Not ‘them’ and ‘us’. Just ‘us’.

It has been a dream to be face-to-face, talking about Saagar with the Psychiatric community. In the past 7 years that has not really happened. On Wednesday, the 15th of September, I got as up close as possible with an entire department of roughly 100 psychiatrists and Therapists at differing levels of experience and practice. They were in New York and I was here, in London. The Grand Round was organised by a colleague, Prof Mike Myers, who gave it the title:

‘Losing a Son to Suicide: How One Mother is Opening Hearts and Minds Around the World’

After a cordial ‘meet and greet’, the film ‘1000 days’ was screened. It was followed by complete silence. Same as the previous time it was screened. And the time before. Each time the audience was left speechless.

After a long minute I gently stepped in with the assurance that this was a normal response. I invited questions and comments. I thanked them for the work they do and acknowledged how difficult it is for the profession to deal with such losses. I shared my hope that the film will deepen their insights into the human element of such deaths and the value of forging partnerships with bereaved families.

What followed was a fulsome, creative and holistic exchange of ideas.

“What led you to make this film and share your life in this way?” one young Resident asked me.

“I could only work with what I had and do what was in front of me. When I could write, I wrote. When I could speak, I spoke. When I could learn, I learnt. From the moment I heard the news of Saagar’s death, my only intention was that this must stop. No one should have to suffer the way Saagar did or the way I and his friends do. This film came about because it’s time we recognize that these lives are worth talking about, that the desire to end one’s suffering is a normal human desire and that we all have a role to play.”

Winner – BEST DOCUMENTARY – Swindon Independent International Film Festival
Winner – Brighton Rocks Film Festival – Spirit Award
Winner – Compassion Film Festival Colorado – Reflections of Love People’s Choice Award
Nominee – Morehouse College Human Rights Festival Atlanta (winners yet to be announced) 
Semi Finalist – Gold Coast International Film Festival – New York 
Nominee – Long Story Shorts International Film Festival 

Upcoming festivals where the film can be watched starting 23rd September 2021. Tickets available now.

‘1000 Days’  
Morehouse College Human Rights Film Festival – fosters ongoing discussions about human rights and social and political issues.
September 23 – 25 https://morehousehumanrightsfilmfestival.com/2021-film-guide/

‘1000 Days’ at Women Over Fifty Film Festival:
WOFFF is an inclusive, international film festival celebrating women over 50 in front of, and behind the camera.
25 Sept – 2 Oct – tickets on sale
https://wofff21.eventive.org/films/61379c142c09f100b90ae7c4

Comments:

”Bringing people closer and keeping them deeply connected despite social isolation.”

“Keeping the silk threads of human bonds as strong as ever.”

I hate my shoes.

(‘A pair of leather clogs’ by Vincent Van Gogh 1853-1890)

“I am wearing a pair of shoes.

They are ugly shoes.

Uncomfortable Shoes.

I hate my shoes.

Each day I wear them, and each day I wish I had another pair.

Some days my shoes hurt so bad that I do not think I can take another step.

Yet, I continue to wear them.

I get funny looks wearing these shoes.

They are looks of sympathy.

I can tell in others eyes that they are glad they are my shoes and not theirs.

They never talk about my shoes.

To learn how awful my shoes are might make them uncomfortable.

To truly understand these shoes you must walk in them.

But, once you put them on, you can never take them off.

I now realize that I am not the only one who wears these shoes.

There are many pairs in the world.

Some women are like me and ache daily as they try and walk in them.

Some have learned how to walk in them so they don’t hurt quite as much.

Some have had to wear the shoes so long that days will go by before they think of how much they hurt.

No woman deserves to wear these shoes.

Yet, because of the shoes I am a stronger women.

These shoes have given me the strength to face anything.

They have made me who I am.

I will forever walk in the shoes of a woman who has lost a child.”

  • Author unknown.

One death by suicide is one too many. On World Suicide Prevention Day, today, let us start by

  1. believing that suicides are preventable.
  2. knowing that we all play a part, however small, by being aware, educated and resourceful.
  3. being kind and courageous enough to ask the ‘S’ question, listen and respond.

Now, they are pink.

The day after he died, our door-bell went berserk. This time the same young woman from the local florist, who had been here thrice already, stood at the door again. She had arrived with yet another bouquet of pure white lilies and roses. She stood just outside our front-door with tears rolling down her cheeks. Had this stranger accessed her own sadness or was she feeling mine? I thanked her and tried to console her, wordlessly holding her hands in mine, not believing any of that was happening.

Our eyes met through the fresh white flowers and films of salt water. She didn’t know me or the young man who had died and I didn’t even know her name. But we were flowing in the same river of humanity. Of loss.

For weeks, every room in our house reeked of the sickly-sweet stink of white lilies. I used to like that fragrance before all this but now it screamed ‘DEATH’. It crept into every empty space, crevice and corner. It sneaked under tables and inside locked cup-boards. It suffused my clothes and hair and got into my body like poison.

All these years later, that smell can still hit like an axe on top of my head when I walk past an innocent flower shop.

On my birthday last week, a bunch of Freddie’s flowers arrived unexpectedly. I thought I had cancelled that delivery but it seems I hadn’t. Roses, lilies and gladioli – but this time, they are a pretty pretty pink. Six days on, they are open and smiling and guess what … no heart-breaking fragrance.

Our long-distance relationship is working. Thank you, sweetheart.

Yummy!

It would be a bit much to say they are friends. But they are very fond of each other and meet up as often as they can which is about twice a year. They both care deeply for young people and support each other’s work. One is a dedicated mother of five. Keeps a beautiful house and garden. Cooks the best food. Sews gorgeous clothes and looks amazing. The second woman has one child who stopped living a few years ago. She doesn’t care much about her house or garden. Can’t use a sewing machine. Doesn’t pay much attention to her appearance.

The second woman appreciates the first one’s invitation to lunch. They sit at the dining table on top of which appear five large aromatic dishes straight from the oven – roasties, grilled carrots and broccoli, kale chips and baked salmon marinated in exotic spices.

As they settle down with their plates, the first woman starts “My Anne has been challenging since she was little. When she was six and we lived in South America, she got it in her head that she wanted to make a cloth tent. We went to the shops and she chose the materials in the green colour she likes. I put it together the best I could and then she wanted buttons and ribbons to go on it and I did all of that. When the tent was ready, I put it up in the living room before she returned from school with great anticipation. She took one look at it and declared “I no like.” She kicked it. It went lopsided and she went up the stairs to her room.”

“My Mike is dreadfully over-confident. He can charm anyone into telling him their secrets. He can make anyone laugh ….. And my Noel! He’s a big architect in Leeds and I love his girl-friend. She is so down-to-Earth. I am so glad they found each other …. And when they asked me what I wanted for my birthday …. And when we all went on a holiday ….. And when they got engaged …. And my Lisa! She is such a good designer. She comes up with original patterns for her tops and I stitch them for her. She carries her dresses like a model …. And my youngest… Oh! He’s full of ….”

The second woman places her attention on the delicious meal. She has no invitation to speak.

Fresh off the boat

Twenty-two years ago, when I first landed in the UK, I arrived as a qualified anaesthetist. I didn’t think of myself as a ‘female doctor’. I did not classify myself as one from the ‘ethnic minorities’. Both of those things were incidental to the fact that there was a job to be done and I could do it well, even if it was in a completely different setting, four and a half thousand miles away from home, at Antrim Area Hospital, Antrim, Northern Ireland. I was nervous but being from an army family, I was accustomed to moving every couple of years from one state of India to another (states as different as Punjab and Bengal), making it my own, learning from a different way of life and moving on to the next. I was sure of my ability to adapt.

My belongings comprised of a family photograph in a silver frame, a suitcase, mostly filled with books and two hundred pounds in cash. From the window of the plane I could see forty shades of green, in a mesmerising patchwork across the fields and hills of Ireland. The sky was the deepest, most startling blue. My heart was up in my throat with the excitement of living and working in a country where everyone was educated (why wouldn’t they be if education was free?)  and well-mannered (why wouldn’t they be if everyone was well looked after by the Government?)

One of the secretaries from the Antrim Area Hospital, Mary, very kindly came to receive me at the airport. The drive from Aldergrove Airport to the hospital was like gliding through a picture postcard. After Delhi, I could fully appreciate the wide golden-green expanses gleaming in the sunshine with not one human being in sight. When I complemented Mary on how gorgeous her country was, she was perplexed, “Really?”

Saagar was 5 years old then. He had stayed back with his dad. My plan was to find my feet and have him join me as soon as possible. I wanted to get my post-graduate exams within one or two years and go back to work in India. In the next few months, as I settled into my job, I acquired a cheap second hand Renault 19, found a family home and an appropriate child-minder. In the tea room of the hospital, the nurses would tell me about their families and ask me about mine. When I told them that I had a 5 years old child back home, they would say, “How could you leave him there?” I didn’t know what to say to that.

I still don’t.

No caller ID.

Soon after lunch one Saturday, my phone went. “No Caller ID”.

‘I am James Eames from the New World Building Society’s fraud investigation team. There have been some suspicious dealings with your debit card recently. So, I am calling to ask if you’ve given your card details to anyone lately?’ spoke a smooth cultured voice.’

“Hi. Let me think. On Monday I had an e-mail from DVLA saying I needed to update my card details to pay the road tax in time. So, I did.”

‘Right. So, that’s how they’ve got you. But, don’t worry. I have been doing this job for the last 17 years and I get to work every day, including sometimes a Saturday morning just so I can help people.’

“A bit like me then. For years I worked at least 2 weekends every month.”

‘So, I am just going to send you a text message with a code, just to verify your identity. When you get that could you read out your code to me?’

“Yes. Sure.”

‘So, I see that you have recently made a few purchases from Argos.’

“No. I have not.”

‘Ah. It must be them. We are liaising with the police to get to the computers they are using and that’ll help us catch them. So, don’t worry. This is very helpful. Could you read out the code to me?’

“Yes. It is ——.” I feel so stupid. How could I trust a random e-mail like that? I checked the site and it looked so proper – just like a government website.”

“They are very clever. You must check the sender’s e-mail address by pressing reply. You should also look out for e-mails claiming to be from DPD and Royal Mail.”

‘Gosh. It must be hard for you to keep ahead of the game with this kind of fraud, especially nowadays when everyone is banking on-line. It’s just a battle of wits. Isn’t it? And they are so smart. These youngsters.’

“Yes. We must stay sharp and we have very good security systems in place. So, that helps. I see that you move money regularly to Tina. When was the last time you did that?”

‘About 3 months back.’

“Can you trust her?”

‘Yes. Completely. She’s been a friend for 10 years.’

“Saagar?”

‘Yes. He passed away a few years ago.’

“Oh. So sorry! It seems these guys have set up a standing order in Tina’s name for 2000 pounds.”

‘Can’t you stop them?’

“Yes. We are working on that. In the meantime, can you ask your friend Tina if she has received the money? We might need to close your account and set up a new one for you.”

‘I’ll try.’ I go downstairs to get the handset of the landline and call her.

“Hi Tina. So sorry to bother you. Do you have a few minutes to speak? My bank is on the phone with me trying to sort out some stuff I need your help with.”

She confirms that she has got 2K from me. I am relieved as I know she will help me sort this out.

“Dr Mahajan, do you have a card reader?”

‘Yes.’

“Okay. If you get that and put your card in, I will give you a number to enter. Remember not to speak out your pin aloud please.”

‘Why do I need to do this?’

“To make sure that your card still works for you. If you put your friend Tina on the phone with me, I shall guide her on how to transfer the money back to you.”

Text from Tina – I just got 8,000 from you! Something is wrong. I am worried.

‘Tina says she has got 8,000 from me. I don’t even have that much money in my account. How are they doing this?’

“They might have moved money around from your savings etc. Don’t worry. Put her on the phone with me and I’ll take care of it. I have 17 years of experience in this kind of thing.”

I give Tina’s phone number to James.

I text her: James is trying to help us. He’ll call you soon. Please talk to him. Thank you!

She replies: Send me a picture of your card and I’ll transfer the money.

I do that.

James calls back, “Has she moved the money?”

‘She’s doing it. Please wait. There is no need to rush her.’

“Can you really trust her?”

‘Implicitly. She is highly talented and very hard working. She doesn’t need to cheat anyone.’ I say.

“I found her to be quite difficult. I am trying to help but she is being obstructive.”

‘Well, she has every reason to not fully trust you. You’ve only spoken with her for a few minutes. I have been speaking with you for nearly an hour now. So, it’s easier for me than for her to place her trust in you.”

“That’s right. I didn’t think of that. I can learn a few things from you. Are you doing something nice this weekend?”

‘Gosh! This is so nerve-wracking! Thank God I have a singing lesson in a little while. That’ll help calm me down. Thereafter I might watch a film on Netflix. Do you have a recommendation?’

“Yes. ‘The invisible Guest’ is in Spanish and it’s excellent.”

‘Ok. Thanks. I can recommend ‘Malcolm and Maria’ for you. It’s different. Intriguing. When do you finish work?’

“7.30 pm. I’ll probably get a pizza and watch the football.”

‘Great. Have fun when you get there. What happens now?’

“Can you check if Tina has moved the money?”

‘I don’t want to be so pushy. Let me send her a text.’

Any luck? I ask her.

She replies: I am on the phone with my bank. Nearly there.

Thanks Tina.

“Shall I log into my account and see if the money has come back?”

‘No. We are working on it. So, you won’t be able to access it now.’

“Okay. I am really tired now. Can we please finish this call? I am sure she will move the money back to me.”

‘I am tired too. Shouldn’t take long now.’

Text from Tina: That guy called you was fraud because when you just put your card in your card reader, just then was transferred money. 8000. He give me other account numbers. But I move money to what you give me.

“How do I know that you are calling from New World?”

‘Can you read the name of the sender of the texts?’

“Yes. They are from New World.”

‘That is your proof. That cannot be faked.’

More codes arrived, the card reader was used a couple more times. Finally, James was happy. He said it was all sorted. Gave me a reference code and signed off.

Later on when Si came home, I told him all about it and we looked at those text messages from New World. Each of them said –

“Never share this code with anyone. Only a fraudster would ask for it.”

I held my head in both my palms and broke into a sweat.

Once my breath returned, we phoned the fraud squad at New World and they told me that all the money that had been transferred out had been moved back into my account. A few purchases were attempted which did not get through:

JD Sports.

Fancy shoes.

Pizza.

(PS: Based on true events)

Same story

“Three weeks before that day he was at a bridge and he called his friend who called the police. They came out but just told him to call the GP. One week before that day he called another friend saying he had a panic attack. The friend picked him up. Four days before that day they told the GP what was happening. She gave him a prescription for anti-depressants and said it would take 3 weeks for a referral. 4 days later my brother was dead. At no point did anyone tell the family.”

That day was sixteen days ago.

I wonder if anyone sat down with him to listen to what was going on with him. Two friends, one GP and the Police – none of them could put him in touch with his life and keep him safe. Yes. Ultimately it is up to him but I wonder if he was told that it might be helpful to get in touch with his sister, his brother, his mother, his father – the people who had known him all his life. That he could choose someone who he had a deep connection with, someone he trusted, and let them know how fragile he was at present. Someone who truly cared.

I wonder if you’ve seen this recent advert from St John’s ambulance where a dad is desperately trying to save his son. It encourages lay people to learn First Aid, in case of a physical health crisis. It’s a good one.

Save the boy”

Let’s put this in the context of doctors not knowing how to give First Aid to someone in a Mental health crisis.

The police not knowing that this is life-threatening, that there are resources in addition to the GP, like A&E, Maytree, Papyrus, Samaritans, CALM, their community, their family.

The GP not knowing that this is life-threatening, that there are things in addition to antidepressants that help, like having a proper conversation, exploring the suicidal ideation, informing them that it would be in their best interest if they included a family member or a friend of their choice in their care, giving them details of helpful Charities, giving them compassion and hope, drawing up a Safety Plan, getting in touch with the local Mental Health Crisis Team and  being aware that antidepressants can make things worse for young people in the short term.

Over-medicalisation of suicidal thoughts and behaviours in a setting where most medics are uneducated and unsupported in managing these crises.

Save the boys and girls by insisting on education for all professionals in medicine, nursing, law-enforcement, prison service, youth services, social work, for schools universities, hair-dressers, cab-drivers, students, parents, teachers, managers and everyone else is the only way to get it right – A multi-agency approach to Suicide Prevention.

In the USA, ‘legislation’ was recognised as essential to Suicide Prevention(SP) in 2012. At present, 10 states have legally mandated training for all health care professionals.

ASIST Training (Applied Suicide Intervention Skills Training):

The Office Guy

Once upon a time, trains in London used to be stuffed with people. Every now and then one found one’s head in some random person’s armpit. That Friday evening, my train was not too full.  Every other seat was taken and a few people stood by the door.

He boarded at London Bridge and sat opposite me. We sat facing each other at either end of the long rectangular window, looking out at the dusk, in the typical way Londoners show consideration and give space to one another. I was on my way home after work. The skies were moody. I was glad to be released from the hospital after a long windowless day.

As my gaze shifted from the sunset outside the window to the seat across from me, I saw the young office guy with his neat brown hair, parted on the left side. Crisp white shirt and well-pressed grey trousers. Tense jawline. Fixed steely eyes staring through glass panes. Two vertical frown lines just above the bridge of his nose on a smooth white forehead. He looked sharp, a tense energy encompassed him like a taut canvas. It was palpable. He was, as if a statue with serious internal whirings.

The train was on the move now. My station was six stops away. I had noticed something I couldn’t ignore.

I wasn’t sure if I should do something. If yes, what?

If I did nothing would I regret it? Yes.

Could I fully trust my instinct? I wasn’t sure but probably.

Did it matter if I made a fool of myself by saying something? No.

He could get off the train at any moment so I had to make up my mind pretty quick.

Two stops had now gone by and he was still there. This was my chance. I leant in, my head closer to his, caught his gaze in mine and softly said – ‘Whatever it is, it will pass. I promise. It will.’

I went back to admiring the sunset as if nothing happened.

I didn’t look for a response in anyone. Nothing.

I left it there, feeling like a crazy old woman on the train who talks to strangers, my heart beating in my ears.

One stop later, from the corner of my eye I saw him get up to leave. I brought my eyes back into the coach and chanced looking at him as he stood by the doors. He met my gaze and gave me an acknowledging nod, his frown lines gone. I could have cried. I think I smiled and nodded back.

I was finally learning to trust myself to do the right thing.

Watch it!

After a long wait, we can watch it. Not in a cinema but on the largest screens available in our homes. You might know that a few years ago we set out to make a short documentary on the life of Saagar and our lives after him. I am so happy that it can now be watched at the link below by clicking on the box that reads 1000 days and entering the password as suggested: hiddenFF2021

https://www.festivalreel.org/hff-2021

Presently this film is available through the Hidden Film Festival website but in time it will be a resource to increase the understanding of suicide and bereavement by suicide and the value of kindness. I hope it will generate constructive, life-affirming and healing conversations. It is 20 minutes long and is available till Friday, the 4th of June. At present it is doing the rounds of international film festivals and has been selected for 7 major ones. Thank you for holding Saagar in your hearts the way you do. For shouting out love and hope.

Cast: Freddie, Hugo, Seb, Sam, Bex, Rosie, Azin, Simon, Saagar and I.

Filmed and produced by the magical duo Jeanette Rourke and Ron Bambridge.

What some people have said:

“I cannot get the film out of my head (in a good way!). I am really impressed with the professional job done on the filming and opening drone shots of where you live etc.”

“It is beautifully made and the editing done with such sensitivity. I also loved the music – definitely sounded like a professional music for film composer.”

“Thank you so much for the film and it really brought me a lot of comfort especially  in a rough week like today when I have grief burst. I am grateful to have to know you in this difficult journey and what you have been sharing about your beautiful Sagaar, your thoughts and your journey milestones has helped me tremendously.One thing I learnt from 1000 days is that the hope of surviving this unsurvivable pain which you gave me through your story. Thank you so much Sangeeta.”

Thank you all for funding this film. For illuminating this world in your own special way!

PS: Please feel free to share it on.

An immersive experience.

I have felt safe outside lakes, rivers and oceans as opposed to inside. Shoes and woolly socks keeping the feet warm and dry, a scarf wrapped around the neck, jeans and jackets keeping me secure. These water bodies are a source of calm but I am suspicious of their invisible currents, innocent iciness and deceptive cleanliness.

Ten days ago, we drove to a little self-catering rental cottage at Constantine Bay in Cornwall, 100 yards from the beach. After a quick cup of tea we took a walk on the windy sea-face, almost swept off our feet. Its playfulness hit my face like multiple mini-darts. It must have hit some obscure part of my brain that suddenly came to believe that it would be a great idea to have a soak in the sea. This was strange given I can’t swim. I splash my arms and legs enthusiastically without staying afloat or traveling any distance. My breath gets all confused and erratic. I choke and splutter and cough. I am clearly a creature of the air. Not water. But this had to be done.

The next day, high tide was at 1834. We took our wedding rings off and left them at home as they are known to slip off in cold water. The  winds were low. Air temperature 10 degrees Celsius. Water temperature same. Sun, in and out. No rain. We changed into our improvised swimsuits, got our towels and walked to a quiet lagoon at one end of the bay that we had spotted the day before. A steep set of steps led down to it. At the bottom, sloping slate-grey rocks lay dry. Welcoming. The force of the waves was dampened by an intervening row of irregular black rocks, making the water as still as possible, lapping gently to the beat of the sea. The salty air resting on my lips and in my chest. My heart preparing to be stopped.

With my eyes focused on the sharp horizontal line between the blues of the sea and the sky, I walked straight into the Atlantic. I wanted to be neck deep in an instant and I was. An involuntary squeal escaped my throat. Coming to myself I breathed slowly with my eyes wide open. Counting. Smiling. Shaking. Completely inside that stark moment. Everything else dissolved. All of me was covered in acupuncture needles. Every swish of the waters stole some more heat away, deepening those needles infusing energy. The shock of it. And the delight of being alive. Woohooo!

40 seconds… once… and again. Then 2 minutes and then longer… and longer every day.

(Ref: TIPP Skills to modulate emotions: https://www.manhattancbt.com/archives/1452/dbt-tipp-skills/)