Just me

A jihad against jihad (struggle)

I have been spending the past few months learning about the long-lasting effects of trauma. Everyone goes through traumas in their lives. I had always thought that I managed myself through my traumas quite well. If each trauma had happened alone, it is possible that I would have been able to get through each individual one without it having too much of an effect on me. But one trauma followed another followed another, and I am now seeing how their cumulative effects have been too much for me, no matter how strong I am and have been, to deal with them without them having a significant impact on my self.

I have suffered for a great many years from bouts of undiagnosed depression and anxiety. I emphasise the word undiagnosed. I use those two words because they are the only words I know to describe my states of being.

In the past month, I have come to realize that I lack the ability to express a range of emotions that would be considered normal in other people. It is almost as if I developed some sort of a protective mechanism against feeling happy, sad, angry, excited, afraid, or even loving or hateful. Instead, I repress these feelings as they start to emerge, with the result of two main feelings taking over: anxiety or depression. Instead of feeling happy or excited, I get anxious. Instead of feeling angry or sad, I get depressed.

This has highlighted to me a concept that is very ingrained within me: the concept of the personal “jihad” or the internal struggle. (more…)

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Battling self through a half Ironman: A superman like no other

“Of COURSE, you can do this,” I told myself. “Not only can you do this, you can beat your

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One second before crossing the finish line and breaking down into an ugly sob about how hard that race was.

time from last year.”

That’s how I convinced myself to stand at the start line of a half-Ironman distance event called the Outlaw Holkham Half in Norfolk (1.8km swim, 90km bike, 21km run) with very little relevant training.

I registered for the event last year, shortly after finishing my Ironman last September in a time that surpassed any of my expectations. Since then, I travelled frequently, fasted the month of Ramadan, went through a few bouts of therapy-worthy depression and anxiety, and lacked a general motivation to put in the necessary time to train for a half Ironman-distance event. So with a month to go before the event, I was telling myself that I might as well just pull out. I hadn’t trained for it and it was ridiculous to even give it a try.  (more…)

Eid and feeling very foreign

I feel Eid is a particularly difficult holiday for me these days.

We have two big religious holidays in Islam. They are both called Eid. One lasts for three days and follows fasting the month of Ramadan. The other lasts for four days and happens towards the end of the annual Pilgrimage. The Eid following Ramadan is a particularly happy one for me because it signifies going back to eating, drinking and sleeping the way I normally do. On the first day of Eid in my family, we’d go to my father’s house first thing in the morning. My sister would have inflated a ridiculous number of balloons and left them all over the house. She’d have lights and decorations everywhere. There would be a corner where she placed presents for everyone, and we’d arrive carrying presents for everyone as well. They’d all be placed in the corner and we’d then spend about half an hour opening them all up and getting excited about what was waiting for us and what we found. My father would always give every single one of us some money. We’d then spend about three hours arguing about which restaurant to go to for lunch. And to solve this annual dilemma, we always ended up going to Chili’s, because it’s the only place that the children ever wanted to go to. In the evening, we’d  visit members of my ex-husband’s extended family. Our children would get money gifts from everyone and would come out of the day very rich. Over the period of the next two days, we’d visit more family and sometimes friends. It’s not all that unlike how many people celebrate Christmas, although things vary from one family to another. Many people, for example, use the days off to spend Eid on Egypt’s north coast.

Since I’ve come to the UK, Eid just seems to be getting more and more difficult. (more…)

The trap that is Egypt

Egypt is a country that has me completely messed up in the head.

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This is my “office” view as I work from my laptop today.

I have so many conflicting feelings about it.

I was in Egypt less than a month ago visiting family. But only a few days after returning to the UK, I decided to jump on a plane and come back. Ramadan started, my friends were all posting about the accompanying festivities, and I was missing it all. I hadn’t spent Ramadan in Egypt for several years.

When I told my therapist that I’d be missing a session because I wanted to go back to Egypt, she asked me what it was about Ramadan in Egypt that I missed. I had spent most of the session telling her about real-life problems I was facing and I was fine. But the minute I started describing what it was like to stand in the balcony at the time of the sunset call to prayer, when all the craziness of Cairo’s streets suddenly disappears, it all goes quiet, and people are in their homes with their families and friends around tables full of food and love, I broke down in tears.

Even my therapist’s face showed pain on my behalf. “Oooh. You’re homesick,” she said. (more…)

Odd questions of identity

I have always thought that I don’t have any real identity issues. Now I’m thinking question-markotherwise.

I don’t like being placed into boxes of identity. Or so I thought until yesterday, when things I said in my session with my therapist—who I’m seeing to find ways to deal with anxiety— made me wonder.

I was telling her how I’ve been struggling with myself this year to calm down rising anxieties that I need to get everything done in a day: my work, my sport, and my house-related errands. These anxieties are not why I decided to see a therapist. I have much more complicated things happening in my life. But I’ve found it surprising how these seemingly unimportant things, things I know I can put off if I need or want to, are making me feel anxious. I know that the world won’t end if I don’t do that run today. So why is there something inside of me telling me that it absolutely will end?

My therapist said something about how I might be using my activities, such as work or sport, to displace my real feelings about other things happening in life.

What she said made me look back at various phases in my life.  (more…)

50: An age of difficult realizations and utter confusion?

I have been very fortunate so far this year regarding the things I have been able to do. At the same time, this year is turning out to be one of the most difficult for me emotionally.

I am not sure why that is. My circumstances haven’t changed much. But perhaps some of my realizations have. It could be that I’m getting closer to that age when hormones, or the lack thereof, are known to wreak havoc on a woman’s body. Or it could be a symptom of going through a new stage of life.

Whatever the reasons, as years pass and phases come and go, I find myself considering my parents’ lives and feeling a stronger connection and understanding of what things might have been like for them.

It hurts. It really does. Neither of them had an easy life. But as they were going through their many difficulties, I, as their daughter, had no real comprehension of them. I could only see their actions and behaviors through my very limited and selfish lens. It is only when life shoves somewhat similar challenges in my direction that it dawns on me why Mom or Baba were the way they were or why they made certain decisions.

It pains me to think that my parents may have felt the way I feel sometimes. I think: Now I understand. Now I understand why sometimes they seemed so unreasonable or acted so oddly. I see more clearly how much they loved us and I see the pains their love left them with.

How could I have been so ignorant or ignoring of everything they went through? Or is that a protective mechanism we have as children and even as adults yet to reach these stages that shields us from what we’re not emotionally ready to deal with? Are we ever equipped to deal with all the phases that our parents go through? Or do we have in-built mechanisms that make us inherently selfish, prioritizing self rather than others, so that we have a chance at making it to the other end?

I’m finding the feelings and realizations of this year very difficult to deal with. I feel like I’m missing the ability to converse with like-minded women of my age or older. My personal circumstances are definitely different from most others, I assume. But do all these emotions naturally start appearing around the age of 50? Does it get better? Does it get worse? Do things actually get more difficult for us as our own children grow into adults and start building their own lives? Am I going through an identity crisis? Does that happen to other parents?

After years of thinking I knew what I was doing, that I was making the best decisions I could make given the circumstances I was in, I find myself completely lost as to what is right and wrong, and what needs to be done next. Rather than feeling that I am reaching a phase of wisdom and maturity, I feel very lost and lonely.

I am not depressed. But I am confused and I do get more emotional than I have been for quite a long time. I’m going to a therapist to help me work through all these emotions.

But please, women (and men) in their 50s, 60s, and 70s, talk to me. Please tell me that this is just another phase that we all go through and that it will, eventually, pass.

 

 

 

Contemplating 50

The first time I noticed someone making a big deal about turning 50 was almost 15 years 50ago when Oprah Winfrey did a big 5 0 show. She and her production team went all-out crazy for the TV celebrations. But it wasn’t until I started living in the UK that I noticed that people in some parts of the world consider it a huge milestone. People who don’t normally celebrate birthdays celebrate this one. Others will build up to it with a series of challenges. Yet others go on bucket-list trips (plural in some cases) to celebrate the event.

I hardly ever celebrate my birthday. My father became anti-birthday before I reached my teens. I recall having a few birthday parties when I was really young. But after that our birthday celebrations were muted. My father wanted to teach us that every day of the year was important. Every day was to be celebrated; not that he got us gifts and cake everyday, but that’s beside the point.

Because I was raised this way, my birth date sometimes passed by when I was an adult and I wouldn’t even notice. I can easily get confused about my age sometimes. Even though I’m not as anti-birthday as my father was, I didn’t want to turn my own children’s birthdays into consumer events. I didn’t like how much money was spent on birthday parties and gifts. So our family tradition became one of going out on birthdays with the immediate family to a restaurant chosen by the birthday child and to the movies.

So here I am approaching 50 this year, and because I’m living in the UK, I almost feel some pressure to do something “different” for it.

Well, it ain’t happenin’.

I have goals for this year just like I have had goals for past years. (more…)

Memories

By some people’s standards, I’ve had an unconventional life, moving from one part of a country to another, from one country to the next, going to different schools and universities, making new friends and losing touch with others, living near some family members and then living near none.

When I read autobiographies, I always wonder how people remember all the details they write about in their books. I understand that writing an autobiography involves lots of research and that memories are drawn from many people. But still. How do people remember all those details?

Lately I’ve been contemplating my own memories and wondering why I remember some things while others are almost completely lost. (more…)

Sport and my mental health

I have suffered from anxiety for years. It’s the kind of anxiety that I can usually keep at

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Feeling happy and relaxed after a day out on the bike.

bay. Most people won’t realize I have it because I hide it relatively well. Instead of thinking: Oh, she’s anxious; people probably just think: Huh. She’s a bit of an odd one.

Sport has played a huge role in helping me manage my anxiety. No matter how bad I’m feeling, if I can just get myself out that door and go on a run, for example, I know that my anxiety or stress will almost immediately dissipate.

I have found that the rhythm of sport—of running, of cycling, of hiking, of swimming—puts my mind almost magically at ease. Sport and my daily prayers are my form of meditation. They are how I cut myself off from the daily grind and tear myself away from one screen or the other, if even for a few minutes, to clear my head and start anew.

There’s a “but” coming up.

But, recently, as I’ve felt myself less and less able to manage my stress and anxiety as successfully as I have at times in the past, I’ve been reviewing my lifestyle choices to try to find ways to improve things. (more…)

Training: Turning off the stubbornness

I have never been able to understand people who are all lovey-dovey about their

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I like to think my stubbornness gene has been active since childhood.

training. You know; the people who are on a constant high because they live a life of “activity”. The ones who wake up cheerfully at 5:30AM in the morning because they are about to go out for a 5km run in the freezing cold. The people who talk incessantly about how great their four-hour bike rides make them feel. Don’t get me wrong. I’m happy for them. But those feelings they have are something I have never experienced and I can’t begin to imagine what it must be like to have them.

I am the kind of person who wakes up at 5:30AM and thinks: But I just want to go back to sleep! I am the kind of person who never really learned to enjoy pain, and I find running in particular quite painful and thus not enjoyable. I am the kind of person who hates the cold, so jumping in an 18C lake for open water swim training is simply a miserable experience. I am the kind of person who can sometimes enjoy a bike ride, as long as I’m going at my own comfortable pace, I’m not expected to push myself, and I don’t have to ascend or descend too many hills, or to keep going for too long.

When I explained all this in a blog post once while I was training for my Ironman, and then shared said blog post in a Facebook group for people training for an Ironman for the first time, I got a lecture from an Ironman coach in that group saying something along the lines of: Well if you don’t enjoy it, maybe this isn’t for you. You shouldn’t do things just because other people do them.

That woman made me very very upset that day.

We are not all alike. We don’t all get lovey-dovey about training. Some of us find training extremely difficult both mentally and physically. But we do it because we recognize the value in keeping fit. And we book ourselves into events because they give us goal posts to aim for in our mission to keep ourselves fit. We are the people who hate the training, but love the benefits we reap from doing it. We are the people who have learned that we can do things that we really don’t want to do because we know they are good for us in the long run and that they will get us to our ultimate goals. We are the people who take these lessons from our training and are able to extrapolate them into other aspects of our lives.

Because I find training so challenging and not enjoyable, I have to turn my stubbornness gene on to full volume, especially when I need to train hard for an upcoming event. (more…)