Adjusting to the uncertain times of today

25446147_2050862885194340_1565461645544777434_nBeing a Muslim, a female, an immigrant and a visible minority includes me in the group of people for whom life has started to become uncertain in the public eye. With an increase in gun violence, assaults, racial slurs, discrimination.. it is not surprising that going out now means being on high alert mentally and physically.

Unfortunately, there is not much we as common people can do alone. The issues can only be rooted out of our society when everyone wants them to leave. So obviously, that will take time. Meanwhile, what we can do is be steadfast, headstrong and deal with every hurdle direct. Of course, finding like-minded people and figuring out ways to deal with such situations also helps.

So what does going out in the public include these days? or rather, how have I learned to prepare myself or deal with situations?

Well, certainly being aware of your surroundings helps. Keep your eyes open, don’t lose yourself in the world of earphones, and look around. If not yourself, then maybe someone else needs help.

I also usually do not respond to questionable comments from strangers. There really is no point in wasting energy to respond to people who do not know who you are. Unless of course, their comment is highly inappropriate then it requires a controlled and direct response.

I do not hide who I am, but I will also not talk about my personal beliefs, ideas, issues with just acquaintances. Those conversations are way too deep and require a good level of understanding for an intellectual conversation.

Keeping my personal views away from social media!! Probably, the hardest yet most important one. Nowadays, the ‘social media police’ is way too abundant and so hard to control. Ignore. That is the solution. Ignore and do you. Don’t worry about others or their opinion because they really cannot get inside you and see who you really are. And you, are a wonderful, amazing person who does not deserve any judgements or comments from strangers.

Be friendly, be nice, be respectful and be accepting.

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Self-Esteem.. and mental health

20663881_1983325168614779_467815274414031350_n10 years ago, I used to feel ugly. I had braces, I did not thread my eyebrows, I was not thin nor curvy, I did not wear make up, my fashion sense was non-existent and I always laughed too loudly or spoke too loudly. I looked around and I saw girls prettier than me, more put together than me, more in control than me. At first I would look at myself, and see a mediocre, plain face. Then I started feeling ugly. Feeling and looking ugly are not the same thing. Nobody is ugly. Ugliness and beauty are a social construct and nothing more. Feeling ugly though, indicates something far more serious. It indicates that you feel negative about yourself, who you are and what you are capable of. It means that you do not trust in yourself and desire something which you THINK you do not have but in reality you most likely do.

Then my braces were off, I started using makeup, I started following the new fashion trends and suddenly I felt like I got it. It probably was not until 2-3 years ago, that I figured out that I was actually following other people, and not really building my own way. I followed the new trends, but most of them did not look that great on me. I tried to walk, talk in a certain way but that was not me. I exercised, tried to go to the gym, but it really was not something I liked. So then I decided, why even go through so much pain and suffering. I wanted to still experiment, with my hair, my look, my ideas but not follow any one else. That was so hard to do. It is still hard. I am still learning how to be myself, how to make my mind happy and at not let the negative, self-imposed ideas get to me. Because it those self-imposed ideals that really affect our mental health and self-esteem. I used to have very low self-esteem and always looked for approval from friends, family, etc. Sometimes, I still do. My low self-esteem was really badly affecting my mental health. I was so focused on being like someone else, that it changed me, my mindset and led me to my depression. Even feeling down, I would keep telling myself, nothing will look good on you as you are so chubby… or that you have such a big nose or you really suck at makeup..

Once, I started focusing on myself, it became easier to improve my self-esteem and feel positive. I tried very hard to stop caring about others, do what I liked and think positively. It is still hard and there is still a long way to go… But at least now I do not wear heavy black Kajal just because everyone did… and I no longer look like a racoon after 4 hours…. 😀

Travel Diaries: Ottawa (II)

C1180B77-1F8A-4B1D-9B76-21FD22BE4E84.jpegJust by crossing a bridge, you will leave Quebec and enter Ontario. Canada is a beautiful country. I personally liked this view because it showed the Canadian Federal Parliament overlooking the river. It was as if the Power of authority is overlooking our country, Canada. The view is pleasing to the eye and is a magnificent picture of architecture, nature and urbanization all rolled into one.

The lone traveller

B9B6CE46-5296-4EDC-AFEC-C5DE575EC45DWalking the through the museum, I felt as If people were watching me. Questioning, who is this lonely girl exploring the museum herself? Does she not have friends or family?
Then I shook my head and mentally scolded myself for exaggerating the situation. It was the first time I was doing tourist stuff by myself, alone, and I just felt awkward. I kept wishing I had someone to give me company. What I did not realize was, I was company enough for myself.

The next time I went out alone, I was more comfortable. I actually started enjoying the scenery, the sights around me and could focus more. It was a new, different feeling. I felt like I was breaking away from something.
Coming from a big family, I have always travelled with somebody, never alone. So I got used to exploring places with friends, family or someone I know. This time however, I am on my own. I am exploring coffee shops by myself. I am going for tours on a 1 person ticket. First I felt weird.. Then I felt lonely.. Finally I felt free.

I visited a Cathedral. It was full of tourist groups, school groups and couples. And I was there, taking selfies, pictures of the art and architecture and just taking it all in. I felt stares and instead of feeling awkward this time, I stared back. Lifting my eyebrows in a dramatic fashion, asking them Can I help you? I laughed to myself.. and apologized to my parents mentally for my staring back….

Jokes aside though, I wonder why we feel vulnerable when we travel alone. Maybe because we are scared of how negative the world is becoming, or we just have not tried it. I am in no sense, 100% comfortable in doing all things alone. But I would say, I have a renewed sense of adventure. Smart adventure though… not the risky, lets-break-all-rules type adventures.

I think we all should do things that make us feel weird, awkward, out of place. Only then can we distinguish, If the thing is really not for us or is it just a feeling?

 

Social media has made me apathetic

I have always considered myself to be an introvert. I never liked being in large crowds, or meeting too many people or even socializing too much. So for me, social media became the perfect way to stay in touch with everyone but also do whatever I want.

My first thing to do every morning is check my phone to see what happened in the world while I was dreaming. News about people getting hurt or killed, countries fighting, relationships breaking or people fighting flood my notifications. I reply to messages that I care about, and I ignore those are just not important.

Today however, I started thinking, what kind of a routine is this? I realized I stopped caring about what goes on around me. Maybe its because every news, event or incident gets reported and spreads so quick that I have forgotten how to feel empathetic. Now it just feels like, meh, happens every day. I long for the days where I could feel sad or upset at watching all these news. But, now it takes a bit of effort to care. And that, is the problem.

Similarly, I do not have to meet anyone and engage in meaningless conversations or make small talk. I can easily make connections via facebook, instagram, twitter, whatsapp etc. I can talk to people occasionally, and that will be enough. But some days, you start feeling lonely, you start craving for the human connection, not a virtual connection via the imaginary wires of Wi-Fi.

Yes, social media connects us all. No, it should not be a substitute for meaningful relationships. I do feel though, that that is what it has become. We message each other, like pictures, comment etc, but we do not actually, deeply care. We are so caught up in our lives that it is hard to show genuine care and affection.

I guess I have to relearn to not be so cold. To detoxify from the curse of social media once in a while, and make long lasting connections that can stand the test of social media pressure. Occasionally, I realize that social media has made me create a bubble around me through which I can see everyone, but they cannot touch me. Some days, that bubble becomes lonely, suffocating and quiet. Other days, I am able to break out of that bubble and shine. E45ADDD8-7F1F-41A6-8923-0C1ECC07E2AB

Undoing the damage of social media is not easy, but it is something we should all try once in a while.

Mental Health- No longer a question, but rather a fact

821FEB08-FF79-4A9A-B6F2-5A779D9908E3Up till 6 years ago, I had no idea what mental health really was. I knew people had bad days, where they were sad, or upset for no reason. I knew some people were short tempered and could not handle stressful situations. I knew that people my age were harming themselves. What I did not know however, was what to call it, and how to deal with it. I began thinking of it as “the difficult stage in any teenager’s life”. I believed my dark thoughts or feelings were a result of me being overly sensitive and weak. It was not until I moved continents that I became exposed to a society which was aware of mental health and accepted it. I began to then realize, that the reason why I had been in the dark for so long was because I did not come from a society where it was acknowledged as a problem. I had never been exposed to people who would openly discuss it and take it seriously, at that time. It was a silent illness, which everyone carried with themselves- along- scared to share it, in fear that they would be ridiculed or shunned.

Being in university changed my perspective. Personally, I dealt with depression and anxiety too and so did my friends. It took years to deal with, and control it. Looking back, we realize that we are no longer the same people. We may have said or done some questionable things, but in all honesty, some things we had no control over and now it seems like a blur. We all had our own demons to battle. For some it could be family stress or school stress. For others it was juggling too many things at once. But for some, there was no reason at all and that was okay. We would talk about it, support one another and encourage each other to get help- or at least we tried our best. Some succeeded, some did not, and some are still fighting.

At first I thought that only those lacking something in their life can have mental illness. Why would the rich, successful, well-established people have anything to be sad about? That was my greatest misconception to be proven false. You do not have to be lacking something to be challenged with mental health. It can happen to any of us, for whatever or no reason. The reasons could be societal, personal, biological, financial, or even just nothing. I am sure you have read the sad news about famous people being faced with mental illness. That is proof that it can happen to any one. All we can do, is accept it, support them and never judge.

Maybe before, it would have been okay to ask such questions: Do you really have mental illness or are you just sad? Are you really depressed? Maybe you are over reacting or overly sensitive?  You do not look depressed? Why are you anxious?

BUT NO MORE. Such questions no longer have a place in this day and age.

We have made progress in accepting people and supporting those with mental health issues. But there is still so much left to be done. Not everyone will consider it a problem. Not everyone will be accepting. Some of your friends and family still may not believe you and still not be supportive. But, at least there are others that you can have an open conversation with and form a supportive network. There will always be someone who is there for you, some group/network willing to help you, and that is something we need to spread awareness about.

It is a fact that mental health issues exist. They have been present for a long time, just lurking in the shadows, never to be exposed. Except now. Help each other, my friends. Never let anyone feel that they are irrelevant or their illness does not matter. Because it does.

 

Breaking the circle of expectations: My career

F742F7CA-A8B5-4B66-A4BE-125CBECFD25FOn the first day of my University biology class, the professor asked the 1500 first-year students, how many of them wanted to be doctors. Approximately 3/4th of hall raised their hands and I was one of them. I started my educational career as a life science student thinking my career path would be becoming a doctor. Four years later, I decided to change that path.

Over the years, I have witnessed that being a life science student comes with the automatic assumption that you are destined to become a doctor. I thought so too and for a while I wanted it too. I am still not sure of the exact reason or the moment I realized I no longer wanted that path for myself. Of course, just like the rest of my peers, I tried to get into that field but my heart was not in it. All of a sudden, I wanted something else from my life, and not follow the assumption any more. Just to be clear, I have nothing against the medical profession. I think it is a beautiful career with the potential to heal others. But It is for those that have the right drive and passion, not for those that follow it just because it is expected of them.

I raised my hand on that first day because I genuinely thought that is what life sciences was for. Over the next couple years, I experienced many different types of work and volunteer experiences. I studied a broad spectrum of courses and met with different people. I did research, administrative work, mentoring, volunteering etc. All this was to figure out where do I fit in? what is my path? do I want to follow the expectation?

Slowly, I felt I did not want to be a doctor but I wanted to do something bigger, or something that related to who I was. That itself was a difficult decision to come to, as it meant breaking the hopes of those around me and for the first time making such a decision by myself. Honestly, even by the end of my fourth year of undergraduate, I was not sure of the exact career I wanted. What I did know however, was that I wanted to work for the people, I wanted to protect them, I wanted to help them and I wanted to make sure that work I did encompassed all I had learned. I wanted to prevent people from getting sick, I wanted to bring  a change. I knew that I enjoyed myself when I was learning hands on and when I learned a broad spectrum of knowledge. My science and economics background made me love the way our life, health, activities become interrelated with our work, community and country.

So then, I started looking for graduate programs that would satisfy my requirements. I was not completely satisfied with my undergraduate learning, as I felt I lacked some real life knowledge and skills. I felt as if I had much more to learn if I wanted to be satisfied with my career path. I finally decided that Public Health was the correct choice for me. I also knew that this was a way for me to challenge myself and use the skills I had on a larger scale. I personally liked the Occupational and Environmental Health because it is such an important field, and also one which we do not pay attention to. It fulfilled my requirements but also promised me a career filled with learning, challenges and the indefinite reward of protecting our labour force who are the backbone of any country and economy.

I finally feel satisfied and happy with my career choice. I know it was difficult to break out of the circle of expectations, but it was an important step nonetheless. Of course, I am still figuring out how I want to shape the next step in my career, but nobody has everything figured out at once. I would not be learning, experimenting or experiencing life if I had the next 15 years of my career all decided upon and laid out in stone. Life has a way of surprising us, and that is how I want it to be.

 

 

Beauty: Freedom or a prison?

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder…. or so we have been told. I wonder why then, that every since I came to my senses, I was being forced to follow ideas that every one but me believed were beautiful. Or rather I did believe in them at that time only because I was too scared to trust myself. It probably took another 10 years, the complete toppling down of my old life, and a series of harsh face offs to understand that I did not have to follow anyone but what I wanted. I have been told to lose weight as skinny girls are pretty. I have been told to never cut my hair as girls with short hair look like boys. I have even been told not to go in the sun as I will get dark and I will no longer be pretty. I wonder who came up with these obnoxious and utterly baffling reasons.

Everyone is beautiful, regardless of their size, hair, height, colour etc. Beauty is not the face but rather the mind. We know this but maybe we do not believe it because if we did, teenage girls would not be dieting or trying so hard to compete in beauty with each other but rather enjoying their life and being happy. I admire some beauty companies for trying to put a stop to these unrealistic beauty standards and expectations, but sometimes such ideas do not have as far reaching effects as one would hope.

Following these beauty standards becomes a prison of sorts: where you have to follow rules otherwise you will be banished from the kingdom of beautiful girls. If I could tell my 13 year old self that I do not need to follow my peers but rather do what I want, believe in what I want, then maybe I would not have had those self-esteem or confidence issues that plagued my later teens.

I believe beauty is freedom. It is freedom of expression, freedom of life and freedom of happiness. We all try to fit in places sometimes, but that occasional instance does not define our beauty. We are beautiful, and we will not let standards tell us how to be beautiful.

 

Canada: My new home

I moved to Canada when I was 17 years old.  To say it was overwhelming would be an understatement. Immigration is not just packing up your bags and changing locations. It is changing your way of thinking and your way of life. It is fitting in a new culture yet maintaining your own identity. It is not easy. So to all those that have immigrated or moved to a new country, congratulations! You have accomplished an amazing milestone.

People in your home country will make all kinds of wrong assumptions just because you were able to move to a western country. They will say you have “changed”, that you have become arrogant just because you live in a western country or even that you do not love your home country anymore. But they are so far from the truth. Immigration is a way of life to which most of us are adapting to now; for better education, safety and overall good quality of life. Moving to a new country is challenging but it is rewarding. It will push you to fight your limits and create a new identity for yourself. You will no longer be the person you were before, but you will be a better version of yourself. It is true when they say that hardships bring out the strength and best in you.

So how do you settle in a new country, culture and society? You do that by being true to yourself, merging the new culture with your own and adapting to the new ways of life. You adapt, assimilate and create. You may feel isolated, depressed, sad and lonely in the beginning but it will go away with time. Strength is something that comes with time and experiences. You will change as a person and so will your perceptions, ideas and thought process. But never feel that that is a negative change, because it is not. Learn from every experience, the good or the bad.

Personally, I learned how to be strong, how to be proud of myself and accept my flaws and strengths. I learned how to be unapologetic of who I am and to stop seeking approval. I adapted to my new city the way I wanted to, the way that kept my individuality alive but also made me a part of the Canadian society.

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