The best thing about an identity crisis

My anxiety attacks were so severe that I feared I would die - instead I learned how to live.

Saba Khalid April 24, 2011
Exactly one year ago, on the very night I wrote this, I remember not being able to sleep. Such nights were common then. I would twist and turn for over five hours, lying in bed until finally, sleep would come.

During those waking hours spent in bed I would cry. My anxiety attacks were so severe that I would fear I may die during the sleepless struggle.

I knew I was on the precipice of a full-on identity crisis.

In retrospect, I wonder now why I never bothered telling any family member or friend what was going on. Maybe, it was because I really didn’t understand the dilemma myself. Maybe, it was because none of my colleagues or friends were going through such a phase. Let’s suppose if I had told them that I was severely depressed, what good reason did I even have for being so? I had a well-paying job at a multinational, an extremely loving family, and a person who I loved terribly despite his erratically abusive behavior.  To top it off, I was decent looking with tons of great shoes. In a country where most go to sleep hungry, I was pretty much living the dream.

What doesn't kill you

Such identity crises are definitely not invited into our lives. People will tell you thousands of ways to avoid one. Why? Because, for once, you have to reassess yourself, your priorities, your direction in life and exactly who you have become, as opposed to who you wanted to be. When you realize how far you are from your real self, it can be devastating.

Most people will spend their entire lives without facing an identity crisis, living life in a bubble, happily accepting who they are. But very few others will dare to look within themselves and check to see if they still respect themselves if stripped completely from their outer achievements.

What went wrong

During those nights that’s exactly what I was doing - discovering that all the ‘so-called perfect’ elements of my life were mere facades. My job was a complete farce - I had always dreamt of becoming a novelist. But here I was writing corporate mumbo jumbo that was barely read by anyone at all.

The person that I loved was turning icier to me each day and I knew in the back of my head that something was going on.

Despite my Carrie-esque wardrobe and my rows and rows of shoes, I had incredibly low self-esteem. I was so unsure of myself that I couldn’t walk out of the house without layering my face with makeup and donning high heels.  I knew I hated my face, my skin and my body.

And the worst of it all was that I was unkind to my family, turning my back towards them in an effort to hide it all.

I didn’t have an identity of my own. I didn’t feel I belonged anywhere.

Losing myself

On one of those tired and lifeless days, I was bitterly betrayed. But unlike many people, I could not get myself to move on, forgive and forget. It got to a point, where I completely lost my ability to live.

The days that followed became alarmingly hopeless. I would drag myself to work but instead of working I would spend countless hours staring at the screen or Googling ridiculous topics to kill time. It got to a point where I decided to just give up and quit because if I didn’t do it myself, I believe my lackluster performance in those days would’ve convinced my employers to fire me.

Before I quit, I asked myself one question only, “Do I see myself working here in this organisation, in this particular field, after 10 years?” The answer was simple, “NO!”

I handed in my resignation.

What followed then was a complete resignation from all social life. I didn’t bathe until it was absolutely necessary. I didn’t go out unless it was an emergency. I didn’t talk unless it was important. I avoided phone calls, refused to check my Facebook profile and sat around all day and night in the quietest corner of my house - the less frequented drawing room.

I became what you may call a ‘hermit.’ All I did there was think about everything right or wrong in my life - all the little issues I had avoided for so long, all the stuff that I had repressed, my dreams, my yearnings and my failed hopes. When things would get too difficult to bear, I would read and write. And these two things became my saviors.

Finding the way

As much as I wanted, I did not have the money to go on an “Eat, Pray, Love” expedition around the world to heal my heart, or even enough to give myself a makeover for that matter. Failure had already arrived in my life, willingly or unwillingly, and it followed me around like a vengeful stalker. Now there was no choice but to strip myself to the core layer by layer. No hiding myself through a job, no masking myself in a relationship and definitely no slipping behind clothes and jewelry.  Could I exist without them?

In such harrowing hollows of life, I turned to God. Something I hadn’t done in years. Who else can pick you up when no one else can? And surprisingly He really did. I started reading a lot. From the Holy Quran, the Bible to abnormal psychology and fiction. My love for reading got to a point that I would finish three books in a single day.  I would write and write until I couldn't do it anymore. At first, most of it was extremely angry and dark. If it was fiction, it usually revolved around someone being shot or raped in the end. But soon, the dark thoughts started to clear. And in came the best writing of my entire life. An explosion of creativity that I did not expect from myself.

Slowly I started venturing out every Saturday for a mentorship program of The Citizens Foundation called Rahbar. I never thought someone would look up to me as a role model, but somehow, six incredibly intelligent young girls from Saeedabad saw me as an inspiration. The optimism in their eyes made me see the world each week a little less pessimistically.

Sitting there after months and months of introspection, I discovered myself and my ability to live. I was able to get past the prevailing identity crisis. I was surprisingly able to love my un-showered, un-made-up self. I was able to forgive and forget the betrayer but still cut him off cold turkey. I got closer to my parents and finally shared with them my entire journey.

I soon realised I belonged. I existed.

I existed as a daughter despite my horrible past behavior. I existed as an aunt to the most wonderful little nephew in the world. And without any Pulitzer prizes, I knew I existed as a writer at least to myself.

I found overwhelming acceptance for this new person that I became, from everyone around me. Not just from my parents, but my friends, old colleagues, and finally, myself.
Saba Khalid A blogger for Rolling Stone magazine, a contributor to Kulturaustauch and Musikexpres, Saba is an Institute for Foreign Affairs (IFA) Cross Culture scholar for the year 2012 who also teaches creative writing to young aspiring writers. She blogs at and can be found on instagram as @thecityalive
The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necassarily reflect the views and policies of the Express Tribune.

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