Reaching for the sun

It was close to Noruz when it happened. A terrible incident changed my life. Let's just say I faced my own mortality.

Approaching the hospital, I remember saying farewell to my mom and dad, who were far away in Iran. I closed my eyes and pictured my brother's embrace one last time and wished for more. At that moment I had no boundaries left. As I approached the hospital emergency waiting area, about to say farewell to this world, I cried out to touch the essence of life one more time.

As the threat to my physical being subsided, I found myself psychologically imprisoned by thoughts of death. I was experiencing post-traumatic distress disorder.

We were approaching Noruz, the new year that symbolizes new beginnings. I was convinced nothing would ever be the same. I was plagued by existentialist questions. What was the purpose of life? I could not eat or sleep. My fears manifested in a series of psychosomatic pains, as real as physical pains, only worse because what was really hurting was my soul. I knew I needed help.

Although my final exams were approaching, I took some time off from school to be close to my friends and family. I think it was Billie Holiday's song, “Lover man where can you be”, that really moved me. As I sat in my cousin's apartment, clinging to the tune and sipping slowly on my glass of wine, the subtle beauties of life streamed in front of my eyes.

I glanced over my cousin's library and came across Dale Carnige's “How to Fight Worry, Fear and Anxiety”. Feeling hopeless, I took the book and caught the next train back to my city. I was determined to tackle those final exams. All through the train ride, I kept reading and reading.

I stepped into the house I share with four roommates and hurried up the stairs towards the answering machine. “You have 19 new messages.” I was amazed at how many people had been concerned about me. I listened to each one, thinking how much I loved every single person who had called me.

I called my closest friend at school, raving about my second chance at life. I told her I was fine and that I would be alright because I love life too much to give it up. All through the night I hummed Frank Sinatra's “My Way” — the song that's been with me at my highest and lowest points.

I made it through the exams despite my mental state. I felt like soldiers at war who keep pushing forward despite their wounds. When the exams were over, I socialized as if nothing had happened. I simply wanted to forget the nightmare. When my best friend drove up to see me, I was my old self again, embracing life's finest moments.

But the pain resurfaced. I thought if I ignore it, it would go away. But it didn't. I had my first nervous breakdown at 23. My vision of mental health changed dramatically. I realized that every one of us, given the right amount of stress, can feel as if we are in a shrinking room and experience pains with no physical basis. I was there!

The worst part was being plagued by dark thoughts of life and death. My existential depression left my soul weeping in agony. I kept crying and crying. I cried for beautiful trees I had passed by everyday but never noticed. For days I had grabbed the paper and headed to my favorite coffee place. For listening to jazz while cooking my favorite meal. For films that had moved me.

I wept for all the people I had come across and my experiences with each one of them. For times I could have been a better person. For staying up all night and talking to my best friend about our dreams. For my hopes of influencing the world and leaving a trace behind. For music. Oh yes, I wept for music more than anything else. How I love music more than anything in the world!

The depression left me transparent to myself. That's when you come face to face with your dark side. Your only goal becomes getting through the day. You do not need to fear your biggest fear anymore. You are already dead! But time healed… I don't know the exact point of my return to life. It was certainly not overnight. That I know for sure.

I realized that the journey of life is a miracle. That I must live for the sake of living. That influencing the world is not about fame or power but rather something we are all responsible for every minute of our life: through every action we influence and shape the world. That passion is the key to life. That I should welcome my shadow. That awareness of it would only lead to a deeper understanding of myself.

All this made me realize that my nightmare was a blessing in disguise. That the weeping watered the seeds of my existence. I am still occasionally overtaken by darkness. But now I reach for the sun each morning. I celebrate the privilege of being here. Today I can say: “I am alive.”

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