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Redefining strength and finding balance: Maleeha shares how she has begun to discover what works for her in her recovery from anxiety.

"First and foremost, I realized that my depression and anxiety is not a weakness."

Written story

What kind of stigma did you experience/observe?

Mental health is a taboo subject and is seen as a weakness in many cultures across the world. Due to social media, it has been an up and coming topic in the health field and more individuals are talking about their mental health. Unfortunately, this aptness to talk about mental health is still primarily occurring in an echo chamber among mental health professionals and activists, and not necessarily within the lay public. We still whisper about depression in public as if it is an unmentionable topic of discussion and I strive to help change that.

In my senior year of high school, I was formally diagnosed with dysthymia and generalized anxiety disorder; however, I have been dealing with the symptoms since middle school, and I never sincerely faced my mental health issues until graduate school. I was in and out of therapy and inconsistently took my medication in high school and college. I had the mentality that once I was feeling better I did not need anyone else’s assistance and could handle my depression by myself. This changed while attending graduate school for my master’s in public health, because I no longer ignored the repercussions of my mental health and wellbeing. Similar to patterns in my undergraduate career, I piled on an exorbitant amount of work and paid little attention to self-care. This lack of a balance and complete denial of my depression and anxiety led to an avalanche of emotions that I could not push aside, and it resulted in a medical leave of absence (MLOA).

I was faced with my greatest fears of appearing weak and incompetent; I could not complete the measly task of being a full-time graduate student, working 35+ hours a week, having a social life, taking on others’ burdens, practicing little self-care, and smiling at the same time. Going to therapy or taking medication meant I was a dependent being and inadequate at life. However, through the MLOA, I discovered a multitude of considerations. First and foremost, I realized that my depression and anxiety is not a weakness. It is a part of who I am and I should not use it as a gauge to compare myself with those around me. It does not make me any less than the person beside me and it, most certainly, does not make me a useless member of society. Secondly, healing is a process that takes time; it is hard to plan and it does not fall into a pre-calculated timeline. I have not finished my healing process and it will be a work in progress for a long time. I will continue to discover what works and what does not over the years. However, I can be a more empathetic member of society, by applying my own experiences – both good and bad – to my work. Finally, balance is necessary in life.

How did you overcome this experience?

Over the past year, I had a full-time job at a non-profit, traveled internationally, continued with therapy and medication, and made a sincere effort in finding a healthy balance. I am confident that my taking a step back has helped set a solid foundation stone for the future. I can now deal with obstacles in a healthy manner and am more aware of my limitations and my strengths.