One of my friends had sketched an illustration of me, sleeping under a rainbow-coloured blanket. At the backdrop of the illustration was a representation of Van Gogh's 'The Starry Night'. I looked strangely at peace, safe and sheltered, while the stars seemed to lull me to sleep. I imagine myself to be having a dreamless sleep in that illustration. This was at a time when sleeping as an act was a luxury for me. A few months back, I had written a letter to another friend, where I had expressed how I have been spending most of my youth contemplating on painless ways to die. I had reflected on my desire to wake up in the morning and feel less pain for a change. In the American television series 'Sex Education', a character called Maeve wishes to someday have a house with big enough windows that can help her cope with her aloneness. I have a deep envy in my heart for those who wake up in the morning with purpose and go about what they have to do, without fearing their own mind.
I have been trying to cope with my loneliness and suicidal tendencies, by constantly trying to theorise and find ways to legitimise the two. After all, right from the period of Socrates, humans have pondered upon the existential question on the meaning of "being", or simply put, the meaning of life itself. It was the stoic philosopher Seneca who had remarked, "Can you no longer see a road to freedom? It's right in front of you. You need only turn over your wrists." While one can contest if the "road to freedom" is infact taking one's own life, often people resort to the act of dying by suicide to liberate themselves from the pain that they feel within. I started engaging in self-harm when I was fifteen, after getting out of an abusive relationship. Violence in intimate relationships can wear a person down and the process of withdrawal can further hamper the notion of self-worth for any person. I would carry a blade with me, back then, to cut myself at different places in my body, in an attempt to externalise the agony that I felt. If I were to track the source of my trauma, this seems like the instance where my behaviour of self-harm began.
It took me almost ten years after that to try and kill myself. It was an ordinary day. I went out for dinner with my partner and our friend, came back to my flat, decided to take a shower and tried drowning myself. I pulled my head out of the water, coughing and gasping for air. I got out of the bathroom, dried myself, put on some fresh clothes and sat down to work on my thesis. That’s how mundane it seemed.
French sociologist Emile Durkheim, in his phenomenal work 'Suicide: A Study in Sociology', remarks that when one finds immense preference at the contemplation of their own voluntary death, their thirst would only be quenched by meeting that end. The work of Durkheim locates the human at the centre of the society, which interacts and assimilates them. When the society around the human disintegrates and loses social equilibrium, the human being as a social animal, loses a sense of objective and subjective reality that has hitherto shaped them. It makes less sense to the human, who in turn feels anomic and withdraws from the society. By bringing the private act of suicide to the public realm, Durkheim helps us to understand the will to kill oneself because of institutional and structural failures, which are much larger than a person. We live in a neo-liberal capitalistic society, where human rights are curtailed for the benefit and proliferation of free-market institutions. An individual is constantly made aware of their identity; pit against another identity by creating a classic “us” versus “them” scenario; and deterred from organising and agitating against collective neo-liberal oppression. This is how the current system sustains and thrives, at the cost of our civil liberties. Such a system treats humans as replaceable commodities, who are available to the system as mere cogs in a machine and cheap labour. Such a society alienates a human, from others and themselves.
A few months before I had tried killing myself, some of my college mates at TISS Hyderabad had together protested against the sky-rocketing hostel fees and for the reinstatement of a Bachelors of Art course. In order to curb our protests, our college administration had tried dividing us on the lines of varying identities. As a last resort to shut us down, it had imposed a Sine Die closure of the institute. When the college reopened, we neither had the resources or the support of the students to protest again. In the meantime, some of us who had protested, were given Show-cause notices and called for inquiry meetings, which lasted for hours into the night. We were harassed at multiple levels for demanding our basic rights. During this period and post that semester, I suffered from increased levels of anxiety and loneliness. I wish to also locate my suicidal inclinations under the paradigm of bigger institutional and structural failures.
The thoughts surrounding voluntary deaths must be seen as both personal and political, and at the junction of the interaction of the two. Suicide is not an isolated act, but rather a progression that builds on years. Sylvia Plath, in her novel 'The Bell Jar', carefully journals on the happenings of her social reality and the multiple times she tries to end her life. All these happenings and her reality results her in choosing to die by suicide. The recent death of the Bollywood actor Sushant Singh Rajput has redirected our attention to the need for better health care systems of therapy. Most of the literature on therapy places the burden of the mental health on the individual, separating them from the sexist, casteist, classiest, Islamophobic and queerphobic society that surrounds them. Again, individualising self-care and mental health is a triumph of the neo-liberal order, which forgoes the discussion on various forms of oppression that weigh down on the shoulders of any person. Only by placing the discussion surrounding mental health on the political realm, can we really question the failures at an institutional and structural level.
A few years back, when I had gone on a trip with two of my friends, I woke up one morning with a panic attack. I spent the next one hour researching on passive and active euthanasia, and how the right to death must be left with the individual. Today, as I type these words, I wish that I do find enough reasons to exist. I would like to believe that I am still a survivor and fighting my odds, to try and lead an authentic life. My pursuit towards an academic future is a way to help myself live with my constant companion – the murder on my mind.