Recognition is the first step…
…and I’m standing right here, for all that happened in my life, I am mentally emotional, emotionally distracted, and sick altogether.
I grew up in the beautiful but heart-breaking chaos many of us call Kabul Jan. For as far as I can possibly dig into my memories, growing up was not easy. I don’t remember much of my childhood, we were refugees, the other ones, the outsiders, and by the time we returned to Kabul, I was a teenager and I had already learned to stand strong and fight.
Many of us growing up the post-Taliban regime, could not afford to be or act like a ‘teenager’ and yet we were the most privileged ones. In 2011 as Kabul’s security was getting worse, the debates over US’s military withdrawal from Afghanistan and the image of the dark days coming again changed the face of Kabul and brought a collective depression in the city. If you have lived in Kabul, you might possibly know what I’m talking about. As the years passed by, the everyday chaos, everyday sexism, sexual and street harassment, the boom of an explosion, another one, the constant fear of death, the increasing number of T-walls, the crazy traffic jams in the city, all together defined the Kabul most of us are familiar with, in which you don’t find any space, time, or liberty to do anything beyond everyday survival.
I explained all the above just to say, life was never easy, yet it was still somehow bearable.
In 2016, in an attack at my university I lost my best friend. Then less than 4 months later my mother passed away. Then in a few months later again, my father died. None of them lost their lives to natural deaths. Suddenly, in a year everything had changed. I did not know how to believe or how to grieve. Life in Kabul does not give you that luxury because events happen one after the other.
It was all as miserable as it is written. After the losses and difficulties, all I did for myself was to continue surviving. There were days I wanted to cry for the fact that I could not cry. There were days I could not leave my bed, there was no motivation at all, but because of the trauma of loss, and the fear of losing more, I pushed myself and left Kabul, mainly for survival and secondly for my education.
Living abroad is living abroad. It could be a temporary escape at best and that is the only way I can describe it. For as long as I can recall, I have learned to be strong, and most of the time simply because I knew I could not afford to not be strong. But in the first few months of my journey away from Kabul, I went through a roller coaster of emotions. I did not know what hurts, where hurts, and why. But I knew I was not well. I still am not. The loss was the easiest thing I could see and blame, but it took me so long to find out that there was much more behind that.
Later, I experienced sleep interruptions, and then I was stuck in a memory, last breath, and the last images of the people I loved, hitting me brutally in the middle of laughter, or when I was taking a shower, while I was reading something, or when I was running. Sometimes, I was reading for my courses without any focus and when I was taking a rest, I would find myself focused on something I shouldn’t care about. Yet I did not know how the physical, the emotional, the psychological, and our mental health work in harmony. And if one is not well or isn’t there, the others aren’t either.
But I must establish this: I understand that for many of us living in Afghanistan, it takes a lot of privilege to stop everything for a little while in the middle of everyday routine and chaos to think about our mental health. Neither in our everyday interactions nor in our education system can we find any space for or traces of discussions about our mental health. There is also a lot of stigmatization around this topic. What we don’t know is how our mental health affects everything in our lives, from our bodies to our sleep, from our work and studies, to the way we think and perform.
I am finally in this stage where I know I am sick of being sick and trying to be fine. I am tired of pushing and pressurizing myself and my brain further, and I am ready to recognize what I need, be it a break, a professional consultation or many hours of it, or just a friend to listen to me … and this recognition is just the first step.