When I was seventeen, I had my first panic attack. Prior to that, I’d had trouble dealing with the never-ending thoughts in my head. My mind seemed to grab at them and never let go – it was infuriating, and especially devastating to my mental health.
In my early years of secondary school, I realised that the way I was thinking wasn’t exactly ‘normal’, and so I did a little research. I’ve had inklings about the way I thought and the heavy, heavy weight I felt almost every day, but it wasn’t until I went to polytechnic that my mental health worsened.
The Fear And Negativity
It felt like my mind was a hurricane – I was terrified of the new environment, the new people. Everything was different and I didn’t know whether I could trust my new friends. Panic attacks were frequent, with almost two every week.
It didn’t help that some of my classmates would give offhanded comments about those who suffered from depression and mental illnesses. “They only want attention”, “Aiya, they’ll grow out of it, it’s nothing serious”, “Why would someone as famous as him have depression? He has nothing to be sad about,” were common.
It made me feel as though I didn’t have the right to feel like that. I had amazing friends, a loving family, so why did my heart always feel so heavy? Why was my mind in a mess?
The pain and indecisiveness went on for almost two more years, greatly affecting my schoolwork, relationships and self-esteem. I hated myself, struggled with the feeling of not being enough, and took out my pain and anger on my friends.
My thoughts were constantly just, “Why me? Why me, out of all the people in this world? Why do I have to be the one to suffer from this pain?” I was terrified of seeking help, especially because my parents knew nothing about it.
The Choice To Live
Finally, I decided that I had enough. I didn’t want to die anymore – I wanted life. I was 19 when I finally signed up for a free and confidential mental health assessment with CHAT – through them, I managed to get a referral to a therapist from Clarity.
As the months went on, it became clear that therapy was indeed helping me. I had become more aware of how self-sabotaging my mind was, as well as learned tools to cope with my anxiety, such as meditation.
However, it didn’t feel enough for me. Because of my anxiety, I had trouble sleeping. I hadn’t slept properly for almost six months, and the lack of sleep was making my mental health deteriorate.
Eventually, I went to my local polyclinic, seeking an alternative to sleeping pills. I told them about my anxiety and the intrusive thoughts that I kept having, and how it prevented me from falling asleep. The doctor referred me to the hospital for a psychiatrist, who then prescribed me anti-depressants.
The first night I took the medication, I didn’t feel any different. But as the weeks went by, I began to realise that my thoughts weren’t as difficult to control as before. To my intense relief, the medication was working. I could finally function better than usual.
Throughout my journey, I began to truly understand my mind. I learned how to keep my anxiety and depression apart from who I truly am – they didn’t define me; they never did.
My mental illnesses are only a small part of who I am. Because I finally understood that, I began to love myself in spite of them.
I started teaching myself how to cope with them better; how to be forgiving on the days that my mind was uncooperative, how to be gentle with myself on the days that my depression was bad.
I took measures to surround myself with love and light. I told my family, and they tearfully told me that it was okay, that they would be here for me regardless. I built myself a strong support system, people I knew who loved me and would always catch me if I fell.
Slowly, but surely, I began to love life. There were still days that anxiety managed to sweep me in its arms and nights when the weight is so heavy I sink like an anchor – but despite all of that, I still swim up and break the surface of the water.
My Choice To Fight
It is not easy living with a mental illness. Especially so, in a country that still doesn’t fully understand much of it, but I make do. We make do.
It takes great strength to fight something that wants you dead, and even greater strength to choose to live in spite of it.
If it’s what you want, you can take greater steps in fighting mental illnesses – rather, the stigma around it. Speak about your experiences. Write about them, or educate your family and friends.
At the end of the day, this fight is ours.