Here’s an attempt to summarise the past decade’s emotional rollercoaster.
In 2009, I was living in the city that never sleeps. Moving to Cairo was the best decision of my life, despite the fact that everyone told me I was crazy to quit a great job in DC and move without one. But something told me I needed to.
There, I learned more about who I was without the familial or social pressure of who I was supposed to be. I soon found a great job, made amazing friends and met the man who would become my best friend and companion on the journey of couplehood. He asked me to marry him only two months after we met. Even though I was indecisive and overanalysed everything, I said yes immediately. Naturally, our friends and family thought we were crazy. We accepted that we were. But soon afterward my body shut down, making intimacy extremely difficult and I didn’t understand why, so I ignored the warning signs. (this will be the subject of a piece on its own).
In 2010, we moved to Yemen, and soon enough the 2011 revolution began. I immersed myself in the movement because I believed in it, but I now know that it’s also because I was avoiding looking at my own personal problems. The Revolution took over my life and changed the fabric of who I was forever. It was the most intense time of my life, filled with excitement, fear, deep connections, and awe. But a few years later, the optimism slowly began to die as similar power structures held on tightly with the help of world powers. I began to lose hope. This was compounded by imprisonments, deaths, suicide, and murder of friends and acquaintances.
In 2013, I fell in and out of depression then completely burned out after the death of one of my closest friends. I grieved the tremendous void he and others left and I grieved the loss of a dream. I grieved the loss of a home. I left traditional politics and found healing in the Arts. I finished a draft of my novel only to toss it and start over. I formed new friendships and had to painfully cut off others.
In 2014, something miraculous happened. I found out that the strange physical ailment that no one knew about -except my husband- had a name. I was too ashamed to talk about it with even my parents and siblings. But finding a name for it, I felt understood and less alone. Even more amazing was that I found a center to help me overcome it. (again, more on this in an upcoming piece).
In 2015, the beach in Tunis gave me the opportunity to celebrate and also allowed me to slowly come undone. I saw a bit of my true self and got scared, then learned to shed the many layers of self-pity and embrace my flaws.
In March of that year, I found out I was pregnant one week before airstrikes hit my city of birth. I felt helpless, guilty for being away, and filled with utter sadness and anxiety. I avoided the news as much as I could because of the potential harms of stress on the fetus the size of a grain of rice. The more I stayed away from the news, the guiltier I felt, but I shoved it deep down.
In November of that year, I was blessed with a healthy girl who taught me that love was endless and only grew with time. But three months after delivery I entered a terrifying state of anxiety, depression, severe fatigue despite the fact that I was sleeping, and weight gain despite the fact that I didn’t eat much. Buried childhood traumas resurfaced in the form of nightmares and panic attacks. I was often in my head, and I wasn’t present the way I wanted to be. I ashamed of my thoughts, and very very lonely.
When my daughter was nine months old, I was finally diagnosed with Hypothyroidism, which if untreated could lead to anxiety, depression, etc. While the medication helped tremendously with the fatigue, it didn’t fix what had resurfaced – my childhood trauma. I began seeing a therapist, and after a couple of months, finally accepted my past. This changed my life. I was finally free.
I also learned to embrace my new identity of motherhood, without having to shed all my other identities and to accept that motherhood comes in very different forms. I will be a different mother than my sisters, cousins, and friends. That’s ok.
In 2016, I began teaching at a university in Tunis, it allowed me the flexibility of also writing on the side, and I fell in love with it. Despite how little it pays, teaching allows us to be present and to constantly learn. I loved the connections I made with the students.
So when we moved to Lille in 2017, I continued teaching and writing on the side. Family and friends sincerely worried about me and asked when I would return to ‘politics’. Some assumed wrongly that I gave up on politics because I was now a ‘mother’. I tried to explain that it had nothing to do with that and that in fact, the personal is political. What I’m doing is a form of politics. Not one that is ‘prestigious’ enough to be highlighted in the media, but motherhood pushed me to look internally and to work towards healing so I didn’t transmit the trauma to my daughter. To me, this was step one for changing the world.
They told me that I was wasting my talents and career for not continuing to work in more professional settings like a think tank or a research institute, that writing should be a side hobby. I told them that I no longer saw myself in that role, but in all honesty, at times, I agreed with them and felt ashamed of my ‘demoted’ status. But then when I was honest with myself, I realized that I didn’t see myself as a political analyst anymore, I didn’t fit there. My goal in life was to promote change in more creative and people-centered ways that allowed for nuance and various emotions. Engaging in political analysis wasn’t what I really wanted, it was simply what my ego desired.
In 2018, my grandmother Sayyida passed away after battling Alzheimer’s. Unfortunately, I couldn’t go to her funeral, and I was devastated because I hadn’t seen her in three years and she never met my daughter. Mama Sayyida and I spoke often on Whatsapp, and I was extremely lucky that she still remembered me up until the last month. In every call, I managed to make her laugh when I told her that I named my daughter after her. In every single phone call she laughed so hard and wondered why I would give my child such an ‘old name’ but then she finished that thought with: “you must love me very much.” I do, Mama Sayyida. I really do.
Of course, all these events occur to many of us, and we still have to manage everyday activities. We have to go to work, do laundry, cook, fix the water pipe, take our children to school and hope that they will sleep on time. We still have to help family and friends with their problems. Essentially we have to learn to deal with stress while living life.
Today I have finally acknowledged that the ‘work’ towards healing isn’t temporary. It’s something continuous and ongoing because of the complexities of our inner lives. We can’t stop everything to ‘heal’ because there’s no quick fix. We simply have to embrace the journey, and it has to be a holistic one: mind/body/soul.
I’ve slowly begun breaking the vicious cycle of self-loathing and self-pity after internalizing that my ‘pain’ isn’t special. Everyone has a story. Everyone shares pain to different degrees. I also know not to hope for a pain-free year because there won’t be one. Every year will have it’s share of both pain and joy because they are the balance that holds life together.
Instead, I have two hopes for 2020. First, to practice the art of presence and embrace people without judgments or assumptions. Second, to silence people’s continuous buzzing so I could practice listening to my intuition.
“Practice listening to your intuition, your inner voice; ask questions; be curious; see what you see; hear what you hear; and then act upon what you know to be true. These intuitive powers were given to your soul at birth.” –
I’m glad that I didn’t listen to people at the beginning of this decade who said that I was wrong to move to Cairo, as I’m glad today that I took my time to look inwards. If we cant heal the broken parts of ourselves how can we try and make the world a better place? If we are so angry all the time how can we be empathetic? If we hate the world so much how can we add beauty to it?
Au revoir 2019. I know that the death/rebirth cycle in many aspects of our lives will continue every year, but please 2020, be gentle on us.
Happy New Year from Brussels.