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How dare I?

Twelve years ago, deep in the dark hole of depression, my dad, matter of factly explained that if he didn’t feel better soon he was going to end his life.

Last updated: 16 January 2020

I remember the conversation like it was yesterday. While it was an utterly gut wrenching experience, it informed us of the severity of his suffering and we raced against the clock, desperately hoping to find him professional help before it was too late. We located a Punjabi and English speaking therapist so he could communicate his pain in both of his languages. As a result, he slowly began to heal.

I’ve written about my dad before, primarily for the sake of the British South Asian community, which, from personal experience, needs grave reminding that these afflictions cannot be prayed away nor should they be ignored for the sake of keeping face as is common within our stubbornly stoic culture. Accepting help isn’t a weakness but a strength. A belief I vehemently stand by, yet somehow failed to internalise myself when depression decided to come for me.

I have to admit, while I had nothing but empathy for my dad, I could never understand how he could feel so low that he could calmly tell his eldest daughter about his desire to die. Then this year, I unfortunately found myself lingering in the same abyss of darkness that had plagued him for years. I just couldn’t admit it.

My dad left the only life he knew to come to a new country where he had to learn a new language and new customs in a new world designed to be hostile to him. His brown skin, Pakistani accent and religion othered him everywhere he went but he persevered and built a life for himself from scratch. I don’t know how he did it.

As an adult, I struggled to find my way into the career I wanted, making pit stops at jobs in hotels and retail shops, until I eventually broke through. Living paycheck to paycheck in London with no bank of mum and dad to rely on, in hopes of making my side hustle as a writer into my main hustle was a huge risk. In retrospect, actively choosing to pursue the life of a writer, despite setback after setback, is a decision I can only put down to blind ambition and the arrogance of youth. I’m ecstatic that I’ve managed to manifest my aspirations into reality but the guilt of even having the luxury to follow my passion ate away at me, complicating the already complicated nature of depression.

How dare I think I have the right to be depressed when my life has not been even a fraction as hard as my parents? How dare I feel this way after everything they sacrificed to give me a better life? How dare I feel anything less than grateful now that my career is actually taking off? How dare I think I’m deserving of compassion when I lack for nothing? Ultimately, I was ashamed so I pretended that everything was fine but inside I was falling apart. My anxiety became so debilitating it began to aggressively manipulate my every thought against me.

I was living in the US, but as time went on the heavy ache of despair which I naively thought a new adventure could cure, crept back in. The audacity to waste time crying over my inner turmoil when the California sun was shining so brightly outside felt like the height of insolence. My lively and curious spirit soon disappeared leaving me emotionally impoverished partly from trying to navigate an industry that clearly wasn’t designed with working class minorities in mind. Past trauma came back to haunt me in the form of complex PTSD, I lost a much valued friendship and my relationship deteriorated forcing me to endure two significant heartbreaks in the span of one summer.

In June I returned to the U.K. for a series of work projects and a few business meetings which gave me a convenient excuse to go home to Glasgow to clear my head. I kept all my commitments but had little energy to do anything else. I started to physically look how I felt inside. Taking care of myself had become exhausting.

I hibernated at my parents' house where I sought temporary refuge in my old bedroom, too embarrassed to tell my family how badly I was hurting. One dreich morning, a few weeks later while still clad in mismatched pyjamas, my ma gently ordered me to get in the car and drove me up the road to re-register with my old GP surgery. The guilt and shame I felt during that eleven minute journey was crushing but the relief in knowing I was actively beginning the process of getting better was immense. From there, I was put on Sertraline and within a month I felt some semblance of peace: a feeling I hadn’t been familiar with for a long time. Antidepressants aren’t a cure, nor do they make me happy. What they do allow, however, is distance from my intense emotions while I work through my issues accompanied by a series of twenty four sessions with an NHS psychologist.

It’s been five months and I am almost back to my old self. I often find myself wishing I’d tackled this head on last December when my anxiety and depression became more pronounced but I’m thankful that I got here in the end.

I gained a new found respect for my dad, knowing now how hard he must have fought against his demons and when I returned home, noticeably in distress, he shared a few wise words about what he learned about his own experience that I’ve taken to heart.

Things are far from perfect but I’m no longer consumed with complete dread or profound apathy: instead I feel a faint but growing sense of purpose again.

Book Week Scotland, the national celebration of reading and writing, runs from 18-24 November 2019. Watch our 'Changing the Conversation' videos and find out more about Book Week Scotland.