An APS attack survivor narrates his struggle with mental health after the attack:
“Trauma gets onto you and latches for a very long time. I saw many people, children and teachers both die right before my eyes. During those four hours when we were captive inside the school, I managed to rescue 17 students from the auditorium where all of the students were being held.One of them had had 5 bullets pierced through him and I, being a medical student was giving them first aid. My hands were shaking, not because I was afraid of death. I had always hoped,like the Joker, that my death makes more cents than my life. During the incident, all around me the idea was death, but somehow, I escaped it. I escaped those bullets that were shot directly at me because it wasn’t my time, or so, I would live to tell the tale that was APS Peshawar.
People are not open to the idea of mental health. They talk about the attack and the horrors of the day, but expect us to ‘move on’ and ‘try to forget it’. The stigma of mental health encompasses not just the society, but also mental health institutions. The five months that we spent at the Army Institute of Mental Health after the attack, we were told that we were grown up and needed to brush it off. I took therapy sessions separately to deal with my PTSD and clinical depression. However, a therapist can only help you if you are open to help.
Healing comes from inside, so I tried opening myself for the idea that I need to heal. My journey of self-healing started when I started keeping a journal. These journal entries included poetry, riddles, and just pieces of what I was feeling. Writing is a brilliant medium to face your fears. I wrote because I could not share my feelings in the open. I had no friends at that point because I had lost them in the attack. My parents couldn’t understand my psychological condition because they did not experience what I did. Writing helped me to get to the point where I could share myself with others. My mentor read my piece and made me realize that my story needs to be out there so others could benefit from it. As a psychologist now, I feel that we need to replace the word ‘mental’ in mental health to make the society realize that it is not something as common as a disease for which we seek medicinal treatment.
In Pakistan, the first advice that trauma and depression patients get is to reflect back to religion. It is okay to reflect back onto religion because that is where our roots lie, but like other diseases, mental health might also require medicinal treatment and we need to accept that too.
When I go to colleges as an orator, I tell them the importance of unsaid words. That’s because my greatest regret in life are those words that I didn’t get a chance to say to the friends I lost. I tell them that there is no right moment to share with your friends. It is when you make the moment right is what matters the most.”