Facebook told me that it’s World Mental Health Day today. My Instagram feed is filled with mental health awareness posts. I scrolled down my feed to read countless quotes like “Your illness doesn’t define you. Your strength and courage does.”, “It’s okay to not be okay.” and “Everything that you are is enough”. Despite the motivational boost, it was extremely demanding for me to muster the spirit to pen these words. It’s 9:31 PM right now and it took me all day to convince myself to write this post about something I’ve kept to myself since a very long time.
You guessed it right! My journey with Depression and Anxiety. Before I dive into the details of how it feels to live with these two devils, I want to talk about why I have the biggest lump in my throat while I write. I debated with myself for years about openly talking about this illness I have for numerous reasons. Firstly, because the last thing I needed was sympathy. By sympathy, I mean being treated with pity and people feeling sorry for me. By no means is this a bad thing, but being a person who hates being the center of attention, I wanted to avoid the extra attention that this would bring to me. Secondly, because it took me an eternity to accept the fact that I have mental illnesses. I had lived in denial for a long time as coming to terms with the reality of struggling to live each day of my life was overwhelming, to say the least. Finally, because it made me feel weak. It made me feel like I have no control over my own life and I am helpless. I felt like publicly speaking about it would mean that I am seeking help and I did not want to feel so incapable.
Why now then, you wonder? It is because I don’t feel like that anymore. I have come a long way and grown out of the fear of being judged by society. Now, I have the courage to speak about my weaknesses and so I will.
It was the year 2016 when I first decided to seek help. Feeling hopeless and scared all the time was routine but one day I woke up and struggled to get out of bed to start my day. So I went back to sleep and woke up in the evening. I found myself still unwilling to get out of my bed. I tossed and turned and forced myself to go back to sleep. The next day, I woke up at the call of Fajr Adhaan. I desperately wanted to get up, do my Wudu and pray my namaaz. My mind was screaming at me, telling me that all the solutions to life’s problems lie on that prayer mat. One sujood and Allah would take care of all my difficulties. Yet, I stayed glued to my bed, watching the break of dawn as the sunlight slowly lit up my room. My time to pray was over. I spent every second restless and impatient till then and yet, I could not manage to get up. Doing what I did best, I cursed myself to be lazy and negligent. I blamed myself for being so unproductive and that I was suffering in life because I always procrastinate and never get anything done. A voice in my head asked me, “Why didn’t you just get up?” The only answer I had was “I don’t know” and that was my answer to most of the questions life threw at me around that time. This is exactly how it feels to live with Depression and Anxiety at the same time.
I still consider it to be a blessing that I decided to get professional help for myself. So many people choose otherwise and suffer in silence. This single step can help one make or break their life. Till date, I am unsure of why and how I made up my mind to do it, but I did and I am forever grateful to myself for doing so. I reached out to a Psychotherapist who was once a teacher of mine. She was an amazing teacher. Being a person who was always revolted at the name of attending classes, I never missed a class of hers. Somehow, I felt that I could, maybe, open up to her. So there I was, standing outside her chamber one day, heavy breathing as I knocked on the doors. She welcomed me with the most comforting smile. As I settled down on the plush grey sofa in her room, I earnestly prayed to God that I didn’t get diagnosed with Depression. I assured myself in my mind that she would tell me that I was just having a bad day and was going through one of life’s many downs like everybody does. After an hour of questions and conversation, she came to a dismaying conclusion that broke my heart into tiny little pieces. “Zaara, I am afraid you have symptoms of Clinical Depression” were her exact words. “There is nothing to worry about. It happens to the best of us. We will work on it and it will be better.”
The first few weeks were the hardest. Right now, as a part of my brain is trying to recollect the godawful memories of what might have been the hardest days of my life, another part is constantly trying to shut them down. Initially, it took me weeks to just make peace with the idea that I had Depression. “How could I let myself to get to this point?” I wondered. Like it was my fault that I had Depression! I felt ashamed. I felt embarrassed. I felt fragile af. One day, I took my phone and messaged my therapist telling her how I wasn’t being able to live with myself for being in this situation. What she replied to that changed my perspective once and for all. “Tell me Zaara, would you feel the same if you accidentally fell and broke your arm?”
Psychotherapy helped me heal scars I didn’t even know I had. It helped me look at things from a new perspective; an angle I didn’t know existed. Most importantly, it helped me realise how awfully hard I was on myself for my entire life. I’ll share a really intimate story. I am not sure if I am even supposed to speak about this on a public platform, but oh well! During one of my sessions, my therapist did an exercise with me. I can’t quite recall what it was called but if I’m not mistaken it was called The Empty Chair. My therapist asked me to first sit comfortably on my usual spot, the sofa. Then she placed an empty chair in front of me and sat next to it. She asked me to close my eyes, relax and picture myself sitting on that chair. Only, it wasn’t me but my mind or soul that was sitting there. I don’t know how to explain this but it was like I could see my inner self; my psyche. It felt like I was meeting myself for the first time. My therapist asked me what I saw. I said I saw myself. She asked me to ask her how she was doing. My reflection answered “I’m fine” with a smile. My therapist began to make me engage in a conversation with my imaginary self. It was rather awkward in the beginning! My therapist asked me, “How does she look?” The more I focused on the girl, the clearer the image became. “She looks..scared.” I said, surprised at my own answer. “Ask her why she is scared and tell her that there is nothing to be scared of. Tell her you are here for her” my therapist said. I told myself, or my psyche sitting opposite me, however you put it, that it was okay and she didn’t need to be so terrified. She didn’t answer. She looked down and started to weep helplessly. I was shocked. As I zoomed my vision in on her, I saw bruises and marks all over her face and body. She looked frail and couldn’t manage to even sit up straight. She only looked down and cried hysterically. She was beaten up, tormented and abused to the level where she didn’t even know how to respond to kindness. She seemed so petrified of me that she wouldn’t even look up. Tears were rolling down my cheeks then as it is now. I began to comprehend what I saw. I did that to myself. I beat myself up so bad that I couldn’t meet eyes with my own reflection. “Zaara, tell her that you’re sorry. Tell her that you didn’t understand how unmerciful you were to her and that you will treat her with more love and care from now on. Tell her that you will be there for her.” It was so hard getting those words out of myself. It was right there and then that I realized how challenging it was for me to be kind to myself because I had never been so. All my life, I was so harsh on myself that when I grasped what I had done to my subconscious mind, I was filled with guilt and more guilt.
That day was the last day I mistreated myself. I walked out of my therapist’s chamber wiping my tears with a promise to never ever let anybody, even myself, treat me with disrespect. I have held on to my promise till date.
It has been three years since then. Depression has been like that one unwelcome guest we all have. It arrives without any prior notice, makes itself home, stays as long as it wants to and never lets me know when it’ll decide to leave. I was doing pretty well after my multiple therapy sessions with my Counsellor. I was more mentally stable and I found purpose in life. I didn’t struggle to wake up anymore. I began to trust my instincts and took baby steps to improve the quality of my life. I concentrated on my work and became more active in my social life.
I was living my life in peace, minding my own business when suddenly last year, Depression decided to pay a visit, and this time, it brought along its annoying little friend, Anxiety. It was during the time of my wedding; the most crucial time of my life. I was “half-married”. I have created this new term for those like me who do their Nikaah first and move into their husband’s home months later. It is the worst concept ever created but that is a story for another time. Anyway, half the time, I was dealing with the new adjustments of being married and part-time going insane with the approaching wedding preparations. It was then that my Anxiety was triggered and before I knew it, I was losing my sanity. The control-freak inside me got the better of me and I started to panic at the tiniest of problems. Weddings are undoubtedly stressful but in my case, it became a curse. I had this compelling need for everything to go my way or the highway. This would cause frequent brawls with my over-enthusiastic family and would eventually lead me to distress. The more boxes I ticked off the “Wedding To-Do” list, the longer the list kept getting. Girls dream of their perfect wedding from a very early age and I was no exception. However for me, during my wedding, it was all about getting things done. Where were all the carefully curated ideas that I had saved for years? I felt hopeless again. Wake up, panic, resign, repeat – a day in the life of me.
I lost plenty of things – sleep, hair, weight and my peace of mind to name a few. I never knew what the ‘bridal glow’ meant because I never had it. Finally came the day of my wedding when I had to move into my in laws’ place. I reassured myself that all the stress was now over and I could peacefully settle down in my new home. Unfortunately, fate had its own plans and I kept struggling. Struggling to adjust to the new abode, struggling to fathom out why my husband and I were always fighting, struggling to feel happy. I recognised this feeling immediately. Within a span of two months, I found myself seeking professional help again.
Depression and Anxiety are like non identical twins. They are similar yet of completely conflicting nature. To live with both is like living in a constant battle with your own mind, every single day. It is over analyzing every little situation yet doing absolutely nothing about it. It is making To-Do lists of all the things that need to be completed and as soon as you’re done making the list, giving up even before starting because you have no faith in yourself to actually make it to the end of the list. It is taxing and exhausting to the point where you feel physically tired. Despite all of the above, it is curable. I have fought it and succeeded once and deep inside, I know I can do it again. I can and I will.