A year ago, I found my sister unconscious next to an empty bottle of pills. She was lucky. We were lucky. I couldn't sleep that night. I knew my sister wasn't well - she had been battling depression and anxiety for a few months. But something wasn't sitting well with me. So I went to check on her and there she was. She survived.
The weeks following the incident were strange. The house that is normally filled with playful screaming, laughter and the sounds of South Asian soap operas were gone. And instead, we were left with an eerily deafening silence. It was as if my sister had died. I knew she wasn’t dead, but my family acted as if she had, and her room became a shrine to a life that could have been.
I wanted to write this earlier. But every time I started typing, my heart broke. One of the first things she said to me was, “I wish you didn’t find me.” I know she didn’t mean it, but at the time it hurt. To know that the only person in the world who shares the same blood as me, that I grew up with, decided to give up on my family and me. That death was better than dealing with what made her feel this way.
As much as people refuse to admit it, mental illness is something that most of us have encountered. If you're reading this and your initial thought is "It doesn't affect South Asians”, then leave. Seriously, hit the back button, close the tab, and smash your computer into a million pieces because contrary to what you think, it does. Being stoic doesn't solve our problems. We’re not magically different from the rest of the population.
This piece isn't for you to feel sorry for me, or for people to pour their pity on me like I'm some sort of charity case. No. It is meant to raise awareness.
Mental illness doesn't affect just the person, but their family, friends and all the people that care about them. Believe me, I've been through it all. I saw my parents struggle with the fact that they almost lost their daughter. They leaned on me for support. I know we realize that our parents are only human at an early age, but to see them like that scared me. It has been the most emotionally difficult year of my entire life and I don’t want others to go through the same things that I have had to deal with.
What I'm trying to say is that you should know the signs. If you see anyone you know or love that might be going through something, talk to them. Open a dialogue. Let them know that you're there for them. Let them know you care, that you love them. We shouldn't stay quiet about mental health and shouldn’t let people suffer in silence. We may not be able to cure it, but we'll be able to get a head start on it. Stop it before it takes another life.
My sister tried again and I found her again, but she's doing better now. She's seeing the right people. She's talking about her problems. But more importantly, she's still alive. And I'm going to get to see her become everything she ever wanted to be. And I couldn't ask for anything more.
Please refer to CAMH for info regarding mental illness and support available: www.camh.ca