A good friend of mine recently asked me to write a piece on the way that depression has impacted my life for a friend’s blog. Through the process of thinking about it, I have come to realize that the psychological illnesses that I have incurred over the years must be situated within a body that embodies the history of postcolonial trauma.
My ancestral heritage goes back to British mandated India, where members of my family broke away first from Great Britain, and later from India, where they eventually formed the Pakistani identity with the formation of the state of Pakistan in 1947. During the 1970’s my father immigrated to the United States and my mother later followed when they got married. My siblings and I were born in the United States, where we reside now as a part of the growing South Asian diasporic community.
In order to better understand myself, I have come to think about how the traumas of my ancestors have affected my own body. The emerging field of epigenetics suggests that the manifestation of genes is actually altered as a result of the trauma in ones environment and that these altercations can actually be inherited. Epigenetics has made me think about how postcolonial bodies may actually carry the trauma of prior generations in their own bodies. I believe my impact from postcolonial trauma began at birth causing me to struggle with both depression and anxiety for most of life; which has only been made worse with the election of Trump.
The institutions in place during this era have facilitated psychological encroachments on our minds as they have created systems that maintain and produce cultural trauma and promote cultural separation and racism today. This inevitably has had an impact on the psychological wellbeing of those of us directly targeted by this administration. These institutions are part of policies that are rooted in discriminatory and racist ideological frameworks that make the following possible: stop and frisk, a delineation between ‘legal’ versus ‘illegal’ immigration, a normalization of police brutality, violent and acceptable forms of border patrol, and the Muslim ban, just to name a few.
As a result of the institutions that are necessary for the livelihood of Empire, I, like many first generation immigrants have struggled with an identity crisis. Born into a western world with Judeo-Christian values, I always found it challenging to situate my upbringing based on eastern values and Islam within white Empire. As a result, I often struggled with self-doubt, double consciousness, and feelings of helplessness and despair. Who was I–when my eastern and western halves often felt at odds with one in another?
For me personally, living as a Muslim woman in the Trump era, answering this question makes me define precisely what I am not. I am not a terrorist, I am not a jihadist, I am not a ‘security threat.’ Therefore, I often feel that I am in opposition to the mainstream narrative that has been imposed on me, whose goal it is to reduce my identity to nothing but the oppositional mouthpiece of Empire itself.
I have come to realize that this oppositional narrative must be eradicated for true agency and resistance to emerge. As marginalized groups living in this country, we must create and define our own authentic narrative independent of the one that has been imposed on us.
My personal experience has made me think about the countless marginalized people in this country and the ways in which simply living amidst these trauma-inducing institutions has damaged their psyche. A relevant question for us to then ask is: How have the feelings of personal despair, depression, anxiety, PTSD, and suicide rates amongst those affected by Trump’s policies shifted since his election—and what does this mean for the psychological welfare of our nation? Furthermore, what does it mean for our current treatment methods of mental illness?
I think it is imperative to reconsider Eurocentric models of treatment that tend to universalize trauma and simply prescribe medications as the solution to a complicated narrative that must be situated within the individuals personal and lived experiences. I call on the fields of western medicine and psychology to both create and expand space to consider the political unconscious amongst postcolonial identities in their treatment methods. Doing so would open the gateways for western medicine to shed its colonial skin.
Another empowering approach may be for the patients themselves to claim their own space in healthcare settings, instead of waiting for permission to be granted to them, or further yet, for them to create alternative spaces of healing for themselves.
The pathologization of mental illness among the colonized cannot exist independently of the structures of the Empire in which they currently reside. In order for a complete healing and agency of a people to occur, an end to the psychological dominations of Empire would be necessary. This will only emerge from a collective awakening and a determined resistance to its imperiling power.