Hi, my name is Amani, I deal with depression on a daily basis and I think about suicide at least once a day.
For the longest time, I felt like a fake. There are people who can’t get out of bed, who can’t function, who can’t even eat, because of how bad their depression is. And I’m sitting here sipping coffee after a long day at work and saying I have depression. Depression and mental illnesses have become so romanticized that people make it seem like it’s a thing, or “what the cool kids are doing”, and it makes you like a deep person and gives you meaning. And it made me feel like I can’t even trust myself to know whether what I’m going through is real or not. I’ve been watching a lot of TED Talks on depression and suicide and it made me realize that people who struggle with depression can also be functioning members of society, that they can have jobs and be successful and have a lovely family. That depression is different for different people. Just because I can get up in the morning, doesn’t mean my struggle isn’t real.
I’m talking about this because I’m tired of the stigma that surrounds depression, in the world but mainly in the United Arab Emirates. I’m talking about this here for the whole world to see, but I can’t summon up the courage to talk to my parents about this and ask for help.
What would people say? How would this reflect on my parents? What if someone found out? Would people start talking badly about my parents and my family? Would they think I’m being mistreated at home? Would they think I’m just a bored girl who’s only after attention? What would it mean in terms of relationships? No mother wants to marry off her son to a depressed girl. No one wants someone who would publicly admit weakness.
These are just a few of the thoughts that make me wonder if I should stay quiet about this. There’s also the fact that depression here is almost always linked to having weak faith (in religion). Religion is a great tool that can be very helpful in dealing with depression, and maybe for some people, it can eliminate it completely. I consider myself to be an OK person in terms of religion, but I still find myself wanting to bawl my eyes out over everything and nothing. I still find myself waking up to the thought that nothing will ever be okay and I’ll never be happy.
When I was around 19, I’d hit a very low point and decided to ask for help. My parents and family were incredibly supportive, and I was diagnosed with double depression: dysthymia (minor chronic depression – 7 years) and major depression (3 years). I was supposed to be on medication and was told I needed therapy. That didn’t happen. And the main reason for that is that stigma I talked about. People also tend to believe that psychiatrists here are just trying to make money, so they charge a lot for just one session, then they’d throw a concoction of medication at you just to make you give them more money.
So after that, I tried to get better without any medication or therapy. What I was really doing though is trying to numb myself completely. I wasn’t sad, sure, but I wasn’t happy. I was nothing and I wanted to be nothing and do nothing. I graduated from university and stayed home for a year before I got a job. I thought about killing myself all the time. That’s when the self-harm got out of control.
My story isn’t special, it doesn’t have a climax or that magical moment when I realized that everything will be okay. I am not okay, but I’m here. And when I discovered photography, it became my outlet. I remember at times I would think, maybe if I translate my struggle into pretty pictures, people wouldn’t think I’m this whiny or ungrateful brat. I thought that giving my struggle a pretty packaging would make it acceptable. I still do that, of course, because I do love creating pretty pictures. But I’m not afraid of showing the pain behind them anymore. If I told you my story in detail, this would be a pretty long blog post. But I needed to say this, I don’t want to hide behind a wall and pretend that everything is okay. And I’m hoping that in sharing this and talking about it, we can do something about the stigma surrounding depression and suicide. At least talk about it. Let’s have a real conversation. Let’s be there for each other. Let us not suffer in silence.
Another reason I decided to talk about this is the picture I did for the 52 Week Project. The theme was muted tones, and I’ve been listening to Noah Gundersen a lot lately and decided to create something based on one of his songs. His song, Boathouse, has this part where he says “screaming, this ain’t living“, and I don’t know what it is about it that moves me so deeply every time I listen to it. Noah manages to portray so much emotion in a few words with just his voice and the way he sings. A few days ago I texted a friend saying “listen to Noah Gundersen’s Separator – his voice sounds so tormented, and the violins sound like they’re weeping”. It sounds silly, but it all goes back to my passion for music and beautiful words.
This week’s theme is: shadows.
Ooh, not sure how I feel about this.
2014-2017 52 Week Project Thoughts 52 week project amani alshaali depression fears fine art photographer fine art photography hope insecurities inspiration mental illness photography photoshop photoshop edit self acceptance stigma thoughts