I was in third grade of school when my family moved back to Kabul, a city torn by civil war and its people devastated. They enrolled me in a public school that had just one building. In the building you could see bullet holes on the walls and in the middle of the blackboard was a big hole. We were told it was from a rocket.
The first couple of months were very difficult for me to adjust to Kabul. I became surrounded by people who had so many stories of losing their loved ones. It was strange for me, until then I had no no idea how it would feel to lose someone you love. Bu in Kabul people all around me were talking how their family members had died during the war, some were even killed in front of their eyes. The stories all sounded like: they shot my uncle in the eye; my dad burned when the rocket hit our home; Taliban hung my cousin in public while my aunt was screaming.
As a ten year old kid I had a stutter. It was so strong I was barely able to communicate the horror stories to my parents. I was trying hard to tell my parents what I had heard, but they probably did not understand because I was stuttering a lot.
Finishing school was a milestone for me. It was a struggle but I managed to graduate with decent grades from high school. My stuttering problem improved a little and my self-confidence was growing. I got a scholarship in a prestigious university in Kabul. University life started in best way possible. I made a lot of good friends and was having a good experience. Things were getting better. I became very active in community service activities, social works and my circle of friends grew dramatically.
But it didn’t last long. A cowardly attack happened to our university. I lost some good friends in the attack. But it wasn’t until later I realized how this situation had an enormous effect on my mental health. I started having problems with my memory. In attempt to run away from the trauma, I used weed and alcohol in excess. Then I witnessed another huge blast in Kabul that claimed the lives of many people. I was so close to the blast that I literally saw people burning alive and dying in front of my eyes.
The problem was there was no one that I could have prolonged conversations with about how I felt and how it hurt. The horrible reality here is that everyone has a bitter story to tell. If you want to share a personal story with someone, most of the time it turns out that you end up listening to their stories and they don’t give you much chance to speak. Which is fine I guess, I want to help my friends, but it’s hard every single time to listen to more and more sad stories without the chance to speak about your own pain. At some point I realized how listening to all these stories without having the chance to tell mine was effecting my overall health. I understand that everyone needs to be listened to but why do people think of a conversation as a competition? If you share a personal sad story why do people come up with an even sadder story of their own?
I decided to stop having conversations about my feelings with my friends and family because it was getting worse every single time I tried. But then I started talking with myself. One day I was sitting in my office and having such an intense conversation with myself that when my colleague was passing he stood at the door and watched me for 15 minutes and I didn’t even notice. How crazy had I become?!
Meanwhile, I was having the worst nightmares every night. I became scared of sleeping and then sleep deprivation was hunting me down. I got a chronic lung disease from smoking too much and a stomach ulcer from excessive use of alcohol. I reached the lowest point in terms of physical and mental health.
Now though, I am doing better. I think what helped me to recover was hitting the lowest point in my life. I realised that I might not live any longer if I continue to have the same thoughts and habits. So I started going to the gym, smoking less, and trying to be around positive people.
I hope no one experiences what I have experienced during the trauma. For the people who are reading this I have this message: please listen if someone is sharing a personal story with you. Do not just listen to reply. Listen and let them say whatever they want to say. If they asked for your advice then give it to them but please do not impose your advice on them. Those behaviors sometimes make it worse for the person who is sharing and they might regret sharing their story with you.