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Goodbye, Anam and Rushaan

What is it that drives a 26-year-old, a 20-year-old, successful, intelligent, beautiful, popular woman to death, there is no single answer.

 |  Tarar Square  |  12-minute read |   21-09-2021
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This story was first published on December 1, 2018

TRIGGER WARNING: This story contains description of suicide, self-harm.

"Today my forest is dark. The trees are sad, and all the butterflies have broken wings." Underneath the posted quote were the words: "Oh look, another attention-seeking post. #mylife #brokenwings"It was posted on December 17, 2017 on Instagram.

"How someone reacts to your sadness says a lot about how long they're going to be in your life." Underneath the posted quote were the words: "Yes I'm an emo kid today."It was posted on February 22, 2016 on Instagram.

Date uncertain, there is a video message: "Bullying is bad. Don't do it. It's just a coward's way out. And it's a pathetic way out, quite frankly. And usually they are people who've been bullied in their own life; they try to take their misery out on other people. Don't let it bring you down..."

The two posts, the comments underneath the posts, and the video message came from the same person: Anam Naveed Tanoli.

On September 1, 2018, Anam Naveed Tanoli was found dead in her room in her house in Lahore. Anam was gorgeous, a highly successful model, much in demand professionally. She was 26 years old.

I didn't know who Anam was, but the news of her death devastated me. The news of her death also traumatised my 23-year-old niece, Areeba, who knew of Anam through her friends. All of them had stories to share after her death.

That Anam was suffering from depression. That she had been seeing a therapist. That she had a therapist appointment even on the day of her suicide. That despite being hugely successful, she faced constant criticism regarding her looks, most of which she took in her stride, some she laughed about, some she took to heart. That she was praised all the time. That she was also mercilessly trolled. That cyber-bullying by strangers deeply upset her.

Singer Momina Mustehsan, after Anam's death, posted an open letter to Anam on Instagram: "I'm sorry you had to give up. I'm sorry I didn't understand the intensity of how much you were hurting. I know you were trying your best to be positive, and you were a champ. I was super proud of how far you had come in the 9 years I had known you and the person you had grown to become. I swear you had the strength to keep fighting back, staying strong, and standing tall."

Actress Mawra Hocane wrote: "I spoke to a close friend of Anam's who told me how deeply she was affected by social media trolling and bullying at work. She was suffering from depression, and the world was ruthless regardless. I wish she was stronger, but I also wish that we were kinder, all of us. Be on a watch, anyone around us could be suffering from depression, and your words can take someone's life."

Read the silence of that loved one who once couldn't stop talking. Representational Photo: Getty ImagesRead the silence of that loved one who once couldn't stop talking. Representational Photo: Getty Images

On November 26, 2018, Rushaan Farrukh, a student of a university in Lahore jumped from the fourth floor of her university. Rushaan was 20 years old. Sitting at the edge of the roof, dressed in an orange sweater and blue jeans, very pretty, her legs dangling, she didn't move when her friend begged her to. She looked at her friend quietly for a few seconds and jumped. In front of her friend who had failed to stop her. Other people had just watched and called it an attention-seeking stunt, a drama. Later they made videos of her dead body.

The why of Rushaan's death would haunt her loved ones. The what-if will be the nightmare that would keep them awake many a night. The why-didn't-we would be the ghost of guilt that wouldn't be exorcised for a long time.

The post under her photo that went viral after her death makes you go cold: "If I decided to kill myself anytime soon, I want you all to remember me like this. Just in this saree, on a spring afternoon looking happy, too happy!"

In that photo dressed in an orange and yellow sari Rushaan looked beautiful, radiant, happy, and anything but broken inside.

Once Rushaan wrote: "It is only when someone around your age dies that it hits you how important it is to be kind and compassionate and empathetic to people around you. I cannot stress enough at this point what a huge difference a little kindness can make. You don't even have to say you are there for somebody to be nice. Instead, don't talk trash about somebody, don't gossip unnecessarily. Before you even start to think ill of somebody stop yourself and check your behaviour. Because when you start to eliminate negativity from yourself, you'll start to maybe inspire others to do so. And if you already have such people around you, try and be like them. It is so so important to be nice to each other. Start with yourself there. Start with cutting unnecessary negativity."

I didn't know Rushaan, but the news of her death devastated me.

On Rushaan's Instagram were about 1,000 photographs. She deleted all of them the day before she killed herself. It is as if she wished to leave nothing of her before she left the world. She left a few posts. One said: "Exit. You've probably been neglecting your heart, and you don't know it." One said: "Exit." One said: "Don't worry, it will just hit you like a comet." One said: "I can hurt you before you hurt me."

My niece's best friend, also a student at that same university, was a friend of Rushaan. She told my niece that they had no idea that Rushaan was unhappy, and that she seemed perfectly normal, and that she seemed happy. My niece turned 24 the day after Rushaan killed herself. She didn't know her, but she couldn't stop talking about her the whole day. On her birthday she cried for Rushaan. She sent me Rushaan's photo, and I stared at it for a long time. I cried too. I wish I knew her. That I could have been there for her. I cried when I wrote these words. I pray that she finds her peace.

Pakistani superstar Mahira Khan tweeted: "When will we start taking mental health seriously? When will we stop calling people mad or ridicule them for how they feel? We need counsellors in schools. Not just for students. We need to educate parents and teachers."

What is it that drives a 26-year-old, a 20-year-old, successful, intelligent, beautiful, popular woman to death, there is no single answer. How big a role the societal pressure to look a certain way plays in evoking feelings of self-doubt, self-loathing, and despair, it would be hard to quantify. How simple emotions of sadness, disappointment and anger convolute, if left unidentified and untended to, into a deeper, darker and scarier state of mind commonly, carelessly and randomly known as depression, who is to say. How individual comments of praise, adoration, criticism and trolling underneath a Facebook, Twitter or an Instagram post expand, taking the form of an unwieldy mass that has no known markers of right and wrong, of where to take a pause, where to end.

Your life is under constant scrutiny based on the value of your looks, and your opinion of self is influenced by your apparent success. There is pressure to get the perfect grades; there is failure that you dread; there is love that hurts, and the love that ends; there is rejection that you face; there are the oohs and aahs that match every step you take in your uncomfortable stilettos; and there are jeers and mockery that hiss in whispers wherever you are, cloaked in velvety nastiness of people you work with, you study with, and in badly-worded attacks of strangers who online revel in their mud-slinging, unabashedly blatant, in ruthless words punctuated with slurs, secure behind their one-way glass of anonymity.

The comments are read, taken too seriously, taken to heart, remaining un-erased in mind, allowed to fester. Heedless, you allow legions of people you'd probably never meet outside the virtual world take over rationality and pragmatism in your real life. The virtual becomes the dominant force in your life when while trying to make your name, or to just be yourself, on terra firma most of your self-validation comes from a medium that exists in an intangible world. When everything you do or say is posted online, when your photos become your identity, when your profession demands you to look impossibly beautiful, when your eyes remain glued to a chat waiting for two blue ticks to appear, when the read message is not responded to, when the apps that were just an indulgence once become your barometer of your popularity, your relevance, or your insignificance, you wander right into the rabbit hole of the over-amplified, exaggerated importance of social media.

The borderless, boundary-less dominion of post, like, favourite, heart, comment, reply and bookmark has opened a Pandora's box of the good and the bad, the beautiful and the ugly, the pristine and the dark, the acceptable and the unacceptable. And if most of your self-evaluation is based on the comments of strangers, very soon you lose your sense of identity. Trolling makes you sad. Hate-filled remarks make you angry, then sad. Vicious comments of people you know, and total strangers haunt your days like a vivid nightmare from which you can't wake up.

What you are, what your worth as a person is, how much you are loved, what you mean to your family and friends, how much strength you have, the milestones you have touched, the dreams you cherish, the goals you are tick-marking one after the other, the amazing person you have become, the wonderful human being that you are, your beautiful heart that is your guide, all of that becomes irrelevant when your self-validation is dependent on what you see when you stand and look at yourself in that unfathomable, bottomless, merciless thing: the black mirror of social media.

You stop seeing yourself. You cease to exist. You are not you anymore. You become the accumulation of words, comments, judgements, praise, criticism and trolling of others.

Depression can lead to suicide, but not all depressed people kill themselves. What is that last line that some cross and some don't into that complete darkness where they hope they would find peace, away from the gaze and glare of flashing notifications, cameras that judge, people who hurt, friends who disappoint, the love that breaks the heart, family members who fail to see the pain?

Watching 13 Reasons Why twice, I cried many times. As the mother of a then 17-year-old son who talks to me about everything in his life, and vice versa, who learns from the past and comes to terms with the unchangeable, and who with his innate kindness and wisdom has made me a better person, I wanted to reach out in the screen and hug the 17-year-old Hannah Baker, to simply say: it will all be okay. Pain that we don't understand is still pain. Disappointments that feel like shards of glass to a young person and are trivial stuff to older people still matter. Social media trolling, peer pressure and judgments of people may not affect all of us, but those that it does affect, don't ever think it is no big deal.

When there is constancy of pain and depression in posts of a family member, a loved one, a friend, a cousin, an ex, stop and think. What may be theatrics and melodrama for you may be the only way someone else is able to express their pain. Don't ignore 3 am texts of a friend, whose I-can't-sleep is days of insomnia caused by some issue they have no way of dealing with. When you see someone in pain, reach out. If it's someone around you, sit with that person, in silence, holding hands, your arm around the shoulder. Hug tight. Don't pass a judgment. Share their pain without a verdict. Be there.

Depression is that depth of loneliness where the only person in the world is the one who is suffering. Depression is darkness that feels complete, endless. Depression is unrecognised pain, one wound after the other.

Kindness is underrated, I say. You see someone is in pain on your timeline, reach out. Mere words can change lives. Words matter. Don't demean someone's pain. Don't mock someone's tears. Don't trivialise someone's emotional weaknesses. Even if you think you can't do anything, just be empathetic. And be there.

Read the silence of that loved one who once couldn't stop talking. Sense the pain in the voice of someone who laughs without a reason. Notice the unshed tears behind mascaraed eyelashes, the half-smile of a red-painted mouth, the bitten-to-ends nails covered with false painted ones, the dark circles visible underneath the YSL concealer.

The signs in males vary, but once you start to notice, nothing remains hidden.

Be there. Notice. Care. Reach out. Don't look away saying: it's all in your head, you're overreacting, you're such an emotional fool. Don't ignore. Be persuasive. Be gentle. Let the words come out. Let the pain be worded. Don't close your eyes. Help lessen the pain. Tell the person in pain: you are not alone. Before it is too late. Before the pain becomes as visible as the bright flashlight illuminating Anam's beautiful face, the sunlight dancing on Rushaan's radiant beauty, their pain photo-shopped, their scars invisible.

On one of Rushaan's last posts she wrote: "And so it was that I started to get the feeling you get when you're about to leave a place forever. It's bigger than the feeling of missing a person. It's the feeling of missing a feeling. I know deep down that this is the last time I'll think about things (especially myself) in that certain way. See, that's what I'm scared of. Not the new, but the old. Being the person I was two years ago. Because I know I can defeat her and hurt myself so bad. I'm sorry this is all I could manage in twenty years."

Those who hurt them, those who loved them, those who left them, those who were there, will never really know: why did Anam kill herself? Why did Rushaan kill herself?

Rest in peace, Anam Naveed Tanoli.Rest in peace, Rushaan Farrukh.

Writer

Mehr Tarar Mehr Tarar @mehrtarar

A former op-ed editor of Daily Times, Pakistan, and a freelance columnist.

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