Recently, an engineering student named Pichikala Siddharth from the Indian Institute of Technology, Hyderabad committed suicide by jumping off the third floor of the campus building. According to his friends and family, he was suffering from depression. This was the third suicide in the campus in the past 8 months. On July 3 2019, a master’s degree student, Mark Andrew Charles, from the same institute committed suicide as he was finding it difficult to secure a job.
Photo from Pexels
Just one life!
In his suicide note, Mark lamented “I don’t have a job, probably I wouldn’t get one. No one hires a loser. It’s amazing to look at my grade sheet. A few more letter and it’ll look like an alphabet chart.”
“I did have dreams, just like everyone. But now, it’s pretty empty. All this positivity, the constant smiling, telling people that I am ok, even though I am not,” read the suicide note addressed to his friends and family.
In addition, he advised his friends to not waste their life working in the IT industry. They should live a little everyday as “we all have just one life.”
What a poignant thought, which, unfortunately, was lost on him. He forgot to live a little. Or chose not to. And a precious life was lost to not living.
Data suggests that, in India, shockingly, every one hour a student commits suicide. Suicide was the most common cause of death in both the age groups of 15–29 years and 15–39 years, according to a 2018 study by The Lancet. According to an article by The Tribune, Chandigarh, there are three primary reasons for a student committing suicide—academic pressure, fierce competition, and isolation.
The art of being in denial
According to an article in Economic Times, “12 per cent of Indian students between the age of 4 and 16 suffer from psychiatric disorders. 20 per cent show signs of mental disorders, out of which 2-5 per cent have serious concerns like autism or bi-polar disorder.“
As a country we are in denial when it comes to mental health. Psychiatric and psychological issues are still considered taboos in this country. We pretend to be well, mentally and physically, when many of us aren’t. Talk about counselling for someone who may be depressed and showing signs of mental anguish, and you immediately become an enemy to them.
Quite surprisingly, many of us carry our mental anguish silently throughout our life and don’t want to take any remedial measures, lest society judges us unfavorably. Some of us are very successful in life, yet suffer in quiet desperation.
Mr. and Mrs. Chatterjee are proud parents of a 28 year old son. A very successful 28 year old, we should say. As parents, they have performed their role appreciatively. They ensured that their son, Dhruv, got all that he needed to do well in school and college. They ensured that Dhruv got the best education. Dhruv, on his part, studied hard, scored high grades and finished Engineering from a reputed school. Dhruv is currently employed as an engineer with a renowned IT firm in Bangalore. He is the cynosure of his parent’s eyes. They quite can’t stop waxing eloquent about Dhruv’s success and his journey to a well-paying corporate servitude, I mean slavery, I mean career.
Dhruv’s Fakebook page, I mean Facebook page, is replete with images of the best moments of his life. The pictures show him smiling all the time, at various pubs and restaurants with his friends during the weekends, on vacations at various places in India and abroad. He is also doing very well in his role at the firm he is employed. Anybody following Dhruv on Facebook or hearing about Dhruv’s achievements from his parents would think that Dhruv has hit the jackpot, when it comes to being successful in life. He is every Indian parents’ dream kid. Recently, he has even purchased an apartment, which has taken his value in the marriage marketplace to the stratosphere. His life seems perfect—perfect job, perfect home, perfect friends, perfect everything.
Jumping for joy. Happiness.
Photo from Pexels
Everything’s coming up roses for Dhruv. On the outside, that is.
On the inside, however, the story is very different. If you spend some time with Dhruv. When you chat with Dhruv, away from the “spotlight” and get a peek into his daily life, this facade of happiness shows numerous cracks. Dhruv is actually pretend happy. He is under immense stress from expectations of his parents, family, and friends.
Recently, one of his best friends got fired after being with the firm for years. His friend never even got a chance to talk to the management; he walked in one day and the building security was waiting to escort him out after taking his firm assigned laptop.
According to Dhruv, his friend was doing excellently in his job. Then he moved into a new role, where the learning curve was a little too steep, and he stumbled a couple of times. That was enough for his friend to get fired. Then another of his friend was let go, because that firm was downsizing. That friend, too, was a stellar performer in his role. However, that didn’t stop him from losing his job at a moment’s notice.
It seems, every single person is expendable, no matter what. Those two incidents has had a profound effect on Dhruv and has had him question the security of his job at his firm. The way the world operates nowadays, although he has everything today, he can lose everything the next day, without any notice.
Furthermore, his success has brought numerous marriage proposals to his doorsteps. Now his parents, family, and friends want him to tie the knot. Although, he is not too keen to get married just yet, the peer/social pressure has his hands tied, and he knows that he will have to take the plunge soon. He is not very happy about that, too. He feels, he is living someone else’s dreams and aspirations.
While at school, Dhruv spent 10 to 12 hours a day studying to be at the top of the class. While at the Engineering college, he spent 12 to 14 hours, if not more, studying.
Now, in the corporate world, he is spending 10 to 12 hours at work everyday. Many a time, he has to work the weekends. His day starts at 6. Depending on the weather and the traffic, just his commute to work and back could take 2 to 4 hours. He rarely gets enough sleep during the weekdays. Sometimes he has to attend calls late in the night, because the client in San Jose need a status update. Dhruv, when you observe him closely, is showing signs of cracking under the stress of daily life.
He feels he has been slogging it out without respite since his school days. And it is slowly getting to him. His mental and physical health is taking a hit, slowly. Life, it seems, is like a boxer throwing a lot of body punches at him, and those punches are slowly and surely wearing him down. He feels that it is just a matter of time before he will have to take a standing eight count. Next, he fears that the stand eight count may end up into a mandatory eight count, and he will eventually be unable to continue with the bout. A heavy load to carry for such a young guy.
When everything fails, wear a mask
While his parents are very proud of him, and rightfully so, what they do not know is that Dhruv is actually gradually “disintegrating”. He is deeply unhappy and confused on the inside. He is actually depressed and has been for ages. However, he cannot show it on the outside. Otherwise, he will be called “weak” and not “man enough”. Any weakness he shows and his friends, family, and the society will judge him unfairly, and he will lose the aura of success he enjoys presently.
Therefore, he pretends. He pretends to be happy, full of life, and joy. He pretends to be at the top of the world with nary a worry in sight. However, he is constantly worried that one bad event in life and he will implode. He is terrified that because of the immense pressure he feels he is being subjected to, he may one day end up having a nervous breakdown.
Dhruv has to meet all the expectations his parents and his family have of him, else he is immediately considered a person who has failed them. He has to be better than the next kid in the block, else he is slipping. He will be graded throughout his life, and he has to score an A to be tagged as successful. Talk about social pressure, competition and isolation.
It is no surprise, therefore, that many Dhruvs live a life meeting someone else’s expectation of them and feel trapped meeting those expectations. They rarely have any say in their life’s choices or what they would like to do with their life, starting with education to choosing their life partner.
The Dhruvs I know
I know and have known a few Dhruvs. They are deeply unhappy on the inside. Their purpose in life is defined by someone else, mostly by their parents. Their parents have a stranglehold over their life. The Dhruvs of the world set aside their own dreams to make the dreams of their parents come true, which include studying in a particular school, scoring a particular grade, going to a particular college, getting a particular degree, joining a particular company, marrying a particular girl from a particular caste, giving them a grandchild within a particular time frame, etc. Well, you get the drift.
Although I have asked them to break free from that “bondage”, many of them are too scared to cut that umbilical cord. It is as if their life depends on it, when it is this exact relationship that is draining them off their life.
Sadly, therefore, whenever I read about a student’s suicide, I am forced to ask myself the question as to whether it was his/her family that was ultimately responsible for this kid taking his/her life? Was it the unending pressure from the family to do things according to their mandate, which resulted in the kid feeling isolated, pressured, overburdened, helpless, depressed, and lost with his/her life? And was it because of all this that they felt compelled to end it all? Finally.
The Dhruv in me learning to live a little
Once upon a time, I was a Dhruv, too. Living my life to meet someone else’s expectations of me. It is difficult to be comfortable in someone else’s skin. Finally, one day, I had had enough and cut that tether that was holding me down and preventing me from being myself. From that day onward, I have lived my life my own way, at my own terms. I have lived and continue to live my life to meet my expectations of myself.
Dream and inspire.
Photo from Pexels
I have in my own way learned to live a little, because as Mark Andrew Charles had mentioned in his suicide note—“we all have just one life.” To all the Dhruvs out there, you can do it, too. You can break off the shackles that are holding you back from living your life the way you want to live. Takes a little bit of effort, but it can be done. It doesn’t mean you have to sever all ties. It just means defining boundaries and rules of engagement.
That is exactly what I have done, and I have done it my own way. It doesn’t mean what worked for me will work for everybody else. However, for whatever it is worth, here are a few maxims I follow.
I am my first client. I have to meet my expectation of myself, before I can meet expectations of others. It is akin to saying save yourself first before saving others. Therefore, we should first define our expectations of ourself, work towards meeting them, meet them, then, finally, work towards meeting others’ expectations of us.
Identify what makes you happy. You control that. Nobody else does. You have to want to be happy. Else, nobody else can; nothing else can. I have found happiness by looking inwards. Couldn’t find it by chasing people, places or things. To me, happiness lies within not without.
You cannot save someone who does not want to save themself. You cannot awaken someone who prefers to go through life sleepwalking. Stop trying to be a saviour. People save themselves. Nobody else can. The realization and the desire to change should arise from within a person. You can spend your entire life trying to light that spark in someone and fail, should the person not want to light that spark themself. Having said that, mentor and coach those who are willing to embark upon a path of self-discovery and change. Be their guide. Share your life’s experiences with them. Listen to them. Correct their mistakes. Once in a while, they will fall off the wagon. That’s okay. Have faith in them. Give them time to get back on the road again. Then nudge them gently in the right direction. They have to undertake the journey themself. All you can do is show them the way and step back. I have had tremendous success following this strategy.
Everything in life is an investment—investment of time, of money, in love, in relationships, in dedication, in patience, in loyalty, etc. And as is true with most investments, you need to be rational with your strategy when the investment is underperforming or yielding poor results. I have learned that more often than not, the best course of action when the investment is failing is to cut your losses short. This is especially true with love and human relationships. Spares you from a lot of heartburn and heartache, later on.
Yes, parents and family are important. However, they should not hold you back or hold you down with their mandates, dictates, and myriad expectations. They cannot and should not burden you with the responsibility of fulfilling their unfulfilled dreams. You shouldn’t be forced to be their dream maker. They should not blackmail you emotionally to be their dream maker. I have lost count of the number of times I have heard parents say that “I couldn’t be a doctor because of life circumstances; hence, I have asked my son/daughter to fulfill my dream by studying medicine.” Okay, but have you asked them if they want to be a doctor or not? What about their wishes, wants, dreams, and aspirations? That’s not important? Similarly, culture, tradition, and social norms are important. However, those norms shouldn’t smother or stifle you. I don’t follow most of the societal norms that control the lives of most people. Good riddance to some bad rubbish out there.
Life is all about give and take. You cannot always give or always take. You’ll have to meet in the middle. Imagine balancing scales. It has two pans on a beam. Everything is in balance when the mass on the scales are equal. Life, too, requires a balance between the gives and takes. If you take all the time, then the balance will be tilted towards your favor and the other side will be unhappy. However, if you give all the time, then the balance will be tilted towards the other side and you’ll be unhappy. Hence, maintain a balance between the gives and the takes.
Letting go and reducing one’s footprint. As Chuck Palahniuk writes in Fight Club, “Things that you own end up owning you.” So, first start by ‘dis-owning’ things. No, you cannot ‘dis-own’ every single thing. But ‘dis-own’ everything that’s not enriching your life. I have removed all the clutters from my life, including people. Just a few precious people and things adorn my life, and I treasure them all.
Pay it forward by doing something nice for strangers. Also, “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.“—Ian Maclaren
Be grateful for all that you have. The problem with many people is not that they don’t have enough. The problem is that they don’t know what to do with or how to appreciate what they have.
Let go of people who do not respect you as a person or who you are. You don’t need a stamp of approval from anyone. In addition, there are friends and then there are friends. Keep the former, lose the latter. Also remember, more often than not, you have a few close friends. The rest are just acquaintances. Learn to identify and distinguish between the two.
Life has the habit of getting in the way of almost everything. As it is said, “Man propose, God disposes.” I know people who had everything planned for the future. They were waiting for a particular day to arrive before embarking on their dream journey. However, when the day arrived they were long gone. Of course, be future ready but also be presently alive.
Life will punch you in the face. A strong chin helps, but be prepared to get knocked down or get a standing eight count. Nevertheless, be prepared to shake it off and continue with the bouts. However, if it gets really difficult, please seek help. You will not win all life’s battles. Learn to lose a round or two, but win the match.
You will not win everybody’s love and affection. Choose to spend your efforts and emotions judiciously. Don’t waste it on someone undeserving.
Happiness is fleeting; appreciate every second of it when it illuminates your life.
Most of our pains are self chosen. We create the hell we want to live in; likewise, we create our own heaven, too. It’s all on us. Make the right choice.
Quotable quotes about living
- Each of us will one day be judged by our standard of life — not by our standard of living; by our measure of giving — not by our measure of wealth; by our simple goodness — not by our seeming greatness.—William Ward
- Never bear more than one kind of trouble at a time. Some people bear three kinds; all they have had, all they have now, and all they expect to have.—Edward Everett Hale
- Happiness can be defined, in part at least, as the fruit of the desire and ability to sacrifice what we want now for what we want eventually—Stephen R. Covey
- Happiness is like sunbeam, which the least shadow intercepts, while adversity is often as the rain of spring.—Chinese Proverb
- If you look to others for fulfillment, you will never be fulfilled. If your happiness depends on money, you will never be happy with yourself. Be content with what you have; rejoice in the way things are. When you realize there is nothing lacking, the world belongs to you.—Lao Tzu
- Man sacrifices health in order to make money. Then he sacrifices money to recuperate his health. And then he is so anxious about the future that he does not enjoy the present; the result being that he does not live in the present or the future; he lives as if he is never going to die, and then dies having never really lived.—Dalai Lama
There are hundreds more maxims a person can follow. But, maybe, we can first start with these and live a little. After all, we all have just one chance at this.