Tag Archives: personal

I didn’t quite know what to title this piece of writing. It’s difficult to pigeonhole tumultuous thoughts invading your body and mind into one or two words in the hopes it aptly describes one aspect of this shit storm of depression and anxiety you’re going through. The past few months have grown increasingly difficult to cope with, so much so mental health awareness week or whatever wasn’t even on my conscience. What was on my agenda was staying alive and being okay with it.

To write about mental health is a tricky area as it may invite unwanted phrases such as “but I thought you had this going for you,” or questions such as “so what?” perhaps those people are right, maybe it’s not such a big deal. I’m not here to list out every single one of my woes and concerns to justify my state of mind. Before I write anything, I go through something I call my “paranoid session.” I fret that maybe these words and sentences don’t actually have any intrinsic meaning to them, that there’s no point for me to write about experiences. To overcome this session, I just have to acknowledge that it is indeed the truth. There is no intrinsic, profound meaning to my words, that yes, this blog post won’t change things. I’m not about to wrap a thin veil around my justification and say I’m trying to raise awareness of my “psychological problems” as my doctor phrased it, and to perhaps encourage others to reach out about their own mental health.

As a side note, speaking up about your emotional state is of great importance. There is a big reason for the existence of mental health awareness week, no matter how flippantly I mentioned it. Doctors and campaigns are only the start of recovery or a better life. In short, they enable change for the better, even if it hurts. I told my therapist that talking to them felt like an open wound, that even the slightest breeze would make me wince. My temporary and unsanitary bandages would previously come in the form of destructive self medication. But now I’m keeping the affected area clean and applying the right ointments. I have accepted that the scars I’ll bear from here on out will not always be visible.

Rather “selfishly”, I have this condition where writing about my “self” and putting it out there for the masses is so much easier than having an intimate discussion with a loved one. After my first session in a while I remember calling up a friend, I was desperate to talk to someone, to spill everything out and just tell them “you know what, I’m having a nervous breakdown.” I heard the comforting and familiar voice say “hello?” to which I felt myself completely shut down. I just did the usual act-like-everything’s-fine-and-deal-with-it-later and cut the conversation as soon as it hit a minute and a half. It was awkward, it was strained, it was unhealthy.

I’d been lumbering around with endless responsibilities on my back, far too “grown up” than I had ever anticipated upon entering my twenties. When I had the first moment in two months where I didn’t have to send an email, go to work, to lectures, to meetings, to figure out if I can afford my education, if my education was even worth it, if I’d even succeed in it, I’d sit down and feel like I had entered a vacuum. You know, everything was eerily quiet like my mind had been converted into a lynchian ghost-town where the spirits of admin lurked around every corner, ready to pounce as soon as my alarm went off. It was all or nothing: either I be thrown into a pit of duties I had no profound interest in, or I strapped myself into a rocket and launched myself into space without a helmet. Sitting down and writing this feels alien. I’m not meant to express myself, not in this position for sure.
My doctor told me they wouldn’t officially diagnose me with anything because chances are it would put my future career aspirations in jeopardy. I’m not too well versed in how mental health works with “work” but I didn’t want to take a chance. I just nodded and took whatever prescription was being offered to me. I’m on mood stabilisers without “officially” being unstable. Go figure. Without knowing what to completely expect, not having a single word to define my “psychological problems” feels much like not finding the right word to title this piece.

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I started writing this post in a state of forced nostalgia, referring to around two weeks ago. You know, the whole “university is over, bring on unemployment!” type of thing. About a few lines in I just deleted the whole thing because it seemed so false with regards to what I really wanted to say.

But Shiri, why don’t you just delete this whole thing as well? Hey, fuck you.

The moment in which I am writing this I have been sober for 6 days. I wouldn’t say I’ve completely relieved myself of my personal vices, rather I’m in a state of rehab which is: home. Or what is my new home, anyway. Turns out being in a cramped environment in the suburbs of London with three tiny wailing humans is the perfect way to really sweat out every addiction you’ve ever had. You see, coming from a Muslim family is difficult enough when you want to get your hands on any substances. It’s even more difficult when everyone thinks you’re a woman ready to be married. The real kick in the cunt, however, is that I managed to shift from my flat in Surrey to this conservative home just as Ramadan began. So there was no wiggle room, there was no weaning period in which I could probably sneak out for some indulgence. It was a day of hectic moving and then bam: flashback to when I was thirteen. Only a lot more congested.

I’m not anti-Ramadan, I’m not even anti-religion. It’s ridiculous I have to clarify this before someone readily twists my words into a tragic narrative of a subordinated Muslim woman, trapped by the barbaric Islamic constraints and forced to live her life in line with radical Muslims. Come on now, honestly.

I’ve said it before, so I’ll say it again: writing is an act of complete self-indulgence for me. Say whatever you want about it after you’ve read it, it’s not mine anymore. It’s all transient anyway. I’m going to talk about my own experience with my most recent addiction: alcohol. I’ve been on cocaine before but I’d happily go back there rather than be hooked on this mind-numbing and unforgiving liquid. University life is all about drinking, apparently. Whatever, that wasn’t the case for me. The issue was I was drinking whenever I could. I was drinking when I was alone, when I was in company, before lectures, before bed; I even washed down my medication with wine from the night before in the morning. At first it was a charming aspect of my lifestyle, “Shiri’s had a bit to drink” or “Shiri’s such a good drunk.” It was just something everyone around me had accepted. Perhaps they didn’t, perhaps they just didn’t want to say anything. It was when I began lying about my drinking habit that I knew I had a problem. People I would never dream of disrespecting would be on the receiving end of my lies as to where I was going (it was normally a shop to get another bottle) and who I was seeing (probably just sitting at my desk at a god forsaken hour on my own).

Coming clean isn’t just about abstaining from a substance. For me, coming clean is also about being upfront. Something I was once so ashamed of needn’t hold me back. I’ve still achieved a lot in these short three years, more than just understanding what the hell Derrida’s going on about. People might not have known, but that doesn’t matter. I was scared I’d lose “me” if I stopped drinking. After a while I realised that this “me” I had cultivated as a result of alcohol wasn’t who I was before I became dependant and it doesn’t need to be me for the rest of my life. The “me” I had created, whilst all aspects of my interactions are a performance, was a reach even for myself. In fact, the thing I’m most petrified of becoming is boring. You can root around my head for years to figure out why I did this to myself but there’s this truth lurking somewhere deep down, and that is I was too damn bored to throw myself into anything sincerely productive. I can mask my habit with essays and lists and books and friends and meetings and events all I want but all I could think about during the day was when I could be all by myself so I could have something to drink for hours until I passed out.

I’d sit in front of a counsellor every week with the same guilty look explaining to her why I did what I did when I drank however much I had. I’d nervously grin at my lecturers when proposing an essay topic thinking “oh god, they know how much of a screw up I am.” I’d wake up with bruises all over my body after sleeping with someone because I needed to know I could be broken, and that I am real. Alcohol just became a way of numbing my senses before I harmed myself. See, cocaine was different. When I was on cocaine I was hyper-aware of my surroundings. That’s one of the reasons I quit. I just didn’t want to know anymore. I could sense my counsellor growing tired with me; “you need to learn to look after yourself” she’d say in an exasperated tone. The problem was I didn’t know how and no one was giving me any instructions. Drinking began to take over my life after the shock of the assault set in which took quite a while. For anyone wondering, no, it does not react well with anti-depressants; it certainly gave it a kick, though. I know this sounds very bleak. Normally, I’d try and put a humorous twist on my tribulations in the hopes people wouldn’t mind coming closer. However, I’m learning that not everything has to be funny or charming. Sometimes it is the way it is, and right now it’s just plain ugly. No amount of cheek could possibly cover up this ugly period of my life like the way I tried to cover up others.

I’d march through sympathetic phone calls and stern meetings where I’d sit in front of an older woman warning me about the dangers of drinking. I remember thinking she wasn’t doing a very good job because she’d make it seem like such a vacation. When my mother was in hospital I remember a corpse lying in the bed in opposite her. When my brother came in to do his rounds I asked him “why hasn’t anyone moved her?” At that moment I heard shallow breathing. Two bony hands rose up and, what I assumed, clapped. Her skin was so yellow, I genuinely thought she was dead, her face was sunken and her frame was skeletal. She had a bit of blonde hair. Whenever I thought about the effect drinking would have on me later I would think about that woman. Anyway, after all these sympathetic phone calls and meetings so insincere I very nearly gave up after investing so much into these so-called guardians. That is, until I realised the only person I could trust was me. The only problem was I had to learn how to trust myself. I knew that when I nailed that I had everything in the bag. I had to be the change I wanted to see. Change comes from within. Another cliché.

Six days might not seem like much and going cold turkey might not be the best idea for most. For those who have never experienced addiction I must say it’s a bit of an achievement. No, cold turkey isn’t the best way out for most people. I know the second I get out of the house for an hour I’ll be at a bar sensibly enjoying a drink (maybe with someone, who knows). I want to get to the point where I can enjoy alcohol around the people I feel safe with. This may sound perverse, but I’m lucky I come from the family I do. My mind seems to automatically switch off when it comes to alcohol and other drugs until I step outside again. This is the bit where I trail of and ask myself “what was the point in writing all of this?” I tried coming across as an agony aunt near the end, trying to remind people that it gets better but fuck it. This is my story and I’m six days into a better life.

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Remembering my father.

I’m lying in bed aching from the week of hedonistic socialising that I had to be greeted this morning by a sobering thought:

It’s been 11 years since I lost my father.

For me, this issue of time really puts things into perspective. For me, losing my father was truly a life changing experience. I know that it has affected me in ways I can’t even conceptualise. In all honesty, I don’t really think I have a reason to write this post. Other than I always talk about how great my father was, and is in my mind, one of the most wonderful people I have ever had the pleasure of meeting.

No one can deny the fact that he doted on me, perhaps creating this high expectation of affection I’m working on, ha. Of course, I only knew one side of him. That side was blurred by childhood enthusiasm and short attention spans. I was just happy to have a sweet man play with me as my mother cooked and my brothers were living their lives.

I cannot say for a second that he was the most moral person I have ever encountered. That would be a lie, what can nine years of uncertain memories and fantasies really say about a person? I’m not an idiot- every one that I will ever meet will have a life before and after me, regardless of consciousness or death. For now, all I can hold onto is the happiness and love that I feel so blessed to have received at such a delicate age.

After his passing my life was difficult, but that’s not the point of this. The point is that I had such a fantastic time that I am so lucky to have had. My father never spoke about marriages, or career aspirations, or even the issue of me playing in the mud and wearing jeans all the time. I was taken to art galleries and the London eye. Even as he was dying with cancer he played the simple game of “catch” with me in the garden as the sun set over our small home in North London.

I clambered onto his lap and said to him “dad, even though you haven’t got much hair left I still can’t count every single one of them!” He probably couldn’t hear me as the only thing he was doing was breathing at that point. I let him win at Connect Four and let him watch James Bond and Star Trek (even thought I couldn’t stand them). His dying days made me the most empathetic and intuitive I have ever been in my life. It makes me sad that I couldn’t articulate my love for him as a child. Sad, I feel, is the right word. If I was a child I would’ve hardly said “mournful” would I? I can’t say I believe in an afterlife, and that this is just my sentimentality speaking, but I can confidently say I will sugar coat every memory of him until my own deteriorates. He left me a story that I can weave and feel warmth whenever I relay it to my own loved ones.

The bitterness that I felt after his death subdued when I started university. I couldn’t help but feel his departure was to blame for financial troubles, homelessness, abuse, broken relationships, and mental health issues. Now that I have matured ever so slightly I am able to understand my family. I can understand the anger, the fighting, and the desperation. My family are not broken- I can see that they are stronger than ever. If they can’t see it for themselves then I will show them.

There are young children in my family now who have me as their Aunt. I’m disappointed that they’ll never meet my father and have the same sort of affection that I received from him. I was the youngest child by a mile therefore he had time to spend on me in his old age. Looking at my nephews and niece, I promised myself (and them) that I’d look after them and be there for them when they feel alone. I guess that’s the reason I feel so protective over them. That’s probably the reason I feel so protective over my mother now, too. However, years of tension have rendered me a bit emotionally stunted when it comes to the older generation of my family for which I am very regretful. It’s another thing which I am more than happy to work on. I am working on it and I’m seeing results.

I feel guilt for living something of a “double life” but I know my own father was not without his own adventures. I know how much I am like him- my family are always reminding me.

Truly, dates shouldn’t mean anything to me. Blog posts shouldn’t mean anything to me. It’s like I’m putting forth my fragility yet filtering it through what is and isn’t acceptable to say to the public. But I’m lying in bed recovering from a heavy week, looking at the disposable camera on my window sill and thinking “I should get the pictures developed today.”

Dad always converted the bathroom in North London into a dark room. I’d sit and watch him delicately dip plastic sheets of paper into the water. They’d turn into photographs later. He loved taking pictures of his family and friends. In his old age, I reckon he knew that nothing is permanent and he was trying to hold onto everything as much as he could.


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