Empowerment · Health & Wellbeing

Time to talk…

I don’t know what I was searching for when I found this online. I usually find myself asking google questions as if google has all the answers to LIFE. If only huh? Well it may not have all the answers but it’s nice to see that you aren’t going completely crazy when you come across quotes and posts like this which confirm to you exactly what you are feeling, especially during those moments when you just don’t know yourself!

I never knew what anxiety was until about the age of 19. The whole concept of mental health as we know was something that no one in my family and circle of friends EVER spoke about. Perhaps because no one knew anything about it, or possibly because no one ever spoke enough about what they were truly feeling.

There is a famous Japanese saying that states we all have three faces. The first face, you show to the world. The second face, you show to your close friends, and your family. The third face, you never show anyone. It’s questionable, but do we get anxious and sad because we fail to show anyone our true third face? Is this the answer to coping and dealing with anxiety, or sadness?? Is the answer a mere acceptance of the feelings you are feeling? Sounds so simple…

Whatever it is, it’s quite a lot of pressure and energy to act like everything is always ok. Sometimes it’s really not. There could be days where you are motivated and energised to do everything – you’re planning, creating, brainstorming, being so dynamic. The next day you don’t even want to speak to anyone. You’d rather just text because that way, you don’t have to show yourself. You can just pretend everything is ok. But isn’t that just draining your energy more than it already is?

Over the past few years I have worked hard to build myself back up. It wasn’t easy. At times I felt that the more I climbed the so called “mountain of progress”, I was faced with a avalanches. I would crumble. I would feel lost. I wouldn’t be able to speak. I often felt like crawling into bed and shutting off the world. It’s something that can’t be explained so easily. It takes time to really think about what is happening, the whole process. Heart racing. The confusion.

The first time I felt like this was back when I was studying at University. It was just after first year of my law degree, and I did an internship at a top city firm. I was so excited! This was the first day of work for me. OMG I was dressed to impress, I looked like a more voluptuous brown Ally McBeal! It was the start of something big for me…

As soon as I stepped into the firm, I was greeted and taken around, met all the lawyers there. Everything was fine for the first three days; I carried out all the admin work, did some research, accompanied staff to court etc. This was the real world! It was like WOW!

However, on the walk to court one afternoon, one of my colleagues asked me a peculiar question which went along the curious lines of “so how comes you don’t wear a hijab if you are muslim”. Something in me felt different. Like for the first time, I felt as if I was not the same as everyone else. I felt different. But I wasn’t. I was the same as everyone else…or so I thought. I didn’t understand why I was being asked this question. Something I have never even thought to ask anyone EVER.

The week that followed was by far the most scariest I have seen in my lifetime at least; the 7/7 bombings. That morning the news was on in the office and I recall the police commissioner at the time announcing that everyone should start to make their way home, as transport was going to be locked down due to red alert and high security. My friend from university was also working not too far away on his internship, and I remember he turned up to my office to ask if we were going home. I wanted nothing more than to make my way home, but instead the senior partner said to him, “it’s not the end of the world”- which basically meant: Saira you have to stay at work. Mind you, I felt safe inside the office, but it took forever for my parents to make contact with me and to find out if I was even alive. Of course, the phone lines were all down. At that time, we didn’t have the facebook feature where you could alert everyone of your safety during a tragic event, in a click of a button. An hour later as the day went on, one of the partners arrived in the office after a session in court, and I asked her: “how is it outside?”, (considering that police and the armed forces had locked down EVERY STREET outside) to which she responded: “SARAH your security is not my concern”. Oh not to mention that getting my name wrong (because SAIRA is too difficult to pronounce clearly…) was followed by an instruction which had me roaming the streets of London, which essentially was “zombie apocalypse” dead silent, looking for a Sainsbury’s or Tescos to buy veggies and fruits so that my colleagues could make pimms – Yes PIMMS. Yep I did get lost- this was before smart phones and google maps so of course my dads handy A to Z rescued me and I managed to find my way through the police blockades.

The days after this I absolutely hated working there, with lever arch files thrown towards me, eye rolling in front of me, talking down to me, and the constant mispronunciation of my name (and at this point, even I was introducing myself to clients as SARAH because I started to believe I was SARAH). This still wasn’t enough to make me leave. I am not a quitter so I of course persevered, until one day, something happened.

I collapsed in front of the station. I couldn’t hear anything. I lost control in my muscles. Tears ran down my face. My stomach felt like it was melting and my brain felt like it was on fire. My heart was racing so much that I felt like I could hear someones music bass. I was in my Ally McBeal suit, on the floor, crying asking for help. Did people witness this, you may ask. Yes they did. But they walked on. I don’t know what was worse; me thinking I’m dying, or the fact that no one wants to help me stay alive?!

I won’t ever forget the one man who helped me up (which trust me isn’t easy as it may look!) but he called an ambulance and I was taken to the hospital. THAT my friends, was the first time I had heard of a panic attack. The feelings, emotions, tears that I faced everyday; taking my lunch breaks in the church so I could just hide and cry, were all this thing called ANXIETY, building up waiting for a release.

I don’t regret having that attack. Never had one after it. But it taught me a huge lesson and made me understand what anxiety felt like so that I knew what to look out for should I experience all those emotions again. My family also started to understand anxiety a bit more.

Fast forward a few years, I get married to a guy who I believed was the love of my life. Fast forward another year, he is no longer in my life. No apology, no explanation, no closure, just another woman. Simple as that. Oh and not to mention the narcissism. Of course, the breakup caused me to feel a lot of those same emotions that I felt when I was 19, but this time, I WAS READY. I was not going to allow someone to have that control over the way I felt. Yes it was sad, yes it hurt me. A lot. But what made me wake up every day was knowing that whilst I can’t control someones stupidity, I can control how I deal with it. Had I not had the panic attack when I was 19, I think I may have been in a much worse condition right now. I knew exactly what certain emotions and symptoms that I felt meant, and what I had to do in order to reduce those symptoms. It took some time, but I manage to get myself out of it now.

I have never really told anyone about my experience at the firm, and some people don’t even know that I went through a breakup. I felt that if people knew all this, it would make me look weak, and unable to cope at life. But guess what, none of us really know how to “cope” at life. When you’re in a culture where any form of mental health, be it minor or severe, is looked at as a taboo, you don’t ever feel like you can talk about what you are experiencing. You’re often told to “just get over it” or “have some hot chai, it will be alright”. It’s NOT a weakness people – it’s a part of LIFE. What is a weakness is NOT being open and transparent about the way we all feel. Imagine how amazing it would be if everyone opened up truly and showed the world that “third face”! There would be no barriers or boundaries. We would all be so healthy. I mean how messed up is it when I can ask friends and family to raise their hands if they went to the dentist in the past 6 months… or to raise their hands if they had a opticians appointment in the past year. Everyone would have no problem raising their hand at these questions, but the minute I ask to raise their hand if they had therapy in the past year, or if they saw a professional about their feelings, NO ONE would come forward. WHY do we not talk about our feelings?

There is absolutely nothing to be ashamed of when anxiety kicks in. Sometimes people around you can often mistake you for being rude or not wanting to socialise. But what they fail to realise, is that anyone going through anxiety or this state of mental darkness, just need time to go through it and come out into the light themselves- like me. I often tell people I am busy. But most likely I am just trying my best to cope, and once I have had that time, I will be absolutely fine!

So like this post says, I am busy. But not in a way most people understand.

It’s Thursday 7th February- and it’s Time to Talk.

Mental health problems affect one in four of us, yet people are still afraid to talk about it. Time to Talk Day encourages everyone to talk about mental health.

Visit https://www.time-to-change.org.uk/time-talk-day to challenge the stigma of mental health by talking about it!

Misc

Mental rush hour?

Sometimes a lot goes on in a short space of time. Often your mind is left feeling like it’s after 5pm…rush hour. Whether it’s falling out with a friend or relative, a break up, work commitments, over thinking or a passing of someone close, you just can’t stop thinking about it. Whilst these things all come with their own process of feelings and stages, I try to remember that everything is temporary; emotions, thoughts, people and scenery. The only thing that isn’t temporary in this life is probably the memories. But what happens when those memories, good and bad, are the things that are keeping you awake at night in a 24 hour rush hour. How do you pump the brakes in a red zone for even 5 mins without getting a damn ticket? I mean how do you turn off the damn switch for a while?

Regardless of whether you believe in God, the universe, a supreme being, or follow a particular belief or faith, praying or meditating seems to make a huge impact in easing some of this burden. I’ve never been one for conventional meditation as I have never been able to just make myself switch off. But as I sat and prayed tonight, I realised that this too was a form of meditation. During prayer you are supposed to concentrate on God through recitation, rememberance of God, and supplication. These acts seem to open and strengthen a connection between yourself and God. That connection helped me concentrate well tonight and it allowed me to release everything my soul felt. It was literally like I was talking to God.

Meditation/Prayer not only has spiritual benefit but worldly benefit, and can be a means for healing and finding creative solutions to difficult problems. It’s definitely a means of intellectual development that awakens and liberates the mind to help it achieve higher levels of growth.

I don’t know if those of you who practice meditation/prayers agree that one thing it does do is help maintain a sense of internal peace, despite all of life’s distractions and challenges.

I definitely am not the only one who goes through mental rush hour, but if you have gone through something or are currently in need of mental peace of mind then try adopting meditation/prayer as a regular practice as I feel it can help one not only extend worship to a constant activity rather than a fleeting moment, but can help a person achieve power of mind and body as well as spiritual growth.

What works well for you during mental rush hour? I’d love to know! Share with me below.

@iamsairaxo

Misc

My curly journey

So I think it’s about time I check in with my curly community about my natural hair journey. For those who don’t know, I finally made the decision to stop straightening my hair and embrace the crazy mop of hair God blessed me with!

As a little girl, I never really thought about my hair…I relied on my awesome mum to do my hair, who would always just braid my hair into two ponytails to make sure I looked tidy and presentable. As I got older going into my teens, I realised that all the other brown girls around me had soft straight hair which flowed with the wind, and was highly manageable, whilst mine just stayed in one place and always had to be tied up or braided. Straighteners had just become popular and I remember I purchased one of those old school babyliss ones. Gosh I was in love! This hot plate would make the frizziest of hair straight and manageable?! Whaaat…. I was hooked. Since then, straightening, and blowdrys became the norm for me. Any party, wedding, birthdays called for a fresh blow out! I could never be seen with natural hair…NEVER.

After having gone through a major incident in my life, I felt like I had finally woken up to reality. Lets just say that trying to be someone I was NOT, just to conform to others perception of beauty became very tiring. I was sick of hearing I had to dress like that or look like this…
Whilst picking up the shattered pieces of my heart, I started falling in love with myself. YES, I love myself; and through this I embraced my natural self, curly, curvy, strong, confident and beautiful.

I completely stopped straightening my hair in December 2017. It’s been a long journey but I can already see the difference in myself let alone my hair. Not only do I feel liberated, I feel beautiful! I’m sure my fellow curly girls know, the journey is a long one, but it’s so worth it in the end. I still have a way to go, but I’m happy to have found a journey worth taking.

**********

To all my curlies and natural brothers and sisters…. the wait is worth it. Yes you will have some days you want to just plug in that straightener. DONT DO IT. Lol… keep going and continue using natural products without parabens silicones and sulphates, and you will see just how amazing your hair feels and looks!

Some of you have asked me which brands of products I use and have found work for me. Here is a list of brands I regularly use:

  • As I Am
  • Shea Moisture
  • Cantu
  • Flora & Curl
  • Bouncecurl
Misc

Nature is my medicine

Why do they call this ALTERNATIVE MEDICINE when nature and all its goodness was the ORIGINAL MEDICINE?! 🍁
🍁
🍁
As you can tell it’s that time again where my body is telling me to pause, take a minute and listen to it because it’s finally run down! I’m in bed with a fever, body is aching, throat has had it, and eyes are hurting. My go to remedy is always my @doterra
Essential oils. I’ve posted about this before but any aromatherapist will tell you, this combination of lavender and tea tree oil is a very good “alternative” to conventional meds… and if you are someone like me who stays away from conventional meds and drugs (unless of course you have a Long term condition), then this natural combo could help you too.
Anyone else use essential oils for their health?

Misc

Lessons…

It’s been difficult over the past 4 years to really articulate what I’ve been through. Easiest way has been through memes, quotes and pictures. It’s not always easy to write about something so personal in a public space. But today out of all days in the year I felt the need to write…

This time 4 years ago, I was too excited to sleep.
Wishing him a goodnight with love so deep.

This time 3 years ago, I hugged him tight, and told him “thank you for making me your wife”.

This time 2 years ago I couldn’t sleep; not from hope or excitement, but despair and disbelief.

This time 1 year ago, I forgot his face. Memories of us which I’ve now gladly erased.

This time, tonight, I sleep happy and care free; So dont look at me worried, feeling all sorry for me.

I have arisen from the flame with Love and Life; Don’t stop me now, unless you’re ready for my fight.
– Saira

In all of this time whilst I was healing, I learnt a few things:

1. The hardest thing about realising someone didn’t love you is thinking why they spent a lot of time pretending they did. Still baffles me at times but leads me on to my second point.

2. Some people will only “love you” as much as they can use you. Their loyalty ends when the benefits stop. Simple as.

3. I feel we are stuck in a generation these days where loyalty is just a tattoo, love is just a quote, and lying is the new truth.

4. A clear rejection from someone is so much better than a fake promise! I’d take a rejection over fake promise any day.

5. I was left to feel that I wasn’t good enough. I quickly learnt that my problem was not, not being good enough, my problem was thinking i had to be.

6. Don’t feel sad over someone who gave up on you, feel sorry for them because they gave up on someone who would never have given up on them.

7. For those going through heartache right now, time actually does heal, and so does having faith in God.

8. To anyone feeling absolutely wrecked heartbroken and confused: Google ‘narcissistic personality disorder’. It’s not you.

9. Don’t look back. You’re not going that way.

10. Remember, they may have put you through hell but they cannot ever break you. They don’t have that kind of power. X

Empowerment · Misc

Law vs Culture

Growing up in an African and South Asian family, having a somewhat mixed heritage, I’ve always paid close attention to the different situations occurring in those particular regions. Having been born and brought up in Great Britain, a western and somewhat civilised society, I am fortunate enough to never have experienced some of the world’s injustices that occur everyday for many around the world. Injustices which have caused death, war, and destruction. One of the biggest forms of injustice occurring around the world is this sense of discrimination against particular groups; whether it be gender, religion, ethnicity, or sexuality related. Discrimination against women and children, however, has been an occurrence for MANY years and is shockingly still seen today in the developing world alike. What some may consider a private matter or a socio-cultural tradition is often a deprivation of an individual’s freedom and a direct violation of international human rights.

I grew up listening to some great stories of my mother’s country of birth, Pakistan. I often visited as a child too enjoying the family, culture, food, fashion and historical sites. I enjoyed playing with the children I met in the public park only to overhear bystanders make fun of me for playing with what they called “Churay”. At first I never understood what this meant, but quickly picked up that it was the term given to those seen to be “unclean”. You can imagine my reaction – unclean? What they didn’t get around to washing their hands today? No. It was the term given to those who often were paid to clean toilets and do all the dirty work around the house. I was horrified. Absolutely disheartened that others didn’t treat those kids the same as they treated me because of the jobs they did! It went against EVERYTHING I believed in and what I was taught by my parents: That we are ALL equal; NO-ONE is above or beneath you; We all bleed red; We are all one under God.

This whole thing of isolating a group of people because of the type of job they do, and calling them names like ‘churay’ or ‘chura’ is outdated, retrogressive, and one of the evils of the feudalistic society which plagues not only certain parts of Pakistan, but many developing countries for that matter. Because of this, women and young girls are usually the ones who are on the receiving end of abuse, exploitation and neglect.

Take Pakistan’s “Heera Mandi” (“Diamond Market”) as an other example; a red-light district associated with traditional dancing and singing, home and workplace to a large proportion of female sex workers including their children and other run-away children alike. Women are often led down the road to prostitution as unemployment and inflation cause a rise in poverty. However, sadly it seems that often family members reluctantly have to resort to forcing loved ones into prostitution to pay off personal debts.

Children of commercial sex workers are being ostracised by society by DEFAULT even before they are ever given the chance to develop their personality and status in the world.  Where is the justice and equality that we are all given as a birth right here? Sadly, no where to be seen. Society begins to differentiate between children of sex workers and so called mainstream “normal” children.  Unfortunately this leads to children being seen as illegitimate and are further stigmatised and therefore separated from mainstream schools and establishments. They are treated like minorities within their own country and are therefore often subject to terrible violence and denial of their rights; most importantly in my books: THE RIGHT TO AN EDUCATION.

The hope of an education, which is a birth given right in many developed countries, is almost dream-like in Pakistan for the children of Heera Mandi. It seems that the early years in which children go through school and get an education, is replaced in Pakistan’s Heera Mandi by constant discrimination, violence, rape, and torture and no education and awareness. The present state of these children is unacceptable and if nothing is done about it, then the children of sex workers in Pakistan will forever be victimised by their own country.

Saying this, I am so glad to see that Pakistan as a country has been an early international leader in the protection of the rights of children around the world. They ratified the Convention on the Rights of the Child in 1990 and began their commitment to defending rights of children. It was only until fairly recently when Pakistan became the 144th country to ratify the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography. When it comes to Women, Pakistan, particularly Punjab, has made it very clear that:

Women’s rights mean privileges and freedoms equal to those of men. Women rights refer to the fundamental rights in the political, economic, civil, social and cultural spheres.

The Constitution of Pakistan even provides equal rights to women, and the chapter on Principles of Policy underlines the principle of equal rights and equal treatment to ALL citizens/ persons, without any distinction including on the basis of SEX.

Despite all of this, women and children in certain parts of Pakistan, are still being exploited, denied rights, and excluded from mainstream society. Why though? Why is this still happening when even the law of the land protects women against such practices? It seems that the cultural norms that lie at the heart of Pakistani society have been exploited to oppress and discriminate against women. The so-called protectors of cultural practices are, in reality, the oppressors. This, then seems to generate these social biases which are most often to the detriment of women.

Men in Pakistan have retained, through the colonial legacy, a public role and relegated women to domestic chores. Even within the household, men are the managers. Thus women owe allegiance to men who not only control public and political affairs but also the household. The public/private dichotomy has undeniably resulted in the subjugation of women. They are the victims of social and cultural malpractices in the name of tradition and customs. – Criterion Quarterly

Pakistan has also put special measures in place to protect women against any form of discrimination by ratifying the Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW). Article 5 of CEDAW aims to modify social and cultural practices with a view to achieving the elimination of prejudices and discriminatory customary practices. It’s exactly that – CULTURAL practices which of course lie at the heart of Pakistani society. Many of these practices (now only practiced in remote areas of Pakistan) deprive women of their basic rights of life, freedom and dignity. They are implemented in the name of religion half the time, and the patriarchal system prevalent in the country. Honour killings and acid attacks of women even in my own country of Great Britain have become alarmingly frequent and need to be dealt with.

One woman is raped every six hours and one woman is a victim of domestic violence every two hours.- Human Rights Commission Pakistan

Despite the provisions of the various articles in the Constitution of Pakistan that uphold human dignity and equality, we see women shy away from reporting any abuse or crime they have been victim to because of the social bias authorities have towards men. Women suffer in spite of recognised ratified laws. In order to bring about a change in the way women and children are treated, we must transform the mindset of the people. Only then will we restore RESPECT for women; a direction towards respecting the female child of the family. Giving equal treatment to male and female children will inspire women with the dignity that has been denied to them. The three things that will play a big role in all of this is the home, the family and the school.  If these values and this change of mindset are introduced in the education system, a cultural revolution that pushes away all the negative tradition-based biases against women can be achieved. A change in attitude has to come from within so that collectively there is a willingness to prevent any form of discrimination and inequality against women or children.

In celebration of International Women’s Day (8th March), I write this blog as an Advocate of women’s rights and victims of domestic abuse, and more so an issue that deeply affects me. In no way am I criticising Pakistan as a country. Rather, I am highlighting that even though there are laws in place that may guarantee human rights and protection, all are meaningless unless they are faithfully implemented.