive than any dream,” says Himalayan mystic Om Swami. “That still doesn’t mean that death is a choice. Suicide is not a voluntary act, or a conscious selection. No matter how it appears, no one ‘chooses’ to end their life. Given how difficult and miserable life is for most of the seven billion people on our planet, if suicide was a matter of choice, many would have gone for it wholeheartedly by now.”
According to a report published in Psychology Today, people who have survived suicide attempts have reportedly wanted to stop living than to die. While researching for this article, I came across accounts of people who had tried to commit suicide. One person wrote, “I can’t tell you how many times I almost killed myself. Depression and suicide aren’t like diseases. They are deep wells of darkness and loneliness. Depression is like a boulder of weight always on your back, slowly hurting you day by day until you say, ‘enough!’ Suicide isn’t about killing yourself. It’s about starting anew on a clean slate; to forget your troubles, and finally drop the boulder.”
Let us understand that suicide isn’t selfish act; it is the last option chosen for want of a better but not-existent choice.
Create a compassionate circle around them
When people are not thinking straight, when they are trapped in a vortex of conflicting emotions, they do not care much for rational explanations and practical solutions. Their most urgent need is to be accepted as they are, along with their skewed thinking. It is always better to validate their emotions than to count out their strengths to them. Though I haven’t had severe depression but there have been times when I have felt depleted of energy, and a giant void in my heart. Being an emotional person, I would wait for people closest to me to reach out and talk to me, since I hardly had any energy to even initiate a conversation. Though I might have come across as selfish and needy to my friends, it was the time I was battling the hardest.
For people having suicidal tendencies, this need is much greater. Telling them, “It is okay to feel the way you do right now,” or “You are not wrong in having these particular emotions,” will give them the much needed validation, and courage to open up to you. Recognising that it is not merely a low-phase but an existential crisis they are going through, will help us be more understanding of their situation.
Instead of helping in whatever way we can, let’s ask the other person in which way he or she would like to be helped. Since people are at different stages of emotional and mental receptivity therefore their responses might differ, but that is absolutely okay. The thing to be kept in mind while offering support, is the receiver’s convenience and comfort. When we are mindful of that, we start operating from our heart space instead of our ego or head space. Hence, let’s seek their help in helping them. I remember asking my friend, ‘How can I be of help to you?’ and he calmly told me to just listen to him patiently and help him vent out his pain.
Although, this could be a bit tricky to execute because most of these people have little energy left for anything apart from breathing. Most of the times, a heartfelt and genuine act of concern is met with a dull ‘no’. But it is at this point that the person has to expand his heart space and meet them a little more than halfway.
Maintain some space
People having suicidal thoughts are battling an overactive mind, and flailing supply of energy. As a result, they are rendered unable to have social interactions. We will do them much favour by simply being present in their hour of need. Giving them space is as necessary as being vigilant of them. Keeping a check on them every now and then is much better than being constantly with them in their physical space. You might think that they need your company to stay away from negative thoughts, but then they also need their personal space otherwise they will feel suffocated.
Be their advocate
People with suicidal tendencies are usually on perennial guilt trips. What they need is someone to have their back before the world. Be that someone. Protect them from criticism, especially in our kind of society where sensitivity towards mental and emotional troubles has yet to acquire a satisfactory level. However, one also needs to understand that each person needs a different tackling approach. Depending upon the person, we have to vary our approach from soft to firm.
Honour their emotions
Nothing scares me more than the long and short of my life being discussed outside the circle of my immediate family and select friends. For people who are going through depression and/ or anxiety, discussion of their apparent ‘abnormality’ openly, attacks their sense of dignity. Being mindful and considerate of their enhanced sensitivity and raw emotions will help us conduct ourselves in a more comforting way.
Honouring their emotions also extends to keeping the promises made to them and staying away from making idle promises. Even though we might think that a “Call me anytime” or “I am always available” is our way of giving them reassurance, it can hurt if it is not followed up with concrete action.
Take care of your wellbeing too
When dealing with a suicidal person, especially someone very close, we need to take into account the fact that we will be subjected to some caustic words and remarks at some point of time. All the pent up emotions might get projected on the one making the effort. Only an expanded heart and an open mind can help one sail through this distressing period.
Moreover, getting caught up in someone else’s life is bound to impact our own mental, emotional and/or physical wellbeing. This demands for a clearly drawn boundary with respect to our involvement in the other person’s situation. Moreover, only one person cannot be a constant source of nourishment for the survivor. One needs a whole support group comprising members from immediate family, friends and colleagues, so that they can support each other while supporting the person.
Armed with the knowledge, let us find within ourselves the hidden fount of compassion which could pull back a suicidal person from the jaws of death.
A survivor’s tale
Chartered accountant Sakshi Sharma (name changed) recounts how her family’s staunch support and immense confidence in her bailed her out of her suicidal tendencies. Battling depression since her early twenties, because she was considered weird, slow and destined to fail in life, by her extended family members she says “I tried to end my life on two occasions but the only thought that held me back was ‘what will happen to my parents who have always been my pillar of support?’”
Her father folder up up his business after retirement so that he could spend more time with her. Her mother, who was a a very strong person, always strove to maintain a light-hearted atmosphere at home. Her father would sit down with her and accompany her while she practised her yogaasanas and pranayam. When she got a job offer in a different city, he encouraged her to take it up, believing that this will help her come out of her depression. Her younger sister, who had landed a job in Delhi, gladly dropped the offer and took up a job in the same city as her sister, just to be with her. They all ensured that she never felt lonely. “It was my family’s support, and their belief in me that I was meant to achieve great things in life, that prevented me from killing myself, and eventually come out of depression. They never gave any value to what others said about me. They continued to pour their immense love over me and shield me,” she shares.
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