Just before you get into this read, I want to give a trigger warning. In this piece I am talking explicitly about mental health and my mental health journey. It has has taken a lot and a very long time, to come to the point where I am writing this, in fact as I type this, my hands are shaking. Some of what I have talked about no-one knows, so please treat this with kindness, respect and love. I share this with the intention of helping others and creating a conversation around the subject, especially as it is Mental Health Awareness Month. So feel free to message me or leave a comment to continue the conversation and share to anyone who you think may benefit from this. Thank You. x
My first encounter, well real-life encounter, one that proved to me that it wasn’t just in my head, was in year 10, aged 14. I was in a controlled assessment in History writing my final piece of coursework on Vietnam. I can’t remember ever feeling anxious beyond what I would deem the normal level related to writing exams. All I do remember is one minute I was fine and the next I thought I was dying. My breathing quickened beyond a stage I could control; I was shaking vigorously head-to-toe and I couldn’t breathe. Eventually, with the help of one of my favorite teacher, Ms Adewale, I was able to calm down. I felt so drained and lightheaded after, so my mum was called, I was taken to hospital, an ECG was completed and kept in for observation after an intense interrogation on my lifestyle.
That was my first panic attack. We are now up to number 40-something panic attack, or maybe it’s 50-something? That was essentially, the beginning of my very long mental health journey.
I was referred by my GP to CAMHS and began therapy in 2016. Therapy without a doubt was one of the most life-changing things I have ever decided to do. It saved me. I find it difficult at times to articulate just how life-changing therapy was for me. So bear with me. Therapy was the only space I felt it okay to be myself. To let down the guard I was so fiercely holding up in front of everyone including myself and my family. I cried. I laughed. I was angry. I had breakdowns. I had panic attacks. But that was all okay. I discovered what it meant to have real strength. I was confronted with all the lies I had been telling myself and those around me regarding my childhood and everything that I have ever been through. Therapy gave me the strength I needed to be able to embark on the rest of my Mental Health journey and without it I don’t know if I would ever be here, or even if I was here if I would’ve have been the same Sofiyyat sat here today writing this.
But therapy did not protect me from depression in 2017 and I still had a very long road ahead with my anxiety. All it did was equip me with the tools I needed to be able to overcome and deal with both these mental health illnesses.
I never got an official diagnosis for depression. Anxiety, yes. But not for depression. Hence, I have always questioned whether I have ever been depressed or just deeply sad. And I guess this has been one of my ongoing battles I have been dealing with, because a part of me knows that those moments in my life where I questioned my existence and even tried to end my existence I was probably depressed but another part of me shouts ‘STOP FEELING SORRY FOR YOURSELF, IT’S NOT THAT DEEP!’. This shouty voice is what has always caused me to suffer in silence. Because I have never felt like it was serious enough to seek help. But I mean when you are considering no longer existing, then I guess it must somewhat be serious right?
I was angry. Angry at the whole world, angry at my family, angry at the education system. Just. Angry. Anger is an interesting emotion to be feeling for a prolonged period, because it gets to a point where you forget why you’re even angry. Then it gets mixed with frustration. You get frustrated at yourself for feeling angry for nothing which then leads to more anger – this time mostly aimed at yourself. The process repeats itself. My deep-rooted anger at everyone at everything caused me to hate everything and everyone. I felt isolated in a world where I was constantly surrounded by those who loved me and desperately wanted to show me that they love me. So why couldn’t I feel it? Was I immune to ever knowing and feeling love?
The frustration that comes with holding and knowing both realities that exist is one which hindered me for a long time from seeking help. The reality that you know with so much conviction that you are surrounded by love and support. That you have everything in your life materialistically and physically to be happy and appreciative about. And the reality that with knowing all of this, that you can still feel so deeply sad, so unworthy of love, so out of place, so isolated and alone, so misunderstood. This dichotomy of realities is what kept me suffering in silence. Because how can you be sad when you have 2 parents who love you. How can you be sad with an Iphone 6+ in your hands? How can you be sad, with free education and a roof over your head? Right?
Anxiety with a side of depression.
Depression coupled with anxiety has a weird way of expressing itself to someone like me. Because as much as I deeply felt all of these things, from the outside you would never know. You’re wondering how? You’re wondering if it could have truly been that bad, if I still managed to put on a smile and carry on my days with no one ever knowing something was wrong. Well let me tell you now, for free, that it is truly possible. Trust me. And trust me when I say, it not easy. Nor is it sustainable. So yes, there are times I breakdown. Never to anyone outside of myself, or occasionally through no power of my own to people who just happen to be there when I had a breakdown. There are times I can’t leave my bed, or haven’t seen the sun for days, but I just put it down to having a cold or my anemia. So yes, it is very possible.
اللهمّ فارج الهم، كاشف الغم، مذهب الحزن، اكشف اللهمّ عنّي همّي وغمّي ، وأذهب عنّي حزني
Oh Allah, Reliever of anxiety, Remover of distress, Dispeller of grief! Remove my anxiety, distress, and dispel from me my sadness.
Where am I now?
What I know now, that I refused to believe before is this is all a journey. I cannot expect to wake up one day and be fixed and cured. Yes, therapy helped, prayer helps, medication helps. But nothing is a quick fix. And this, this is what I wish I knew all those times before. Because anytime I relapsed (fell into another deep episode of depression or debilitating anxiety with severe heart palpitations) I felt like a failure. I could finally confirm what my mind has been telling me all those years. Because who gets better only to find themselves back there. I thought there was no point trying to feel better because surely after the 137636th time of feeling like this, I couldn’t possibly feel better again. In fact, what was the point in even trying, if I am just going to end up straight back here.
But there is a point.
The strength I gain on the way up, means that a) not only is it harder to find myself back there but b) I had the strength and mental will power to get back up. Yes, it is hard. But who said it was going to be easy? No, seriously! Where has it got it written down that I’ll have this life easy.
So, I keep going. Along this journey.
With the hope that I can not only help myself to maintain being in a better space but to help others who are where I was to begin with. How I’m going to do so, I haven’t got it completely figured out yet. But this is a start, I guess.
Lastly, to anyone reading this, thank you for listening to me, for hearing my story, because you really didn’t have to. Know that it isn’t all bad and there is truly a light at the end of the tunnel.
Sending prayer, love and light your way.
Thank you and lots of love,