“Never underestimate the power of a woman, the love of a mother for her baby or the ability of a woman who has suffered to support other women”Diane Flores
My Lived Experience with OCD, bulimia, anxiety and postnatal depression, before, during and after my perinatal period:
Today I stand in myself reconnected and whole and yet I am fully aware that my recovery is not a final destination, it will remain an ongoing journey. I would never have imagined that married life was going to take me on a profound journey of losing myself, re-discovering myself and developing a deeper level of self-awareness and spiritual connection to Allah through the whole process. Because of those enriching experiences I now use them to offer other women my hand of hope to help them in their moments of crisis through the perinatal mental health services and by working closely with Approachable Parenting; a community-based organisation that works locally and nationally with families.
I have always been an introspective person as far back as I can remember, very connected to myself; my hopes, my dreams, my values and what is my purpose in life. I grew up with a lot of questions and was never happy to just accept answers that made no sense. These questions were driven by a sense of not belonging. I am the past, present and the future of my existence and I carry the experiences of my parents who escaped from a war-torn country back in the late 60’s, early 70’s. I did not “belong” to my own community because I did not “look” like them and behave like them. I could not fit into the large south Asian community of largely Pakistani people because I was looked down upon because of my Bangladeshi heritage. I have always been a neat, orderly, fastidious person but not someone who had OCD. I was drawn to harmony, balance and the aesthetic details that stood out from the ordinary.
Condensing down 13 years of struggling undiagnosed with OCD, intrusive thoughts, anxiety, postnatal depression and now recently I have started to talk about my challenging battles with my past addictions around shopping and bulimia around and after my perinatal period. Struggling with mental health crowded my heart, it ate away all my energy and my ability to think and imagine a different life whilst it chronically imposed upon my peace. There are many reasons why I struggled; guilt, not feeling good enough, fear and judgment from others, my child being taken off me and the lack of information of support services available. And with no diagnosis and no help I continued to silently struggle for many years. For me, the most significant thing was becoming alienated from myself and my own feelings.
After 13 years of silently struggling I suddenly lost my Mother due to ill health. Grief and loss were imposing and demanded to be felt. And for the first time something as drastic as loss rendered me choice-less, I HAD to face my life no matter how painful it was to look. The dark place that I was caught up in opened up to me as a cul-de-sac to my life; that perhaps I could turn around and face a different direction. I started to look at the possibility of “what if I reframe and learn to tell a different story?” and “is it possible to live rather than to just exist?” These possibilities opened my mind and I started to listen to podcasts and learnt new ideas and concepts that gave me hope. Despite my grief, I kept persevering to unlearn the “faulty thinking” that got me to the place I was in. My recovery was like a jigsaw puzzle with pieces lost along the way and the more I searched, the more I kept finding the pieces, the bigger picture started to form. Mindfulness or ‘khushoo’ as I prefer, helped me connect to myself again. The process of change meant radically accepting who I am, my truth, my voice and to face my life and be comfortably still in myself without wanting to run away and hide from the pain. Practicing mindfulness gave me permission to just start again. Finding my ‘way’ in recovery led to my freedom. Running gave me time to get out and create distance between me and my anxieties. From it I learnt to think about the possibilities of volunteering and helping others. I made a lasting network of new friends who are family to me.
My experiences have taught me to step away from anything extreme and anything that disturbs my peace. I watch and observe potential triggers like, I will not weigh, measure or count calories because that will activate those past familiar obsessions. Where once I was trying to find balance and aesthetics in what I consumed and how I looked, I try and live a lifestyle that FEELS GOOD, balanced, permanent and concrete instead of quick fixes that encourage haste and impatience. I have learnt who I am today and I embrace the good and the not so good aspects of all my life. Turning 40 means getting old enough to look back and join the dots and realise that it was not about finding the jigsaw pieces “out there”, it was about taking a difficult journey inward and connecting it all up together to form My Story today. This is why for me it is non-negotiable when it comes to my peace of mind and my sound heart and not letting anything or anyone disturb it.
Our 6th Pocket Book of Hope ‘Muslims Emerging Proud through Mental Distress’ will be published later this year, see more information HERE