Ignorance is Bliss, when it's not your Battle

Nalan Mehmet

I’ve suffered with some degree of depression all my life; I just didn’t know it.

My childhood, on paper, was great; two parents, financially comfortable, great house, the list of nice-on-the-outside things goes on. In reality, my home life was far from perfect. My parents had a volatile relationship, with a lot of interference from my father’s family, who used psychological manipulation on me. The violence witnessed and mental abuse inflicted would scar any child for life. I am an only child, which was and still is quite lonely. Surrounded by adults, I had no choice but to grow up before my time.

Through the combination of my traditional Turkish Cypriot heritage and my parents’ backward mentality, growing up in a westernised society was difficult to say the least. My mum suffered many miscarriages after my birth, resulting in her becoming extremely overprotective of me. I was wrapped in cotton wool, bubble wrapped and securely locked up in the house like Rapunzel. I wasn’t allowed to do anything or go anywhere without my parents, which left me feeling nothing but stifled, with no control. My parents had their own business and hardly spent any time with me, let alone quality time. I was at the shop every day after school, every weekend and every school holiday, unlike all my friends who had the privilege of getting up later and spending their day playing at home or sitting in front of their tv. In fact, I wasn’t able to stay at home even when poorly. I missed out on a ‘normal’ childhood.

When I was 15, my best friend tragically died in a fire. This shook my world. How does one even begin to describe the many feelings which all merged into one? How does one even begin to comprehend how a healthy 15 year old could be here one day and gone the next? To this day, I struggle comprehending death. I accept it but don’t understand how a whole living, breathing being can be gone within seconds, leaving nothing but an empty capsule of what they once inhabited.

This was what I now recognise as the first great pinnacle that ultimately lead to my gradual demise.

I struggled with no compassion or understanding from anyone, unbelievable ignorance which drove me to attempted suicide through an overdose a year after her death. In my desperate attempts to gain some form of control, I used self-harm, but that didn’t help long term either.

In order to escape the lack of control I had over my life, I chose to get married with my parents approval to someone they approved of, and that I did. My husband was and is a wonderful man but the same can’t be said of his family. I endured 24 years of constant bullying by them in a never-ending battle.

Amongst the battle with my in-laws, I endured post-natal depression after both of my children’s births, using alcohol to ease my mental pain. My husband was away for work a lot, making him an absent husband and father, luring me to wine for companionship and comfort.

I fought through every battle, I fell, and I got straight back up, time and time again, supressing my feelings until I no longer could.

At age 34 I suffered a full nervous breakdown. Ignorance was no longer an option.

It was 2009 and there was a new killer virus called swine flu spluttering its way around the world. We were booked to go to Los Angeles, a border away from South America, the hub of the virus. My anxieties were heightened, to say the least. Looking back, I can see that I was showing signs of my illness leading up to the trip. My son and daughter had caught the virus before we even left the country. On our first day there, I got stung by a wasp which sent my body into shock. Following this, both my husband and I also contracted swine flu. My anxieties peaked. I was acting in an, what I can only describe as, erratic and irrational fashion; insisting that I was having an allergic reaction every time I ate anything, that my throat was swelling up, not realising that this was of my own doing as a consequence of my anxieties. Ducking down in the footwell of the car as I couldn’t bear to look at the roads, fearing they were closing in on me and the traffic charging towards me. I wasn’t sleeping at all and was forced to live on Diazepam just to get through the day. I got so ill that I spent the last three days of our trip in bed, too scared to leave it. You could say that at that point, I was even scared of my own shadow. To this day, I’m not quite sure how I managed it, but I got on the plane and we finally returned home. I thought I would be okay once I was home because home was my safe haven. Unfortunately for me and my family though, I wasn’t okay. Mid conversation with my parents while they visited us after we had settled back home, I burst into tears and that was it, I couldn’t stop. This was the point at which I finally admitted to my husband that there was something seriously wrong with me, but I had no idea what. He accompanied me to the doctors the next morning.

I was diagnosed with having had a mental breakdown, prescribed antidepressants, warned that I would get worse before I would get better and that suicidal thoughts may increase. I needed 24/7 care and assistance. I was lucky that my husband was there for me, otherwise I fear that I may have been sectioned. Those first 48 hours were exhausting, I slept 18 hours straight. I lost track of time, day, and month. Unable to eat, I lost a lot of weight. Those that know me will know that I can talk for hours on end. I wasn’t speaking at all, just staring into blank space day in and day out for months. All I saw was myself at the bottom of the deepest darkest pit, with no way out, no light.

My daughters 11th birthday, 2009, pre-breakdown
2009, Rodeo Drive, mid-breakdown
My husband and I, Christmas 2009, post-breakdown

With the help of my therapist and a five year prescription of antidepressants, I was eventually able to regain some sort of normality in my life. I lost many so-called friends as a result of their ignorance regarding mental health. Many people, especially within the Turkish Cypriot community, and even some members of my so-called family, gossiped behind my back, judging me. Apparently if you have nice family, husband, house, car and nice clothes, you don’t have any reason to be depressed.

Mental health is not talked about enough, and there definitely isn’t enough understanding. People judge because they don’t understand. I personally get extremely irate when people use the term ‘depressed’ every time they feel a little down. Depression isn’t feeling a little down or upset because you couldn’t get what you wanted.

Mental health is invisible, unlike a broken bone and a visible cast, it won’t get you any empathy. There is a general ignorance towards mental health, which is very prevalent more so within my own community. Turks can be one of the most backward when it comes to understanding mental health.

Ten years on, I’m out of that dark pit, in a much brighter place with the occasional odd dark cloud hovering over me every so often. I can now recognise those clouds and pull myself away from everything and everyone in order to recharge. The anxiety, however, I cannot take control of as easily. It can be debilitating. I can no longer drive too far from home or on motorways and I avoid many things that I would’ve jumped at in the past. I have learned a lot from my mental health, it has changed me, in some ways, for the better. I am not regretful or ashamed, for I wouldn’t be who I am today if it were not for all I have endured. I’m just sad that I got to that point in the first place.

At the time, my therapist made an analogy to illustrate what a breakdown is; if you keep adding to the fuse box beyond its capabilities, it will ultimately blow, and that’s what happened to me. I become overwhelmed more these days than I used to before. I like to say that there are two versions of me: the Pre-Breakdown Nalan and Post-Breakdown Nalan. At the beginning, I had convinced myself that I was weak, hence the breakdown, but today I know that I am stronger than ever before. I speak openly about my mental health in hopes that I can help just one person. I don’t believe that you can ever fully recover from mental health issues, but you can learn to live with them. You can adapt yourself in order to feel more in control so that it doesn’t shut you down. One must listen to their body; don’t bite off more than you can chew, know your limits, be kind to yourself, allow yourself to be selfish sometimes, it’s okay to say no and don’t feel shame. Accept that not everyone will like you and be okay with it. Most importantly, don’t forget to talk. Keep talking and stop judging.

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