Empowerment · Health & Wellbeing

Time to talk…

I don’t know what I was searching for when I found this online. I usually find myself asking google questions as if google has all the answers to LIFE. If only huh? Well it may not have all the answers but it’s nice to see that you aren’t going completely crazy when you come across quotes and posts like this which confirm to you exactly what you are feeling, especially during those moments when you just don’t know yourself!

I never knew what anxiety was until about the age of 19. The whole concept of mental health as we know was something that no one in my family and circle of friends EVER spoke about. Perhaps because no one knew anything about it, or possibly because no one ever spoke enough about what they were truly feeling.

There is a famous Japanese saying that states we all have three faces. The first face, you show to the world. The second face, you show to your close friends, and your family. The third face, you never show anyone. It’s questionable, but do we get anxious and sad because we fail to show anyone our true third face? Is this the answer to coping and dealing with anxiety, or sadness?? Is the answer a mere acceptance of the feelings you are feeling? Sounds so simple…

Whatever it is, it’s quite a lot of pressure and energy to act like everything is always ok. Sometimes it’s really not. There could be days where you are motivated and energised to do everything – you’re planning, creating, brainstorming, being so dynamic. The next day you don’t even want to speak to anyone. You’d rather just text because that way, you don’t have to show yourself. You can just pretend everything is ok. But isn’t that just draining your energy more than it already is?

Over the past few years I have worked hard to build myself back up. It wasn’t easy. At times I felt that the more I climbed the so called “mountain of progress”, I was faced with a avalanches. I would crumble. I would feel lost. I wouldn’t be able to speak. I often felt like crawling into bed and shutting off the world. It’s something that can’t be explained so easily. It takes time to really think about what is happening, the whole process. Heart racing. The confusion.

The first time I felt like this was back when I was studying at University. It was just after first year of my law degree, and I did an internship at a top city firm. I was so excited! This was the first day of work for me. OMG I was dressed to impress, I looked like a more voluptuous brown Ally McBeal! It was the start of something big for me…

As soon as I stepped into the firm, I was greeted and taken around, met all the lawyers there. Everything was fine for the first three days; I carried out all the admin work, did some research, accompanied staff to court etc. This was the real world! It was like WOW!

However, on the walk to court one afternoon, one of my colleagues asked me a peculiar question which went along the curious lines of “so how comes you don’t wear a hijab if you are muslim”. Something in me felt different. Like for the first time, I felt as if I was not the same as everyone else. I felt different. But I wasn’t. I was the same as everyone else…or so I thought. I didn’t understand why I was being asked this question. Something I have never even thought to ask anyone EVER.

The week that followed was by far the most scariest I have seen in my lifetime at least; the 7/7 bombings. That morning the news was on in the office and I recall the police commissioner at the time announcing that everyone should start to make their way home, as transport was going to be locked down due to red alert and high security. My friend from university was also working not too far away on his internship, and I remember he turned up to my office to ask if we were going home. I wanted nothing more than to make my way home, but instead the senior partner said to him, “it’s not the end of the world”- which basically meant: Saira you have to stay at work. Mind you, I felt safe inside the office, but it took forever for my parents to make contact with me and to find out if I was even alive. Of course, the phone lines were all down. At that time, we didn’t have the facebook feature where you could alert everyone of your safety during a tragic event, in a click of a button. An hour later as the day went on, one of the partners arrived in the office after a session in court, and I asked her: “how is it outside?”, (considering that police and the armed forces had locked down EVERY STREET outside) to which she responded: “SARAH your security is not my concern”. Oh not to mention that getting my name wrong (because SAIRA is too difficult to pronounce clearly…) was followed by an instruction which had me roaming the streets of London, which essentially was “zombie apocalypse” dead silent, looking for a Sainsbury’s or Tescos to buy veggies and fruits so that my colleagues could make pimms – Yes PIMMS. Yep I did get lost- this was before smart phones and google maps so of course my dads handy A to Z rescued me and I managed to find my way through the police blockades.

The days after this I absolutely hated working there, with lever arch files thrown towards me, eye rolling in front of me, talking down to me, and the constant mispronunciation of my name (and at this point, even I was introducing myself to clients as SARAH because I started to believe I was SARAH). This still wasn’t enough to make me leave. I am not a quitter so I of course persevered, until one day, something happened.

I collapsed in front of the station. I couldn’t hear anything. I lost control in my muscles. Tears ran down my face. My stomach felt like it was melting and my brain felt like it was on fire. My heart was racing so much that I felt like I could hear someones music bass. I was in my Ally McBeal suit, on the floor, crying asking for help. Did people witness this, you may ask. Yes they did. But they walked on. I don’t know what was worse; me thinking I’m dying, or the fact that no one wants to help me stay alive?!

I won’t ever forget the one man who helped me up (which trust me isn’t easy as it may look!) but he called an ambulance and I was taken to the hospital. THAT my friends, was the first time I had heard of a panic attack. The feelings, emotions, tears that I faced everyday; taking my lunch breaks in the church so I could just hide and cry, were all this thing called ANXIETY, building up waiting for a release.

I don’t regret having that attack. Never had one after it. But it taught me a huge lesson and made me understand what anxiety felt like so that I knew what to look out for should I experience all those emotions again. My family also started to understand anxiety a bit more.

Fast forward a few years, I get married to a guy who I believed was the love of my life. Fast forward another year, he is no longer in my life. No apology, no explanation, no closure, just another woman. Simple as that. Oh and not to mention the narcissism. Of course, the breakup caused me to feel a lot of those same emotions that I felt when I was 19, but this time, I WAS READY. I was not going to allow someone to have that control over the way I felt. Yes it was sad, yes it hurt me. A lot. But what made me wake up every day was knowing that whilst I can’t control someones stupidity, I can control how I deal with it. Had I not had the panic attack when I was 19, I think I may have been in a much worse condition right now. I knew exactly what certain emotions and symptoms that I felt meant, and what I had to do in order to reduce those symptoms. It took some time, but I manage to get myself out of it now.

I have never really told anyone about my experience at the firm, and some people don’t even know that I went through a breakup. I felt that if people knew all this, it would make me look weak, and unable to cope at life. But guess what, none of us really know how to “cope” at life. When you’re in a culture where any form of mental health, be it minor or severe, is looked at as a taboo, you don’t ever feel like you can talk about what you are experiencing. You’re often told to “just get over it” or “have some hot chai, it will be alright”. It’s NOT a weakness people – it’s a part of LIFE. What is a weakness is NOT being open and transparent about the way we all feel. Imagine how amazing it would be if everyone opened up truly and showed the world that “third face”! There would be no barriers or boundaries. We would all be so healthy. I mean how messed up is it when I can ask friends and family to raise their hands if they went to the dentist in the past 6 months… or to raise their hands if they had a opticians appointment in the past year. Everyone would have no problem raising their hand at these questions, but the minute I ask to raise their hand if they had therapy in the past year, or if they saw a professional about their feelings, NO ONE would come forward. WHY do we not talk about our feelings?

There is absolutely nothing to be ashamed of when anxiety kicks in. Sometimes people around you can often mistake you for being rude or not wanting to socialise. But what they fail to realise, is that anyone going through anxiety or this state of mental darkness, just need time to go through it and come out into the light themselves- like me. I often tell people I am busy. But most likely I am just trying my best to cope, and once I have had that time, I will be absolutely fine!

So like this post says, I am busy. But not in a way most people understand.

It’s Thursday 7th February- and it’s Time to Talk.

Mental health problems affect one in four of us, yet people are still afraid to talk about it. Time to Talk Day encourages everyone to talk about mental health.

Visit https://www.time-to-change.org.uk/time-talk-day to challenge the stigma of mental health by talking about it!

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