LIFE UPDATE: Winter Is Here! An Ode to Pains in the Brain

The best company on the cold days and awful nights.

In recent weeks I’ve had a low appetite and no want for alcohol, as well as a flare-up of my stress-triggered IBS, which are usually pretty big indicators that all is not well and spunky in the brain/gut.

My anxiety levels have been overall higher and I’ve had moments where, even in my “safe spaces” among “safe people”, I suddenly feel dissociated or nauseous/panicky/claustrophobic. Eating meals and drinking beverages has been challenging. So too has leaving the house in the first place, but I’ve managed to push against the mental resistance and at least try, which I’m proud of. I know this is likely a cross-combo of winter blues, the repercussions of going cold turkey on antidepressants (that wasn’t me it was Patricia/a manic high👀) and natural stress, but obviously depression is scary and irrational, so it’s not always “easier” to dig yourself back out once you’ve already been there.

As always, I’m talking about it! At one point, I thought these feelings and physiological symptoms isolated me and meant I had to deal with these issues alone. However, I’ve learned that these experiences are shared by a lot of people out there and I feel stronger/more prepared to kick the ass of my mental health demons by firstly admitting they’re there.

I am, once again, in the early stages of adapting to antidepressants. This is an experience riddled with side effects and worsening of symptoms, which can be very intense. My solution? I’ve been transparent with EVERYBODY. From the family I live with, to friends I sadly barely see, to my work colleagues and even strangers on social media. Part of the process, for me, is holding myself accountable so that if I’m unable to spot more ominous developments in my behaviour, at least other people can. I’m desperate to make it through and I need all the help I can get!

This weekend, I am resting and recuperating. This consists of sleeping guilt-free, reading voraciously, meditating, stewing in long, luxurious baths, working out, writing cathartic pieces like this and singing at the top of my lungs. In addition, I’ve been trying to gain more understanding as to how I can battle these afflictions of the mind in the long-term.

Another one of the perks of my current employment, aside from very understanding and supportive management, is that we get full access to Udemy’s learning courses, of which there’s a vast catalogue. There are sections and titles pertaining to industry-specific skill-sets, but also a lot of pragmatic and recreational courses that are for personal growth. I went on a bookmarking frenzy and highlighted loads of things that were of interest, but the first to catch my attention was “The Power of the Mind in Health and Healing” by Keith R. Holden. The course is around 44 hours long and explores the mind-body relationship, discussing both spiritual and scientific discourses around the impact of meditation on epigenetics and mental health (more specifically, the stress response).

I’ve spent around 2 hours today jotting notes furiously and listening to interesting lectures on how profoundly meditation and mindfulness can affect the human body. It’s mind-blowing, immersive and productive, and the perfect use of time for somebody like me, who struggles to ‘relax’ without feeling guilt. So far I’ve learned that meditation and mindfulness can balance the autonomic nervous system, reduce inflammation, affect epigenetics (the way that genes are activated/deactivated) and reduce heart rate variability. Of course, this is something I’m now deeply interested in as an alternative method to dealing with my long-term anxiety and depression. This isn’t a sole ‘cure’ or an overnight fix: it’s one of many things I’ll be trying in addition to my other tried-and-tested techniques.

I’m very privileged to have access to resources like these and grateful for the fact that my employers are so invested in growth and development. Whilst Udemy has been introduced to predominantly improve professional skills in the workplace, it’s actually also become a great tool for my mental wellbeing. Especially for somebody occupying space on a very long waiting list for talking therapy, it’s a great pastime that will hopefully enhance my awareness while I’m resting up at home and waiting for better days.

I would highly recommend taking on a learning course online. It doesn’t have to be a stressful affair with deadlines and high costs: there are so many available for free across easily accessible platforms like YouTube. It’s a great use of time and can help you to heighten your self-awareness, which can be invaluable when trying to form new patterns of behaviour that are better for your health.

I’m taking it all a minute at a time. I’m officially back on the meds, back to doing what feels right and adhering to a clean routine that restores some order to the chaos. If you feel poopy too, just know that you’re not on your tod. I got this and you got this. Make use of the resources available and speak to somebody, anybody, about what you’re going through. There’s no shame in speaking about mental health. We’re all ironically united in how alone we feel. WE ALL GOT THIS💪🏽💫

OPINION: Why Asian Visibility and Representation Is Important

When I was a kid, if I’d have been offered an opportunity to bleach my skin, I probably would have taken it. This was the extent to the vitriol I felt towards my Bangladeshi heritage, culture and the brown skin I lived in. I despised all events that called for me to be dressed, like a doll, in traditional lehengas and sarees. I plodded around like a kid in stilts, stiff with discomfort at every party, pining for the moment we’d get home and I could peel the colourful garments off in favour of my band tees and joggers. There was no plausible reason for this rejection but I do think it was learned, as opposed to something I was born with.

See, I’d grown up with my nose buried in books about predominantly white characters or watching white characters in my favourite TV shows. The few Asian characters I did see were massively exaggerated archetypes, and I knew for a fact that I didn’t identify with them. Conservative, religious, thick accents and a resistance to western culture: this is what Asians were, if you looked at TV. Yet my family were party people who couldn’t recite a passage of the Gita verbatim. They ate a lot and drank more, had secret boyfriends and rebelled against the elders. The only shows I knew I could relate to, in some respects, were East is East, Goodness Gracious Me and Anita and Me (God bless Meera Syal), where cultures clashed and identities were forged from a mish-mash of traditional Asian values versus modernity in England.

Naturally, it’s perhaps no surprise that I instead looked to what was available in abundance and spent the following years idolising my white friends and the white singers, writers and actors on TV and in my books. I wanted to fit in, so I conveniently shelved Bollywood, eating curry with my hand and stories of gutting fish in Bangladesh to a box in the back of my brain.

I would honestly say that until I was at university and away from home, I was still running from who I was. It was in the absence of hearty home-cooked curries and the constant witticisms of my large family that I really began to question how authentically Asian I was. Then came reading lists that touched upon post-colonial texts by names I’d never heard of and the embarrassment of the realisation that I knew nothing about the history of my family’s homes in Bangladesh, or the bloody battle for independence, or the significance of most Hindu mythology tales.

The other thing about university was the expectation that I had to fight my own battles when it came to racist remarks. I’ve grown up with the names “coconut” and “Paki” in equal measure: too white for some and too Asian for others (which is so bizarre to me now, at twenty-seven years old). However, at university, I encountered more diverse retorts that really challenged me.

I’ve heard “you’re hot for an Asian” on a Rev’s dancefloor. I’ve had “I’ve never fucked an Asian before” from a stranger in the queue for an ATM. I’ve had “you’re the whitest Asian I know” from a known misogynistic, racist, and traditionalist pig in my year group at university, who often tried to stoke the fire with some controversial remark. I never knew whether that one was unintentional or whether he truly meant it, being the ignorant, sheltered momma’s-boy asshole that he was, but I didn’t take the bait. Instead, my friends (all of them white) stepped in and told him straight. At this point, I had given up hope on the boy-child who was threatened by any ideas outside of the black/white picture his hometown had painted, but it was still nice to see that others were affected on my behalf.

I’d have taken coconut as a compliment when I was eight, believe it or not. I’d have felt lesser and believed the very cruel, insensitive quips people threw my way in a heartbeat. However, I was so blanketed by my infatuation with whiteness as a child that the insults bounced off because they couldn’t affect me as I didn’t identify as brown in the first place.

Meanwhile, at university, when left to my own devices, I was critiquing everything. On the news, there was the constant anti-immigration spiel from bald, white men and in my lectures, there were closeted Tories squirming in our extremely lefty-liberal classes, led by proactive tree-huggers and passionate anti-Brexit lecturers. When it came to meeting new people, I discovered that not everybody hailed from multicultural cities like Bradford. Someone told me that Huddersfield’s diversity was a shock to him as, where he was from down south, there was one black kid in his village, but no Asians. In my research, I was seeing the disparity between female and male representation in literature and film, as well as the numbers that demonstrated how ethnic minorities are still marginalised on TV in comparison to Caucasians.

University opened my eyes to a lot of things and the experiences I had there made it truly impossible to ignore/reject my brownness. It also made me lament the “lost years” spent in denial, internalised anger and silence.

In the years since my postgraduate degree came to an end, there has been a significant rise in violence against Asians within the UK. There has also been a very loud and very aggressive outcry to the BLM movement, so much so that incensed viewers of Britain’s Got Talent turned up in their droves to complain about Diversity’s dance, inspired by the events, because it wasn’t the “right” platform to voice that kind of message. Alongside the anger of gammons, there has been an uprising in strong minority voices who are tired of accepting the same old as the same old.

So, what do I do now? How do I come to terms with the massive chunk of my DNA and heritage that I boxed up and tried to chuck away? Well, firstly, I try not to be disheartened by the xenophobic, right-wing spiel that so often populates the news reels. I accept that I occupy space and deserve to, and don’t dignify the mouthpieces of hate speech with the privilege of my ears. I have also come to enjoy the sounds of silence that come from deleting/blocking bigots on social media, who are either all too unwilling to listen or too stubborn to change.

Secondly, I pay attention to those who are fighting the good fight against institutionalised racism each and every day. Rome wasn’t built in a day and systemic racism can’t be undone with the click of a finger. I pay attention to the figures as per Ofcom reports and the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media, among various others. I try to plug in to the positive developments. For example, trailblazers like British actor Riz Ahmed are intent on changing the narrative after experiencing years of racial prejudice in the industry: just this year, he announced a $25,000 fellowship to encourage Muslim “storytellers”.

The third solution to dealing with my identity and coping with racism is looking inwards for a while. It turns out you can silence some critics and morons with just your mere existence! By finding who you are and existing loudly and proudly, you can actually threaten some critics into submission! My greatest satisfaction is being the antithesis of every expectation and stereotype. Sometimes when I speak, it throws people off-scent and there’s a visible confusion: she’s brown but she’s so… Yorkshire. Other times it’s a furtive glance at the various tattoos that fill my arms and, again, the confusion of my appearance contrasting with what was expected, perhaps a fully covered, modest, bomb-toting woman averting eye contact. My existence is defiance and that’s enough for me, on some days. No words needed. No air wasted.

The final thing I do is bide my time writing up how I feel and taking solace in some brilliant books by people who get what it feels like to straddle being Asian and living in the west with two identities fighting for dominance. My main objective eventually, with this belly of fire and frustration, is to turn all of these feelings into words that matter. I’d love to create Asian characters that live and breathe authentically, without being shackled by stereotypes. I’d love to be involved in a movement that could make it so that future kids don’t grow up trying to scrub the brown out of their skin, because they’re ashamed or angry about who they are. I’d love it if an Asian kid went to a gig or a theatre show or watched a programme or read a book and had somebody they could identify with, representing some aspect of their lived experience on a platform. Maybe if I’d have had that, I wouldn’t have felt the need to push my God-given heritage down, out of sight and mind.

In the meanwhile, as reams and reams of writing occupy space on my desktop and shelves, waiting for the day I feel they’re ready, I guess the best thing I can do is be honest about who I am and where I come from. I am brown and proud, baby!

OPINION: Predator in Police Uniform

Lyrics for a new Hoamin song: Vigil

Today I saw that a predator in police uniform has been sentenced to life in custody after he coerced a completely innocent woman into his vehicle under false pretences. This man then sexually violated her, killed her and burned her remains before taking his wife and children to stand on the very ground her charred remains had seen just days before.

I feel a small victory on behalf of all women for the fact that, in this case, justice was sought and delivered. That being said, the definition of justice in a case where somebody is tortured and killed unjustifiably is a very strange concept. Does withering away in jail serve as true justice? Does it really amount to rehabilitation or reconciliation with the truth and weight of his actions? Does it change the fact that Sarah Everard is gone? Does it lessen the blow for those who loved her? Does it ensure safety for every other woman who is catcalled, assaulted, kidnapped, stalked and snatched away under false pretences from the streets they’re entitled to walk?

She was just walking home. Fuck.

Today I thought about all the times I’ve been followed home, had slurs slung at me from car windows as people crawl along the road to remain level with me, held keys between my fingers, been followed home from the bus stop, been spat on because I’ve said I’m not interested and been told I’m asking for it, because of the way I’m dressed.

Today, like most days, I seethed inside at the prospect that some people remain blind to the crushing weight of the patriarchy and oblivious to the fear that women, often unbeknownst to them, carry every single day of their lives. We’re so conditioned to be afraid that we take precaution as though it were innate routine, embedded into us before we were even earthside.

They tell you that you’re free and that things have come so far, for women. I tell you that there’s still too much to be done, so excuse the fact I’m tired and angry and despondent, but some progress isn’t enough for me.

I tell you that women are celestial powerhouses that have been respected and idolised since the planet first came to be. I tell you that women have been pulled down from their pedestals and dragged across the fucking floor. I tell you women are capable and proud beings that have been wronged systematically for centuries. I tell you that women are strong, wild creatures that deserve to roam with the same freedoms as their fellow men.

I want radical reform. I want the whole damned world turned on its head. I want actions and consequences. I want the satisfaction of oppressors and criminals feeling the same fear they inflict upon their victims. I want the satisfaction of survivors staring out and feeling some relief in that their abusers are caged up like the uncontrollable Neanderthals they are.

Today I saw that a predator in police uniform has been sentenced to life in custody after he coerced a completely innocent woman into his vehicle under false pretences. Tomorrow is a new day. I wait with bated breath.

What Unemployment Taught Me About “Failure and Success”

On this day: unemployed me helped to build a bar in the back garden with my dad. The stereotype that unemployed folk are unproductive is totally and utterly wrong.

For as long as I can remember, I’ve always been the busy-body, workaholic, type-A individual. My life has comprised of working very hard towards a focused goal, accomplishing that goal with blood, sweat and tears, and then swiftly moving onto the next big objective in line. It has always felt alien to “rest” and has been a legitimate struggle to find ways to relax, as it seems my mind has always been more adept with chaos and, in contrast, struggled with stillness.

As you can imagine for a person with my tendencies, a period of unemployment earlier this year, for two whole months, could have been more than enough to send me spiralling. However, I actually found this quiet time for reflection to be very powerful. This was because I was emancipated from a job that was, quite frankly, completely draining me dry. After more than a year of “What’s wrong with me? Why aren’t I good enough?”, I was finally free.

Of course I had the standard anxieties about the prospect of finding a new job and financial security, but first and foremost, I was relieved. I was no longer bound to a job that was making me, and consequently my loved ones, deeply unhappy. My life suddenly had perspective again: there’s so much more to living than being chained to a desk chair for 9 hours a day! There’s so many things I used to enjoy before this job took over every brain cell! I am so much more than just an employee! I felt like an absolute fool for allowing the drama of that employment spell to sink me so considerably for such a long time.

I don’t think I’d have felt this sense of clarity and peace without the context of my previous illness. Up till a few years ago in 2019 when I hit ultimate burnout/the darkest depression/the fiery pits of hell, AKA literally not having the physical or emotional capacity to keep on carrying on, I thought I’d be that person who just kept going forever and ever. I had never really imagined myself succumbing to full physical sickness due to mental exertion. However, when that burnout period came along, aspects of my life changed irrevocably and I have since learned a lot about my unhealthy coping mechanisms and attitudes towards failure/success.

I definitely feel the outside pressures of wanting to make my family proud and wanting to be perceived by society in a successful light, but the majority of my pressure to succeed comes from within and is entirely irrational. I’d always envisioned being unemployed as a sign of personal failure. I’d always considered overworking to be a sign of professionalism and necessity. I genuinely once thought that taking time to “do nothing” was a lazy cop-out for people without stamina. How criminally wrong I was.

This is evidenced by the fact that I stayed for so long in a working situation that made me so stressed, anxious and depleted. Despite absolutely giving my all, working endless overtime, taking on extra responsibilities and trying to pick myself up after being repeatedly knocked, I just couldn’t make my previous role work for me. Even though I knew I was regressing mentally and physically due to my efforts, I couldn’t throw the towel in because I was scared that it would amount to failure. The official nail in the coffin: “I’ve failed myself. I’ve failed the company. I’ve failed my colleagues. I’ve failed my family”.

In reality: I absolutely bloody did not.

It seems that I’ve been hardwired to push myself to absolute exertion for the majority of my life and, as a result, I’ve suffered massively. On a personal level, I’ve sacrificed a lot of precious time with family and friends. On a professional level, I’ve managed to self-sabotage opportunities for advancement due to being inundated with other responsibilities after overloading myself with absolutely everything else possible.

Part of me is ashamed by the fact that it’s taken me this long to redefine my ideas of success and failure, yet overall, I’m glad I’ve learned it in the first place. Sometimes I look at people far older than me and wonder whether, despite all the letters after their names, certificates on the walls and zeroes before the dot on their salaries, they’re actually content. Because when it comes down to it, I think that would be the ultimate success story now to 26-year-old me.

Summary: Life isn’t linear and neither is progress. Losing a job or a relationship or a status does not amount to failure. Wads of mullah do not amount to success. Working yourself to the bone in the hopes that you’ll please everybody will not lead to anything but incredibly bad and sad times. Life is precarious and oh so short. Don’t waste it always looking ahead to what you want to be and what you want to have and focus instead, at least sometimes, on the person you’ve already become and the things you’ve already accomplished.