self

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…)

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…)

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…)

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…)

Who ARE you?

Who are you?

No. Really. Who ARE you? Do you know? Do you REALLY know?

How have you lived your life?

Day-to-day? Go to work, come home, sleep, go to work again? Zombie mode?

Or have you thought about “stuff”? Why are you here in this world? What are you really meant to be doing? Is this all there is?

Have you tried looking inwardly? Have you tried getting to know yourself the way you try getting to know your best friend, your spouse, or your child? Do you just figure you already know yourself? Or have you tried to peel away the layers that have accumulated over the years like grime; each layer representing whom someone else wanted or expected you to be and so you complied? (more…)