depression · mental health

The Star Gazer

DISCLAIMER- this piece is based on the tragic demise of an actor whose death hit me very close to home for some very unknown reason. I did not write this to disrespect the deceased or be intrusive but I literally could not control my pen when I sat down to write it. This is what I wished should have happened instead of what did.

The day that you bought me was the best day of my life. You probably just clicked a few times on amazon without knowing that you chose me. I felt my box being hauled off on what was probably an airplane. I’ve never flown before, in fact i have never stepped out of this cardboard box. I reached my new home in a couple of days and i saw you grinning excitedly while signing the reciept from the tiny crack in my box. I coudn’t wait to meet you. I could already sense we would have a lot of fun together. You beckon to your domestic help to help take me to your room. The two of you stuggle to lift me up. “Boy, this sure is heavy” i hear you mutter under your breath. 

You finally open my box and start lifting out my parts. You frown at the thickness of user manual and immediately start putting me together. Three hours later you stand next to me marvelling at your creation- a brand new Sky Watcher pro telescope. 

After that everyday was an adventure. Everyday we would look at the night sky together identifying new constellations and stars. You would read aloud from books as if you knew i was listening. I could see your eyes light up with passion every time we saw something new. You especially enjoyed Saturn’s rings and  thanks to you i knew all about their composition. 

The first couple of years passed like a dream. You even started taking me out to various locations to see nebulas. You would buy me different accessories and lenses and have never ending star gazing sessions. Sometimes you wouldn’t even realize the time until it was daybreak. You were happy and passionate.

Then one day something changed. I heard you arguing with someone over the phone. You seemed more angry than i had ever seen you before. In a fit of rage you threw your phone down and broke it in half. I had never seen you like this. Then you sat on your bed and cried for a hour. We didn’t stargaze for the first time in two years. The next day you packed a bag and left. I heard your driver saying you had gone out of town for work. You came back after a month but something had changed. That twinkle in your eye was gone, You no longer smiled as often. We still watched constellations together sometimes but you had stopped talking as animatedly about stars as you did. I could sense something was off and i wish i could ask you but i’m only a telescope.

There eventually came a time when you stopped using me altogether for over a month. You slowly got angrier and more withdrawn. I couldn’t fathom what you were going through but i knew that you weren’t letting anyone in. One day i heard you talking to a friend saying that you were depressed. He gave you vague advice like ‘be strong’ and ‘this too shall pass’ but didn,t tell you  how and when. What does it even mean to be strong, i wondered. Does being strong mean to disregard all the things that bother you and ignoring your feelings and continuing like nothing is wrong? I think strength is accepting that what you are feeling isn’t normal and knowing methods and resources to get better. Strength comes from unity. Strength comes from knowing that certain people are going to stick by you no matter what.  

Well, you took that advice. On the outside you put on a facade of having a perfectly happy life but couldn’t suppress what was happening inside where  depression had reared its ugly head. At first it was controllable andyou can still carry out routine activities without any visible  anguish but I still noticed the withdrawal and deviation from your usual demeanour. I hoped someone would detect this change but you were so good at hiding it that no one did. The one’s who did notice it simply wrote it off to professional stress. 

Gradually that gruesome head became increasingly difficult to control. It started to affect your work and personal life. Depression has now started to eat you up from within. I watched you sleep for 18 hours a day and the struggle you faced while pulling yourself out of bed every morning was almost cruel. You were at war with yourself and the worst part was that you didn’t know why. You started getting angrier probably at yourself. Often you would yell at your friends and family for hours or just sit and cry.  Your friend bizarrely asked you to ‘just snap out of it’  which is the most ignorant thing that one can say considering that depression is not some light bulb that you can turn on and off. IT IS A LEGIT DOCUMENTED DISEASE. Not surprisingly, none of them stuck around to see if you really did snap out of it or were still suffering. What i admired most about you was that in spite of this monster living inside you, you never let it affect your career. You thought focussing on your work would help you get away from it but alas that was not to be. You eventually stopped asking for help and started sinking deeper and deeper into the unfathomable pit your mind created for you.  In due course of time you began hunting for routes of escape. I could see you researching ‘most effective ways to die’ on the internet. You don’t suddenly kill yourself. Nobody does. I knew you had been having these thoughts for a long time now and just haven’t had the courage to act upon them because deep within you still have some bleak flicker of hope which makes you afraid to die.  I was terrified of the day that you would lose this fear and end your life. But how could i help? I am, but a mere thought. I hoped and prayed that one of your friends would pay heed to the quicksand you were fast drowning in and offer to pull you out. Finally your sister noticed and I heave a sigh of relief. You start seeing a psychiatrist and taking medication. It helps at first and then not so much. You start looking around for help. Most of your friends have already left you when you first started to fall. The few that were left are busy in their own lives and i know you don’t want to disturb them. So you swallow your issues and continue like nothing is wrong. You have now started believing that you deserve this pain. Each passing day makes it more and more difficult to even wake up. You have isolated yourself from your family who are absolutely clueless about the fact that you are still suffering just because you don’t want them to worry, after all you are a grown man and are perfectly capable of dealing with stuff on your own or that’s what you think. Sadly, depression is not something you can voluntarily control. Slowly, it took control of you. Now you are just a shell of the man you used to be, empty and broken inside. Your life has become this mundane routine of dragging yourself out of bed, plastering a fake smile on your face, swallowing a couple of pills and hoping that they work. 

You have started to cut yourself cleverly hiding the scars within the creases of your skin. You always were a highly smart man but I can still see them though. I can see you crying yourself to sleep every night and not knowing why. I can see you cursing yourself and asking god why you deserved such a predicament which neither lets you live nor die. I wish i could just hug you and tell you that it’s not your fault, nobody deserves this and it can get better if you ask for help.  I witnesss that last glimmer of hope slowly fade away.

 It is 8pm in the evening. Today has been a particularly bad day for you. You sit in your favourite chair staring at the ceiling. I try to read your thoughts but can’t. You pick up your phone and call a friend who doesn’t answer. Frustrated, you throw your phone on the side table and flump into bed and bury your face within the pillow. I see that lone tear trickling down your left cheek and i get a sick feeling that you have lost all hope now. 

Surprisingly, the next morning you wake up quite easily. With a cheery smile you go to the kitchen and drink your usual glass of juice. Then you come back to your room and lock the door. I see you putting on the bolt as well and then the horror of it struck it. Calmly you walk to your cupboard and take out a bed sheet. You climb onto the bed and effortlessly loop it around the fan and make a noose. I want to scream with all my might. I’m hoping one of your friends will miraculously call or someone would knock at your door. You sit down on your bed for and look around. I think you changed your mind. It is then when you break down. I can see the determination on your face behind all the tears. The suicidal thoughts that you had been having since a few months have now taken the form of an elaborate plan. You have the courage now, not because you want to escape but because that bleak glimmer of hope within your soul has finally gone out. You look towards the noose and shake your head. You look around once more as a bid to say goodbye and jump onto your bed. You climb up on the stool and slip the noose around your neck and wait as if for some inexplicable force to come and stop you. Then within a split second you deftly kick the stool. I look on helpless bursting with the desire to do something. Just then i hear the door shaking and people calling your name, i look towards the door and back at you again. You are struggling to breath, flailing your arms and legs. I realise that you don’t want to die. I can see the world fading from your eyes. Slowly the sounds get louder. People are trying to break the door. Finally the door gives way. A group of people rush in. I hear a high pitched scream and i look towards you. Your body has stopped moving but i can still see your feet twitch. Someone brings a knife and cuts down the bed sheet. Your limp body topples onto the bed like dead weight. I watch horrified as your brothers bend over you and try to determine if you are breathing. Somebody makes a phone call and paramedics rush in with a stretcher. They roll you onto it and hurry you away. I have a feeling that you may never come back. Weeks pass by. I gaze out at the night sky everyday without you now but it is hazy as dust has gathered upon my lens. Your sister comes sometimes and rummages in your closet. I can’t really see what she is doing but i hear her crying softly. She walked over to me today and ran her fingers over me, whispering that she wished you had called her. I wished that too. Then a few days later your house helps walk in and begin to clean your room. At last one of them polishes my lens and i can see clearly again. They talk excitedly among themselves “bhaiya ghar aa rahe hai, kheer banate hai aaj.” I get so thrilled that i almost move. One of the helps look around at me suspiciously before getting back to making your bed. That evening, i hear the doorbell and finally i hear your voice. I can hardly contain myself as i see you walk into your room. You turn towards me and give me a cheeky smile. ‘It’s good to be back” you say and plonk down on your favourite chair. Your siblings soon file in after you, all talking excitedly about who will stay with you for the next month. In the midst of all this humdrum, i try to catch a glimpse of your face. You somehow seem better. Your smile is more genuine with your yes actually lighting up. I hear your brother talking on the phone to someone about how you had been treated in a mental health facility for the past 6 weeks and they had now discharged you with an armful of medication and biweekly doctor’s appointments. Eventually they all leave and your sister retires to the guest room with a strict warning telling you not to lock your door. You nod in response. The mumbai sky isn’t usually clear but tonight for some reason it is exceptionally clear. I hear you chuckle as you walk over to me and clean my lens with that special cleaning liquid you bought last year. You rest your right eye on the eyepiece. I can see some scars on your neck probably from whatever the doctors did yo save your life. But for now, in this moment none of that matters. I am just happy to be gazing at the stars with you. Orion looks especially bright today doesn’t it?

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YOUTH SUICIDE – AN OPEN SECRET

 

 

Suicide means the act or an instance of taking one’s own life voluntarily and intentionally. Youth suicide is when a young person, generally below 24 years of age purposely takes his/her own life. It is one of the most prevalent causes of death among young people and sadly, one of the least talked about. There is no easy way to describe depression. It is like an abyss or more like a black hole, a bottomless chasm which swallows one in their entirety.  Depression drives a person to such depths of darkness that it is impossible to find a way out without help. It traps one within the confines of their own mind and drives them to take the extreme step.

India has one of the world’s highest suicide rates for young people and the maximum occurs in the age group 14-29 (40 per 100,000 people). According to WHO, the suicide rate in India is 14.7 for every 1,00,000 women and 17.8 among every 1,00,000 men. Suicide is the second leading cause of death among the youth. Every 55 minutes a one person commits suicide and if that is not ghastly enough, for every successful suicide, there are 20 unsuccessful attempts.

After going through these grievous statistics, one is compelled to think about what the cause might be. During the course of my research, I found that all across the internet there were numerous causes attributed to youth suicide. These include scholastic burdens coupled with parental and peer pressure, rejection(mostly concerning a relationship) , physical and sexual abuse, bullying, depression and most recently substance abuse. Teens are also prone to suicide if they have a family history of suicide or prior mental illness.

The adolescent period is the most delicate period of human life. It is during this time that a child starts to see the world in a new light. He starts to detach from the protective canopy created by his parents during childhood and starts to create his own unique personality. But here’s when it gets problematic, teenagers have a lot of unbridled energy or exuberance but they lack the necessary clarity or balance. Teenagers are known to be rebels, pushing away their parents resulting in a state where they have absolutely no idea what to do with themselves. They want to discover life alone but they don’t realize that that is an extremely difficult task especially for someone who is going through puberty. Dealing with the hormones is awkward enough, let alone dealing with life. In India alone, 7600 children under the age of 15 committed suicide in 2017. When I think of my teen years, I remember being lost for a few years, not knowing what to do or feel but those times were much simpler. I think technology has complicated our lives more than simplifying it.

My father had a patient come to him recently. She was the mother of a 15-year-old girl who was conceived with a lot of infertility treatments after about 20 years of marriage. The girl had her board exams approaching so like any Indian mother, she locked up her daughter’s cell phone and told her to study. After an hour she went to her daughter’s room expecting her to be studying but the sight she saw left her dumbstruck. The girl was hanging from the fan with a rope around her neck and a note that read “I hate you mom.”Her mother now suffers from depression and has recurrent thoughts of wanting to kill herself. This is what the youth has become. We consider our cell phones and social media the crux of our existence. We don’t realize that the main component of life is life itself. If one’s life is gone, everything else is pointless. The famous mystic Sadhguru said that humans have a bad habit of looking beyond themselves in the search for happiness. We should work to transcend to such a level that anything external no longer affects us so drastically. It’s just like a self starting car that doesn’t require a key. We should propagate a way of life that enable people to be self starting. We should not give the keys to our happiness to anybody or anything else because when that someone leaves, we cannot restart. Humans were meant to be self starting vehicles but we seem to have forgotten that along the way.

Another major issue with Indian parents is their love for comparing their child with “sharma ji ka beta.” Parents are so caught up in the competition to earn what is called “izzat” or respect in the society that they forget to acknowledge the fact that their child excels in sports or music.I agree that grades matter but not more than healthy mind that is free and devoid of pressure. If the mind is healthy, excellence will be achieved in whatever task the mind is put to. And during this rat race of parents trying to fulfill the expectations of society and the child trying to fulfill the expectations of the parents, peace of mind is inevitably lost for both parents and the child.The maximum number of suicides occur during the period of board exams and competitive exams since students are terrified of disappointing their parents. The issue here lies with the education system where sole emphasis is laid upon marks rather than understanding or building social skills and personality. There is a huge distinction between ‘literacy’ and ‘education.’ It is just like a hamster cage with a wheel. The child runs and runs but gets nothing except frustration.

 

Last year, there was a video of 24 year old Arjun Bharadwaj committing suicide which circulated on facebook. It showed him drinking wine, dressed in bathrobe, plunging to his death from the 19th floor of a hotel. He recorded the video as a tutorial for people who want to end their lives. He had apparently reached out to his friends for help but they shut him down saying he was a rich entitled brat who wanted attention.In Indian society, the concept of mental health generates a lot of taboo. Anybody who is mentally ill is called ‘pagal.’This narrow minded thinking is the major cause of why mentally ill people do not seek help. In USA more than half the population have therapists to get them through tough times, but what do Indians teens have? Just a judgmental society and parents who want to keep their child’s illness under wraps until it is too late. Around 81% people who committed suicide confided in someone about their thoughts. How many of them did anything? None. And the result? Losing their loved ones. I am of the opinion that most of the social problems in India are because of the notorious “log kya kahenge” syndrome which unluckily, all of us have been inoculated by since we were born. This norm of not talking about problems and of concealing emotions till the point of no return is what is causing so many young people to take their own lives.

 

The solution to all this lies in just one word – honesty. Everyday we try to hide our struggles and feelings underneath a facade of well being. If only the world would be more open and honest in expressing feelings without groveling in shame maybe others would be encouraged to do the same. It is usually when we share our deepest darkest secrets that others share too. It is imperative to get suicidal teens to talk because the more they bottle up inside the more tendency they have to buckle under that pressure and it is only when there is trust and honesty that someone can share what they feel without the fear of unloading their burden on the other person or feeling ashamed. In 2015, actor Deepika Padukone came out about her battle with depression . She urged everyone to come out with their struggles and even established the Live Love Laugh foundation. She understood that the only way we can fight this evil is by talking about it. That is the only solution. If everyone started communicating, no one would feel alone. No one would feel like they’re the only one going through life feeling that way. The sole method to get rid of youth suicide is awareness and making the taboo of mental health disappear. Only if the youth feels confident enough to seek help will suicide reduce.

 

Schools can also play a major role in reducing depression and suicide among youngsters by encouraging them to take up extra curricular activities from a young age, be it sports, art, writing, dance or music, since they are truly great ways to express feelings for people who have trouble talking either due to lack of a listener or due to introversion. I feel that the existence of an alternate way of expression will help individuals to channel their feelings in a healthy and risk-free way. Teachers should also be trained to recognize signs of poor mental health and provide assistance when needed.

 

In conclusion, youth suicide is the most bitter truth of society which claims so many lives each day just because people are frightened and ashamed to address the issue headfirst by talking about it. India has only about 3500 trained psychiatrists and even less psychologists. That means there are merely 3 psychiatrists for a million people. Moreover, the stigma and prejudice faced by these people and their families keep them from seeking help. The only way we can do away with this problem is by getting involved. So the next time someone talks to you about wanting to kill themselves, please don’t just walk away thinking it is a phase. Please get them help. Suicides don’t just happen to other people. It can happen to someone you love too. The least we can do is listen.

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Dreams and reality

Looking up at the glowing star stickers on the ceiling of his nursery, the rich man’s son asked his father “what if I want to really get up there?” The man smiled and said “you only need to dream son, I will do the rest.” Hearing this, the servant boy cheerfully piped in “what do I need to do?” The man looked at him angrily and rebuked him for speaking in between. Sometimes just dreaming is not enough.

depression

To the one with the crumbled mind…

Hey you,

How are you feeling today? Hope you’re holding on. Firstly, I need you to know how much you are loved and how much you matter to the people around you. I know you feel like all the weight of the world is on your shoulders (must be about a million pounds) but I also need you to know that you are not alone. We keep asking you why you metamorphosed as much as you did but what we fail to comprehend is how broken you got during this transition.Why did you change? Why does anybody change?I have often asked myself that question and still find it somewhat unanswerable. But there’s always a reason behind everything, right?

A girl from my college recently killed herself and she was described to be one of the most jovial people.She had never spoken to anybody about her personal life so nobody really knows why she did what she did.All I can say is that I wish she had spoken to somebody. Maybe she would still be here today if she did. This incident provoked me to think about the vast multitude of people who hide their feelings because they feel ashamed to share it with people and then end up getting depressed and hurting themselves. You are one of them.

I have seen you change from the most tender human being to one of the harshest. Sometimes I think that you conceal your emotions or maybe you have ceased to have any. You toughened up because you think that is the only thing that can prevent you from getting hurt and maybe, that’s true in a way, but what you don’t realize is how much damage you are actually causing to yourself in that process. Depression is not only about being sad all the time. It involves a plethora of emotions like anxiety, guilt, helplessness, hopelessness, irritability, rejection anger and grief. I know it becomes too difficult to handle all these emotions all at once so you just end up bottling everything up as a way to escape because that always seems like the easier way out. I know you don’t come of your shell because of the fear of getting laughed at and being called mad. Your parents too prefer remain mum dreading rejection by the society. I know now why you hurt yourself. When the emotional pain becomes too much to handle you inflict upon yourself physical pain as a means of distraction from the whirlpool of uncontrollable emotions within. It’s not your fault. You really can’t help it. You expect your family and friends to help but when that door closes too you turn to society as a last gasp of breath but unfortunately, there too you are turned away. I remember being depressed and having no one to turn to. People who I spoke to didn’t understand and people who I thought would understand didn’t have the time to listen. Luckily I got out of that phase without help. But I know you are still stuck there. Just working your ass away to avert facing your emotions. Maybe that’s the only thing that keeps you sane, at least temporarily. You try your best to put on a facade but deep down I know you’re hurting. People say that when you hurt yourself, you hurt all those who love you but I won’t say that and hope to make you carry on, I know you can’t handle that kind of pressure. You want to vent so bad that you can’t help shutting down, and that’s okay. You harden up till the pain gets unbearable and then you break.

And if you are a man, do not be afraid to cry. There is no one in this world who is your kind of special so if crying gives you the power to ease your burden and live on, so be it. It does not make you any less masculine, in fact it keeps you sane and sensitive which, believe you me, is very necessary to maintain healthy relationships.

I was told that change is the only constant in life. But lately I am pretty much tired of change. I crave stability. Someone that I can turn to and I know they won’t let me down because that is just how much I trust them. I think we all deserve that person,that non-judgmental everlasting rock of support. And I want to be that rock for you forever and always. You just have to let me in.