Rolling with it: Hotel quarantine days 2 to 7

I don’t know what it is or how long it will last, but I’ve been dealing with adversity much better than I had been in recent years.

Going on a daily walk in the car park.

Is it the therapy sessions I’ve been having? Has my anxiety been reduced because of the hormone replacement patches I’ve been wearing for the past few months? Or do I finally just get it: that I won’t always have control over my circumstances and that sometimes it’s better to just be accepting and to roll with it.

I’ve been in hotel quarantine now in the UK for about a week; I arrived last Sunday. The first couple of days were a bit of a shock to the system, but I’ve eased into it quite well. I have my own little routine and I’ve been able to build little things into my day and week to look forward to. It really is the little things that make all the difference. I go on three walks a day round and round and round the hotel car park. I love those walks now. When I saw our hotel car park that first morning I was really disappointed. The space is so small. Its perimeter is only 180 meters long. But I now love going on my runs and walks around it. I enjoy watching other people as I go round and round. I love seeing the little kiddies play. I wonder where that person is from and what brought that person back to the UK.

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Hotel Quarantine Diary: Days 0 and 1

On June 3, I left the UK for Egypt. I hadn’t been back to my home country since before the pandemic and hadn’t since seen two of my four children. I could not avoid the trip: my daughter was getting married and another daughter and son were getting engaged.

My room at Radisson Red Heathrow, which I’ll be quarantining at for the next ten days, unless my stay is extended by a positive COVID test on days two or eight.

Before I booked my trip, I made sure I was going to be double vaccinated first. I wanted the protection, as I had insider information that Egyptians weren’t nearly as strict about COVID-19 as most Brits were. I also told my children that I would not be able to participate in their events unless they were held outdoors and the numbers were kept to a minimum. Since I have the best children in the world, they obliged and were very kind and respectful of my concerns.

The day I left the UK, Egypt was on the amber list. That was the same day a review of the green, amber and red lists was to be announced. There wasn’t even the slightest rumour about Egypt getting changed, although there had been a couple of low profile news stories about a new variant appearing in Thailand that had allegedly originated in Egypt.

As soon as I landed I got the news: Egypt was now on the UK’s red list and I’d have to enter a hotel quarantine upon my return.

I can’t say I was disappointed. I’m a firm believer in the importance of hotel quarantines for people arriving from certain countries. I know that many people aren’t as strict as they should probably be about home quarantines. And I know that it’s almost impossible to enforce their strict observance 24/7 for ten days. I also think that it’s important to limit travel from countries that aren’t taking COVID-19 restrictions seriously. In the UK, we’ve been through hell and back to reduce the numbers of cases and deaths to what it is now. We should have been stricter with incoming travel all along. Later, though, is better than never.

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An immigrant’s sense of belonging

I’m going to need to make a mindshift happen that I think I’m going to find very difficult.

The road I’ve been running on since I arrived in Egypt.

I don’t feel like I belong. Anywhere.

I know that I felt this as a kid growing up. But it wasn’t a problem then. I didn’t need to feel that I belonged. I was fine with how things were. I grew up in America. My Egyptian father made a point of letting it be known that I was not American; I was not one of “them”, even though I was. I didn’t know anything else other than what I was told. It had no real meaning to me anyway. I was a child. Things were simple.

I need to find a way to get my brain to think that way again.

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Shit figure-outers: Reveal yourselves

For most of my life, I was certain I’d have shit figured out by the time I reached my 50s. The older generations always appeared to have their shit together in my eyes. Now I realize that they were either great actors and wanted to protect us younger folk from the realities of life, or I was just extremely naïve. It was probably both.

What am I doing in my 50s without the slightest idea about what I want to do when I grow up, who I want to be, or where I want to live? This can’t be normal. Oh, but it is, the wiser, less naïve version of myself responds.

I’ve long felt that my father, in his final years, felt disappointed with how his life turned out. There was a look in his eyes that I felt I could read. He was thinking, “This is it? This is all I will ever be? All I will ever accomplish?” I think, in many ways, he was heartbroken. My father was an academic. He was a professor of kinetic chemistry. He loved his job and he loved his students. He also loved research, something he wasn’t able to do much of once he moved to Saudi Arabia, where he spent some 30 years of his academic career. My father knew his own potential. It was thwarted and he knew it.

In some ways I find myself with similar thoughts about my own life. This is it? This is all I will ever accomplish? All I will ever be? I know I have accomplished some things in life. I realize that I have lived a rich life, full of adventure, love, loss and achievement. I know that. But there’s a weird feeling residing inside of me. I’m conflicted. I want to be more. I want to do more. At the same time, I’m tired. I just want to settle down and get out of the way of other humans. I’m tired of being rebellious and wanting to change the world. And I’m upset that I don’t have the energy anymore to be rebellious and want to change the world.

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My perimenopause frustrations

I’ve been going through perimenopause for God only knows how long. I’ve been surprised about how little I understand about this process despite having a medical degree and considering myself generally well read on the topic. I wanted to know what to expect when the time came. So I thought I was going to be prepared.

I have experienced symptoms for years that I’ve thought might be because of changing hormones. But then, when it comes to things like anxiety or restless nights, how do you know if it’s down to a hormone imbalance or if life and its stresses are just fucking you up?

I’ve been complaining about anxiety for several years. I’ve told my doctors, I’ve gone through therapy, I’ve learned coping strategies. If someone were to tell me that the anxiety that I developed in my thirties was down to life’s fuck-ups, I can believe them. But the anxiety I developed later on in my late 40s/early 50s felt different. Sure, life’s fuck-ups are still there and probably still need to be dealt with. I swear to God I’m working on it as best I can. But I can tell there’s something else. I know there’s something else.

You know what upsets me? It’s how difficult it is to get someone to listen. You go to the doctor as a lady in your late 40s and tell her time and again that you have anxiety, and you’re told to try to get in touch with a counsellor or, “Here. Take this pill that will give you the worst brain fog you’ve experienced in your whole life and fuck being able to work.” You mention potential symptoms of perimenopause and you’re met with a blank stare.

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The misplaced gods of Egypt

I had a most interesting conversation yesterday that really resonated with me. It’s given me much food for thought.

Mahmoud is a fellow Egyptian revolutionary who has also found himself going through difficult times while based in Berlin, Germany. I first got to know him in 2009, in those early days when there was only a handful of Egyptians posting on Twitter. We had a little community of Egyptian bloggers/micro-bloggers going for ourselves. Twitter had given us space to make our voices heard. We had a lot to say. And, for the most part, we felt we had a lot in common. Someone organized a couple of tweet-ups for Egyptian tweeters, which I joined. That was probably how I met Mahmoud first in real life. We stayed in touch over the years the way people do through social media. And our paths crossed a few times in Tahrir Square during those fateful days in 2011.

Mahmoud read my previous blog post where I was expressing confusion about what to do next in life. He wrote me a comment on Facebook saying that we had to talk. We eventually caught up with each other yesterday on a phone call.

“We’re misplaced gods,” he explained to me. “We’re misplaced gods stuck in mediocre places with mediocre people who don’t appreciate who we are. And it’s affected the way we see ourselves.”

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Sara Hegazy and the freedom to be yourself

I am angry. I am so angry that my anger has caused my anxiety levels to intensify. I need to express my anger with the hope that this helps my anxiety.

A few days ago, a young Egyptian woman committed suicide in Canada. She had fled to rainbowCanada not long after her release from prison in Egypt, following her arrest for raising the rainbow flag at a concert in Cairo. In prison, she was tortured by her jailers and molested by her female prison mates.

Sara Hegazy was gay. She was also an atheist. She did not hide the fact that she was either. And she paid for it in every horrible way possible. Even after her death, Egyptian social media erupted into all the meanness and terribleness it can be, demanding that people refrain even from even asking for God to have mercy on her soul. Discussions ensued about the inappropriateness of expressing one’s homosexuality in a ‘religious society’ like Egypt. Why did she even raise the rainbow flag in our society, people asked. She should have been smarter than that. “Those people” have been living in society for centuries without anyone harming them, said others, as long as they don’t rub their gayness in our faces. We can’t allow them to just go around talking about their homosexuality in our society, yet others said. If we do, homosexuality will spread amongst our children like an infection.

I can’t help but take this personally.

I have experienced first-hand what it means not to be able to be one’s true self in and among one’s own society. It is pure hell. I have spent years delicately testing the waters to figure out what I can and should not say publicly, whether it is regarding my religious or my political views. The past few days are the first for me to properly express my belief that a homosexual person should not be discriminated against in any way. How ridiculous does that even sound?? I have expressed this not because I feel safe in doing so but because I feel so outraged that keeping that outrage inside of me might eat me up alive.

I feel outraged for Sara and for ANYONE who can’t just be themselves because of the discrimination of the people around them. I feel outraged by the things I hear, like: if we normalize homosexuality, what’s to prevent pedophilia from being normalized? I feel outraged that no logical response to these illogical fears that people have settles in with them in any way.

I feel outraged.

I feel outraged because I hear Muslims living abroad complaining constantly about Islamophobia and demanding constantly that they have the right to publicly and safely practice their beliefs. This means, for example, the right of a Muslim woman to wear a headscarf or a face veil, or the right of Muslims to conduct their prayers in public. If you believe, as I do, that this is a basic human right, as it is your right not to be discriminated against because of your religion, how can you possibly not see how wrong it is to discriminate against someone else for another reason? If you think it should be your right to be your true self as you believe God demands it no matter where you go on this Earth, how is it possible that you think it’s wrong for someone living a different life with different beliefs to be themselves wherever they are? How can you not see the hypocrisy in your words and actions?

I am outraged that you think your beliefs are of significantly higher importance, the only relevant beliefs, compared to the beliefs of any others.

I am outraged that, because of your beliefs, we cannot find a common ground for discussion. If something is forbidden for you, then it is forbidden for you! Don’t do it! That doesn’t make it forbidden for the rest of the world!

I am outraged because you think that it’s all right for others to believe what they want and to do what they wish as long as it’s not done publicly. As long as it’s kept a secret. Yet you wouldn’t accept this for yourself in any way. Nobody should. A Muslim woman who believes in the necessity of wearing the hijab is carrying her rainbow flag around with her, announcing proudly to the world that she is a Muslim. A person wearing a wedding ring is carrying their rainbow flag around with them, announcing to the world that they are married, something that inevitably involves having sex at some point in time. When people have weddings, they are announcing to the world their new relationship. When a Muslim man chooses a corner in a park to pray one of the five daily prayers, he is carrying his rainbow flag announcing that he is a Muslim. Why is that all right for you but not all right for anyone else?

I don’t even know if I am making sense, I am so outraged.

Why can’t people understand that living inside your head is destructive, so much more destructive than it is to let that person just ‘be’, no matter how different that being might be from your kind of being.

I heard so many times over the past few days that people should have enough social intelligence to know when it is and isn’t appropriate to let your thoughts and your true self be known. Do they not understand how self-destructive that can be?

It’s as if you are asking a person to choose between two hells: the hell of keeping yourself hidden in order to stay safe from a societal backlash, or revealing your true self to avoid the inner hell but expose yourself to an outer one.

I wonder whether these ‘religious’ people understand how their imposed ‘religiousness’ is affecting our mental health as a society. We’re a society that has everything in it and we all know it. But it’s all hidden. It’s all a huge secret that’s not really a secret. But as long as we pretend it’s a secret we think it’s all right. It isn’t. It really isn’t all right.

We need to be able to have conversations about stuff without being thrown into prison for it. We need to be able to have conversations about stuff without constantly being condemned to hell. We need to be more accepting of our differences. You do you. I’m happy for you. But let me do me and be happy for me too.

The fact that I currently live in the UK doesn’t make any of this easier, or make me feel freer. In the end, my community, my people, Sara’s people, are the people where our families and friends are, where we grew up, where we relate no matter how difficult it is to relate sometimes.

I need to have these conversations with my people. I have found it so difficult to find people outside the Arab world who are passionate about saving the world in the same ways I am. But these conversations are so difficult. And so enraging. So utterly utterly enraging.

I hope you have found peace now, wherever you are, Sara. I am so so so sorry we allowed this to happen to you. I am so so so sorry we have stayed silent. I am so so so sorry you weren’t safe to simply be yourself.

 

 

The hiking kings of Sweden’s Kungsleden Trail

On August 17, 2019, my husband Colin and I completed a trek of the full length of

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The start of our Kungsleden trek in Hemavan, Sweden.

Sweden’s Kungsleden Trail, much of which is in the Arctic Circle. We walked a total of 443 km in 19 days. It was, by far, one of my most epic adventures.

The Kungsleden Trail stretches between Hemavan in the south to Abisko in the north. It passes through forests, mountain valleys, open fells, and is traversed by countless streams, rivers and lakes.

I’ve been asking myself if I had to choose one amazing thing about our trek to talk about, what would it be? There’s so much to mention. But I’ve decided that the one memory that has left the strongest impression on me is the people we’ve met.

One of the many special things about the Kungsleden is how truly off the beaten track it is. On some parts of the trail, we would walk for hours without seeing another human being. That, in itself, was special. But even more special was when we would finally see another human being. (more…)

Moments of clarity from within an anxiety-induced brain fog

I’ve had anxiety for many years. For a long time, I thought I was managing it, until one of those perfect life storms hit me and it erupted completely out of control.

I knew I needed help at that point. I did what I needed to do and got it. After ten months of therapy, my therapist told me she thought I could manage on my own. I thought I probably could too. It’s been a few months now since therapy stopped. It’s not been easy. There was no magic cure. I wasn’t suddenly anxiety-free because of the therapy. I had learned enough to know it would be an ongoing process. But I’m seeing improvements.

I’ve been surprising myself. The anxiety comes. But it also goes. (more…)

What it means to become British

I’m not sure where to start. So much is happening in my life these days.

Yesterday, for example, I pledged allegiance to Queen Elizabeth II.

As if pledging allegiance to a single human being, a non-elected monarch at that, wasn’t enough, to become a British citizen I also had to pledge allegiance to Charles.

Charles?? Seriously??

I had to pledge allegiance to all of Elizabeth’s successors and heirs. No matter how horrible or evil they might turn out?? Some of you might like that Meghan Markle, but I’m keeping a close eye on that one and her progeny.

Am I the only person who sees something terribly wrong about all this?

Not that I didn’t do it. I did it. I pledged my allegiance. And, as I explained to my personal trainer this morning in the midst of all my moaning and groaning—because of the heavy lifting but more because I was explaining the process of becoming a British citizen to my now fellow Brit—my word is my honor. I mean honour. (more…)