Roughly seven years ago, the actress first began to feel a sort of heaviness that would follow her throughout the day. At night she couldn’t fall asleep. She would cry all the time and stay holed up in her room a lot. There were even times when she felt like she could no longer read her scripts.
“I would start off at my shoot totally fine but all of a sudden I don’t know what would overcome me. Co-stars had to rush me to the hospital. It was a time of deep embarrassment. People thought I had gone mental.”
What she was actually experiencing was a panic attack, which is an episode of intense fear.
She went to the doctor and the doctor prescribed Lexotanil, which is a highly addictive anti-anxiety drug. Initially, the medicine brought nothing but relief. Anytime she felt the familiar pang of a panic attack coming on, she would take a pill and within ten minutes she would be blissfully and sufficiently numb enough to continue her day. But over time, she built up a tolerance to the Lexotanil. Eventually she was taking ten to twelve pills daily just to function.
Then, one day, she fell apart in front of Shahroze Sabzwari. She now credits him for essentially saving her life. When he asked her what was going on with her, she simply told him she could no longer do it – any of it – and, immediately, he got her an appointment with a doctor he trusted.
“This doctor told me I was definitely on the wrong meds, the Lexotanil had been good in the moment but it came with massive withdrawals in the long run.”
This new doctor started Nausheen Shah on new, safer anti-anxiety medication. But, her struggle was not yet over. “The doctor advised that I spend time with myself, on myself. He told me to spend time thinking about what my triggers were.”
“I finally realized that I need not only the right type of medication but that I also have to change a lot of bad habits, to get myself away from a lot of negativity, to start putting myself first, and, most importantly, I had to restore my connection with Allah,” she tells me. “Basically, I had to give up things that weren’t acceptable for my health and my religion.”
Today, Nausheen Shah is a different woman. She is completely focused on her career. She also spends a lot more time on her health. Right now she’s completing an online health class. And, she does yoga and pilates regularly. She also prays five times a day and has pretty much completely pulled out of the industry social scene for the sake of her sanity.
“This is a country where we will happily smoke hash to calm ourselves down because we have no actual awareness of mental health and how to treat it. And the really good doctors are just not accessible to regular people.”
She was asked if she thinks Pakistanis are ready to get real about mental health, to talk about the hard stuff that so many of us struggle with – sometimes so openly.
Without a pause, she said: “Pakistan is 100% ready.”