When gap between aspirations and what’s attainable is unbridgeable, discontent becomes all-consuming
Quite sometime ago, Stanford University had coined a term called “duck syndrome” to describe performance anxieties of its students. Essentially it means gliding effortlessly on water, head held high, a picture of skimming grace while paddling fiercely underwater like the duck. Today’s suicide spiral, brought home by the deaths of celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain, designer Kate Spade and spiritual healer Bhaiyyu Maharaj, approximates this condition. Of wearing a smile and suppressing raging conflicts that are undetectable. Amid all talk about depression being a chronic epidemic in most countries, what is largely being ignored is the tipping point of suicide, something that is becoming increasingly difficult to diagnose as it claims high profile achievers, who are supposedly free of known stressors but who just give into a monstrous moment of soul-crashing descent. Designer Kate Spade was desperate enough to use her own scarf while Bourdain used a bathrobe belt, the case files hardly having any evidence of their state of mind. Psychologists these days are panning the perfection obsession among achievers or anybody chasing it down to its granular consistency. It is not enough to have the riches, fame and company. As actor Jim Carrey said, you may have all and still not be happy or feel fulfilled enough. The problem with being too gifted and evolved is that you do not want even a stray aberration to disrupt that crafted balance and can develop extreme sensitivities to life events. In Spade’s case it was the idea of defeat as her husband walked out on her, in Bourdain’s it was probably about being trapped in his self-saturated world, stuck in a hopelessness of stasis, wondering if his life was worth more meaningful goals. For Bhaiyyu Maharaj, who seemingly commanded the art of living, a family crisis seemed to have challenged his entire raison d’etre. As Bourdain himself put it so succinctly about the hunger to set a benchmark, “life is complicated. It’s filled with nuance. It’s unsatisfying… If I believe in anything, it is doubt. The root cause of all life’s problems is looking for a simple answer.” This then explains the rise in urban suicides globally where the reasons may not stem simply from economic exigencies, emotional alienation, loss or death of loved ones and loneliness but more prominently a sense of waste and self-imposed irrelevance simply because the victims were tired of the beauty they had created and lived by. Aspiration is no longer gettable but one that is unattainable. Disappointment, therefore, has become all-consuming.
It is worrying for India because it has the world’s highest suicide rate among 15 to 29-year-olds, the performer generation so to speak, according to the WHO. The same report found suicide to be the leading cause of death among young Indian women, overtaking deaths during childbirth. The highest suicide rates are from South India, which generally tops the country’s education and economic benchmarks. Counselling and therapy, therefore, need a complete overhaul in explaining the diversity and fullness of life rather than its excellence, with processes based on empathy rather than clinical diagnosis. Although India has put a mental health policy in place only recently, though with just 0.06 of the health budget, it needs to learn some practical lessons from Argentina. That country has the distinction of being home to more psychologists per capita than anywhere else in the world. Almost half the country’s psychologists are in the capital of Buenos Aires and walking into a clinic is free of stigma, as common as consulting a doctor for common cold. We cannot just assign ourselves nothingness in this world and hope the afterlife will rescue us from pain. For as Tolstoy believed, “As long as there is life, there is happiness. There is a great deal still to come.”
Writer & Courtesy: The Pioneer