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Anxiety and depression saved my life

Sometime in February 2013

To this day, I always take my lunch breaks at 12 in the noon, sharp. The story I am about to tell starts in Berlin, exactly at noon time on some random February day in 2013, which I otherwise thought was no different than any other Berlin day I had to date.  So when the clock struck 12, I grabbed my lunch and went to the rooftop of my office building in Berlin’s downtown area and looked at the beautiful gray skyline ahead of me.

And I wept.

And I wept, and I wept, and I wept.

I dropped my lunch and I placed my hands firmly on the ledge. I looked down below and asked myself why I felt so… Empty. I asked the skyline why I felt so sad, almost expecting an answer, but got none.

Check out how happy I looked back then

By the time I turned around, teary-eyed and all, I saw my boss smoking a cigarette. She walked towards me and told me in a perfectly calm German monotonous voice, “Daniel, you have depression. Take two weeks off and go back to Jordan. Talk to a Dr., get it sorted, and then come back”. When I attempted to argue that I am not depressed, she told me that she too, had dealt with depression and can tell the signs.

I no longer cared for the way I looked, I had stopped shaving (but not in the oh-so-cool-Berlin-way), and I developed a habit of slouching when I spoke. My focus was almost always distant and I was beginning to show up late to work.

She was right.

But it was so shameful to be Arab AND depressed. All I could think about was “we don’t have depression. We may have hard times, but I’ve never heard of anybody I know to be clinically depressed like we see in the movies”. To me, depression was a luxury illness that I assumed only the West could afford to suffer from.

But I was depressed. I felt like I was on a different timezone than everybody else. To me, everything beautiful about life on that Berlin February day was gray and ugly and dirty and depressing, and not an ice cream flavor in the world could change that.

So in February 2013, on some other random day that week, I booked a flight to Jordan, and had my first ever visit to the country’s allegedly best psychiatrist. I did this without the knowledge of most family and friends back in Jordan, who thought I was still living the life in Berlin.

For the sake of this specific therapist’s privacy, I will detract a large and important portion of my story here, but will maintain that we had a session which I found to be completely underwhelming. In one sitting, the doctor had told me that I had anxiety and depression, and prescribed me with a generic antidepressant and Xanax. As he patted me on the back on the way out of his office, he told me to expect two “rough” weeks followed by a gradual improvement towards the “normal” feeling that everyone else around me could relate to.

To call the two weeks rough was an understatement: I suffered from extremely heightened anxiety, frequent nightmares, extreme weight loss, and – yes – even abrupt diarrhea (uh-oh!).

Now that my two weeks were over, I had to fly back to Germany to continue my university program’s compulsory six month internship, over which I indeed gradually began to feel better, partially because of the medication, and partially because my mother had come to stay with me and care for me.

Initial recovery in Amman

By the time my anxiety and depression had subsided, it was time for me to conclude my foreign exchange year in Berlin and return to the real world in Jordan.

What happened next was more therapeutic than any session or medication I had ever taken: I had finally met people who I could relate to.

Some time in the late summer of 2013, I came across a far-left, hippy American girl who had recently moved to Amman. She had already made friends with a loose-knit community of hikers, poets and amateur musicians, and allowed me to tag along with them while I was recovering from my illness. In this group I met allies of the LGBT community, feminists, poets, and everything else you’d expect out of the all-accepting expat liberal community living in Amman.

While I was so different than them, I was able to nakedly discuss my troubles with anxiety with these people with absolutely no judgement.

And it was because of meeting these people – and because of anxiety and depression – that I learned how to change my worldview towards others.

Over the course of the next few months, I had learned to empathize with others, whether they had mental conditions, were minorities, or simply lacked the privilege I have. I began exercising and eating better, and almost completely forgot about anxiety.

This is not to say that this story has a happy ending, oh no. It is 2017, and I have already had two panic attacks as I type out this (poorly worded) draft. Since those hikes back in 2013 and until today, I dealt with anxiety and depression on and off, beating it four times to date.

Last week, the same miasma of despair that I call anxiety attacked me while I was on a work trip in the Caribbean, causing me to have to return to Dubai.

While I am saddened and disappointed, I am no longer that young and ignorant depressed kid I used to be. Today I stand tall against this illness with a massive reserve of support from family, friends, and most importantly: six years of experience.

My name is Walid Daniel Dib. I am Arab and I have anxiety and depression, and that’s OK.

 

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