These Insightful Real-Life Stories Can Change The Perception of Mental Health in Egypt
Many of us wake up in the morning feeling blue thinking that those are just probably mood swings but then wake up with them the other day again. A lot of us also deal with words like “depression”, “anxiety”, “bipolar”, and “OCD” if they’re some kind of description of one’s personality. Little did we know that we shouldn’t compare such disorders to some magazine’s personality quiz results. We really shouldn’t take mental illness for granted because it will strike you, me, or him, when we least expect it.
As reported by Egypt Today, a national health survey was carried out earlier this year by the Ministry of Health of Egypt. According to that, 25% of the population is suffering from mental illnesses. Unfortunately, mental illness is more of a taboo that’s either considered a shameful topic to publicly discuss or just isn’t taken seriously. So, in an attempt to shed light on the importance of therapy, we’ve brought you some real-life stories to inspire you or maybe enlighten your path if you’re in need. Those five Egyptians; whom we changed their names out of respect for their private lives, shared with us their stories and now we’re sharing them with you.
“In Egypt people always fear what they don’t understand,” Ali told us. “Mental illness is on top of the list; people look at those who suffer from mental illness as either, individuals who are crazy and pose danger to them, to the society and to themselves or as individuals who lack faith in God,” he continued.
Ali started his therapy sessions nine to 10 years ago. Even though he has always felt that something was wrong with him, his parents were the ones who forced him to see a doctor; he never wanted to. He had an endless amount of ups and downs to the extent that he was once forcefully admitted to a psychiatric rehabilitation center. To this day, Ali has second thoughts before going to every single session. “It’s an internal battle with yourself and you never know which side will prevail,” he said. But only one thing that keeps him going.
It all started when Ali was diagnosed to suffer from schizophrenic tendencies. He was never really convinced with his diagnosis, only until he had an incident last year that he doesn’t even recall. “I was told that I was home and went out to meet someone I knew. When I arrived at where we were supposed to meet, I started beating him and he was hospitalized,” Ali explained. To this day, he doesn’t remember anything at all about this day or incident. He felt like they were telling astory about a totally different person.
For years Ali was unaware that he took his doctor’s prescriptions. His family members used to crush his meds and put it in his food. He furious when he found out last year, but ever since the incident he started taking the meds willfully despite his doubts about the diagnosis. “I generally feel better, but I’m always haunted by the idea that I might hurt somebody I love or even hurt myself,” he told us. “I just want to feel loved and accepted from the society and not to be judged or looked at as if I’m a ticking time bomb.”
“They used to tell me that psychological pain turns into maturity by time. I didn’t understand this in the beginning, but now I do, and this is what helped me during my journey,” Farah told us. Farah has always been distant from her family, especially her mother; they barely agreed on anything. During the same time, she made new friends, and let’s say they weren’t really the kind of good friends you’d rely on. “They made me feel like I was odd like I had to be like them. By the time, I started hating home even more and the fighting with my mom got even worse,” she elaborated.
Her so-called new friends became the ones she ran to for help, forgetting about her family completely. They encouraged her on lying to her mother and distancing herself even more. Her mother sensed a dramatic change in Farah’s attitude but couldn’t understand it. Later on, when Farah’s world felt like falling apart, she felt like she needed a new friend to talk to, a psychiatrist.
Rule number one in her therapy journey was to ditch her mobile phone. She was told that she’ll follow a 90-day program, one that they called “behavior modification”. “At first, I made fun of it, I used to think to myself that it was just a phase until I started feeling better for real.” Farah poured her heart out during her sessions and but as she stuck to her psychiatrist’s advice, she felt that the change she thought was never coming started to take place. Today, she feels more mature, especially in how she now chooses her friends. Most importantly, she’s grown closer to her mom and views her as her best friend and secret keeper.
Youssef told us that he believes that therapy is an underrated field for those seeking help in Egypt. “Only those who severely need therapy and are showing obvious signs are provided with it,” he explained. “On the other hand, people who are in the start of taking a negative path are often neglected due to the fact that reaching out for a psychiatrist in Egypt is somehow demeaning!”
Before seeking help, Youssef has had second thoughts about it because he felt that talking to a professional or the idea of opening up weren’t that widely accepted. He feared to be judged or misinterpreted by others, but only the loss of a loved one pushed him towards making the right decision. “It felt like a page that needed to be turned,” he said. And it seemed like he turned it and got lucky with it as he further explained, “therapy helped me look at life from a different perspective and embrace the good and the bad of my ordeal and most importantly, move on.”
“Extreme chest pain as if my heart was being pulled out, fast heartbeats, my whole body was aching, I lost interest in life, and most importantly, I totally believed that I was going to die,” Lina described her symptoms. The 30-year-old suffered from the most severe type of what is called “panic attacks” which is fear of death.
Lina has been in therapy since 2013 to this day, she went to around a total of five therapists; three of which were considered big names with a reputation. However, she wasn’t really satisfied with the adopted approach. “Unfortunately, all therapists depend on medications and they’re kind of disappointed if you refuse it,” she told us. “After many sessions, I realized they take the easy way out as they don’t have the luxury of time of listening to you,” she added. For Lina, the worst thing was that some therapists made her sit with an assistant then analyze her case based on some report they’ve been provided with.
Luckily, Lina ended up with a therapist who gave her the time to listen to her during a face-to-face conversation. He put her on meds for about six months and then he started reducing the dosage gradually. Lina then told us, “What’s perfect about him is that he always answers my phone calls and texts. We built some kind of a friendship or bond, but the meds are still there.”
I only had two actual face-to-face sessions. The first one was a 3-hour one, while the second one lasted for eight hours! We then carried on over the phone because I had to move to Cairo and my doctor was based in Alexandria,” Walid told us. “I didn’t look at it as therapy. To me, it was more like I needed someone to listen to me who happens to be a certified professional that won’t judge me and definitely won’t resort to meds as a first solution.”
The main reason for Walid to seek therapy was because he was in a relationship that started taking turns he didn’t really like. He needed to make important decisions and needed someone to listen to him. A therapist seemed like a good idea especially because his partner was already suffering from mental illness and had a psychiatric history. After the first two sessions, he realized that he himself needed therapy, not just for maintaining a healthier relationship. In fact, because of these two sessions, he realized that this relationship had to come to an end anyway and that it wasn’t healthy for him by any means.
Therapy has helped me discover problems I never knew I even had in the first place. It was pretty intense, but it was very successful and I actually enjoyed it,” he said. “It helped me see life from a completely different perspective. Ever since, I’ve become calmer and more self-confident. I even found answers to questions I never thought I’d find and I managed to make decisions I never thought I’d have the guts to make,” he added. Walid finally concluded that he believes that the existence of a therapist in everyone’s life is highly crucial. He always recommends it to anyone who seeks help because he wishes that others would benefit from it like he did.