Words by Tricia Ferdinandt. Illustration by Ummairah Shariff.
[Trigger warning for suicidal ideation.]
I am 20 years old, and my life is pretty okay. There aren’t many reasons for me to be down. I have classmates who I hang out with after school, people I can have a light chat with, and a few close friends who’ve seen me at my most vulnerable. I’m sure you know what I mean - there are the people you chit chat with over lunch and there are the people who you can ugly cry in front of without feeling embarrassed.
I’m happy at home talking to my two sisters and my helper who I am especially close to. I call my grandfather once a day to check up on him. He nags at me a lot which gets a little annoying at times, but I know it comes from a place of care.
I do volunteer work on the side which gives my life a lot of meaning. One of my dreams is to be a beauty blogger and a certified professional makeup artist. I love to create and express myself through different forms of art. Writing is another passion. It isn’t something that comes easy as it often takes a toll on my mental health. Although my writers’ block has been rather frustrating the last few months, writing is nonetheless something I enjoy immensely.
On the outside, I’m a functional, “normal” teeanger. In reality, I am far from it.
Sometimes, even leaving the house seems like an insurmountable task. I have days where I skip school because it’s just too much for me to handle. Feeling self-conscious about the way I look or thinking of having to interact with people - things that might not seem like a big deal to other people - can fill me with debilitating anxiety.
Working while having anxiety and depression is another challenge. The retail industry can be unforgiving at times. The long hours, demanding customers and physical exhaustion make work really draining. I find myself signing up for many programs and then bailing at the last minute because I can’t bring myself to go to them, no matter how much I want to. It’s a horrible habit that I am trying my best to nip in the bud. Juggling work and school has been so emotionally exhausting for me. Being a human is hard so much of the time.
There are times I don’t have a reason to be down, I just am. That’s difficult for a lot of people to understand, but feeling depressed and having depression are not the same thing. I have this thing where if I go to bed at night feeling down, my body oversleeps the next day. I guess in a way, my body does that to protect me. I have tried to open up to a few people about this but not many understand. I don’t expect them to, but I do wish they’d stop seeing me as someone lazy and irresponsible. I know that some people around me care about what I’m going through but they just don’t know what to do or say. And I don’t blame them; I just wish they would see how hard I try to get through each day.
One day, I felt really overwhelmed after my shift during an internship. When the dark thoughts started coming in, everything else in my mind seemed to fade out. In all honesty, I believe that when I think about wanting to die, it’s because I’m too afraid to live. I fear that this pain won’t go away, that things won’t look up for me. I wish I had the perfect Instagram-filtered life that everyone around me seems to have. The thought of wanting to leave the world drowns out everything else. At times like this, I have to be especially careful of who I talk to as I am afraid of being hurt, triggered or made to feel more broken than before. I've been hurt before in the few occasions where I reached out to friends who did not have the patience to deal with me.
That day, I scrolled through my contact list multiple times to find someone to call or text. I always do this but never actually get in touch with anyone because I barely talk to half the people on there, and I didn’t want to call anyone close to me again because I was worried that they would either be irritated or feel as helpless as I was feeling at that moment.
That was when I decided to call the suicide hotline. The few times I’d tried this before, I’d hung up immediately after dialing the number. I could never muster up the courage to even say “hello”. Each time, I’d try and convince myself that my situation wasn’t that bad, that there were probably people out there who needed the help more urgently than I did. But this time, I dialed the hotline number and waited for someone to answer. I was so nervous. I didn’t know what to say. How do you tell a complete stranger about the dark thoughts in your head over the phone, just like that?
A lady with the calmest, the most soothing voice picked up. It took me everything not to hang up that very moment. I didn’t want someone to tell me what they thought I should do to solve my problems. I didn’t need someone to tell me that things would get better. I just needed someone to listen. And this lady did.
We talked on the phone for almost an hour about all the things that were causing me distress. I told her about the toxic “friends” I had in my life who made me feel horrible about myself. I told her about the dreams and ambitions I had for myself and how stressed I was that I couldn't live up to my own expectations. I told her about the times in my life when I had been bullied and teased, and how those experiences had left a mark to this day. I told her about how I would lash out and hurt people with my words when I was upset, and how horrible and guilty I felt afterwards for doing that to the people who cared about me.
“You’re not a horrible person.”
I hadn’t realised how much I needed to hear that. It was as if she had given me a tight, warm hug. She was a complete stranger who knew nothing about me, yet she chose to see the good in me, which made me feel hopeful. She never interrupted or said, “hey, we’re running out of time here”. She did not try to make me see some sort of silver lining. She did not give me advice on how to fix my problems. She just gave me the space to voice them out.
She was careful and meticulous with her words. They were uplifting, comforting and filled with warmth. I could feel her care and concern even over the phone. She made me feel as if it was okay to feel the way I was feeling. She listened to me in a way where I felt heard.
Sometimes, that’s all we need - someone who will just listen. Someone who cares enough to hold space for us to feel all our ugly, messy feelings. That phone call I made was months ago, but I will never forget it.
I don’t know this lady’s name or anything about her, but thank you. You saved my life.
Tricia is a Singaporean-Indian blogger. An aspiring makeup and henna artist, she was born and raised in the Lion City. She is of Malayalee, Hindustani and Tamil descent and her roots lie in the plains of Kerala, Uttar Pradesh and Tamil Nadu. When she is not studying or working to pay the bills, she spends her time binge-watching makeup tutorials and sipping on chai. Read more of her writing on beauty, culture, fashion, feminism and mental health at xotricia.wordpress.com.
Ummairah is a self-taught illustrator who is currently doing her Bachelor's in Culture and Design. Previously the Head Designer of The Local Rebel, she dabbles in all sorts of designs and doodles. When not illustrating, she is on Pinterest looking for more inspiration.