Change is Inevitable

It’s been a period of change, intermingled with feelings of pain and loss.

I cried. Yet I stand tall with my family.

There is suffering. Yet I know that this too shall pass. Change is inevitable.

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The Bhagavad Gita, a great text, came to mind. Krishna, the teacher of teachers guided Arjuna, a warrior in crisis, to do what he questioned. To understand that change is inevitable, as is death.

I have been listening to Richard Freeman’s Yoga Matrix over and over again lately, in my car as I drive around the island. His soothing poetic voice accompanies me to school, to the grocery store, to Muay Thai training and back home again.

He shares a story of the Buddha. A young mother whose baby died, goes to Buddha. Distraught. Her eyes alone ask the question, “why?” The Buddha asks her to take her baby and go to every household in the village, to see if she finds any house where death has not occurred. As she visits from one house to the next she realizes the universal phenomenon, that is impermanence.

And not only everyone we know will die, but so will we.

Change is inevitable.

The Magical Unicorns: A Poem by Leila Rose Kassar

She sat on the bed and was rehearsing something. All of a sudden she recited this poem of hers. Leila is quite the dramatic one!

Proud mummy moment:

A poem by Leila Rose Kassar

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The Magical Unicorns

High above the ground,
I sailed.
Helplessly. Helplessly.
Floating along in my abandoned boat.
Help! Help!
In the blink of an eye,
They appeared.

Elegantly flying across the sky.
But, what were they?
Gracefully spreading magic
Through the air.
As serene as a moonlit river,
Like rays in the water.
Their horns,
Colourful, magical, and glittery.

I didn’t know where I was going,
Yet, I didn’t care.

 

A Period of Exploration

I stopped teaching yoga and dance about two years ago. Around then I had started to blame others and myself for my drawbacks, my paranoia was heightening, and I was grieving a friend.

I felt that I was unfit to teach.

Luckily I could easily slip out of teaching without affecting anything or anyone. Except myself really.

I am beginning to realize that this might be a bit of a break, a phase, of searching for some direction and clarity. How long I will take before I start teaching again is part of the mystery. This space gives me time to parent, to be a partner, and be a little more clear about who I am.

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I have always felt the need to know myself better, to understand what my mind is upto and why. I feel lucky that I have had the chance to get into therapy, that I can continue listening to my yoga teachers and others via podcasts, continue growing by taking workshops etc, without any pressure of teaching and being a “correct example”. Whatever I had decided that really meant anyways.

I have gotten into different activities like Muay Thai and running to balance out my practices, slowly and subtely developing the “inner roar” and fitness I sometimes felt was missing.

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I am reading again after a long period of not being able to get into any of the books I would pick up. I am into various topics from self help books, to memoirs, to fiction.

I continue to start activities, stop, try again, then either continue or stop again. But now it feels more like an exploration, neither a victory nor a failure.

 

 

 

An Evening Together

My children continuously ask me to write about them on my blog. They look at old posts from a few years ago and find their stories funny and intriguing.

At this point though I am reluctant to go into detail, out of respect for their privacy. I am sure they’ll come back to me one day as young adults to complain about what I might write about them via this outlet 😉

They are now 8, still full of questions, the beginnings of little emotional drama, fights, and deepening friendships both between themselves and with others.

They asked specifically that I write about a lovely, simple family moment we shared yesterday – an evening on the beach competing who could throw stones into the sea the farthest, collecting bright, colourful, almost perfectly shaped sea shells, and walking in the breeze as the sun set. We ate pizza, drank wine, soda water, and juices.

Most of all it was a special moment being together, and importantly – present.

AE145D59-8216-440C-BD1F-8F64B0943DEDThe children sense it when we are around, especially when the gadgets are put away, that we are not in between chats with friends miles away or scrolling through Facebook or Instagram. Nothing wrong with that, there is so much power in the technology we now have in accessing our family, friends, news and ideas, but it’s quite detrimental when we multitask on the phone while trying to engage with the kids. I do it much too often.

I try to be compassionate with myself,  knowing how hard it is to change habits. I try to take the time for myself everyday, to share moments with Maher regularly, to take time to connect with my people on the phone, and then exclusively spend time with the kids.

It’s all part of the practice.

I know when it’s working. It’s those rare moments that just feel right, when the underlying anxiety fades away.

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As much as my kids enjoy the time together, they are already asking “Why do we have to go out for dinner ‘the four of us’? Why don’t you and papa go out alone and let us stay home and watch Netflix?”

And yes, we have started doing that a little more frequently, going out just the two of us. The kids are growing up, and like a wise woman said to me yesterday after I shared this story with
her, “I hope you, mum and dad, have something meaningful to do when the nest is empty. That time is coming soon it seems!”

 

 

She is Compassion

“Have you seen my black top mum, the one with the short sleeves?” I scream across the corridor.

“Yes, top right of your cupboard, third one in the pile.”

That’s exactly where it was, but how did she know?!

“I’m going out with some friends this evening, can I have some money please?”

“Sure, when will you be back?”

“Oh, we’ll all come home for dinner, could you organize dinner for us?”

“OK. Many of your friends likel paneer.”

That’s a little bit of what our conversations with mum during our teenage years sounded like.

She rarely told us about herself. About her days selling clothes in the shop in Lusaka, how she took a 13 day ship journey at age two from Bombay to Dar es salaam with her mother, about her childhood in India living with her grandmother while her parents were working abroad in East Africa, about not really attending college, or about her mother’s passing.

Instead, she listened to us, she ran the household, and she kept her worries to herself.

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However, she did once tell us how her mother had called her and her younger sister home to East Africa in the middle of a school year. Urgently.

They flew on an Air India flight from Bombay to Nairobi to meet their mum for the last time. They didn’t know that.

My mum has one beautiful black and white framed photo of her mother in her closet that she guards preciously.

I was always intrigued by this grandmother I had never met. She had deep, dark eyes and a loving expression on her face.

I sat down today, to write something about compassion. What came out at first was uninteresting. But then I started to write about my mother and her mother.

It makes sense. My mother goes with the flow of life, she doesn’t dwell, she cries freely while watching emotional movies or during goodbyes. As much as she is embedded in her close-knit Indian community she stands strongly and firmly for her family.

We challenge her. Sometimes she is a step behind, but she quickly catches up and soon learns the moves better than us.

I feel that I have hurt her numerous times, she forgives sincerely.

She is compassion.

Why Write? Why Share?

I have been sitting with my anxiety and feelings of guilt, shame, and of being judged. Because writing like this lately, about things so deeply personal has left me feeling exposed. Me, the secretive, very personal one. I am trying not to push the anxiety away nor will I let myself run with it. I am watching it.

Questions pop up. Have I hurt someone? Have I used the story for my own benefit? Why am I writing these posts? Why am I sharing the story? For whom?

I wonder if every time an artist puts themselves “out there” they are faced with these anxieties. The artist who paints with all her heart, her pain, her joy, all mixed into the colors. What happens when that piece is exposed, for all to see, to applaud, to criticize, to question? Does she feel ripped apart, raw, naked?

I want to curl up into a little ball, and yet I am also free of the grips the stories has over me. I stand tall.

I want to write from that place. I try to express from a loving space. The grounding comes when there is some distance from the story I suppose.

The uneasiness I feel must mean in this case that I have said something worth saying. I want to continue, but with a clearer insight of why I do it.

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I am writing because I like to express myself. At this moment in time it is in the form or writing.

I am writing because it helps me sort through my thoughts, feelings, and behavior.

I am writing because one day my children will read this blog and have some insight into our stories.

I am writing to thank my family and friends for holding me up, for supporting me and loving me so dearly all these years. So much so I am overwhelmed.

I am writing and sharing to give permission to my family and friends to speak up too. (At least I like to think that)

I am intrigued by personal stories, sometimes challenging to share and yet they connect us to each other, they draw out our empathy.

But most importantly it is so that I can channel my thoughts and ideas, create something for myself and to share with others if it interests them.

I needed to articulate these reasons. So I can continue. So I know why. So I feel connected to myself.

A Hidden Depression

I always feared that I would be called weak if I expressed any vulnerability. So instead, I put on a “strong” face at all times. The stronger I appeared to be, the less anyone guessed at my inner sadness, feelings of isolation, or hopelessness.

Being third generation Southern Africans of Indian Gujarati descent we were pretty well integrated into Zambia. (Yet I still had identity issues which is a topic for another post!)

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I was attending the International School of Lusaka, and as a teenager, I was a straight A student, a member of the students council, on the swim team, a Bharatanatyam dance student and performer, a runner and so on. But I was always alone in my thoughts. Generally happily alone, but sometimes suffocatingly.

I developed an eating disorder. I was highly focused on controlling my intake and my exercise. If I ever felt that I overate I would force myself to throw up.

No one knew about this.

I remember thinking it might be good for me to see someone, to speak to someone, about my depressive thoughts and feelings. A fleeting thought. But it wasn’t something that was ever mentioned in my home or school milieu. It’s not usual in Zambia, to see a therapist or counselor, not usual for a South Asian to even mention it, let alone share information about it.

At the age of 15 after some contemplation I tried to take my life. Thankfully I failed. When I came-to that night, I was ashamed of what I had done and decided to move on strongly. I erased the memory of that experience from my mind.

I didn’t share it with a single person until many years later when I told my husband about it.

At 17, after graduating from secondary school, I needed out of Zambia. My parents gave me the opportunity to move to Montreal where I attended McGill university. Like a rather typical South Asian child, I imagined going on to medical school. Little did I understand that such a big move across the world might trigger depression. My grades weren’t good enough for a competitive medical school. I was barely managing to stay afloat. I put on weight. I missed my school friends.

But I trudged on. I never gave up entirely. In my second year I played squash on the varsity team, tried a few dance classes. I felt good that my brother and cousin also moved to Canada. In my third year I met my husband to be, Maher. After the fifth year I ended up with a degree in biology and economics.

After a two year long distance relationship I accompanied my then boyfriend to Lebanon. We then spent a few months in Russia where we decided to get married. After moving back to Lebanon where I tried to do a masters degree and dropped out, we moved to China, and now we are in Thailand.

In all those years of travel and experience I never asked for help. It wasn’t until I was 34, a wife, a mum of prematurely born twins, a yoga teacher, and suicidal again that I finally contacted a professional for help. When I did, I didn’t tell any of my family until I was hospitalized a year later. I was afraid of the reaction, I wasn’t sure I’d manage it if I was called weak, thought of as seeking attention, or if I was told that I was wasting my time.

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I hope more South Asians and others who grew up in Southern Africa for that matter, will open up and seek professional help from therapists, and psychologists when needed.

Stigma against mental health still runs deeply. I hope for this to change.

In my hope to share some of my stories, at first I was met with resistance, thankfully I didn’t give in to this. I feel that I know myself better for doing so. Since being hospitalized and  opening up and sharing in the last few months I have been received with love and kindness by my family and friends.

I was recently directed to an organization doing amazing work to break the stigma against mental health in South Asian communities. Please have a look at their work, connect with them on social media, listen to their pod casts, share with others.

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Please feel free to comment, make suggestions, or ask questions.

Because Life is Worth it

What if I hadn’t failed when I was 15 years old? What if I hadn’t come-to that night and immediately realized how precious this life is?

I would never have met my husband, looked into my children’s eyes, spent time with many great teachers and friends.

 

I would never have danced in Lebanon, or taught yoga in my home studio in Chengdu. I would never have been able to support my husband through his strokes, or walk the beaches of Koh Samui feeling the water wash up against my feet.

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I wouldn’t have been able to attend my brothers weddings. I would never have been able to feel the love for those dear to my heart with the intensity I can now. I would not have been able to feel their touch or to hug them.

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I would not have been able to nurture my quest for self knowledge.

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Not one person knew. I didn’t want to worry anyone, I didn’t believe in myself enough or trust any body enough.

I was held up on a pedestal.

Me? Depressed? Who could I have asked for help?

In retrospect I wish I had talked to someone – a teacher at school, a good friend, a trusted family member.

And then when the feelings came back many years later and I was contemplating the same action again, I did call for help. Some didn’t get it, but I didn’t give up. I tried different people.

A dear, perceptive friend of mine in Koh Samui drove over immediately and spent the afternoon with me, drinking tea and  chatting, making sure I was stable enough before she left me.

I was.

I wrote to trusted friends for support. I started talking to a psychotherapist.

I have my husband and children to look forward to, to support and help bring up. The last thing I want is to be the cause of more suffering.

Why do I write this? Because by sharing my story, it may reach someone who is feeling desperate or hopeless, someone who needs a push to reach out, to ask for help.

Reach out for help.

You are worth it. Life is worth it.

Suicide.org

The International Association for Suicide Prevention (IASP)

 

Running with my Partner

I started running around the age of ten. My dad would take me with him on his road runs in residential Lusaka, usually in the evenings after his workday. Soon I was old enough to go on my own and it became my thing. I joined the running club at school and on other days I ran outside our home. I wasn’t fast, but I enjoyed being out on my own and feeling free and fit.

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Fast forward to age 17 at university in Montreal. I was depressed and like a fish out of water. At 19 I met Maher. Whenever we ran together, instead of enjoying myself and feeling free, I felt slow, and not good enough. He was an under 3 hour marathon runner. Not a joke. But how? Sheer hard work. Vision and disciplined regular training. I pushed hard trying to keep up and kept getting injured. In Zambia I was a big fish in a small pond. Suddenly I was in a large lake and struggling on all levels including education and friendship.

Instead of training differently or learning from the expert in Maher I was comparing myself to him and I was too closed to ask for advice or to do my own research about the subject, my fixed mindset played up and a few years later I quit running altogether.

I did find yoga though which is now an important balancing aspect in my life.

I was jealous. As much as I respected and loved Maher, I couldn’t get over myself. Running was only one aspect where I felt that. I felt the same way with education, with cooking, with working and so on. Over the years something was holding me back and I put the blame out there, but didn’t look within. What if I had asked “How can I change myself?”

I only started to realize this not long ago. Thankfully for us and our family we worked through it in the big scheme of things, and on the level of running I am now back at it.

I started last December on a trip to Zambia. It felt natural for me to run over there on my familiar streets. The red earth and the majestic trees are energizing and deeply grounding at the same time.

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At first I would only run when Maher would accompany me. I was slow and did very short runs. It felt almost hopeless! But now a year on, I go on my own, the distance has improved as has the speed. Maher always advices me to simply enjoy the runs. I feel relaxed and free out there.

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I try to have a yoga practice day after a run day, I try not to push past a healthy point or be too lazy and not show up, and I am supported and cheered on by Maher and some of my old school friends who also took on running lately.

Keep looking in!

Rest, Time, and Therapy

An aunt of mine wrote the most beautiful email to me after reading some of my blog posts. She talks of her own experience with depression and hospitalization, as well as her partner’s story with medication, hospitalization, and recuperation.

What surprises me is the number of people who have been through this kind of experience with mental health. I had no idea before I started to reach out.

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I’d like to share three of her points which can be useful for anyone ready to take care of their mental health, not only for those who have a diagnosed mental illness.

Prioritize Rest
One is not to feel guilty to take the rest that you need. If you sense some nervous system excitation take the time out to rest, prioritize sleep, even do a ten minute savasana in the middle of the day! This was key for me. During my paranoia I didn’t sleep for days. After being hospitalized I had to take sleeping pills and I really struggled with that. I came from a place of not taking any medication unless I was in dire need for it. Rest and recuperation is of utmost importance.

Take your Time
Then, allow time for recuperation. Things won’t get better overnight. It’s takes consistent work in the right direction, it might take time to find the diagnosis, to have the correct balance of medication if it is needed, and then consistent follow up and fine tuning of all of the above. It took me months to get out of the paranoia, to accept that I had a mental illness, that the medication was helpful, and now I have gradually reduced the follow up with my doctor and therapist to once every 2 months.

Therapy
Connect with a good therapist. The skilled, neutral, outside eye is invaluable. It was important for me to be able to feel that I could talk to someone who wouldn’t judge me. I judged myself enough that it took months before I could express much honestly, even to the therapist. And back to the second point, it can take a long time to change old patterns of thinking and belief.

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Thanks again for reading, commenting, sharing personal stories, giving suggestions, or asking questions. I appreciate it greatly. I see this blog as part of my healing process. Connecting with friends and family is a big part of that at this stage in my process.