“Loneliness is always looking for a friend
It found me once and it has been around since then
Loneliness is never waiting by the door
It sweeps right through and it will never be ignored…”
The song ‘Loneliness Knows Me By Name’ by Westlife has been a part of my playlist ever since I heard it when I was twelve years old. It might not have been wildly popular, but it talks about a problem that mankind has faced since the dawn of time: loneliness. Aitijya Sarkar is no stranger to the disease called loneliness, which is why he founded his NGO ‘The Wall And Us’. The young changemaker talks about why he works hard to fight loneliness, and how he plans to change the mental health landscape in India.
How did you come up with the idea of The Wall And Us?
The Wall And Us began after my suicide attempt on February 19, 2016. I was a diagnosed alcoholic with clinical depression, anxiety, insomnia, panic-induced night terrors, visual and auditory hallucinations, and suicidal ideation.
Post my attempt I wanted to do something to ensure that people like me had a place to go to. The idea was to give the broken of the world a corner on the internet where they could come and share what they’re going through with a listener (not a professional), in real time, anonymously, and for free.
I remember back when we began, I would stay up late at night, sometimes spending hours in a day speaking to strangers who just wanted to be heard.
Growth was slow because initially, it was just a cause, not an organization.
In 2018, I decided to make this bigger, and scale what we were doing. Today, almost two-three years later, we’ve hosted thousands of conversations and heard some incredible stories. We’ve heard stories of rape, abuse, trauma, loss of a parent, cross-dressing, anything and everything you can possibly imagine.
We have around 70 volunteers (and growing) from every part of the country and around the world who spend every waking hour of everyday speaking to people who need to be heard and ask for nothing in return.
It’s been a remarkable journey so far – because outreach has been completely organic and I haven’t spent a single rupee since building the website. Everything has run on its own.
The crux of your work is to fight loneliness. Why is that?
I’ll be honest, that’s where it all began – with loneliness. But, with time, it has grown to become more. Today, it’s not just loneliness, we’ve handled everything known to man – right from prostitution to a simple fight with a parent.
My obsession with loneliness initially and even today stems from my own life. Post my suicide attempt I became obsessed with finding a cure to it and also to identify how to beat the emptiness that comes with it.
In the years since, and the hundreds, if not thousands of people I’ve spoken to, met, had a call with, I’ve codified what I believe is the single biggest reason loneliness is so unbearable for some people.
I call this the “I am not enough” theory.
From what I’ve observed, the people who are unable to shake off their loneliness are those who tend to suffer from an inherent voice within them that tells them they aren’t enough for the world, for those they love, and for themselves.
Since they don’t feel enough, they want to quieten this voice by surrounding themselves with people and things to feel whole. This holds particularly true for those who continue to be in abusive relationships, abusive marriages, bad friends, anyone who surrounds themselves with people who don’t deserve them.
Furthermore, I believe loneliness is the single biggest reason most people are in relationships today or do things that they don’t want to do.
Tell us about the army you are building – and how we can join.
We can’t do what we do without people choosing to be there for a stranger and not ask for anything in return. Why? Because the chat is free. I don’t believe you should have to pay to speak to a friend – and that’s why we’ve kept this free for so long and will continue to.
To be able to do that, we needed to build an army. An army of people willing to give back to people like them—the broken of the world—and ask for nothing in return.
Today, we are a team of 70 and we continue to grow. We have among us doctors, students, working professionals, etc. Basically, people from various walks of life have joined us.
We recruit once every month and anyone can sign up by filling up a form in the ‘About Us’ section of the site. Once they’re selected, someone generally reaches out to them within a week.
Loneliness is a modern-day malady, an epidemic of our times, and we all need to work together to fight it. So come, join us!
What are your plans for The Wall And Us now that you’ve finished college?
So far, this journey has been incredible. Now that college has ended (5 year BA LLB), it’s time to scale the organization to be one of the largest collective groups working towards the cause of mental health. I’m committed to doing this full time and post my graduation, I became the first full-time employee of the organization.
To grow, I’ll continue to build a brand around me across platforms like I’ve been doing for so long now.
The Wall And Us Foundation is just one part of a long, arduous, and difficult road to tackle the epidemic across Asia and the world. I think the mental health fight in India needs three things desperately and I’ve committed the next two decades of my life to establishing all three –
– A free platform with kind, empathetic, and trained listeners that people can speak to in real time, anonymously, for free. This is the bridge between mental illness and seeking help – a friend you can count on when you don’t have any.
– Pan India Safe Spaces so that people can meet and network with people who’ve suffered from a mental illness and share what they’re really going through without any judgment.
– Real, honest, vulnerable stories around mental health.
Lastly, I aspire to shake up the world of therapy and unify all the three things above.
It’s going to be a long journey ahead but I’m confident if anyone can do it, it’ll be me. Because the people I fight for are people like me – the broken of the world.
I’ve always believed that a man is made by his belief – as he believes, so he is.
I believe destiny is not written for us, it’s written by us. It’s a choice, I’ve made mine, and I’m willing to lay my life down for it.
Every single one of us has felt lonely at some point in our lives, so the work Aitijya is doing really needs our full support. So what are you waiting for? Click here to be seen at The Wall And Us.