September 10, 2019
A year ago, this portal had published an article I had written on World Suicide Prevention Day. Since then a lot has happened; and I believe sharing some thoughts are in order.
At the outset, I must say that it is horrifying to see some people glorifying the suicide of a friend. It’s an ideology you must desist from spreading with all your strength. It is life that needs to be held in high esteem; not death. When you glorify and justify someone’s suicide, you become morally responsible for encouraging others to follow.
Calls on Suicide Lifeline, based in Mangaluru, have increased manifold. That’s good news because those people are now armed with tools to cope with emotional struggles. Tragically, we are still seeing an increase in people ending their lives.
So, what’s going on? Based on my cumulative experience of interacting with more than 30 individuals with suicidal tendencies, over the last 16 years, this is what I would like to say:
It does not matter who you are; it does not matter how much you have or you don’t; it does not matter how intelligent you are or you are not; every human being must go through troughs in his or her life. As human beings we are vulnerable, and we will all one day or another experience something that goes against our idea of happiness, or our dreams. There is too much going on out there and we could just as easily get caught in the maelstrom, or we could make a mistake. I know people who find it very difficult to even comprehend that something “like that” could happen to them. The fact is it can! We are vulnerable simply because we are human. After a string of being on top of his class for many years, a student ended his life because he came second that particular year.
A failure in exams or anything is not a failure in life; it is not even a reflection of who you are. It is merely a setback. Just recently I met a girl who was very distraught that she had not done well in her entrance exams. She kept calling herself a failure. Everything seemed to be crumbling around her. Sometimes all that is required is to shift one’s perspective, so I asked her to explain how something like that constitutes a failure and if it was an accurate assessment given her abilities. I further asked her if the appropriate word was ‘setback’ or ‘failure’. She began to see things clearly. Does this mean that a few months or a year would be lost? Sure! But, why are we so hard pressed to do something within a certain time line? At the age of 80 perhaps; but, not when you are just 18! She laughed at the end of our session. She was free again to pursue her dreams.
There are parents who seem to be oblivious of the suicides that are taking place among kids. I don’t know if they are living in some different world; or, they think that their children are made of a different set of emotions; or, they are very confident that their children can handle any amount of pressure. I meet kids whose parents fall in one of these brackets.
Your children’s degrees, their careers and their money will mean nothing to them when a storm hits them. What helps them handle adverse situations is how full or empty their emotional and spiritual tanks are.
Nobody plans for a failure and, therefore, it feels awful when things don’t go our way. But, why should anything be weighed in terms of success or failure; victory or loss? Why not just look at it as an experience?
NO ONE is worthless. This is again a perception. A diamond, with all its glitter, may bask in its own glory; but, the humble stones and bricks are what go into the edifices of beautiful monuments and buildings. The butterfly may be a creature of pure beauty; but in terms of sheer worth, the dung beetle is on par. The fact is: we are all special in some way. The problem is not so much whether we are worth something or not; the problem is we look at others and think we are nothing. The waves that we see crashing the coastlines start off as tiny ripples miles away at sea. The mighty sequoia grows to a height of 300 feet, but its DNA is embedded in a seed the size of a grain of rice. Again, if you think you are worth nothing; it is your perception. Now imagine the seed of the sequoia saying, ”I am nothing; so, put me in the fire.” Its potential would never be known. For human beings, our potential is limitless! In some way, little or big, we are worth something to someone; or, at least we can be.
Human beings are the only creatures endowed with rational thinking and amazingly we, too, start off as a tiny cell. Then, of course, we have our emotions. The Bhagavad Gita has this to say, which is quite compelling and at first may be difficult to understand, “Inner peace is beyond defeat and victory.” Notice, it ropes in victory as well. There’s great wisdom to take from this short line. It’s easy to get carried away into thinking that victory (read success, money, wealth, fame, pleasure) comes automatically packaged with peace. If that was truly the case, people with all of the fame, wealth and success would not
experience emptiness. If the poor are known to commit suicide; so are the rich and the famous. The latter committing suicide always begs the question ‘why’ with all poignancy. Socrates said, “An unexamined life is not worth living.” There is meaning to our lives and we are made for a purpose. Unexamined, it can lead to dreadful emptiness.
Emotions can obscure or even block our rational thinking and it leads us to a whole set of false perceptions. A young graduate, who had completed his engineering studies and was on the way to a job, became suicidal after his girl friend had left him for someone else. He was willing to throw it all away – his mother’s sacrifice, his degree, his job, and his very life with all the talents he was blessed with. Only he could not see any of it at that time and that’s what happens when we are emotionally charged.
Broadly, we get to see two reactions when something like that happens. Either the person will sink low; or he might not care too much about it. What we have is an activating event (the girl leaving) and emotions (ranging from initial sadness to suicidal thoughts in some cases). But, is the event the cause of our emotions? The event is the trigger, but there is something else going on. Nurture plays a big role. What emotions we experience depend on our thoughts at the time - which go right past us.
What we perceive at the time may not be true at all. For example, in the case of this young graduate, he told me he could not live without that girl; and that he would never find another girl. But, is our perception always aligned with reality? The reality is that he had always ‘lived’ before the girl entered his life. And never before he had imagined that he would have a girl friend; and, yet, he did have one. So, to say that another girl would not fall in love with him was his perception. It was more like a decision on his part to not have any one else. Lastly, I asked him if he would be happy living with someone who did not want him. Fortunately, he understood what I was saying. He was over it in the following weeks. This was some 12 years ago. Presently, he has two children from another woman he ‘bumped’ into and fell in love with.
Think endless possibilities when a crisis strikes. It is always possible that God has a different plan for you. If you think you should have known better, then this can be true only if you are an omniscient being. If you think your life is doomed – again, this can only be true if you are an omniscient being. Since we are not, it is best to allow the experience to seep in for a while and then take what we learn from it and move on.
Emotions are powerful and they are very much a part of what makes us human. But, they can also cause havoc as we have seen or experienced. But, here’s the thing: It helps to observe our thoughts at the time. Our thoughts are the filter that influences our emotions and actions.
To illustrate, let’s say, your spouse says something rude to you. If your thoughts go something like… who the hell does he/she think he/she is; he/she has no right to treat me like this. Your emotions will be along the lines of anger, hurt, and even resentment. It is easy to guess what action such emotions can lead to. But, if your thoughts go something along these lines… may be he/she has a lot to deal with; perhaps he/she is not well today; perhaps I have been a jerk, then your feelings will be those of sympathy and even love. All you lose is a little ego, but in return you gain a lot more!
We may never be able to change certain situations; but it is in our power to change the way we react to it. Having said that, it is normal to feel hurt, but not so to live in that hurt; it is normal to get angry, but not so to live in bitterness; it is normal to get upset about something, but not so to live in it. It takes time, effort and practice to bring about positive changes. Does it mean that one day we will be perfect? It does not matter. What is important is to live consciously - to be aware of reality - and how it affects our lives. It is not about changing someone, or changing a situation, it is about changing ME. It helps to remember that if I want to win, so does the other person. And, what’s wrong if someone strikes gold?
The Book of Proverbs in the Holy Bible says, “Be careful how you think; your life is shaped by your thoughts.” The same Book repeats it by saying, “For as he thinks in his heart, so is he.”
Sometimes when things don’t go our way, we want it fixed immediately. Some things cannot be fixed in a jiffy. It’s just the way it is.
I told a girl of 8th Standard, who had become suicidal, that she is made in God’s image; and it did not matter how the world treated her after she had erred in judgment and everyone around her turned it into a catastrophe. I told her one thing was a guarantee: that if she looked forward to living and put all her efforts into it, time will heal everything. And the very people who are taunting her will one day grow tired of it. And time did just that. She kept in touch with me. Yes, it hurts when someone hurls an insult; but, the one who hurls it has issues to deal with. She is studying psychology and one day wants to become a counselor. Now I find that really uplifting and I hold that very dear to my heart.
- If you think you have made a mistake, be assured you will make many in your lifetime. It means nothing, except we are human.
- Setbacks don’t turn you into a failure. If anything, they are known to turn people into great success stories. It is really up to you.
- Emotions are what make us human. Don’t hesitate to express them; particularly the feelings of hurt, sadness and so on. Feelings are temporary. Tomorrow you could feel different. Just give it some time. You owe it to yourself.
- Practice mindfulness as this will help you bring your thoughts under control as you become more and more aware of yourself.
- Learn to differentiate between perception and reality.
- Loneliness is a state we put ourselves into. We think we are unlikeable, not so good looking, thin, fat, too tall or too short and so on. If you can only see people better than you at everything; then, you are not looking hard enough. I am not saying that we should spend our lives trying to find someone less ‘beautiful’ than us so that we can feel better; but there are all sorts of people around us. Cricketers tall and short have created history. It’s in the mind, but there is also hard work behind it!
Our wealth, our poverty, our sexuality, our profession, our academic achievements, our religion, our house, our car, is not what defines us. In the end none of this matters; in the end – at the core – we are human and that is what defines us. We are children of God, made to love and serve Him through the people He sends in our lives from time to time. Try reaching out to others and see how it, in turn, gives you a sense of fulfillment. There is only so much psychotherapists can do; in the end you need to lift yourself up. Your God-given will determines your outcome.
We are a sum of many things. To make one thing everything can lead to a lot of heartache. If the pursuit of money or power or fame or pleasure, becomes the sole objective of your life; then you are bound to miss out on the many aspects of life that makes life wholesome – your spouse, your children, your friends, your hobbies, your health, your spiritual quotient, your emotional well being and so on.
It is never the end. That’s a false perception. Suicide Lifeline has helped hundreds of people so far and each day they receive several calls. If you feel like it’s the end, or even if you are just feeling down, call the helpline on 0824-2983444. Suicide Lifeline is based in Mangaluru, Karnataka, India.
You may be going through a crushing moment, but you don’t have to walk it alone. It always helps to speak to someone. But, for any reason you don’t want to share it with someone you know, call Suicide Lifeline. There is always an eager volunteer who is willing to walk with you. Every word that you say remains confidential and so does your identity.
It does not matter which part of the world you are in. If a volunteer at Suicide Lifeline does not speak your language, he/she will find someone who does. If you need ongoing counseling, they will direct you accordingly. If you cannot afford a counselor, they will try to find someone who does it out of charity. Trust me when I say this: one call is all it takes. All you risk by calling Suicide Lifeline is potentially a reason to live. Now that’s a risk worth taking!
Life is a better option – with all its ups and downs. These experiences shape our lives. If you have never had a bad day in your entire life, your life can be summed up as boring. You will never ever be able to enjoy your good days because you have nothing to compare them with. A person who has never experienced a headache will never know what a blessing it is to not have one! It’s just the way it is!
Life is worth living and a life is worth saving. You are worth something to someone; that’s why you were created. Don’t let your emotions fool you into thinking that you are not worth anything. There is tremendous potential in every human being; and history is replete with great and wonderful stories. Look at the blind who have made it in life; the people without hands and legs who have made it. If they can, so can you.
Brush off those false perceptions and wake up to reality. If you can’t do it alone, seek help because we are not omnipotent beings. There is no shame in it.
If a seed can sprout and grow into a giant sequoia; then what must be our worth! After all we are made in God’s image; we are His crown creation.
May God bless us all.
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