I experienced some trauma as a child because of my mom. I now live with my dad in a home full of love. But I know for sure that I am still traumatised, it’s been years and I’ve never been happy. I started experiencing panic attacks weekly and now I’m pushing everyone away. My aunt wanted to help and I told to not get involved anymore and now I don’t think I could get her back.
What do I do? What is wrong with me?– Anonymous
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It sounds like you are really struggling and going through something difficult. Panic attacks are horrifying and I can’t imagine experiencing them on a weekly basis. I’m not sure what trauma you experienced, but it has left a really deep wound and you need to find a way to heal.
You mentioned that you are 17 —- you are really young and I think it’s a great sign that you reached out to me and have recognised you have a problem. A lot of people ignore these symptoms or don’t want to change. I know at 17 I had my own share of depression and pain. I didn’t do much to try and fix it, I didn’t think I could. I thought it was just part of my personality.
As I said in my my previous post about how anxiety affects relationships, a majority of people experience one mental disorder in their lifetimes. You aren’t alone. I hope you don’t feel ashamed about it.
You mentioned you’re from the UAE — I know it’s a lot more difficult to discuss these situations in our society. For Muslim women and women from a more conservative culture, it can be so hard to be honest about mental illness let alone get help for it! We are often told to rely on God and keep praying. Religion and prayer is beneficial, but treatment is important too. You can’t pray diabetes away; the same applies for mental illness. I have so much to say about this, but I will save it for another post.
The good news is that mental illness is treatable. Just as diabetes or heart disease are illnesses that need medical attention, so is mental illness. At this point, mental illness is not curable but it is treatable. Mental health can be managed by building resilience and learning coping mechanisms, sometimes alongside medication.
What is wrong with me?
Nothing is “wrong” with you. It sounds like you are still suffering severely from the trauma in your childhood. You need professional psychiatric help and therapy. You may even need medication. It’s not your fault that you have this illness, but it’s your responsibility to ask for and get help which it looks like you are doing. That’s the first step and the hardest: getting started!
The difficulty here is you are young and not independent yet, which means it’s probably hard for you to get professional help on your own. I understand how you’re feeling. When you go through something like this you can feel isolated and totally alone. You might feel embarrassed and ashamed. I know I always wondered, why am I this way? Why can’t I just be “normal”? It’s difficult to ask for help.
What should I do?
I can’t tell you what to do, Anonymous, but I can tell you what I would do in your situation. You are so young and I’m sure your family appreciates that. Whatever you have said to your father and aunt, I highly doubt you’ve pushed them completely out of your life. Sometimes when we have been pushed away, we want to give the other person space but we also wait for them to come back and reach out to us. If the way you’ve described your relationship with them is true, they must really care about you and want what’s best for you.
We make so many mistakes and get things wrong at that age (even if we think we know better). I think ages 13-18 can be very turbulent and emotional times in a person’s life (it was for me). I’ve pushed my family away so many times in my life: I’ve caused problems with my parents, I’ve alienated my brother, I’ve had fights with my cousins. But in all cases, they forgave me and we rebuilt our relationship (thank you all!).
Because of your age, your support network is your first port of call (family, friends). Even if you could get access to medical care or professional help, your family will need to know about it; they will find out sooner or later. It’s better to be honest now, it will save you a lot of trouble.
Sometimes when we suffer from mental illness we can’t see what’s really going on around us. We create a negative world and we keep feeding into it. I suggest reading one of my previous posts where I look at “mental filtering”. This particular reader asked if she was cursed because bad things kept happening to her. Mental filtering is when we filter out positive information so we only focus on the negative. If you keep ignoring the good things that happen to you, you will only see the bad things. It’s the same with people, if you ignore all the positive behaviour people have shown and only focus on the negatives then you naturally think that they can’t help you.
Finding someone you can trust is really important to moving forward. But of course it can be hard. We have a big problem with shame and pride in our culture. Anything that could bring shame on the family or yourself is hidden away. This is why my blog is anonymous actually. I don’t want certain family members, colleagues and in-laws reading about my personal struggles with mental health because there is a high risk they would consider it shameful.
It’s also why I started this blog though. I was diagnosed with major depression last year and while it was a shock at the time, it empowered me. I do have an illness and it affects everything in my life and exists every day of my life. That’s what it is, though, an illness. It’s not something shameful to be hidden away.
We need to start the conversation. The truth is that so many people suffer from similar conditions. I’ve established this already. We don’t need to suffer in silence, the more we shine a light the more people will realise how common it is and that it’s ok. You are not alone and it’s a lot more common than you think. Maybe you can use this fact as a way to approach a family member or friend?
Talk to someone and be honest. Don’t just say that you have panic attacks and you feel sad, tell them that you think you have a problem. You’ve been feeling this way for a long time. Tell them you think you’ve suffered trauma in your childhood. However, be prepared for all reactions. If they don’t know what happened, they may not believe you right away.
Sometimes our gut reaction when someone tells us something horrible they have experienced is to deny it. But people will understand in time, you just need to be patient. If you can get them to attend therapy or visit a doctor with you, it may make this process easier and quicker. Of course, this may not be realistic for you but I always think families should be part of the process especially if they live together.
I hope someday I can share my blog with everyone I know and be public about it. I’m slowly building towards this. I can see there is a need for it and we are ready to have this conversation, just like you have shown me, Anonymous. I am confident that the younger generations will transform the way we look at mental health and be kinder, more forgiving and supportive.
I don’t know the details of what happened between you and your dad and aunt, but you think that they won’t help you now because of it. If you are really worried about this, think about apolgising. An apology can go a long way if it is done correctly and is genuine. It’s not too late to apologise.
If you do feel bad about what happened, just tell them. Explain what you’re going through and that you didn’t mean it. I know it’s hard to express these feelings, but it will show them you are being genuine and need their help. If having a face to face conversation would be too difficult, why don’t you try writing a letter or an email? Writing helps me organise my thoughts and feelings and I always feel better after. It also means I can approach the situation more calmly and not get emotional when I talk to the other person.
Be calm when you talk to them (I know it’s easier said than done). Try not to get emotional or angry, people switch off and stop understanding when the other person gets really upset. It’s ok to cry (we often can’t help it), but don’t throw accusations around and try not to let your emotions get away from you. They will appreciate you trying to approach them this way and will be more likely to hear what you have to say.
Advice To My 17 Year Old Self
The sooner you start doing the work, the better for your future. You could be starting university or work soon, you may leave home, get married and have kids at some point. It’s important to start healing because each of those stages will bring their own sets of challenges and difficulties. It’s important that you build up your resilience now, so when the hard times come (and they will come, it’s a fact of life) you will be better equipped to deal with it.
In writing this post, I thought of what I would have told myself at 17 if I had asked myself this question. I would have told 17-year old Amna that she doesn’t have to feel so sad and anxious all the time. Having anxiety every day is not “normal” and she doesn’t have to live like this. I would tell her that the road is long and hard, but she will get to a point where she will be thankful she tried. I would tell her that she is loved and so many people want her to be happy, even if she doesn’t quite see it.
I would tell her to be honest and open about her feelings. She should admit that things are not going well and that she needs help. Her family and people in general are more understanding than she thinks. I would also tell her to research and read more, what is the treatment for depression? Who can she go to for help? How will this affect her life going forward?
I always wondered why life was so hard, but I’ve realised now that it was just harder for me because of my condition. As with any disability (yes, mental illness can be formally recognised in some countries as a disability), everything is a lot harder to do than it is for abled people. However, there are tools and methods we can use to help ourselves cope and to minimise/manage the effects of our mental illness. It is our responsibility to leanr how to do so.
If you are in distress and need assistance immediately please contact your local emergency number.
There are a few mental health apps that may be useful. A few of them are paid, but some are free. I haven’t used any of these apps unless I’ve said so (and of course I am not being sponsored by any). Be aware of the limits of apps and online therapy, it may not work for you —- everyone is different. Make sure you do your research before committing to any service.
TalkSpace offers online messaging therapy mainly by texting, audio or video. It is a subscription service and is expensive, but offers on demand therapy which some people may find useful. Subscription ranges from $200-$400 monthly depending on the plan. It is available internationally.
BetterHelp has experienced some controversy in the past, but the company claims it has resolved the issues raised against it and remains popular. Some people claim their service is not very good, while others love it. Their website says the charges range from $60 to $80 per week.
Iona is an app that suggests various exercises to help with your mental health. It has daily “check ins” and can track your mood so you can keep an eye on your mental health. Have a look at the screenshot below to see what it looks like. It seems like a good tool in addition to treatment. It’s also free.
Headspace is one of the most useful apps out there. I have used it and I do recommend it to everyone. I don’t use it as regularly as I should, but when I am stuck, panicking and out of control doing some exercises with Headspace does help. There is a subscription which will give you access to more mindfulness exercises, but the free version is just fine.
For my UK readers, I’ve listed a few mental health charities and helpline that can help.
If you are in England and need urgent mental health support, the NHS has a list of local helplines you can access. Have a look at them here. It might be useful to save the number in your phone in case you face an emergency.
Samaratins have a 24 hour 365 day hotline, you can call 116 123 to get help or access their website for more options.
CALM: Campaign Against Living Miserably, they have a helpline and free reading material.
MIND has a comprehensive list of crisis and telephone helplines.
Muslim Community Helpline: a confidential, non-judgemental listening and emotional support service. For more information, please visit their website.
If you live outside the UK and UAE, check out this list by CALM of helplines around the world.
Suicide.org also has a list of suicide helplines around the world.
The situation you are in Anonymous is difficult. In your worst moments you feel trapped and you don’t know where to turn to. In many countries, there are free mental health services run by the government or charities intended to help people who don’t have the means to get professional care. Unfortunately, in the UAE the options are limited.
It was really hard for me to find free, publicly available resources. The UAE did set up a coronavirus mental health helpline. The UAE Government portal website lists an email and a telephone number for people who need mental health counselling for free.
I also shared with you the new Mental Support Line which was created in response to the mental health toll of coronavirus. If you are in the UAE, you can reach them by calling 800-HOPE (4673), you can also contact them on WhatsApp. I think you mentioned they didn’t respond to you, which is concerning but hopefully that was just one incident. If anyone has any experience with the line, please do let me know.
If you have a doctor that you trust and see regularly, you may want to speak to them. They can discuss referrals, medication or other services that may help you. Of course, healthcare in the UAE varies a lot so I am aware that some doctors won’t be very helpful or sensitive to mental health issues.
Lighthouse Arabia offers a wide-range of psychiatric and therapeutic services as well as webinars and events. Some of these are free, so I would recommend looking at their events page. I follow @drsalihaafridi (founder of Lighthouse Arabia) and she usually shares helpful tips and resources on managing mental health.
Finally, if you are Emirati and have access to Saada health insurance I understand that you can qualify for psychiatric care. You will have to find a clinic that accepts Saada insurance and discuss your issues with them. I haven’t used this service myself, but people I know have told me this is a resource available to Emiratis and is affordable. This link has a list of all participating hospitals and clinics.
You Can Do This
Anonymous, your condition is treatable and you can get better. I hope this post has helped you find the confidence and motivation to seek the help that you need. It won’t be an easy road and you will face obstacles, but if you keep going you will eventually find a way forward. Also please note that even if one doctor or therapist doesn’t work for you, it’s not the end of the line. Keep trying and find someone that works for you. Sometimes it takes time to find the right fit, but keep trying. I am praying for you.
Until next time,
Have you had trouble in the past reaching out to others for help? How did you deal with these problems? Do you have any advice you can share with Anonymous?
Check out my post on managing anxiety in the pandemic for general tips on managing mental health in this difficult times.
You can also download my free self care checklist for easy to implement daily actions you can do to boost your mood.