How has the pandemic affected you mentally? What things did you learn about yourself during the course of this pandemic that you didn’t know before?
For me personally, the pandemic strangely never put a huge toll on my mental health, especially the 2020 quarantine that lasted 6 months in my country. I found that point of the pandemic to be a huge healing mark for me, as I discovered so much about myself. I found that the extra time I was granted with could be useful to practice all my hobbies again as I had found before that, that extra time would just slip away with other responsibilities that needed to be fulfilled, but with quarantine, it was as if I was handed that extra time. I started revisiting old hobbies such as embroidery, crochet, and most all, poetry writing. When I wrote a poem, I would lose track of time and get swamped up into my own head, emotions, and past experiences. With this time I was given, I discovered the writer part of myself that loved to formulate metaphors and write poetry. I discovered that poetry was my form of healing and a tool for me to cope in a positive, healthy way. Prior to quarantine, I was not feeling or acting like myself. I was a huge people pleaser and very insecure and unconfident with every aspect about myself. I was bullied for most of my life, and I feel that this was the aftermath of tedious bullying and harassment. I felt that I had lost myself. The pandemic had given me the time to reflect on who I was, my identity, and the role that past negative experiences had played on me. With poetry writing being my assistant in mending my wounds, I was able to heal, accept, and come out of that downward negative spiral, stronger than ever before. To sum up, the pandemic has affected me positively in terms of my mental health as I was given the ability to grow past previous experiences, stop living in a world where I am forever vulnerable and weak, and look towards the future of myself. If I could describe the pandemic in a couple of words, it would most definitely be mental growth.
What do you believe are the most beautiful things in or about your life?
I believe the most beautiful thing about my life is my relationships. I believe that if you have strong, loving relationships with the people in your life, the other materialistic things don’t matter. It doesn’t matter the amount of money you earn, how big and spacious your house is, how conventionally attractive you are, or what expensive luxury items you own, if the people in your life provide you with endless happiness and unconditional support, that itself if a beautiful gift because then, you won’t have to search your whole life for reasons, answers, and a purpose, because the love you receive and give will be enough for you. My relationship I have with my family and close friends is one of the things that I always find to be incredibly grateful for, more specifically, it’s the little things we do and say that make the relationship worth gold. From spending time with my Mom sipping cupfuls of refreshing chai while watching a juicy Pakistani drama, to sharing hysterical inside jokes with my brother, and to having interesting political conversations with my dad whilst driving to Downtown, it’s the beautiful little things that count and make life worth living.
Why do you think prioritizing mental health is so important?
I think prioritizing mental health is incredibly crucial as we aren’t who we are without our brain on our side. We tend to work better and have higher levels of motivation and productivity if our mind is working with us and in a good state, unaffected by stress, negative opinions that others may have of you, and a whole bunch of other things that can easily damage our mental health. Our minds are fragile and there are many days where we don’t feel like ourselves, as we may suffer from large amounts of stress and doubts, and that is completely okay and 100% normal. We should accept that there are going to be times where things don’t go our way, but the problem is then, that we might get swamped into our minds, and that leads to worsening mental health. It’s important that we take care of our mental health in times where we don’t feel the best as there is a chance we may fall back in life and suffer not only internally, but even outwardly. We may do things that are against the health of our bodies. So it’s important to prioritize mental health as that comes first before all of our other responsibilities and without mental health being one of our major priorities, we won’t excel in what we want to accomplish as our brain won’t be on our side.
How would you normalize the stigma around mental health?
To reduce the stigma around mental illness I think the most crucial thing we should all do is talk openly about it. With more and more people having open discussion about mental illness, I believe by educating ourselves and knowing the facts surrounding mental illnesses, we can challenge myths and stereotypes to spread positive attitudes in regards to it so people who are actually struggling find it easier to reach out, as stigma is reduced. I think additionally choosing our words wisely when we describe and have large discussions about mental illnesses is also a good way to reduce the stigma, as negative words can generate negative behaviours towards mental illnesses. Fear and misunderstanding often lead to prejudice against people with mental illness. It’s one of the reasons why there is still a hefty amount of people who don’t consider it a real health issue. This form of discrimination leads to feelings of shame in those struggling to cope with their situation, creating a barrier to treatment, which is why I think it’s so important that all of us do our part in helping to reduce the stigma surrounding mental illness and continually support those who are struggling, further encouraging them to seek the help they truly need and deserve.
What do you think is the main cause of mental illness?
I don’t think there is a specific cause of mental health as countless life experiences can have different effects on different people, but I do believe the most common causes that produce a mental health disorder includes stress, past trauma, childhood abuse, and loneliness.
How do you think communities should go about spreading mental health awareness?
I think some ways communities should go about spreading mental health awareness is by firstly, sharing accurate information locally to your friends, family, and even beyond to your schools. You can ask your school teachers to share mental health resources, that way, students can feel more encouraged to reach out if they need to as they have increased accessibility. Talking more openly about this topic is also a good way to spread awareness. Actively ask others how they are doing and feeling, this is a great way to get the conversation started on emotions, the depth of our feelings, and what’s really behind the mask we display in public. I think it’s also very important that we get children included in these conversations as well as by having valuable educational discussions can increase not only their awareness of these health issues, but also increase their empathy and respect for people with mental illnesses. It truly is an effortless way to be the change for future generations.
What are your goals in the future?
Regarding my future, some of my academic goals include getting straight A’s this school year, as it is my junior year of high school. However, not straining myself to the point of unbearable stress. My goal is to be more productive in terms of my schoolwork but also schedule self care days for myself so I won’t reach a tipping point and my mental health can remain stable with the days in between where I relax and put aside all my deadlines. Another goal I have for the coming future is to definitely be more confident and unapologetically myself. I still believe I have a long journey to be where I want to be in terms of my self confidence. I still feel overruled by past trauma and despite all that I have done to move on from past experiences, my mental health still fluctuates from time to time, and it’s like as if I start gradually falling back into that overthinking spiral that is my mind. It’s definitely easier said than done to stay positive and be truly happy with yourself, and a goal I have for this year and years to come, is to definitely make a difference in terms of my confidence level. In 2021, being confident is definitely the biggest rebellion one can make, because especially as a female, companies are constantly trying to capitalize on our insecurities. My goal is to be inspired to make that difference in my life, and let it be a stepping stone towards my goal of desirable confidence, because I do believe that confidence can’t be achieved overnight, and it is a constant journey.
Have you been with a person that had/have a mental illness? How did you help them?
Yes I most certainly have. We are best friends and she is one of my close friends that’s stuck with me for several years. She is amazing in all ways possible and I absolutely adore her. Around a year ago she was struggling with a lot of anxiety due to increased pressure from school. I sat next to her in my pre-calculus class and I vividly remember watching her cry. The teacher walked right by her and didn’t say a single word to help her. I felt terrible and wanted to be there for her so I offered her some paper to scribble on so she could release her uneasy emotions and all the bundled up stress. I was happy to know that I had helped her in a small way. I continued to help her after that day by providing her with emotional support and extra paper in my backpack for whenever she needed it. I think it’s so important to help and support the people around us with a mental illness to show them that they are never alone and there is always hope in the world.
What does mental health mean to YOU?
To me personally, mental health means having our own good ways to deal with our feelings and troubling emotions, and knowing how we can enjoy life, even when things in our lives are bumpy and challenging. Having a healthy mind and body are both very important. Everyone has good days and bad days. A bad day doesn’t necessarily mean you have a mental illness, but you can still improve your mental health as there are always ways available for us to cope and feel better. It’s important to know that you are never alone and help is always an option.