Stronger Than You Think by Imen Riahi, Tunisia

It brings great sadness when you find yourself searching for a paper and pen, wanting to write a short story about yourself, but it is ultimately a blessing. When you think you are strange and no one can understand you, it’s hard for you to have a close friend or a boyfriend either. I was everyone’s friend but honestly, no one was mine. In this short paragraph, I’ll tell you about the monsters I struggled with, these monsters living inside my head.

I’ve learned that it’s okay to talk about depression and mental illnesses. Going through my diary made me discover that, since childhood, I was both ambitious and depressed. My depression went unrecognized for a very long time, ignored by many people, even by me.

I always had negative energy inside, that feeling that something is not right. I had doubts about the world, about my family, school, society, and even me. Everyone makes the mistake of not knowing what the real problem is, they think that it’s life who’s being naughty to me, that it is people who are laughing behind my back, the problem is with the world without even knowing that the real problem was what is going on in my head. I was knocking on opportunity’s doors desperately, but still waking up every morning angry. Depression, though it made me an artist, was really hard. I don’t say I’m 100% over depression but now I know it’s not the world that is the problem but what is in my head. Depression is the place where you get lost to finally find yourself. I lost faith in God, relationships, friendships… I always had suicidal thoughts.

In Arab countries, we still can’t understand what it means to be depressed. In general, we are asked to be happy, and once we’re not we are just being gloomy, and we have to mask our depression. Showing that I was sad was the most rebellious thing I ever did, to say I’m depressed and that I can’t deal with it anymore, that I can’t mask my depression.

One day, I realized that this was going to lead nowhere! I discovered that though depression is artistically beautiful, I shouldn’t stay there. Seeing life in black is hell! However, searching for light in every darkroom is heroic. Now I’m grateful for every darkroom I’ve ever been in. Mathematically speaking, they have always taught us that negative (+) negative = positive. So I’ve learned, whatever happens, that you need to know that no matter the number of negative events you experience, they will lead you somehow to something positive.

You might wonder what happened that helped me turn into someone who speaks about positivity when I used to ironically mock those who talk about it and consider them liars. Simple yet complicated.

I remember the days when I was always in the fight against life when suddenly I heard about my cousin’s death. They say simple facts are the best moments for a big change, and sure the death of my cousin wasn’t a simple fact, however, it was for me the beginning of self-criticism. I went to his Facebook profile, reading his old statuses, seeing his old photos, his comments. A hard working man with a great network, a man who I didn’t give myself the chance to enjoy the company of because I was busy in my mind. I remember I used to talk less and less with him, which became not at all, acting as if he was going to stay with me forever. And thus, I discovered how much I was stuck in my head and how much I’ve missed. I realized that life is too short to stay in my comfort zone crying over the dreams that never manifested. I realized that we don’t have to fight against life, we need to love it and decide to concentrate on the positive angles, to celebrate our joy more than getting stuck in our sadness.

Since that day, I began to know what I want instead of what society wants for me, which is the real meaning of success. I got accepted into the BBC Media Action Program and now I’m with you learning things I’ve always been interested in. And I’ve started my own project by founding a magazine and now know the treasure I have and we all have, the treasure of being alive and breathing. So remember my dear friends, life was created to be loved.





This is just one example of the important work produced by YaLa’s citizen journalists, a program funded by the European Union’s Peacebuilding Initiative in order to enable young leaders from across the Middle East and North Africa to document and share their experiences of the region. 

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