Pakistan is a place where mental illness is often misunderstood as either exorcism or lack of religious serenity (sukoon), as my mother call it, even amongst the most educated class. I was one of them. Actually I never catered to the above believes but I still never accepted the term ‘mental illness’ as it is and rather ignorantly always tried to convince people, suffering with mental illnesses, in believing that they didn’t have any issues and it was just in their mind. Ironically it actually was in their mind but it was not willingly that they were going through the torment, they needed professional help. My abstinence from even acknowledging mental health actually cost me my closest relationship.
2015 was a rollercoaster ride but it could not have ended with a worst blow. In December last year I broke up with my 11 year old relationship, the love of my life. I thought life had ended for me. I lost the will to accelerate and kind of gave up on all my dreams. I did not feel pleasure in doing anything. I used to lock myself up in the room, smoke for hours and just conspire about how I could get that time back even if it was a little glimpse of hope. I always pictured myself as a macho and never thought ill take the break up so severely. It was the feeling of being rejected that shook my believe and engulfed me into deep depression. I used to wake up several times crying in the night, bad dreams, raised heart rates & headaches. The worst part was that I would not talk to anyone; firstly because I have always been an introvert and secondly because I dint think anyone would understand. More so I didn’t want people to understand that I am a looser chasing someone who has lost interest in me or rather lost the will to deal with me. I became a withdrawn and defeated person. Perhaps she was suffering from various mental illnesses herself which I was conveniently oblivious too in our times together.
The last thing she said before we parted ways was that I consider therapy and that it really helps. It was a sign! The very next week I saw a post on my FB wall about this event called Taskeen at T2F. I have always been very fond of T2F. I think Sabeen, may she rest in peace, was a brilliant visionary with unsurpassed conviction of breaking the society of its cultural and moral stigmas. She did a tremendous job in creating a space where people specially young minds could express freely and be creative.
So I ended up at the Taskeen event at T2F. The presenters were a couple of therapists, an experienced patient who had suffered from severe mental illnesses himself and found his way to deal with it, two neurologist and the top neurosurgeon of our country. Basically the event had every one who knew anything and everything about the brain. It was a mind blowing affair. I thought it was created for me. For the first time in the longest period I thought I was being understood without being directly spoken to or judged.
The event started off with the detailed explanation of different functionality of brain and how it chemically corresponds to our mental illnesses. They addressed the causes and symptoms of different commonly known mental illnesses. They also performed scenes relating to different day to day mental issues. Everything felt so familiar and I could relate to many symptoms exactly how it was described. I started believing that these people knew what they were talking about and possibly there was a chance that people like these could help me come out of the vicious circle that I was stuck in. I also asked a couple of questions to the Panel experts. To my surprise they actually understood exactly what I was going through. I remember feeling so liberated and light to have finally found the right environment and people I could connect to in terms of what was going inside me.
I took the opportunity and went up to one of the therapists after the session who very kindly answered some of my queries unanswered at the Q&A session and provided me with the recommended list of therapists in the city.
Since childhood I have always felt rejected and disliked by people around me. My grand mother’s sister thought there is evil in my eyes, my aunt called me dumber as a nick name, I used to hide my face in every single parents teacher meeting etc.I changed eight schools because I was thrown out of every school Bostan-e-Hadi, Toronto, St. Peters, Essenes Foundation, Spring field, Beacon House, Avicenna and Lyceum. As a result I never made close friends. I remember my parents begging my school principal at Beacon in eight standard to allow me to the Cambridge section who in turn convinced my father to send me to a special school. I was then sent to a Madrassah, for my summers, apparently to learn some discipline from where I ran away many times. I actually grew up outside my house. I have always been compared to my genius cousins who were A graders all around me. My reaction in turn was that I became extremely mischievous in every setting that I went to, school, neighborhood, relatives, weddings etc. All I wanted was attention and prove that I exist. I used to sneak in peoples houses and break things & burn cloths, put black paints on windows, threw things & water on strangers, block the sewerage of the whole neighborhood, disturb the weddings, cutting electricity etc. I took self pride in creating such mischiefs. I remember I got so frequently hit, lashed and punished by teachers, madrassah clergies, and my mother that it stopped effecting me. I don’t remember myself ever crying in front of any one except that I used to sit behind the big generator in my apartments and cry & curse everyone. There were positives too, I became an entrepreneur at a very small age. At 12 I started my first business of repairing cycles which I broke myself. I started selling things relative to every occasion; at Dewali, I sold fire crackers, at 14th August I sold flags & stickers etc all of which I used to purchase from far way areas travelling in buses. This was all happening behind my parents back. I became extremely competitive and all my life I have just been trying to prove my self to everyone until very recently.
My experience with the therapist; my first session with the therapist was very emotional but amazingly revitalizing. I was blown away to how well trained, intelligent and understanding therapists are. Thereafter was exponential progress with every visit. Sometimes it’s easier to open your wounds with strangers. We realized I was not letting out my anger and my childhood insecurities were still playing a major role here. She gave me books to read and the most effective one was a brilliant book by ‘David Taransaud’ named “You think I am evil”. Together, me and my therapist realized that my break up was particularly more devastating for me because I had finally found someone who I trusted and therefore could not handle the rejection yet again. The therapist helped me build confidence, change my lifestyle, and rebuild my identity.
Today I am mentally stronger and physically healthier than ever before. I am really grateful for the break up since it shaped me into the person I am today. Perhaps I was right, it actually was all in the mind but sometimes one needs a little intervention to realize that:-)
I would categorically say that the event ‘Taskeen’ really helped me understand the importance of Therapy and acted as a catalyst in rebuilding my life. Mental illness is a very neglected and misunderstood subject in our society and I am so proud to see that organizations like Taskeen are building up the movement & momentum for creating awareness and breaking social norms around this.