Mental Health Health

Saying goodbye to a year filled with crippling anxiety

As 2020 descended upon us, I stood huddled in the midst of my friends, a sparkler waving in my left hand. Toasts were made. Hugs were shared. Laughter echoed through the winter air. Throwback songs and hips shaking, bodies shed of anxieties and tensions. Sparkling and fresh with the residue of hope.

There was glitter everywhere. The way you imagine a new year to begin. 

We all decided this will be our year. Joyous whispers of hope. As people usually do on new year’s eve. And the year commenced in all its greatness. Things were happening and dreams were written down, plans were made for holidays and life events, big changes to come. But nothing ever happened as we imagined, it usually never does. 

I only promised myself one thing for 2020 – that was to look after my mental health. And when the year began, I know I was trying. I was writing down all my little lists, tracking my wellness, exercising, creating. When the lockdown first hit, I was stuck. Completely dumbfounded by the reality around us. Everything felt other: walking on the street, watching Netflix, eating dinner.

My mental health was dwindling and I couldn’t do anything about it. I spent the first two months without meeting a single friend. I know I was lucky to have had my entire family safe and at home with me. But mental health works in peculiar ways and mine was crushing me. It was hard to do what once felt so normal, so easy, so mundane.

April and May were the lowest points when there wasn’t a single cent of hope lingering in the thick heat of Karachi. Days stretched deep into dreary nights and I continued to battle the demons of my mind. They wanted all of me, all the time and I couldn’t seem to find a way out. I didn’t write anything, draw anything, read anything. Most days, I used TV shows as a crutch to push my mind to oblivion. Because anything was better than feeling too much all the time.

June and July pushed me to do better. I starting creating again. And slowly, it became an obsession. I was drawing and writing and reading constantly, never looking up or looking back. It was my way of getting through things. I had to be getting better, right? I was trying at least. I know now that I was just going through the motions, albeit in a different way than before.

August, September and October came with growing anxiety. Things were better in the country but that also meant that everywhere I went, a shop or a restaurant or just outside, people were not wearing masks. There was a deep resistance against them and that made my head spin with counting the number of shopkeepers I interacted with that didn’t know how to wear a mask over their nose. But I was going and moving and doing some of the things I had so deeply missed. But along with that, came a deep yearning for the silence and the lull of the lockdown days. They seemed almost serene to me now. Ironic isn’t it, how we always dream of the days gone by?

With November, I stopped trying once again. I thought my depressive episode was simply that, an episode. But the more I tried to uncover what I was feeling, the more I realized I couldn’t get to the root of why. And having lived with it for so long, I should have known. Because once you fall, you continue to tumble into the darkness unless you’re actively working on yourself. I traveled, thinking being away would change how I felt. But it didn’t, it never does. No matter how much you try to run away from your mental health, the demons always find you. 

And now December comes to a crumbling end. Everywhere I look and breathe, there’s another case of the virus and my anxiety is constantly peaking. I fill my days with work, create a new project for when I’m free. Because if I’m not doing anything, I am encapsulated by a crippling and brutal form of anxiety. So I keep filling myself with tools I once thought made me whole and now I question whether any of it really means anything at all. My body feels heavy and I’m nauseous and exhausted and tired of always feeling this way. 

I don’t want to completely discount the year, because I know it had a lot of great things within it too. I found a new form of resilience and remembered what it felt like to have time to myself. I slowed down and maybe, I am now better for it.

The year of ashes and anxiety, of storybooks and archives, the year that will never be forgotten. It took so much and yet the one thing I know it gave me, was the reminder that I can do this. We can all do this.

So as the new year rings in, I can only hope to follow through with that lingering promise I made to myself back when the world was whole.

This year, there will be no glitter. No sparkles. No hugs. 

Just the silence of the clock passing over to another year of the unknown.

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By Maheen Humayun

Maheen Humayun is a writer, poet and educator based in Karachi, Pakistan. She has a BA in English Literature and Creative Writing. In addition to working as the Senior Editor for Love, she teaches literature in the day, and writes her own at night. Maheen has written for The Express Tribune and Dawn as well and her novella, "Special," was published in 2012. When she isn't writing for The Tempest, you can find her drinking copious amounts of black coffee, working on crushing the patriarchy, learning digital art, and doing spoken word poetry.