Relapse Is Part of Recovery | Hufsa Ahmad | TEDxRanneySchool

hi everyone hi my name is Tasha want to start out with the little content heads up that part of my talk is about mental illness and there is an audio clip that may be disturbing and I will warn you before I play it so we good great okay so I'm 29 years old and I grew up in a Pakistani Muslim family apparently with a full head of hair this is me at two days old I was a really happy happy baby and I loved learning especially reading start reading when I was two using computers when I was three and in second grade my teacher called my mom to tell her that I could type faster than she could and this all went to my head because when I introduced myself I would say hi I'm hafsa and I am gifted yeah I'm much more humble now overall I call that the era of happy healthy and adorable Hafsah unfortunately when I moved to a new school I was bullied people were really mean to me and sixth grade I found the slam book where I was voted dumbest and ugliest girl in school and I went home crying and I thought I want to die and at the age of 10 I attempted suicide that was number one now I recognize that I told you something pretty horrible with a smiling picture behind me and that is on purpose because so often we're struggling and deep down but we don't talk about it we just post pictures like these on Facebook so no one ever knows which can be a huge problem thankfully when I moved on to middle school in high school I came out of my shell again in fact I was voted both teacher's pet and class clown someone asked me how did you pull that off and I said I you know I'm gifted I also excelled academically and I moved on to an engineering college in claremont california known as Harvey Mudd College now Harvey butt is where I found my people I was in love with the school the learning environment and everything else I was even a freshman class president but the thing is like oftentimes during college is when mental illness comes out and that's what happened to me started to get really depressed then I would have mood swings and become manic I had some psychosis and I developed a delusion that I didn't have any friends literally I would cry about it for hours and my friends would surround me saying no we're your friends we're your friends but the delusion was so pervasive I just couldn't see past it they diagnosed me with a mental illness that eventually became schizoaffective disorder which is a mood disorder with psychotic components and there's something called stigma which means the shame associated with mental illness and I said I'm not crazy I'm not gonna take medication but things got worse one night I was on the third-floor balcony of a dorm when I heard something say to me huffs a– climb from one balcony to the other balcony over and over again and I was crying because I didn't want to but I was sitting on the ledge with one leg over when my friend came out and stopped me all this was just terrifying I watched my life fall apart and at the end of my freshman year again I attempted suicide again this audio clip it's actors really creating what happened and it made me disturbing [Applause] no that was number two the next day I had to talk to the Resident Advisor Jason and I told him yes I do want to die and in that moment I never felt so ashamed in my entire life but you know what he did he looked me in the eye and he said Hafsah you are destined for greatness in my absolute lowest moment which it meant so much but dropped out of college got on medication went to therapy and picked up my beautiful bass guitar and I returned became student body president and graduated from Harvey Mudd College I'll show me some love okay it was hard Thanks unfortunately the story gets sad again after college I was very depressed and symptomatic I got fired from three jobs in one year I lost my connection to science and my identity and I became very very depressed I had suicidal ideation every day for three years and I also had these horrific hallucinations where I'd feel something cut my wrist and I would see a butcher and I'm doing it at the same time and I would feel something rip off my toenail and I wasn't so much mental emotional and physical pain that everyday I would get down on my knees and I would beg to God please kill me now I can't do it on my own that was number three there's something else I heard though tufsa you are destined for greatness as Jason and another one of my lowest moments I heard him say that though I didn't believe it it meant something found the organization called Nami the National Alliance on Mental Illness which helped me get back up on my feet as I learned that mental illness is not my fault it's not something to be ashamed of it's chemical it's not personal and I've met other people with mental illness that through that peer connection I learned that I'm not alone in recovery as possible slowly slowly started to volunteer then work then advocate and two years ago I won an award for my advocacy efforts I reached the zenith of my career then one week later I was psychiatrically hospitalized for the first time in my life that was number four now I just told you the story of my life in eight minutes assuming I'm on time which I'm not but that's okay and I told you about four things and those four things were the lowest points in my life which I call relapses because whether in the first time I felt or if I got better and I fell back it had the same effect yes I suffered greatly but I gained something from every relapse one empathy what is it like to live with mental illness to I saw how much my friends cared about me something I was so delusional I couldn't see on my own three I witnessed what the illness took away from me but I also saw what I could gain from it and for that relapse is part of recovery that I will fall over and over again but the important thing is to be proactive about relapse not reactive to it to stay vigilant and take care of myself because my relapses my struggles have made me the person I am today if I did not struggle I would not have found my passion to serve as a mental health advocate and smash the stigma of mental illness relapse is part of recovery and the phrase I'm borrowing from addiction and applying to mental health but relapses occur in all areas of life there are relapses and careers relapses and relationships relapses and societies and that's one thing I realized last year when I was quite depressed and I was watching a movie called sake and in the movie there is a main character who is a koala named Buster moon who loses his prized theatre and everything else so he resorts to washing cars with his tiny furry body he has relapsed when his friend comes and reminds them of something Buster always said you know what's great about hitting rock bottom there's only one way to go and back up I cried when he said that because in that moment I fully identified with the Koala I realized that I was gonna get better and I was gonna be stronger I decided to interview 50 people to see if relapse is part of recovery goes beyond me and a koala and I can say that it does now first and foremost I'm a counselor right and people just pick up on it which makes them more open the other day I went to the car dealership and the staff member just starts venting to me for no reason and I didn't know what to do so I just provided active listening and he stopped he says man you are such a good listener you should be a counselor said I actually am a counselor man you must send out these counselor vibes or something and I'm thinking how do I turn those vibes off hey at least I got great tires one story stands out to me is Stephanie she's been to me the American and her whole life she wanted to be a doctor she apply to medical school twice didn't get in she applied a third time then figured she didn't want to be a doctor and three days after that she got into medical school and she turned it down her parents were extremely disappointed in him to her and she sunk into a depression if she no longer knew who she was she experienced a relapse in identity however the explorin experienced forced her to figure out what is it that makes her happy she decided she still wants to help people but as a wellness coach started a business six years ago and this is her here today doing quite well people were so open about their stories I lost my career but then I found my passion I was in the worst relationship of my life but I learned so much about myself I relapsed over and over and over again but every relapse moved me closer to sobriety and there was so much insight to I learned that life is precious and not something to be thrown away I learned that my time is not necessarily God's time and I need to put my faith in Him I learned to embrace adversity because I know in the end I'm going to be a better person let's recap what we learned today one relapse is part of recovery two relapses occur in all areas of life 3 we gain insight for relapse and for that we need to be supportive when a person relapses so often my interviewees said they felt like failures people walked out on them or they walked out on themselves but how wrong is that if we gain insight from relapses that means that relapses are opportunities for growth not something to be ashamed of and yes it does up to the individual to see that opportunity to accept that there's a problem to ask for help to work through it yes and it is equally important for the people around them to provide support we must trust and believe in people or life becomes impossible support does not just fall on the shoulders of families and friends everyone needs to be supportive schools need to be supportive workplaces clinics communities governments and societies we all need to work together to support the person or people who relapse because we all realize support doesn't have to take much it starts with encouragement and hope and belief in the person it grows too expanding much-needed mental health and addiction services and it could be something as simple as telling a young and terrified girl that she is destined for greatness all support is so powerful I'm so lucky for the support I've had that's why I'm here today I have had my fair share of discouragement which seemed justified you need to transfer to an easier school you can't work you need to live on disability benefits extremely justified but I'm pretty happy with what I did I didn't listen and I had people supporting me on the other and telling me to pursue my dreams and you know what I'm a strong social worker and has worked in mental health and addiction for six years I have won two awards for my advocacy I've raised $20,000 for Nami I'm on the board for the Dayle McIntosh center for disabled and the only person with a mental health condition and I'm vice president and I have to struggled with alcohol abuse and I'm happy to say that I have six years sober so if you're out there right now and you're struggling you're relapsing I don't care how bad it is what it looks like I'm telling you right now you can get better thank you my actors for creating that horrifying scene that hopefully I never have to play a good I want to end with my signature phrase stigma smash it's the phrase I say whenever I hear something combat the stigma of mental illness and I think we as a whole have combat of some stigma today so I want us all on three to go stigma smash and I want I want to hear loud okay you get there way too quiet I will hear loud I want to hear some thunder okay one two three stingless fast all right thank you guys so much [Applause]

Glenn Chapman


  1. She could still use some more humility, geesh. No wonder the crowd was dry. She means well I'm sure but damn…

  2. The crowd was so dry, but you were amazing Hufsa! Thank you for sharing your journey.

  3. “It is never too late to be what you might have been”

    (Frances Bacon).

    One of the things I struggled with in life before and also during recovery were delusions of grandeur.
    Yes I had untapped ability, yes I had to work to bring those abilities out. But the reality in my case was that I had to accept I was actually quite average. In intelligence and life skills. I was probably not heading for greatness but it was great to accept my averageness and be ok with that. It made life right sized so I could grow up.
    I am 56 and still not completely sure what I want to do when I grow up, but that’s ok. I pay my way and stay completely sober. I attempt to be as present as possible for those around me.
    Growing up emotionally is being able to accept my abilities and limitations. As Frances Bacon means in the quote above in my opinion, it never too late to grow up, accept and be grateful for your blessings and limitations.
    Great talk. Thank you.

  4. Thanks for sharing your story. Mental illness is never talked about in Pakistani culture and am happy that people like you are not afraid to speak out about it. Thank you so much for speaking out. Hope others can learn from your talk and not be afraid.

  5. This inspired me so much! Will make note of it – definitely must apply it in my life

  6. I find her quite annoying. Don't take it personally, but if you were my therapist I'd probably try to kill myself too. I really don't like the way she talks, her tone…the sound of her voice….. even the things she says. Worst TED talk ever… sorry

  7. You can never fail until you stop trying…. Thanks Beautiful Being..

  8. I’m afraid of this happening to me. Is there anyway that you can help me?

  9. Brave Hufsa, Thank you for sharing your story and helping us understand. God bless you.

  10. I'm in recovery… to bad a relapse means cps taking my son away :'(

  11. Bravo for your transparency into your own life and advocating to smash the stigma of mental illness!

  12. I am also a Pakistani-American Muslim woman with Schizoaffective disorder 🙂

  13. Thank you for sharing your story!! Always great to hear real experiences to empower others!

  14. Great talk, Hufsa! Happy to see you on stage spreading awareness, transparency, and support on this very important topic. <3

  15. Hufsa, you rocked dis Ted Tawk in New Joisey!!!!! So glad you didn't freeze in da snow and sleet. 🙂
    You won't recognize me from my YouTube handle. This is Vicky from Orange Upon A Time (aka Minot Toria–just imagine a 2-year old when called Victoria, saying "Me no Toria, me Bicky" (Bicky = Vicky :))

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