It’s Not the End Yet

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| This is the 441st story of Our Life Logs |


You see, I was born to be a free bird. Starting from a very young age, I was fond of traveling, socializing with others, and exploring my surroundings. I basically thought of myself as some sort of daredevil. But to my parents, I was to be a “good” obedient son who would fulfill the dreams they planned for me—that is, for me to become a “Hafiz,” a person who memorizes the Holy Quran to its entirety. It wasn’t my dream, but being a young boy in a Muslim family in Pakistan, I had no other option but to oblige.

In 2011, when I was 13 years old, I was admitted into the closest Quranic teaching institute from our house. It was a hectic course where we had to learn the holy book from early morning until late evening. The teachings would end with a final prayer (Isha) of the day. My only free day was Sunday. It was like I was only alive one day of the week and then I’d turn back into a submissive machine for the other six days.

The intense schedule took a toll on me and after three months, I could feel myself changing—not in a good way. I was always tired, easily losing interest in things, and found myself hearing strange voices in my head. The program was expected to take a year, but as the days ticked by, I felt less and less confident that I could make it that long. The severe beatings and punishments I received at the hands of my teacher became harder to bear. Yet, I had no choice. My parents, especially my father, wanted me to finish no matter what. He was completely unsupportive of my pleas to quit. All my attempts trying to explain myself and persuade them that I wasn’t the type of kid meant for this path were in vain.

I will say my parents at least tried to brighten my mood. They would give me presents to divert me for a while, make my favorite dishes when I came back home hungry, and took me to parks or wherever else I liked on the weekends. But the good feelings that came from these things were fleeting since most of my time was spent at my institute in maddening misery and in a constant struggle with my mind.

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Until I became a Hafiz, I couldn’t attend regular school, which led to me growing apart from my childhood friends. I had no chance to make new friends at the Quranic school because the children there were too busy themselves with their lessons, or perhaps, their own struggles. So, I was all alone with my troubles, with no one to turn to.

As the days came and went, I felt more and more alone. I began having the strange, anxious feeling that I didn’t belong, that I needed to run away. I wanted to escape the atmosphere I was suffocating in, where my own will didn’t mean anything. But of course, I couldn’t. I didn’t want to disappoint my family or damage my father’s hard-earned name and respect in society. It was the darkest period of my life.

It went on like this for weeks. Then one day, after getting back from school, I went up to lie down after a stressful day. I stared intently at my floor, and my head started spinning. Everything around me started spiraling, and it became harder and harder to breathe. I tried to ground myself, but everything went black before I had the chance. I thought I had died. I hoped I had.

But I had lived. Soon after I passed out, my family came rushing in and took me to the hospital.  There, doctors gave me God knows what that brought light back to my eyes. When I woke up, I was even sadder and angrier. I had thought that my suffering was all finally over but instead I was brought back. I was given medications that the doctors said would make me “A-OK” after a week.

What I’d experienced was the first of many panic attacks. The medication didn’t help. I underwent many more attacks before my parents decided to take me to a better doctor. The “better” doctor gave me some anti-depressant pills that I’d take whenever I felt something wrong was about to happen. But the pills only slowed me down mentally, making me dull and weak. Consequently, I was unable to keep up with memorizing the Quran, which led to more, and harder, punishments.

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My medication made me exhausted all the time, and all I wanted was to relax for a long, long time. Unfortunately, my responsibilities didn’t allow me this leisure. At this point, I had simply lost myself, lost any last piece of hope for better times, lost any possible reason to carry on with anything at all.  I had heard that cigarettes “lighten your head, make you forget your worries,” so I started smoking. I was still just 13. I knew what smoking would do to my health, but at that time I was willing to sacrifice all that for the instant pleasure it provided.

Then one Sunday, my father found a cigarette in my nightstand. He was enraged and disciplined me severely without asking why I was smoking. This was my tipping point. I was receiving negativity and hatred everywhere I looked. Hopeless and helpless, I went to the roof of my house—one story above, where I used to smoke—and just stood at the edge of it. As I stared down, I wondered, if I took a step forward, would it all be over? Would I finally be free?  I knew if I took a step backward, I’d return to my same old miserable life that I wanted so badly to end. And so, I took my last step…forward.

I thought taking my own life was the best solution. I thought it would be easier to fall down than to stand up to my parents. But little did I know that dying wasn’t as easy as I had imagined. As I smacked down on the ground, all I achieved was a broken arm and a badly bruised head and shoulder. It made me furious. Now I had to explain to my parents what I had tried to do, and I feared that I would get punished worse than ever before. So, I decided to keep it all to myself.

The next day, struggling with immense pain from my broken arm, I went to school. My teacher saw me massaging my arm and called me up to be examined. When he saw the deep blue spot of clotted blood below my elbow and bruises all over my arm up to the shoulder that I was hiding beneath my shirt, he urgently called my father. My father soon came. He looked at me with embarrassment as he took me to a doctor to get all patched up. After that, he took me home.

I thought he would yell at me, give me some lectures or do something to make me feel bad. But to my surprise, he asked me, “What’s wrong, son?” I wanted to say, “Everything!” But I remained silent. He didn’t ask me again. When he left, I started crying helplessly thinking he would never understand, that I’d never have anyone to talk to.

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When I woke up the next day, my parents’ behavior had shifted. They forcefully included me in their conversations and acted overly nice towards me. As I was preparing for my school after breakfast, my father stopped me. “We’re going somewhere else,” he said. “A friend’s house.” I was stunned. He never let me miss school. I followed him out and soon discovered the “friend” was a psychiatrist.

The psychiatrist took me to his therapy room and asked my father to wait outside and have some tea. One on one, he asked me about my life goals and what I aspired to be. He tried loosening me up by telling jokes and stories of his younger self. I felt comfortable with him, and when he noticed me opening up, he asked me to share my problems. He promised to keep them a secret between us. I wanted to share my troubles with someone to lay off the weight from my shoulders, so I told him everything. He could have easily seen the tears in my eyes as I recalled the punishments.

I rambled for an hour and a half, and when I was finished, I felt much lighter. He told me to go outside and send my father in. To this day, I don’t know what he said to my father. All I know is that when my father came back out, he rushed to hug me and said, “Zaid, I know I have not been a good father but from now on, I’ll try. I’ll never repeat my mistakes.” Hearing those words from my father made me feel even lighter, that maybe I didn’t need to escape my life.

Maybe talking was what I should have done all along, I realized. No one can truly know what you’re going through if you never open up. Once I opened up, I felt much better, and I felt seen.

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Well, from that day on, I saw a complete change in my family. They got me out of the Quranic institution and enrolled me at a regular school, the best one in my city. My father regularly took me to the psychiatrist, and my problems soon started to fade away. My panic attacks decreased and eventually, vanished.

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Last day of high school, 2015 (me in the middle with open arms, enjoying my normal yet special life).

Since then, I’ve been healing and doing things that my heart desires. I bought a camera and started covering sports events in my school. I was even awarded the best photographer at my institution.

With the freedom to pursue my heart’s desires, I decided in high school that I wanted to explore the world someday. Even though I’m currently going for a bachelor’s in computer science, I have successfully launched my own tourism company with the help of family and friends. Through it, I’ve had the chance to explore the remote and untouched areas of Pakistan and recharge my soul.

Finally, I’m living my life, my way.

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I know that life comes with a number of unexpected surprises, I know that sometimes you feel like, why me? And there are moments when people think that they don’t have any choices left, they don’t have any one around who could help. Through my experience, I believe that in those moments you must convince yourself that “this too shall pass.” And when you’re going through a hard time, tell someone. Don’t suffer in silence. And don’t call it an end until it is.

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This is the story of Zaid Mubbasher

Zaid is currently pursuing a Bachelor’s in Computer Science at a well-known university in Pakistan and at the same time, running his own tourism company. In his early life, Zaid went through serious mental problems (which were considered taboo in his society), because he was forced to attend a Quranic institute that worked him to the bone. It was until he attempted suicide that his family realized how badly he needed help and took him to a psychiatrist. Voicing his problems helped him heal and helped heal his relationship with his family. Zaid is now living a good life. He believes that depression is only a state of mind and that the cure for it is to find someone who has passed through same situation to talk to. These days, Zaid spends most of his spare time with people who are less social and feel lonely as to show them they aren’t alone. Through his tourism company, Zaid plans to continue exploring the world and all its beauty.  

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Zaid Mubbasher (on the left, with sunglasses) travelling at the Pakistan-China border, 2018.

 

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This story first touched our hearts on October 17, 2019.

| Writer: Zaid Mubbasher | Editor: Kristen Petronio |

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To protect the privacy of the storyteller and those involved in this retelling, some of the names may have been changed. (1)

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