Sunday, July 8, 2012
Meet Tahir—Interview from Across the World!
Today I have a very special interview from one of my readers who recently reached out to me on a post about creativity. Muhammad Tahir is his name, he’s a courageous father who’s living through the tragic loss of his oldest son who suffered from bipolar disorder. Blessed with an amazing ability to write poetry, his son, Nasir Mahmood lost his life to suicide 5 years ago. Today, Tahir has decided to open up about his son and his illness with hopes to reach the many parents like him and children like his son so he can make a positive change. Please welcome Tahir and if you’re moved to do so, please leave any messages you may have for him in the comment section below, he hopes to hear from you!
Welcome Tahir, I’m so touched that you wanted to share your story with us. I know this wasn’t an easy decision and I want you to know that I’m so grateful for your courage. I along with my readers are reading with open hearts with a hope to learn from your family.
To start the interview, can you introduce yourself and share a little about who you are and where you’re from?
Let me from the very outset thank you for providing me a forum where I can talk about this tragedy which has struck me and my family. Very briefly who I am. I am a retired Major General from Pakistan Army. I am presently living in Islamabad where I build my own house after my retirement from the Army in 2008. I served at different places and varying appointments of the army.
I now have two sons and a daughter after Nasir Mahmood whom we all called “Moody” left us. He was the eldest and was born on March 21, 1975. We did not call him “Moody” because he was moody, it was his last name “Mahmood” that we changed to “Moody”.
I served for 38 years in the military. I served abroad as Lieutenant Colonel in Somalia from November 1993 to March 1995. And again as a Major General in Liberia UN mission as a Deputy Force Commander. My elder son, Muhammad Ali, is currently in Australia and my younger son, Muhammad Bilal, lives with us and is studying Law. Mariam is elder to Bilal and is married and has two kids, Eimaan who is 11 years old and Mustafa who is 7 years old.
Nasir Mahmood, “Moody”, Tahir’s son who died on May 4, 2007 of suicide. This picture was taken in 2004 in Dubai where he worked for 5 months or so. My wife says, “Though Moody is smiling in this picture, she sees pain in his eyes.” This was the time frame when Moody’s illness started to take shape and in his workplace he started secluding himself by reading all the time.
Can you tell us about your son Moody?
Nasir Mahmood, alias “Moody”, was born in Lahore on March 21, 1975. He was a quiet child and not naughty like some children are. There was nothing extraordinary which I should have noticed or bring out at this point. Yes, he was fond of dressing well. He was not bright in studies and like many parents I had to constantly keep telling him to study.
When he was about 17 years old, I now recall in hindsight that he was a moody guy. He would take on something and would pursue relentlessly.
When he was 19 years old, he wanted to do hotel management and decided he should go to Russia and do his studies for 3-4 years. I sent him there and he arrived at a university in St. Petersburg. He was required to do his year long course of Russian language. I was worried about him being alone.
After earning his Russian Diploma, he called me and said that he does not want to pursue his studies and would like to return. He came back to Pakistan. Back home we did not know what he’ll do next, so he started preparing for his Bachelors Degree. Then he fell in love with a girl who we did not know.
In Eastern culture the parents will never allow this kind of relationship and neither the children will share such flings. I am not sure, but his love affair may have caused him to hit rock bottom. I was in Somalia when my wife told me that he had cut his wrist perhaps because she rejected him. He survived this first suicide attempt.
After two years, he told us that he wanted to marry Sonia (I don’t know if this was the same girl). I did not approve as he was too young with nothing to show for—no job, no back up. The girl was a year or two older than him. She was rich but her reputation was tainted and some people raised eyebrows about her lifestyle. Moody and Sonia were madly in love. They decided that either they will marry each other or they won’t marry at all.
Then one day he said that he was getting married tomorrow and wanted us to join. We were shocked when we found out that he told the girl’s parents that he and his parents have agreed. They issued invitation cards for the marriage.
When I told him that he should go ahead and marry but count me out as I never agreed to him marrying this girl in the first place and this was not my decision but a family decision. Anyway he did not go and I do not know what happened. The girl Sonia broke up and I later came to know she went to the US.
During this time he did start a job in Lahore away from us. He earned well. He started to play golf and went crazy with it and became very good. He would swing and swing for hours and would proudly tell me that he was driving the ball over 300 Meters. Day in and out it was only golf. He went crazy for the game. Bought expensive golf clubs. Always selected the best things for himself no matter what the price tag was. This lasted for some time till he started reading books. He was reading hours and hours and finished book after book staying up all night. Little did I know he was going through an amazing metamorphosis. I noticed that whatever he did he would pursue it madly for few months and perfect it. This was now year 2003.
Then came another brain wave. He wanted to go to Germany to study in a German University. I told him without German Language it was a no go. I never thought that he would learn German. He perfected his language skills to an extent that he read and memorised Shakespeare’s Hamlet in German. He caught me by complete surprise, something I never expected would happen. As parents, we sometimes fail so badly to know our children.
Then one day we had a disagreement on his choice of University abroad which was beyond my means. There was no way I could afford it. He tore all his forms and left home. We did not speak for a month.
Then a friend of mine called me and told me that my son does not speak with anyone and I should take him to a psychologist. I asked Moody and told him about this. He laughed and said that he reads books in his spare time when he’s not working and he can see that other people’s mental level is too low and different and that they do not have enough knowledge to discuss issues with him.
Asking my son to go to a psychologist was like telling him he was crazy. In Pakistan it is a taboo and there are not many people pursuing this medical profession. Anyways, he started reading books and I realized that he was writing poems which were very intense and I found it difficult to understand at times. He wrote me letters and we did not notice anything alarming. His new found love for reading books made me happy and I bought quite a number for him. All he did was write and read.
In the end of 2004, Moody’s younger brother Ali got admission in Australia. I advised Moody to go to the same university as his brother was studying. But he wanted the best university and eventually managed admission in ANU, Australian National University. This is where he started showing his first signs of mental illness that I know. He slided fast within 5–6 months which ultimately lead to his death.
Moody in 2006. Notice his beard—he never shaved it till he died. Notice his younger brother Bilal in orange t-shirt (in photo below)—he has that same beard and never shaves it off. Bilal was the first to see Moody after he killed himself. He was very attached to his brother.
Can you share with us the type of symptoms you saw?
My son was never shown to a doctor. It was when he was in Australia and doing his masters in Australia that through his letters which he wrote he started saying that he had a hole on top of his head and had been captured by two spirits. One had taken control of his right arm and the other his neck. He also felt something strike him hard in the groins.
Now when he was sending all these stories I misjudged the whole state of affairs and thought that he would like to extricate himself from the university because he could not do accounting. I insisted that he stay and finish his studies since I had already spent $25–30 thousand dollars.
Between father and son we exchanged many letters. He wrote a total of 22 poems. His writing skills made a 360 degrees turn and something about the quality of his thought and expression surprised me. It was so sudden that for some time I thought it was not his original work.
Here is a sample of Moody’s writings describing his spirits and how they affected him:
I started experiencing tapping on my arms, shoulders, feet, legs and sometimes my thumb or other fingers would flicker momentarily especially when I am writing. Every muscle of my body responds. Even right now I am experiencing this writing to you. But gradually he has started to become more resilient. He communicates with me through words spoken on TV, while I am reading, when I am writing my office work, during conversations with people. I can’t even begin to explain you how difficult living has become when someone is being distracted after every few seconds and is corrected each time. Imagine as if someone grabs me from behind my neck and moves it around to look at certain objects, as he desires me. I try to not move and stay still but I cannot do that because he strangles me by the neck. If I could feel his hand then I can move it away because it is physically possible. My life is living hell in every true sense of my sentences. He is living and acknowledging my thoughts. The sort of thoughts those are mute. No shrink in the world can help me and no medicine can cure it.
After losing another relationship, Moody said that he was returning home. His condition was very bad, he would go barefoot out to Canberra Grave yard. I sent his brother Ali from Sydney to go and see him. He said that he was unwell. Ali boarded him on plane and saw him off.
When he came home he complained about what was wrong with all of us and why everyone was acting strange. He was shown to a doctor who did not tell us much except that he was in depression and then the doctor gave him medication. I had no idea what bipolar disorder was and whether or not he had it. The meds which were prescribed brought him back within 2–3 weeks.
What other unusual symptoms or behaviors did you noticed?
He started reading a lot in Arabi’s book on The Self-Disclosure of God and would watch the movie The Last Temptation of Christ. He believed that the spirits had gained control of his body and that these were Muslim Spirits who were not leaving him alone. One day he wrote me a letter to tell me that he was converting to Christianity. He thought that if he did that, the spirits would leave him alone. This did not happen and in his last letter before he committed suicide he mentioned this fact.
What type of treatment did your son have to treat his illness?
Sadly, my deepest regret and guilt is that I failed to go all out for him. As I was in Liberia, I could not monitor his medication. He stopped taking them and told his mother that the medications were making him slow and despite our best efforts, he skipped medications. I know he must have seen all the side effects of these medications on the computer and also I believe he knew about his disease. He spent all day long in his room and read books. He stopped writing.
You mentioned to me that in your culture, seeking help for mental illness isn’t done and that careers in the mental health field aren’t even pursued because of the stigma. Can you share more about this and how this stigma impacted your son’s life?
It had an impact on us and him as well. At times, Moody would would sit and stare and just smile. One day, he returned after meeting his friends and told his mother that now his friends are also laughing at him. He stopped going out too much. He would not even go to the doctor and my wife who was the only elder at home had absolutely no idea what was going on inside his mind.
I read online in one of your posts that you have guilt about your son’s death. Can you share where this comes from?
First, I was not there for him. Second, I did not gauge the gravity of the situation and allowed him to slide fast. The mere fact that I came to know about bipolar disorder after his death is enough guilt. I have tears in my eyes as I write these lines. I wish that I could revert time. It has impacted my wife and younger son too much as they were the ones who saw him in his room where he killed himself.
Looking back, what would you have done differently?
Oh a lot of things, as you can see it is so obvious. As I was not present, I could not physically follow him. My wife says that, “the children should be listened to”. She thinks his suicide was triggered by him not getting married to Sonia. And she says that he decided to take his life after he came to know that Sonia had gotten married and had a child. That broke the camels back. She repents for not getting him married.
What would you teach other parents based on your experience?
Personally, I think we as parents make lot of mistakes in raising kids. We fail to recognise the true potential of our children. I’m not talking about exceptions. I’m talking run of the mill. My culture and that of the West is very different in raising kids. We keep family together, more of joint family. There is a lot of respect for parents and marriages are mostly arranged through the consent of boy and girl. The children tell you so much without saying and we fail to notice things which are right in front of our eyes. We take things for granted. We do not heed to what children want, sometimes their demands are excessive and sometimes we replicate what our parents did and behaved with us. Sometimes we’re over protective and sometimes we do not care. A middle ground is the best.
What would you say to someone who was suffering with mental illness but was afraid of treatment because of the stigma or social impact of a diagnosis?
I would tell him first and foremost about the great men and women, the achievers of so many varied things in history, in every field, who have also suffered and yet achieved. We need to tell them that, “yes we know you suffer in moods, but everything is okay.” I believe most people with bipolar disorder are not listened to, when they tell us about their problems, we brush it aside. We become intolerant of their mood swings. We need a big sympathetic heart and open mind to listen and bear with them.
As a final word, what message would you leave with us?
The last word is, never take anything for granted.
I will close after telling what Moody did before he killed himself.
I was in Liberia and it was about 5:00 in the evening. My wife was just lying on her bed when Moody came and sat on the bed besides her and said, “Mama do you pray for me?” She said, “what kind of question is this, I pray for all of you!” he repeated his question at least three more times.
In his last days, he was very quiet, soft and low tone.
After 20–25 minutes of discussion, he got up and started going towards the door. My wife Tallat said to him, “Moody we will look for a girl for you to marry.”
He said, “Mama it is no use, these spirits do not let me live and they will ruin my marriage, no use, it’s too late.” He said this and left while my wife offered up her evening prayers.
Bilal, my youngest son, went to the computer and saw the letter Moody just emailed me. It actually started by this line “AGHA this is my last letter to you in this life ———.
Bilal ran to his mom and shared this. My wife took a minute to finish her prayers and said to Bilal that today, again, Moody is not in his right mind.
Moody’s room was in the far corner of the house. When they entered his room, Moody was bleeding and the pistol was on the floor and his head was backwards. All hell broke loose. Bilal dragged his mother out of the room. The driver was called and he was taken quickly to the hospital emergency. It was too late, he had already left us.
Earlier that evening, after sending me his final email, Moody came and sat in the TV lounge with me. We did not talk, he sat for a few minutes and went to his room. After 20 minutes, on my way to the airport, I told my wife Moody had gone to sleep as I do not see light in his room.
I left and then while at the airport, I was told he came looking for me and told my wife he was awake. I called him and we exchanged goodbyes. I told him I will call him as soon as I reach Liberia. Those were my last words I spoke to him.
BUT I MUST TELL YOU SOMETHING! Something strange I felt, especially when I was on my last journey from Accra to Monrovia, I felt something in my heart—I was sad for not meeting him. THIS WAS EXACTLY the time he committed suicide. That pain I still feel in my heart. It does not let me go.
Thank you for patiently reading my story everyone. You must read my lens on Squidoo about Moody’s writings (see link below).
Tahir with his family today. Son Bilal in orange t-shirt, wife Tallat,
daughter Mariam with her children Eimaan and Mustafa April 2011.
Missing in the picture is elder son Ali who is studying in Australia
Tahir posted a poem Moody wrote to his brother Bilal in 2005.
Bilal later, in 2009, wrote his first two poems
in honor of his brother’s memory.
* * *
I know that Tahir is anxiously awaiting your responses to his interview, please leave him a message, comment or question below, he would love to hear from you!
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Labels: interview, suicide
HeatherJuly 8, 2012 at 10:02 PM
Thanks so much for sharing your story. I’m glad that you are reaching out across cultural boundaries and beyond the stigma of talking about mental illness to share what your family and your son Moody went through. I’m so sorry that you had to lose him to this illness. My prayers are with you.
TahirJuly 10, 2012 at 2:20 AM
Heather, Thank you for your comments, which are highly appreciated.
Jess MJuly 9, 2012 at 5:47 AM
Thank you for sharing your story. I’m terribly sorry for your loss. It is clear by your words alone how much you love your children. They are very lucky to have you.
KimJuly 9, 2012 at 9:41 AM
Thank you for sharing your story. My father has bipolar disorder, so I have experienced growing up with a parent with mental illness, but not a child. I have 2 sons and sometimes worry that they may have bipolar, as I know it often does not become apparent until a person is in his/her 20s.
I was brought to tears by your story and so appreciate your openness, especially since there is still such a stigma about mental illness in your culture. I know when my father began showing symptoms, in the mid 1970s, there was much more stigma here in the US than there is now, and that made it even more difficult for my parents to get the support they needed.
Thank you again. I’m certain your story will help others.
TahirJuly 10, 2012 at 2:22 AM
Kim, Thank you very much. I hope in you your father has a strong support beside him. Such is life and it goes on.
MegJuly 9, 2012 at 10:12 AM
What a tough story. I am so sorry for your loss and for your son’s struggle with his mind. Thanks for sharing.
AnonymousJuly 9, 2012 at 10:34 AM
As a parent of child with BP illness I am grateful for your story and your generosity in sharing it. Everytime a story is told and we realize that this affects people form all cultures, social and economics standings, race, creed, sex, it chips away at the stigma and every chip gets us closer to acceptance and understanding.
Thank you for your unselfishness and honesty!
AnonymousJuly 9, 2012 at 8:30 PM
Thank you, Tahir and family, for sharing your story. My deepest condolences to your family for losing your precious son to this illness. So many of us are going through the same thing with our loved ones. God bless you.
AnonymousJuly 9, 2012 at 9:01 PM
Thank you for sharing such a difficult story, yet I feel so honored to have read it and to learn about your amazing son, Moody. I am so sorry for all the pain you have suffered, but please know that you have encouraged me to be a better parent to my young daughter who is struggling with possible bi-polar illness. I will take nothing for granted, as you said, and I will continue to learn from her and grow with her. What our children struggle with makes then the bravest people in the world. You are a tremendous father and I am honored to know your story. Despite all the miles that separate us and the cultural differences, we can understand that watching your child suffer is horrible. We embrace you and understand. Thank you!
TahirJuly 10, 2012 at 2:25 AM
Cathy thank you for your kind words. My prayers are for your daughter and whole family.
ShariJuly 10, 2012 at 2:05 AM
Thank you for sharing such a moving story. I am so sorry for the loss of your son, Moody! You are not alone in the pain you are suffering.
I have Bipolar Disorder and my nine-year old son also has Bipolar Disorder. He is getting as much help as possible for being a child and he is struggling but doing better. I am stable and doing good with the illness.
I am honored to have read your story and I appreciate your openness and honesty. I have often wondered how other cultures deal with mental illnesses. I would love to try and learn about others from different cultures so we can support one another.
TahirJuly 10, 2012 at 12:01 PM
I have all my prayers for you and your son. I am sure you will keep solid and face everything. Resolve is important. The best thing all the cultures have in common are human feelings, they transcend caste, colour, creed and religion. Thank you for your comments and thank you Mama Bear
AnonymousJuly 10, 2012 at 9:12 AM
Hello, Mama Bear! Someday I will figure out how to reset my account and write on your wall. Until then, I appreciate you taking e-mails!
Please let Tahir know I appreciate him sharing his story. The signs of depression are there, with my oldest son. (He is 12.) After reading about Tahir’s family and their son Moody, I will take nothing for granted. He reminded me to really listen, to my son, and act on what I hear. Too often, I give him a hug and brush those feelings aside, thinking all will be O.K. My son internalizes his feelings. By the time I realize something might be wrong, he is depressed.
Sometimes, I need to be reminded to check in with him and to always listen, really listen and share with him how to handle his emotions. Tahir sharing his story has already made a difference. Thank you, Mama Bear, for giving him this outlet.
TahirJuly 10, 2012 at 11:58 AM
I have no words to express myself when I read all these comments. I may not be replying to every one but I can see there are so many all over and every person who writes anything has already started to make difference to their lives and those near and dear to them. These are not ordinary situations and we must act well above the ordinary. Thank you Mama bEar you will be rewarded both here and hereafter, there is absolutely no doubt in my mind. I will copy and past my feelings on a couple of more comments.
EJuly 10, 2012 at 4:56 PM
Thanks you for sharing, Tahir-the love of our children who suffer binds us all. I have learned from you and your experience and will pray for you and your family.
Majid EhsanJuly 11, 2012 at 4:49 AM
Thanks for sharing your story so candidly and truthfully. May Almighty Allah grant you and your entire family patience and fortitude to withstand this shock (ameen). I can understand how difficult it would have had been for you to speak about such a tragic and extremely private issue just for others to learn. I can also understand how challenging it would have been for you to select the words best suited to express your inner feelings. But sir, the type and level of assistance and guidance you have provided to parents of teen aged children like me through this story is unparalleled indeed.
Thanks a lot. May Allah bless you for this good deed.
TahirJuly 11, 2012 at 12:00 PM
Thank you so much Majid. You should visit when you are in Islamabad we will chat old times.
AnonymousJuly 11, 2012 at 6:05 PM
Tahir, thank you so much for sharing your story. I can’t imagine the courage it took for you to tell it. My son has borderline autism and anxiety. It is a struggle every day. I am moved by what you have learned and are willing to share with us..despite a culture that is not open to these things. Your wife’s words in particular struck me very hard, ” We must listen to our children.” I will remember those words and your story.
Please know, that Moody has renewed my commitment to my son. I get so tired some times. I feel the pressure of time. My son in 10. I want him to be a resilient adult. But, I must listen to him more often…as your wife said. Moody is helping me now help my son and every time I look at my son, I will think of Moody and how precious they all are. I will also remember that no matter how much we love them…sometimes we cannot save them.
May you find some peace. With deepest gratitude to you and your family.
AnonymousJuly 11, 2012 at 6:10 PM
Dear Tahir, I just wrote you about my 10 year old above ..I forgot to add how much I enjoyed the pictures of you family. You’re grandchildren are beautiful. Thank you and your family for allowing us to learn and grow from all of you.
TahirJuly 12, 2012 at 10:55 AM
Thank you so much. When I read comments from people such as you and others I feel satisfied and in a way happy that because of Moody there is change parents have realised. What else do I want. Thank you gain and my best wishes for your son.
MareJuly 12, 2012 at 2:47 PM
Since the first time we communicated online and you told me about Moody, and I read his suicide note, I wept terribly. I still keep all of you in my prayers, and I know that your stories will be a blessing to many many others.
TahirJuly 13, 2012 at 2:08 AM
Thank you Mare and I would like here to your courage and fortitude, you are one strong woman who has borne so much and done so much for your kids your husband and also your own problems of eye. Thank you and my prayers for you
Brig Jehanzeb Raja (Retd), Pakistan ArmyJuly 12, 2012 at 11:09 PM
I know Tahir for 41 years now. We were cadets in PMA together, he the tallest, me the shortest in the platoon. The bond of friendship never left us, we met each other’s families, children on all occasions when visiting our home town in Rawalpindi.There is still a very strong bond between us, warm at heart, and ever reaching.
In between the rush of profession, race to promotion, personal committments we tend to ignore our children and fail to see their inner desires and hopes. I think most military fathers go through this in their lives, but very few see the devastation of the loss of a son, like Tahir has gone through.
I know that beneath the veneer of determination, faith and a stoic poise towards the world to put up a brave face, Tahir has a very warm and generous heart, he is open and forgiving, a very good father who only wanted the best for his children. For this to happen to him, is an irony indeed, but such are the impacts of fate, destiny and life.I will always remain your friend, no matter what, and pray that Allah in his mercy will give you the strength to carry on and be proud of what you have done.
TahirJuly 13, 2012 at 1:40 AM
My friend Jingo, these words coming from you speak volumes and I will cherish them like always with bottom of my heart. As you can see from the comments above we have all have our joys and sadness to keep and share but when you can make some difference with words they are very powerful medium and medicine. Thank you once again my friend; my prayers and blessings to you and your family.
AnonymousJuly 13, 2012 at 10:14 AM
Both my boys and their dad have Bi Polar. To this day their lives have been extremely difficult. For me it was very painful and I don’t like to look back because they have come such a very long way. All are on medications. But I will help others if they want. I don’t mine sharing.
AnonymousJuly 13, 2012 at 10:15 AM
I just finished reading your story, thank you so much for having shared it with me!
I feel truthfully grateful and honored because it has given me a deeper insight about what all what you went through… I am really moved because it happened when we were in Liberia and I was not aware of anything when we met! I thought it happened long a go, but it was so recent!
I must say, i admire your strength during that time…
Again thank you for sharing, truly moving…
Enjoy your grandchildren, laugh as much as you can, and all the best for you and your family
Jessica BAugust 22, 2012 at 9:42 AM
I pray for peace for you and your family. You are not alone. Although all of our stories are slightly different,they all contain much heartache and contain a lot of common themes. Your story can help many people and I appreciate how open you are with it.
I can relate to your pain. I too have a son with a mood disorder. He is almost 17 and we have been through a lot since the age of 3. We have two other boys that are “dealing” with this situation. My husband was also diagnosed with bipolar about 10 years ago. On top of that my father attempted to commit suicide 12 years ago. He has struggled with depression since my parent’s divorce. To make things even more complicated, I began having grand mal seizures about 8 years ago and extreme stress tends to trigger them.
To help cope with all the negative, I try not to dwell in the past, but focus on the positive moments in a day. Even if it’s a simple as walking outside and feeling a breeze across my cheek and taking a breath. It isn’t always that easy, but each moment is a gift.
Love your family, their quirks, their smiles, and their presence good or bad.
Know you are not alone…there are others out there that feel your pain and know their is always hope. I pray peace overcome you and your family! Love one another every day!
kanwalkhanMarch 12, 2014 at 2:40 PM
I literally have tears in my eyes after reading this.I am a psychology student and just taught mood disorders. It is highly genetic as well so it needs to be kept an eyes upon. I want to do something good for mental health of mankind. You are very right in saying that psychology or psychiatry studies are a taboo in our society and we need to change it up. may Allah give you and your family patience. you people are really strong and courageous. Remember In prayers Uncle.
AnonymousDecember 5, 2014 at 3:12 PM
dear tahir sir,
i am a med doctor and came across this blog. i am shattered to hear the story. sir u were our Chairman board of Governors of cck when you were commanding a division in kohat . may Allah bless u. please if u have any e mail id do share it with me would like to talk to you
DR abdul M Bangash