comments 7

Let’s Have A Real Conversation

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 Isn't Living

This Isn’t Living (32/52)

This week’s theme is: shadows.
Ooh, not sure how I feel about this.

7 Comments

  1. Thea

    Wow, I am somewhat overwhelmed… not in a bad way, just lacking words – but I wanted to let you know, that I am here and I will stay here and I do not believe in stigmata. We all have a story and for some it is tied to sadness. It is what it is, but never a reason to hide, apologize or get judged!
    Thank you so much for sharing such a personal piece of yourself!!
    Love and hugs! ❤

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  2. Vinitha

    Dear Amani…Just remember you are not alone and you will always have the support of those of us who follow your work. I got diagnosed with panic attack a few weeks back and my doctor did mention I might be undergoing depression. I have not had myself checked due to the same stigma that you mentioned. When I realize I have visitors coming over to meet us, I leave my home and go on a long drive. I do this cause I know they would want to see my work and I have no interest to show it to them.I am working on overcoming my current state…and so far I have realized the best way to do so is to live in the moment. Understand that there is nothing more important than this very moment.

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  3. Let’s have a real conversation my dear dear dear Amani,

    I want you to get better, I want you to fight, I want you to be happy.
    I want you to take one day at a time
    May Allah Heal you with a healing that leaves no trace of darkness behind.

    I know your struggle is real and I do not believe in stigmata either.You have known that I have been in the same boat as you..and sometimes I return to it as well, but Allhumdulillah I am able to pick myself up and carry on.

    ” when I compared my suffering with that of the world I found it to be insignificant ”

    I am glad that you have mentioned religion in your post and for me that is the only healing. Of course I used art, designs and poetry to be an outlet …they all showed pain.. but now even those are connected to Islam. Now I find solace when I make them, see them again and share them with others.

    Instead of reading thick novels, for once I started to read the holy book with translation. I read it like it is written for me and it truly is.

    The first and only step is to be GRATEFUL to your Lord for the blessings we take for granted. Whenever I feel down I become so afraid, afraid that my ungratefulness will displease Allah and he may deprive me of his blessings.

    I say Allhumdulillah for my healthy eye sight, my hands, my legs, my hearing. For there are people out there who are deprived of these blessings yet are more grateful and happier than me.
    Imagine one of them being taken away from you ? ….It can happen within a blink of an eye….what if I can’t see or hear anymore, use my hands to create an artwork, to cook, to work, to edit, to shoot, to eat…what if I can’t walk around without some one supporting me.. 😦 you know some people they can’t even go use the toilet on their own. I have met some people like these and saw how grateful and happy they were.

    I wept Amani, I wept so much..I wept way more for me being so so ungrateful all these years than for any pain, suffering, loss or hurt I have ever felt. If I can not be grateful now when I have all these blessing, how could I even be happy with anything else.

    If you are blind to your blessings ask others, they will tell them for you..

    You achieved your milestones last year by the will of Allah, traveling being one one them, met such good friends whom you had only spoken on the internet to, met your favorite author, saw Noah Gundersen play live, goodness you MET BROOKE AGAIN in Hawaii.. attended her workshops, stayed with her, You won so many photography competitions, Got honorable mentions, got published in so many magazines :D, got your images on the book cover of a novel, You have such talented sisters who love you so much, You work in a family business, You got a good education, you work well, you eat well, you touched lives, you inspired them…YOU ARE THE MOST MULTI-TANLTED friend I have, You grew as a person.. Many have such dreams too on their list…but they don’t ever ever come true.

    Be Grateful Amani,
    I know there is hurt, pain and loss. maybe there are many things to be sad about in life but if you find only one reason to be happy then be grateful. HOLD ON TO IT and say Allhumdulillah.

    Practice the art of being thankful; practice it until it becomes second nature. Thank Allah SWT in every condition, weather it is good or bad. When you are continuously thankful and grateful to Allah SWT, He will always grant you more.

    Those who are thankful have the capability to see the beauties and blessings that Allah creates. Those who are un-thankful to Allah SWT only see the imperfections and faults

    as stated in the Quran, In one of the verses, Prophet Suleiman said

    And when Suleiman [Solomon] saw it placed before him, he said, “This is from the favor of my Lord to test me whether I will be grateful or ungrateful. And whoever is grateful – his gratitude is only for [the benefit of] himself. And whoever is ungrateful (Is for the loss of his own self) – then indeed, my Lord is Free of need and want.” (Surah Naml, verse number 40)

    I want you to get better, I want you to fight, I want you to be happy.
    I want you to take one day at a time
    May Allah Heal you with a healing that leaves no trace of darkness behind.

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  4. Amani, I am so proud of you. You have great courage to open up about yourself in this way, and it is noble indeed to start a real dialogue about this. There is still a stigma surrounding these topics here, but still more-so in your country it seems, and I hope continued dialogues and openness will someday help to eliminate this, for all of us. I hate the term “mental illness,” for it seems to ignore the illness, and focus on the mental… mental, as if it can be controlled through sheer will, or is a matter of some personal weakness, or if one just tries hard enough or has enough faith, it will all be ok. But what many people fail to grasp is that it is truly illness. I would really be happy if everyone started properly referring to it as a brain disorder. Like diabetes, or thyroid disease, or glaucoma, they do not get better simply because we will them to, or because we TRY ENOUGH to be better. There is a real, medical malfunction in the body. There is help, and medicine, and other things that we can do to make ourselves better. And we need to talk about it, and not be ashamed of it, or be judged for it. Amani, you are brave, and I am proud of you. Have faith, that things can get better, and there is help and support and love all around you. I am so glad you reached out to the world in this way. There are people less alone now, and please believe that you are less alone now too. ❤

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    • And just to add a bit to this, for people who have not truly experienced “clinical” depression and so just cannot understand what it really means… to be depressed, it not just to be very sad. When someone you love dies and you are sad, that is not depression. Depression is an inescapable state that can’t be reasoned with. I’ve had a difficult life, and in some of life’s most difficult times when one might think I’d be the saddest, I can rejoice in all of the things that are wonderful, and know how fortunate I am… there are times people have been angry with me that my situation is so awful yet I am more grateful and happy than they are! And there are other times, when I am surrounded by my wonderful family, I know how fortunate I am, yet I cannot reason my way out of the deep pit of pain I am in. I can’t control depression’s effect on me, because now I know that it is a physical disorder. Depression is not my fault.

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  5. Pingback: On the battle between my wolves | Amani AlShaali

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