Embracing the Personal Chains
Please be warned that the piece includes a lot of sensitive, potentially triggering details about my experiences.
If you or someone you know is considering suicide, please contact the following helplines.
TUTH Suicide Hotline: 9840021600
Patan Hospital Helpline: 9813476123
Mental Health Helpline Nepal: 1660 013 3666
INTERNATIONAL : https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_suicide_crisis_lines
“Hey, you alright? Buddy? Hey there?”
“Someone call an ambulance right now”
“What number do I dial? I think they dial 911 in the movies”
“That’s not what you dial in Nepal you idiot” I mumbled. The sight of me opening my eyes seemed like a sight of wonder. I coud see that the look in people’s eyes resembled the look when actresses appear on the screen inside those cheap cinema halls that smell of rotten onions. Although their expression seemed similar, it is safe to assume that they did not want to fuck me.
It is weird now, isn’t it? The way I framed my awakening. I am trying to remember how I thought back then. How I spoke to myself like an angry teenager thrash-talking their mom in those silly Hollywood films I grew up watching.
Anyway, back to the awakening. It appears I had fainted at the foot of a hill in the Shivapuri National Park in Kathmandu. I did not remember what I was doing there. My first thought was that I probably came all the way here to climb the hill and jump off. However, call it luck maybe, I passed out without ever landing a foot on the hill.
Fast forward 5 years. I am sitting on my dining table amidst the COVID19 crisis with nothing to do but reflect on where I came from and where I intend to be.
To understand me, I have to take you back 18years. When I was about 5, I used to live at a fish farm with my mother and my grandparents. My Grandfather was an employee for the government of Nepal and he was posted at this fish farm in a small town called Tarhara in eastern Nepal. It was a pleasant town as far as I remember. You should know I was only five back then so I don’t quite remember it as immaculately as I suppose I do.
It happened one day when I had an awful stomachache and, as I have been told, I started quietly weeping in the class. Upon noticing the poor little kid, the teacher and thereafter the headmaster arranged for me to be sent home. I was carried onto the tank of a motorbike. The head guard at the school was to drop me home. We left.
Upon arriving at the main gate, I noticed weird noises emerging from the farm. The guard asked me if I can go home or if he needed to drop me off close to the house. I, like a sweet little kid, told him that it would be difficult to navigate a motorbike through the farm and that I was perfectly capable to reach home as it was not more than a couple hundred meters from the main entrance. He left and I headed on.
Halfway through, in one of the poultry cages, I saw people! There were maybe 20. None of them were facing each other yet they seemed to be all talking to someone. I was scared, yet I found myself getting closer to the cage where they had been. Were these people crazy, were they prisoners? I must admit as a five-years-old I didn’t even know what crazy meant. They must be bad people who’d been locked, I assumed. One of them was smiling at me but bad people don’t smile, right? At least that’s what five-years-old me thought. I got closer. No one else seemed to notice me but this man. He must have been in his late 20s. He had dark hair, neatly parted to his left into a comb-back like people have these days. He had a wheatish complexion with big eyes and brown pupils. He was dressed in a yellow t-shirt with red stripes like a psychoactive zebra! His hands clamped onto the little rectangular holes in the cage. These holes had been the same one we would feed chicken through. Watching human hands through them would have been, different? I don’t know, I don’t remember much!
It was the spring of 2006. Our exams had just gotten over. I was 10 and I loved cricket. I would spend all my day playing in the scorching sun that seemed to consume the life out of the grown-ups. It did not bother me much, however. What was troublesome is that mother would be waiting for me at the door looking forward to making sure I got what I deserved for disobeying her order about staying indoors until the heat begun to fade away into the dawn. Mostly I would be welcomed by the broom, sometimes slippers and sometimes her bare hands that had been roughened up with all the lower-middle-class housewiving she had been doing all her life. It was one of the days that I had sneaked out again. Not surprisingly, mother was waiting for me to come back. Full of rage again. I don’t blame her. She didn’t want me playing in the sun in fear that my skin would turn dark and I would be humiliated about it. Oh yes, I have seen a fair share of bullying because of the color of my skin. We will talk about that later.
I came back. She came after me with her flip-flops in her hands. I never quite understood where she found such rock hard slippers. Maybe she bought it intentionally to ensure it hurt? I don’t think so. Maybe I’ll ask her someday.
My grandfather saved me from beating that day. Later that night he said something that completely changed my life.
I found myself getting closer to the brown-eyed man. I was reaching out for his hand. I felt his gaze widen as a weird sensation propagated through my body. What was I even thinking? “Hey you!” I was interrupted by the guard who seemed to be running towards me. I ran towards our house and never looked back. I did not talk to anyone about what had happened, afraid that people will shout at me for being someplace I was not supposed to be, and soon enough, I had forgotten all about it. Also, the next morning, the caged men were gone.
Having been saved from a beating, I didn’t leave my Grandfather’s side. We were having dinner and I was eating from my grandfather’s plate as he looked at me as if he was going away forever while talking to my grandmother. “After we are gone, these little ones will miss us so much right?” he laid out. “Where are you guys going?” I asked. “We are old, we will have to soon go to God’s palace to live with him” they answered together. I knew what death was and I definitely knew what they were talking about. My chest grew heavy and I felt as if my internal temperature rose. I lost my appetite and started perspiring. Mother thought this was the result of me playing in the sun all day as she progressed to make me homemade remedies. My grandparents thought I had a bug in my belly that’s causing me to lose appetite. I did not know what was wrong either. I just felt like lying down and never having to wake up. I did not want to have to live in a world where losing one’s grandparents was ‘okay’. That was the first time I wished I wasn’t alive although I hadn’t yet been introduced to the phenomenon of taking one’s life by oneself. I refused the suffering. Years later, when I feel the same ailments, they call it a ‘panic attack’.
It was the summer of 2017. At dusk, I and my grandfather went to the rooftop as the heat was unbearable inside. Janakpur, the place we lived in after my grandfather retired from the farm, gets quite hot during the summer. On top of that blood-sucking mosquitoes add to one’s misery as one is clothed greedily because of the heat. We were talking about my college, my life in New Delhi, my academics and all. I suddenly felt this need to ask him about the caged men. After all these years, I just felt like I had to. “I don’t know what you’re talking about, you probably had a dream, they don’t keep mad people in poultry cages”. He was right. What was I even thinking? However, what had I seen all those years ago? Was it really just a dream? I guess I’ll never know. I panicked a little after hearing him say that but I tried not thinking about it while doing the breathing technique my therapist had taught me. “Sync-deep-breath” as she called it. It helped and I was shortly able to relax.
In the summer of 2013, I and my friends were walking towards the chemistry lab in our school. I was enrolled at Budhanilkantha School, a fully residential school in northern Kathmandu. As I was walking the decline towards the ‘black gate’ (as people called it), I saw him again.
The brown-eyed man was waving at me and smiling. He hadn’t aged a day. I grew cautious and I asked my friend Nimesh if he could see the man sitting on the wall beside the gate. He couldn’t. I looked away in fear, clenched my fist and closed my eyes forcibly. When I looked back, the man was gone.
People at the ‘faint-site’ walked with me and dropped me at the army camp at the entrance of Shivapuri National Park. The personnel asked me a few questions most of which were complemented by lies. I told them I had gone hiking and I had fainted because of weakness. I was in my flip-flops which one of them eyes suspiciously. They told me not to hike alone and I agreed. Soon I was on my way back home.
I reached the Vishnumati river bridge and I stopped to look at the fast-flowing water below me turning snow white as it hit the huge rocks in its path. I was amazed to see the resolve in that water. No matter how big the rock, it managed to get through. I wanted to be like it, the water. I wanted to flow without having to stop at inconveniences. I did not want to suffer. I was too weak to handle any of it. I figured I wanted to jump off and let the waters carry me into nothingness. A place where I wouldn’t have to suffer anymore. I pondered on that thought for a while. I was too weak to face life and I was too weak to end it. I was afraid, I was confused. After an endless crest of stalling, I was chased off by a traffic police van. I made my way towards the ISKCON temple nearby.
I was greeted by Rammani Prabhu, a priest at the temple. I had been an almost regular to the temple in the last couple of years for free food. They would serve sweets and crisply fried vegetable pakoras. They never refused to let you eat and you could eat as much as you want. Hostel food was awful and I and a few friends were addicted to temple food. Rammani Prabhu was the most humble and polite being I had ever seen. When he talked, it was like a subtle jazz bassist working his fingers sitting inside his vocal cords. Most other priests would try to talk you into becoming a follower there. Rammani Prabhu was just glad that we were fed. He believed he didn’t have to talk me into believing, and that temple food would change me. I must admit that it did for a while, but I resisted.
I didn’t have a place to go to. It was 8pm in the evening and all public vehicles had already shut. I would have to walk 10 kilometers if I was to go home. I expressed this to Rammani prabhu and he was glad to offer me a bed at the temple. As I made my way towards the residential building, I was greeted by Keshav Prabhu. I was 18 years old and he wouldn’t himself have been more than 25. He looked absurdly happy. I must admit it bothered me to see people smile. I couldn’t get my head around how they could handle their suffering. I never thought I had an unfair amount of suffering on my head. However, my only complaint to God, or whoever’s the creator of consciousness, was the fact that they forgot to put anti-anxiety strength in me. I was a manufacturing defect. All my lights were green but that one component to handle suffering was always red.
Keshav Prabhu told me the story about when ISKCON devotees would preach in the USSR. The communist government would crackdown upon the devotees like they would on spies and war-criminals. Devotees used to wear orange and had their heads shaved under usual circumstances. In the USSR, however, they had to hide. With the devotees now hidden under the skin of the general populace, it became harder for the government to identify preachers. They later decided to arrest anyone who was ‘smiling randomly without a reason’. This story made me angry. I thought it was a mockery directed at me. I pretended to smile and soon went to bed.
I walked off the temple grounds quietly the next morning as I did not want to hear any more USSR stories. I had to cross the Vishnumati river bridge again and this time the thought of jumping off didn’t forget to consume me all the same. I felt like I had become dangerous to myself. I couldn’t stop thinking about ending my life, however, I hadn’t made an attempt to yet. I guess my cowardice kept me alive all these years. I did not trust myself. I wanted to live and die at the same time. I started avoiding bridges, windows, balconies. I knew, for some reason, that if it ever came to it, I’d probably go down by jumping off.
One day in February or March of 2015, I woke up feeling numb. I thought I was gonna be paralyzed. For half an hour, I lay there on my bed, unable to move. I wanted to call out to my parents but somehow I couldn’t speak. After several minutes of struggle, I somehow fell asleep again. I had slept for the first time in weeks. I hadn’t had even an hour of decent sleep for at least 3 weeks. I was in the middle of college applications and, logically, my South-Asian-middle-class family thought I was working so hard on my applications that I didn’t even have time to sleep. That day, I decided I needed to talk to my parents about what I was going through.
I urged my dad that I got checked up by a psychiatrist. I asked him not to tell mom because I knew she’d worry so much that she’d end up ruining her own mental health. At first, as expected, my father dismissed the idea. However, after a bit of convincing, he agreed to take me. It is important to note here that I still haven’t told them about one of the ‘dangerous’ thoughts I was having. Middle-class, fair and square people take it upon their own shortcomings and blame themselves as my dad did. He thought all of it was happening because he wasn’t making enough money to get me what I wanted. With that on my conscience, I decided not to speak a word about it to them ever again and keep faking it.
I was angry. I was angry that I was angry for no reason. I was angry all the time. I was angry that I was angry all the time. The blame game reached the top of the pyramid and somehow found its way back to the bottom again. I lived in an endless loop of overthinking. Thinking about life in general. Thinking about how possibly to kick the bucket painlessly. At the same time, thinking about how to avoid kicking the bucket. You see, a vicious circle of uncertainty and unpleasantness.
At the doctor’s office, I waited at the door while my father went to see my Grandfather’s brother who was a surgeon at the TUTH teaching hospital in Kathmandu. They came back before I even got inside. They went into the psychiatrist’s room and soon I was called inside. The doctor asked my dad and grandfather to exit the room while she opened up my empty file to plot a bunch of nonsense on it. It was clear she didn’t understand me nor did she make an attempt to. It looked like she knew what she was doing, yet I thought it was a sheer pretense. My file got stamped with ‘anxiety with bi-polar traits’. The hell did that mean! I told her I wasn’t sleeping; that sometimes I’d go weeks without even sleeping 15 minutes a day and had this recurring dream. She gave me Lithium and Xanax and told me to join therapy. I asked her to give me some sleeping pills. She refused. I insisted. She refused again. I banged her table as hard as I could and I walked off.
The ghost was now a frequent visitor. His brown eyes never seemed to blink and his smile never faded. He did not speak to me, but he’d watch me sometimes. Smiling. After the Xanax and lithium, the brown-eyed ghost even got some friends. They’d play cards, drink, smoke. They’d plan picnics together. Gradually, the brown-eyed man started paying less and less attention to me and hung out with his newfound ghost friends. Soon thereafter, he left. He’d found his rightful place. Where he felt happy. I was glad and felt good for him. I, however, was more alone than ever.
Soon thereafter, I fell in love. It was someone from school that I had absolutely idolized since about grade 10. I hadn’t made an attempt to talk to her in school. She was one of the actors at the annual school play. I was a nobody. I did go on to be the lead in the school play a year after she’d left school. I wished I would get to act with her the previous year but I got rejected. She was a senior.
A couple of months after the great Nepali Earthquake in April of 2015, I added her on social media. I buckled up and initiated a conversation. We hit it off quite well. She was living in Delhi then. I found a reason to visit as my brother lived there as well.
As you remember I was an angry arse. After the initial ‘good’ days, I started being rude to her. I talked nonsense. Every insecurity, every shortcoming, was projected onto her. I feel awful about what happened. I hope she never forgives me, I deserve it. However, I must say. I meant well. I just did not know what I was doing. We stopped talking soon after and currently, we talk ‘sometimes’. We were never together, she had been seeing someone else even before we started talking. I found this out a little later. However, I don’t think I have been able to forget 2016 yet. Another addition to the blame yourself list. I did fall in love again last year but we will talk about that later.
“Did you hear about him?” said a friend over the phone. He sounded scared.
I was a student at Ashoka university by then. I had joined in August of 2016. This was the winter of 2018 when I got the call. One of my friends had been kept at a suicide watch at a psychiatric ward. “They’re gonna keep him there for at least a week,” he said. I couldn’t speak. My innermost selfishness manifested itself in the form of my silence. I was thinking more about myself than my troubled friend. I dreaded the thought of being in a hospital and hearing about my friend made me more paranoid than ever. I thought I was going mad. I had told Astha and Sneha, my two family-like friends at college, that I would go insane within the next six months. It felt real now. I felt like it was the beginning of my insanity. I figured I’d rather be dead as I walked out to the balcony.
I guess I have learned to laugh at myself. I was scared that this coronavirus crisis would be tough on me. Somehow I don’t feel a thing. I guess you grow up at some point? That you learn to embrace suffering as a part of yourself. I had been looking at suffering as an external phenomenon while all the time it has been inside me. Once you are aware that it is a part of you, a part of your existence, then I think you do not have to bother about dealing with it anymore.
It was cold outside. I made it to the balcony and held on to the railing. I wanted to let go but my hands seemed to refuse to loosen their grip. Millions of thoughts raced through my mind as I struggled to hold on and let go. I was in conflict. It was an extended conflict and somehow it felt like that was the day it was going to be decided. I could see the brown-eyed man was back. Waiting for me at the bottom of my great fall. He was still smiling. I thought about my grandparents waiting for my imminent return so that they could see their grandson one more time before their luck runs its course. My mother who struggled all her life for the well-being of her children and only that. She hadn’t ever gone out of the city for non-essential reasons. I could picture all their faces and if I am being honest it encouraged me to end it once and for all even more. Then a gust of cold wind saved me.
It seemed to wake me up. It brought me back to my senses somehow. I was shaken from the cold and all my thoughts disappeared. I quickly got myself off the railing and ran back inside. I woke up feeling much better the next day.
If you are somehow hoping for a happy ending, I am afraid I cannot provide you with one. However, I can assure you that there’s always room for hope. I figure I have gotten used to feeling awful and that is my reality now. It has ceased to bother me. I have amazing people by my side. Some have managed to stay against all odds, some have left.
Years ago, during therapy, I complained to the therapist that talking to him is not helping me feel any better and what I needed was medication. He asked me “what do you expect out of these sessions, Avinash?”. “I don’t know what I am doing here, to be honest”. “Its all right, Avinash, none of us do. Not me, not you, not that guy on the street, and it is okay to be unaware”. I never went back there again, however, I am glad he said that. It’s okay.
Its been 20 days now since I am quarantined at home and I thought hard and through about writing this. In the beginning, I wasn’t sure what to expect out of this. However, as I write these final lines, I see now that this is something I needed as my journey continues. I have come to understand that I am not going to be able to stop myself from ‘feeling’ the way I do. I have come really far in terms of accepting that these feelings are not alien. These are mine and mine alone. It is an uphill journey and it is nothing short of rewarding on every step that I take. When things turn sour here and there, I keep telling myself “Avinash, buddy, it’s okay to feel like this. Don’t worry, it’s all okay”.