Muslims Emerging Proud through Mental Distress set to push boundaries that separate

However we define our spirituality, when we connect at a soul level there are no boxes that separate us…

Read more of Contributor Ayan’s powerful poetry in our upcoming publication

MUSLIMS EMERGING PROUD THROUGH MENTAL DISTRESS

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Muslims Emerging Proud through Mental Distress, set to break barriers for the Muslim community


Muslims Emerging Proud through Mental Distress is both a fascinating and empowering collection of experiences.

As we know, trauma can befall anyone, and this incredible book offers hope and inspiration to those experiencing Trauma.

The lived experiences featured in this pocketbook are full of humanity, compassion and determination.

As a Muslim, I resonated with many of the narratives and challenges expressed in this book. I believe this book is essential reading for anyone interested in understanding trauma from a Muslim perspective.

Although awareness surrounding mental health has increased over the years, we still have some way to go regarding the stigma surrounding it. This book will be instrumental in breaking down some of the stigma surrounding mental illnesses, especially within the Muslim community.

I deeply appreciate this book coming into existence and am in awe of the brave individuals that shared their stories”.  Zainab Rahman 

The book is packed full of inspiring stories, quotes and poetry, like this one from our team member Sophia…

Watch this space for more news on this publication, due in September 2021

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Muslims Emerging Proud through Mental Distress manuscript is finalised!

This is a topic little addressed, and yet so vital in expanding boundaries and minimising shame for the Muslim community in speaking openly about their emotions.

Our next pocketbook of hope in the KindProud series is: Muslims Emerging Proud through Mental Distress and aims to be ground – breaking.

Is this calling us to connect at a level beyond religions that separate, and have faith in us as humans?

Watch this space for more news on this publication, due in September 2021

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Muslims Emerging Proud through Mental Distress due to publish in September 2021

Last Friday I met with my wonderful Muslim team to finalise their manuscript. There were such mixed emotions; I’m going to so miss woking with these inspirational women, it’s been such a journey of learning and growth. We may have different views of ‘faith’, but we connect deeply in shared values and real human emotions – these are where bridges are built and any differences pail into insignificance. We started work on this book before the pandemic and this was be our first IN PERSON meeting!

Not only are these women bravely sharing their personal stories of emerging through crises in their upcoming publication, they are pushing the boundaries of what is seen as acceptable in their faith. As Rep Ayan shares…

The year of the global crisis has brought many challenges, but it has also pushed many to speak out authentically about what important progressions are needed due to recognising the preciousness of life, and this is how trauma can lead to influencing positive change…

Watch this space for more news on how to get hold of your copy of this ground- breaking book very soon!

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Research opportunity into non-ordinary states of consciousness – have your voice help to create necessary change


RESEARCH STUDY

I am working on my PhD dissertation research study in clinical psychology with working title- 

The Misdiagnosis of Transpersonal States of Consciousness

I plan to carry out research over the next few months looking at people’s lived experiences of being labelled and given a psychiatric diagnosis for their transpersonal experiences. I would like people’s voices to be heard as they describe and label their own experiences. 

If you are interested please see the attached flyer and contact me. If you know of anyone who may be interested, can you please pass this along? All interviews will take place online and will be anonymous.

Thank you for your contribution,

Denise Maratos

Ph.D.(c), Pacifica Graduate Institute

Ed.M., Harvard University

To take part please email: denisecmaratos@gmail.com

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Our inspirational Muslim Rep Ayan re- emerges with part 2 of her story after a very challenging year

Since we started discussions as the publishing team for our next publication:

Muslims Emerging Proud through Mental Distress before COVID-19 hit, all of us have experienced big life transitions and it therefore made sense to share some of these shifts at the end of the book.

We love the woman Ayan is becoming, full of wisdom, empathy, compassion, hopes and dreams, but more importantly, so does she…

I continue to suffer, learn, and change. Healing is an ongoing journey.

This is part 2 of my story. It is striking to see how much your life can change in a year or two.

Life itself is a journey that must be travelled despite how unpleasant the road might be. I am learning to trust the journey even though I may not understand it sometimes. The reality is that not everyone will understand your journey, especially if they have never walked a similar path.

My path to spiritual awakening mainly began in my mid 20’s, with my traumatic experience of spiritual abuse by a fake ‘spiritual healer’ in 2012, as mentioned in part 1 of my story. Allow me to explain further how this person abused his position. Not only did he electrocute my hands whilst reciting some verses from the Quran, but he also made me drink something, smell a particular scent. He asked for my full name, my mother’s name. He was verbally abusive, claiming that he was talking to the evil spirit that was inside me. I recall a moment when he would ask me to call upon someone other than Allah, which I remember refusing because it is Shirk. I recollect how I kept repeating the Shahada, which is the Muslim declaration of faith that expresses the belief that “there is no God but Allah and that Muhammad is the messenger of Allah”. 

Although not diagnosed, I experienced CPTSD (complex post-traumatic stress disorder) symptoms many years after this spiritual abuse. Until today, I often experience flashbacks, dreams, even suddenly smelling the scent he made me smell. A decade later, my knowledge and understanding of mental health and life, in general, is entirely different. During this time, I fell in and out of experiencing depression, anxiety and symptoms that could not have been medically explained.

Looking back, I can now say this significant event in my life was like a re-birth event to my authentic self. I started waking up to connect with my authentic self reasonably late in life, but I guess it is better late than never. My journey to self-growth began when I started to look for reasons for my mental health distress.

I have been on a healing journey, and I was fascinated to find answers to my pain and address it at many different levels. It almost felt like I was on a mission to “cure” myself, or at least live a more fulfilling life full of inner peace and contentment. I went through the internal conflict of understanding the cause of my suffering and how I could be ‘cured’? Which now, looking back on this itself, caused me anxiety. As a Muslim, my family was adamant that the cause of my suffering was black magic or the evil eye, and I understood that it was both mental health distress and some elements of the afflictions of spiritual issues. I always make dua (supplication) to Allah (God) to help me understand his qadr (decree), not just to ‘unterstand’, but for guidance, manifestation and Allah to bless me with Hikmah (wisdom).

As part of my healing journey, I found somewhat of an answer.

I was fortunate to participate in a 12-week course in 2019 run by Dr Sara Betteridge from the BME Access service in East London Foundation Trust, held in the Maryam centre East London mosque. The main course content included the Qalb (Spiritual Heart), the Aql (Ability to reason) & the Nafs (Soul), how they function, how to nurture them and how to protect them. Understanding mental health, the impact it has on the heart, mind, and soul. Psychological approaches to dealing with mental health complement Islamic approaches.

As a person who experienced childhood and adulthood complex trauma, I have not come across any Islamic institute or organisation that brings these two approaches together, providing a holistic approach for Muslims. Throughout the 12 weeks, I felt connected and confident that my life was not just empty rituals.

Even though I had a brief understanding at the time, what struck me on the course was the concept of CBT (cognitive behavioural therapy), understanding thoughts and emotions and thus our behaviours. How we view ourselves dictates how we see and interpret the world. I recognised that negative self-perception might also dictate a negative cognition perception of Allah.

I recall feeling empty, lonely and hostile about who I was. Looking back now, I believe this was due to the lack of a sense of Self. When I know myself and live aligned to my values and beliefs, I have strong connections to myself and others, and I have passion, drive, purpose, and life feels full and worth living. However, in 2011-2016, I lacked a sense of Self which led to the opposite. When I did not know who I was as an individual, my mood, purpose and goals drastically varied with my changing circumstances.

The course helped me increase my self-confidence, mental, emotional and spiritual wellbeing, knowing my purpose and motivation. It was a profound introductory course that increased a deeper level to my relationship with Allah (God) and my relationship with myself.

It has brought a formula for me to check in with myself consistently and reflect on what is happening with my Qalb (heart), Aql (reasoning), and understanding Shaytaan and how he works and my nafs (soul). Using Allah’s beautiful names and attributes in my duas (supplications), especially when I feel like my qalb (heart) is feeling low or the overwhelming feeling of my emotions, feelings and thoughts.

I gained many insights, and one of them is knowing that Islam as a faith is very much a heart-centred one. As a Muslim, I found the holistic approach in understanding and bringing together western psychology and the Islamic perspective of the ‘Self’ to be a life-changing experience.

Trauma

This section is so dear to my heart, and at times challenging to process. It took me months to write it up. You see, trauma is not about the sinister events that happen to us but rather what happens inside us due to the traumatic events. I would love to go into details of my difficult childhood and adulthood trauma, but I believe the time is not suitable as I am still processing the pain it has caused me and perhaps it is for another book soon.

Trauma lies on a continuum, and it looks different for people because we all have different lived experiences. When it comes to mental, emotional, spiritual and physical distress, we often think, what is wrong with people instead of what has happened to them? What is their story?

Carrying childhood trauma might trigger other adulthood trauma, and throughout my life, this has caused me to disconnect from my true authentic Self. Trauma tends to disconnect us from our feelings, body, and sometimes to the world around us, to the point I went through dissociative experiences. 

When I experienced pain in my childhood, the pain was there, and I had no one to share it with. This was due to many reasons, simply because I was just a child and not knowing what was done to me had been wrong. Also, from the trauma being normalised to be something that is done culturally or even to the point that religion is used to justify it, when now in my adult life having done my research, it is far from what Islam promotes. Another childhood traumatic incident I experienced again involved not understanding what was done to me was abuse. It came with ‘shame’ that I carried throughout my life, thinking it happened because I allowed it to happen. Shame (Ceeb in the Somali language) is a killer for childhood traumas. I carried this experience with me subconsciously and recently kept saying to myself, “if only I’d put up a fight, if only I had run away, if only I have done this/that”.

Reflecting on this, I do not think I got traumatised because I was wronged, but I got traumatised because I was alone with my hurt.

Taking my pain to therapy has been extremely difficult but yet rewarding at the same time. I recognised that there was a strong link between my spiritual abuse and my childhood trauma experiences. It was clear and made total sense why I tended to experience postpartum depression every time I gave birth. When I made these trauma connections, it opened another door to healing. Through self-work and therapy, I realised the importance of re-parenting my inner child alongside parenting my two princesses, having self-kindness and self-compassion.

The awareness of my traumas was essential because once I understood it, especially the complex childhood trauma, it made me more compassionate to myself as I was just a child and did not have the right help or support. When we start the journey of being compassionate with ourselves, not only does it change us, our children, our families, it changes communities and the broader society at large.  

It is not the question of just getting rid of these childhood trauma memories, as my experiences have been invalidated, and many loved ones have told me, “it is in the past; forget about it and move on”. I wish it were that easy. Do you think people choose to keep their traumatic memories and want to suffer in life?

We need to see people beyond their trauma and pain. Yes, sure, our life experiences shape us for who we are today. However, just because I choose to voice myself and help anyone that experiences mental or emotional distress, it certainly does not mean that my trauma and lived experience define who I am.   

I am now fortunate to have gained self-awareness, tools to aid me in being connected to the real me by re-learning my values and beliefs, shaping my identity and the ideal person I want to become.

I do not see myself as a ‘victim’ to my past traumatic experiences anymore.

People who have experienced trauma often represent their life as being single-storied. I was living a life as if I was trapped in a single dimension of my life, one that promoted a sense of shame, despair, depression, emptiness and hopelessness. Through my studies and lived experience, I learned that we do not respond to what happens to us in life, but we react to our perception of what happens. It is with our minds that we create the world.

Yes, I still feel anxious or have low moods here and there, but healing comes with something inside of me that is constantly changing for the good. Part of that could be the ‘shame’ I carried due to my childhood trauma, spiritual abuse, or mental distress itself is slowly dissipating. When we connect to the fact that the source of change is within us, we gain agency and learn that we have self-autonomy and the power to make positive changes in our lives.  

The beauty of healing is that once I started to reframe things, re-author or re-story my life, through this book, through therapy, through meaningful conversations with different people that supported me to reclaim my life from the effects of my trauma experiences. I began to live my preferred way of life.

I have always had this urge to find the courage and be brave enough to step into my past to find some answers. The thing is, stepping into my past without it consuming my present moment helps me in shaping my future. During the days I experience anxiety or low moods, it has an impact on my overall health. Those are the days that I need to step into the neglected parts of my life, stories of hope, skills, significant relationships, and the things I value and hold precious to despite my lived experience of distress.  

I learned and Changed….

Covid-19 – Grief and Loss

2020 has been a year of testing for everyone, as the world shared the experience of the global trauma of the Pandemic. It highlighted for me a verse in the Quran, Surah Baqarah (chapter 2), verse 155, where Allah (God) says, “And certainly, we shall test you with something of fear, hunger, loss of wealth, lives and fruits, but give glad tidings to As-Saabiroon (the patient).” I remember I kept thinking what this verse meant for me, and it made me realise that as much as we as human beings do not like the suffering of pain or loss of any kind, it is inevitable. 

Like any life event, the pandemic came with its positives, such as bringing communities and the world together. However, it also came with its not so pleasant experiences, such as the death of loved ones, grief, loss of jobs, domestic violence and the rise of mental and emotional distress.

During these uncertain times, I was fortunate to get a promotion in the NHS as a Senior Peer Support worker. I managed to start a postgraduate/ master’s course in Integrative Counselling and Coaching with the University of East London. Studying during the pandemic had its challenging moments. Still, it has granted me hope and patience as it reminded me to treasure life, loved ones, and my ultimate passion for helping others.

I faced many personal challenges during this period. I was stuck at home, where I wore many hats, such as working part-time from home whilst homeschooling and studying. I was not just experiencing anxiety through distorted cognition, but I also experienced it as bodily sensations daily, which I could not seem to switch off from. What helped me was going for a walk, usually with a friend or alone, whilst listening to personal, self-work or spiritual development podcasts.

Many of the psychological theories I have learnt assisted me in persevering in my studies and becoming a better person. Being on an integrative therapy course has allowed me to explore many different modalities that are unique and useful in their way. I would often reflect on my own lived experience. It was an experiential course for me. The counselling approach looks at the underlying issues a person may present. They may want to explore their experiences, make sense of it by addressing their internal processes, and reflect on the causes of their issues, therefore addressing them. Additionally, people may also want to make tangible behavioural changes. The coaching approach, alongside counselling approaches such as cognitive behavioural therapy and solution-focused brief therapy, will enable someone to create and sustain the desired change. I am interested in working with modalities such as person-centred, Existential, Psychodynamic, CBT, and solution-focused therapy. Gestalt therapy also stands out due to my interest in how the body and mind are sometimes linked to trauma. I also have a great interest in Islamic Counselling, so my working model is a work in progress, and my healing, strengths and limitations will undoubtedly evolve with time.

I acknowledged how resilient I was as a person, despite going through anxiety, grief, the loss of close relationships, dealing with feelings of not being good enough as a trainee therapist, self-doubt, imposter syndrome, inadequacies and incompetence.

I used to associate grief with losing someone through death, but I have come to learn that it is more than that. Grief is a natural process that our body goes through after the experience of any loss. Reflecting on the spiritual abuse I encountered, it was a loss of self-identity that I experienced. Unfortunately, I never knew how to grieve, and it just built up. This could be due to the way I have been conditioned growing up. In my culture, I have always been taught to act strong and move on.

I found the grief of the relationship breakdown of some family members and friends at different times during the pandemic very difficult to deal with. I realised that time is too precious to play around with negative people. So, I mustered up the courage to part ways with a few of them. Cutting people out of my life is never easy, but I found I was much better off for having done it. I learned that taking time out from friends, some families, setting boundaries for relationships, and stepping away from drama does not make you a bad person. It is great to be a support system for your friends, but it is equally important that I took care of my mental health and my own needs in the process.

However, it hit me that I was cutting people off left, right, and centre… I started to look within and realised all the people I had to cut off in my life had many things in common. It was an awakening for me to look deeper and go inward by looking at where I contributed and where I was going wrong in repeating similar relationship patterns.

One of the key learnings for me was again my relationship with setting boundaries. Until today I often find it difficult and uncomfortable in setting boundaries. I explored further and recognised that I was suffering from people-pleasing and codependency. Codependency is usually rooted in childhood, and codependent relationships are a response to unaddressed past traumas. I was raised in a home, a culture where emotions were ignored or even punished. When certain older family members felt a feeling, we all shared it. This phenomenon of codependency still blows my mind. With all the things I have been through and conquered, I still have to manage this default behaviour pattern I learned in my childhood. Recovering from codependency is one of the trickiest parts of healing. I constantly find myself adapting to others’ moods, trying to please or not upset anyone, fearing being disliked or abandoned if I set a boundary.  

Moods can be a form of mindset that can impact our thoughts, emotions, and behaviour. Besides, moods are problematic since they last longer. I have been experiencing moods of confusion and disappointment due to the fallout with some family and friends. I felt hurt and taken back by what they did and their use of words. A metaphor to best describe this mood is the image of a cage or the pain of a shooting arrow, which could be due to my fixation with the situation. The more I pushed away from these uncomfortable moods, the more intense it became. Therefore, accepting it for what it is was my first step. The interventions that supported me to shift my mood and made me feel at peace were mindfulness and daily prayers. Making use of daily prayers, which is a form of meditation, helped me look within and accept myself for who I am. After my meditation and making duas (supplications), by talking to Allah (God) about the deep pain of my heart, using his beautiful name Al-Wadud (the most loving), I often felt a sense of peace and contentment. When I am at ease, I tend to have unconditional positive regard for myself, self-compassion, and others whenever I fall short. A metaphor for this mood amended to a more pleasant mental image of a peaceful river. I feel like I am more conscious now in my life than I have ever been. I am a lot less anxious, and I enjoy taking things slowly, taking care of myself mentally, emotionally and spiritually, having self-compassion. Furthermore, I always look forward to doing some deep breathing and mindfulness.

These practices have helped me improve my relationship with Allah and myself. My family and friends’ relationships have allowed me to view this life and the hereafter in a more meaningful and positive way.

Based on losing my close friends, I used self-reflection to reflect on what kind of ‘thinking’ got in my way of reasoning during our arguments. I think it was a bit of both inert and biased thinking. I may have jumped to conclusions by assuming the reasons for their actions. This could be due to similar past experiences. Moreover, biased thinking was based more on my intuition and feeling rather than logical thinking. Biased thinking made me feel like I was right, and therefore they were incorrect, which led me to react in a way I usually do not. Research indicates that reasoning with our intuition can lead to fast and spontaneous reactions, whereas slow, controlled, reflective reasoning is more helpful. With distance and self-reflection, I felt a lot calmer and ready to apologise sincerely on my behalf. I learnt to take time out to take some deep breaths and become conscious of how I was thinking. Distancing helped provide space and give me time to self-reflect and gain a complete picture of a situation. 

You see, new grief experiences trigger older unaddressed, unprocessed grief experiences. I learnt that there is a difference between experiencing grief and processing grief. I think grief hits us inside and is an energy that we may not know what to do with. The part of processing grief I found helpful was allowing the feelings (which were extreme at the moment) to pass through me. When I allowed these feelings, I reflected on what emotions came up for me, and it helped when I named it and accepted it for what it was. My experience of grief made me realise that grief does not come with just a single emotion, but rather it comes with many strong feelings and emotions all at the same time, such as sadness, hurt, despair and rejection.   

Self-awareness allows me to keep an eye on my inner as well as my external world. Although it requires effort and time, it can be powerful and valuable in many ways. I usually find it helpful in having meaningful conversations and expressing myself. Self-disclosure and showing vulnerability have helped enhance self-awareness and genuinely finding my authentic Self. Knowing myself and having self-awareness helps with connecting with my feelings and emotions. Understanding the difference between feelings and emotions gives me more choices and more control of my behaviour.

Emotions are reactions to our feelings. Being aware of my emotions and dealing with them by properly channelling them aids me to be an emotionally healthy person.

I do not think emotions and feelings are negative or positive. Society and cultures make us put them in boxes. I believe this because it is part of human nature to experience these emotions depending on where we are at in our lives and what happens to us. Emotions and feelings are signals. I think of them as messengers that are helping me move through the world in a responsive and integrated manner. I allowed my emotions to flow freely, which became easier to view from an observer’s perspective, which helped me manage my emotions and bounce back to reality.

When we are young or when we go through trauma, we can often get cut off from these messengers and not understand what they are there for, so we can misinterpret sensation or different emotions or thoughts. I have learnt how to relate with everything that comes through my perceptions as messengers trying to give me messages on how to respond in the immediacy of the moment in any given moment.

Moreover, again as we go through life and personal experiences, sometimes family or the culture we grow up in can distort how we receive those messages, so we are not seeing them. We can learn how to relate to our emotions like anger, sadness, grief or pain as things we are trying to get rid of. My approach is first to learn how to welcome and listen to them rather than get rid of them. I found that welcoming means being willing to be with what is until it has delivered its whole message, and I can take action in my life that leads to that deep sense of healing that I am looking for.

I often unconsciously suppress my emotions and wish for them to go away. Still, I have learned that they usually come back more prominent, so I have chosen to approach it differently, welcome it, and be mindful of what is going on for me, mind, body and soul.

The Quran very clearly shows us that feeling our emotions is a foundational step to vulnerability. I believe that in the Muslim community, we need to stop incorrectly correlating complicated feelings with ingratitude. Someone can be feeling intense pain and still be grateful. We see this with the examples of all Prophets. A great example of this is in the story of Yusuf, Chapter 12 in the Quran. Prophet Yusuf’s father, Prophet Yaqub, when he suffered the loss of his son, Yusuf, and his eyesight, Prophet Yacub says, “I complain of my anguish and grief to Allah” (Quran 12:86). The prophets did not hide from their emotional states, so why should you and I?

As mentioned before, I have been focusing on personal development for the past decade, but my therapy training has pushed me to go deeper and do more profound inner work. I have also experienced the benefit of having personal therapy, which has made me reflect on how difficult it has been for me in doing self-work on my own. It helps when you have someone alongside you on your journey who listens, validates and makes you feel heard. This is the work I hope to attain with my future clients by providing a safe space full of non-judgmental, unconditional positive regard, warmth, generally holding space for a person.

I enjoyed learning Gestalt theory and Somatic experiencing, particularly body awareness, staying with feelings, emphasising staying in the present moment (here and now), accepting ‘what is’, and addressing unfinished business.

Other counselling theories such as Transactional Analysis (TA) have helped me improve my personal and professional relationships. I feel like my relationship with my children has improved, and this is due to learning about the PAC model in TA. I seem to be more self-aware of my thoughts when interacting with others. I can now bracket any unrelated thoughts a lot better than I ever did when listening to someone. I used to rush into solution focus, but I have learned that ‘being’ is ‘doing’. Sometimes people want someone to listen to them and for them to feel heard. It is that simple; people yearn for a safe space, where they feel listened to, heard, validated, not judged for their lived experiences. They have their answers and solutions within them.

I learned from studying CBT to identify and modify negative automatic thoughts, core beliefs, and cognitive distortions. For example, going back to my experience of grief, I reflected on my thought patterns, and I noticed that whenever I felt strong emotions or feelings, I had black and white thinking and catastrophising. There are times when I acknowledged that certain feelings were based on assumptions and communicating to others by speaking from an ‘I feel’ perspective being vulnerable and transparent helped me to figure this out. This could be due to my past experiences and being triggered by unprocessed, unconscious feelings and emotions.

I see the benefit of journaling and using a thought record to identify my thoughts in a really logical and planned out way, analyse them and then move through to reframing or thinking differently about them. Journaling helped me to focus on an underlying emotional response rather than my experience. It also serves me to figure out emotions that I likely suppress or forget. There is no sense in just being aware of my inner world and not doing anything about it or knowing the reasons for my actions and behaviours. I found this intervention to be as powerful as self-disclosure in a trusting environment because I was writing from an open, unbiased observation of my feelings and awareness, which led me to figure out the actions I needed to take.

The names and attributes of Allah I have chosen to share in this book that has kept me alive even when I felt like I had no one that understood, heard, listened or validated me are As-Samee ‘The All-Hearing”, Al-Baseer “The All-Seeing” and Al-Aleem “The All-Knowing”.

Allah (God) tells us throughout the Quran that He is As-Samee, Al-Baseer! He is the All-Hearing, the All-Seeing. I opened my heart and let myself be sufficed by Him seeing me and hearing me.

Humans can fail me. But there is such great power in being seen and heard by my creator, who knows me better than I know myself. Regardless of what I am going through, where I am at or how I feel, just knowing that I am always under Allah’s love and His watchful eye gives me Hope. My grief and tears in this world are heard and seen. My story, my past, my struggles from the day I was born until now, my hopes and dreams, the words I do not share with anyone, the heartbreak that feels heavy to carry, my efforts have all been heard and seen by Him.

He is Al-Aleem, “The All-Knowing’. 

I want to share my story hoping that I might return that small place of refuge to someone else. Right now, some people suffer in silence with their mental and emotional distress, trying to figure out how to receive love, and we as a society tell them they are “too much.”

I was fortunate to be one of the nominees for the Women’s Inclusive Team, International Women’s day 2021 wall of fame.

Despite the grief, I was experiencing it at the time of this picture. I am still astonished at how I have managed to show up, represent women, inspire and create HOPE.

My grief experience, mental health distress does not define me.

My resilience to continue serving myself and others even though my struggles exist is what defines me.

I have had the opportunity to get to know myself on a deeper level, and I am forever grateful to Allah for all experiences, for indeed, there is always good in Allah’s Qadr. It may be challenging, bitter and complex while in hardship but there is always ease that comes with it.

I long for a place where we could be more open about the dysfunctional history most of us share and believe we should have an open dialogue that is not drenched in shame of our lived experiences of mental and emotional distress.

My hope for the future is to create safe spaces where mental health distress is normalised, breaking the silence and stigma around mental health issues. My lifelong goal is to set up an organisation to work with the community by counselling individuals and provide coaching sessions.

My journey has taken years, tears, and hours of reflection and mindfulness, and I hope my story can bring freedom to others and the knowledge that they are not alone. I have been granted some of the most gracious companions that life has to offer, who had treated me with the delicacy and love I needed when I was suffering the most.

This is dedicated to them.

About our Rep Ayan 

Being the only child and raised in a single-parent household as a Muslim, Black African British female in London, Ayan faced many challenges growing up. Like any teenager, Ayan spent this part of life experimenting with the world and what it had to offer her. In search of her identity, she often struggled with the question “Who am I, what is the purpose of life?”.

Ayan’s attempt to live a lifestyle more typically associated with western culture was met with rejection and disapproval from her Somali Community. It was not until her lived experience of mental and emotional distress that she embarked on a spiritual journey of self-discovery and personal development, bringing her closer to living her authentic self and rebuilding her faith in Islam. 

Ayan has a fascination with wisdom, insight, being genuine, connecting with others without judgement and having deep thoughts. Ayan has chosen to progress her career and personal development by studying her Postgraduate/Masters in Integrative Counselling and coaching. Today, Ayan is fully confident in being a Muslim, British, Black African, Somali female, and she loves the woman she is becoming, full of empathy, compassion, hopes and dreams.   

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Sophia is back out of a dark tunnel and journeying onwards to share part 2 of her story for the Muslim’s Emerging Proud Pocket Book of Hope

You may remember our Muslim Pocket Book team member Sophia who shared her inspiring story of emergence last year. So much has happened since we started this publication process and both Sophia and our Rep Ayan decided that they’d like to share an update to show how transformation is not a linear process, but full of life’s challenges to overcome. You can read part one of Sophia’s journey via this link:

https://emergingproud.com/2020/02/10/sophia-had-to-learn-to-love-the-person-in-the-mirror-in-order-to-heal/

Here she shares the next stage of her painful journey of being forced to STOP, surrender and continue learning …

The journey of life is like a fast train, going in and out of tunnels: we and everyone around us has our own individual stop. For some of us we don’t get off the fast train until something forces us to stop. This heeding comes in different forms, whether it’s trauma, a physical illness, hiccups in life or an overwhelming sense of anxiety about life itself. I am sure there are many more reasons that others have experienced this, which I have not been able to mention. My personal force came in the form of the Pandemic: the dreaded lockdown, the anxiety of the uncertainty contained it in all, and the world coming to a halt.

COVID-19 trickled down its avalanche into the world causing so much devastation and loss. It hit hard, it almost brought me to my knees, and I had to redefine the ideas I had created in my head about life and my recovery. I lost all of my coping mechanisms and I felt stripped from everything I had worked so hard for during my therapy years. Even the self-help books that I had collected and invested in throughout the years were not helping me. My anxiety reached a record high level, a level that I’d never experienced before. I became scared of death. I feared losing my loved ones and I found myself crying almost every day and desperately watching the news and reading stories, hoping to have a sense of an end to the pandemic. Conversations around family became increasingly difficult, and I felt somewhat disconnected from everything, everyone and even myself.

During these days I would find myself crying about the loss of thousands of people dying from Covid-19. Then suddenly, I felt like I was grieving the death of my father all over again. This time my grief focused on how he’d died, the way he was killed. The murder itself, the individuals that were involved.

My heart was aching, I wanted and demanded answers. But there was no one I felt I could turn to, to answer all of the questions that were running through my head. Why did they kill him? I tried to bury everything I was feeling, and I became mute once again. Thoughts were racing through my head, but I did not dare to whisper a word to anyone.  I felt ashamed to still be grieving my father’s death as it was so many years ago, but the pause in our lives had forced me to face the pain that was simmering deep inside me. One of my addictions was to keep busy, working all of the time: if I was not working then I was studying something deep and intense. All this I now realise was to escape my feelings and the reality of my pain…

Father’s Day Poem

To him who I never got to know, or hug, or tell him how much he is missed every day!

This one day dedicated in your name cannot justify a daughter’s love for her absent father.

All the missed first days have become dried tears, my graduation, when mum said you would be proud, what about my wedding day where you never got to give me away?…

For all the daughters and sons, waking up with a heavy heart, for the fathers whose children do not value their worth, to my mother and all of the women who played my father’s role, you are so loved!

May Allah mend all, the broken hearts of absent love that never got to blossom…

I started re-visiting old habits of suffering in silence, but I had another battle to fight. I started experiencing severe symptoms of Carpal Tunnel Syndrome (CTS). My hands felt like they were burning and hammered down. Electric shocks started from my shoulder and travelled all the way down to my fingertips. The symptoms began only at night, but then they started every minute of every day during the lockdown. One afternoon the pain was so unbearable that I started to think the worst. Doctors were not seeing patients, and everything was shut down. I felt trapped and suffered a range of emotions. Even after explaining to family and friends, no one around me knew what CTS was. For them my hands looked normal, no injury, no broken bones so they could not understand why I was in so much pain. It reminded me a lot of when we suffer mental distress and because it cannot be seen and sometimes not heard, our loved ones’ struggle to understand the impact it has on us.

Emotional Pain

Emotional Pain

Cannot be seen…

Cannot be heard…

Sometimes it is ignored

But it paralyses you

Comes to your silent hours

When the world sleeps, yours is awake…

Emotional pain

Lies deeper than the scars,

Deep beneath the seeping wounds,

Emotional Pain

Takes longer to heal

But it is worth beginning the process

Do not let your pain overwhelm your soul

When you are ready someone is waiting to take your hand and walk beside you through this emotional journey.

Once again, I started to hear the same advice I have heard before; “go to a spiritual healer, you are doomed if you do not, this must be the evil eye”. I felt suffocated, almost like I could not breath. I started to open up to my best friend and my sister, I started to express how I was feeling. The physical pain felt easier to describe. Still, I could not express my grief and how I was feeling about my father’s death.

 We started to read up about CTS and I was able to match all of the symptoms that I was reading about to the ones I was experiencing.

Then one day, my friend found me on the floor crying, I felt so overwhelmed. I started opening up about my father and the anger I was feeling. I started reading stories of other families whose loved ones had been killed. I started turning to Allah (God) and seeking guidance through my prayers. My sister suggested I try to go to a private treatment about my CTS, so I came across a consultant who was a specialist in CTS. This is how my journey of physical and emotional healing began.

I started therapy again and I knew that I could take my pain safely to my therapist. After every session I had a good cry and felt like something in me was starting to let go of all the negative emotions. I started talking about my father and I started to understand that I never really gave myself time to grieve and that grief itself came in so many different emotions. For me it was denial, I was still waiting for him to appear one day and that the news about his death had been mistaken identity. Not attending his funeral did not give me a chance to say goodbye and those feelings of never being able to meet him again paralyzed me. For me accepting the loss, my loss that Dad was gone, and in this life, I was never going to see him again. I started to accept this, and I started to let go, and I placed my hope in meeting him, one day, on the other side.

After months of being on the waiting list, I had surgery for my CTS. The first night I came back home from hospital I slept like a baby. The first sound sleep that I had in almost a year. It is amazing what sleep can do for the mind and body. I also recognised this because my CTS caused nerve pain: all those negative emotions that I was carrying around, buried deep inside, must have escalated the physical pain I had, and it was unbearable.

I found my stop on this fast train that I was on, and although the halt for me was the lockdown, it forced me to work on the underlining issues. The source of my pain, not just on the surface but on the inside too.

Alhamdulilah (thanks be to God) I sought His guidance and His help, and I was open to whatever form it came in. I was desperate to continue my healing and I know that I have some way to go, but I am back on the journey.

Reflection…

When I am in pain, I often think about…

What does Allah want me to learn from this?

When the pain is too deep… I supplicate…

Al-Jabbar -The Compleller, The Restorer

(Ya Jabbar mend my broken heart)

 oh Allah, Al Aleem (The All-Knowing) teach me…

We know that in everything good or bad, there is a lesson.

Read more about Muslims Emerging Proud through Mental Distress HERE

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Waheedah has transformed the pain of her loss into a philosophical reflection on the journey of life

Sometimes it can be the most devastating circumstances that create the deepest bonds. Waheedah’s experience of losing one of her most loved family members twice almost broke her, but she’s back on the train of life and enjoying witnessing the growing bonds between her own daughter and father. Here Waheedah shares her story of love and loss for our next publication ‘Muslims Emerging Proud through Mental Distress‘ …

My Sister​​

My sister was my best friend and although we were four boys and two girls, the eldest three were like a triangle support for the siblings. We played, fought, argued, and loved each other tremendously. My father and mother brought us up to love, value and respect one another. We knew the importance of family and did everything together.

On December 2007 my sister got married and moved to England from Germany where we all lived. I was 12 years old and I did not realise what was happening. Not only because everything happened so fast, but also because I had an important soccer game on that day. I remember it like it was yesterday. The wedding was in my aunt’s beautiful garden, everyone was saying goodbye. We hugged, my sister entered the car and shut the door. As soon as we started waving, she began to cry. We also started crying. I still remember her driving away. At night I realised that she had gone for good when I noticed her side of the bedroom we shared was empty. Her cupboard was also empty, I felt her absence. She was already missing.

The first years after she left, we talked every day for hours. I told her about my school, I shared with her my fears, my hopes and my dreams; most importantly, I always asked her opinion about everything. She told me a little less about married life but seldom allowed me to do the talking.

When I heard my sister was pregnant it was so exciting, our first nephew or niece, my parents first grandchild. I kept imagining how much I would spoil them. As she got closer to her labour, my mum, brother and I booked a ticket from Germany to be with her in England. We packed baby clothes and everything we thought she was going to need; it was the first time I was going to see her since she had left. We got to the airport but were blocked from travelling because my mum did not have a visa. My dream had burst. I started crying. We came home, unpacked and told her the bad news. It was a difficult and sad conversation. She was upset. She felt lonely. She continued to miss our company.

Then in summer 2012 my elder brother and I were finally able to visit her. This was the first time I realised and accepted that she was married now with a new life, her own family. Although everything seemed to be going well when we visited my sister, I noticed that something was not right. She had lost a lot of weight. She’d started telling me about the diets she was trying and the slimming tablets she was taking. My heart sank and it hit me that she was going through an eating disorder. Flying back home, I felt so helpless even though I’d spent the days I had left with her telling her that she was perfect, that she did not need to lose any weight, she was convinced that she was overweight.

Two summers later, we were back in England to visit my sister as she had given birth to my beautiful niece. My niece was about 6 days old, my sister came home from the hospital and I noticed she had an obvious lump on her back. My sister was holding a letter in her hand and tears were rolling down her face. When I asked her what was wrong, she told me the lump on her back was cancer. The word cancer rang in my ears, I couldn’t believe it. When I called my mum and dad to tell them the news it was surreal, as if I were watching someone else’s life. I told my sister that it was okay, she would be fine, that so many people had healed from cancer and I honestly believed this. I kept telling myself it was not as if her cancer had spread, we could see the lump and all the surgeons had to do was to remove it. Everything sounded easy and manageable. It sounded like a story with a happy ending.

The following months were like a storm had hit my family and pulled us apart with pain and sorrow. We kept going backwards and forwards with misinformation on my sister’s condition. Then, when she came to stay with us again, I had my sister back for a few days. When she was back in England, after her first operation, she became incredibly sick, and we stopped hearing from her.

Whilst in Germany, one of my mum’s sisters called one day as she recalled a chilling dream, and because of my sister’s condition we did not want to take any chances. We packed our bags and headed back to England where my sister lived. We did not even know where my sister lived. We received some information from a relative and we frantically started knocking on doors and I listened for familiar sounds. I heard a voice moaning and I knew it was my sister. It sounded like she wanted to cry but at the same time was trying to be strong. It sounded like she wanted to scream but couldn’t, it sounded like she was suffering.

When we entered the room, it was exactly how my aunty had described in her dream. It was obvious she had been through difficult chemotherapy treatment. My sister looked at us and thought she was dreaming. She thought that it was the morphine that had made her hallucinate seeing us there. My mum squeezed her hand gently and told her she was not dreaming. We were speechless and shocked.

I did not recognize my sister, I felt like my family had failed and I had failed as a sister. My father suffered a lumbago, and he was diagnosed with internal bleeding. Finding my sister in that state broke my heart and for the first time since her cancer diagnosis, I realised she was going to die. I started questioning Allah. Why are we being tested like this? Why us? Why everything in one go? Why do you want to take my only sister away from me?

‘Do the people think that they will be left to say, “We believe” and they will not be tried? But We have certainly tried those before them, and Allah will surely make evident those who are truthful, and He will surely make evident those who are false.’ [Qur’an 29: 2-3]

After questioning everything I started seeing the whole situation from a different perspective. Allah tests us to purify us and wash away our sins. These tests are given to us to strengthen our Iman (faith). And most importantly: Allah tests a person He loves. I stopped thinking “why us?” and instead thought “Ya Rahman. The one who is most kind, loving and merciful. Allhamdullah, another test.”

The nurse who came to administer the morphine told us they were just giving her palliative care. Her wounds were seeping and refusing to heal from a recent surgery. Her only wish that day was to shop for Eid clothes for her children. My brother carried her in a wheel- chair and we took her shopping. Even when we were choosing clothes, she would fall asleep for a few minutes due to the morphine then wake up begging us to carry on. I admired the strength she carried, and I was ashamed for feeling so broken for her.

I wish I had told her how strong I thought she was, and how I admired her bravery that even when she cried, I knew she was in pain, but she would not want me to see her hurting. Cancer changes the body but not the soul. The soul is still the person you know and love.

On the journey back home, I could not take the image of my sister from my mind. Her last words to me were how much she loved me. I told my mum I could not go back and that she should stay with my sister and I would take care of my younger brothers and our family home.

The following days were so clear, each day weighed heavily on my shoulders, I was receiving one bad news after the other. My world had stopped, my family was in pieces. I found eating difficult, it was as if all the joys and all the laughter we shared had been sucked out of us. Her heart was still beating but it felt like she was gone; she could not really talk anymore; she couldn’t eat anymore. Her eyes were closed. We were all in this dark tunnel just waiting for the inevitable. As I took care of my younger brothers whilst my mum, dad, and eldest brother stayed in England with my sister, we felt that our world was shattering.

On Saturday the 16th of August 2014 I could not eat, my heart and mind were with my sister. The following day I remember receiving the text message a few minutes before 9 am, that my beautiful sister had departed from this world.

I miss you

Nothing hurts like not seeing you

And no one understands what we went through

It was short. It was sweet. You died.

It feels like it was just recently,

Staying up all night telling each other stories secretly.

I Cannot describe how much I miss your company.

The biggest shock in my life was hearing that you have cancer,

A sickness that kills and tortures,

A sickness that not everyone defeats.

Seeing you suffering, crying, and fighting,

Seeing you trying, praying, and hoping,

Seeing the sickness killing you slowly,

Not seeing the real Aneesah – was killing me inside.

Sitting helplessly next to you,

Telling stories that we made,

Knowing that any breath could be your last one,

Hoping that the moment would never end.

It was time to leave,

Telling each other goodbye,

It didn’t feel like I would see you again,

Looking at you, while your eyes were closing and tears falling off my eyes. “I love you Waheedah.”, were your last words to me.

I miss you

Nothing hurts like not seeing you

And no one understands what we went through

It was short. It was sweet. You died.

May You Rest In Peace my sister. 17.08.2014-

I named my daughter Aneesah Liya….

Liya meaning – Most beautiful form of patience (Arabic) – lioness (Latin) as strong as Aneesah also meaning the highest level of sabr (patience).

I told our neighbors the news and so many guests came to visit. At first, I could not cry. Then the imam (spiritual leader) who had conducted my sister’s wedding came into the house limping due to a recent surgery, he was crying silently. That is when it dawned on me that my sister had passed on. I began to cry and everyone in the house was weeping, it was truly a sorrowful day. I did not leave my room for three or four hours. I stayed in the dark. I was broken and I desperately missed her so much.

My parents came back the following morning after my sister’s burial, the whole neighborhood gathered to give their condolences. I could not take my eyes off my father, my father was a tall strong man, but that day I could see that both my parents were enveloped by grief. For my parents, their eldest daughter dying from cancer at the tender age of only 27 years old was devasting. They say grief comes in stages, but I believe it is different for everyone. For me, it was when I was at the supermarket and saw sisters together. When my friends talked about their sisters my loss was heightened in volumes. I’d lost my best friend, my elder sister, and the light of our life. She was sweet, gentle, and had a heart of gold. It’s the little things I think we take for granted like that extra hug or just staying a little longer on the phone. My grief hit me harder when I got married and I was pregnant with my first daughter. Grief grips you by surprise, it can be something that she found funny, or her favorite food, or just childhood memories that overwhelm our family festive days.

My dad bought a Bonsai tree – which would be the same age as Aneesah, he said it was a symbol of her. He takes care of the tree, with the right balance, not too much water or too little, he keeps this tree in his room with a picture of Aneesah, even when he is sick, he must look after the Bonsai tree, my father would sit for hours just staring at the tree.

When I named my daughter Aneesah, I also wanted a name that could describe how Aneesah was, for me I wanted to hear my sister and then my daughter. My father held my daughter and he saw her, and he suddenly began to cry then he said, “I remember this is how I held Aneesah years ago and now she is just gone.” I can see that my father loves Aneesah so much, he is always telling her about her aunty Aneesah and showing her pictures which is so lovely. Even though my daughter has not replaced my sister, she has helped me put back a piece of the missing puzzle, not completely, but she is a beautiful addition to my family.

Even though we miss her, I see this as a journey.

This life is just a journey, we are all just passing through. It is like being on the train, whenever anyone is at the train station, we do not know who is leaving. It happens when it is your time. I guess my sister left because she was already at the door… some people leave who are younger, older, sick or healthy …

This painful experience has brought us together as a family.

The publication of Muslims Emerging Proud through Mental Distress will catalyse the birth of a new Peer not- for- profit service for Muslims who are ready to openly share about their personal challenges. The team are very excited and proud about this development – watch this space for more information over the coming months… ❤

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Ayan expresses her spiritual journey through powerful poetry for our next publication; Muslims Emerging Proud through Mental Distress

We may not all be familiar with the Islamic scriptures and devotion to Allah, and yet the resonance of awakening experience with Ayan’s words bridges an uncivilised man- made cultural chasm with an unbreakable bond of love.

When we have …

No name.

No skin colour.

No gender stereotypes.

No man-made culture suppressing us


… if we can surrender enough to listen to our Soul, then humanity can begin to heal the collective traumas that separate us. 

Ayan Said Poems: Spiritual Journey

Warfare Warrior Spiritual

Yeah it’s a warfare that I am fighting

I am fighting my body to keep standing

Begging my shoulders to stop slouching

You have nothing to be ashamed of

It’s insane how trauma dictates

Our behavioural patterns and how we see ourselves

Today I allow my body to own the feet it walks on

To feel the ground that upholds my dreams

To relax my shoulders and allow my pain to straighten my skeletal

even if the world is unaccepting, I am fine with it

I don’t engage with false connections or partake in participating in meaningless interactions

I am tired of getting sucked into dark holes that pull on the strings of my empathy

My emotions aren’t open to manipulation from empty souls that fail to see the essence of humanity

I hold no resentment for the spaces that can no longer be in my tomorrow

To be honest it doesn’t really matter anymore

I am a spiritual traveller in this human experience, I’ve been given a vision to pursue whilst I navigate the challenges

It’s so intense to hold pieces together as you face armies that seek to scatter pieces of you. 

To be honest I understand all your perspectives but can’t respect the way you attack and try to simplify things when it comes to religion and the human condition

You can define all identities by how you want

but how about the fact that on some days I have

No name.

No skin colour.

No gender stereotypes.

No man-made culture suppressing me.

I cannot be affected when my soul only seeks to align with the path 

Ar-Raheem

I am confident as I elevate to a higher calling

As-Salam

Al-Mumin I am seeking what I failed to find in humans

Al-Muhaymin has seen the journey and now I feel seen as Al-Jabbar restores my faith

I am patient because Ar-Razzaaq saved me from a rat race that had no spiritual purpose

Please leave me in peace as I share dreams with Al-Lateef ,

My happiness cannot be thieved when he reminds me every day he is Al-Atheem

How can I get caught up in the whispers when He is Supreme?

Speechless

You got me so speechless

Racing to your love

and I swear lately I’ve been feeling like an addict

as I rush to the mat to feel that hit that soothes my soul

and unburdens my problems

Yeah I’m so speechless,

your love has me going senseless

like for real I don’t even see things like I use to

and everything I hear now I don’t decipher without acknowledging

your presence.

Lord, I am in awe

I’m smelling your nature,

Hypnotised by the geometry of your flowers

and thinking how can the reality of your truth not be taken seriously.

Then I remember me from before,

and how I thought I was the champ, reading and handling life like I had all the answers in a worldly book

I was fuelled by feeding myself worldly qualifications

that I always struggled to swallow because my throat chakra was blocked.

I wasn’t aligned

and I kept disconnecting from the connection that had saved me

from every single trauma I experienced.

Yeah you got me speechless

360.

I’m yours and I’m owning it.

Self-expressing freely

because I’m at peace in the space of you and I. 

Used to live like I was laying on the edges of eggshells

anxious of the pain of my steps.

A stranger to my surroundings

Never really understanding the status of our souls and what we were sacrificing it all for.

Prayer

My love for God is childlike

Like 

I don’t want to associate it with anything worldly

But my Lords love is

TOO DIVINE & WISE

For me not to

Translate it into words and language that’s c-o-m-p-r-e-h-e-n-s-I-b-l-e

To the human-mind

Because sometimes

some of us struggle to understand.

Just like the way we question the scriptures

Fracturing our spirituality

To gain a fraction of the pleasure we can attain

Right now, I am just focussed on what will remain

After I leave

What will I feel when I am standing before the scale?

How was my character and deeds?

Did I do enough for the deen?

I mean

I am just trying to purify my heart now

Educate myself enough to make sure my unborn children are being raised right

And it hasn’t been easy silencing these negative patterns and ways of thinking

But Al-Rahim saved me from the trenches, lifted me from the sorrow I was six feet deep in

Deep this

I was sacrificing my life for people that didn’t put a thought into whether I was dead or alive.

How did I expect happiness from a world that didn’t even appreciate the blessings before their eyes as they blind themselves to the signs?

But Ar-Rahman I am grateful for the mercy

Even though at times I question if I am worthy.

Feeling so undeserving

Constantly practicing protection from the hearsay and whispers Al-Shaytaan uses as a tool to dismantle my emaan into pieces

I owe my becoming to the love you bestowed upon me

I used to swim in pain that use to drown me,

Till now, I am still fighting

The difference is I am now floating

In clouds that are so soft to lay in

To break in as my forehead touches the ground in submission

Thank you

For the way you wipe my tears as I plead to you for guidance to build this home, so it transcends beyond the sky’s and waits for me in heaven

My prayer is the reason I can even function as a human

My scriptures taught me things that set my scientific brain on a trajectory that allowed me to analyse everything beyond our visual reality

Indulging in a greatness that’s deadening old skin cells and creating new neurons that place me at the centre of my soul

Still struggling with self-forgiveness but my thirst for knowledge and your love has me falling in love with parts of me I didn’t even know existed.

I know I may fall off, but I also know aouthu billahi minal shaytaanal rajeem

Grateful for the way you redeemed my hope and guided my hands to your rope.

I have faith you’ll remind me of the strength that’ll keep me on the path.

Our 6th Pocket Book of Hope ‘Muslims Emerging Proud through Mental Distress’ will be published later this year, see more information HERE

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