I was 16 years old when I decided that I was simply not meant for this world.
The only control I felt I had was to end it all—to “check out.”
There was an eerie feeling of deceptive calm when I had reached that point. As if the noise and torment I had been struggling with internally suddenly dissipated, and I felt as if this—this one decision—was the only control I had.
My heart had metaphorically given out, leaving me an empty shell with only one thing left to do—get it done.
When I look back at that moment, I feel as if I am watching a movie snippet of a young girl, alone in her bedroom at 1 a.m., writing letters to loved ones filled with self-loathing, in the darkest state of despair.
Honestly, today, it feels foreign to me.
It feels so far removed from the woman I have become and the values I now hold dear.
Thankfully, my attempt failed and the seeds of my belief in divine intervention were planted.
After a hospital admission, days of hallucinations, and having to deal with angry family members, I went to a psychiatrist.
That feeling of hollow was still present in that existence that feels like it was another-life-ago, and I simply couldn’t connect with her, despite her warm and beautiful heart.
Weeks later, feeling as if I had been on autopilot in my own life, struggling with having to be branded as the person who needed to be watched—but thankfully not institutionalized—a friend approached me with a book.
“I can’t empathise with you, Mands—I’ve never been there—but I really think you should read this,” she said.
It was the first thing someone had said to me that wasn’t filled with pity, anger, concern, or patronization.
It was simply a friend telling me she couldn’t really understand, but that she thought this story could help me understand a little better.
The book was written by a Brazilian author I was unfamiliar with—Paulo Coelho.
The title was what I couldn’t stop staring at as she handed it to me: Veronika Decides to Die.
I devoured every line of this man’s story. I read it in an afternoon, and I sobbed.
I resonated with Veronika’s journey—her decision and her pain—and for the first time in what felt like years, I no longer felt alone in how I had been feeling.
I wasn’t crazy, I wasn’t isolated—I was searching for meaning.
I was searching for myself and how I wanted to contribute to the world without being told what was expected of me—to break free of my conditioning.
Most importantly, even though pain was my greatest teacher, it demanded to be felt, processed, and released in its right time, or it would yet again consume my love of life.
I researched this writer, finding out that he was famous for his book, The Alchemist, which I later read.
I also came to find out that Veronika Decides to Die was loosely based on his own life, having been institutionalized by his parents three times before he was 16, because of their inability to control him and dissuade him from becoming a writer.
He eventually self-published all of his work and has been inspiring millions ever since, and I can’t even begin to express how much gratitude I have for him.
He is, bar none, my favorite writer.
He brought me back to life with his words.
He helped me believe again in the power of the human spirit and how our lives are our own to shape, with the help of the universe.
He also reaffirmed my belief that words and stories are our most inexhaustible source of magic and that even when the night is at its darkest, they shine a light for us.
Despite the conformity that was being forced upon him, he did the most courageous thing any of us can ever do—he followed his heart.
I would like to share some of the quotes I found the most profound when I read Veronika Decides to Die:
“‘Anyone who lives in her own world is crazy. Like schizophrenics, psychopaths, maniacs. I mean people who are different from others.’
‘On the other hand,’ Zedka continued, pretending not to have heard the remark, ‘You have Einstein, saying that there was no time or space, just a combination of the two. Or Columbus, insisting that on the other side of the world lay not an abyss but a continent. Or Edmund Hillary, convinced that a man could reach the top of Everest. Or the Beatles, who created an entirely different sort of music and dressed like people from another time. Those people—and thousands of others—all lived in their own world.'”
“This time, I’m not going to tell you a story. I’ll just say that insanity is the inability to communicate your ideas. It’s as if you were in a foreign country, able to see and understand everything that’s going on around you but incapable of explaining what you need to know or of being helped, because you don’t understand the language they speak there.”
“Death frees from the fear of dying.”
“If only everyone could know and live with their inner craziness. Would the world be a worse place for it? No, people would be fairer and happier.”
“I wanted to…feel hatred and love, despair and tedium—all those simple, yet foolish things that make up everyday life but that give pleasure to your existence. If one day I could get out of here, I would allow myself to be crazy, everyone is indeed crazy, but the craziest are the ones who don’t know they are crazy; they just keep repeating what others tell them to.”
“I want to continue being crazy; living my life the way I dream it, and not the way the other people want it to be.”
“Be crazy! But learn how to be crazy without being the center of attention. Be brave enough to live different.”
“You have two choices, to control your mind or to let your mind control you.”
“As she had been walking from the ward to that room, she had felt such pure hatred that now she had no more rancor left in her heart. She had finally allowed her negative feelings to surface, feelings that had been repressed for years in her soul. She had actually felt them, and they were no longer necessary, they could leave.”
“Certain people, in their eagerness to construct a world no external threat can penetrate, build exaggeratedly high defense against the outside world, against new people, new places, different experiences and leave their own world stripped bare. It is there that bitterness begins irrevocable work.”
“Personal growth has its price, and she was paying it without complaint.”
“Each human being is unique, each with their own qualities, instincts, forms of pleasure, and desire for adventure. However, society always imposes on us a collective way of behaving, and people never stop to wonder why they should behave like that. They just accept it, the way typists accepted the fact that the QWERTY keyboard was the best possible one. Have you ever met anyone in your entire life who asked why the hands of a clock should go in one particular direction and not the other?”
“Collective madness is called sanity.”
“She would consider each day a miracle—which indeed it is, when you consider the number of unexpected things that could happen in each second of our fragile existences.”