I'm a 21-year-old man who moved to the US from Pakistan in my early teens. If you would have asked me three years ago if I struggled...
…but vulnerability is indeed a virtue when it comes to issues of the heart.
I could curse everything in the world for my affliction—my religion, my culture, my personal lack of fortitude—however the root of my problems came long before me. Mental illnesses have been in my family for generations but it was only when we moved to America that they were recognized as legitimate problems. So when there’s nothing left to blame I look at my skin and curse my DNA.
Growing up I never quite caught wind of what my mother’s problems were precisely until they culminated into the horrific scene at my elementary school’s pickup zone where my mother was physically fighting my father for control over our family minivan. I was 10 years old and new to the school as we had moved ten times in my childhood and had finally moved into our very first house, a house that I couldn’t help but feel had an ominous specter. As I approached the car, my mother screamed with deep-rooted conviction that I was the devil and that the true me was trapped inside the house. Fast forward a few repressed memories to a snapshot of her being sedated by emergency mental health service men as I hid in a closet so that they wouldn’t place me in Child Protective Services. We sold the house at a severe loss. Aunts and Uncles came to take care of us while my mother was in the hospital for three weeks. We never spoke of it again.
I was finally diagnosed with panic disorder when I was sixteen. Up until then I had suffered from nearly a hundred crippling panic attacks that compounded in impact. I would have a panic attack — usually without reason or warning — and as a result I would become anxious about having another one. When it started they would last roughly five minutes. Five minutes of gut-wrenching pain: my head would tingle, my heart would loudly thump, my eyes be in a daze, my throat would shrivel obstructing my breath as I cried into a pillow praying the pain would end. By the end of my Junior year I was having one every week to the point where I became agoraphobic, afraid to leave home out of fear of having a panic attack in public. As the frequency increased, the intensity and duration followed. Tingles turned to throbs, thumps to palpitations, dazes spiraled into vertigo, cries became inhumane screams. Pain became anguish that lasted up to 25 minutes. At times I would beat myself senseless during these attacks in order to reorient myself as I knew the pain would release the endorphins necessary to counteract the adrenaline. When my parents found out they refused to take me to get help as they were afraid to confront it. Not long after I began abusing drugs to relieve the pain I would cause myself.
A blessing and a curse came to me in the form of a spell called depersonalization, a self-defense mechanism my mind used to protect itself from what my body was going through. For months at a time I was unable to fully internalize anything as I was removed from my body simply observing my actions, literally watching my life pass in front of my eyes. I felt like a ghost watching my body complete its daily tasks. This created a sense of emptiness that fostered a deep depression. And it didn’t end there.
The first time I attempted suicide I was well-prepared. I had googled how many tablets of Vicodin constituted a lethal dose and had exactly enough (18) to do it. I stood in the bathroom waiting. For what I wasn’t quite sure. I knew all I had to do was swallow the pills and go to bed and never wake up again. And suddenly the moment was right. And a few seconds later it wasn’t anymore. Teary-eyed and gagging I emptied my mouth into the toilet and flushed immediately.
The second time was more haphazard and less certain. A few days had passed since a friend from high school had taken his own life during which I became despondent once again. But this time it was as though I needed confirmation that self-harm wasn’t right for me. Most of the pain I needed to function I administered in large doses by running obscene distances. But still a tiny devil poked at me and whispered in my ear “Wouldn’t it be wonderful not to be as being is rather awful?” The thought was never in my own voice, I knew they weren’t my thoughts but I had to dispel them somehow. So I took a shaving razor and slashed my forearm vertically ten times. I had again googled the methodology and knew what I had done was relatively safe. I bandaged myself and luckily didn’t get infected. Despite mid-April’s heat I kept my forearms covered at all times.
I learned I was bipolar last year after a manic episode that landed me in the hospital for a week and consequently cost me a return offer from my internship. The episode is still traumatic to the point where I cannot listen to a lot of the same music I listened to when I was manic so obviously I’m not ready to talk about it. I’m not sure when I will be; it’s something I’m working on.
Today I still don’t stand as tall as I used to. I still don’t step with the certainty I was once capable of. I still feel a deep sense of empty at times. But my story isn’t over. I am under the care of a brilliant psychiatrist and plan to start going to therapy again. There’s hope I know it, and for the first time in a long time, I plan to pursue it.