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Shakti perspectives: Afrida

I will be turning twenty years old in April.

Amid the excitement of premature party-planning, wish list making and exiting teenagerhood, I recently felt a sense of sadness that I could not seem to shake. For a while, it was a sadness I could not place, compartmentalise or identify. It appeared from nowhere, with no name or intention and for some reason, it has not gone away. I theorised, agonised and therapized over this sadness until its truth and origin appeared.

The truth is that I had never, not until recently, thought I would make it to twenty. Though I was diagnosed only a few years ago, my depression has been with me since early high school. So before turning twenty I have managed to survive a failed attempt and several prolonged depressive episodes, among other things.

Before turning twenty, I have figured out what a bedroom smells like if you haven’t stepped out of it for weeks. I can give you an estimate of the friends and family you lose after forcing yourself into extreme isolation. I know what it feels like to fall out of love with your dream career and to fall into a spiral of general dispassion and dissent. I did not begin to properly heal until much later, when I found myself consuming abolitionist literature at eighteen. I had always intended on seeking out the greater local activist scene after high school and it meant consolidating my own research before joining any group or community. Through reading, watching and listening, I noticed how my racial, spiritual, sexual and gender identities were weaved within the fabric of my mental health and wellbeing.

I noticed how carrying the weight of my brownness and queerness all alone kept me buried underneath my depression.

They were factors that moulded my mentality since they have always been an integral part of how I identify myself. Even though I had no intention of coming across this realisation, solution and dilemma, I was grateful for the direction it pushed me toward. It had not occurred to me that these factors would influence my mental health as much as it did other aspects of my character. I was just as aloof and alone as I was proud and unapologetic of these identities. The tradition, history and culture of my brownness combined with the curiosity, fear and struggle of my queerness were rooted in the pain and trauma of my depression. My inability to find acceptance and comfort within these labels had infiltrated my mental health.

The ordeal of reckoning with my identities, alone, with minimal guidance and representation was overwhelming. The alienation of it all was inevitably worsened by mental illness stigmas that transcended borders and systemic discrimination that exists within the health industry.

I wish I had known that at twelve. I wish I had known that it was not my fault I existed in a system that did not cater for my needs. I wish I had known that I was not too demanding, too much, nor was I too complicated to be dealt with, too dramatic to be believed or too worn to be salvaged. While I stand at the cusp of twenty I see moments and opportunities stolen from my childhood; the chance to be messy, careless, weird, petty, curious, and innocent. Without sounding presumptuous, I believe this regret, along with the burden of navigating our races, religions, cultures, sexualities and orientations, is shared by South Asian youth, particularly those who are LGBTQ+ identifying. I believe that we are unfortunately left to venture the intricacies of our identities alone.

I accept the sadness of all that I have lost and missed. I accept that it this sadness is a culmination of feelings and experiences that I will continue to resolve and unpack in the years to come. And that is okay because I have found ways to be seen and heard in this isolation and struggle. A lot of it has to do with immersing myself in abolitionist spaces, literature and communities where individual struggles are met with collective compassion and care.

Of course, like anyone else, I ask you to share stories, remain vocal and keep each other afloat by recognising not only what we share but what we owe each other: kindness and community. I also recommend you delve into abolitionist theories that approach our identities and turmoil from a place of understanding and belonging. Too often, western institutions of health and medicine ‘other’ our issues and ordeals, reserving our experiences as footnotes or anomalies. Judith Butler, Bell Hooks, Audre Lorde and Angela Davis are a few of the many academics and activists who strive for the ‘othered’ to be seen and heard. I am sure you will find more with time and research.

Abolition and activism hold a place in our individual and collective psychological salvation. Our healing depends on our understanding of the past and present. In doing so, I have realised that I am so very happy to be here.

Because I will be turning twenty years old in April and I am going to be alright.  

I would like to acknowledge that my healing and education continues to take place on stolen Yugambeh and Yuggera land and that its Indigenous sovereignty has not ceded. Abolitionist ideology, Bla(c)k matriarchs and First Nations leadership remain integral to my growth and it is a privilege to exist and collaborate in spaces where these communities fight and thrive.

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