anxiety

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.

 

 

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…)

Lessons forgotten and wisdom long-gone

In the summer of 2009, while climbing Africa’s highest mountain, I learned a valuable life lesson: Don’t think about trying to reach the summit ahead. Just think about putting that left foot, in this moment, in front of your right foot. “Can you do that?” I’d ask myself. “Yes. I can,” I’d reply. “Then just do that for now,” I’d say. That’s how I eventually got myself to the summit, 5,895 metres above sea level (with A LOT of encouragement from the very kind people in our group).

Somewhere along the line, I seem to have forgotten that valuable lesson of being in the moment and not worrying about what lies far ahead.

My 30s were a really difficult time in my life, with lots of personal and career turmoil. I became determined to change things and, as what I thought was the ultimate result, I became a wise woman sometime in my 40s. I thought I had figured things out. I knew what needed to be done to get myself out of a bad place and into a good one. I had learned so many valuable lessons. I could even pass those lessons onto others.

Where that all went by the time I reached the end of my 40s I have absolutely no idea. I seem to have regressed an infinite amount of regression. I’m back to living in turmoil, not really because my personal or career lives have any issues in them. They are both very stable at the moment. But in my head, a tornado is happening. A huge, earth-shattering, ear-splitting tornado. (more…)

Post-race depression? Breaking the cycle

I wonder if I’m onto something.

athlete bike black and white cycle

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

I’ve been experiencing a general lack of motivation for many months that has had a serious impact on my ability to train.

At least that is what I thought until a few days ago. I was on my way to my therapist, who I’ve been going to now for a few months to help me figure out what to do about my bouts of anxiety and low mood. I have spent the last few months telling her about almost anything but my lack of motivation regarding sport. I’m sure I mentioned it a couple of times as a passing comment but not much more. While driving to my appointment, I was thinking about what the topic of this next session should be. And I thought maybe it was time to talk about my lack of motivation, as evidenced by my almost complete lack of desire to swim, bike, and run.

It was that last sentence that got me thinking. I’m not lacking motivation in general. I don’t lack motivation regarding my work, for example. I don’t lack motivation to go to my personal training sessions at the gym. I actually enjoy going to see Tom, partially because I like the challenge and I like feeling strong, and partially because he’s funny and makes me laugh, albeit usually at myself. Tom, for example, thought it was absolutely HILARIOUS that I’d like to work as a bodyguard. I think it’s hilarious that he thinks it’s hilarious. I’ll show you yet, Tom!

Back to depression.

That very short inner discussion made me realize that I’m not lacking motivation generally. There is something inside of me that has become very anti-triathlon. (more…)

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…)

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…)

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…)

Reflections Ten Days Post-Ironman

This past year, I have been a member of a Facebook group that was set up by the

Girona2017

I spent one of my recovery days just walking around Girona, Italy. If you ask me, THAT is what living life is all about.

Ironman brand organizers for people who registered to do an Ironman for the first time. Can you believe that about 70% of the participants in Ironman Barcelona 2017 had done an Ironman before? The more I have spoken with people, the more I have discovered that lots of people get hooked on the race. Some people do more than one Ironman race in a single year!

The Facebook group was really helpful. Being a complete novice, it was helpful for me to see how other people trained, what their plans were for what to wear during the race (one piece vs two piece), how they planned to go to the toilet (stop at a port-a-potty vs peeing on oneself while cycling/running…yes, that seems to actually be quite common), what their nutrition plans were for the race, etc. Once people in the group participated in the various Ironman races around the world, many posted reports on how their races went, most of them successful but some not. It was as inspiring to hear the stories of those who crossed the finish line as it was to hear the stories of those who did not. In both cases, a tremendous effort was had, sacrifices were made, and strength and determination shone brightly. There was so much to learn from every story.

As my race day neared, my nerves began to fall apart. During the major part of my training I was able to keep my mind focused on getting through one session at a time. I didn’t need to think about “the race”. I just needed to get through a training session. I could do that. Tapering began three weeks before the race. I started feeling fatigued. The race was also suddenly becoming so much more of a reality, which frightened the heck out of me.

It was around this time that someone in the Ironman beginners’ Facebook group wrote that he finished his race, but he wasn’t feeling, like others had expressed, that he had done something absolutely amazing. I think lots of people took that in a negative way. But when I read his post my immediate thought was, “I want that! That’s how I want to feel about this race!”  (more…)

The “mental” triathlete: understanding the craziness

I admit it’s not an easy thing to understand.

How I look is exactly how I feel here. This is just after finishing what was probably my first triathlon last year.

How I look is exactly how I feel here. This is just after finishing what was probably my first triathlon last year.

Why do it, if it causes you so much anxiety?

Why do it, if you don’t seem to enjoy it?

Why do it, if it comes with so much pain?

Yesterday, as I headed out the door to go on my weekly longish bike ride I felt like I wanted to cry. I was feeling cold and I was sick of the cold. I’m generally burnt out (I’m in desperate need of a holiday) and tired. I’d much rather just laze about under a warm blanket and watch crap TV on my comfortable couch.

This morning I forced myself out of bed, got dressed, foam-rolled my legs to try to wake them up, and instead of taking my time to say hello to the world by eating breakfast in my robe and getting some caffeine into my system, I ran out the door to do my medium-length weekly run.

When I was cycling across Europe two years ago, I blogged a lot about my daily anxieties; so much so that a friend asked, “Are you sure you should be doing this?”

The answer is yes.

I can think of a few reasons why.

Most importantly, I refuse to allow anxiety and an inner tendency towards laziness to take over my life.  (more…)

My magic-bubble treatment for PMS and anxiety

I hate what PMS does to me.

In recent years, probably over the past decade, I’ve become a more anxious person. I’ve learned coping mechanisms to deal with anxiety, but it’s an exhausting state to be in. PMS takes my base anxiety levels and shoots them through the roof.

The good thing is that I’m aware of this and that helps me mentally manage it. The bad thing is that I have to live through a state of inner turmoil caused by high-wired chemicals and hormones.

How does one explain what it’s like?

When I’m PMSing, it feels like there’s a small electric undercurrent moving through my body. I feel the slightest bit nauseous. It feels like something bad is about to happen. Since I don’t know what that bad thing might be, my brain wants to identify something bad for me so that I can put logic to the way I feel. That means my brain starts acting all stupid. It’s like a computer is turned on in my head that starts sifting through all the data of the things happening in my life and it then lights up certain data in particular, deciding these three things must be the cause of how I feel.

When I’m not feeling anxious, when I’m not PMSing, those three things won’t even catch my attention. But when I’m anxious and PMSing, they turn into huge issues that need to be dealt with and need to be resolved.

The good thing is that I’m usually conscious of all this so I do my very best to process the data and put it into its proper context. (more…)