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…)

Opinions That Matter and Those That Harm

Over the past few weeks especially, I’ve struggled with the intrusiveness that social media can bring. I wrote an Arabic language Facebook status several weeks ago that went viral, bringing in some 15,000 new Arab (mainly Egyptian as far as I can tell) followers in one day. Today, I have more than 22,000 people following me on Facebook. It has completely destabilized the way I use the medium.

I have many more followers on Twitter. My tweets during and after the Egyptian revolution followed by other tweets about Egypt and later about travel have resulted in almost 80,000 people following me on Twitter. But my relationship with Twitter thawed long ago. People I followed on Twitter (mainly Egyptians) had become very “loud” and whiny. “Conversations” seemed more like personal attacks. The small space available for words made me feel points weren’t getting across or were getting across in the wrong “tone”. I now rarely use Twitter. I mainly use it to tell people when I’ve published a new blog post.

But I was enjoying my relationship with Facebook. I was voicing opinions, telling stories and getting mainly what I would call reasonable and balanced comments in return. Mean people were few and far between and easy to deal with. Usually I didn’t have to deal with them at all. Friends or followers would respond on my behalf and the meany would feel outnumbered and eventually go away.

Now things have changed. And my experience of the past few weeks has caused me to think more and more about how some people’s opinions can be beneficial and thought-provoking while other people’s words can be very personal and hurtful. My experience has caused me to wonder whether I really want to know what everyone thinks about a particular topic or if I’d rather personally choose who I want to hear from. It’s also caused me to think more about the consequences of sharing information. If I share relatively personal information or opinions through social media, does that automatically give others the right to voice their opinions about me as a person? (more…)

The Contradictions of What It Is to Be an Arab Living Abroad

We have a single word in Arabic for what it is to reside in a country other than one’s own. In English, expatriation might be the word that is used. I can’t say I’ve ever heard any of my non-Arab friends living abroad using “expatriation” to describe their state of being. We hear people refer to expats all the time. But that’s pretty much it in my experience. In Arabic, the word we use is “ghorbah”. If I were to look for a single word in English to translate it to, it would be “estrangement”. We Arabs use this term ALL THE TIME.

Ghorbah implies a state of being away from one’s roots. It’s a negative term that describes the hole that is left in our very hearts when we live away from our home countries. It means we will forever be strangers wherever we are in the world unless we are where we were born. It’s the antithesis of belonging.

I’m not sure what it is. We complain about our home countries incessantly. Let’s be honest, we have a lot that is worthy of complaining. People in our countries talk about moving abroad ALL THE TIME. They want a better life for themselves and their children. They’re sick of the backwardness. They’re fed up with the corruption. They can no longer tolerate the regime. Yet the second we set foot in that other country, we begin complaining about our “ghorbah” or estrangement from home. We start romanticizing everything we left behind. Well, almost everything. And we nitpick at our new countries of residence and detail everything that’s wrong about them.

It must be in the genes. We all do it. Maybe it’s a sickness we take with us from our home countries. Or perhaps we’ve been conditioned into thinking that our countries are the greatest that ever existed even when we’re running away from the very thought of them. (more…)

The right not to find answers with the “righteous”

Years ago, thirty to be precise, I was buddy-buddy with all the “religious” girls in university. Eventually, not only was I buddy-buddy with them, I was among their “leaders”. I couldn’t be buddy-buddy with the religious guys, mind you. Mixing between the sexes wasn’t allowed. That did not mean in any way, shape or form that we weren’t always eyeing each other up for a potential future spouse.

At the time, I was living in a new country (and loving it) without my parents and most of my siblings. For years before, I had listened to my father’s adventurous stories about revolutions and Islamic movements from when he was a school and university student. My father was a fabulous oral storyteller. He loved telling his stories and I loved listening to them. He loved telling his stories so much that he’d tell us the same story over and over along the years. I loved hearing his stories so much that I never bored of hearing the same story multiple times. The result was that I couldn’t wait to go to university in Egypt so I could go “underground”. I wasn’t sure what that meant or what I should be looking for, but by golly, if I was going to go to university in Egypt then I would be going underground. My father’s final words before he left me alone in the country were along the lines of, “Surround yourself with religious friends.” I didn’t need him to tell me that. I was going to seek them out anyways because I was pretty sure they were the key to my long-sought-after underground.

I found the underground, of course. They weren’t very good at keeping themselves secret. Actually, they were lousy at it. Not that they really meant to be totally underground anyways; otherwise how else would they recruit new members to the “righteous path”?

They were good days. I have a million fond memories from the times. I had a family away from my family. I had sisters, the numbers of whom I could not count. I belonged. I was appreciated. I was even, in a way, adored. I was listened to. All I had to do was read a couple of books and suddenly sisters and “those who like the sisters” were coming to me for words of wisdom or for rulings on whether this or that behaviour was “halal” (allowed) or “haram” (prohibited) in Islam. This thing you’ve seen in me where I spout out eternal wisdoms all the time started all the way back then.

But gradually I became disillusioned. In the beginning, I became disillusioned with various Islamic movements, choosing to affiliate myself with only one. Eventually, I became disillusioned with “the one” Islamic movement as well. As I grew, as I read, as I listened, as I learned, as I gained more experience and met more people, I began to believe there could be no such thing as “a one”. Rather, there were “many”. I began to believe that what might be right for me doesn’t necessarily have to be right for others. I started to think that just because other people’s choices are different does not make them wrong.

So I un-affiliated myself completely from the movements (as opposed to the religion). And instead, over time, I gained friends from all over the world, each of whom was different from the next. The one thing that might connect them all would be their acceptance of others despite differences. Lots of differences. Not the I’m right and you’re lost acceptance but let us be brothers anyways because by associating with me you will learn how great my path is and you will want to join me (unless you’re a lost cause, that is). But the kind that just lets people be the way they want to be. The kind that celebrates difference and embraces it.

Gradually, instead of my life seeming to focus on bringing sisters into “the light”, it became more focused on trying to be a better inhabitant of planet Earth. Instead of proselytizing and directing people to the one and only path of righteousness, I looked inward. It turned out, there was a lot that needed to be dealt with. (more…)

Guru Nadia loses “the way”

I thought I had me figured out.

I thought I had me under control.

I thought I had been on this long, tortuous (anything-but-spectacular-now-that-I’m-where-I-am-now) journey and that I’d learned the greatest lessons of life, reached the age of wisdom, and I could deal calmly with anything that was thrown my way.

I don’t know what happened or when exactly, but I was really really wrong.

Now I find myself asking me: “So what’s the deal? I knew life was always going to have its ups and downs. I figured that part out. I lowered my expectations completely and started enjoying whatever it was I did have. But I thought I had learned self-control. I thought I had gained inner peace. WHERE THE FUCK HAS THAT GONE???”

Does this mean that just as life has its ups and downs, self also goes through uncontrollable rollercoaster-rides of emotions? But why?

Or is this just me bolting right into pre-menopause? I have to warn you now, if this is what my menopause is going to be like, if I have to go through this for several years, you will all want to run out of my way starting now. Because this ugly. This is really ugly.

And then I think, “Why has God made women’s hormones so difficult to deal with? I mean: this is God we’re talking about. G O D. God can do anything. God gave us tornadoes and tsunamis and poverty and asshole dictators. (more…)

Dealing with self-pity over frozen shoulder

I’ll bet you’ve always wondered how The Nadia would handle self-pity over a post-traumatic frozen shoulder.

That’s why I’m going to tell you how she handles it:

  1. She gets told by her physiotherapist that, as a result of a shoulder dislocation two months ago, she now has frozen shoulder. This means that rather than taking six weeks to three months in order to heal, it could take anywhere between one to three years. In the meantime, she will have limited range of motion in her shoulder joint and pain.
  2. She goes home, writes herself an excellent pep talk on Facebook, listens to some great music, and feels like she’s on top of the world.
  3. She wakes up the next morning feeling like she’d rather not get out of bed. When she does, she can’t get any work done. She sits in front of her laptop for a full two hours getting absolutely nothing done.
  4. So she writes a blog post to tell the whole world how sorry she’s feeling for herself.
  5. She decides she’s not going to the gym today just because. In fact, she’s not going to do ANYTHING today.
  6. She goes to the gym because she knows nothing good has ever come from not going to the gym.
  7. She decides since she has gone to the gym, she’s going to get the heaviest weight she knows she can handle for all the non-shoulder-related exercises.
  8. She discovers today’s gym class is all about the shoulders and she starts doubting her understanding that nothing good ever comes from not going to the gym.
  9. The gym instructor is nice. She gives The Nadia alternative exercises, half of which she still can’t do. The Nadia starts feeling even more frustrated than when she woke up. She starts focusing on creating super biceps and triceps.
  10. Everybody else is told to do push-ups. The Nadia decides she’ll try to hold a plank. She can’t because it’s too much pressure on her bad shoulder. So she decides to teach herself how to do a one-handed plank. Maybe by the end of this ordeal she’ll be the only one in that class who can do one.
  11. The class ends and The Nadia has hardly broken a sweat. She’s angry. She decides she’s not even going to take a shower.
  12. On her way home, The Nadia laments her cycling days. Even though the physiotherapist has told her she can get back on the bike, she’s been reluctant to because she doesn’t want to fall. First, because falling is now even more scary than it used to be. Second, because falling would mean making her bad shoulder even worse, which she could do without.
  13. The Nadia gets home, puts her gym bag on the floor, gets her cycling jacket and helmet out, grabs her bike, and starts cycling, thinking FUCK THIS! I’M GOING TO GET ON THIS BIKE AND CYCLE!
  14. The Nadia sees every crack in the road as a potential bike trap. But she keeps cycling.
  15. The Nadia discovers that, although there is some pressure on the bad shoulder, it’s not as bad as she expected. She does have to relieve the pressure on it every now and then, but a one-hour ride turns out to be doable.
  16. She gets home in one piece, wraps herself up in her fleece robe, and writes a blog post to tell the whole world that she might be feeling sorry for herself, but she FUCKING AIN’T GOING TO LET THAT HOLD HER BACK!

And that, my dear friends, is how The Nadia deals with self-pity.