My father doesn’t “believe” in mental health issues. According to him, people facing daily emotional and psychological struggles should just “get over it.” Every time something about depression, anxiety, or general psychosocial wellness comes on the tv, he scoffs, sighs, and mumbles under his breath about how people need to stop spreading the false message that mental health issues are a common problem.
The thing is, I feel bad for him. He was never taught that emotions are necessary to human life and that mental health issues don’t have to be the end of the world. To him, mental health issues equal mental weakness, and that is always how it’s been. And the worst part is, I know he struggles with mental health himself. He’s never been diagnosed because, even though he is a cancer researcher with a PhD, he doesn’t exactly believe in going to the doctor that often. He did often fluctuate between extreme moods, from mania to depression, and so I always suspected he might struggle with bipolar disorder. But this isn’s about my father, this is about me and my struggles with mental health, and although his opinions and ways have influenced me a lot in my life – often in bad ways – I know I can’t blame all my struggles on him.
We both majored in neuroscience in college – something I actually didn’t know until after I chose it as a major – but the difference between us is that, along with my neuroscience classes, I also chose to take a lot of psychology classes. I didn’t want to solely confine myself to the mechanics of the brain with anatomy and functionality, I also wanted to learn what could happen when your brain “short-circuits” and the ways these issues can manifest. I wanted to explore mental health in more depth than I ever had, because I wanted to explore a discipline of science that I had always been taught to suppress. I ended up minoring in psychology, becoming treasurer of the Psychology Club, where I helped plan a campus-wide mental health awareness week, and interned briefly for the local National Alliance of Mental Illness.
College was a huge blessing for me, because I was finally able to think a little more freely and express myself to people without feeling guilty. Islam has been every bit a blessing in my life, but sometimes I feel like if my father hadn’t been so caught up in believing that prayer can solve everything, he would’ve been more caring and open to discussions that could help break the stigma around mental health.
But alas, college gave me these opportunities instead. With these new friends, and newfound outlets for self expression, came extreme stress, though. Before I knew it, I wasn’t the good student I once knew. My grades were dropping rapidly, my self esteem was plummeting more than it ever had, my confusion about the future and feelings of being left out and alone in certain situations took over me, and states of being that I could only assume were depression and anxiety became the norm.
There were days when I didn’t want to wake up. Days where I felt like the world would just be better off without me. Days where I wanted to end it all, and seemingly with no real trigger at all. These thoughts scared the living daylight out of me and, frankly, made me even more sad because I didn’t understand them or know what to do with them. Every time I visited home I had to pretend like I was ok, when all I wanted to do was run and hide. I realized two things: first, just how much my father had influenced me into thinking that emotions are fake, make you weak, and need to be ignored, and second, just how much that mindset was going to destroy me if I didn’t try to get a hold of it sooner rather than later.
This piece may not be a typical mental health piece, but I simply want to say that YOUR FEELINGS AND EMOTIONS ARE VALID, and that if you’re feeling something or a certain way, that is all you need for it to be real. You don’t need someone else to tell you those feelings are real, and if they don’t believe you when you say it’s toxic in your mind, try your best to realize that they simply feel that way because they may have never experienced the same feelings in the same ways before. Or like in my father’s case, have been living their entire lives in denial of their own issues and don’t want to give you the luxury to feel yours. Mental health issues are serious and are felt by everyone differently, but that doesn’t mean it has to stop you from doing what you want to do or being the person you want to be. Prayer can only fix so much. If you need help, seek it, there should be NO shame in that and the stigma surrounding mental health issues and seeking help for them needs to come to an end. Sometimes I wish I would’ve acknowledged the ways I was feeling sooner than I did; it could have saved me a lot of dark days. I’m just thankful I found it in me to make it to this day, and I pray and hope that everyone else does to.