Memory of Tenderness

“He was doing better,” my friend said. “He told me he would be o.k.” My high school BFF is a professor of psychiatry. One of her regular clients killed himself while she was away for a couple of days to attend a medical conference and she felt somehow responsible. “When I attended his funeral, I was bracing myself for being blamed by his parents,” she said. “He was a highly intelligent sweet person.” His parents didn’t blame her. Instead they thanked her for being his only life support for a long time. The gentle tortured soul had been barely surviving from one appointment to another. “At his last appointment, he looked much better. He promised me he would be o.k. to skip one appointment.”

I knew it. “He had already made up his mind,” I said. He must have been peaceful once he made up his mind. It turned out that he had been carefully preparing way before her trip. “Everything was perfectly planned. He made sure that his body would be found soon after,” she said. “He was very smart. Still I feel responsible,” she said.

“Nobody can stop a person once they made up their mind,” I said. “If it is so painful to live, how can you tell them to live on,” I asked. She was taken aback by my bluntness. “It was his illness that made him commit suicide, not he,” she explained. I was taken aback. So my illness is a separate entity from me? I’m confused.

I realized the chasm between us. My friend, the prominent psychiatrist in the region, does not know how “it” is. She studied pharmacology before she went into psychiatry and she’s been telling me how the right drug in the right dosage would be effective to alleviate sufferings for both patients and their caregivers. I believe what she says. I even sent my aunt to her to be medicated. My aunt’s “problem” is manageable since.

I told her I’ve been diagnosed as having dysthymia and had suffered episodes of major depression. It seems my coming-out does not register for people who know me as a highly functional energetic person.

So I explained. We can’t separate illness from us. It is not that we want to die. We just do not want to exist because being is unbearable. When it’s really bad, I don’t feel pain. I become pain. I am pain. Breathing is painful. With every breath, it feels like I am breathing in jagged shards of broken glass. We are not even allowed to have skin, which provides the boundary between us and not us. So the air hurts us. Noise doesn’t come from outside and reach our eardrums. It is already inside us. Even light burns us. Every thing hurts. We tighten ourselves up into a small dense ball and become a black hole, where pain and I are one and the same. We just want to stop the unbearable state of being, an affliction of being us.

So how can I tell them to live? I know how it affects people around us. My friend’s son killed himself and I witnessed it devastated him. “It becomes exhausting after some time,” I said to her. “But he was so young,” she said. “How old was he?” I asked. “Barely twenty,” she said. Oh, that’s too young to be sucked into the black hole. She told me that the sweet young man was suffering from multiple heavy stuff. I’m sorry for him. I’m very sorry for him.

What I wanted to say is that she was not responsible for his death. You couldn’t have saved him anyway. It could be scary for all-mighty psychiatrists to acknowledge their own helplessness. But let us share the helplessness with you. That’s how we feel.

I never tried to kill myself and I am glad I didn’t. I knew it would pass. It might come back, but it will pass. I am major-depression-free for several years. I’ll be on meds for the rest of life. I gave up my hypersensitivity for peaceful routines. It is worth to live and to be older. It will get better. What remains will be the memory of tenderness. You remember but it won’t hurt you.

All I can do for the tortured soul is to share the sense of helplessness. I know how it feels. I hope it will get better for you. I really hope so.

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