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HERstory: Imaan Moosa

To EmpowHER's very own co-founder, 23-year-old Imaan Moosa bravely narrates HERstory on navigating her experience with what she later learns to be Major Depressive Disorder and Generalized Anxiety Disorder.

I was 13-years-old when it started. I remember feeling sad, but it was a different type of sad.

I can't recall how it happened exactly, but I know the sadness began gradually. I imagine it as an infection, spreading from one part of the body to another until the whole body is at risk of life-threatening complications.

Depression is a life-threatening illness. Nearly half of all deaths in South Africa in the 15 to 24-year-old age group are by suicide.

I read an article that reported stress disorders are tied to risk of life-threatening infections based on a study conducted at Karolinska Institute in Stockholm.

The study found that when people with stress disorders took certain antidepressant medications over the first year after their diagnosis, they were 19% less likely to develop life-threatening infections later on. Anxiety and depression are illnesses of the mind, yet they affect the body too.

Depression takes everything from you until there is nothing left. Depression can't be fixed with "Be grateful for what you have" and "The sadness will pass" bandaids. I can be grateful and still be sad. And sometimes the sadness doesn't pass, not for a very long time. Not until it takes your motivation, desires and will to live.

At the age of 13, my thoughts were dark and ugly. I didn't know what I was feeling but I had an idea. I read books that taught me the word d-e-p-r-e-s-s-i-o-n and Tumblr posts that gave voice to my feelings.

I've always had an overactive imagination and a part of me didn't believe it. What if I was making it all up? What if I built a home in my head and I was living in it? What if this feeling wasn't real?

Mental illness can't be seen because it is an ailment of the mind and because no one was able to see nor take care of my mental and emotional pain, I made myself physically ill. People are more likely to treat physical scars because they can see, and therefore believe, it to be indicators of disease and sickness.

My parents found out. They knew but I don't think they were ready to deal with it. I used to hold so much anger inside of me because of how I was dealt with.

Mental illness is a far less dangerous sickness than the sickness of ignorance and inaction that affects our communities. If the amount of time and effort that goes into ignoring, victimising and wishing away mental illness was spent listening to the problem, we might not wish so hard to be dead.

I asked for help because I wanted to get better. I wanted to see myself when I looked in the mirror, not the illness dressed up as me. I wanted so badly to feel something.

Without the appropriate help from a trained medical professional, the voice convincing me to take one tablet too many was just as loud as the unsaid words when a grownup chose to look the other way.

I don't blame them anymore. My mother fought for me to be here, and I think that seeing her child hurting scared her. Maybe if she pretended I was okay and prayed hard enough, I would be fine. I'm a fighter after all.

I was born at four months premature weighing 740 grams. My mother's pregnancy was going to be terminated because she had pre-eclampsia. But she insisted on birthing me, even though my chances of surviving delivery, and then the night and the next week were nought.

My father says I was the size of his palm and my body mass was the same as a block of margarine. My parents say I am their miracle. My family reminds me that I am a fighter.

I was born fighting. Everyone fights for their lives in one way or another. I fight a mental illness every day to be here, standing and alive. But I get tired sometimes and I think that's what took my parents longer to understand.

Depression makes you tired; it tells you that you have been fighting for so long and wouldn't it be nice to stop? My parents didn't let me quit, though. My mother entered the ring again to fight for me to stay.

I am 23-years-old now and I'm receiving the professional help I have long since asked for. I was diagnosed last year with Major Depressive Disorder and Generalised Anxiety Disorder.

I see a psychologist once a week and a psychiatrist every three months. I am on multiple medications for depression and anxiety, and medication that helps me sleep at night. I am practising mindfulness to ground myself when I am having a panic attack or in a bad depression.

My progress is monitored by how I manage my depression and anxiety. Some days are harder than others, and I think that's the point. I don't think mental illness is meant to be won. It is a series of lifelong battles you fight against yourself every day.

Mental health cannot be measured using distance, where the finishing line marks the success of when you will be 'better', 'cured' or 'fixed'. You don't need to be fixed and there are no cures for mental health disorders. But you can learn to manage the illness.

I am proud to say the last episode I had was eight months ago. Eight months ago today I didn’t see value in myself. I would get full on the affection and praise from teachers, accomplishments, friends and family. I wanted so badly to be liked by others because I thought maybe they could make me like myself.

Yet, still, I have thought about not being here. I have tried to cut my time short. Today, I have found a reason to stay.

When Allah was creating our souls in the Alim-e-arwah, He chose for me to be here. I am on this Earth because Al-Khaliq (الخالق) The Creator said, “Be, and it is.”

“It is Allah who brought you out of your mothers’ wombs knowing nothing, and gave you hearing and sight and hearts.” ― Quran, 16:78

- Imaan Moosa

Thank you Imaan for your vulnerability and courage to share your story, and creating a space for women from all walks of life to similarly share theirs.

© 2020 by TO EMPOWHER.