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...
…are difficult for me to describe or relive, and without a doubt I’ve repressed a great deal from that time in my life. But in sharing my experience I hope to show even one other person that he or she is neither alone nor helpless in the struggle.
When outsiders try to console people suffering from either depression or anxiety, it’s easy to turn to maxims or clichéd sayings like “the night is darkest before the dawn.” I wish such sayings held true in the case of my depression. I wish the recovery from depression were as fluid and predictable as the turning of night into day. In my experience, sadly, it felt more like a descent into some dark chasm, and I had to battle for every inch on the way out, footholds often giving way beneath me as I regressed into despair.
By the time I found potential friends, no part of me could really believe I wasn’t utterly alone. And so the depression became irreversible. I would disregard any signs of acceptance from my peers–signs that I was no longer alone–and would instead internalize doubly any taunts or insults. I began to believe, at my core, that I was worthless. Truly, worth nothing, not worth an ounce of compassion or love, especially from myself. I would berate myself mentally, even punish myself physically or self-harm whenever I felt outcast–sometimes just because it was “what a worthless person deserved.”
Eventually, as a defense mechanism I became obsessed with grades, finding what little self-worth I could there; this was the beginning of anxiety. It started as a fear of testing but soon became a fear of everything, a relentless uneasiness about all the potential things that could go wrong. I remember feeling like I was at odds with myself whenever anxiety reared its ugly head. Rationally, I would know that nothing too bad could happen, but it didn’t matter. It was like sparring with an opponent ten times as strong as myself. No, without exaggerating, I’ll say it was what I imagine torture to be like. When I left the city on Boy Scouts camping trips, what should have been a slight homesickness would balloon into an insurmountable fear.
Scoutmasters were beyond their wits, and my parents had to bring me home multiple times when I would call them every 15 minutes, begging. I remember it vividly, but until a few months ago I had actually forgotten exactly how painful it was until a friend and teammate on our dance team, who was suffering from anxiety, needed to cancel a performance commitment. As we tried to reach a compromise that felt comfortable for him, he implored us to let him take leave. We pushed no further. Because that’s what anxiety is. There’s no negotiating with it. Regardless of how logical I might have been, it made me tap out on multiple occasions. But that was okay.
South Asian culture, in spite of its many merits and beauties, encourages a silent, stoic suffering. Fortunately, since my afflictions manifested so young I was unable to hide them from my parents, who took me to see multiple therapists and helped regulate my medication for two and a half years as I was slowly weaned off of them. Although we kept my personal battles within the family as much as we could, I’ll say this emphatically–medication (antidepressants and anti-anxiety meds) coupled with therapy was a godsend. My final therapist kept me medicated for just the right amount of time, slowly lowering my dose as he saw my mental fortitude stabilize and my coping mechanisms strengthen. Moreover, although stoicism is touted in our culture, I can say generally that kinship and familial loyalty eclipse virtually any skepticism regarding mental illness. Such loyalty, if guided, is the strongest weapon against the lack of prioritization of mental health.
The path to recovery was slow, but there was a final destination, and I did reach it with the help of many people. Although it might feel discouraging to have to fight every day just to end up where an average person begins, know that it will happen.
For those hurting right now, I’m sorry that you have to face such hardship. There is one cliché that does hold true for depression: you will emerge from this stronger. You will understand humanity on a level others do not. Now, years later, I consider myself immensely happy–and not because my happiness is tied to fleeting accomplishments or even fleeting relationships but because I learned in my weakest moments the fundamentals of happiness. And you will, too.
There is so much love around you if you can find a way to trust it. Until then, know that at least one boy, who knows exactly what you feel right now, loves you very much.