Most of us have had days when we felt like giving up; when misery seemed to be wrapping its arms around us and whispering that there was no hope. For me, there were a few things that brought on my feelings of despair. There was the cruelty of fellow human beings who thought I wasn’t good enough. There were the ones who saw fit to try and break me with their words. There was the absence of loved ones who I could not stop missing as well as the pressures of a society that demanded I fit in.
Fortunately for me, those days are now history. I used writing and singing as my escape. My stories created the life I wanted. I lived through my characters. I listened to music and I danced and eventually I came into the knowledge of who I really was and embraced the power within. That was the therapy that got me through when I questioned my existence, the purpose of life and why there was so much suffering.
I’m sure we’ve all had those nightmares where we fall into some trap with no seeming escape. The monsters were going to swallow us and there was nothing we could do. We could not breathe and the only thing that saved us was waking up. And, when we woke, there was a sigh of relief and often we were afraid to go back to sleep.
When I look around today’s society, I see a lot of people who are living the nightmare every day. They appear wide awake, but are really asleep and battling the monsters silently. Their life is hell because of it but most often the flames that are burning them are not being seen. Only they can tell how tormented they are and how dying sometimes seems like the only escape. This is the story for many Guyanese today.
Recently, a lot of attention has been paid to the fact that Guyana has one of the highest suicide rates in the world. And yet, it’s not something new. The problem has always been here. The question is, why? Why has a country that has a population of less than a million people lost so many of its citizens to suicide? We have a country that is rich with natural resources; a country with land that could produce all the food we need; a country that is unique because of its natural beauty; a country that has everything we need to ensure that all Guyanese enjoy a great life. So, why all the hopelessness? Is it years of mismanagement by governments that have contributed to the breakdown of this society on a social, economic and psychological level? Are they what’s responsible for crippling the hope that many should have and leaving them broken? I believe that to be a part of it.
According to World Health Organisation 2014 report ‘Preventing suicide: a global imperative,’ risk factors range from those associated with the health system and society at large (such as difficulties accessing health care and stigma against people who seek help for suicidal behaviours, or for mental health and substance abuse problems) to those linked to the community and relationships (discrimination, marginalisation, and conflictual relationships) and those at the individual level (mental disorders, harmful use of alcohol, financial loss, chronic pain and a family history of suicide). Other risk factors identified included a breakdown in the ability to deal with acute or chronic life stresses, such as financial problems as well as gender-based violence and child abuse.
The fact is a large percentage of our people are suffering on some level, but because of the masks we wear, the world sees a smile where a frown would be more appropriate to match what is going on inside.
These are the people who are well off financially, but despite that feel no hope or peace; their money cannot buy an escape from the terrors that keep them trapped. These are people who have suffered abuse; people who have lost loved ones; people who have lost love; people who have never been loved.
There are those who deal with poverty every day, like single parents who cannot give their children the life they deserve, or people who cannot find jobs that would pay them decent wages or simply cannot find jobs despite their qualifications.
There are the young people battling with their sexuality–the ones who are afraid to live their truth because of the fear of stigma, discrimination and rejection—and the ones in abusive relationships, the children who are being sexually abused and those who are just missing their fathers.
There are the young men who want the fast money–who end up doing the wrong things and are labeled criminals. There are the men who feel emasculated because they cannot take care of their responsibilities or are misunderstood. We are a nation of people overwhelmed with emotional problems and a system that has been failing many of them.
This situation is not unique to Guyana. All over the world people are faced with the same challenges. Our situation is, however, special because too many have used the escape of permanently ending it.
Too many times we have the attitude that we do not have any control over the things that are happening and, therefore, we feel there is no need to fight or work to overcome.
The damage for many of us starts when we are very young. Many children are placed into boxes that stifle the intellect they are born with. They are told to shut up instead of being encouraged to ask questions. They are beaten for being curious; placed into programmes that do not encourage the expansion of their creativity, but give them formulas to fit in. We tell them what or who our definition of God is instead of allowing them to discover for themselves. We foster an environment where they learn to suppress what they are feeling and by time many of these children become teenagers, they are already broken and tired.
It is my opinion that the result of such systems is some of what we are seeing today with the cases of depression and suicide. I think many of the people we call “mad” became damaged because of the boxes they were placed in as children. Many of them have never found a coping mechanism. Many did not have an escape. Many sought help but were rejected or were not taken seriously. Many people experienced trauma and heartbreak and simply gave up without a fight.
There are many spiritually-broken people, with no balance, order or harmony in their lives. They do not know or do not embrace the idea that within them lies the power to do anything they want to do. They have not reached the understanding of knowing how to balance the light and darkness within that would aid in enjoying a fulfilling life.
So, how do we fix our broken society, if it can be fixed? There is no one solution. But I do believe that we have to start with our children—we have to encourage them to enjoy the freedoms that childhood brings. We have to encourage them to speak freely about their feelings.
And, generally, we have to be honest with each other. We have to respect the individuality of each other and embrace the truth that no one system of living is going to work for all of us. We have to genuinely want to help each other. We have to build on those systems that are already in place to tackle the issues that are facing our people. And more systems have to be put in place; systems that will encourage an environment of nurture, care and understanding; systems that will aid in the development of the people holistically.
Together, we have to tackle the monsters so that the nightmares can be over. It is time to awaken. It is time to stop putting our children in those boxes that will stifle them and lead to adults who are damaged. It is time to heal wounds and create a nation where life is not intolerable for many, but fulfilling and balanced.