Sarmad’s Story

We are living in an era in Pakistan where people are facing a lot of different issues. People often do not realise what they are going through and often don’t understand that their mental health is an issue for which they can seek help and treatment. This same problem also occurred with me.

I used to carry a lot of negative thoughts in me. Initially people told me that this is just childhood and mood swings, or that some kind of depression is normal for people. But as I moved forward with my life, those feelings were still there. In the eyes of others I seemed to be living happily and eating well. My parents did everything for me to give me a good quality of life. But I still felt trapped somehow, like there should be somebody coming and opening the cage I was trapped in.

At one point, I went into a depression. I was just crying, crying, crying. Nobody came and asked me whether there was something really bothering me. Everyone was just labelling me as if it was childish behaviour which everyone goes through. But to me, it all felt very personal and unique. I felt like doing absolutely nothing, sometimes I was not speaking to anyone, skipping my meals and crying for hours. And then again there is stigma about men crying – in Pakistan, this is a very big issue. So people don’t ask you the reason of why you are crying, they just start labelling you. My studies were compromised a bit, but I felt like I was not falling in subjects, but in life.

I remember one day I was sitting in a group and when they asked what was wrong with me, I replied that ‘I have depression.’ I just used this word. So they just said that I had not seen anything in the world and that I am so young, how can I say I am depressed? In Pakistan, we don’t even have an idea that things like this could be resolved. So one day when I felt like nobody will help me, I thought there is something wrong in myself and I should finish it by killing myself. I tried two times, and luckily I failed and am sitting in front of you. The first time, I went to the roof of our apartment late at night, looking at the depth of the area from where I was going to the jump. When I was about to jump, I felt like I was seeing my mother’s face on the ground. I am very connected to my mother and suddenly felt like I need to care of her. I went back to my room and slept. The second time there was a fight in our house, so I took up some poison from the drawer but vomited it out ultimately. There was some positivity left in my mind which saved me.

When I joined AKU as a nursing student, I was studying psychology as a subject and suddenly all the things that I thought I knew about mental health were different from what I learned. When I started learning about mental health, I realised that there may be solutions to my problems. Someone told me that there are student counsellors I can go talk to. I initially feared that the counsellor would be judgemental too. However, one day I decided to talk to her and started sharing everything that I was feeling.

There are three people who are like counsellors or treatment to me. Initially, it was the practice of my religion. I started speaking to God a lot. I felt he was training me for something in life and I was thankful and paid gratitude to god. Secondly, my mom, who trained me in the morality of life which helps me cope with difficult situations. Thirdly, there is my professional counsellor. Working with her for two and half years once a week really changed my way of thinking. She pulled me through university when things weren’t gong well.

Today I can apply all those strategies that I learned from her. For example, if I think that nobody is talking to me, I close my eyes for one minute and wait. Usually, somebody calls or texts me, so I am reminded of that positivity and that I am not alone. Every strategy I learned from her is on my fingertips, I internalised all that she taught me.

I used to feel very unfortunate in my life and cursed myself daily. Today people are inspired by me, my students, colleagues and friends; just because I did not stigmatise my own feelings and I took help from somebody. Things are much better now.

I would like to share with others that when you feel trapped, you may not know what to do, so you go towards something negative. So change your thoughts, the way you see things. If you think you are comfortable to share anything with somebody, do it. Don’t be ashamed or hide what’s going on. Don’t stigmatise your own feelings and find somebody who can listen to you without judgement.