I knew there was something off about my mentality and thinking right before I descended into my three-year struggle with depression and anxiety. The people around me also knew because my personality and actions were off from how I am normally. For almost six months, I knew I had to do something about my deteriorating mental health, which was essentially a negative feedback loop.
Something terrible would happen or I would feel bad, and that would cause me to feel even worse. This feeling of helplessness and self-loathing would, in turn, ruin my confidence and ability to live my best life. It was a terrible cycle that culminated into a number of regrettable decisions and quite a few lectures from my parents and friends.
I knew something was wrong, but it took me six months to act on it because I was scared and ashamed. Mental illness carries an enormous stigma in the South Asian and Muslim communities. Also, I didn’t want the people close to me to think that I was insane or incapable of being myself. I was also scared to pursue medication because of my own family’s foray into mental health treatment. Counseling and medication were scary to me, and I also felt alone.
I think I started to get better when I began to tell my trusted friends and parents about my mental health problems. Also, I was writing poetry and taking the time to learn about myself. I realized that I had to leave my current environment to seek a more positive and rewarding place. For me, it meant leaving engineering school in Atlanta to pursue an allied health degree at a small, middle-of-nowhere school. Granted, people would see me differently, maybe even lose respect for me, since I was leaving a more prestigious major for a “lower major.” Yet, I didn’t care. I was starting to live my life for myself and not for other people’s expectations.
I understand that I got lucky. I had friends who saw the early signs because they had been through what was happening to me. Also, I had the opportunity to change my environment and had the support of numerous people. Many people don’t get the chances I had and I got off easy. I do admit that I regret losing two years of my life to my mental health issues. I feel like I lost two years of my cherished youth. However, I’m making up for lost time. Now that I’m in a major I’m passionate about, I can make the grades I want and have time to pursue extra projects.
It baffles me to think that I was on the verge of death only a few months ago, but I take it one step at a time. Sometimes, my depression comes back with a vengeance; however, I remember to stay positive. I think part of overcoming mental illness is just learning to have faith in yourself again.
Therapy and medicine are only part of the journey to healing. Things get much worse before they ever get better. Getting better also means coming to terms with the things you can and cannot change in your life. It means gaining control and finding perspective. Give yourself time. Go easy on yourself when you’re hurt and step up your game when you’re not being fabulous.
May is Mental Health Awareness Month. If you would like to contribute to our #TherapyTalk series, please email us at [email protected] with your submission.
Marina Ali is a health studies student at UT Tyler. In her spare time, she likes writing nonfiction, making music, cooking, reading science fiction, and dancing awkwardly with friends at school functions. Follow Marina on Twitter and Instagram for her latest happenings.