Not All a Child Needs: Overcoming Suicidality and Depression in Pakistan
by Hira Raza
Listen to Executive Director Gabriel Nathan read this post aloud:
“I never took her anywhere because I was ashamed of how ugly she was.”
Those are the words, uttered by my own mother; that fanned a previously-ignited flame of vengeance within my heart. That’s the cruel sentence changed my life.
I had an exhilarating childhood with everything a child could wish for; every new toy, amazing birthday parties, a slide and swings in the backyard, movie nights and game nights galore.
But maybe that’s not all a child needs.
I was always a fat child whose complexion was noticeably darker than the rest of the household’s so comments like, “Oh, she’s so dark”, “Don’t make her wear light colours; she’s too dark to pull it off” and, “Oh, she’s so fat”, “She looks like a cow”, ever so often would catch my ears.
Even though I live in a country vastly, if not mostly, populated by people of color (brown people), racism is still a very big issue. It’s mainly because of the prodigious illiteracy rate due to which people categorize fair women to be pretty and superior to those with darker complexion. One other reason could be that our ancestors were once ruled by the British monarchy, leading to a belief that the English were idols due to their education, power, riches, and etiquette. Along with that, came their fair skin for which they were perceived ‘beautiful‘. Although our land has long been freed from their imperialism, they left a lasting impact on people’s mindset.
At first, I never thought anything of people’s remarks towards me, but when I turned fifteen, things changed. For the first time, I started caring about what I looked like, and about what others thought about what I looked like. I remember how a visit from my cousin, who had lost over a hundred pounds, made me want to lose weight but maybe my willingness to do so was too much. An eating disorder quickly arrived for me, where I wanted to eat nothing so I could look fabulous, or maybe just feel accepted. I went to the dermatologist for a skin allergy but realized how much my mom loved that the medication he prescribed for me made me look fair, so I started abusing the diet and the medication. These behaviours landed me in the hospital numerous times.
Society had instilled in me the thought that ‘skinny is pretty’, so I would try fad diets, crash diets, harming myself to the point where I would faint, have chest pains, difficulty breathing, internal bleeding and my parents would eventually have to take me to the hospital. I felt miserable each time, but I never stopped damaging my body because, soon after starting a hazardous diet, people around me would start complimenting my physical appearance and I cared about that more than my own mental and physical health, putting both in jeopardy.
I was always left at home when my family went out to dinner, parties, or birthdays because someone had to stay home with my grandmother, “just in case she needed anything.” My mom got a job around the same time and, after work hours; she would go to her mom’s house daily, coming home to a pile of work followed by sleep, leaving behind no time for us to spend together. I had a cousin moving from Canada who was the same age as me. She was enrolled in my school and we ended up doing everything together as well as having the same friend group. The only difference was that she was academically better than me (Kudos to her!). It only became bothersome to me when my mother started comparing me to her and how she’s better at everything than I am. I would often brush it off and not care. My parents were too busy with work and with my two older sisters so they decided that my cousin’s mom (my aunt) can provide me pick and drop to and from school, to friends’ outings, to parties; to the point where my aunt bought me a lunchbox, so she’d give me lunch because my mom was in too much of a rush to make me lunch in the mornings.
My family wasn’t intensely religious, but they did have strict boundaries about dating, premarital sex, and drugs and alcohol use. The Islamic Republic of Pakistan was formed as a homeland for the Muslims of the subcontinent, and thus most of its social and governing structures are deeply tied with the principles of the religion, Islam. Like other Abrahimic religions, Islam forbids any relation with the opposite sex out of wedlock, so it is unsurprising that Pakistani societies demonise such relationships as shameful and immoral. My grandparents were very strict with those boundaries but my parents gave their children a little more freedom in this aspect but forbidden things like those mentioned earlier were still not allowed in my house. Culturally, most children who indulge in such activities hide it from their parents at all costs and have to date in secrecy. Even in public if two teenagers of the opposite sex are seen together and portray normal friendly behavior, they are considered ‘immoral’ and society immediately blames their parents for not raising their kids right or giving them too much freedom.
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When I turned eighteen, I wanted to have some fun. I had always studied in an all-girls private education system until then, so my definition of fun was guys. I met someone online and, after I met him, I couldn’t stop thinking about him. We would talk every day and we both somewhat liked each other. I would lie to my parents and go see him only around once a month or something and that used to be my favourite day of the month. I just loved the thought of someone liking me for me and not thinking I was fat or dark or ugly or not smart enough. He never compared me to anyone and, for once, being liked without trying to be liked felt so good. He asked me out and I said YES! The night before I was going on vacation for a month, I snuck out of my house at 2a.m. to hang out with him and that was one of the best nights ever, we kissed for the first time and the butterflies just couldn’t stop fluttering in my stomach. When I returned from my trip, I decided to skip class to see him (Not a good idea, kids.) My mom came to pick me up and noticed something sketchy so when we got home, she called the administration staff to see if I had attended the class and got a negative response so she asked me and I lied telling her that I went out with my girl best friend. For some reason, she didn’t buy that and at around 4a.m., she asked for my phone and I couldn’t delete stuff before she could see it so she found out everything. From my boyfriend to other guys I talked to, to me sneaking out, the kissing, the lying, everything. That was what I thought to be the worst night of my life. She took my phone, I wasn’t allowed to see anyone, go anywhere besides school or extra classes, my life was basically over for the following year.
I was so depressed, and I didn’t care that my actions hurt her. I didn’t realize it at the time, but it was because I was vengeful for times my own mother would shame me for being fat, dark, ugly etc. In the year following this incident, I used to acquire and hide numerous gadgets and talk to people. I got caught every single time and my mom would be so greatly upset every single time to the point where she would cry and ask me not to hurt her and I cared about her but, subconsciously, I didn’t care at all and I couldn’t figure out why. She, with a lot of hesitation, trusted me again and let me go to my friend’s house. The night before that, I overheard her talking to my sister and she said, “I never took her anywhere when you all were young because I was ashamed of how ugly she was.” That’s when I went and met a guy I liked without her permission. She found out somehow, but I lied and met him again. I subconsciously wanted her to know all the things I did behind her back. This was when she’d had enough with me and she asked me what would make me change so I succumbed and proposed the suggestion of going to a therapist, which changed my life for the better. I didn’t apprehend the fact that I had grudges against my mom until the therapist asked me and I that’s when I realized, the seed of my rebellious behavior was that I wanted to get back at her for her derogatory behaviour.
I confronted my mom and things really changed. I was trembling with fear amidst divulging into all the things she did to turn me into a negative, heartless person. She broke down and actually apologized for everything and so did my dad (even though none of this was his fault). Their apology made me realize that two wrongs never make a right and that’s how my depression slowly got cured leading to my mom and I becoming friends. Talking about how you truly feel can be scary but bottling things up can be all the more dangerous. There were numerous times when I thought of killing myself, the confined life was closing in on me but talking to people helped so much, it made me rebuild a wonderful relationship with my parents.
I, too, feared going to a therapist because it was always stigmatized to be a bad thing or a sign of being crazy, but it’s exactly the opposite. I want people to know that yes, there will be times where little things will seem like the end of the world but, trust me; they’re not. I didn’t think my parents would understand; I was ready to be kicked out of the house, but I never anticipated a validating reaction like this. Family and true friends will always be there for you no matter what and never bottle things up thinking it will result in a horrible outcome because you never know unless you try. Now I’m consistently working on bettering myself and my relationship with my family. Always have faith and hang in there!
My parents might be a little sad if they read this, knowing that I felt like this for so long without voicing my thoughts and eventually resorting to heinous behavior. Some might say that they failed at being good parents but I’d beg to differ because they never knew that I was bottling such hate inside me since I always seemed happy on the surface. If they do read it, they might understand better as to where I was coming from since I’m not very vocally expressive and even though I already talked to them about it, I might not have conveyed my thoughts as clearly as I have here.