Written by Rich Forestano Friday, 09 May 2014 00:00
Hakeem Rahim just wants to help. He wants to use his experience to aid others who may be suffering from what he called “an uncontrollable terror.” That terror was a panic attack and mental break. Rahim recently shared his story at a panel discussion in Washington, D.C., which focused on mental illness.
“I had delusions,” he said. “I thought I was Neo from The Matrix. I was jumping off the walls. I had all the classic signs of someone who broke from reality. It’s good to talk about it. It’s not good to hold it in.”
Rahim, who serves as a guest speaker for the nonprofit National Alliance on Mental Illness of Queens/Nassau (NAMI) in New Hyde Park, talks with students about his experiences before, during and after being diagnosed with bipolar disorder in 2000. He’s speaks regularly with local school districts, including New Hyde Park Memorial High School.
Rahim suffered his first panic attack in 1998, his first year at Harvard University. During the spring of 1999, Rahim stated that he roamed the streets of his native Hempstead “possessed with a prophetic delusion that I had to share with everyone I met.”
In the spring of 2000, Rahim suffered his second manic episode. This included a complete break from reality, otherwise known as psychosis. “I had visions of Jesus and heard cars talk,” he recalled. At that time, he was hospitalized, and his long struggle to triumph over his illness began.
After he was released from the hospital, Rahim switched his major from African American studies to psychology to understand what was happening to him. But he had to take a year off.
“The complications with my condition and medication forced me to do that,” he said. “I ended up graduating with honors and went on to Columbia University, gaining dual masters in psychological counseling.”
For Rahim, talking about his past is two-fold. It aids his handle on the condition and may save a life in the process.
“I am so much more than my diagnosis….much more than a label. It is my hope that speaking out for compassionate and equitable care for every person living with a mental illness will help break the stigma that persists in this country to this day and will allow every American to be treated with dignity and respect,” he said.
In 2012, Rahim left his position as academic advisor to Hofstra, John Jay and Mercy colleges, to concentrate on helping people with similar issues. NAMI’s programs peeked his interest.
“We are committed to making a better world for everyone living with mental illness and their families” NAMI Board President Janet Susin said. “Working with Hakeem is a joy. He cares so much about our cause and is such a wonderful success story.”
To date, he has spoken to well over 4,000 high school and middle school students on such topics as bullying, peer pressure, facing fears, and other mental health concerns.
“I’m glad that it’s getting national attention,” said Rahim. “I think the more we see mental illness is a life obstacle like any other illness, the more people will be accepting of it and try to help others.”