The day my childhood best friend took his life was during mental health awareness week. Throughout the week, I had been speaking to anyone that would listen about mental health awareness.
With the onset of 13 Reasons Why season two, people were talking about it. That night, I fell asleep watching the show.
At 5:00 am that morning, I woke up to my mom banging on my door. I saw her looking like I hadn’t in a long time. She was crying. I asked her what happened. She wouldn’t say. She just kept shaking her head and crying uncontrollably. Until she said his name. What happened? She just said no. There’s been an accident.
I met Emad when I was three-years-old.
We had been best friends since then. In a word, he was constant. If I think of describing him to anyone, the first thing I would say is laughter. Loud. Echoing. Hurting. His laughter was like fireworks cascading in the open air. I’d tell them that he was magnetic; everyone he let into his world felt that pulsating connection to be closer to him, to talk to him, to know him. I’d tell them about the things that I think of when I think of him: empty chocolate wrappers, open doors, Marlboro reds, daily tricks, all-encompassing hugs, and the suspension of time.
You know how they say that in moments of extreme anxiety you almost feel your heart stop? Maybe that’s what happened to me. Everything inside me hurt. Screamed. Shouted.
My body was too small to contain my pain. My body was too weak to contain the gravity of the situation. I screamed his name. Remembering every morning he came to wake me up when he got back from the airport. Remembering every walk we had from his house to mine, five minutes that were all ours. We’d always have the best conversations strolling down my street.
My mind couldn’t grasp what had happened, it wasn’t real, it couldn’t be. That’s what kept playing in my head.
I didn’t sleep that night. I haven’t slept most nights since then. Sunday came and I didn’t want it to because I knew I had to face people. My heart was too weak for that. Forget strong, I thought. I’m weak as shit. I’d spent so much of my life pretending to be the happy girl but I was tired.
So I cried my eyes out. Until I couldn’t cry anymore.
That’s when I started reading the news. No one would tell me what happened and I needed to know.
When I found out, I would have never even fathomed. I was scrolling through The Boston Globe and I came across a suicide story. I shrugged it off. But the more I read, obsessively, all over social media I realized I couldn’t avoid it. A few hours passed and by that point, I knew. I knew he had taken his own life and my heart felt like it broke once again. I wish I could tell you that I knew he was hurting, that I knew he was going through this.
But I didn’t. None of us did.
That’s the problem with mental health in Pakistan.
We don’t talk about it enough to even be aware of it. But this was more than that, this made me realize that most of the time, we don’t know what the people around us are feeling. Sometimes, we don’t even bother to try. As a populous, we’ve grown to rely on internalizing our feelings. Especially when it comes to boys, they’re taught this one idea of masculinity that has no place for emotions and that’s not okay.
It’s good to express the way you feel. Even if you feel awful, there is someone out there who will get it.
On that ill-fated Saturday morning, my life changed. It gets easier to pretend. I pretend for my friends and my family. But mostly, lately, I pretend even for myself. I’m too scared of spinning out of control.
I’ve never judged his decision. I never thought any less of him for it. But that doesn’t mean I wasn’t angry, at myself, at the world but not at him.
There are so many things I loved about him: his no-fucks-given advice, how he was the first person to smoke a cigarette in my room and I freaked, how I cried when he was leaving for uni and he laughed, told me that I’ll be alright without him.
How he could make friends so easily, and people always wanted to be enveloped in his world of crazy stories.
Most of all, I loved his unmistakable presence. The presence that some days, I still feel. When I’m walking the short distance between our two houses or when I’m sitting in his courtyard.
This isn’t something I’d ever want everyone to go through. I can’t tell anyone what to do when something like this happens, but I can tell you what I’ve learned from it:
The importance of speaking about mental health. In Pakistan, it’s so frequent that we push mental health to the sidelines, but pushing it aside does not make it go away. We need to acknowledge that mental illness has a long-lasting effect on lives.
Be kind to others. It’s so simple. Lately, when I feel my anger building, I try to stop myself from saying something rude. You never know how much words can really affect someone.
Make an effort with the people that matter to you. It’s so often that we ask people “how are you” in conversation, never even wanting to know the real answer. We’re too busy, we’re too caught up in our lives but trust me, it matters. It makes a difference to really listen when someone is speaking.
Ask for help. I know it’s scary and daunting. But taking a step back, and telling someone that you aren’t okay is important. It doesn’t work for everyone, but even if it works for one person, means it can be worth trying out.
The past few months have changed me, in more ways than I can explain. I’m grateful to have had him in my life for 21 years; my life was vivid because of him, and no one can take that away from me.
I hope that wherever he is, he’s smiling that goofy smile. I know that I’ll be looking for that smile wherever I go.