By Pallavi Bhattacharya
Living through difficult times, one might toy with the idea of getting out for good. After all, death is inevitable, one might reason. Yet, is life really ours to take? And is doing violence to ourselves the best way to die? So, how can we build the internal sresources that will keep us going till the tide turns?
“I know what I have to do now. I have to keep breathing. Because tomorrow the sun will rise. Who knows what the tide could bring?”
—Tom Hanks in ‘Castaway’
Twenty-five-year old Kabi had been untiringly looking for work for five years. He set up a tea stall in his locality which incurred losses. With a wife and baby daughter to support, Kabi, a slum dweller, was finding it increasingly difficult to make ends meet. One night when his family was asleep, Kabi committed suicide by hanging himself. A week later, a gentleman contacted his home with a job offer with a decent salary. If only Kabi had waited longer his life could have changed for the better.
Cry for help
There are many people like Kabi all over the world whose lives are cut short not due to terminal illness, murder or accidents, but through suicide. Unfortunately, no age group, social or professional class is exempt from suicide. The suicide victim may be a ten-year-old child who wasn’t allowed to watch TV by his mother, a newlywed bride unable to adjust to marital life, or an ailing retired old man abandoned by his children. Depression is a major cause for suicide, which could be brought on by an inability to cope with rejection, perceived failure, loss of a loved one, physical disability or illness, among others.
Do all people who commit suicide really want to die? Says Ritu Khanna, consultant psychologist, Apollo Hospital, New Delhi: “A suicide attempt is usually a cry for help which ends in tragedy.” Agrees 27-year-old Alessandro of Mexico, who attempted suicide at age 15, as he was unable to cope with peer pressure. “I don’t think I really wanted to die when I took the sleeping pills as a teenager,” he says. “I was just fed up with life during that time. I really do believe that God is taking care of all of us. He doesn’t want us to die and he gives us a light to hold on to. Whether we choose to take our life is up to us.”
Responding to stress
“Life is difficult. This is a great truth, one of the greatest truths,” is the opening line of M. Scott Peck’s bestseller The Road Less Travelled. Those who realise this and try to better their coping mechanism are less prone to feeling suicidal. Psychiatrist David Burns writes in his best-selling self-help book Feeling Good: “Research studies have shown that your unrealistic sense of hopelessness is one of the most crucial factors in the development of a serious suicidal wish. Because your suffering feels unbearable and appears unending, you may erroneously conclude that suicide is the only way of escape.”
Eckhart Tolle, author of The Power of Now, suffered from suicidal depression till his spiritual epiphany at age 29. Tolle writes that people often make themselves unduly depressed by dwelling on mistakes made in the past and living in dread of what may go wrong in the future instead of focusing on the immediate present. The negative one-liner, ‘I cannot live with myself any longer’ which had predominated Tolle’s mind for long, gave way to the ever-present ‘I am’ that helped him appreciate the beauty of life.
There is no doubt that contemporary life has many stress factors. However, stress affects some people more adversely than others. Brij B. Chawla, Director (Tribal Welfare) of Sri Sri Ravi Shankar’s Art of Living Foundation, feels: “Many suicides happen when one builds up expectations far beyond what one can achieve. There is nothing wrong in planning or achieving, but one should not think oneself to be a failure if one can’t be the ‘best’. People who commit suicide take bad times too much to heart. A person who is at peace with himself will never think of suicide.”
Avenues for support
If you or someone you know is feeling suicidal, remember that help is always available. Says Father Soosai Manickam, director, Pastoral Development Centre, Kolkata: “If a suicidal person comes to me for help I will try to find the root cause of his depression. If he is a believer, I will put him in contact with God through prayer so that he can find solace.”
Sukhsam Singh, director of Lifeline, a helpline for the suicidal, distressed and depressed, points out: “A suicidal person needs empathetic non-judgmental patient listening. Talking helps a person to unburden his distress till a catharsis is reached.” Taking professional help is essential especially if suicidal symptoms like giving away possessions, social withdrawal, expressing failure, having definite ideas to commit suicide are present. Never hesitate to visit a psychiatrist or psychologist fearing social taboo. Also remember everything you tell your psychiatrist/psychologist is confidential.
For those living with a suicidal individual, it is important to remove means of suicide like sharp instruments, guns, ropes and sleeping pills from the living environment. Joyce Siromoni, founder of Paripurnata, a halfway home for the mentally ill in Kolkata, says: “People who have attempted suicide previously are extremely likely to attempt suicide again unless they are treated for their problem. Suicides are usually planned acts and rarely out of impulse except in exceptional cases like inability to cope with phobia the night before the exam or after a fight with a sibling, friend, parent or partner.”
Those who survive suicide often come to the conclusion that suicide is not a solution to one’s problems. Moreover, who knows what awaits one in the territory of death after suicide? If one is indeed going from one life to another in a progressive cycle, one cannot but wonder what suicide would mean in one’s evolution.
Physically, a failed suicide attempt may make things far worse by disabling one permanently. A man may just lose his legs after jumping from a building instead of dying, making life all the more painful for him.
Pinky is grateful to God that she was taken to the hospital in time when she attempted suicide eight years ago. “I was totally emotionally dependant on my husband. I had dreamt of an ideal marriage with no fights whatsoever. All my dreams were bitterly shattered when to my horror and disbelief my husband admitted to having an extramarital affair. He put all the blame of marital disharmony on me and wrongly accused me of having an affair as well. My 11-year-old son ran away from home during this time to be found later at the railway station and I was blamed for being an irresponsible mother.”
Finding life unbearable, Pinky took an overdose of sleeping pills late in the night but fortunately survived. She started visiting a mental health counsellor, joined a women’s support group and seriously engaged herself in social service which helped her immensely. She began to read books on religion and spirituality, which provided her with tools to calm her mind. Her husband became more understanding towards her and they cordially discussed their marital problems regularly. Pinky says: “Had I taken my life I would never ever had seen my children grow up.”
Deepa’s near-death-experience after a failed suicidal attempt miraculously helped her to come to a greater appreciation of the value of life. Unable to complete her graduation and get a job, Deepa became severely depressed at age 22. To make matters worse, her family criticised her for being a financial burden and urged her to get married fast. Unable to cope with rejection from her family, she tried to take her life.
Deepa later told her counsellor: “I saw a bright light demarcating life and death, God seemed to give me the choice of whether to live or die. I chose to get back into my body and live on.” Deepa emerged from this experience with a new will to live and make a success of her situation. Her counsellor helped her improve her self-esteem and relations with her family. She started earning by giving private tuitions. Gaining financial independence boosted her confidence and she came out of her depression.
Sudhir attempted suicide several times after he lost both his legs from above the knee in an accident in the factory where he worked. Unemployed and suffering from intense phantom pain, life became a nightmare. But things gradually changed for the better. He secured employment with an NGO manufacturing artificial limbs. He got new legs, could stand up and walk again. He met a woman, also an amputee, who worked with the same NGO. They fell in love and got married. They now have a baby daughter. “Despite the tragedies in my life, God has been kind,” smiles Sudhir.
In The Road Less Travelled, Scott Peck narrates the touching true story of a patient overcoming suicidal feelings to go on to feel peace and joy. Ted held God responsible for all the miseries in his life and started feeling suicidal. Gambling with life and death he purposely stood on the pier when the tide was coming in. A huge wave swept him into the sea but immediately a backwash wave took him back to the land and he was safe. Ted dismissed his life being saved as just a coincidence, but Dr Peck made him realise that it was indeed a miracle. Ted gradually became objectively introspective and understood that in life sorrow was just as important and inevitable as happiness. He regained his faith in God, immersed himself in spiritual work, and later went on to study theology.
Out of the dark
When a person wants to take his life, all he sees is darkness and despair. He becomes temporarily oblivious to the preciousness of life. Ven. U. Gnanarathana Thero of the Mahabodhi Society of Kolkata reminds all those who are thinking of suicide that: “Of all forms of life, human life is supreme. Being born human is a rare gift, taking one’s life is a great loss.” If you are feeling suicidal remember that hard times don’t last forever. What’s the use of giving a full stop to your life when it actually hasn’t come to a dead end? Try to visualise yourself standing at crossroads instead. Do remember that after all, ‘tomorrow is another day’. And who knows if tomorrow will bring in a new tide into your life, which will give you a sail?
Names of suicide survivors have been changed to protect their privacy.
Contact: Befrienders’ Suicide Prevention Centres helplines; New Delhi: (011) 23710763, Mumbai: (022) 23092068, Kolkata: (033) 24745886, Chennai: (044) 2811505, Pondicherry: (0413) 2339999, Ahmedabad: (079) 2405544, Secunderabad: (040) 2781464
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