Sunday, July 22, 2007

Almost a lemming

Sometimes, someone else’s pain is a columnist’s gain. The phone was ringing. It was an old student and she was very upset. Let’s call her Suicidal Susan (take an Indian name and there’s a student I once taught). Reproduced with her kind permission, are the contents of our conversation ….

Suicidal Susan (SS): Hi, Sir, how’ve you been (in a voice that couldn’t wait to be asked how she was doing)?

Yours Truly (YT): Fine Susan, how’ve you been? And how is USS aka Usually Sober Sam (let’s just call him that, shall we?) doing?

SS: (breaking into a sob) Sir, I don’t know what’s come over him. We’ve recently gotten married and he has become a complete stranger. He has been cribbing about his failing business. His clients are rude, and his landlord gives him hell. He said that he would sell-off what remains of his business and look for a job. He’s been looking for one, but he can’t seem to find one that’ll make him happy. I’ve been very supportive, Sir, and I try my best to cheer him up, but these days, we seem to fight all the time.

YT: What about Susan?

SS: Sir, though Now Not So Sober Sam was really keen to move overseas, we had agreed that due to my work and parents, we would stay in the same city where my parents reside. But now, he has applied for positions in Singapore and Hong Kong (incidentally, his parents live in Hong Kong and he spent his early years there) without telling me. It’s a question of commitment. He knew what was important to me and yet he didn’t think twice (before applying). When I found out, he says he would go-off on his own and call me in after he settles down. It would take some years, he says… I don’t want a long distance relationship. I married him to share my life with him, not 20 minutes over the phone every other day, but he doesn’t seem to care or understand. My parents told me that I should give myself more time before committing to a new relationship but I didn’t listen. I don’t think he likes me anymore, always talking about his friend from college, an attractive corporate type who is in the same organization and is also moving to Hong Kong… she and I are so different and he talks of her with such awe and admiration… maybe I’m not what he wants. He’ll have to choose between me and the job, but if he leaves me, I’ll stop living… I’ll kill myself!

(At this point, I was stunned. Both SS and USS were mature, bright students, amongst my dearest friends, and head over heels in love with each other)

YT: I don’t know which would be the most spectacular way out… I mean you could try slashing your wrists, but you’re likely to be rescued, before it’s late enough to be too late, and it hurts. Forget cyanide, it’s hard to find and burning oneself attracts too much attention. One is more likely to be rescued with 85% burns, the body a charred, unrecognisable lump of living, rotting flesh, spending hours, days, maybe weeks in unbearable physical agony and mental anguish that comes from the realization that with a cooler head, at a different hour, you mightn’t have committed this act of irredeemable stupidity. You could try jumping off some place really high, it’s definitely the most spectacular… makes the biggest splash! SS: What does, Sir?

YT: Your body does, when it hits the floor; but with your vertigo, I doubt if you’ll manage. So that leaves us with the old rat poison trick… I’ve heard it burns your insides and there’s a bit of frothing at the mouth… might be worth considering…

SS: Sir!! You’re making fun of me…?!

YT: What else is there to do, child! You’re being so ridiculous that it’s almost funny, as is every such situation where a person gives in to this stupid, momentary desperation, which with hindsight, would always seem laughable, if it weren’t so tragic.

SS: You don’t understand, Sir. The wounds from an earlier relationship could heal only because of Oh So Sober Sam... and now, if he also were to leave me… I can’t face it again, Sir.. I can’t live through it all again…

YT: Firstly, you are shunning all the love your parents and friends have for you. Secondly, after you’re gone, the terrible pain of carrying their dead child’s body will break their body and kill them long before their time is due. After your dramatic exit, USS will have no choice but to move on in life and in a year or two, he would’ve forgotten about you, married someone else and would be living happily ever after. Even if he were to realise his mistake, who does he come back to? Your ashes? Between a grieving widow and a jilted lover, ever wondered why it is always the jilted lover who is more likely to commit suicide?

SS: Because…. It isn’t about the one I love… but.. perhaps about… hmm... perhaps it’s about the way I feel about myself…

YT: Exactly! Your happiness should be a function of your life, not Sober Sam’s. Life is either a happy evolutionary accident or a grand design for ‘spiritual evolution’. If it’s the former, you would’ve judged the show way before its climax. If the latter, you’ll reach the same crossroad in every life, till you bite the bullet and face your fears.

SS: I see what you mean, Sir, but I love USS, and...

YT: He loves you too, and God forbid, if he did walk out… so what? Love comes calling all the time. You know that! It’s just that as long as there is someone around, we fail to, or maybe we don’t want to notice. Whether it is a failed marriage or an exam, lost honour or your last penny, live and you can redeem it all. History has witnessed people emerging from jails, holocausts and genocides with nothing but their selves, yet ending up living happy and useful lives. There are people in the world who’ve never known what it is to be loved, see the sun rise, and to them, your life, with all it’s troubles, is their idea of paradise. There is always something to live for. …

P.S Madly in Love Sam and Once Suicidal Susan are together again, happy and exactly where they want to be – in each other’s arms…

To do or not to do

“Suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem”. Phil Donahue’s quote accurately sums up what majority of us feel about suicide.

All over the world, almost a million people commit suicide each year. Some of the most famous people to have committed suicide are Ernest Hemingway, Adolf Hitler, Vincent van Gogh. Depression is the cause of about 90% of them. Admittedly, a vast majority display suicidal tendencies before committing the act, for example: deliberately harming oneself or a suicidal ideation (thinking about suicide and formulating a plan). Normally, a successful suicide attempt is preceded by a number of unsuccessful ones. Women are more likely than men to attempt suicide, however, more men suceed in committing suicide than women. The reason for this contradiction is not too clear. Maybe because men choose more lethal forms of suicide (firearms, jumping from a building) than women (pills, poison).

One out of every three suicides is performed after writing a suicide note. This practice is widely seen as a way for the person committing the act to explain his/her actions, absolve some people of the blame or the contrary, but even this does not lessen the devastation and disbelief that family and friends go through, often they are left with guilt, anger, remorse and complete confusion, trying to figure out the ‘why’ of the act.


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