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!

Six Ways to Manage Anxiety on a Daily Basis

A day out when I was feeling fragile: lots of stunning views, crying and grateful hugs (me to my partner) in the wilderness.

For most people, daily routine is a matter of autopilot. Interactions with others, commutes, working in an office environment, shopping, hanging out with loved ones: these are the activities that comprise a bog-standard day in somebody’s life.

However, for others, these activities may be the cause of anxiety. Maybe it’s a post-pandemic development or maybe you’ve always had issues managing anxiety: either way, anxiety can be crippling if not managed accordingly and the experience is often very isolating and exhausting. With that in mind, as a person who has dealt with anxiety for over twenty years, these tips are tried-and-tested approaches that have worked for me historically and have proven to help with the recent transition to the “new normal”.

Of course, these aren’t universal “cures” and every person/case is different. Perhaps you’ll try them and find that they’re not so effective for you. Please don’t be disheartened- there’s no clear-cut skeleton key that works for everyone, it’s a very personal journey and there are so many other techniques and activities out there to try. Something will resonate with you, so have patience and faith!

Here are my tried and tested methods of managing my anxiety:

Use gong sound-bath/hypnosis tapes

When I was really poorly, I began to use hypnosis tapes as a means of dedicating part of the day to my recovery. Admittedly, it was difficult to zone into the content when I first started listening, as I was very fragile and prone to panic attacks out of nowhere. However, there are clearly benefits to persistence as two years later, I still use a mixture of sound-baths, binaural beats, affirmations and hypnosis tapes religiously.

I listen to these audio clips predominantly as a bedtime routine, but also sometimes as a relaxation technique during the day. Through practice, these sounds have now become synonymous with stillness, introspection, steady breathing and time away from the outside environment/stressors. I love the convenience of being able to listen while working or commuting, as this means I can practice my breathing or find my focus even when there’s hustle and bustle around, without drawing attention to myself or seeming “out of place” (everyone has earphones in anyway!).

You can download personal favourites to your phone or basically try the plethora of options available on YouTube until you find a voice or channel that resonates best. Some people really enjoy podcasts, of which there is an almost unlimited range available, and that may be a nice accompaniment for those who are trying to avoid screen time. I recently discovered the ASMR Psychologist, who does softly spoken and whispered content for both specific issues like, for instance, insomnia or weight loss, or more generic ASMR videos for easy viewing. There’s something for everyone out there, so don’t be afraid to test out some options and find the sounds that work for you.

Pack your psychological placebos

My handbag is a Mary Poppins accessory, much to the amusement of my family and friends. It goes everywhere with me and contains pretty much everything and anything. I have numerous pill packets (Imodium is the friend of every stress-induced IBS-afflicted individual, I tell you), eye drops, notepads, stationary, books, four lipsticks, two sets of earphones (in case I lose a pair somehow) and much, much more.

There are also certain things that are kept with me habitually, such as Valium and a small plastic bag I picked up on a train in Copenhagen. I’ve never actually had to use either when out and about, but just knowing that they’re an arm’s length away helps me to function when I’m out of the house, particularly when I feel highly anxious or nauseous as a result of anxiety. Like a child needs a blankie, adults also need comfort. As time has gone on and I’ve gained more independence and general confidence, I have, on occasion, even removed the habitual items for the odd trip out as a way of proving to myself that I’m capable of venturing into the world without them on my person.

I have a fidget spinner from my hypnotherapist, chewing gum, Valium and a small, crumpled Danish sick bag for my armour. They’re invisible to the outside world but they make me feel safe and armed for whatever may happen. Find your comfort items and carry them with you for assurance.

Communicate anxieties and trepidations

At one point in my journey with mental health, I internalised everything. I didn’t have the vocabulary or the confidence to express what I was feeling or thinking, so I kept a lid on things until I couldn’t anymore and exploded. In contrast, the present-day me is very communicative as I passionately feel that talking is the most powerful way to eradicate the stigma around mental health. It’s not a natural instinct, by any means, but whenever I feel that I’m starting to spiral or struggle, I’ll tell somebody. Whether it’s face-to-face, over the phone, via message: somebody needs to be aware that I’m not okay. This doesn’t mean I have to highlight in excruciating detail my situation, simply that I may be feeling uncharacteristically stressed or that I need support.

Most often, this is a pre-emptive strike and it automatically makes me feel better when it’s said aloud or written in black and white. Sometimes it makes my feeling/thinking real and easy to identify as irrational, which immediately plucks me out of my own head. Other times, people offer reassuring ears or shoulders and I can purge some deep-seated anxieties. A prime example is my awful stage fright: it is now routine for me to let audiences know that I’m nervous. This puts me in power and not my anxiety, as I get ahead of it and often squash it down before it can take impact. Also, on every occasion that I have done this, with a shaking microphone in hand, I have had the most assuring and lovely response from audiences. It’s a great reminder that the fear and anxiety inside is insidious and that actually, people outside of your mind are generally kind and forgiving.

It doesn’t have to be as extreme as my methods, but even adopting a hand signal to indicate to a friend that you’re not okay in a social situation or sending a text to let people know you’re not feeling great: it’s enough.

Stick to your physical checklist

My brain has tricked me into despair for no good reason on many occasions. As stupid as it may sound, it’s so important to tick off options from a physical body checklist. Sometimes I’m simply hangry, dehydrated or too warm and yet my brain will perceive this as reason enough to go full flight/fight mode, which is a bit of a leap. For this reason, I’ve had to start actively reminding myself to eat/drink water/remove layers accordingly.

Maintain routines

Finding an activity that works for you is great but also redundant if you don’t effectively adopt it into your routine. It doesn’t have to be militantly regimented, after all that’s no way to your lead your life, but there should be some solid effort to do the things that bring you relief/joy and prevent burnout. This may sound silly, but it’s often the neglect of routine that causes people to transgress or find themselves poorly. I speak from experience as I am very guilty of feeling safe and therefore failing to stay motivated with the things that work for me. There’s nothing more humbling than feeling low and knowing it’s because you’ve failed to maintain “Me Time” and abandoned the practices that usually help you manage your stress load.

I’d recommend phone reminders, checklists and post-it notes on mirrors/surfaces you’ll see when you first wake up. Also, setting your intentions for the day and journalling can help you to keep track of your routines as well as co-ordinate your recreational tasks alongside your professional. YOUR RECREATIONAL TIME IS JUST AS IMPORTANT AS YOUR PROFESSIONAL TIME, NEVER FORGET THIS!

Exercise boundaries

Perhaps the most difficult of all the tips: exercising boundaries requires knowing what your boundaries are in the first place and this is often discovered when somebody toes the line or breaks a boundary, full-stop… Not the nicest of learning experiences, but an experience nonetheless. It’s very hard to say no and especially so when you’re saying no to loved ones, however, without self-preservation and accepting that you can’t do everything without breaking instead of bending, you’re prone to draining yourself dry.

Saying no doesn’t have to be harsh or a negative conversation, by any means. By being transparent and honest, you’re admitting that you’re not in a position to take on extra responsibilities or commit to something when you’re already busy or depleted enough. In this situation, you have to trust in putting yourself first as people-pleasing will only result in further harm to yourself, further down the line.

Choosing which situations to expend energy on is difficult, but a skill worth picking up to avoid over-subscribing. Life is overwhelming enough without false commitments to projects and people we can’t/shouldn’t be working in/with.

A podcast/affirmation tape on a walk is a delight!

Final note

Please note that I am speaking from a place of self-awareness but that doesn’t mean I have transcended depression and anxiety. My journey, like most others, is far from linear and I still deal with difficult periods that knock me for six. Nonetheless, I am trying to adopt a cleaner mindset with more emphasis on prevention, so my daily routine revolves heavily around these practices.

I hope these tips help somebody out there, at least with the reassurance that you’re not alone! Take care and be kind to yourself.

SING-SONG: A self-care Saturday gone right

2 weeks into an accidental Sertraline withdrawal, I’m anxiety-laden and highly emotional. Still persisting though, like that rash you should have seen the GP about like 4 months ago.

I’m one of those people who are still locked down even though lockdown officially ended a long time ago. The brain is a weird and wonderful thing.

Today is World Mental Health Day but that’s just a formality: really, it’s every day. Take care of yourself and take care of your loved ones, but most importantly, be the type of stranger that people can rely on for kindness. The world is brutal enough and we need friends, not foes. Help out, reach out, be good.

P.S. I literally don’t know how to record, mix or make videos so I’m very much a triple threat🌠

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.

CURRENT READ: Girl A by Abigail Dean

I’ve been poorly since Saturday night. I spent what was left of Sunday, after getting out of bed at 2 pm, on this new read with lots of fluids an arm’s length away and relaxation being the only objective🧘🏽‍♀️🛀🏽

Reading has been steady lately but mental health has been quite the opposite, and this isn’t helped by my environment😔

My mantra today is “don’t let the emotional constipation of others affect you” and I’ve had a rocky start with it already, let me tell you😂 That said, I’ve been clutching a moonstone gifted to me by a new friend recently and thinking about the insightful tarot reading she gave as well as the potential significance of my restlessness. I’m hoping that this cave I’m currently trapped in is the dip before ascension🌚

Here’s to feeling better and using all the trials and tribulations for a Pulitzer-winning novel or Grammy-nominated album in the future🔮

#GirlA #AbigailDean #CurrentRead #Bookworm #Goodreads #GirlsWhoRead #ReadersOfInsta #BookishPip #Tarot #Moonstone #NewBeginnings #DeepRest #DepressionDiaries