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Featuring HER (Women & MHA): Amaarah Garda

Twenty-two-year-old Amaarah Garda relates her personal experience with depression and the moment she knew to seek help.

Photo: Provided

When I disclose to people that I suffer from clinical depression, I watch their tangible disbelief.

“But you’re always joking? I never would’ve guessed!”

I smirk, because I never would’ve guessed either…

My life warrants no sympathy. I fully acknowledge my unfair share of privilege. I have a wonderful family, inspirational friends, wise teachers, access to enabling resources…

My life is not the foundation upon which depression is built…

Except that my depression stands firm on it.

In 2016 I finished my schooling life praying for 5 distinctions.

I was painfully disappointed come January because I hadn’t achieved 5 A’s.

I had achieved 6…

As an 18-year-old I knew this was supposed to be a big deal. The congratulations, well-intended but meaningless, echoed in my hollow chest. The achievement was happening to me, but somehow not happening for me. That was the first sign that something was amiss – although I later realised I’d missed earlier warning signs.

I am someone who loves the little things – the smell of petrol, my siblings’ painfully lame jokes, a soccer player striking into the left corner… So why then, was this big thing valueless?

I didn’t know! I wasn’t emotionally mature enough to delve into it, so I endured the unhappiness and pretended, becoming an irritable shadow of the person I used to be.

And then I attended my first day of University. Studying my dream degree, at my local University, with most of my closest friends.

It rained that first day.

Photo: Provided

I remember not running through the water, because I didn’t really care if I got wet and sick.

Nothing particularly bad happened that day. And yet, when my mum arrived, I remember wishing with my entire soul that a car would lose control at the exact moment that I crossed the road…My depression had presented itself as an aching for death. One which woke up every single morning upset that the previous night’s dream of death didn’t come true.

That fateful day felt like a death sentence. I responded to the excited WhatsApps asking how my day was, with dejection. Thank goodness a confidant convinced me to tell my parents about my death wish…

My family had always been jovial, but these deeper emotions weren’t a part of our conversational depository. The realisation that I was relying on my friends to save my life, is what made me tell my mum.

My O-Week consisted of a doctor’s home visit ensuring I’d survive the night and a diagnosis of clinical depression. Getting an explanation for my emotions should’ve made me hopeful. But this didn’t feel like hope.

This felt like torture. Betrayal even.

I remember the psychiatrist explaining my treatment options and my mum grew uneasy when medication was mentioned.

When my sister was 18, she was diagnosed with kidney failure. She needed regular dialysis, truckloads of medication and a new kidney! I never saw my parents hesitate to provide what she needed – my mum even donated her kidney.

All I wished for was a similar commitment to saving my life. I sassily asked my mum if she considered denying my sister medication. Contextualising mental illness this way presents a truth many try to deny - mental illness may be invisible, but it’s real.

I never saw medication as a panacea for my pain. But I knew that living in my twisted mind would drive me to inevitable self-murder.

My luck and privilege have played a massive part in my ability to cope. I am privileged to be able to afford medication and consultations, to retreat to my room when I need space…

I am lucky to have an excellent psychologist and psychiatrist; to have positively reacted to the first antidepressants I tried; to have a family that tries to respect my situation. This treatment plan saved and continues to save my life.

And yet I know if I was a black child my options would be severely limited… These inequalities, stigmata and the very real presence of death that looms over untreated depression have led me to naturally become an advocate for mental health... I don’t deserve life any more than someone who is trapped in systematic poverty.

Nobody creates their own depression. And depression is never a result of a character or spiritual deficiency.

That’s why the stigma associated with mental illness is senseless. It’s something I’ll fight against as long as I am alive (which is already longer than I would’ve lived without treatment!) It’s ridiculous that everyone cries when someone dies by suicide, but not many will provide support for someone who suffers from depression. It’s not anyone’s duty to save another – but it is our duty to be kind, respectful and gentle.

I must stress that depression is not a homogenous experience. My story is not proof that you can think or pray yourself out of mental illness. That’s not what I did, and that’s definitely impossible.

My continued existence rests on many mechanisms. I am still on medication. I am relentlessly obedient to my needs - if I’m mentally exhausted, I reject socialising. I am excessively expressive, preventing emotional build-up. I avoid certain songs, smells, places because they remind me too much of my dark days…

I have to identify what burdens my soul and I have to commit to easing those burdens. I pray regularly to thank Allah for His guidance. I schedule crying sessions to release my heaviness.

I know now that achievements and people can’t replace genuine self-happiness. Every day I look for that genuine self-happiness, and sometimes I fail. But sometimes I succeed.

So, I try again each day. See, happiness is not the absence of sadness. Instead, it’s the peace in your soul when you are true to your needs. Happiness is listening to what your soul tells you about itself. It’s a deep honesty that we owe ourselves.

My body and mind were designed by an all-knowing Creator – so who am I to doubt what it tells me?

- Amaarah Garda

Thank you Amaarah for your insightful contribution to the To EmpowHER platform.

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