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Suicide is a taboo subject for conversation. Particularly what makes a person want to commit suicide or what to say in the face of their pain.

“A man devoid of hope and conscious of being so has ceased to belong to the future.”
― Albert Camus, The Myth of Sisyphus and Other Essays

Suicide is a subject almost everyone has thought of at some point or the other. Almost everyone has wondered what it would be like to end our own life or how it could be done without confronting the great fear - pain, suffocation or other discomforts. Yet suicide remains a taboo subject. The feelings behind suicide. What makes someone commit suicide. We can talk statistics or prevention or helplines, but in the face of actual pain that drives a person to suicide, we have no skills. There is a difference between contemplating suicide and planning to commit suicide. An important one. The first is a fairly common and natural response to unbearable negative emotions. The other is an irreversible action.

I admit I have often considered suicide. I have written about suicide before too. From a perspective of statistics, from a perspective of understanding widespread distress needing political answers, from a perspective of empathy when I read about suicide, from a perspective of failing to support and grieving when someone I know commits suicide and I have also considered suicide as an option to end my own life when I was very sad. Yet, whenever I have tweeted about the subject, I have immediately got responses that amount to stopstopstopstopstopstopstopstopSTOP! It is so immediate that it would be hilarious if the subject were not grave. I have got helpline numbers as replies, I have got advice to not let dark thoughts enter my mind.

Hello! I write and tweet and comment and contemplate issues of human rights abuse. How in the world can one do that without having any dark thoughts? If I were planning to commit suicide, why would I be tweeting instead of finding myself a rope? I understand that it can sometimes be a cry for help by a distraught person, but if the rest of the words are perfectly normal, where is the harm in reading to find out what is being said?

Because here is the thing. Even if a person were tweeting about suicide publicly as a last ditch call for attention and help, the last thing they'd need is to be told to shut up or a sea of platitudes. What they would be needing is an empathetic listener who cares.

What exactly is this fear of talking about suicides?

“The thought of suicide is a great consolation: by means of it one gets through many a dark night.”
― Friedrich Nietzsche

I admit I have spent a great deal of time contemplating committing suicide over the years. As in killing myself. I have been in unhappy relationships involving heartbreak, I've been in an abusive marriage with an alcoholic, I've been a broke single mother of a disabled child. Despair and depression are no strangers. And yet I am here, typing this post.

I have actually found thinking about suicide in great detail helpful. Instead of fearing the pain of death (and thus possibly taking a rash step "while I have the courage" maybe after a glass or two of vodka), I've gone and researched methods of suicide. What would cause the least pain? What are the consequences of failure? What is the best method so that it causes least pain and least risk of failing and living with permanent damage? And anyone who knows me knows that when I say research, I mean obsessive information finding till I am convinced I know the subject in and out without actual experience. Enough to make a very well considered decision. On and off, when I'm in utter despair, I've gone and rechecked all the information. And yet here I am, typing all this.

Is this a guarantee I will never commit suicide? No. But it pretty much guarantees that I have given it thorough thought and not found it a better tradeoff for now. It guarantees that if I do it, it will not be a thoughtless impulse, but a decision I take about my life after considering all options I have.

So how has contemplating suicide helped me?

By giving me an option. By giving me an exit from the pain. By giving me the concrete information that if all this gets unbearable, I still have the option to exit. In the process, a miracle happens. I am no longer cornered by my despair. I always have the cheat route out. And because I know that, I am never out of options. I lose the fear of making attempts to change my circumstances that could fail.  Just allowing myself to spend time thinking about ending myself is a catharsis. If no one else, at least I am acknowledging how bad things are. I am listening to myself. It helps me feel heard. It gives me a vocabulary for describing my situation when asking for help. No, I don't mean "I am suicidal, help me or else." I mean "This, this and this is the reason for my despair. I am not able to see functional ways out. I need help." - because hello, I've gone through all the reasons in my contemplation and have them now sorted out in my head.

And sometimes, in a very cynical way, the contemplations have saved me. If I don't care whether I live or die, why not try this one last thing or the other? If I hit a dead end, I can always die.

“Killing myself was a matter of such indifference to me that I felt like waiting for a moment when it would make some difference.”
― Fyodor Dostoyevsky, The Dream of a Ridiculous Man

Here is an example how. When I was younger, my emotions were more volatile. Taking what I felt seriously and giving it serious thought helped me see things more clearly and invariably, I ended up thinking that if there was any hope, I could use it and if there wasn't, well, I could always die. But the well thought out option being there and not at any threat of being taken off the table gave me the confidence to know I could opt for it any time and there was no need to do it right now. I could afford to wait and see. I am truly grateful no one immediately tried to stop me at such times, or I'd have been tempted to use the opportunity before someone blocked it from me.

Now I am older. I have a young disabled child. Whoever knows me knows that I'd chew my arm off before I allowed anything to harm him. Well, losing a mom would definitely harm him. So suicide is totally not an option any more. At least while he is alive. He needs me. Period. Again, if I hadn't thought this through, I could have been at risk of giving up without considering the impact.

In some of my more selfish and melodramatic ways, I've even thought "What will be, will be" If I am not there, someone or the other will care for my son, though I can't imagine who, right now. But then, in such a melodramatic moment, the desire is also to leave a lasting mark on the world when I die. And oops, it is not "orphaned kid in moment of despair". I'd like to be remembered for something better, thank you very much.

Whatever it is. Others may have their own reasoning. Still others may come to a well considered decision that suicide is actually a good choice for them, When my father was dying of Parkinson's, he had the option of looking forward to an indeterminate bed ridden existence with little control over his body, being bored out of his wits and too exhausted to do anything about it but to wait to die. He begged me to kill him almost every week. It is illegal and I have two more dependents, or I would definitely have arranged for him to be freed as per his will if it were legal. Others do it out of poverty. Starvation. When the alternative is to live in debt and watch your family suffer with no hope of ever providing for them in sight, it can be a brutal life to look forward to, and death may simply be a matter of running out of the ability to fight.

“Let them think what they liked, but I didn't mean to drown myself. I meant to swim till I sank -- but that's not the same thing.”
― Joseph Conrad, The Secret Sharer and other stories

Whatever it is, however it plays out, a suicide is not about dying or exiting the world, it is about escaping unbearable torment. A person who feels unheard and uncared for, is unlikely to respond to a panicked flood of platitudes that s/he has heard a hundred times that drowns their voice all over again, even in the contemplation of death.

How agonized we are by how people die. How untroubled we are by how they live. ~ P. Sainath

My suggestion is that we all examine what this fear is that stops us from listening on hearing that word. Because the lives of many around us could depend on how we respond to their pain. If someone has made a well considered decision to die, there isn't much we can do about it, but if someone is screaming into a void of despair, perhaps us offering a listening ear will give them the space to be heard, and in the process get a clearer view of their situation.

What do you think?

46

Child rights are our future.

The most vulnerable, exploited and unrepresented minority ANYWHERE in the world is children.

Child abuse is a process of disrespect, hurt and neglect and most children are abused. I'll go right ahead and say almost every child is abused at some point or the other.

This post looks beyond the "bona fide" abuse that is recognized socially and legally and looks at practices we consider acceptable, which are not in the best interest of children.

Macro - Legal/Social

  1. There are laws against child abuse in India, indeed, there are laws against child abuse in most parts of the world. The United Nations Convention on the rights of the child (in theory) offers several protections. So how many parents get arrested for abuse in India except in extreme cases of child abuse when children land up in hospitals or morgues?
  2. If you hit an adult, you'd be arrested for assault. If you hit a child, the child will be told to behave or listen to you.
  3. No laws for protecting children consult children. In India, I am not even sure they consult child psychologists.
  4. What does a policeman do when he sees a beggar boy or girl on the street? Or a child prostitute in a red light area? Child abuse is routinely tolerated. Children don't vote. Children don't know they can complain. Children don't come out on the streets threatening to topple governments or demanding suspensions of people.
  5. Blackmail is legal if its children? Children are rather literal creatures with high imaginations. "Do this or else", "keep quiet or I am not going to talk to you"... is a real threat for them. We think nothing of threats of abandonment or harm in order to force them to act how we want - often for trivial things.
  6. Harassing a child is a socializing routine. Taking away toys, laying claims on parents or other treasured possessions, ragging them to perform something...
  7. Lack of supporting services. How can children be removed to safety unless there is proper infrastructure to care for them - psychologically, day-to-day care or legally? There is a deafening silence on the utter lack of security (or intent to create it) for the largest minority - the children.
  8. There is no preventative action. We have cops investigating post crime.
  9. The RTE Act makes it mandatory for every child to be in school. ANY other minority treated so arbitrarily would have human rights activists up in arms. But they applaud initiatives to imprison children. But its not working. <== READ

Schools

  1. You might want to remember when any genius ever said, oh, I'm a genius because school taught me all the important things. That's right, never. Its usually, mom, supportive family, special mentor, country, god, etc.A school is a facility to install softwares of a list of subjects on unformatted children and certify the output, so that they may be put to appropriate use on becoming adults. In other words, kids are glorified hard drives. I am being cruel, unnecessarily vicious? Read on...
  2. Schools kill learning. Destroy ability to learn. Learning is a process of differentiation. This is red, this is blue. It is the discovery of the difference that I learn. A math problem can be figured out usefully by doing this and not this. Clearly, the process of being wrong is as important as the process of being right. If you cannot be wrong, you have validated nothing. You have only recorded what was told.
  3. If you don't memorize railway timetables, there is absolutely no reason to memorize biological species or latitude and longitude coordinates of a city. Schools are a criminal waste of the most learningful years of a child's life.
  4. Think of the brain as a computer's RAM. It caches information, but its information it needs handy for instant application. Cluttering the cache limits its utility. We get children to memorize tomes and tomes of history, scientific classifications, geographical information, mathematical methods, and what not. Like any good cache, it flushes after the exams, or at worst, after education is complete. A school creates a fake need for storing information. This whole three ring circus is worthless beyond school.
  5. What about English? A child can learn to read and write entirely from its interests. Video game rules, titles of cartoon films, story books, etc give way to chatting with girlfriends, reading up experiments.... whatever. If they have an interest that needs reading, they will figure it out. If they don't need it, there is no need, is there? If you write like Wren and Martin, you need to search for jobs in nineteenth century England. This is the language of the world. You find it on blogs, newspapers, instruction manuals, application forms and appointment letters.
  6. Language is about communication. And knowledge is about function. My excellent English grew through reading story books. I was absolutely addicted to story books. I used to hide them inside text books and read them in class. Lost count of how many got confiscated. I dare say I made a significant contribution to the school's library. I used to read story books while waiting for exams to start. If I didn't waste time on school, my English would have been even better.
  7. What about Maths? Prof Lockhart does a fantastic job of demolishing the myth of maths as taught in schools, and Joyce finishes the job for anyone who thinks a genius has different standards and they are more ordinary. Do read both. BTW, a calculator is cheaper than school fees. Here's one by Ben Goldacre on the scientific ethics of schools and adults - Kids who spot bullshit, and the adults who get upset about it
  8. Now for the uncomfortable parts. School does kids harm. It has done you harm. It has done society harm. It has done me harm. The reason is that schools measure the worth of people. They respect or insult based on measures they decide and do damage, because they teach that human beings are less worthy if they don't know something. They fail to comprehend or instill respect for the vast scope of genius existing in the world. They install inferiority complexes, superiority complexes, and an inability to recognize genuine knowledge growing wild. It diminishes people.
  9. Schools create artificial perceptions of narrow, age defined social comfort zones. People who hear this for the first time think I'm being unreasonable. They think kids prefer other children their own age. If this were true, pre-school kids wouldn't be tagging behind elder siblings in hero worship. It is an instinct to look at experienced members and learn. It is unnatural to avoid diversity. Pay attention - I am not saying relationships of same age are unnatural, I am saying it is unnatural not to venture outside those ages. Our society is fragmenting, as generations are unable to relate easily with each other. The few families with healthy relationships make it. The rest is a saga of all the generations finding the other generations inconvenient at best and intolerable more often.
  10. Schools create a culture of isolation. That would seem surprising considering how there are so many children, and you remember having friends.... but you can socialize and be alone without the ability to form meaningful relationships. Schools police interpersonal relations to an astonishingly harmful degree. It is natural for two people with a common problem to join forces in solving it. In real life, we call it team working. In school, the challenges are called examinations, and collaboration is called cheating. There is shame, stigma and a strong emphasis on NOT giving or accepting assistance and solving problems on your own. Then, you go to work, and suddenly the school ideas are the ones creating most of your trouble. You can't ask for help, you can't accept help, because you are "worth less" if you do that.You agree to teamwork, but still communicate final versions. Silo culture. There are now increasing cases of depression, suicides and loneliness in children.
  11. Schools are a market. A big, profitable market, where the consumers have no rights.
  12. The education system is INEFFICIENT. In a world where efficiency and speed are important, the size of education only increases, becomes more and more schizophrenic and irrelevant to reality. Increasingly, the products of this education system are worthless in real life. <== READ! They find it difficult to see opportunity in a city like Mumbai (<== READ!), where my maid earns Rs.12,000/- a month. Basically, our education system is still geared to produce clerks in the British Raj.
  13. Schools teach very few of the life important skills, and little that is useful for non-white collar jobs. A train driver earns a good income, but kids are not exposed to it as an opportunity. They are herded toward academic brilliance as though it were an Olympic sport and functionality were not important.
  14. I don't even want to talk about all the class stereotypes this creates. Intelligent, respectworthy people score well in exams.This has been disproved so many times, its irrational. But what do you expect in a country where people become teachers because they couldn't get better jobs?
  15. The education doesn't create a foundation going beyond the known or fighting the horizon and breaking through. The idea is to do what is already established, excellently. A child is innovative by nature. A doer, experimenter, natural scientist. It is a creative lobotomy to force them to become like this.

Which brings me to.... brace yourself. This is important. You love your child. You can do this. You can read through the rest.

Parents and other elders

  1. Most parents have a melodramatic awareness of how much they do for their kids, the sacrifices they make, the difficulties they suffer, etc. Their transactions with children are often through this lens, trivializing a child's sacrifices (is it sacrifice or compliance if its ordered?) in comparison with theirs. The child never asked to be born, or for sacrifices to be made. It is unfair to pressure them to appreciate something they didn't feel the need for, and deprive them of something they DO feel the need for.
  2. School is another form of abandonment of unwanted kids. Before you throw those rotten eggs at me, look in your rotten soul. Do you breathe a sigh of relief when vacations are over? Why are you happy to send your child off on more and more things to keep him busy and out of your hair? You won't watch a three hour film without finding out if its worth it, do you spare a second thought tying up more than a decade of the best parts of the days of your child's life? Do you stop to ask if that much time is needed? Do you stop to ask if it is necessary to teach all this? Do you exert your rights as your child's representative to negotiate his best interest? If not, who will? Isn't this abandonment?
  3. The abandonment is also emotional. Most parents will believe another adult over their child. So, if someone says something, complains, it is two adults versus one child. In other words, the equivalent of bullying. This is beyond abandonment, it is treachery.
  4. Almost every child has been hit, dominated or insulted for being inconvenient.
  5. Disrespect. Parents routinely "train" kids better. You wouldn't force feed a friend to eat a food she didn't like, but most parents think nothing about using anything from pleas to physical domination, threats and starvation in order to get kids to eat that food they don't want to eat. This isn't discipline. It is breaking someone's spirit by assault. Even in prisons, this would be human rights abuse. In homes, its normal. It is apparently what grows good, healthy kids. God forbid they became adult without learning how to eat tomatoes.
  6. Projections. Kids routinely pay for the parent's seeing bad things in them for no fault of theirsHere's a rather long winded article that goes into the psychology of it <== READ! If you are a parent, do your child a favour, and read it. If you do nothing, do this.

Too much hassle growing a kid. People plug them into schools to outsource their development. Take out a template installed with standard knowledge. Keep them busy till they are old enough not to be a hassle.

Nothing will convince me that at an age of discovery and wonder, a child is enjoys or gains best from sitting at a desk mimicing ideas and words.

Horse breeders realize the value of the emotional stability from being around the parent. To breed horses of good temperament, foals are not separated from dams till a year at least. Ideally, three or so years, till they become independent and form their own bonds in the herd. The equivalent in development for a year for a horse would be six human years. Animals get better caring, huh? What is more important than the emotional grounding and security of being with the parent till ready to explore further?

Making them independent, of course. In a world where adults misjudge people and are hurt and betrayed as a matter of routine, we expect children to "read" strangers at very young ages, and socialize easily and also have the ability to not go to strangers for fear of kidnappings, abuse and miscellaneous harm. We put them in danger through this kind of irresponsible passing on of responsibility.

You have parents looking to make babies independent... get them weaned, comfortable with strangers, accustomed to day care..... and then, you have same parents nagging their adult kids to visit more often. You abscond when they need you, and then you expect them to need you when they don't?

Very few happenings in a child's routine are intended with their joy, well being, emotional or physical safety in mind. Either we must stop claiming to love them, or we must change.

When we are old, drooling and bedridden, we'd like to matter when our care is outsourced to an old age home. We may learn to accept that we are inconvenient or that someone else could take better care of us, but we would like our loved ones to be close in our vulnerability. Not all that different from a child. Lined up in our futures. Good incentive to make this thing more human.

A start would be not doing, being, being acting with a child in any way that you wouldn't with someone you respect. Someone incredibly precious whom you appreciate.

Right now onwards.

If you liked this, you might be interested in its follow up School Reloaded, which looks at ways a learning institution could be.