(This is the longest blog post I’ve ever written. So fair warning, it is 3118 words long. The length of two standard chapters in my novels.)
I had a friend. Actually, we were more of classmates and rivals than anything. To protect his privacy, I’ll call him Ah Da. And my last story with him is the biggest regret that I will ever, ever hold on to in my life. Also, I’m posting this on Facebook. This will be the first time I’ll be sharing my mental illness directly there. So, hello my friends and family. My name is Aden Ng Jun Xiang, and I have Bipolar Disorder. Because of my story with Ah Da, I am now a suicide survivor, in every single sense of the phrase. And this is the mundane, everyday story of the last time we met, and how his life and death changed everything.
My hopes that by writing this, I can offer some form of closure or consolation to his friends and families who may still be wondering why he did what he did. Help them fill up some of the gaps that may have been left. It’s three years late, but I hope I can still make someone better.
Truth be told, this was one of the stories I had intended to carry in my heart to my grave, only to be spoken cryptically in my therapy sessions. But I have insomnia tonight, and was looking back on my Facebook timeline, when I realized something that I had mistaken about my friend, Ah Da. The last time I saw him was two weeks before his suicide. And this realization broke me. Because now, I have no doubt in my mind that I had the chance to save him, and failed so miserably that I am now alive today. Because until now, I’ve always thought the last time we met was three months before his death, a phenomenon I’ll explain later. But because of the time gap, I was unable to picture the full story that lead to his death, and how much of a part I might have played in it. But I can now.
Ah Da and I were in the same class for awhile in my polytechnic days. He was the go-getter. The person everyone turned to for advice on lessons. He was one of the A students, one of the stronger academics in class, as were I. We created a rapport from there, as during Q&As, we were capable of hitting off each other easily, simply because we were both logical and, in a sense, I guess, smart. Well, he was smart. I was just trying really, really hard to get a good grade. There was this one lesson where he brought with him a newspaper clipping of himself from his younger days. It was about when he was a delinquent who was saved by a passionate teacher. I’m not sure how many people he shared that story with, but I was one of them. From what I knew of him, he had a rough history as well, and was doing his best to become a better person. In those aspects, I think we were similar, and I always held high respect for him as the guy I wanted to become. Charismatic, smart, on the road to success despite a bad past. A good man.
In our last year in school, something happened to the both of us. Something that changed everything. At about the same time, we were both depressed. And we were both considering suicide. As usual, he succeeded where I failed. The reason why I’ve kept this story to myself for so long was that my memory of that long year had been a blur. I was so depressed that my sense of time during that whole year of 2011 was completely messed up. It’s a miracle I managed to function enough to graduate with good grades. But I had always remembered being told about his death in September, even though now looking back, that was an impossible date to happen. But that’s what happens when you’re suicidally depressed. Even your basic sense of time gets twisted, and it’s a year that I’m not particularly fond about remembering, and have been shutting it behind ever since. So imagined my shock today, when looking back on my timeline on Facebook, I realized he had passed away in June, 3 months before my memory. And most importantly, just a few weeks after I last saw him.
I remembered the very day we last met. It was a cloudy Friday and we have all just finished our end semester test. I was depressed, staring down at my feet as I crossed the road, wishing a car would just run me over. Then, as I was cutting across the field towards the train station, Ah Da walked up to my side and greeted me. I can’t, for the life of me, remember what he said to me. I knew he was dating someone from our school, a person I knew too, and wondered why she wasn’t with him. I remembered having that very thought crept up to me, only to be shoved away as I was too swallowed up by my misery. I realized he wasn’t as cheerful as usual, but couldn’t focus on asking him any questions more complex than “How was school?”. We walked mostly in silence. We didn’t talk much. I remembered laughing, just a little bit, at a joke he told me. I also told him the news about a man who died after he vaulted off a rail and fell three stories down while trying to escape the cops. In hindsight, that was probably not the best story to tell.
There were two sidewalks to the station, a fork in the road. We split up. He took the left, and I took the right in my stupid quest to be alone. I thought he was joining up with his friends, but glanced back only to see that he continued in solitude. It was out of character. It was weird. It rang every single senses in my body to go talk to him. But I never did. I ignored the one time my instincts were right because I was too swallowed up by my depression. That weekend, I got drunk for the first and last time in my life. I got so drunk I couldn’t think straight. I got so drunk that I trashed my room, and I cried myself to sleep. Three weeks later, I got the news that he had died. And that is the short story of the last time I saw him. An ordinary walk home, taken by two people on the verge of death. Side by side. Alone. No excitement. No happy endings.
In my memory, that 3 weeks was a 3 months gap. I wonder now if it was a fanciful hallucination I made up so I could cope. I remember the week when I got the news, I had been planning my own suicide which I was going to commit at the end of the month. I remembered reading multiple news the weeks earlier about how others had either fallen onto the train tracks or committed a suicide pact by train. I thought that was a good and fast way to go, seeing the fact that we can’t own firearms in Singapore. Death by train. Quick, painless, cool. Then, on that drizzling Wednesday, while on a break from filming our final year project, my team mate, Sam, broke the news to me.
For the first time in a year, I was out of depression. I was awake, thinking clearly. Even though it lasted barely half an hour, that news was the reason why I can even type this here today. I sat outside the studio with my thoughts. This was a guy that I looked up to. The guy that made it to where I couldn’t. And he’s dead. By suicide. In my depression, one of the reason I even decided to kill myself was because I thought there were other people out there to fill my spot. That other person was none other than Ah Da. But with his death, I came to an epiphany. If he is dead, doesn’t living on and becoming a better person become my duty? That chain of illogical thought lasted barely a few minutes before I was drowning in depression again. But it was enough. Like Inception, the idea was planted, and I postponed my suicide. But not for long though, and I can’t remember how long exactly. But by the time I was ready to do it again, they had built automated gates around the train tracks to prevent people from falling in. And thus, my suicide plan went out the window. It brought me time. Enough time to regain some sanity. Enough time to recover. I walked out of that depression, tired, beaten, but alive.
Ah Da saved my life. Without knowing it, without meaning to, his suicide saved my life. In our Facebook memorial page for him, there were people who called him selfish. No. He is not that. Anything but that. Because I know the pain that he went through. I know just how much suffering and tears and hurt and lost and insanity was there that brought him to that final spot. And there is no shame in losing to that. Absolutely none. His memory is one of the reasons why I didn’t kill myself last year as well. He saved my life when I couldn’t save his. Twice. He is my hero. He is the guy I respect the most. He is not selfish. He is not a coward. He was brave, and fierce, and loyal, and strong and smart. He just lost a battle that was too hard to win.
There is a length of time during the suicidal phase that I call the “Goodbye Period”. Most suicide survivor would experience this. It’s the reason why after the suicide of a love one, everybody says, “We never saw it coming!” and “He was getting better.”
“I just saw him that morning. We hung out!”
“Her grades were getting better.”
“He was studying for his university entrance exams.”
“She found work at a place she really liked.”
“We went drinking the night before.”
The Goodbye Period is extremely dangerous. It’s the last few days or weeks that leads up to a person’s suicide. Outwardly, they will seem fine, even outgoing. They’ll specifically seek out friends and family to go out and have fun, and might even have plans for a future after their death. This is the last ditch attempt at survival. At this point, you just want everything to go back to normal, when you were actually happy. So you do everything you can to make it happen. You go to your favourite shops. Watch your favourite shows. Finish your favourite book. You go drinking. You go to work. And then, you die. Maybe you were trying to make peace. Maybe you hoped that someone you love will notice and snap you out of it. And this isn’t some rare thing that a few people go through. Almost every suicide story I’ve ever heard ends like this. It’s a terrifying time to think about. This might be the very last moment you get a chance to save a person’s life. It’s also the hardest time to notice anything is wrong.
I have some knowledge what Ah Da was doing during his last days. I won’t be sharing them though, since those are stories between him and his loved ones. I can say that he hung out with a lot of people he cared about in his final days. Those were his goodbyes. They were things that I was doing as well. I went out of my way to arrange for meetups with friends. Went for every family gathering possible. I even contacted my best friend from primary school for lunch. Even found time to call and visit my old teachers. I did all the things I loved. I played all my old favourite games. Watched my favourite shows. And I wrote a lot in the months that lead up to the suicide. I wrote the original 139. I wrote Shade the Grey, Sunflower, and Army of Bystanders. All because I knew I wasn’t going to live past June to do any of those things again.
I’ve always wondered what would have happened if, on that Friday we last met, I had just talked to Ah Da more. Asked him how he was. Looking back, all the signs were there. Of every single person there was to-and-fro school that day, he found me. He came to me. It wasn’t an accidental meeting. He saw me, recognized me, and in the loneliness of depression where all you want to do is spend time alone, he walked up to me and talked to me. If there was anybody, anybody at all that could have saw that he needed help, it was me. And I did see it. I noticed all the signs. I was just too depressed, too suicidal to think clearly enough to put the pieces together. I pushed him away. And in my mind, I will wonder if he found me to ask me for help.
I will never forget that day. That cloudy Friday where the rain won’t fall and the tears won’t come. Where the pain was held and screamed to none. Where I lost the chance to save a life. And in turned lost a friend to time.
After that, I never lost cognition again. I drank, but never drunk. I got suicidal, but never slept. I swore to myself, no matter how bad things got, I will always look out for the people around me that needed help more. I will always keep enough focus to notice the things that mattered the most. I will not fail again. Not like I did that day. It was the second time I was close to suicide. And it was not my last. But suicide should be a burden I bear, and the lives of others will always come as a priority to my death.
I am a suicide survivor. Both of my own, and of my friend’s. Bipolar disorder means that I will likely live with depression forever. But I will go down swinging, carrying the weight and will of everyone that I have ever failed or have to watch die with me. If the day ever does come where I succumb to depression and commit suicide, I can only hope I have done enough to have earned my place on Earth.
When someone commits suicide, the first reaction of the people around them is grief. But once that is over, the next natural course would be to blame. Some would blame the deceased, others would blame others. There are also those rare few, like myself, who will blame themselves. But in the end, none of us are to blame. Because unlike murders, accidents, or war, there are no active parties in suicide. It is, as far as I can tell, the most senseless death in the world. No warring factions with guns, or criminals to arrest. No man behind a wheel driving while drunk. No time to age you to your grave. You just die. Alone, isolated from everyone around you. All while depression makes you blame yourself for everything bad that has happened to the world. From flat tire to a war on the opposite side of the globe. All of that is your fault.
Readers, I ask of you this. If you, or anyone you know, has gone through someone else’s suicide, or am currently thinking about killing yourself, please, please, please, seek help. It can be a psychologist, or a counsellor, or a friend, or a family, or you can even contact me. It can even be some random kind stranger on the streets. From an overwhelming experience here, talk to someone. Anyone. There are even people who got better by talking to their pets.
At the same time, for the people on the helping end, people who are offering their aid, learn from my mistakes. Be kind, not cruel. Be patient, not stern. Read up on depression and suicide. Better yourself at understanding the condition. This knowledge is like CPR or the Heimlich manoeuvre. It is essential first aid that could one day save someone’s life. Don’t force your ideals when helping. I know people who got worst when told things like, “Jesus can help you,” or “It’s all in your head,”. These are personal believes that can potentially worsen the condition and cost someone their lives.
If there is anything that I’ve learnt from my last day with Ah Da, is that depression and suicide is a two sided affair. You can only get better when the patient is willing to talk and the aiders are willing to understand. I will never fail again like I did that day.
Ah Da went on to save my life again last year. Memories of my debt to him helped me overcome some of my suicidal urges. Given how close I was to death again, without his small push, I would probably be dead now as well. 139: In Evening and 139 Years to the End of the World, the two novels that I currently have, and the small success of them are also thanks to him. The small handful of people with metal illnesses that I’ve managed to help was also thanks to him. All because he saved my life once, a long Wednesday ago.
I was scared. I felt guilty. I felt that I should have died instead. If I had died, my death might had have the same impact on him as his did mine. I could have saved his life. I felt that I failed him for not noticing his condition on that last Friday. I felt that I’ve wronged him for taking a different path home. One decision, an infinite possibility. The guilt has eaten me for the past three years. There is a phrase that I say whenever I am faced with the death of someone. I said it to the stranger that got knocked down by a truck. I said it to my great grandmother at her grave. I said it to Robin Williams when he took his own life in August. But I’ve never said it for Ah Da. But now, I think I can say it. It’s three years overdue, but…
You did good, leave the rest to us.
(Note: For more links on resources, blogs or articles about mental health and services, visit the Links and Resources page.)