As a psychology student, some themes have always fascinated me. Suicide happens to be one of them. What fascinates me more than the deed itself is that how difficult it is to understand how someone is feeling internally by his/her outward behavior. Sometimes it’s almost as if our inner and outer self are two different personalities.
The campus was very impressive. In a society full of stigmas and notions about mental disorders, this institution was a sign of rebellion and belief. Most people would say that it was unwise for someone to invest so much money in a place that would cure diseases that half the country didn’t even believe existed. There were so many more pressing problems – cancer, for one. Malaria, AIDS, TB and endless other deadly diseases. Then there was the lack of emergency units, even in the metropolitan cities. But despite this, someone had decided that Major depressive disorder was just as alarming a problem as suicide itself.
It had a different wing for every major disorder (or umbrella of disorders) – Depression, Panic and anxiety, Personality disorders, Mood disorders and Psychotic and dissociative disorders. Then there was a suicide and addiction wing. Probably more crowded that every other wing put together. The addiction wing was also the only one that was partly funded by the government, so it wasn’t as expensive as everything else.
I was one of the interns who was offered the opportunity to come here every day for a week and interact with patients from a wing of my choice. We were a group of 8 interns. Our hospital felt that our work and insight was a little better than the others. So here we were.
Although I had planned on selecting the Psychotic dissociative disorders wing, mainly because I had a lot of interest in Dissociative Identity Disorder, I decided on going for the suicide wing at the last moment. I don’t know why I did that, I had been planning on interacting with a DID patient ever since I had been told I’d be coming here. Maybe it was because I saw an extremely cheerful patient as soon as I entered and wondered whether she was being discharged, only to later see her being escorted into the suicide wing by two nurses. I had always imagined suicidal people to be depressed, dismal and miserable. Like they couldn’t wait for a chance to step over the line and end it. It seems like no one, not even the students of psychology, are free from the clutches of stereotyping.
As I walked into the wing, I saw all sorts of people going about their daily routine. Some were there truly to get rid of their suicidal tendencies and get better. Usually suicidal tendencies stem from somewhere, mostly from depression but there can be other causes too. Not everyone who commits suicide (or attempts it) is depressed. Some with bipolar disorder may attempt suicide during one of their manic stages believing it to be an act of extreme grandeur. Thanks to ancient literature, suicide has a certain amount of heroic romanticism attached to it. Some others may just be in a terrible mess and can’t find the resources to cope with it. Some may just have attempted it in the heat of the moment. However, once the root cause presents itself, most of these patients are reassigned to the respective wings or prescribed outpatient counselling.
Some patients were also admitted by their families, who had been witness to so many false alarms that they simply could not leave it to fate anymore. Some of those families were there, and their worried faces had only one thing to say – “We don’t know what to do anymore”.
Those patients didn’t want to be here. They just wanted out, and wanted to exit this life. They would probably be the most ardent advocates of euthanasia that you would ever come across. But having been admitted without any choice, they did everything they could to either 1) commit suicide within these walls or 2) find a way to escape. The second part included behaving either too well or too bad. The doctors however, were far too experienced to let their act fool them.
As I walked further on, I saw that girl once again. She was sitting in her room reading her book. On the outset, I didn’t think there was anything wrong with her. She seemed so normal, for the lack of a better word. Her room, luckily, was right in front of the central garden, so she was free to go out for a walk anytime she wanted. Her room looked pretty organized as well, at least, her side of the room did. I really wanted to talk to her, to know how she had landed up here. But first I needed to go meet the wing head, Dr. Mohan Raathi.
He was a renowned psychologist in the city. I had heard from a lot of people that he his method of therapy wasn’t just limited to deep breathing and yoga, but an actual in depth analysis of each patient’s problems and history. I walked into his office to find him scribbling something in a notebook. I knocked lightly at his office door. He looked up and nodded.
“Ah yes, you’re an intern from the hospital aren’t you? Yes, the dean told me some of you would be coming”
I smiled and nodded, “Yes, I’m Neeti. I would like to interact with some of your patients here. Get some practical experience..a reality check..”
He smiled back, “If only our education system could look beyond the books, right?”
“You just need to fill out this form, my assistant will manage the rest. Then you can go ahead and meet the patients”
After finishing up the form, I thanked him and exited his office. At once, I walked back to that girl’s room and knocked. She looked up at me and to my surprise, smiled.
“Hi, I’m Neeti. I’m a psychology intern. I’m here to interact with you, understand your story”
She kept smiling at me and said, “Okay. But there is nothing to understand, really. I don’t belong here. I’m not suicidal at all”
That’s what I had thought too, the first time I saw her. She had looked reasonably happy and positive – definitely not the type of person who was suicidal. But then, how did she end up here?
She seemed to read my mind, and said, “I have been put here by my family. As filmy as it may sound, but the truth is that my dad died and left me all his property. My mother left us when I was a kid. I don’t know where she is now. My relatives were expecting something too, but he didn’t leave a dime to their name. The only way they can get all the property to themselves is by proving my insanity. Well, that didn’t happen as all the psychiatrists gave a positive report on all accounts. So their last option was to prove me suicidal. I’m just waiting for the compulsory 30 days to end before this drama stops and I can go back home”
She ended her story there and there was silence. It did sound extremely filmy, and normally I would have disregarded it as just another attempt to fool the authorities to let her out, but I simply couldn’t ignore my gut that said that this one was actually true. Some part of me kept telling me she didn’t belong here. Maybe it was the same instinct that had always made me stand out.
I finally decided to end the silence, “So..you’re saying you’ve never attempted suicide in your life?”
“No, I haven’t”
“But you need to present some proof to the authorities before they can admit you. They can’t just admit you on someone’s word”
“Well.., this one day I was at home and everyone was out. I was having a terrible headache. It was almost blinding. I went to my bua’s room and rummaged around for some OTC pills. I found a container that said ‘For headache’ and took 2 pills. But those were not headache pills. She used to keep her anti-psychotic medication in that container. Apparently it was very strong. Although it wasn’t lethal enough to harm me in any way, it gave them an excuse to admit me here”
I stared at her, looking for any tells. But there weren’t any. She stared resolutely back at me, almost like daring me to find any sign that she was lying. I didn’t know what to think. I had walked in here expecting to hear an extra-ordinary tale of some serious disorder like Bipolar or borderline, and had come across a possibly healthy person who her family had conspired against.
“When were you admitted in this wing?”, I asked
“It’s been 10 days. I haven’t seen a more depressing place in my life. I wish I could help these people in some way”
At this point I suddenly realized that I had not even asked her name. I was so engrossed in figuring out the puzzle that I didn’t even realize that she wasn’t an experiment. I mentally frowned at myself and immediately said, “Sorry, I didn’t even ask what your name was..”
She gave a bittersweet smile and said, “It’s okay. I’m Smita”
“It’s nice to meet you, Smita. I can’t say if I believe you completely, but I don’t think you’re lying either”
She nodded, “It’s nice to hear that. I haven’t heard that a lot”
“Well, I should get going. But I’ll come meet you again tomorrow, if that’s okay with you”
“Sure. I’m sick of people looking at me like I’m some sort of a weakling. It would be nice to have a normal conversation for once”
I smiled at her, “I know what that feels like. I’ve had people look at me like a retard half my life”
She laughed lightly as I got up. I said bye to her and exited her room. I don’t understand. Her story sounds far fetched but it didn’t seem like she was lying at all. There was so much plight in her voice. With these thoughts swirling in my head, I walked back towards Dr. Mohan’s office. I had to see her file. I knocked for the second time at his door. He looked up and beckoned me in.
“Doctor, I’ve just visited a patient named Smita. Would it be possible for you to show me her file?”
He sighed, “I’ll have to ask her family. If they’re okay with it, I’ll give it to you. But..” he paused, “Dr. Neeti, what has she been telling you?”