This article contains discussion of mental illness and suicide.

I knew something was wrong when my mother woke up before 9 a.m. She never got up that early. I knew from her erratic footsteps upstairs that nothing had ever been so wrong.

It was 7:30 a.m. when the doorbell rang. Uncertainty built in my chest — this wasn’t normal. I couldn’t answer it. The uncertainty became full-blown fear as my mother flew down the stairs. I felt myself shake as it began to dawn on me. When I heard her crying at the door, I knew.

I watched my mother walk toward the kitchen, face buried in her hands, followed by my uncle. He paused to look at me. I began to get up to greet him, but he motioned for me to stay, nodding his head in acknowledgement.

I froze.

There was no reason to think my Nanoo had died – there was absolutely nothing wrong with him and there was no way I could have known. But somehow I knew.

It took a while before I could move. I sat in silence, hearing my Bibiji walk toward the kitchen, joining the agonized voices in the distance. I had to go, to get it over with. I had to know for sure, but the second I saw their faces I knew I was right.

“Nanoo died.”

The coldness in my mother’s voice was like a dagger of ice to my heart. All the joy I had ever felt was swallowed in an instant by a deep fear that found a home in my chest. My arms went limp beside me as I struggled to stay upright. The word ‘died’ endlessly rang in my ears until I couldn’t hold it in anymore.

I didn’t think I could cry for as long as I did, comforted in my uncle’s arms. Eventually, they said “enough crying.” I just stopped. I didn’t have a choice. Avoiding their eyes, I walked slowly to my room. I didn’t cry for a while after that.

A nothingness resided within me no matter where I went. It found permanence in my heart. It left my eyes dry and my heart empty. I felt every bone in my body, every heartbeat, but I couldn’t move. When it became overwhelming, I sat at my desk and stared out the window into the expanse of the blue sky, motionless. Sitting there, it felt like an intense light was emanating from my chest, and all I could do was try to breathe.

I wanted to cry, but I couldn’t. I felt weak and pathetic, sitting there drowning in the suspended air when I had work to do and responsibilities to uphold. I wanted to pull my hair out. I wanted to die, but the calmness of death seemed too kind. I deserved to rot in my guilt and my sadness.

Noises from the house interrupted my trance. The feeling recoiled, retreating back into my chest. But I clung to it; I didn’t want it to leave me, not now, not ever.

I wasn’t always so hard on myself. Sure, I critiqued my work, my writing, my words, my actions, but it was because I strived to improve. At least, that’s how I remember it. But I knew my self-criticism was becoming a serious problem when my relationship with soccer changed.

I’ve played soccer for years. I love the game — feeling the wind on my face and the ball at my feet. Even after Nanoo’s death, I found solace in playing. I criticized my performance on the field the hardest; if I wanted the game to be here for me, I had to be worth its time.

Sometimes I’d have a weak touch on the ball and my pass would be skewed. Then I’d run too far, leaving my defence unsupported. Maybe I’d miss a shot or two.

But after my Nanoo’s death, the mistakes kept piling up and I became harsher and harsher on myself. Eventually, no matter how I played, I would chew myself up until I spit myself onto the ground.

On drives home, I’d almost bring myself to tears, hating myself for it. I felt like my brain was being squeezed over and over until it became a lifeless sack of neurons in my head. Everything inside me felt dead. I often thought of taking my hands off the steering wheel and letting life take its course.

I would always make it home. I had to. I didn’t have a choice. And when I arrived, I walked in with a smile plastered on my face.

“How was practice?” My mom would ask me in the kitchen, or my dad would ask me while coming home or my Bibiji or Bapuji would ask if they were visiting.

“Good,” I always responded.

I never told them how I felt. It wasn’t worth it. I had too many responsibilities: a reputation to uphold, a brother to be strong for. I never had a choice, nor will I ever really have one. I have always had to consider my family’s happiness and sanity before my own.

If I had the choice, I probably would still be holding that emptiness within me. But I forced myself to get better because no one else was going to do it for me. I started small, by cleaning my room, finishing assignments and other easy tasks.

It didn’t help that my family constantly nagged me about those things. I thought about screaming at them, about telling them how miserable I had been for the past year.

I needed space to feel what I felt and fix myself on my own. But I pushed those fantasies to the back of my head as I went about piecing my life back together, stuck in a never-ending cycle of constant ridicule from inside and out.

But it didn’t matter what they said or how I felt. What mattered was that I began finding myself in assignments and in cleaning my room and in doing the most stupid, mundane chores I never had the energy to do.

I thought self-discovery would be exciting, but it was really just exhausting. I wanted to, and did, give up many times.

But I had to keep going no matter how mundane or stupid or unbearable the task was. For my family, for their sanity, for a bearable life. I had to get better.