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Let's Talk Mental Health - 5 Women Share Their Stories

Let's Talk Mental Health - 5 Women Share Their Stories

 We interviewed 5 incredible ladies about their individual journeys with their mental health struggles, challenges they face from the community, and more. Some of these authors wished to remain anonymous which is why their names aren't displayed.

Trigger Warning - Suicide, depression, ADHD, OCD, PTSD, and other mental illnesses & distresses.


SUHA

I’ll be talking about my experience with- 

  • OCD
  • Depression 
  • Generalized anxiety 
  • ADHD

What are some struggles you have with mental health? 

Throughout the course of my life, there has not been any relationship as unique, tumultuous, and riveting as the relationship I have with my mental health. From a young age, I was diagnosed with OCD, generalized anxiety, panic disorder, ADHD, trichotillomania, and faced bouts of seasonal depression on top of everything else. Although each separate diagnosis may look like a lot, symptoms of each one of these disorders tend to overlap with each other. For example, recurrent panic attacks are related to having issues with anxiety just as trichotillomania is a repetitive body behavior, filed under the umbrella of OCD. Each diagnosis brought out a separate chasm of difficulties and struggles, some overlapping, while others completely unique and specific to the disorder itself. I’ve struggled with time management as a result of ADHD, not being able to focus, losing track of time, doing poorly in assignments and classes because of focus issues, and constantly losing things. with OCD, I continually felt and continue to feel at a loss of control for the thoughts in my head and how they affect nearly every facet of my life. Everything from becoming obsessed with things abnormally, counting tiles on floors, repeated hand washing, and constant thoughts playing on loop, my relationship with OCD has felt suffocating and prison-like. My depression comes in waves, sometimes they are manageable droplets of water, other times, tsunami-like onslaughts fit enough to make anyone drown. 

Constantly feeling like you’re not good enough, rampant insecurities, racing thoughts, and putting unnecessary pressure on yourself are all difficult aspects of life most of us encounter. But if you add a concoction of mental illness diagnosis to it? All the worse.

When did you realize you were going through this?

I was seven years old when my youngest brother was born. Though 2006 was a long time ago, I can still clearly picture a tiny bassinet holding an infant in my living room. Once he got old enough and my parents' friends started to visit our home, I learned the importance of hygiene around newborns. Before I touched the baby, I made sure to wash my hands. However, handwashing soon spiraled from a good habit to a compulsion that I could not, for the life of me, seem to control. I can still picture my tiny hands hovering above the sink in my first floor bathroom, scrubbing the suds away until my palms burned red.

When I was eight years old, I fondly remember counting the basement bathroom tiles of my family’s new house. One. Two. Three. I quickly moved onto tiles to count my footsteps- be they in the walls of my home or outside on the pavement, scribbled with a rainbow of sidewalk chalk hues. What I initially deemed to be a silly habit spiraled out of control- my entire mind was swimming with numbers. One. Two. Three. I could not stop counting. One, two, three. Too many thoughts filled my young mind and before I could process what had happened, my head was deep under the waves I thought would just pass. 

Did you have support along your journey?

Yes! My journey with mental health is an ongoing struggle but I’m glad to say that support has come in the form of medication, family and friends, and mutual understanding from people I love.

What was the hardest part of your journey?

Because I consider my journey to be a continuous struggle, I would say the hardest part of it so far has been coming to terms with the reality of my diagnoses. For a long time, I resorted to blissful denial of my mental state being abnormal, resorting to bouts of escapism in an attempt to drown out all of the voices that were telling me I needed help. Because many of my conditions were identified at a young age, it makes sense that I didn’t come to terms with the reality of my mental health issues as a child. Interestingly enough, all of these traumas have, in some way or another, forced me to grow up at a faster rate. The lens through which I was viewing the world and people around me was blurred by the haze of chemical imbalances, all of which lie far beyond my control. 

For someone else in similar shoes - what would you say to them?

I know this may seem like a cliché that’s overused, but you are not alone. Truly and entirely, your struggles are not isolated within yourself alone and I hope you can find acceptance within your struggles to live a happy and fulfilled life, despite all of the roadblocks that may come in your path. Healing is a lifelong journey and you will love and lose people along the way but coming to terms with your diagnosis can be the right stop in a journey of healthier, happier tomorrow’s. 

What helped you/helps you through your struggles?

Being prescribed proper medication immensely helped aid my mental health recovery. Though this is an advantage not everybody can afford or benefit from, I find myself to be very fortunate in the aspect of receiving pharmaceutical aid in lessening the burdens of my mental health issues. In addition to medication, regularly going to therapy and counseling services helped me to come to terms with my emotions, along with useful coping mechanisms. Throughout my life, it’s been a blessing to see how the stigma around therapy has changed and I can’t wait to see how the conversation surrounding mental health improves for the better in every single community I see myself in. As a writer and language enthusiast, divulging my pain and hurt through writing poetry, journal entries, and songs has given me a new perspective on various experiences. I figured that although I don’t have control over what type of trauma I go through in life, at least some type of art can be made as a result of it. Lastly, finding support and mutual understanding within my friends and family members has proved to be invaluable as a means of support. Though some of my loved ones don’t understand what I’m going through to the exact decree, the fact that they are willing to listen and serve as light through my darkest nights is a kindness I will forever be indebted to. 

What can our community do better for mental health struggles, particularly your topic?

I’ve learned to never doubt the importance of a listening ear. Our community can potentially better the lives of people who struggle with mental illness simply by listening. Oftentimes, we resort to judgment because that’s what’s been programmed into our psyches from a young age when dealing with things, people, or ideas that are different. The simple gesture of empathy can save a life and completely mean the difference between someone’s cloudy sky and sunny day. Secondly, honest and vulnerable conversations about taboo topics are very necessary to have. Depression, suicidal tendencies, anxiety, OCD, ADHD, and many other mental health issues are extremely prevalent in the Muslim community and the stigma that surrounds them is not going to go away by continuously sweeping these topics under the rug. Educate yourself, listen, and be empathetic. It may seem obvious, but these kindnesses can go a very long way.



ARONNO

I’ll be talking about my experience with- 

Anxiety & productivity/school/work 

What are some struggles you have with mental health? 

I have had anxiety since I was 12 years old. It took years to completely understand how it affects me and how to navigate through the struggles. Anxiety looks different for everyone, but for me, it has really strong physiological responses. I get shakes, fevers, body aches, migraines, and have even fainted before. Sometimes the anxiety comes out of nowhere and you can't even fully understand what is happening. I've had a really hard time trying to explain to my loved ones and peers what I was experiencing. It is hard to explain that I have no control over how my body is responding to the experience. 

It was only with proper support and resources that I was able to cultivate proper tools to deal with my anxiety. Anxiety really affects my day to day, sometimes, interfering with school or work

Did you have support along your journey? 

Sometimes yes, sometimes no. Anxiety can convince you that you are an inconvenience to the world and that you don't want to burden people by sharing your struggles. THIS IS COMPLETELY THE ANXIETY TALKING. You have to give people the chance to support you. You are LOVED and CARED for and there are people who want to support you. I've learned to be transparent with professors and my employer about episodes because more often than not, they are willing to help/accommodate my needs. 

What was the hardest part of your journey?

You have to understand what works for you and be able to communicate that to people. It's really hard to feel the courage to set boundaries but it's so worth it when you are able to do so. The hardest part for me has been accepting that sometimes I am in no control of my body or my anxiety and I have to learn proper techniques to support myself in these situations. It took me a long time to understand that it is not my fault or anything devaluing me as a person by having a mental health issue. 

For someone else in similar shoes - what would you say to them?

There are days when it is sunny and there are days that are cloudy, but the key is to keep going no matter what happens. Anxiety can be so overwhelming and feel so frustrating but it should not make you feel any less about yourself. Take time for yourself, figure out what works and what doesn't (many times this will even change). Be gentle with yourself! Don't be afraid to ask your professors for extensions or be transparent about how you're doing - if it'll make things easier for you - it is worth it!

What helped you/helps you through your struggles?

Friends who have to lend their ears and be willing to learn how anxiety affects me have been truly beneficial for me. It is nice to hear a friend want to learn about what I'm experiencing rather than suggesting things that might not work for me or refuse to understand anxiety looks different for everyone. Getting extensions on assignments or projects and work has helped me balance my anxiety in being productive which has really helped my days get better. 

For myself, it has been really good to experiment with different techniques of making it better. Sometimes, I need to go on a walk and visit something I really love like water or flowers. Sometimes, I need to lay in bed in silence. Sometimes, I need to eat some ice cream and watch a show. Sometimes a talk with a friend really helps. I remind myself there is no zero-done solution and to try different things out. 

The biggest thing I remind myself is that anxiety episodes DO subside. It definitely WILL get better. 

What can our community do better for mental health struggles, particularly your topic? 

As a community, we need to learn how to support people with anxiety and be open to learning about their experiences. We can ask our loved ones "What can I do to support you?" and listen to their needs. We should check in with our friends because often it can feel like we are burdening our loved ones by sharing our hardships. 


NISHAT

I’ll be talking about my experience with-  

Depression

When did you realize you were going through this? 

When I was about 16, my friend pointed out to me that I probably have depression but I was too scared to acknowledge it. She wanted me to go to a medical professional but I knew my family would not take this seriously so I laughed it off too. After I was 18 years old or so, I had to acknowledge that yes I in fact do have depression but not everyone will understand/acknowledge it so I can just kept it to myself. 

Did you have support along your journey? 

Alhamdulillah yes. Support came to me when I was at my lowest. I passed the first couple years without any support. But my mother was quite understanding of my emotions. Later I went to a therapist and a doctor so I am on medication now which has made me feel a lot better than before.

What was the hardest part of your journey? 

Setting boundaries with the source(s) of the problem. It's more difficult when the "problem" is someone close to you or someone you have to encounter on a daily basis. This is something I still struggle with because the thing about setting boundaries is it's not fully in your hand. You can set your boundaries but not everyone will be respectful about it. 

Acknowledging my emotions and my mental state was a challenge too. Once I knew how I exactly felt, I was confused about what to do with these emotions. 

For someone else in similar shoes - what would you say to them?

Don't lose faith in your Almighty if you believe in one. Something that kept me LIVING was knowing that this life is a gift from Allah, maybe I wasn't sent to have a good life, maybe I was sent to do good things for others only. And surely there will be a greater gift from Allah. At times I was challenged with the thought that well I don't need a greater gift I just need a peaceful life. But the reality is this world as a whole is in chaos, it's unrealistic to expect peace. And it's sort of peaceful to know Allah chose you of all people to multiply goodness in the world. 

Also, VERY important to GET HELP! You can't always push forward alone. Please get help. If you don't know where to, ask around in forums, check blogs or whatever you can think of. There are communities and volunteers online if you can't step outside and seek help. 

What helped/helps you through your struggles? 

Knowing that this life is temporary and sooner or (most likely) later this is all going to end. It's just a matter of time before we reach that end. It seems like a lot of time now. But the time WILL pass away. 

What can our community do better for mental health struggles, particularly your topic? 

There should be a test to determine whether you are ready to be a parent or not. And of course this should include how teens or children even can go through mental health struggles. I think it is the most damaging when people don't get any support from their parents, and parents are very uneducated on this issue. We can't solve it unless we get to the bottom of this and educate people. For now, we should really educate people in a way they'd understand. And for the coming years and next generations, I hope people will be already educated on this, it will be a matter of establishing more resources.



LIPE 

I’ll be talking about my experience with-  

Depression and Anxiety 

What are some struggles you have with mental health? 

I have been finding it difficult to manage everyday life. Things like getting out of bed, sleeping too little or too much, having  breakdowns while I am at work or class, finding it difficult to concentrate or remember things, changes in mood (some days I am sad and some days I just feel like staying in bed all day and crying) are all examples of this. The worst one is having suicidal thoughts & having flashbacks or nightmares after a traumatic event.

When did you realize you were going through this?

 When I reached out for help from a therapist, I was diagnosed with depression and anxiety. I was going through it for a few years but I kept thinking I will get better on my own. I didn’t though, and it kept getting worse to the point that I tried attempting suicide a few times. But Alhamdulillah after seeking help for three years now, I am on the road to getting better slowly. 

 Did you have support along your journey? 

I did and still do have support along the way. But the sad part about fighting with depression is that in the process you lose a lot of friends who don’t understand what you are going through. Not everyone understands what depression is and in my honest opinion is, if you don’t go through it, you will truly never understand what depression is and what the person who is fighting it is going through. 

What was the hardest part of your journey? 

The hardest part has been fighting suicidal thoughts. The hardest part of depression is hopelessness and despair. There were many times where I did act upon it and there were times where I didn’t. Suicidal thoughts are not a joke. They are extremely dangerous. There were times where I just wanted to give up because I couldn’t keep fighting anymore. I felt like I was going crazy. Depression has a way of making you feel like things will never get better, that you’ll stay inside the darkness forever.

For someone else in similar shoes - what would you say to them?

Please seek help from a therapist. Don’t rely on getting better by yourself. You will not get better by yourself. Having a therapist helps a lot so please get the help you need. And to anyone who has suicidal thoughts or has acted upon it please remember that it is not worth it, your life is too precious. Do not give up on yourself, you will get better & you will be happy again. Giving up on life is not the solution - do not let depression win. 

What helped you/helps you through your struggles? 

Keeping myself busy has helped. For example, going out with friends, traveling, painting, or simply just taking some time out and pampering yourself. Going on dates by myself & reminding myself that my own company is enough. Self-love is the best kind of love you can ever give yourself. Learn to enjoy the little things in life. 

What can our community do better for mental health struggles, particularly your topic? 

The best thing our community can do to help those who are struggling with mental health would be to accept that depression is an illness. Our brown community doesn’t see depression as an illness. They lack so much knowledge about this topic. Most brown parents don’t understand what it is and when they see their children go through it they think they are just sad for no reason so they tell them they will get over it. Our community needs to understand that people with mental health problems need lots of love, attention, and extra care. You have to listen to what they are saying, pay attention to what they want, and help them overcome this struggle. 


ANONYMOUS CONTRIBUTER

What do you struggle with?

I have moderate-severe depression and PTSD but I haven't been taking western medication. I've been more focused on overall health and taking a homeopathic method for treatment. Somedays are really hard and others are easier, but the biggest struggle is having patience and staying happy. Even in my happiest moments, the smallest minute detail might trigger my PTSD and immediately I feel like crying or screaming and my whole mood gets ruined. Some mornings, I don't even want to get out of bed and I can lay there for hours just not thinking or not doing anything. Its as if, I have 0 energy 24/7. Other mornings, I get up and I'm happy and I just do what I have to get done.It still feels like I'm not as happy as I want to be and I don’t know how to get there.

When did you realize you were going through this?

I think I always knew deep down that I was going through this, but I always ignored it. Depression is such a taboo discussion and whoever has it is labeled as 'mad(crazy)', 'mental', and/or 'possessed'. During COVID, I decided to start looking for treatment. I think I've had PTSD/depression since I was about 9-10 years old and that was brought on by a death of a very close family member. It could probably go back further to when I realized everyone had a father except me. My family has been very open and verbal to the fact that he didn't want any children and left my mother when she was 3 months pregnant with me. What makes it worse is when I found out his family saw me until I was 2, but he never held me or wanted to be a part of my life. I’m still working on figuring out what the main trigger is. 

Did you have support along your journey?

My mother and my best friend are my biggest supporters. They always look at what's best for me but more so, what makes me happy. Even if they don't approve of something, they'll lend me a hand and pull me back when I've gone too far. They listen to me during my breakdowns and help me through my panic attacks. When they know I've been triggered, they try and remove me from that situation or advise me avoid it completely.

What was the hardest part of your journey?

There are a couple difficulties that I've been facing and the main ones are acceptance, patience, and communication. Some days, I just can't find the patience to go through the steps and process of overcoming and forgiving/forgetting. I just want to wake up and be a new happy positive person but I know that's not realistic, and that's where acceptance comes in. When you start therapy, there's a TON of built up, suppressed emotions and situations(trauma) that you've blacked out. The only way to overcome depression is to accept and forgive. It seems insane and impossible but it's literally the only way. To accept it is to acknowledge something happened and screwed up your peace. And communicating and talking to people is hard because you're now letting down your toughest walls and becoming your most vulnerable which is scary. A lot of trust goes into that and even the closest of people tend to be deceiving. 

For someone else in similar shoes - what would you say to them?

Go to therapy. Ignore everyone around you and just GO. It does NOT make you crazy or weak. Do what makes you happy and find your circle of people who'll dry your tears on your worst day. 

What helped you/helps you through your struggles?

Blocking out the entire world, having 'me-time', and crying. Thanks to quarantine, I was able to really assess my life and being alone is what made me see that my biggest struggle was subconsciously trying to fit in with society while wanting to rebel. So blocking out everyone for a while made me realize that only 2-3 people will always be there and accept me for me. Crying and 'me-time' helped because it just releases stress and built up emotions. I just let it all out then do a facial, take a nap, practice my hobby, just something I want to do 

What can our community do better for mental health struggles, particularly your topic? 

ACCEPT IT. Help our youth and stop making them feel incapable. Get them help, encourage them, listen and pay attention. There's so many small little things that people can do to help someone mentally. The stigma needs to die in order for the community to move forward, positively.

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