Inner musings on identity

I spend a pretty decent amount of time thinking about “identity”. I often have a one-to-one conversation

Me with my contemplative look on.

Me with my contemplative look on. (Not really. In this picture I was just happy to be sitting in the sun).

with myself, trying to establish who I am and who I want to be. I think it’s healthy to do that every once in awhile. It’s too easy to find yourself being what others want you to be, regardless of your own feelings and thoughts. It’s easy even not to have thoughts about who you want to be. It’s easy to just move with the flow of dictates from parents, family, friends, and whatever society you happen to find yourself in.

I find the whole topic of identity a fascinating one. I’ll often ask people that question: What do you identify yourself as? People identify themselves in terms of where they are from, where they feel at home, what religion they follow, what they do for a living, what gender they are, what sexual preferences they have, what social class they feel they belong to, what education they’ve had, and the list goes on and on. Some people identify as being many different things. Others only strongly identify as belonging to one group, tribe even, or another.

I was born in the U.S. to an American mother and an Egyptian father. I grew up in the U.S. until I was 15, then moved to Saudi Arabia for a year, then spent the major portion of my adult life in Egypt. I am now in the U.K. I studied medicine then journalism. I work as a science journalist. I’m a wife and a mother. I’m a daughter, a sister, an aunt, a niece, and a cousin. I’m Muslim. I’ve travelled all over the world and I have a few hobbies.

But if you ask me: What do you identify as? I’d tell you first and foremost I’m a mother. Secondly, no matter how much I sometimes try to avoid it, I identify very strongly as Egyptian even though cognitively I feel like a citizen of the world. (more…)

Cycling and looking the part

It’s not like I don’t do anything else in my life. But for some reason, cycling inspires me to blog. I can’t

The bike that got me places

The bike that got me places

help myself. The whole time I’m cycling I’m composing a blog post in my head. The thoughts just flow. None of them are serious thoughts. I can’t think about serious stuff when I cycle. That is one of the biggest blessings about cycling: none of the serious stuff seems serious at all when I’m on my bike.

I’ve been convinced for quite some time now that the main reason I’m not getting faster as a cyclist is that I need a faster bike. Have you seen the bikes the pros ride? Do you think they look anything like my bike besides the fact that they have two wheels, bars, a seat and a frame? Have you tried picking up a pro’s bike? You can do it with your pinkie finger! My bike isn’t the heaviest bike in the world, but it sure isn’t as light as real cyclists’ bikes.

BUT have you seen the prices of the bikes the pros ride? You could get a nice car for a similar amount of money. So buying a really really good bike is out of the question for me. I CAN save up for a bike slightly better than the one I have now, though.

Having said that, my current bike has taken me safely across Europe. It’s a GREAT bike. It’s dealt with falls, getting packed on planes, and a rider who doesn’t really know how to upkeep it.

Anyway, since I can’t currently afford to buy a new bike but I still want to become a faster cyclist, I decided the next best thing would be to buy two new wheels. (more…)

The challenges of the inconvenient pee

I have very predictable pee schedules. I can get through much of the day without having to go to the toilet very often. Then I go to bed and I have to get up at least twice during the night to pee. Then morning comes and I eat my bowl of oatmeal and have a single cup of tea. That leads to peeing in copious quantities every half an hour for the next three hours or thereabouts.

This makes my life generally difficult. It makes travelling and training pure hell.

Who doesn’t leave their hotel first thing in the morning after breakfast to start their sightseeing? Everyone does that. I do that. But it means that I’m stopping the people with me every half hour to find a toilet until I’m past the critical period of multiple pees. It also means that when I was cycling across Europe, in need of very early starts to get my cycling done as early as possible during the day, I was stopping at the side of the road all the time to pee. I don’t even want to think about the number of people who might have seen my exposed rear end. I try to hide myself away but, seriously, how hidden can you ever be on the side of a major road, for example? It also means getting up at least twice in the middle of freezing cold nights to pee while camping.

Yesterday I had to get my run done early in the morning because I had other things that needed to get done the rest of the day. Do you know how irritating it is to feel an exaggerated sense of needing to pee with every single stomp of your feet on the ground? It’s AWFUL. But I persevered. (more…)

The Mystery of the Tightening Sports Bra

Old picture. But I think it’s important to add pictures to blog posts. So this will have to do.

Last week, while on my 2.5-hour bike ride, I noticed that my sports bra felt tighter than usual. This was a problem because, as I began a very long and steep uphill climb, it felt like my thoracic movements were limited (i.e. I couldn’t expand my lungs as far as they needed to go to get in the amount of air I needed to breathe up that fucking hill!).

It was extremely irritating. Since I didn’t have much else to think about on that ride (all the actually important things never seem as important while I’m cycling), I went into a state of deep contemplation as to what might be the reason behind the fact that the bra felt tighter.

Initially, I thought that I might have just clipped it up to the tighter hooks. My right shoulder is still healing from a dislocated shoulder, followed by a frozen shoulder, followed by a shoulder operation. For weeks, it was completely impossible for me to hook up a sports bra on my own. Do you realize that most sports bras are the kind with criss-cross shoulder and back straps?? Why is that?? When my shoulder froze and I realized wearing my criss-crossed-back sports bras had become impossible, I went shopping for a sports bra without the criss-cross back so I could first hook it up from the front then twist it around like any normal bra. They didn’t exist! I went online. Nothing! I had two normal-strapped sports bras that I bought three years ago and I had to switch between them for ever so long. Anyway, my shoulder finally sort of works now, so I’ve gone back to wearing the other bras as well. But it’s still a minor struggle hooking them up in the back. So, I thought maybe I just hooked it up wrong this time.

For some odd reason, I almost immediately dismissed this completely logical possibility.

The more logical scenario, I decided, was that all the training I had been doing over the past two months to regain my fitness after being out of commission for so long because of my shoulder led to an over-expansion of my lungs. (more…)

Super Nadia’s Official Version of Today’s Bike Ride (vs reality)

Nadia’s overdramatized “official” version of her 50km bike ride today:

Black clouds loomed overhead and the weather forecast said to expect rain. Yet Super Nadia valiantly threw caution to the wind, got into her cycling gear, and headed off with a huge smile on her face. “Rain?” she said to herself. “RAIN, THEY SAY?? WHAT IS RAIN?? IT’S LITTLE DROPS OF WATER, THAT’S WHAT IT IS! SUPER NADIA DOES NOT FEAR A LITTLE BIT OF RAIN.” (Super Nadia tends to talk to herself in capitals quite often).

Super Nadia set off, pumping her legs at supersonic speed – one of her many super powers. Crosswinds threatened to tumble her off her bike. Headwinds did everything they could to push her back to where she came from. Super Nadia wondered, “Why does it never seem like there are any tailwinds?” Regardless, she held a steady, supersonic pace and fought through the winds. (more…)

Mind Games

A 20-kilometer bike ride for a cyclist is like putting chewing gum in your mouth and spitting it out. It’s

This picture is probably a year old. Today it was dreary out. No sun. But I was wrapped up just as warmly.

This picture is probably a year old. Today it was dreary with no sun. There were no lakes in the background. But I was wrapped up just as warmly.

nothing. A 20-kilometer bike ride for me when I’m fit isn’t as easy as spitting out chewing gum but it’s a nice morning’s ride. Today’s 20-kilometer bike ride was a really big deal.

Today was the first time for me to be on my bike since I got frozen shoulder sometime in November 2015 and subsequently did an operation mid-January 2016. It’s the second time I’ve been on my bike since I fell and dislocated my shoulder in October 2015.

My husband sort of cajoled me into it. We’d cycle into the nearby village and have a nice lunch, he said. He knows that food is my weak point. I knew I had to get back on my bike sometime and I knew my shoulder could handle the 20-kilometer round trip. I also knew my real challenge would be mental.

Once you’ve been through the mind games a couple of times you know what to expect and you know you can handle them.

Today, cycling downhill felt like I was about to summersault down the hill. Every pothole and drain looked exactly like a Nadia-eating woman trap, designed specifically (of course) for Nadia. Building up speed felt like an invitation to a horrible slip. And cars passing by were all the enemy.

But I recognized every single one of those thoughts from previous experiences. When I first started cycling as an adult about three or four years ago, those were the thoughts that went through my head. When I started challenging myself with my cycling, those were the thoughts that went through my head. When I fell off my bike the first and second times and got back up again, those were the thoughts that went through my head. And when I went out on my bike for the first time after my shoulder dislocation, those were the thoughts that went through my head.

I recognized every single thought and knew how to dampen them out. (more…)

Toilet Contemplations

The events in the following timeline all take place while Nadia is sitting on the toilet. 

Day 1: “Huh. There’s a bit of red-colored scum behind the shower drain.”

Day 2: Nadia is playing solitaire on her phone. Something red catches her eye. She looks up then looks back down at her phone. She is THE QUEEN OF SOLITAIRE.

Day 3: Nadia forgets her phone and this might take awhile. She doesn’t have much to do. She looks around. She sees the patch of red scum behind the shower drain. She briefly wonders what scum is, why this particular scum is red in color, and how it has managed to grow in a period of two days.

Day 4: “I should probably clean that scum.”

Day 5: “You know, I would clean that scum but I really have too much work right now. I have deadlines. Life is all about setting your priorities straight.”

Day 6: “That is so weird. It looks like a tail. I wonder how long it would take before it encircled the entire drain.”

Day 7: “Sheesh. There’s dust on the bathroom floor. This is ridiculous.”

Day 8: “Why does the dust collect in that particular corner just behind the bathroom door? I’ll bet air currents are generated as the door opens and shuts, sucking in all the dust on the bathroom floor. I’m so smart. I should have been a scientist.”

Day 9: “It’s not just dust, is it? There’s hair. I’m shedding hair. I’m worse than a cat.”

Day 10: “That’s IT! They aren’t going to go away on their own!”

Nadia gets angry enough to clean the tray of the shower stall. FUCK YOU, red scum! (more…)

The shoulder and my drug-induced daze

It was like finally coming out of a long, very dark tunnel into a warm, bright day. It was wonderful.

But then the road led me into yet another tunnel.

It sounds a bit overdramatic. I’ll admit I generally tend to overdramatize. I’m a storyteller. What can I say?

But that really was what it felt like. I was out of the tunnel for two and a half glorious days.

Pain sucks. It really does. I had a couple of wonderful, almost pain free days but it’s back.

I’ve tried posting updates on my shoulder situation a couple of times in the past two weeks, but each time the writing was very dark and morbid. I’d write a whole page and then decide there was no way I could post that crap even if it was how I truly felt at the time. What I should have done was post something while I was still at hospital just after I had finished my shoulder operation. I was hilarious during those two days – or so I think. I messaged my kids saying, “Who wants to speak to their mother while she’s high on drugs?” The youngest was the only one interested, but he giggled quite a lot while we spoke.

Let me tell you, morphine was a huge disappointment until they took me off it. When the nurse told me she’d give me morphine to help manage the post-operative pain, I got excited. I’m a goodie two-shoes. I’ve never even remotely considered trying any sort of drug. So this was my first legal chance to try something I figured was hard-core. The pain remained and I was put into a disturbed and very superficial sleep. It was awful. The oral morphine was absolutely useless. The intramuscular morphine worked much faster, but in addition to the troubled sleep it made me feel sick and completely annihilated my appetite. Losing my appetite might have been the scariest thing that ever happened to me. I had ordered some great hospital meals (and a chocolate fondant dessert with ice cream) for that day. But when they arrived, I couldn’t put a thing in my mouth. I’m still upset about that.

I went home after two days in hospital. I wasn’t given morphine to take home with me. All it took was 24 hours and I was screaming for morphine. (more…)

It’s not all about the glory but it helps

It’s not all about the glory.

But the seconds or minutes of glory that we sometimes get make all the other times bearable or even worthwhile.

Promise me you’ll do yourself a favor: Choose something that you feel is really important to accomplish. See it through to the very end no matter how hard it is. Revel in the glory of your accomplishment. Then remember that feeling when the hard times hit. You won’t regret it. I promise.

You don’t have to get gold in the Olympics or produce a number one hit single to feel the glory, by the way. Little things work too.

Maybe you’ve always wanted to learn to make a two-tiered cake. Do it. And revel in the glory your kids will give you.

Maybe you’ve always wanted to learn a language. Or get a degree in something. Or start a small business of your own.

Maybe you simply want to get fit and never thought for a second that you’d be able to run a whole ten kilometers. (more…)

Writers’ words and the social media experience

I’m starting to recognize that people’s written words can create just as much “noise” as their spoken words do; possibly even more.

I can’t stop myself from conducting internal analyses of my social media experiences of the past few years. In one way they’ve been enriching. But in others they’ve been detrimental.

I switched off comments from followers on my Facebook statuses recently and suddenly it feels like so much noise has been removed from my life. It’s so much calmer and quieter. Not only do I now get much fewer comments on my statuses but also the ones I do get from friends are significantly more balanced and reasonable in every way.

As someone who writes for a living (I’m a science journalist although you’d probably never guess that from my blogging style), I find myself longing for the days when feedback on writers’ work was relatively less intrusive.

I wonder sometimes if I just struggle because I do certain things differently than others and thus find it difficult to accept their ways. When I read something – anything (a book, an article in the media, a social media status, a blog post) – I will either connect with it or I will not. Sometimes I don’t connect from the very start and I just pass it and move to something else. Sometimes I completely disagree with someone’s words but I find the logic interesting so I continue to read in order to learn what others’ thinkings on matters might be. Sometimes I find someone’s words just plain offensive. Depending on how offensive they are I’ll either not read on or I might remove that person’s words from my reading lists. So rarely do I ever comment on what other people write. Not that their words are unworthy of comment. It’s just that I internalize their words and try to find a way for me to make meaning of them for myself. Never – or at the very most extremely rarely – have I used someone’s written words as a way to judge their person or personality. Perhaps, as a writer, I simply know that would be a futile exercise. (more…)