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To hold on to the light

Five years ago, Rashmi, a young woman of 25 in the throes of a toxic marriage, stood by the window of her 20th floor hotel room, prepared to jump. She was in the middle of a massive panic attack and she just couldn’t take it anymore. She had loved a man with all her heart and had been dealt with nothing but misery for years on end. She was ready to give up. She climbed on to the window sill and tried to push the glass pane open. But it was stuck. She tried hard for several minutes, grunting in frustration and rage, but the pane refused to budge. After a while, she gave up.

Even for the toughest of us, life can become a nightmare sometimes. In the crushing darkness and agony, calling it quits may seem like the only way out. In such moments of desperation, it is important to tell ourselves, constantly and relentlessly, that despair will dissipate and hope will rise anew. On the occasion of World Suicide Prevention Day, Soulveda speaks to people who almost gave up on life before they were given a second chance.

Suicidal tendencies are often the result of severe depression in an individual. Triggered by unfortunate circumstances or life events, the chronic mental illness drains a person of all energy and hope to the point where dying seems less painful than continuing to live. Explains Prachi Dixit, a psychotherapist, “A person contemplating suicide feels like they are stuck in a tunnel with no light at the end of it. Like there is no escape hatch out of the misery.”

In Rashmi’s case, it was an emotionally abusive relationship that was exhausting her while also feeding her anxiety and depression. Speaking of the day she attempted to end her life, she says that it was a direct consequence of utter helplessness. Thankfully, a jammed window pane saved her life that fateful day. And over time, Rashmi has managed to overpower such tendencies and get her life in order. Today, she is an activist and filmmaker.

Of course, she didn’t recover overnight. It took Rashmi three more years to get out of the marriage. She shares, “I picked myself up very gradually. I started making films and focusing on writing plays. And I consciously detached myself from people, thoughts and memories that triggered me. In some ways, I would say I’m still recovering.”

While our circumstances may often dictate our state of mind, things can also work the other way around. A history of mental illness can affect our attitude towards life and in turn, create painful circumstances. Take the case of Adwaita, a journalist based in Dubai. She was diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder at the age of 19. She suffered extreme mood swings, deep-seated insecurity and an inability to stick to decisions. During that period, she jeopardised her education by dropping out of college in the first year, made very rash decisions involving money and got into a string of relationships. When things got particularly bad, Adwaita cut herself repeatedly as a cry for help.

“People won’t be around to stop you from harming yourself every second of the day. So, the determination to keep such tendencies at bay must come from you.”

Indeed, those experiencing such extreme mental agony are often desperate for attention and help. Self-harm, in such cases, becomes a means to get people to notice their plight. And a lucky few, like Adwaita, have a support system to lean on during such spells of vulnerability. Her parents and a circle of close friends were always there for her to confide in. They supported her when she took a year off to recuperate. “I got psychiatric help. And I have created my own safety net that comprises the work I do, the people I trust, and the hobbies and passions I have developed diligently,” she says.

While having a support system might be essential, the strength to go on with life must come from within the individual. The professionals at SAHAI Helpline for Suicide Prevention & Emotional Distress know this all too well. Dr Babita Gupta, who manages the helpline, explains, “People won’t be around to stop you from harming yourself every second of the day. So, the determination to keep such tendencies at bay must come from you. Which is why, when a suicidal person calls us, we largely refrain from giving advice. We get them to talk for a while, calm down and see for themselves that suicide won’t solve anything.”

Needless to say, seeking psychiatric help is often helpful and, in many cases, necessary. Seeing the therapist periodically can then become part of one’s self-care routine, which is especially crucial for those battling mental illnesses. And once the individual begins to recover, they can focus on developing a healthy coping mechanism.

Adwaita shares that maintaining a journal can be one of the ways to cope. Writing in it every day can help a person monitor their feelings and keep track of their actions and accomplishments. That way, they will know when they’re going off-course. It is also important to find one healthy relationship to hold on to, according to Dixit. A person battling suicidal thoughts should confide in a close friend or a family member they trust in moments of vulnerability, she says.

Coping with mental illness can be an uphill battle, and often an isolating one at that. So, when that debilitating sense of hopelessness swoops down on us like the dementors Harry Potter feared, it may help to recall the happiest memories of our lives and let them give us a reason to hold on. Our inner strength can then become the Patronus Charm to dispel the darkness. In the wise words of Albus Dumbledore: “Happiness can be found, even in the darkest of times, if one only remembers to turn on the light.”

*Some names have been changed

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