When I was about 11 years old, a suicide in the family left us in shock. I saw my mother break down and cry like I had never seen before. My father was fighting hard to hide his tears as he walked out of the house to arrange to get possession of the ‘body’ of the deceased for the family to pay respects and to mourn. Later, I heard that he had carried the head of the corpse on his lap during the 1.5 hours drive back home.
I had met the person some days earlier. He had been nice and had greeted me with a hello I will never forget. It was tragic, of course. Everyone felt guilty for not having seen it coming. Then came the rage- blaming him for being so selfish, for leaving behind two kids who were younger than me, for abandoning the poor patients he had been treating gratis. I am sure that one thing was common for everyone- they kept thinking what they could have done differently to have saved him from hanging himself on a cold January morning.
However, the tragedy brought the family together. We didn’t take each other for granted anymore. For a while, at least. But I am not sure if anyone could have stopped what had transpired. Nobody knows for sure the threshold where an otherwise healthy person just snaps and decides to give up on the world.
I suspect that it is usually from a sense of deep personal or professional failure that drives people to the edge. A very promising student was found cheating in his exams and was suspended to take his boards for two years. I heard that he later tried to consume phenyl to end his life. Though he survived the attempt, I was left wondering if anything I could say that time would change his grim view of life. He’d have to fight his own battle and come out strong, which I am happy to say he did. We lost touch for a few years, but when we connected again- my respect for him had not diminished in any way as a batch mate.
Loneliness is another factor that often drives someone into taking extreme measures. Having lived through days when I had to wake up to the same four walls every day with no idea of what the future might hold, I know it can be a very debilitating and emotionally exhausting. Not sensing a purpose of life, facing a terminal/incurable disease or an unfaithful spouse can make Pagliacci cry.
A few things that worked for me
I have always believed that it is better to hurt back than to end your life for being emotionally bruised. Rage is better than self-loathing. But hatred is a heavy burden to carry. It wears you down and makes you unhappy.
I have found a very simple solution for self-preservation. If someone makes me unhappy more than I care to admit, I give a little space for that person to realize what they have done wrong. The friend who takes a refusal too personally or the relative who never thought you would amount to anything- unkind people will always inhabit the world. More than anything, it is their unhappiness that makes them so. The wise thing to do would be to move on. Honestly, no one can not fix everything and everyone. And if you try to, when would you have the time to create happiness for yourself and others?
When I felt that I was not finding value in my work, I started volunteering. There are billions of people in this world. It is enough to make just one good friend. It helps if you have several. If not a friend, at least, someone you can talk to. Even charmers can be lonely because they never have an authentic dialog. Their objective is to seduce you with their words, not have an honest conversation.
The least we can do is be honest with ourselves. If we know what we truly seek, we can focus our energy in pursuing that goal. Keeping busy helps. I find myself too exhausted to mull over negative things when I am chasing a personal deadline. As kids, we were often advised to have several hobbies. I write a lot when I am unhappy. It is a way of expressing my frustration. I try to paint. I like to experiment in my kitchen. I try not to care what opinion others have of my creation because it is something I do for myself: fill my time with the therapeutic ritual of making cursive notes on paper, brushstrokes on canvas, chopping vegetables.
Sharing our woes with the world also makes us realize that we are not alone. PostSecret gave me more anonymous friends than I can count. Telling my tale with their words, healing my wounds with their accord. Though I don’t visit it as often anymore, I’d advise anyone having the blues to check the page out.
Lastly, be kind to yourself. You have not been defeated until you have given up on life. At times, I felt the darkness close in on me. Hopelessness would engulf me like a monstrous cloud, dampening my spirits. Then I sought for light within. I played a game with myself –making a list of places I want to visit; things I want to do before I die. Sometimes, I even imagined I was far, far away from my troubles- in a world of relatively more happiness. (I am a realist- perfect happiness doesn’t exist.) I visualized a picture of my happy elements. When I was single, I imagined a man who’d value me for the person I was and would love me like I were a princess who deserved the best. And I did find that guy. Rather he found me. I think I dreamed him into life.
Also, it is not essential to share your life with someone. A spouse or a good friend is just someone you can count on. But if you are not happy with yourself, you can never give happiness to others. And then you’d have nothing even if you had it all. Don’t let yourself become that bitter person who finds fault with everyone. Try to focus on the positive. After all, we are not perfect ourselves.
Recommended further reading: Why complaining is killing you