Ep 16: Dealing with suicidal thoughts

Ep 16: Dealing with suicidal thoughts

Cheryl  00:01

Hello, my name is Cheryl, and welcome to the Handful Of Leaves Podcast. Today, we will be talking about crisis, mental distress and suicidal tendencies. This is a very heavy topic and definitely, it’s not the easiest to listen to. Yet, it is the conversation that we all need to hear more of. Globally, nearly 800,000 people die by suicide in the world each year. That is about one death every 40 seconds. Bringing us closer to Singapore, just last year, suicide is the leading cause of death for those between 10 to 29 years old. The numbers are staggering, and you never know who may be suicidal. It could be the person in the room with the biggest smile, or your strongest parent or perhaps even yourself.

Cheryl  00:56

We hope that by talking about suicide by talking about mental distress, this episode will bring you hope if you’re feeling suicidal. And if you know someone who is suicidal. This could perhaps help to shed light on what they’re going through and how you can be of support to them. As a trigger warning, today’s content will consist of suicide and self-harm, as well as depression if at any point you need to tune out, please pause the podcast.

Cheryl  01:25

We will begin with a grounding exercise to centre our hearts and mind as we delve into a dark topic today. Wherever you are listening to this podcast, I invite you to take a deep breath with me. Breathing in deep into your belly and breathing out. You relax. Breathing in the feel a sense of calm. Breathing out, you’ll relax. Breathing in joy and breathing out few at ease, grounded and centre.

Cheryl  02:16

Today’s speaker will be anonymous and we will be altering their voice so as to mask their identity. Here’s a quick introduction about them. The guest has been working in the mental health space for close to five years, helping people with crisis mental distress and suicidal tendencies to find clarity and meaning in their lives. This episode is not meant to be professional advice. If you’re feeling any distress if you’re feeling depressive episodes, please seek out professional help. We will attach some resources at the end of the podcast as well.

Cheryl  02:59

Hello, Kai Xin, hello guest. In conjunction with World Mental Health Month, we will be talking about helping ourselves and others to mental distress and suicidal tendencies. While I was reading through the statistics, I realised having suicidal tendencies or thoughts is so much more common than we think. And I’m really curious to hear your personal experiences, have any of you had suicidal thoughts before?

Guest 03:26

At one point in time, I did have some suicidal views. And it was due to my recollecting about meaning in life, and it led me to philosophical arguments internally and externally with people around me. The conclusion was that there is no meaning. Naturally, suicidal tendencies arose in me. So, in short, yes. I had those fears back then.

Kai Xin  03:51

I have not, but I know of friends who have confided in me who have.

Cheryl  03:55

 I find it very interesting when people say they never had suicidal thoughts. I have had suicidal thoughts before. I think it has been from very serious to just fleeting thoughts, like I’m eating a burger and like, maybe death is good, to the more serious ones where I think it’s in conjunction with depressive feelings, where I just stand by the side of the road and waiting for a bus and I just wish that I would just lurch forward and a car would hit me and I just really wish I would die right then. So yes, I have had suicidal thoughts and it ranges in severity, ranges in intensity, depending on my mood as well. And when I talk to many friends, it seems that it is something that everyone kind of thinks about it on and off. And so I thought it was interesting that Kai Xin shared that she never experienced suicidal thoughts.

Guest 04:43

But Cheryl, it must be quite unsettling to have that thought and perhaps even surprising to have the idea of wanting to jump straight into the traffic. You must be going through quite a rough time back then for these thoughts to have arisen.

Cheryl  05:01

Yeah, and I think I cannot like really pinpoint any particular reason. It is just a cloud of like sadness and a cloud of pain. And I do remember, one time when I was driving as well, I was just feeling like, “Okay, I just want to just press the pedal and just go as fast as possible and just knock whatever, or just give up all control in driving, and just let whatever outcome happens.” So it is that sort of feeling that I’ve experienced before. But the interesting thing is that I cannot particularly pinpoint it to one specific pain. It’s just a whole cloud sitting on my head.

Kai Xin  05:39

I’m curious, when was the first time you had such a thought? And where do you think you got those from because, for our guest, it is from a philosophical kind of debate and understanding. And for you?

Cheryl  05:53

I think it’s interesting because the first time I had a suicidal thought, I cannot remember but I remember the first time I felt like giving up. And that was when I was in secondary school when I was bullied. And I just kind of was isolated from everyone, and I just wished to give up. But it didn’t really come across as a suicidal thought. But somehow, I think that’s similar to the theme and concept of just wanting to give up and escape, somehow manifested into a proper suicidal thought of like, really wanting to die. And perhaps it could be the influence of like learning a little bit more about, oh, people can suicide through x x x means and knowing of news of like, oh, people who have actually successfully killed themselves, yeah. And then I think you just kind of form into an idea of “this is a way to escape.”

Kai Xin  06:45

So it’s one thing to get away from the pain, I do see a common thread in the conversations I have with my friends as well, that seems to be one of the options that they are talking about. And I know our guest here, you have been helping people to overcome some of these very difficult emotions. I’m personally quite curious as to your journey, how did you get involved? And also some of the challenges faced, and perhaps also some advice so that we can all know, walk away from this discussion with some tools to help ourselves to deal with difficult emotions as well as to be the right support for our friends who are dealing with such emotions.

Guest 07:27

First, I’d like to acknowledge what you said earlier, in response to what Cheryl mentioned, you mentioned that Cheryl felt suicidal, more in a sense of not wanting the pain to continue. And in fact, that’s the sense of what I get to when I meet or talk to some of those that are suicidal.  It is not exactly that they want to die, it’s that they want the pain to end and that they feel stuck. And there are no other alternatives apart from suicide. So that seems to be a common mental framework. For some who may feel suicidal.

Onto your question regarding the reason why I joined this organisation to do what I’m doing right now, which is working with those who are in mental distress, helping them through their suicidal thoughts. At one point in time, my friend, good friend went through a very rough breakup. And he was feeling very suicidal literally, every other day, he would call me and tell me that his heart feels so much pain that he would rather die. And at one point in time, there was one night about 1am that I had one of those calls, and suddenly he hung up his phone. So in a state of panic, I took a cab to his place. And in that cab ride, I called the suicide hotline here in Singapore. And what did they respond? It was actually an automated response.  I’m on hold for about 15 minutes, maybe 10 minutes. I don’t remember. But it was quite a while. And that’s when the thought arose, and me that oh dear, there are other people who are in crisis, and there’s not enough supply of help of resources.

So that’s when I set the intention to want to help people in this space and mental health, be it suicide, or mental distress in whatever shape or form. And many years later I’ve had the chance to join the field. And so I did.

Cheryl  09:49

You have been working in the field for about five years. I’m sure you’ve experienced many people’s stories and many pressures. experiences with the people that you interact with. Can you share with me, you know, what is the most memorable one from your experience?

Guest 10:08

One of the most memorable ones that I had was of this young man, boy, teenager, 16-year-old. And he has been contemplating suicide for a long time. So one of the sessions when we spoke, he sounded very certain, he was adamant that this is, I’m going to go. So we spoke further, to the extent that we talked as if it was his last conversation since he was so clear.

And that was when he opened up to all of his past life stories. In that final conversation, or the simulated final conversation. He explains that he ultimately missed his dad who has passed away. Dad is, Dad was the only person who can understand him. And now he’s the only guy in the family. So he is taking on the brunt of bringing home the bread, even though he’s still 16 years old, and the mom doesn’t really care for him. This is utter neglect and loneliness. And he felt bad, and juxtaposing that with his thoughts of suicide, he realised that to truly honour his dad who has passed, he should live on and live the values that his dad has taught him. And that was something that I thought, left an imprint in me that I couldn’t really forget. Yeah, the only way to live is to carry on his Dad’s values.

Kai Xin  11:47

Wow, that’s really powerful. And it almost gives a new purpose in life, right? Because I can’t say for sure, but from my understanding, especially friends who have depressive and suicidal thoughts, what I sense sometimes is that they feel like a burden to the world. And maybe it’s better for them not to exist. So besides escaping from their own pain, it’s actually out of very good intentions, almost at the expense of their own welfare. That maybe it’s okay for me to, leave this hole and other people’s life would go on. And I think what you just share is so powerful, because it gives a new purpose and reason to live, and then to also be helpful and valuable to society. So from the mindset of “I’m such a burden” how can I add value to other people’s lives? I think it’s a strong push forward. I’m actually very curious to hear how you conversate with these people, because number one, you mentioned the long waiting time, right? I’ve watched documentaries as well as especially during the COVID period, the waiting time is so long.

Kai Xin  13:03

 I actually did a search online, how I can be part of a volunteer on the receiving end of the Helpline\ but in the end, I didn’t, because I think the barrier to entry is just so high, you have to go through many months of training in order to be able to then handle phone calls. But I feel if I can walk away today with some tips just to be a better friend, or even like a better listener, I don’t know I might save lives. And I hope listeners as well would be able to watch out for some vital signs within themselves or within others to kind of, you know, put a stop to any of these very, I would say undesirable consequences.

Kai Xin  13:44

Going back to the question, how do you usually navigate conversations when people have suicidal thoughts?

13:51

That’s a good question. Because more often than not, we wouldn’t know that they even have suicidal thoughts. So the irony is that the question that we are so afraid to ask is one that we might need to ask. The question is, are you feeling suicidal? And beyond that, or in the midst of the conversation, of course, we know that we don’t have the full picture from the party consent, and therefore we don’t have that position to give advice, where we come in is merely to listen to understand empathise and that’s how we hold the space for them to be able to articulate their own thoughts. And in doing so, helps them by seeing their own thoughts with greater clarity, and thereafter with continuous understanding, empathy, and holding that space. We also ask questions for them to further clarify that. More often than not, they find the conversation helpful to see more of themselves, maybe some parts are hidden, some parts clear, combining both to find a new meeting, new direction.

Kai Xin  15:10

That’s very interesting. So it’s not really trying to fix any issue. But just being there for them, offering them the space for clarity. And perhaps through that reflection, they can emerge with a better option in order to relieve their stress, relieve their suffering. Yeah, that’s powerful. I think sometimes just simple things like presence makes such a big difference. I am wondering for you, Cheryl, when you have those suicidal thoughts, are there instances where you wish somebody could have done something?

Cheryl  15:44

Wow, that’s a tricky question. I think it’s very hard for me, and I think many others that I hear as well, when they experience suicidal tendencies. I think because of the shame that people have associated with this kind of thought. The tendency is to isolate yourself. So you know, you close yourself in a dark room, you close yourself under a blanket, or whatever it is. And, it’s to just hide with it. And when you do that, the tendency just become louder, the tendency occupies the entire space. And the last thing I want would actually is to reach out to people. So I do admire the courage or perhaps is not even courage, perhaps even desperation right, for some people to seek help, because they may be very fearful of actually doing the deed. But usually, I will just simmer in there. And what helps is actually the reflection of Dhamma in the sense that even if I were to end the body, the form, the mental states are negative, the kind of attachments, the delusions are still there abundant in my mind, I will have to restart the game in a new body, this time with a lot more bad karma, and a lot more obstacles to what is already a very challenging path. So, fortunately, or unfortunately, (because sometimes I really just wanted to end,), the Dhamma kinda forces me to keep afloat and keep going. But I will say it is a lonely and very alone kind of process because it is something that is not social, it is not something that you openly share with others.

Kai Xin  17:27

And I think there’s so much need to destigmatise, the word ‘suicide’, and also destigmatise just negative emotions. It’s such a human thing to feel pain, in fact, is the first noble truth, right? Understanding suffering. And yeah, I admire your courage for even sharing your own personal journey and do know that you have friends like us, who are here for you. I’m also just wondering, how would it be if friends were to reach out to you when you’re isolating?

Cheryl  17:58

I will secretly feel very happy, but I would feel surprised most of all. Surprised that people would suspect. It’s something that you right, Kaixin, sometimes when you’re in a not good mood, because you’ve always been the person that support others, so people usually wouldn’t think of you needing help. So is that similar kind of surprised that, “Oh, you actually would think that I need some help? Or you would actually associate me with something so unpredictable? Right? Yeah. So that is why I would feel surprised. And then, unfortunately, it will be scepticism, it will be how long would this person be here for? How long would this person care? In five minutes, in a week the person will get bored and busy. So I don’t know if it’s a stigma or if it’s something that perhaps our guests could share more? Do you notice trends like that, where people always feel very alone, very sceptical and doubtful of everyone else? And putting up a high barrier to anyone who even tries to reach out?

Guest 19:04

That is definitely a relevant question because the more we feel suicidal, the more we may, like Kai Xin earlier mentioned about feeling like a burden to society and therefore, want to isolate ourselves. The CDC, which is the US organisation that classifies suicide under disease, quote, unquote, actually indicated that one of the causes of suicide, the factor that promotes suicide is the stigma itself. When having the stigma, we choose not to speak about it. And therefore we don’t engage in help-seeking behaviour. We don’t even talk about it.

Guest 19:48

Everything is just bottled up and there come your thoughts that cycle through themselves with no additional inputs. That’s one element of isolation. The other you mentioned thereafter, when someone approaches you, you feel a little bit of scepticism. Yeah. How long will they even be here for me? So this is something that I’m not really sure how to answer. Because the level of scepticism may differ from person to person. But what’s generally the trend is that those people who have suicidal tendencies, if they have those tendencies, due to a dull view of the world, the level of scepticism tend to be relatively high. So I would say it may compound the effect. And the feeling of being let down when someone was initially there offering help, and thereafter goes away, the person is engaged in other things. The feeling of loneliness comes back, which is why it’s quite a difficult problem to tackle. Because even good intentions may lead us to hell. As that phrase goes.

Kai Xin  21:06

It does sound really tricky. I think there are two ways to look at this right. One is, of course, we have a support system, but some support system, they might not have the capacity to support us 100%. Then the other aspect, it’s about supporting ourselves. So if I have suicidal thoughts, what are some ways that I can deal with this thoughts? And I’m wondering whether you have any, I wouldn’t say advice, but just like thoughts on this.

Cheryl  21:35

Before that, I thought it may be interesting also for our guests to share. What are some of the reasons that people could go down the path of suicidal tendencies or even suicide? And then of course, back to Kai Xin’s question on, how can we then, you know, help ourselves in this way.

Guest 21:55

So there are many reasons why people go into suicide ideation. Maybe we simplistically would classify into two factors.

One is when there is a crisis happening, maybe you get fired from your job, you come home to find your spouse leaving you, your parents have cancer, all things piling up, your plate is full, and you feel stressed. The level of certainty in your being is destroyed. And in times of crisis like that, when the emotions run high, suicidal thoughts may come. And if the stress is too unbearable, one may take the action. That’s one element.

The other side of things is more of a continuous thought building up, it could be due to many reasons that we may not have the time to cover here. But could be due to like your philosophical views, your dim view of the world could be due to constant loneliness could be due to childhood trauma, or mental illness, especially. So these broadly two categories, due to intense situations are coming in together, or more of a prolonged, almost chronic aspect of suicidal ideation.

And on Kai Xin’s question, if we found ourselves to have those thoughts, how do we in a sense manage themselves out of them? Or manage through them? The fact that we can catch those thoughts initially would, I think, be a trigger for us to find solution, and not to mull over them. I think this conversation helps in that our listeners would be able to then put, like an additional antenna to realise that hey, oh, no, now, I haven’t suicidal thought. That is interesting. Bring forth curiosity, where the thought comes from, and thereafter investigate the causes for those thoughts. Is it due to certain life events, certain stress that we can’t manage? Or has it been there for a long time? That’s the first thing catching it is one.

Secondly, of course, seeking professional help, is always the ideal thing to do. You could go to a counsellor to talk things through and thereafter, you may get a prescription, or rather sorry, you may be referred to a psychologist for prescriptions if needed. So the diagnosis will then help you to take a step further down.

On the other hand, talking about preventive aspects, before even having those thoughts, our normal practice as Buddhists is to reflect on them. Five unavoidable events, right. The five remembrances on Ageing, illness, death on our Kamma. It helps us to view the world in perspective where we expect crisis to happen, we expect those events to happen to us. And when the suicide ideation arise, we can look at it objectively to know that this could be due to other conditions that we have no control of, but we expect them to come. So maybe in brief, those are things that we could keep a note of.

Cheryl  25:20

Could you share on the five remembrances, I think you mentioned four points.

Guest 25:26

So the five membrane says, We are subject to ageing, illness and death, and we have not gone beyond them. The fourth one is that we will go different been separate from the things that are out there, and the things that we love. And the last one is that we are the owner of our actions. And whatever we do, we will inherit the consequences.

Cheryl  25:50

Thank you so much for sharing, and also for really inviting us to investigate with curiosity, our thoughts, I have a question here. Because from my own personal experience, I feel like when I do have these thoughts, or even any sort of emotion, it feels very overwhelming. And the last thing that I want to do is to go into them to investigate, because it’s already so overwhelming to just experience them. So any advice on perhaps how to regulate myself?

Guest 26:26

Definitely, that can be a challenge when emotions run high. So perhaps the tendency to want to use the five remembrances or to reflect on the Dhamma as for those that are more cerebral, but when we know ourselves, our own human selves, our own tendencies.

If we know that the emotions run high, acknowledge the emotion, let them arise, feel through it, it is part of the journey of self discovery, though, we also have to keep in mind that like this Zen saying to use pain as the mirror, meaning when there is pain, there is suffering. So when we see the intense emotions, we acknowledge that it is there, while at the same time realise that when emotions run high, it’s not fair to us to make any decisions or take any actions at that point in time. So simply sitting with it, for failure to subside, might help. And of course, if that is still a bit challenging for some, talking to someone about it might also allow you to step outside of your emotions, or to feel emotions with someone else. And therefore you can feel a bit safe discussing, talking about what you’re feeling, and to have that second point of view, or sounding board.

Kai Xin  27:44

From my experience, speaking to friends, what they have found helpful is also to recollect the goodness. So I think when your mind is very dark, and Tao, all you could think about, it’s all the negative stuff. So having a list like a go to lists of what are some virtues you have, or photographs of things that can jolt some happy memories, just to brighten the mind a little bit. I think that is also something that is really powerful.

I want to just add on to the point that our guest have earlier about the five remembrance because for people listening to it for the first time, it can sound really depressing, like, you know, I’m, I’m still subjected to death, then why don’t I just end my life right now. But from a Buddhism perspective, because we don’t believe in nihilism means this is not your only life. If you end this life, you would then need to continue. It’s like a series, right? We watch drama. And then there’s a new season new episode, and you never know, whether you will take a form of a human and animal or even a being in a hell realm or heavenly realm, it all depends on the causes and conditions, which is the karma, you know, we are owners of our karma. And I think that becomes really sobering, because it is about going beyond death. It is about not just understanding pain, but seeing how exactly can we go beyond pain. And that’s exactly the roadmap that the Buddha has given to us. And if we really want to be free from suffering, then we have to understand the second noble truth, which is there is a cause of suffering, the clinging, the attachment. And then the third one is there is a way out. And then the fourth one is the way out, which is the Noble Eightfold Path. And that’s the only sustainable way in order to Yeah, to be free from any kind of distress.

Kai Xin  29:42

So personally, I find that to be really sobering. And I also know of friends who, like you Cheryl or when you just think of like, okay, if I were to end this life, I don’t know when my next starting point would be, and there’s a lot of negative, you know, karma and energy as well. That itself is really a very powerful thought to stop them on their feet. So I think I just wanted to make that clarification for people who do not know the five frequent recollections of truth. Yes.

Guest 30:12

Thanks for clarifying that Kai Xin. Definitely the view of Buddhism may seem nihilistic or depressive, when we look at the first noble truth, there is suffering or life is suffering. But when we go further, Truth Number Three is there is a cure to suffering. So it is not the be all end all, there is a way out. And that is when the nihilistic view ceases, and we go on into a more hopeful view in Buddhism.

Cheryl  30:47

I want to share a quote that I heard or I read, which says that whenever there is suffering, there is the opportunity to be free from suffering.

Kai Xin  31:00

I think it’s really how we make use of our circumstances. I’m not trying to oversimplify it. But the real truth, it’s really about perception of our own circumstances and how we make of it. Of course, then the next step is how can we expand our capacity to then perceive, you know, things in a beneficial and skillful way?

Guest 31:25

Well, what you mentioned there Kai Xin about how we perceive things, and that reminds us of the Sallatha sutta, , which talks about the two arrows, where it’s that everyone, regardless of whether you’re a practitioner, or a non-practitioner, you will feel pain, and that is the first arrow that comes. But the non-practitioner or those that are uninstructed, according to the Sutta, will lament, will mull it over, will beat themselves over it. And that creates a second arrow that puncture through the person, wherever the well instructed disciple would not do that. They will see the drawbacks, that arising the passing away of those emotions, and prevent the second arrow from getting them.

Kai Xin  32:11

I think there’s a quote that says, pain is inevitable, but suffering is optional. Something like that.

Cheryl  32:19

Is a Facebook quote or something? Yeah, I think I think that’s a very beautiful thing to realise, at any present moment where you’re suffering, are you holding on to two arrows? And are you like squeezing it a little bit harder to yourself? Or are you actually putting in the effort to try to pull the second one and then the first one. So in a way, not easy, not easy at all. But it’s helpful to know that, in all of these things, we do have the capacity to realise that we have the option, as difficult as it may be, to still free ourselves from anything that is unnecessary and additional.

Kai Xin  33:01

And I’m also wondering, in the process of trying to pull out the arrow, it’s probably going to hurt even more, isn’t it? So then, okay, number one, is that true? Like from experiences? And then number two, how can we develop that tolerance and patience to really just end your intensity of emotion as we are going through the healing journey? Because sometimes, I believe when we are hitting the tipping point, but if we just wait a little longer, it’s either we break through or we break down, then? Yeah, how can we be able to see that?

Guest 33:38

That’s a very tough question when I don’t have an answer.

Kai Xin  33:43

For reflection, because even though I have not encountered suicidal thoughts, but  I wouldn’t say for sure that in the future I might not have I think it really depends on how I guard my mind now. And even when dealing with very difficult and intense emotion, I have the tendency to want to push it away. And the more intense it gets, the more averse I feel. So I suppose the question is also for myself, right? Because I don’t have an answer. Like, how can I just sit with the pain even though it’s friggin painful. It’s tough. Yeah.

Guest 34:16

So like what we spoke about earlier, when emotions run high, logic is low. So it’s always important to preempt ourselves that we should never make any intention, decision, action when emotions are running high. And this is more of a general point also, especially when we’re with our partners or at work when we argue, emotions, run high. Keep that in mind to not react. That’s of course easier said than done. But as practitioners, the element of mindfulness is something that we continue to cultivate, easy or not, and that is the true test of being a practitioner, I’d say. Emotions getting the better of us.

Cheryl  35:03

And I guess this is where the precepts or even the practice of restraining yourself comes into play. Because when your defilements are high, when your emotions run high, as you mentioned, it is where we it, we are so tempted to just nail the shit out of the person, right, that we really despise, be that someone else or be that ourselves. So it’s the element of really restraining, and I guess this is where the self compassion piece comes into play , to know that the suffering that you feel it’s hard like a rock, how can you allow the gentleness, the softness  of compassion, just like waves, you know, slowly, just ease out the tension, ease out the cracks, and slowly allow yourself to, I guess, dissolve and melt the pain. Slowly, just like you know, eroding away. Yeah. And I really don’t see any other way that could go through without compassion, because it’s really, you can’t use fire to fire a fire, you can use iron to fight with if you would just create a bigger mess. But that is the tendency, right, you want to hurt your pain, you want to hurt your hurt, because you know no other way. But actually, the only way is through compassion and from there, when your pain dissolves, you realise that all that is there is just that desire to want to be loved.

Kai Xin  36:32

I really like that it’s making self compassion, second nature to you on a daily basis.

Guest 36:38

One more which Cheryl mentioned, initially, mindfulness and then restrain, and then self compassion. in the Sedaka suta, where it was the story of two bamboo acrobats. One at the bottom one at the top. The disciple, the younger Acrobat at the top, actually told his master that was at the bottom, she or he, not sure the gender, but they said that if I take care of my balance, and you take care of your balance, then we will successfully perform. Whereas initially, the master insisted that  you take care of my balance, and I take care of your balance. So there was an element there of self, focusing on self first. And in that Sutta, the Buddha mentioned that, indeed, the younger one was saying the right thing to focus on the self. And thereafter, he expounded that by focusing on the self, it is done through mindfulness meditations. And that is how you take care of yourself and in taking care of yourself, you take care of others. So we can see here that mindfulness is important to take care of yourself. And when we take care of ourselves, we take care of others, and how do we take care of others? Again, the Buddha commented that it is through compassion and goodwill. And in taking care of others, we take care of ourself. So it encapsulates what we talked about, about mindfulness, which leads to restrain, which also cultivates compassion.

Cheryl  38:18

And I’m just curious to know, you know, when you do this sort of work, where you deal with a lot of people who almost like presenting their gifts of pain to you, how do you take care of yourself?

Guest 38:33

That question recalled me of what Ajahn Chah said. So he does something similar in in his life, as a matter of fact, people go to him, talk to him about their problems and he told Ajahn Brahm, if I recall correctly, that you must be like a dustbin with a space that is open. Things go in, and then immediately comes out. So that is, of course the ideal state.  With me going through this journey, what I’ve come to realise is that the choices are eventually made by them. It is not my choice. I’m here holding space, anything good happens it is to their credit to their own insights, anything undesirable happens, it is through their choice. So that in a way allows me to be at ease with whatever decision that was made.

Cheryl  39:26

I literally just got goosebumps, that’s so powerful. Thanks for sharing. And I think we can wrap up the episode with maybe a final sharing from our podcast guest today. Is there any advice or one thing that you would like our listeners to take away from this episode?

Guest 39:48

Since we are talking about mental health or other mental distress managing through them, it can be us managing them ourselves or us being there for others. I will have to offer two sets of advice. And we go back to what we’ve spoken about earlier. Cultivation of mindfulness allows us to see our own thoughts as they arise, and then try to create that space to respond, rather than react. This will allow us to then seek help in a more objective manner.

And in helping others, definitely, in generating the compassion, and also the wisdom to look, look out for signs and the courage to step up and ask how are you? They will definitely help those around us to allow them to have that space to talk to you.

Cheryl  40:42

Thank you so much. And with that, I hope this episode has been very inspiring and enlightening. And perhaps take action, reach out to someone, a close friend, a friend who’s distant and really truly ask them how are you? Provide a space for them to just share and let you know how they’re doing?

 And if this episode has been beneficial to you feel free to also share this. You never know who might need to listen to this today. With that, thank you for tuning in all the way to the end and stay happy and wise.


Links and resources:

National Care Helpline: 1800-202-6868

SOS 24-hour Hotline: 1800-221-4444 

Singapore Association for Mental Health: 1800-283-7019 

Institute of Mental Health: 6389-2222 (24 hours) 

Tinkle Friend:1800-274-4788 (for primary school-aged children) 

Care Corner Counselling Centre (Mandarin): 1800-353-5800

Link to the Sutta resources mentioned in the podcast:

Sedaka Sutta : The Bamboo Acrobat

Sallatha Sutta : The Arrow

Thank you to our sponsors for this episode:

Alvin Chan, Tan Jia Yee, Siau Yan Chen, Tan Key Seng, Ven You Guang, Soh hwee hoon, Baey yuling, Megan Lim 

“I waited for a 3-month period to get tested.”: How the Dhamma saved me as I went through the darkness of sexual assault and suicide ideation.

“I waited for a 3-month period to get tested.”: How the Dhamma saved me as I went through the darkness of sexual assault and suicide ideation.

TW: This article contains content about sexual assault and suicide ideation.

TLDR: Taking refuge in the triple gem can guide us to safety. To be at peace at whatever hardships life may throw at us. While sharing metta to ourselves might be the hardest, it is necessary for us to heal and grow over our wounds.

Poem of contemplation: 

Knowing I’m not perfect

Whatever that can be suffered, I have endured.

Life oh life

Have you had enough?

Are you satisfied?

Don’t you find yourself annoying?

Always testing my tolerance

Why is it so tough?

I have never asked for happiness 

Neither do I expect a miracle

I just hope some nights

I’m able to have some peace and contentment 

And some hope to go through the next day

I’ve never cried because of my self-pity

neither do I expect a happy ending

I don’t even cry to make myself feel better

Guilts are redundant

It won’t change into happy endings

I’m not a greedy person

I’ve never asked for more than I needed

I have already surrendered to pain or sorrows

I will not reciprocate the phenomenon that life promises

I’ve always disdained the result

only ask for the consequences

Ending myself won’t get me anywhere either

I will not feel sad for what I never once had

I just ask for one night where

I can be more hopeful

And be left alone

Where Dhamma is by my side

Drowning

If I wanted to drown myself in the sea, I would, but ever since I took refuge in the triple gems, after all these struggles and all the silence through these years, I simply don’t want to do that anymore. 

It’s hard to breathe even when I’m not drowning, but I have enough of it now, I want to live, I want to breathe harder and I want to do something meaningful in this life and I will walk away from the sea to climb up the mountain. Any darkness, any uncertainty however fluid and however dangerous, the triple gems will lead me and take me in hand.

The beginning of physical & mental pain 

Something is not right. 

I woke up with pains in my butt, anally. I remember last night, I was invited to a house party and with a few drinks, I was feeling dizzy. Something was in my drink, but it was too late. I’m so lost, confused and can’t wrap my head around what had happened. 

I got dressed immediately, saw a few men asleep on the floor but I ignored them, and rushed for the door. That was 7 years ago, I never told anyone what had happened until recently. 

I put on a brave front, pretending nothing happened but in my heart, I blamed myself. 

I felt ashamed and responsible for not taking better care of myself. 

There are so many possible scenarios I could think of why this shouldn’t have happened to me if I… 

I could have also exposed the ones who did this to me, I swear with my character, I would have made them pay for it, but time wasn’t on my side, I have to catch a flight the next day. 

As I’m a foreigner travelling, I figure how complicated legally I will have to get involved. I anticipate the overwhelming emotions I’ve to undertake, that scares me and I’m a coward I know but I felt like I wasn’t ready to confront them. 

I was also distraught and feeling disgusted, I wanted to leave that godforsaken country as soon as possible. 

The questions that flood my head

Why me? Why? I have asked myself many times. I have enough of asking, and what happened has happened. 

I’ve stopped asking questions that don’t come with any answers. There is only one thing I’m sure of, knowing what I should do next and how I respond to this adversary. 

I need to get a blood test. It takes time for the body to make antibodies after it is exposed to HIV, and different people make antibodies at different rates. 

The window period for antibody tests is between 3 weeks and 3 months. Up to 95% of people will have antibodies after 6 weeks, and 99% of people will have antibodies after 3 months. 

I waited for a 3-month period to get tested. That probably is the darkest time of my life. That anxiety that keeps building up is killing me. Like a prisoner in the dark cell, trapped within the 4 walls. 

Trying to scream but no sounds can come out. 

When I closed my eyes, I saw the ugliness and bad things that had happened. My pain and sufferings, who can I relate to? All this is just a battle I’m fighting inside myself. Regardless of winning or losing, it all seems ridiculous. 

The test

The day had arrived. Here I was at the clinic waiting nervously, a volunteer working in the Anonymous HIV Test Clinic had taken my blood for testing. 

I know it is not over yet, emotionally I’m still haunted by what those bastards had done to me, but I also know it could get much worse. 

Everyone said being positive is a good thing, but for me, being positive is the worst thing that could ever happen to me. 

It’s like you got hit by the bus and a motorcycle ran over after. I went into a room and this kind gentleman was trying to break the news to me. My nightmare becomes real, the blood test result was out. 

I’m HIV positive. 

I’ve prepared for this to happen, yet I still can’t believe it when it happens, but there is a voice in me that says keep it together. 

Even in my darkest moments, when I felt the most challenged, I often found a glimpse of light that can warm my heart from the Buddha’s teaching

Facing my ugly pain & suffering head-on is the fundamental Buddhist way that has always kept me going. I must find a way to cope with it. 

The Healing Begins

Regardless of how I have suffered, the happiest thing I have ever come across is the teachings of the Buddha. 

Silly me, coping doesn’t resolve my pain; it merely distracts me from it. The first step to healing my pain is to stop coping with it and start being with it. It hurts, but it needs to be acknowledged. 

The more I run away, the further I get from acknowledging my pain and misery. This is the Buddha’s first noble truth: acknowledging the suffering. Why haven’t I learnt it, especially since I know it by heart? How can I heal the sorrow that I haven’t identified? Similarly, the Buddha taught me that through acknowledging one’s suffering, they open the door to alleviating it.

By three things the wise person may be known. What three? He sees a shortcoming as it is. When he sees it, he tries to correct it. And when another acknowledges a shortcoming, the wise one forgives it as he should. ~ Anguttara Nikaya I – 103

Forgiveness, that is what I need. Once I’ve acknowledged my pain, I need to generate more loving-kindness for myself so I can forgive myself. 

It is not possible to have sunshine without the rain, smiles with no tears. By the laws of the universe, there is an inevitable polarity we must all experience.  

How can I possibly forgive myself if I don’t forgive others first?

I stop focusing on what others have done to me unfairly gradually and try to accept it. Forgive them, I find myself with less hatred.

 When I accept other people’s mistakes repeatedly, I realize that I can also accept my own mistakes in the end. Since forgiveness starts within me, it is imperative to start the process of forgiveness from the inside out.

Acceptance

When we do something wrong, we have two choices: change the situation or accept it. In Buddhism, this is referred to as right action and right view under the teachings of Noble Eightfold Path. If there is something we can do to change the course of things, we should take the right action or practice till we get it right. However, if we can’t change anything, we should practice the right view, which means looking at the situation in a new light.

Non-acceptance often leads to feelings of guilt and frustration. We should accept that we are human beings with emotions that often lead us to ignorance. 

It is because of our ignorance that we might commit mistakes. But, if we shed light on our ignorance, we can transform it into wisdom and learn from our mistakes.

Sending loving kindness to myself

In the past, when I dwell on the past and constantly analyze a situation, I might somehow be able to overcome it. Sadly, It never works that way, instead, it chained me to the past with torments. The past is gone, but my mind keeps it alive. 

Mentally revisiting a situation repeatedly only causes more suffering — it doesn’t solve anything. Instead of holding on to these dark memories, meditation is a way to look inward and get to know what’s happening inside my mind. 

By seeing through the self-generated feelings and emotions, I learn to let go.

I began meditating, as best as I could and doing it daily. Loving-kindness meditation is one of the meditations I practice often. 

Keeping my eyes closed, thinking of a person close to me who loves me very much. It could be someone from the past or the present; someone still alive or who has passed; it could be the Buddha or my mother. Imagine that person standing by my side, sending me their love, sending me wishes for my wellness, for my health and happiness. I could feel the kindness and warmth coming to me closely. That gives me the strength to carry on living. 

May I live with ease, may I be happy,

may I be free from pain. 

May I live with ease, may I be happy, 

may I be free from pain. 

May I live with ease, may I be happy, 

may I be free from pain.

Acknowledge the sufferings, accept it, forgive myself, and most of all, send loving-kindness to myself and let the Buddha’s Dhamma guide me. 

No matter how many years I have suffered, the best thing that happens to me is I have Dhamma by my side.

Handful of Leaves and Kusala Mag are in collaboration to share Inspiring stories sprinkled with Buddhist wisdom. Check out the latest edition!


Need help? It is one call away 

Sexual Assault Care Centre by AWARE

National Care Helpline: 1800-202-6868

SOS 24-hour Hotline: 1800-221-4444 

Singapore Association for Mental Health: 1800-283-7019 

Institute of Mental Health: 6389-2222 (24 hours) 

Tinkle Friend:1800-274-4788 (for primary school-aged children) 

Care Corner Counselling Centre (Mandarin): 1800-353-5800 

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