The Downward Spiral
2016 has been a very trying year for me. Sure, many good things happened: I graduated from college, I traveled to Iceland, and I landed a job that I really, really wanted. But you know how it is: one grave bad thing — and man do I have more than one!— can easily overpower ten good ones.
I should ideally be writing this once I have some sort of confirmation that things are finally looking up, but that time doesn’t seem very far now, and I can almost see the light at the end of this tunnel. Plus, for reasons I don’t yet completely understand, I have an urge to share all of this with those who are close to me.
Part I: The Friend Who Needed Help OR Being at the Right place at the Right Time
It is not a “normal thing” to have a friend with suicidal tendencies. Dealing with someone in such a condition is not something you ever think about preparing for. I could never imagine that I would find myself there, until one day, I was. What made the situation even more delicate was that we were all away from home in a different country, and Alex’s parents were unaware of the extent of his misery. And that’s what good friends do right? We keep secrets.
But this was no ordinary secret. It was potentially a matter of life and death, and the pressure was immense. You know what’s one ugly thing a person with suicidal tendencies can start doing, perhaps subconsciously? He can start leveraging the threat of suicide to get things his own way — even things that might be nasty for him. And you don’t want to try denying his wishes because you perceive such a high risk.
I must admit, I have given in to his wishes more than once. And perhaps things would have continued along the same dark path had I not shared this burden with another close friend. He listened to me intently, and spoke very little in response. His few words were enough to open my eyes: “friends cannot take such kind of responsibility. If anything happens to him, you will be haunted your whole life.” Something had to be done. Someone had to do something.
A few days pass without any incident, and I am moving along slowly with other things in my life. Then one fine Saturday afternoon, I learn from Alex’s roommate that his threats are becoming ultimate — the kind where you are literally two steps from jumping down three stories.
Sunday now. What should I do?
I decide to meet with Alex’s roommate and we instantly agree that it’s high time that family gets involved in the matter. The roommate calls Alex’s uncle who, without any hesitation, assures us that he will get there by Tuesday evening. Yes! — a breakthrough. We are almost done here and soon the matter will be in better, more qualified hands. But could Monday prove to be risky?
Alex’s roommate was supposed to start a new job from that Monday. These apparently realistic suicidal tendencies were displayed when the roommate was around. Could Alex be trusted not to hurt himself if left alone for nine hours? The thought of taking this chance was very unsettling.
I don’t know why or how, but the realization that there exists a suicide prevention helpline dawned upon me. Clearly, there was no harm in giving them a call. After a pretty lengthy telephonic conversation with lots of explaining, the roommate and I did not learn anything we didn’t know already: “why take a chance?” Perhaps having a “professional” corroborate our understanding of the situation and proposed action gave us the necessary confidence. And then, took place the incident.
We decided to call the cops. They would take Alex to a facility where he would be safe until his family arrived. Unsurprisingly, this was not going to be Alex’s first time at such a place, and boy he hated it! I volunteered to make the call.
Alex comes back home. He must not know what’s cooking. I step out of the apartment and go up one flight of stairs to make the call.
Every second on the phone feels like a minute. I have to answer several questions, and understandably so, but I just keep wishing that it gets over now. There is considerable echo in the stairway. My voice can be heard rather clearly outside Alex’s door. He asks his roommate about me, and comes out to find me. He needs to hear only a few words of my conversation to figure out what’s going on. He rushes upstairs and jumps on me. We fight for the phone. He wants to throw it outside the building. I shout into the phone as fast as I can: “he is fighting me to take the phone! Send someone ASAP!”
The fight is futile now. The cops already have everything they need to get here and he knows it. He cannot run. He withdraws and walks down the stairs: “they’ll take me to that place! I hate it! If anything happens to me now it will be all your fault!” I am a little shocked, but nevertheless relieved that the grappling is over. I soon follow, replaying his last statement in my head. Suddenly, my worst fear is taking shape: if he dies now, is it all going to be my fault?
I enter the apartment to find his bedroom door half open. Alex is sitting at his desk with his bottle of meds in his hand. He yells at me: “why did you have to do this?! I was not going to do anything!” I rebuke him, reminding him of latest “attempts.” “Well, then if you are so worried then stay with me!”
I am shaking, and a quick wave of guilt comes and goes. I go out into the hallway and notice multiple cop cars stationed outside. Somewhat relieved, I go back in.
A few seconds later, an officer enters the apartment. Apparently, he and Alex have met before. The officer walks straight into Alex’s room. The roommate and I hear the conversation outside.
Officer: what’s going on, Alex?
Alex: Nothing, Officer… It’s just that my friends are freaking out.
What?! Is Alex going to try and bluff this? After everything that has happened over the last three days? Are we going to be taken for fools?! I cannot believe this.
Officer (sternly): Well, why do you have so many meds laid out in front of you? What were you going to do?
Alex: Nothing… I…
Officer: Come with us Alex. It’ll be alright.
Meanwhile, another officer comes in and asks the roommate and me about the situation. We tell him that Alex is lying, and to pay no heed to his bluff. We ramble on about the threats, the attempts, the things he said — everything. And then screaming starts inside.
Officer (now loudly): Look buddy, we can either do this the easy way, or you know it!
I cannot bear this. It is all too much. I dash outside, down the stairs, and find myself two buildings away. I can still hear the screaming. It’s doing something inside my chest. It’s making me sink inside. I want to throw up.
Silence, now. It’s over.
I go back to the apartment. The roommate, Shaw, is still talking to the other officer. I stand next to them. I keep asking Shaw about Alex to make sure he is no longer inside. I would literally run away if I had to face him now. The officer is constantly trying to convince us that we took the right step. Every time he says it, I can tell that both Shaw and I feel a little better. But that ounce of solace is lost as soon as he stops saying it. We get more questions, even an official statement that we must write. Despite my inability to focus right now, I carefully craft my statement as if somebody could call me out on it. Shortly thereafter, the officers leave. I shut the door behind them. It’s just the two of us now.
Hearing from another person that you “did the right thing” makes you feel better no matter the extent of your own doubt. Shaw and I spent nearly two hours together afterwards. It didn’t need mentioning, but we both knew that we were trying to make each other feel less miserable. However, it was clearly not working. “We need a third person,” I thought.
It was close to midnight when we decided to go for a walk. We were talking about anything and everything to distract ourselves. An old friend’s name sprung up in the conversation, and suddenly I had found my “third person.”
At first, Shaw didn’t believe me: “are you serious?” “Yeah, just call her. Tell her we’ve both lost our minds and we need to hang out NOW!” He was still surprised. I was determined that this will work, so I dialed her number anyway and put the speakerphone on. We told her that something really bad had happened and that we need another person to be with us. Given the hour and her generally busy work-life, she was reluctant. Nevertheless, I convinced her to meet us for a few minutes if we drive to her place.
So we got in Shaw’s car and he drove us to her place. We met her outside and walked to a nearby park to sit down on the cold grass. We recalled some good old times. Whenever she sensed that one of us was getting quiet, she consoled us by saying that we did the best we could and that there was no reason to feel bad. I spotted a children’s playground in the distance and left them both on the grass for a while. It was very relaxing to swing on the swing and to climb up and down the poles and to hop around the play area. I was convinced that I was out of it.
We drive back to Alex’s place. I leave Shaw, pick up my car and head home. I reach my apartment and suddenly I really want to talk to my mother and tell her everything. There is something magical about getting confirmation from your parents. One reassuring sentence from my father is literally equivalent to three days of overcoming by myself. Unfortunately, I can not get a hold of them. So I decide to just fall asleep, and I tell myself that tomorrow will be a much better day.
I lay down on my bed. Slowly, it is all coming back. I try as hard as I can to push it away, but it eventually gets to me. What do I do? I am certain that sharing my feelings with my parents will put an end to this, but I cannot reach them. It was at this point that my mind played its most devilish trick of the night.
Allow me to digress a little. It had not been very long since I had gotten out of a great relationship with a wonderful woman. I usually try to stay away from Caffeine, but back when we were together, something very strange had occurred:
Once after an all-nighter, I had something important to attend to in the morning. I drank a big mug of strong coffee to help me get through it. That same evening, I had plans with Jules, the girlfriend. As the morning Caffeine started to wear out by late afternoon, I became worried about being tired and sleepy for my date with Jules. So I tried to repeat the magic: a full bottle of Coke downed. I was up and running again.
I picked up Jules and we came back to my place. I decided to lay down for a bit, and as I was, there was something extremely satisfying about staring at the lamp in the ceiling. I got lost. The next thing I knew, I was crying. I could not control it. It was coming out in unstoppable spurts. I could not pause to say anything. I had no idea what was happening to me, to my body. Was it the result of Caffeine and an extended lack of sleep?
At this point, if I were Jules, I would have probably ran out. But she handled me extremely well. She helped me let it all out until it stopped. She held me and comforted me. During all that crying, I was worried about the impression that I was making: “what would Jules think? What am I doing?” But I could not stop. She was calm and brave in that moment. Not only was I grateful to her, but also proud of how understanding and supportive my partner was.
Since that day, probably in an iota of my memory, it was engrained that if nobody else can help me or make me feel better, Jules can.
Fast-forward back to me laying in my bed the night of Alex’s incident. I desperately needed someone to talk to, to make me feel better. It didn’t take long for that iota to reveal itself, and to convince me to overlook the fact that Jules and I were not even friends anymore. So I texted her at 3 A.M. on impulse saying that I needed to meet.
You see why I call that a “devilish trick?”
To my pleasant surprise, she was awake. My instincts kept telling me that she would understand and that she would agree to see me. But it was not fair of me to expect that, and that is exactly what she had to say. I pushed again, believing that she would come to my rescue if I further expressed my distress. However, before she could read another one of my calls for help, she fell asleep.
I don’t know if I slept at all that night. I only remember the tossing and turning and the sunrise. The night had passed but I was yet to face the music, the consequences of my actions. Nevertheless, I may have saved someone’s life. I happened to be at the right place at the right time.
Part II coming soon..