Siti Irina Ridzwan, a former student of Universiti Teknologi Mara (UiTM) in Malaysia, had faced a harrowing and life-threatening ordeal back in 2014.
She had been a victim of a brutal stabbing, attacked by robbers who had left her with seven knife stab wounds - four to the chest, one on the hand and two in the back.
“The media reported that I was stabbed five times, but they were wrong and I’m telling you now, I was stabbed seven times,” she told Yahoo Southeast Asia.
“I honestly feel that surviving this (incident) and being released from the hospital just after a week is a miracle, thanks to all the prayers I received.”
However, this debacle had shaken her to her core, leaving her with scars, both physical and emotional, that would take years to heal.
It was a memory that she had buried deep within her that keeps her up for nights on end.
"For a month after the incident, I couldn't get proper sleep. My longest sleep would be only 15-20 mins," Irina recalled. "I needed to be accompanied at all times. However, because I had a great support system, they distracted me all the time and tried their best to not remind me of the pain I was in."
Deep-seated mental trauma
This mental trauma, etched deep within her, had gone untreated for years.
Irina, supported by her friends, had kept herself together, her spirit unbroken despite the physical and emotional scars that the incident had left behind.
Her story had made headlines, with even the Chief Minister of Malacca visiting her in the hospital, yet the focus remained on her physical recovery rather than her mental well-being.
"Out of all the people who came to see me, only two to three inquired if I needed psychiatric help," Irina revealed.
"At the time, I was reluctant to address my mental health issues. I wasn't ready to acknowledge that I required psychiatric assistance. Humour became my coping mechanism."
As the years passed, Irina's approach to her own suffering, her way of deflecting from the tragic side of her story, had become a double-edged sword. While it helped her through the darkest times, it also pushed her deeper into denial, stifling the need for her to address her mental health.
"Looking back, this approach may have backfired on me in the long run. After six years, during the pandemic, everything came to a head, and it deeply affected me," Irina confessed.
"When it comes to PTSD, it's not like depression, where it might subside after a certain number of therapy sessions. My therapist explained to me that PTSD is different; it can be more like a wave. You might have a period of intense symptoms for a month or two, then it could subside for about a year, but it might come back again after that year. It's a long-term process," she said.
"There was a point when I almost blacked out while driving on the Federal Highway. That was a wake-up call, and I reached out to friends with experience in mental health issues who told me that seeking help was essential,” said the 29-year-old who now lives in Seremban and works as a project manager.
It was this pivotal moment that led Irina to make the most significant decision of her healing journey. Six years after her initial hospitalisation, she finally started seeing a therapist, coming to terms with the fact that humour alone wouldn't be enough to mend her shattered soul.
This was a turning point for Irina. She had suppressed her emotions for so long that the weight of her unprocessed trauma had become a burden too heavy to bear. "What I felt most importantly was validated. I had been in denial for so long, suppressing my emotions, which is a very unhealthy thing to do."
How she deals with her trauma
Despite her progress, triggers from her traumatic past still haunted Irina. It was neither vengeance nor confrontation that she sought, but rather her own well-being and healing.
Her experience had made her hyper-vigilant to such an extent that even the simplest of things, such as the sound of footsteps, could bring back memories she'd rather forget.
"Regarding triggers, they're often related to things that can happen in public spaces. It can be something as simple as a child running behind me," Irina shared. "When I'm in public spaces, like a shopping mall, and a child runs behind me, it can trigger me.
“I also cannot sleep alone in the dark so it’s nice being married. At least that way I know someone’s always there with me and no one is going to break into my room and I would be alone.”
However, Irina didn't want to hide her struggles any longer. She understood the importance of sharing her story and the challenges she faced, not just to seek healing for herself but to inspire others who may be going through similar ordeals. She was ready to confront her past, ready to embrace vulnerability.
"I'm comfortable with you publishing this part," she assured. "For example, if you're discussing it with others, feel free to mention it. I understand that this is your job, and I'm trying to be open about it."
Starting on a new venture as therapy
In her journey towards recovery, Irina found solace in an unexpected place – an urban farm project she initiated with a friend. "When COVID hit, I returned to my hometown of Seremban. I decided to start a small urban farm behind my house. It's a quarter-acre farm, and I co-founded it with a friend," she revealed.
This urban farm became more than just a hobby; it became a form of therapy. It allowed Irina to reconnect with nature, to ground herself in the present moment, and to find a sense of balance in the chaos of life. The act of nurturing the crops, feeling the earth beneath her fingers, and breathing in the fresh air helped her to maintain her mental well-being.
From her darkest moments, Irina had emerged as a beacon of resilience and strength. She had faced unimaginable horrors and had the courage to confront the trauma she had long suppressed.
"I know that when many people face a tragedy like mine, they seek to understand it better to defend themselves," Irina reflected.
"However, my approach is different. I don't view it as a quest for vengeance or trying to confront someone about what happened to me. My focus is on my own well-being and healing. I just want to be healthy."
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