It is Always Darkest Just Before Dawn

 

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It doesn’t get more real than this. The whole of IIT Madras is shocked at the twin suicides these past few weeks. At this juncture, I felt I needed to open up and talk about it.

I am a student here at IIT Madras, one of the most reputed colleges in the country and even the world. Yet, for all the laurels the IITs have, there has been one particular problem that we’ve not been able to eliminate – student suicides.  

This was when I was in the middle of the most difficult semesters so far at IIT Madras; the semester that  was notorious for being a serious test of character for all students in my branch.  To everyone who knew me, I had the perfect life. I had an 8+ CGPA, I had been selected to attend an event outside for a couple of weeks, and I had landed as plum an internship a second-year student could hope for. Oh yes, I also had a girlfriend whom I had been dating for well over a year and a half. I had everything. I seemed pretty happy on the exterior. I was always an extrovert. And my energy levels were always at their peak. I remember my girlfriend even telling me: “How do you manage to radiate happiness like this?”, back when we first started dating.

But that was all on the outside. When I was alone in the confines of my room, there was something happening. It was a slow process. Ever since the first semester, my CGPA had been hovering in the mid 8s. Every semester I would make up my mind – “This sem I am going to focus. It is very simple, every weekend I just make sure I am up to date with all the subjects and I am through.”  It never happened. My GPA was very steadily decreasing and I was in my fourth sem – the 28-credit sem where it was do or die. Twenty-eight credits is a lot of weight, and moreover, that would be my final grade when I sit for the all-important internship interviews next semester.

My relationship with my girlfriend was also under great strain. We started fighting for the smallest of things and it became a perennial thing. Now, she would always confide all her problems to me. She would cry pretty often about many things and I would always be there for her – “radiating happiness”. However, my own concerns about my life and career put a lot of strain on me and I starting pouring out to her and she didn’t like it: “I need someone I can look up to. You used to be that person but now you’re wallowing in self pity”, is what she told me. We still stuck to it, but I knew I was wasting my time on her and (she was doing very well in her acads by the way) our fights kept happening more often. They started off about the most trivial of things and ended up with very intense altercations that eventually really hurt me. I never used to cry, not even during the pressure of JEE. But this hurt. I used to cry pretty often, but only in my room. I never bunked classes, but I started to.

Then in the middle of the semester, I attended the event. The time spent over there was the best in my life and I had felt so happy and my sense of self-worth was coming back. My usual cheeriness, infectious energy were back, and I was back to a point where I could sense that people around me were impressed. On the last day of the event, I remember thinking: “I am happy…I guess I was just being upset; when I go back things will get all right. I will have to work hard but eventually I will come out on top.” I smiled to myself…

How very wrong I was.

I returned, and there were barely a few weeks left for end semesters. I went and sat in class and I did not understand anything. It looked like my 28-credit semester was a total mess. My fights with my girlfriend sprouted right back up and my internship seemed suddenly in jeopardy as the concerned authorities, after giving me an acceptance letter, absconded. I needed a lot of documents in order to be able to get my visa, which I didn’t get and the last date passed.

Every day was pure agony. I would wake up in the morning, fight with her, go sit in class, where the whole day I would sit clueless, watching others answer things that seemed like alien language to me. Class after class, slot after slot, I would just sit…lost. Then I had to do a bunch of lab sessions alone to compensate. I had to study for my end semesters – I was in a desperate condition. At the same time, it was the season to apply for positions in Shaastra, Saarang and pretty much everything else. That was a pretty long-drawn process as we had to spend tons of time talking to previous year cords, cores and so on. I had missed all the common fundae sessions when I was away from insti, meaning I wasn’t updated. People at my internship didn’t respond to any mail…my mind was going into overdrive – what did I want to do in my life? My career? Was I squandering my IIT opportunity? How will I get where I want to go without CGPA, Positions of Responsibilities or anything? I was going to have a stud intern but that didn’t work out! What am I going to do this summer? How will I get any good intern next summer? What will happen to my placements? Which top university will accept me with an early-8-point CGPA (which was threatening to go even lower)? I pretty much hated every second of every day. The time I spent sleeping was the best part of my day.

Then it happened. She broke up saying I had just become too negative and that it scared her because I kept telling her “I wish I was never born”, “ I want to be someone else other than me”, “I just want to go to sleep tonight and never wake up… just die peacefully”.

She didn’t think I would do it. Neither did I. But one day I cracked. I bunked morning class, was crying in my room… I took a towel, tied it to the fan, tied a noose, apologized mentally to my parents and sister, and tried to hang myself…. I felt myself suffocate and I was somewhere halfway on the way of a blackout… I was seeing very weird images that were moving rapidly and I could never have said how much time went by because I was like that, but I still remember I felt like I was being pulled back into reality… I saw blood on the floor… I had physically injured myself. And I cried and I cried… because I was maimed forever and because I realized what I had done. I called my mother and I told her I had fallen down and hurt myself. She came rushing –  I am a localite – and we went to the doctor immediately. That evening at home, I told my parents what had actually happened and for the first time ever – and I mean ever – I saw my dad cry… and I died inside. Guilt and regret engulfed me and I wanted to beat myself up.

Things went severely downhill from there and I went into a major depression. None of my problems had been solved, end-sems were a few days away, my parents were worried sick, I couldn’t concentrate and I  felt so damn guilty. They made me a day scholar for at least the rest of the semester, and I didn’t want to worry them more so I had to pretend like I was doing okay, but I was not. Although I knew I was never going to attempt something like that ever again, I still wished I would somehow die. I wished for it every day. End-sems came and I could not concentrate. I couldn’t read more than a few words at a time and retain it. I had also lost someone I believed I was in love with. And I used to just keep pacing and thinking and thinking and thinking.

My parents would try to talk to me and try to ask what I am feeling. I would try to answer them for a bit, because, well, they deserved that I be honest with them. They started being very kind to me, no scolding whatsoever and that made me even more guilty and would make my heart beat faster with worry. As they tried to talk gently and figure out what’s going in my head, I would break and scream saying “STOP TRYING TO PLAY PSYCHIATRIST! I DON’T KNOW WHAT I WANT! I DON’T UNDERSTAND MYSELF SO PLEASE STOP TRYING TO UNDERSTAND ME!”  I would scream and cry and tear my shirt and cry even more… it was pure desperation. I was messed up and I didn’t know what I wanted and how I was going to fix anything – I felt I was doomed. They had told me they would not ask me one question about my grades. That all they cared about was that I be happy. But I cared about my grades! What will become of my career if I keep messing up semesters like this? I literally had to hold my dad’s hand for 13 hours continuously and keep reading the material for one particularly difficult end-sem to be able to get through half of the portions and go write the exam.  

When would this end? I had no idea. The end semesters were over and I had messed up. But suddenly, my internship came through and I went there and I still wasn’t happy. I had lost all interest in life and I was squandering this opportunity as well. I kept trying to talk to the girl as well during that period and her coldness shattered me. I remember calling my parents from halfway across the world over Skype and completely breaking down – “Help me… please… find a way for me to die! I am trapped because I can’t commit suicide – you guys will be hurt. But at the same time I can’t stand even a single second of my life and I do not want to live.”

Somehow they consoled me, and I started feeling better for the rest of the internship period. I returned to insti for the start of the new semester and every memory came flooding back, the hopeless days in the classrooms, the solitary desperation in my room…I contacted her again, and again I was shattered… I was crying at home from 1 am to 3 am when my mom woke up and saw me and she broke too. Then she decided – we were going to go to a psychiatrist. There was nothing else to do but that. It was just the second day of college and I bunked the whole day – I went to a psychiatrist and spoke – for 7 hours straight.  And so it went on and on and I started my slow, painful recovery process. Talking to the psych was helping. I kept relapsing every now and then, and it required great deal of mental strength to decide that I was going to get over it… and eventually, I did.

I am completely sane now and I have never been happier! I am here, my mind is completely here, in this moment and I feel like I am finally becoming closer to my friends and I am having a positive outlook on everything. I was lucky enough to survive the stupid suicide attempt and managed with a hell of a lot of support from friends and family to get through the herculean task of emerging from the abyss that was in my mind. Not everyone is this lucky.

I heard a lot people say today:“People who commit suicide are cowards! I don’t feel sorry for them.”  Guys, it’s not that simple. There is a lot more to a person’s internal conflict that anyone can ever realize. It’s an abyss. But here’s what I learned from my experience –

People at IIT are very susceptible to stress. Everyone here is under tremendous pressure to do amazing things in life. Different people handle it differently, and most people manage to combat it, but some don’t. That does not make them weak or cowardly. It actually takes a great deal of courage to attempt suicide – it’s not as easy to take a life as movies would have us believe. We somehow have to make people realize that all problems will pass and if people just stay strong, there will come a time when their problems seem small.  

 

People in depression do not talk. They don’t want to be perceived as weak. They create a facade of being fine and suffer in silence… I hasten to tell the entire student community at IIT Madras, and beyond, that it is absolutely essential that they confide in their friends and, more importantly, their parents.There is never anything to be ashamed of! People are afraid to tell their parents for fear of being scolded or whatever but trust me they care more than anyone else. Even if they think what you’ve done is wrong, when they see you in distress they are ONLY going to want to do anything to help! TALK to them.

 

There is also a stigma in talking to psychiatrists. Talking to a psychiatrist does not mean you are insane! All a psychiatrist does is to help you get clarity of thought! Trust me, it works. They are people who are professionally trained and have seen many many people with similar problems. TALK PEOPLE, TALK!

 

Depression is not something that’s dark or taboo. It’s just a state where someone is overwhelmed by their problems and aren’t quite able to deal with it on their own. It’s as simple as that. It’s very normal, and we need to remove this idea that it’s something really bad; so that we can talk about it, accept it and then get out of it

 

As IITians, we know better than anyone that any problem can be solved if we really apply ourselves and go through the pain of recovery. It’s hard. But take it from a person who can talk both from the perspective of a person who attempted suicide and from that of someone who overcame depression – we will always find a way to be happy. It’s human nature.

I prefer to be anonymous because I do not want any sympathy or people’s perception of me to change.  I also want to express my heartfelt condolences and deepest regret to the families of the people who unfortunately weren’t as lucky as mine.

Finally, I really really need to thank my closest friends at IIT and my parents and my psychiatrist for giving me a new life.

It is always darkest just before dawn.


This article appeared on T5E originally on October 20th. There have been very minor edits, if any to speak of, from the original version. Please do write to t5e.iitm@gmail.com if you would like to share your story or opinions on the state of mental health on the campus.

Disclaimer: All the opinions expressed in this article are those of the individual authors only. The Fifth Estate does not endorse any of the views mentioned in the article. The views are not to be construed in any manner as the official views of IIT Madras.
Content copyright: The Fifth Estate, IIT-M's Student Media Body. For permissions to reuse part or whole of the content, email us at t5e.iitm@gmail.com

Comments

  1. Thanks for opening up to the insti people.I agree that students are under a lot of pressure to perform.The difference is how they choose to deal with the problems. I also feel that insti has a great role to play in mental well being of the students.Though mitr people’s work is commendable, courses like those offered by prof.Devdas Menon should be taken up by other profs and promote students mental well being.

  2. Concerns from several quarters? We all know what quarter that is. What message does this give to students of the institute? It was a well timed article and more of them should be out here.
    Why are we so hung up about not damaging the repute of the institute, instead of being hung up about not damaging the students ? I am disgusted by the way everything is happening here.

    1. No one is damaging the students,a single persons words is not the entire students voice, my take is that words which blame institute must be checked unless they are true, i am very sure majority of students support that, i really appreciate the person for opening up and helping a lot of people who might be facing similar problems, but what i see is majority of students who suicide or attempt suicide is because of girl friend issues, so how can someone blame institute for relationship issues, so when such false accusations appear i think it is we students who must protect our institute reputation. to add i know a guy who attempted suicide but was saved by his friend, so when questioned why he did so he mentioned academics, personally we all knew it was girlfriend issue, but officially its academic and the reason he did so was escape from his parents,. so let us think twice before blaming anyone…

  3. Why does these several quarters objected on the content of this article?I saw that condolence message from insti gen sec and so called prayer meeting for departed souls,Is it just me or they sent this only after two student have done suicide in 1 month,what is that buy one get one! There was discussion for Nagendra Reddy’s parents financial status,even a hostel level fund collection but when the volunteers went to insti level they said NO, Sorry to be blunt about this this is just pathetic attempt to avoid a discussion or any supportive action from inst authorities on this matter.

  4. As a person who has been in the system and exposed to a few, if not more of the growing pains the author mentions, I think it would be good to be aware of the inadequacies that exist to reflect and introspect the roots of these.

    1. Expectations from society – Ranging from parents, the uncle who appoints you as your niece’s role model, friends from school, everyone thinks or at-least gives you the impression that you are special, leading to an additional burden on your weathered shoulders when on a lean patch.This breeds,when faced with blips, a fear of shattering the illusion of being “The One”. This coupled with being surrounded by high achievers makes you feel less worth than you leading to a lack of self worth, which is dangerous since it furthers your lack of confidence.

    2.Late exposure to adolescent problems – Thanks to the grotesque manner in which the preparation for the induction into IITs take place, through coaching classes, often dubbed as factories, a large proportion of students do not get exposed to relationships, girl problems in a natural manner with very little balance kept on growing holistically as a person. These pent up emotions that are brushed under the mat then manifest with increased severity making them inept and to the point of disabled while dealing with these new problems.

    3.Glorification of success and achievements – This is an internal issue, where the student community lacks the right approach to failure. Failure in college, personally is the best learning that a student can get, however, there is little regard for people who are on the fringes of the rat race and exploring themselves and life. “Becoming a stud”,”Fancy internship”,”Girl dates”, “8+ CG” take precedence over figuring your purpose in life or the institute.

    What could help, is to foster, through baby steps the notion that “IITians”are regular people who are technically more adept and prioritized studying for a competitive exam in their college days and remove the sensationalism of “IIT suicides”, “IIT pay packages” etc., and as a student, learn to strike the balance between being aspirational versus looking for hollow institute laurels.

  5. I am not sure why we have Professors heading the counseling department. These are the very guys we are afraid of and they are the ones we need to approach when we need help? Why can’t we have a semi-professional set up? The student coordinators and volunteers will still be there but they will be working under the guidance of a professional psychiatrist, rather than under the profs who understand shit about us. Not sure whether this will work out or not but worth a shot.

    1. Couple of years back, when the medall was solely dealing with students(who were in distress), all they could do was help students internally, like medication, councelling etc. But, with professor coming into the picture, with the help of psychiatrist the student is also gets external help also, like say you have bring some kind of negotiations with the concerned faculty when things go out of hand, help in academics for under performing students etc…( which are plenty off course). This helps students internally as well as the external burdens lightened up.
      I think it was way successful…