I’ve always felt suicidal.
The first time I acted upon it was at age 24. It was a combination of various difficulties I was facing but I think it mostly had to do with the end of a relationship that I was unable to handle. I felt horrible. I had put the people around me through a lot, the hospitalization that followed was more painful. While I lay there, I had the time to rethink and regret. Of course, I regret it and what it had to do with my own inability to cope.
Most of my trauma, in fact, was to do with my own inability to match up to the norm at one of India’s finest residential school where students excelled at every damn thing they did or touched. Until today I judge myself to very high standards and the worst thing I could be is incompetent. I’m very scared of stagnating or not being relevant to my chosen field of work.
When I do go into a depression, it’s because of perceived self-failure.
In fact, it was depression that I was first diagnosed with at age 17-18. I didn’t take this diagnosis too seriously then as I had a lot to achieve and also I didn’t view depression to be anything more than sadness. Once diagnosed, I realized that I had all the symptoms since age 10. I was introduced to rock, metal, and grunge at a very young age. I was very influenced by rockstars. By the way they dressed and expressed themselves through hard-hitting lyrics, especially the heavy metal and alternative scene. The lyrics were so intelligent and relatable. If you listened to Megadeth’s Sweating Bullets, Metallica’s One, Gun’s and Roses’ Civil War or Stone Temple Pilots’ Creep you’d know what I was talking about.
My parents had a lot of faith in me like all parents usually do and my father would tell people I was very intelligent. I remember when he took me for interviews at various schools, he would tell the principals that the entrance tests didn’t reflect how intelligent I was and would convince the school to accept me. The rest of the world, I don’t think thought much of me and for good reason. They insisted that I attend the best schools. Though I was horrible at studies it never deterred them from making sure that I gave it my best (which wasn’t much) and finish what I started.
They also taught me to question and be argumentative and not to stop or stray off the path even when all the friends and all the teachers thought otherwise. I failed all the time and my father would simply tell me to try again. They never once stopped me from arguing, questioning but instead told me that the world wasn’t a particularly nice place and I had to learn to live with the fact that people weren’t going to cut me any slack. That I should remain firm and grounded and willing to fight back at all times. My choices were always one of the three, to change myself, change the world around me or fail and try again. But all had to happen within the framework and context of society. Breaking the rules still meant that I had to live with people and live with my decisions.
I wasn’t able to focus much in a classroom and I was any better at extra-curricular activities either. I was terrible at sports. The last pages of my notebooks were usually filled with doodles and sketches of popular band logos (Metallica, AC/DC etc), product logos (I loved drawing the Nike Logo over and over again. It was iconic and though a simple logo, quite difficult to get the proportions right freehand), Fido Dido, TMNT; mostly 80s and 90s Popular Culture. I would also be in-tune with the latest music and had a good understanding of it. I would sit with my walkman for hours pausing, rewinding and fast-forwarding and writing lyrics of songs down. My musical taste would change rapidly and almost as quickly as trends around the world would change. I think the only thing that I excelled in was art and music. But this was not in the context of the classroom but rather my personal use/need/expression of the two.
I remember my first art class and the students that were taking this class were much better than I was. They were all drawing amazing sceneries and portraits, all to the liking of the teacher and here I was drawing Transformers and Ninja Turtles. Needless to say, the teacher was not only disappointed but also proceeded to ask me what this nonsense was. So I fought with him told him that by the next founders day he would be selling my stuff.
I’m very scared of stagnating or not being relevant to my chosen field of work. But the fear of failing has also led me to excel and take risks. I have continued learning and going back to square one at every significant point in my life. I have learned to rebuild myself and can survive despite any odds. Being in the worst financial positions has never stopped me from creating something out of nothing. I went on to studying further and exploring more diverse fields of education than most people I know. I have degrees in Economics, English Literature and Filmmaking from the best institutions. I have a diverse skill set across fields, creative and business alike. I can live anywhere and in any budget and I am in the best physical condition I could possibly be. This year itself I have cycled over 5000 km across India with an average of 100kms a day, my longest ride being over 200km in one stretch from Salem to Indiranagar in Bangalore.
The talents I possess far surpass how I view myself and I can always find a way to change things for myself using these talents. Once I understood this, I was able to pull through every time. There was more I could do and I stopped seeing things that blocked my vision. That’s the thing about suicide. Most of us are unable to see a way forward. People around us may see our problems as solvable but we don’t. It’s very Aristotelian. The tragic hero doesn’t really see what the audience sees and the whole time the audience sees his tragic flaw or hamartia. Apart from horrible and uncontrollable circumstances we may face, as Humans, we are very shabby decision-makers and our lives at any point are affected of our past and present decisions, both conscious and unconscious, influence and made by ourselves and others.
I’ve always been thinking about ways to live through it all. I think everyone does to an extent and wants to find a good enough reason to live. I think people oversimplify suicide. You always hear people describe it as a feeble cry for help etc. While to an extent this is true, it’s important to understand the complexities once you have someone around you who is suicidal. There are various degrees to the seriousness of the threat. I have often come across professionals who are unable to really handle it and cannot say they can’t. This especially has to do with younger, inexperienced psychologists who will take on cases that they have little or no experience with. Helplines are almost always manned by inexperienced volunteers. One of the reasons for my persistence to live has also to do with hilarious experiences with suicide helplines. I once put the phone down and said to myself, “I’m not going to kill myself tonight because I have a lot to do as far as helplines concerned”. For the past year or so I have been making notes and finding ways to improve the quality of suicide helplines.
I was diagnosed with a range of other disorders like Bipolar and Borderline among others through my 20s and up until my mid-30s. I’ve been on all sorts of meds. I have been administered ECT during my hospitalization, therapy, and counseling etc. I’ve had a mixed bag of experiences but that’s true for all medical conditions. I think I’m mostly around today because of having sought the right treatment at the right time. One interesting observation is people’s view of Electroconvulsive Therapy. I still read these horror stories that sound like stories out of 70s movies where patients are strapped down to beds by evil doctors and nurses and zapped with continues jolts of electricity. Yes, earlier administration of ECT may have seemed barbaric and probably was painful, but like any other treatment, this has evolved and today it is a consensus in the scientific medical community that ECT is a painless, safe and an effective method to treat depression and like any other form of treatment is subject to the competence on part of the medical practitioner. Yes, certain government-run facilities may not follow protocol or the correct procedure in its entirety, but this is not reflective of the treatment in itself. The disorientation experienced is a combination of the treatment in itself and the wearing off of the anesthesia (after effects that are present across medical procedures). The procedure itself doesn’t last more than 20-30 minutes and a day to recuperate. One may experience retrograde amnesia after treatment but that wears off.
I can understand why it appears scary to patients, relatives, and laypersons but in the long run, if it’s a recommended form of treatment and one avoids it, one is only doing a disservice to oneself and one’s loved one. It’s like any other illness – most people will dread hospitals, medication etc but what would you do if a kid didn’t want to take a life-saving injection administered to the stomach with a thick needle? Or worse still someone with a life-threatening illness that requires painful treatment and tranquilizers rendering one in a state of disorientation? I agree the conditions need to change but that will improve with time and if efforts are made. Mental treatment is still rare and hard to come by and there is still a shortage of good centers and professionals. This doesn’t mean one should give up on it and move to the other end of the spectrum. I have had three dentists ruin my teeth beyond recognition in the past. That doesn’t mean I stop going to dentists all-together and instead do yoga or go to a Godman. I will instead just continue looking for a better medical professional if I’m serious about getting better.
I don’t agree with most of the post-modernist mental health rhetoric and more with the anti-science and anti-medication brigade. Yoga, diet and other forms of exercise are not things that doctors have ever disagreed with or have suggested are not important. But for mental illnesses, these are not a substitute as many suggest. I have read ridiculous articles that various narcotic and psychotropic substances ‘cure’ mental disorders. There is no evidence and no serious and peer-reviewed studies that prove this and media websites should stop putting these irresponsible articles up. I would also draw a strong distinction between broader mental health issues and a diagnosed mental illness and urge people (including some professionals) to stop homogenizing mental illnesses even though some may overlap.
I think romanticisation of mental illnesses and pop psychology blogs and listicles are a terrible idea. I don’t experience most of the symptoms that I used to these days, or at least nothing that I can’t handle. If I ever do, I will seek treatment immediately. I know that Social Justice Warriors and others with recently diagnosed conditions will complain about my use of these words, but I literally find ways to ‘Snap out of it’. If I’m still alive, I am still capable of coming out of it. It’s not easy but nothing ever is. There were people around me, who were close to me or therapists I paid a lot of money to, but they never really convinced me on an intellectual level. I just nodded and pretended to agree to their verbose lectures on life. It has always been me in the driver’s seat.
I’m inspired by design. I am inspired by functional creativity. I am inspired by people who have taken the design to a different level. I feel a lot of problems can be solved by the right design, whether it’s to do with products, ideas or procedures. I always feel that everything can be moved around and made to work for humans. There may be no such thing as an absolutely original idea but the interpretation and implementation change everything and this is where design comes into play. The design is universal from products we use to how we lead our lives. There’s this line from Baz Luhrmann’s ‘Everybody’s Free (To Wear Sunscreen)’ – “The most interesting people I know didn’t know at 22 what they wanted to do with their lives, some of the most interesting 40-year-olds I know still don’t.”
I still think of suicide from time to time, yes. It’s one of those baggage things one carries around for the rest of their lives like Herpes (Just kidding). But I’ve learned to live with these thoughts and not pay much attention to them.
I’m two years shy of 40 and continue to go back to square one in different fields.
It’s your life. Do as you see fit but there will always be repercussions no matter what decision you make. You will have to bear with them and that’s fine, you will find the strength and correct answers eventually.