My own mother suffered from schizo-affective disorder. It affected me as a child but I don’t think I became mentally ill because of it; it happened because of my first marriage. In Pakistani society, there are usually very strong pressure of your in-laws, and this happened in my case as well. I was working full time and in the family there were lots of social obligations that I was required to meet. So I got very little sleep. I think I was seven or eight months into that marriage that I started changing, I was not the person that I used to be. I was quite miserable, feeling very low and angry at times.
We were living in a joint family system and my ex-husband’s brother’s wife was also extremely difficult. To cut a long story short, she started associating unimaginable things with me to the extent that one day she excused me of hurting her child. Regardless of my illness, I’d have never dreamt of hurting them. At this point, I just could not take it anymore and the whole thing of cutting myself started.
In a conversation about this with my husband, he hit me in my back. At that time, it was hurting but I resumed life the following day. Seven or eight years down the read, I found out that both my hip joints had deteriorated so much that I had to have a hip replacement surgery. That was a nightmare. This marriage. At the end of the day, he couldn’t deal with it either; I had become so unwell. So the marriage ended.
I was in England at that time. I was working and I decided to take three months off, came here and spent time with my parents. My father took me to a doctor and he diagnosed me at that time with major depression and put me on medication for it. He thought it was depression with anger attacks. I felt better when I went back to England. I wanted to get on with my life and see where it leads me. I was so desperate to forget about the experiences of my first marriage that I buried the whole physical violence part way inside. This is why when it came actually out in 2009, I could not remember what happened. When the doctor asked ‘Did something happen? Did you injure yourself?’, I couldn’t remember. I went on with my life…until this whole physical injury surfaced again and the pain started.
In 2009, when I found out that I needed surgery, I decided to come back to Pakistan. I met my current husband shortly after arrival and we just knew that we wanted to be with each other. Until six years ago, nobody in my family knew that I had suffered this kind of physical violence. It’s very difficult to share these details with somebody, especially when you are not well. Now I see the benefit in sharing. It really affects your confidence. I used to feel that I am lawyer, I was trained in protecting others and yet something like this happened to me. So I used to feel ashamed about it, as I was not living up to what I prepared myself to do.
By the time I got re-married, the doctor said I don’t need medication anymore as my life seemed stable. This wasn’t a great idea, because I started deteriorating. I also had two miscarriages and these things then compounded. I started going to a therapist; she was good in the sense that she helped me walk through the past and to untie the knots and come to terms with it.
At one point, however, everything started escalating. After several misdiagnoses, I was eventually diagnosed with bipolar disorder – and this actually really helped! Within three months after starting my medication, I saw a change in myself which I hadn’t seen in a long time. It didn’t mean that the problem went away, as it is not only clinical but also environmental, so stresses are still there which trigger.
I feel very lucky in that I was at the right place in the right time and was attended by some of the best doctors. As I got better physically, it also helped me mentally a lot. The biggest contributor to my health is my husband. If there is a love story that can be told, then it is ours. He literally nursed me back to health. The reason I also want to tell my story is that it is a good story to tell. It is a story of hope. Things can really go crazy and wrong in your life, but there is always hope.
It is so easy for people to accept something being wrong with the heart or liver, but they never consider the brain to be an organ as well. And when something goes wrong with the brain, obviously your whole personality gets affected. We need to create awareness about that the brain is also just an organ.
I would like to share the following with other sufferers: One’s you discover that you have a problem, it may scare you – but for me it was a sense of relief. I could not figure out my crazy behaviour, why I was doing what I was doing. So for me the diagnosis was actually a relief, rather than something to be afraid of. So my message would be is that having a diagnosis is a much better position to be in. Now that you know what you are suffering from, you can do something about it. Don’t be afraid of a diagnosis of a mental health issue, you have been through most difficult parts – now that you know, you walk towards the light, there is hope.