Hey, my name is Hajera and I wanted to share my story on depression and anxiety from childhood. I come from an Asian-Bangladeshi background and I grew up as a Muslim. I have 2 older sisters and 1 older brother who is autistic.
From my earliest memories I have of life, my life at home was always very tense. I never knew what a happy loving family was at the time. I was in primary school and I’d always see my classmates’ parents picking them up with a loving smile, giving them hugs and kisses right before they take them home. I always wondered why I didn’t get that treatment from my parents.
My mother suffers from delusional disorder which is a type of severe mental illness. The delusional disorder makes her have EXTREME paranoia. She believed that everyone wanted to hurt her. Including her own children. This made it extremely difficult at home as she would always keep her distance from me and my siblings. It affected us as very young children as we didn’t receive the parental love we should have got.
Although I lived with my mum, we were never close even from the days I would have my first ever memories (from aged 3). Her illness made her not want to be less than a metre close to us, she would never hold our hands, give us hugs or kisses like other parents would. If I touched my mum or got too close, she would have a panic attack or even beat us because she thought we were trying to hurt her. It was very difficult but I always knew that my mum had a problem, but I just didn’t know what it was.
It would be so bad that even if we went out to do house shopping, she would start arguments or fights with random people walking past because she thought they were trying to hurt her. Me, as a 7/8-year-old child would have to tell the person to stop and tell them my mum is sick and that I’m sorry and for them to leave her. I had to not only protect myself, but my mum and my autistic brother. I knew of mental health illness and witnessed them as my first ever memories in life and into my young childhood. I was a protector for myself, my mum and my autistic brother from such a young age.
My mother had delusional disorder from when I was born so I always knew my mum that way. I never got to know my mum as “normal” which is something I really wish I did to this day. I hear stories of how she used to be, but I really wish I got to see it.
My father was someone who I had bad experiences with. He was always in and out of home in the first 9 years of my life and then left permanently.
My father was a successful business owner of a catering company and he was a part time mechanic. He even bought our home with a mortgage, so we all had the security of our own home. From when I was about 6, I remember he used to always go out and come home drunk and smelling of alcohol and I’d ask him why does he smell like that? He used to tell me it’s not alcohol it’s chocolate lol. As a child, we usually believe everything we are told especially from our parents, but I knew this guy was lying. I knew my father as a liar from such a young age which is why I have such bad trust issues with men to this day.
As successful as he was with owning his own business, buying a home and securing a mortgage for his family, he lost all of his money to gambling, drugs and alcohol. All of these things he lost made him incredibly angry and very abusive. There was even a day where I found his drugs and threw them in the bin at the bottom of my block because I didn’t want him to have them and he found out and hurt me badly.
Having this situation with my father and my mum suffering from a severe mental illness which was not yet diagnosed, it caused a lot tension, abuse and depression in my household. My dad was concerned about his own wealth and land back in Bangladesh more than his own children and wife who was clearly not well.
He blamed everything on my mum and made it clear to us that he hated her. He knew she was ill but didn’t want to help her because he didn’t have the funds and had his own problems with drinking and gambling. He was in debt. It was difficult for him and what made it worse was having 4 children depending on him including an autistic one.
There was a lot of physical and emotional abuse that I had from him. He would abuse my mum in front of us till she’d bled on the floor and scream right in front of us kids. Regularly. Then hurt us afterwards. My mum would call the police and I’d watch them handcuff my dad and take him away. My young self would have to attend police stations and give witness statements and then I’d be taken home in a police van. I was still in primary school.
People called me weird when I used to say I like primary school because everyone hated school. I felt like primary school was my escape from all the things I was seeing at home and where I actually made friends and felt like I was “liked”. I forgot about everything at home when I was at school. The only issue I had was that I was always late. I’d be late because there would probably be a fight between my parents at home first thing in the morning, but I’d tell my classmates it’s because “I woke up late”.
When I was about 9/10 years old, my dad told me and my siblings that he couldn’t handle being a father anymore and that he wants to sort his own life out and be happy again. He packed his bags and left. From then I didn’t see him again. He abandoned 4 children including an autistic son with a severely mentally ill mother. Along with his mortgage and debt for us to take care of.
It was a big shock to me at my young age seeing my dad leave for good and tell us that he didn’t want to be involved in our lives anymore. I had to get used to just having my mum who was always keeping her distance from us and was in her own world. I was thinking “wow. Is this how it’s going to be now?”
I was in year 6 and it was time for me to start applying for secondary schools and attend open evenings. I applied to secondary schools and dealt with my own open evenings/interviews and all the letters whilst my older sisters who were still teenagers at the time were working to provide for the family.
During the first years of my secondary school life, I would always feel sick in school every single morning and I’d throw up. The school nurse knew I was a regular. It was always in the morning I felt sick, but I’d be fine in the afternoon. I hated going to school assemblies because I’d feel like I want to throw up every time. I’d purposely come to school late, so I didn’t have to face the first morning lessons and assemblies because of the sickness. I never knew why I always felt like this when I went to school. Was it the new environment? New people? I’m growing up? I never knew why.
It reached a point people started to ask me why I’m always late? Why do I never attend assemblies? If I did, why did I always sit in the front row closest to the door away from my form class? I didn’t know why myself, so I always found it difficult to answer.
I had this issue continue throughout the first few years of secondary school. When I hit year 9, a lot of things changed.
There was an incident at home where my sister brushed past my mum by accident which I witnessed and then my mum called the police telling them my sister attacked her. I then watched my sister get handcuffed and get taken away. And once again I had to attend the station to give my witness statement. The police realised that there has been a history of calls from my mum about abuse towards her and spoke to her. They then realised that my mum was clearly not mentally stable and that there were two underaged children including an autistic one in the household. Social services were then contacted by the police and that is when my whole life changed.
My and my brother were told that we had to get taken into care and that my mum had to get treatment for her illness as it wasn’t safe for us to be around her. I was petrified! I was so worried about my brother because he is autistic and cannot talk or defend himself. My sisters fought for us not to be taken into care and they were able to become a carer for my brother only and not me. I was scared for myself, but I was more happy that at least my brother will be with my sisters.
I was taken into care but not a care home with other children. The social services were able to arrange for me to be in a home with a family instead of a foster home. I was staying there for a few months and attending school from there and going home. My friends that I’d usually go home with used to ask me why I don’t go home my usual way anymore… I used to say that I’m living somewhere else. I was too upset to tell them my situation.
I had a social worker called Matt. He was such a lovely man and he has all my respect. He made such a positive impact for my family in the long term. I used to hate him so much when I was younger because he would ask me so many questions about my personal family life and I hated speaking about it. I was just angry at everything in my life. I know it was his job and for him to help me but I hated it. He did all he could and worked so hard to help my family and he did just that. I am grateful for his work to this day and I wish I could thank him.
The social services had to get in contact with my school to tell them literally every single detail about what was going on with me. I am grateful I went to a school with good facilities and a caring head of year. It was weird seeing my head of year from school outside school attend my meetings with social services with my family too. From then, I was allowed to come to school late, I was given an out of lesson pass in case I felt like I was going to have an anxiety attack and I needed to leave the classroom and I was assigned to a counsellor. People would always ask me why I was never kicked out of school for my lateness or rubbish attendance? This was why they couldn’t kick me out.
I’d have about 4 anxiety attacks a day. These usually occurred in the first half of the school day so I’d either not come in during the morning or if I did, I’d use my out of lesson pass to not be in a classroom because of my severe anxiety.
I used to get counselling in school, I felt like it helped a bit, but it didn’t. It was nice to talk to someone who understood me and just release all my thoughts and feelings to them, but I felt like the techniques they gave me to help didn’t help me.
I was finally able to move back in with my family again and my mum was given medication. My mum’s medication made her very calm to make her paranoia calm down. That’s when we were first told that she has been diagnosed with delusional disorder and she must have medication for life.
I was so happy that my mum was finally getting better and wasn’t so tense all the time. Although she has on strong medication, she was still in her own little world. She was so calm that nothing bothered her. We could physically get close to her again, emotionally we couldn’t because of her medication. If I told her something crazy, she will still be calm. I couldn’t really open up to her because she showed no emotion due to her medications. She is still like this to this day. She is better in terms of paranoia, but I still don’t have the ability to get close with her and get to know her feelings and thoughts or express my own to her.
This was all in year 9. I will always say year 9 was the maddest year for me.
Things at home did start getting better but I was still suffering from anxiety attacks in school.
I’d get asked every single parent evening I’ve ever had, why doesn’t your mum or dad come? Why is it always your sister that comes? They had no clue and I had no clue what to say. This is why.
My family didn’t have a lot of money because the main provider who was my dad was no longer there and my sisters used their teenage years to provide. I now reached 16 and I was desperate for a job to make money because my family didn’t have much. I worked hard to look for a job and it took me a whole year for me to get my first job.
From then, I was always eager to make more money and progress in my working life because I knew that I had to provide for my family. The mortgage that my dad left us with needed paying along with household bills and food for the table. There was no parent to pay for these. My mum isn’t fit to work. It was just us kids with the income.
“Why do you always work so much?” A common question by my school mates. I prioritised work over school. Although I finished school with amazing grades, I always felt the need to work. People looked at me like I’m crazy cos I’d go to work but not school. They didn’t know I had to provide for my family, and I was part of the household income. I guess knowing that I had to provide for my family and my parent won’t be able to give me money because of her illness, that’s where I got my grind from. That is where I got my attitude and ambition from. I used to wish I were one of those kids where I could ask my parents for money and they’d give it to me. Or have normal parents where they pay for all household costs whilst the child is in education.
Another issue that I was dealing with during my teenage years was my lack of self-love. I was very insecure. The lack of love I received my whole life reflected on me. The lack of male figure in my life made me look for love from other males. I feel like this is a common issue for girls who grew up without having a father or male figure in their life. They look for love from other men and that is what I was doing. Your father is meant to be your first male love and I was hurt by mine from a young age. I feel like this is why I have trust issues with men, or I’d believe that every man will hurt you and leave you in the end. Just like my father. This was my norm.
It was only when I was 18 that I started to love myself more and be more comfortable by myself. Leaving school and being out in the real world after everything I went though was the best thing that happened to me. I felt more independent and that I can really find myself. It was very difficult, and a lot of highs and lows took place.
I was receiving psychotherapy in Maudsley Hospital from 18 and I stopped going when I was 19. My psychiatrist’s name was Janet. She was lovely but I stopped going because I got so busy.
It’s crazy that I was going through all of these things and I would still have the biggest smile on my face. I’d see my friends every week and they had no idea I was seeing a psychiatrist every week as well. I wasn’t so good at opening up and I always wanted to just be as normal as possible.
I was always working from the age of 16. I knew that I had to make money and I feel like my situation turned me into a natural grinder and I’d always be thinking of ways to make more money. This is one of the things I love about myself. And this was my first few moments where I really started to love myself.
Loving yourself is the most important thing you could do. From my whole childhood, having a lack of love and having severe depression to who I am today, that is the biggest and best lesson I learned. Things will always get better in the end, no matter how long it takes. It is not the end if you are still alive and breathing. Everything happens for a reason. Every experience I had I always questioned why me? Why? I always thought negatively.
I trained myself to think positively about every aspect of life and things changed. I stopped dwelling on the past. I am grateful for everything that I went through because it has shaped me to who I am today. A strong, independent and hard-working woman.
Of course, bad things happen still to this day, but good things happen too. One of the other main things that helped me was finding God.
I grew up in a Muslim household, but I was never taught much about my religion because my parents were unable to teach me. I was so depressed that my only option was to go to God. I felt like no one else understood me or could help me. Other Asian people used to judge me because of how different I was to them and that I didn’t know much about my own religion. I taught myself how to pray when I was 18. Some of my friends from college helped me as well by teaching me about the different rakats which I am forever grateful for.
I taught myself a lot of basic things that my parents weren’t able to teach me. Which is why I am so independent.
I learned that life could change completely so you should never lose hope. Also, when life is good, you must always thank God.
I was once an upcoming model who was living her best life with celebrities and everyone thought I made it or that I found my career. No one knew I was made homeless too hence why I was always out at shoots trying to make as much money I as could. Please never judge a book from its cover and do not believe everything you see on social media. I hated people finding out if I had problems and did everything I could to look happy.
Another assumption that I had was because I’m Asian I wouldn’t go through the things I went through. Asian culture is all about family reputation and keeping home problems inside the home only. They also like to keep away from other people whose problems have become known such as my family. I didn’t get the support I needed from my own people. That’s why people who are not Asian assume that we have “good” lives. People always assumed I was brought up good or didn’t experience things like this because of the stereotype of having strict parents and always because I seemed happy. This was not the case for me.
Everything I experienced and everyone that has come in and out of my life has taught me something whether it’s good or bad and that I thank God for every day.
I now have the best relationship with my mum that I never ever thought I’d have. It may not be as good as other parents, but it is the best I could ask for. The first time I ever hugged my mum I was 20 years old. I now hug her 5x a day to make up for all those years she stayed away from us. If you told me when I was younger that I would one day be close to my mum, I’d think you’re crazy and tell you no way she will never come near me.
I am not 100% where I want to be, but I am in a far better place and mental state I was at before. I want everyone who is reading this and for anyone who is suffering from depression and anxiety that there will ALWAYS be light at the end of the tunnel. PAIN IS TEMPORARY. Being patient is daunting because you don’t know how long it will take but please trust the process and trust God.
I cannot express how important it is to be nice to others! You never know what people are going through. Even when they have the biggest smile on their face and are always laughing and making jokes, they could be going through something completely opposite behind closed doors. That was me. I know how it feels so please be nice!!
Mental health issues are so huge and so unspoken about. I am so passionate about mental health because it’s all I’ve known, and I want to support people who are suffering from psychological disorders or have someone close to them who are suffering from it.
A lot of people may think seeing it doesn’t affect them. It may not affect you now, but it can affect you later on and you won’t even know it. It is so important to have someone to speak to about these things, but the reason people don’t speak about it is because they feel like they won’t be understood.
My past has made me such an understanding person and very much aware of mental illness or disabilities that you don’t even have to tell me, I can pick it up from you straight away by the way you behave. I hope my story inspired at least one person and if you need someone to talk to or have any questions, please feel free to get in contact with me. I am always ready to speak about mental illness so please please please if you feel like you need to let it out. I am here.
2 thoughts on “The Person With The Biggest Smile”
So proud of you for posting this❤️
You’re so brave to have built yourself the life you live now,
I wish you only success and happiness ❤️❤️
Thank you for sharing your truth Hajera.
It was difficult reading about what you and your family endured. I cannot even imagine what it must have felt like.
Your survival is testament to your character and the purpose of your life in this world. I am inspired and in awe of your ability to see life from such a positive perspective.
May you continue to thrive!
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