By Gayane Ghazaryan
I am running out of breath. My heart is pounding faster and faster. My entire body is trembling with pain. I’m afraid I will die any minute now… I started having my first panic attacks in December 2017, right at the beginning of my winter break when a series of traumatic events put me in a psychological state known as clinical depression. However, what I was experiencing differed drastically from how people around me perceived this mental disorder, and because of that very reason, I had to fight against the aftermaths of the trauma feeling almost entirely left alone.
While most of my friends and family thought what I was going through was just a period of sadness, I was sure there was more to that as my mental/emotional state was in a terrible mess. Some of my friends kept telling that “things would get better,” and I just needed to “stop stressing out, and have fun instead.” But no, things wouldn’t get better for the next four months.
I deactivated all my social media and tried to avoid people as much as I could. With each new dawn, my own existence felt like an unbearable burden I had to carry on my shoulders. I would often think of death, wishing that something would actually happen to me and I would no longer have to fight against the pain. Even the simplest action of breathing felt like an unachievable task, especially at nights when I would have crying spells, almost suffocating. My emotional state directly affected my physical health. In the mornings I felt intense fatigue and dizziness as if I would pass out any minute.
December 2017 was also the time when I found out I had OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder), the symptoms of which I have been showing ever since I was 12. For nine years I lived with intrusive thoughts and never-ending obsessions, and yet never said a word as I was afraid people would think I had gone insane. However, I couldn’t keep all of that inside me anymore, as my compulsions had reached to the point where they prevented me from doing any work. I was concerned and terrified both because of my panic attacks as well as to find out I had a mental disorder that wasn’t easy to treat.
It took me a whole week to talk about my condition to my parents. I was concerned that they would get worried after learning it all as if I was going to tell them I had cancer or some kind of heart disease because having a mental disorder felt equally important to me. But to my surprise, they didn’t take my words seriously and thought I was just exaggerating things. They would tie the arbitrary pains I had to physical health problems and encourage me to see a doctor, but never a psychologist or a psychiatrist. My father would even get frustrated when I openly talked about my OCD symptoms. “Don’t tell such things to other people. They will think you have problems which you don’t,” he often told me. According to him, and most people in Armenia, it is shameful to voice about mental health issues.
I hoped that with the start of the new semester, I’d feel better. I hoped that the overwhelming amount of readings and essays would distract me from the inner chaos that was devouring me. But things got worse! Most of the time I wasn’t able to get myself out of bed. And when I did manage to get to university, I felt as if I had to play a part, concealing all the horrible things that were happening inside my brain. I tried hard to stay focused during classes, and sometimes it worked, but the home assignments were a real struggle. I would read something three or four times and still not comprehend what I was supposed to know or do. The hallways and the cafeteria were the definition of hell to me. I was constantly trying to avoid people, including friends. All the conversations and the laughter were only testing the limits of my irritability.
In February, I made a couple of attempts to see the counselor at university, but I failed. I wasn’t ready to be vocal about the things that put me in that condition. I didn’t want to open up to a stranger. So I found an escape in something new to me, something that didn’t have to involve words. I found an escape in dance. After signing up for contemporary dance classes, I soon discovered the healing effect that it had on me. Losing myself in harmonious melodies combined with graceful movements, I paved the way for the inner peace I so desperately needed. I was making progress, and it made me both hopeful and proud of myself.
Spring became the metaphor of hope to me. I kept repeating the words from Bill Evans’ famous album, “You Must Believe in Spring.” The more I convinced myself that spring winds and blossoming flowers would bring harmony to me, the faster the seeds of hope grew within me. I knew these seeds would blossom and put healing petals on all the scars. Indeed, by the end of March, I had made significant progress. Then in April, with the start of the movement that would later be known as “Velvet Revolution,” I set myself a goal to get rid of all the remaining negativity. I joined the rally from the very first day and was in the streets almost every day, from morning till night. To me, the Revolution wasn’t only about “rejecting Serj.” It was about fighting against the things that made me vulnerable, frightened and fragile both physically and emotionally.
Although I still struggle with OCD and can’t make my mind to take medication regularly because I’m afraid to become dependent on it, I succeeded in my battle against depression. What I learned is that life can slap you in the face, slap you really hard, but it doesn’t mean you should give up easily. I learned that people might not always be supportive, and that’s not because they do not care, but because they haven’t been in your shoes and lack awareness. I learned that there are people who have much more serious problems and do not have the determination or resources to cope with them. I once again realized there are millions of things to be grateful for, fight and live for.