Trigger Warning: [Suicide] The piece of writing below discusses self-harm.
It started Friday morning, right as my sister called me.
“Aapi (big sister), are you okay?”
“Yeah! Why? What is going on?”
“Have you checked social media yet?”
“No, tell me, what’s going on?”
“It might be a trigger for you. Never mind.”
“No, no. Tell me. I will be fine.”
“It’s about Anthony Bourdain.”
“What? What happened? Don’t tell me.”
“Yes! He committed suicide.”
“I am okay. I am hurting for him. But, I am okay.”
“I am sorry, you had to hear it from me. I shouldn’t have told you.”
“No! No! I am glad that I found out from you. Otherwise, it might have been too much to handle.”
What followed next, was a five-minute conversation about how Kate Spade’s tragic news might have triggered Anthony Bourdain into taking his own life and how the Digital, Print, and Social Media needs to do a better job of how much they disclose while sharing news. We also talked about how they need to be sensitive to those who might be suffering and possibly standing at their own tipping point. I mentioned Ammar, the young teenage boy who committed suicide last week in Islamabad, Pakistan, and how I am still hurting for him and the stigma that comes associated with suicide and mental illnesses.
We both wanted to say more, but her child needed her, and she had to abruptly end the conversation. After we hung up
“I tried processing what I had heard. Almost opened Facebook, Instagram, and Google (My three usual suspects) to read more. But, I knew better, and just as I had opened the apps, I closed them all.”
I decided to text Mr. “M”. The text had four words.
“Anthony Bourdain committed suicide."
Two minutes later he called. I am so glad he called. And, if I could wish the best for anyone in this world. It will be to hope that every person on this earth has that someone, at least one person they can call in times like these.
We talked for less than three minutes. He didn’t realize, but as he was talking, trying to distract me, I started choking and almost couldn’t breathe. I think the after-effects of the previous phone call were finally showing. My mind had tried to shut it all off, and to a degree had been successful, but my body couldn’t handle it anymore.
I didn’t want to worry him too much. Neither did I want to fall back into something I had fought with for two years. I won’t let it win. I will keep it at bay. I have been successful, and I will stay this way like I have been for some time now. So, between tears, I told him,
“I know what I will do. I will write. That will make me feel better. It might even help others. I will write. Talk to you later. Love you.”
My whole body was aching over the weekend, and while it may have something to do with the possible cold I have. The pain is mainly because my soul is hurting gravely after an extremely long time.
According to WHO (World Health Organization), close to 800,000 people around the world die due to suicide every year, which is one person every 40 seconds. In America alone, close to 45,000 people lost their lives to Mental illness in 2016. The scary part is that more than half of these people i.e. 54% did not have a known or diagnosed mental health condition. Which means they never went to a doctor, or a mental health professional to receive any kind of help, medication or counseling, and never found out that what they were going through was extremely normal and it could get better. Not to forget that they probably never got support from the very people who loved them so much and would have done anything to help.
“This also means that more than half of these unfortunate deaths, the pain & suffering of the deceased, and their loved ones could have been possibly prevented.”
If not 45,000, then maybe just maybe at least 24,300 precious lives in the US could have been possibly saved in the year of 2016.
Let That Sink In.
The 2018 numbers for suicide-related deaths in the US won’t be out till next year or later. But, these statistics will include deaths of world-renowned Fashion Designer and Businesswomen Kate Spade and Celebrity Chef, Author and TV Personality Anthony Bourdain. According to one of Kate Spade’s family members, she had been suffering for a couple of years and twice had come close to checking herself in a Mental Health Facility. But both times decided against it due to the worry of how such news might “affect her brand”. Kate Spade was being seen by doctors for her troubles, but unfortunately somehow still slipped under the radar.
Anthony Bourdain’s death is still so fresh that we have yet to hear from reliable sources of how in his last days he may or may not have come out wholly about his mental suffering. Throughout the glorious 61 years of his life. He did seek help not once but many times, and maybe that is how he managed it this far with so much valor. Unfortunately, though, the world did lose him to a death that could have been possibly prevented. And, this is in no way to blame the people around him, but to mention the pure lack of resources when it comes to understanding the severity of Mental Illnesses.
Since Anthony Bourdain’s news broke out two days ago, I saw quite a few Tweets and Facebook statuses talking about how money can’t buy everything, and even the richest or seemingly happiest of people suffer.
Yes, they suffer because they are humans, just like the rest of us. That’s how we were made.
“We have emotions that make us happy, and emotions that make us sad, fearful or self-conscious. We will be lying if we said that all of us at one point in life haven’t dealt with such emotions or the major or minor mental stress that comes with it."
Suicide is the Tenth Leading Cause of Death in the US.
Yet, celebrities such as Kate Spade, and the boldly brazen Anthony Bourdain couldn’t get the help they desperately needed, because they were worried about
“Loag kya kahengay” (What will people say?)”
A phenomenon that almost all cultures in the world are still suffering from.
Just because someone looks seemingly happy, or satisfied, does not mean that they can’t suffer from anxiety or feel sad about something. Ever heard of the proverb “One person’s trash, another person’s treasure”? There is a lot of wisdom behind this saying.
“I can have everything YOU think brings happiness, yet still be longing for something, and you can have everything in the world that I dream of, yet still, be missing something.”
That’s just how Allah (God) made us. So please never assume that just because a person looks fine on the outside, they are always fine on the inside too. And, just because something may seem trivial to you, doesn’t mean it's of no importance to others as well.
We Need to Learn to Read Between the Lines.
An often used but misguided image of Depression or Mental Illness on Digital, Print and Social media.
"Depression has many faces, and sadness certainly is not the only one that represents them."
Contrary to the popular belief the image above is not what mental illness always looks like.
I was suffering from PTSD and severe Postpartum Depression that had at one point turned into Postpartum Psychosis for two weeks, yet no one knew. And, you know why? Because, A: Unlike physical ailments, you can’t see when a person is mentally suffering from inside. And B: I was too afraid to admit that I could be depressed or have any sort of anxiety. Because in the ideal world I had everything most women my age would want. An amazing life partner, my own house in a thriving suburb, two beautiful kids, and health-wise I was in the fittest shape of my life.
“I was practically living “The American Dream”, then how could I be so ungrateful?”
How could I not see all that I was blessed with, and why was I focusing on things like my son’s health who had survived an extremely high-risk pregnancy yet made it strong into this world. Or, the missed parent-teacher meetings I personally hadn’t been able to attend for my then 5-year-old daughter because I would be up nursing and pumping all night. Or, the fact that my sleep deprived, extremely depressed self, had one day misread a text from the husband and not picked up my daughter after school.
“Never mind the detail that behind these beautiful smiles and a visibly functioning human being was a person whose hormones still hadn’t regulated postpartum, who had lost all her self-confidence, and who was feeling completely defeated and thinking that the world would be just better off without her.”
Combine this with the fact that the one or two people I had confided in had told me that there was no way a person like me can fall into Depression. Because, apparently, I had a reputation for being a very practical person who always had their sh*t together (pardon my language) and would guide other people who would struggle with their own emotions due to life’s circumstances.
“I was advised to get manicures and pedicures, go out for runs, sit in the sun, go shopping, and read books that make me happy. But, not once was I told to go see a Mental Health Professional"
Add to this the fact that I was also instructed by someone educated and very close to me to Simply Pray. All I had to do was pray, is what they had told me. To stay “clean”. This way the Shaitaan (Devil) won’t be able to infiltrate my mind with filthy thoughts. Never mind the fact that I was praying, staying in Wudhu (ablution), even going as far as listening to the recitation of my favorite Surah (chapter), Surah Al Rahman in the Quran (The Holy book in Islam). Yet, none of that was making me feel better like it always used to.
Which brings me to another extremely important point, especially if you are a person of Faith. While praying (meditation) is considered a good way to deal with stress and anxiety. [It has been scientifically proven to help.] The act of just praying alone will sometimes not be the only answer to your mental health problems.
“Not everything you are feeling or seeing is because a Jinn (demon) is around you.”
That is if you even believe in those things in the first place. It is absolutely okay to openly seek counseling or to just simply talk to your partner, friend, sibling or parent about how you are feeling. It is okay to take antidepressants or other medications under medical supervision so you can feel better.
Lack of Resources
“From individuals and communities to employers and healthcare professionals, everyone can play a role in efforts to help save lives and reverse this troubling rise in suicide.” - CDC Principal Deputy Director Anne Schuchat, M.D.
Even though more people, organizations, brands, and businesses are discussing mental health. There is still a lot of stigma attached to anything related to the word Mental, which results in fewer people reaching out for help. While a lot needs to be done to de-stigmatize mental health and its treatment, thankfully times are changing.
An excellent example of how things might be moving in a positive direction is a prompt I received from Instagram just recently after using the hashtag depression with a post I made on May 29th at the end of Mental Health Awareness Month.
Back in 2015 when I was suffering gravely, it took a good four months of active research to find someone who could counsel me. Most doctors and counselors/therapists were either booked for the next couple of months or simply “Out of Network".
Eventually, my best friend luckily found a therapist who didn’t just turn out to be a great help in how I recovered. [I did come extremely close to almost committing suicide one night while my husband was gone out of town for a business trip. But that story is for another day.] But, to this day that wonderful therapist is a “back up” I use once a year or in six months to discuss my anxieties. Just, knowing that they are there, one text away, ready to hear and help me is enough reason to keep me going strong.
Not everyone is this lucky though.
“If people like Robin Williams, Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain were not able to get the help they needed so badly, then what makes us think that the average person here has all the right resources at his/her disposal?”
How Can We Help?
When someone says they are sad, depressed, get extremely anxious at times or might be dealing with an addiction. Please don’t respond by the typical “Get over it” or “Seek God”. Please don’t mock someone by calling them a “Zehnee Mareez” (mental patient), Crazy or say phrases like “Man, you need help.” in small everyday talks.
Save the “you need help” bit for someone who has had the courage to open to you about how vulnerable they feel at times. An emotion both men and women equally feel by the way. Because that’s exactly how we are made. Feeling these emotions only make us more human. Help them schedule an appointment with their general physician to first get an official diagnosis.
Offer to look up mental health professionals or schedule appointments after their referrals have been made, and then drive them to those appointments. Or if they have children, then keep their kids so they can attend those appointments. Give them a longer break at work or better yet simply give them the day off. I promise they will return fresher to work and perform even better than before.
If you are an employer, then explore the idea of adding a couple of paid counseling sessions a year in the health insurance plans for your employees. Do this whether they have any pre-existing mental conditions or not.
“Seeking help or treatment for these illnesses should be considered as normal as getting treated for illnesses like Diabetes or High Blood Pressure.”
These high profile recent unfortunate deaths are a prime example of that. As mentioned above, maybe it's time we start adding a mental health evaluation to our annual physical exams. Who knows how many lives we might end up saving that way.
Are you or anyone you know having suicidal thoughts?
Please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 (Talk). They are there ready to hear and talk to you without any judgment.
If you would rather not have a phone conversation, but still like to talk. Simply text TALK to 741741
For a list of additional resources, you can also visit https://www.speakingofsuicide.com/resources/
Author's Tip I: There is absolutely no harm in saving the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline number on your speed dial. There was a time I had it saved on my phone for straight two months as per my general physician's instructions. If you feel like you are finally healing and are past the absolute misery threshold, which I can assure you will happen, you can always replace the number.
Author's Tip II: If you are having suicidal thoughts and are about to act on them, 911 is another number you can call. The operator will help you fight the thought and get the help you need. Alternatively, you can also drive yourself to the nearest hospital's emergency room and tell them that you want to commit suicide. Think of it as going to seek attention for any other medical ailment. The difference is that this time its mental and not physical. They are trained professionally to deal with a mental health patient just like they are professionally trained to deal with a patient who might be suffering physically. They will admit you and get the help you deserve and need.
As someone who came very close to taking her own life three years ago and is still sitting here typing these words. Remember, it does get better.
“You matter. Everything you feel matters & everything you think matters.”
Sana aka The UnModern Woman