“I don't want you to save me. I want you to stand by my side while I save myself”
She was right to say that too; the last week has been a time of deep reflection and sadness yet has brought a very sharp clarity of mind and purpose to my life. To lose a close friend is never easy; to lose a close friend at the age of 38 is shattering; to lose a close friend with whom the most emotional journey was shared is heartbreaking.
It was in April 2006 that I first met her; I was a 31 year-old infant, she 27, wearing the visibly mental scars of someone beyond that, youthful complexion battered by mental torment. We were both children in adult bodies. That is the journey of rebirth for those who emerge from the wreckage of a suicide attempt. To truly live a new life, you have to almost accept that you did die, that the person who was so petrified of life is no longer.
At the age of 31, all I had ever known in my adult life was the chaos of Bipolar, the self-loathing of mental illness that emanated from stigma, the demons inside my head waiting to self-destruct at any moment. It was no way to live but when you are ill you don't always get to make that choice; moreover, when it is the only way you know how to live, reprogramming yourself is one of the most difficult things you will ever do. That's why so many with mental illness relapse, not because they don't want to get better but because it is so incredibly hard to let go of the comfort blanket of life as you know it, however you might despise it.
This is why I equate it to being an infant again, not that I can remember much of being an infant the first time. Literally, you are taking baby steps, having to reprogramme all of your human responses to situations, learning how to function healthily and without illness. It can be soul destroying, an adult totally unable to fathom or decide on mental reactions that seem so automatic to others, trying to do things totally antithetic to all that you know.
Some simply cannot survive. The illness wins, and eventually what was already a broken shell is crushed finally. Suicide isn't just 'a way out'; when they reach that stage it is the only way out. The only escape from the pain, mental anguish, guilt, confusion and self-hatred. When it comes, there is so little any of us can do to reach out; the phrase mental illness says it all. When someone is so ill and so pained that suicide is their only escape, it may already be too late.
From a peer support group of eight whom I met in 2006, I am the only one who has made it this far. It breaks my heart and evokes such a depth of emotions. The overriding one is of sadness that my friends didn't make it through, I can't deny a sense of guilt that I have come this far and they haven't. And then there's the question, what is it that has allowed me to emerge?
Previously, I have blamed myself, but reading my own words it is clear I know that there is nothing I could do to save them. More pertinent to me is my deep faith, which tells me that only God can save; I can't, I couldn't, I never will, it's not my job to.
My purpose is to change lives, to be the best role model I can be, to be an example of success and happiness to those living with mental illness, to challenge the perceptions of those who would judge.
For now, loss brings tears and deep sadness. I miss my dear friend, I always will. I wish I could have done more, but all I could ever be was the friend who stood by her side while she tried to save herself. Alas, in this life that was not to be.
This week has seen me looking through a glass window, perhaps akin to the film Sliding Doors, and seeing how different the lives around me could have been had things transpired differently in 2006. I am very grateful that they turned out as they did.
RIP Sarah, we shared a journey of growth after mental illness by which I am so blessed
Through the Looking Glass: Reflections on Loss to Suicide
Copyright 2016. Rohan Kallicharan. All Rights Reserved.
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