In a world controlled by technology in which real intimacy is steadily, silently and nonchalantly replaced by emojis, it is more important than ever to remember that there is no substitute for communication that makes us so uniquely human.
The real communication where words are heard not seen, where a hug is felt not sent in an emoticon that has a face and two arms, where a kiss is physical, not posted in a smiley and a mouth that is puckered in red, where concern is expressed through gestures not virtual flowers.
Rushed hellos, hurried how-are-yous, late-read messages, delayed responses and half-forgotten chats that you glance at while scrolling down the names and timelines of people who are family, old friends, acquaintances, contemporaries and people you barely know is how communication mostly occurs in an age where everything is fast-paced. There is much that is not said, there is much that is not communicated, there is much that is missed. Under the assumption that you are in touch with people who matter to you, you start to lose the importance of what really matters: real, tangible, human interaction.
Checking photographs and posts on Instagram and Facebook, there is not much that is noticed beyond the smile, the style and the location. Praise is in abundance and so is criticism, which without notice swerves into the dark and the ugly precipice of trolling. Words that are posted are given a thumbs-up or a thumbs-down, or commented on in positively, in mockery or dislike, or are ignored. The only thing that is mostly missing in responses to posts is attention or concern.
The superficial is lauded, but there is no time wasted in looking beyond that, in what is known as the protocol of checking photographs and posts: click on a like, favourite, heart while quickly scrolling down to the next one.
While most of your life is recorded in selfies and photographs of the big moments of your day, what remains invisible is the strain behind the happy smile, the unshed tears hidden behind mascaraed eyelashes, the unsaid words of a lipstick-ed mouth, the questions of a mind that is in turmoil, the anguish of a heart that is restless. Photographs and quotes become your story, as you wander into the transience of the Snapchat, the virtual, where everything is looked at without being seen, where nothing is heard despite constant wording of every thought that goes in your mind.
The world of social media where despite being constantly present you cease to exist.
On December 1, as I participated in the TEDx Islamabad Women conference speaking for the first time as a sole speaker instead of being part of a panel, there was pin-drop silence in the hall. In a setting where most speeches are interrupted with applause and laudatory laughter, my speech was heard without a clap, without any sound of laughter. I spoke on a subject that was painful to think about, painful to write about, painful to speak about and painful to hear: the suicides of two young women in Lahore, and the issue of depression.
The suicide of the 26-year-old model Anam Naveed Tanoli and the 20-year-old university student Rushaan Farrukh is the agonising darkness that has re-compelled people of all ages to acknowledge the reality of a silent and deadly condition commonly and carelessly known as depression.
Anam died on September 1, 2018. Rushaan died on November 26, 2018. I didn’t know them, but the news of their death devastated me. I cried for them many times. I pray for them. May they find their peace.
Depression, the invisible disorder, has the potency to play havoc with a young person’s mind, slowly turning into a poison that like blood runs through the entire body, sucking life without any physical symptom. Many people for reasons known or inexplicable go through depression, and not let it take over their entire existence, but there are many who either completely succumb to its effects, or let it affect their life in ways that have long lasting and awful consequences. In most cases of suicide there is one factor that is common: no one really knew what was happening to that person. The slow process of non-verbalisation that ultimately leads to a complete breakdown of communication.
What made me write today was the reaction of the many people in the audience. It wasn’t the silent and rapt attention; it was the comments that I received during the refreshments break and after the end of the event from young women, mothers, male and female psychologists, therapists and teachers.
What I’d not forget in a hurry is what some women in their 20s said to me. That my speech resonated with them. That they could understand what depression did to people. That there were things in stories of Anam and Rushaan they could relate to. That my words helped them. I felt humbled that my pain as a mother whose entire existence is her 18-year-old son could reach a few people who felt alone and lost because of their pain that seemed incomprehensible to most people in their lives.
What one young woman said deeply moved me: “I loved your speech. Can I hug you?”
All who told me they loved my speech, and were truly affected or moved hugged me. That to me was the best validation of my words that I spoke that day for Anam, Rushaan and all those who suffer in silence. When I left the Crystal Ballroom of the Marriott Islamabad that day, despite feeling awfully sad about the beautiful, the wonderful Anam and Rushaan, there was one feeling of positivity: that my words made some young people think that depression is something many go through, and that it is treatable. That there is always a window that is open. That there is always someone you could talk to when the world seems foreboding and scary. That depression is lonely but it is not the end of the world. And that even when it all seems dark, you are not alone.
Notice, care, reach out. Your words, your presence, your concern and your love can help lessen the feeling of hopelessness, of loneliness, in someone’s life. Before therapy, psychological counselling and anti-depressants comes the most important, the fundamental factor: empathy.
Notice the pain in your loved one’s eyes instead of heart-ing their photos and posts. Read the ache in the words of a stranger when you favourite a post.
Anam was reportedly suffering from depression; social media trolling and online bullying were a major catalyst. She was seeing a therapist. She seemed fine.
Those who knew her say that the 20-year-old Rushaan seemed happy, and that she smiled all the time. There was just one thing that was there, and that no one noticed: her months of Instagram posts that were full of angst, signs of pain, hidden pleas for attention, and her one-way journey into pain-free darkness.
No one understood what Rushaan wrote. No one really paid attention.
One day, Rushaan killed herself.