How We Should Be Talking About Sushant Singh Rajput’s Death

Like any other mental illness, however, bipolarity is not a template. One size never fits all. Sushant and I might have been given the same diagnosis, but a celebrated actor would have, of course, responded to it differently.

How We Should Be Talking About Sushant Singh Rajput's Death
How We Should Be Talking About Sushant Singh Rajput's Death

A day after Sushant Singh Rajput took his life, my sister forwarded me a to-do list the actor had hand-written. Of the 50 dreams Sushant had itemised, many were physical. He wanted to train for a triathlon, do a seven-clap push-up and get six-pack abs in six weeks.

He wanted to teach coding to the visually impaired and send children to ISRO and NASA for workshops. I was nowhere as fit or philanthropic as Sushant, but I still felt a strange affinity. He wanted to write books, travel Europe by train. Much like my to-do lists, the actor had colour-coded his. We both wanted to exhaust the world.

I didn’t know how to answer my sister’s somewhat wistful question—“How can someone who wanted so much from life suddenly feel it had nothing to offer?”—but by the end of our conversation, we had made peace with the fact that we would never know why Sushant had chosen suicide over flying a plane or learning Morse code.

Suicide, I said, was always irrational. No amount of logic could explain an act that did not stop to follow the guidance of reason. It was only a few days later, when my sister called to ask if I was still all right, that my self-preservation instincts kicked in. I muted ‘Sushant’ on Twitter.

Corpses, of course, tell stories, but with the dead not around to speak for themselves, storytelling then becomes the task of obituarists, of family and of friends. In the case of many celebrities, however, strangers, some of them fans, come to want stories that meet their dramatic expectations.

Cinema sometimes leads us to believe that death cannot be without cause, and if the deceased is a film star, the hankering for a motive is only exaggerated. In their fight for Sushant, journalists and social media conspiracy theorists have often mistaken his suicide for murder. Suspects have ranged from Karan Johar to his girlfriend Rhea Chakraborty. These speculations invariably leave me feeling sick to my gut.

If suicide is a crime, then Sushant’s therapist Susan Moffat Walker seems to know who did it. Given her recent public statement, it is clear that in the case of Sushant, the most likely suspect was bipolarity, not nepotism or malice.

Walker, a Mumbai-based clinical psychologist, told Mojo Story, “Sushant was suffering from bipolar disorder, a severe mental illness that can be crippling for an individual during an episode.” Diagnosed bipolar 13 years ago, I suddenly identified with Sushant , and even though it blurred the line between me and those crusading for justice in his name, I felt I could imagine his turmoil.

Listing the symptoms of bipolar disorder, Walker makes mention of “severe anxiety, major depression and sometimes disordered thinking and paranoia”, but while the psychotherapist’s assessment is urgent, I thought it only scratches the surface of trauma a bipolar patient comes to find familiar.

When I was first told that bipolarity is a mood disorder, I had underestimated its extremities. Every few years, when my mind is gripped by hypomania, it starts an upward climb toward a precarious euphoria. My language is nimble and my desire unbridled. I think I can change the world. I feel I can realise 50 dreams all at once.

Finding the world obstinate, however, my ecstasy gives way to anxiety and my enthusiasm then becomes paranoia. I soon see all of my remnant recklessness sink in the quicksand of depression.

The highs and lows of bipolarity both bring death closer. When in the throes of mania, I have felt invincible enough to forsake my fears of dying. I have wanted to be a martyr. I once wanted my passing to be a sensational headline.

More than anything else, I have wanted to be one with a God I otherwise have trouble believing in. Even though bipolar depression resembles unipolar depression in several ways, it is further marked by a fervent desire for that disruptive but enabling hypomania.

For bipolar patients like me, the nostalgia for euphoria comes to make depression feel bottomless. The excess I yearn for also, paradoxically, leaves me guilty. A life of apology can, at times, begin to feel dispensable.

Like any other mental illness, however, bipolarity is not a template. One size never fits all. Sushant and I might have been given the same diagnosis, but a celebrated actor would have, of course, responded to it differently.

In her statement, Susan Walker says Sushant was “fearful that someone would have found out”. She also says, “It is often the shame of having [a mental] illness that can drive people to suicide.” Ignorance is almost always hard to disturb. Sufferers of bipolar disorder are often dismissed as unreliable and temperamental.

The extravagance of their mania and depression makes it easy to disregard their long stretches of lucidity. Commonly misunderstood, bipolarity may end careers when it becomes public knowledge.

Sushant’s fears only seem warranted. Given the reactions to his suicide, it seems clear that had he confessed to being mentally ill, we, his audience, would have all failed him.

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