The Elephant in the room

For a while now, I have been tip-toeing around this particular topic.

Why tip-toe, even I wonder.

Maybe because it is about that thing that is construed as a weakness. Which can label us as hopeless pessimists. That thing that makes everyone uncomfortable. We talk about it in hush tones, afraid to be judged. That thing that you pick on to put someone down and point as an inferiority. Why? Also why not? It’s considered as something that is “not supposed” to happen to a healthy, strong and capable person.

But the big irony is that, it is also the thing that almost everyone feels at some point in their life, but some people feel it more given the circumstances.

The thing. The elephant in the room.

Can you even guess?

Yes. I’m talking about Anxiety.

and Depression.

Now that I have opened this can of worms, let me stop tip-toeing.

Not very long ago, I had a number of huge life changes happen in a short period of time. I was unable to cope with it and despite efforts to stay positive, I was just incredibly overwhelmed with a lot of negative emotions. Over time I was dwarfed by it which caused me to develop depression. In hindsight, it is not surprising that I felt like that. Continuous and large amounts of stress is not compatible with our genetic evolution. Stress, when unmanaged is disruptive to our hormones and specially neurotransmitters that deal with our mood, concentration and health. There are physical and debilitating manifestations of long term stress.

While stress by itself in short and small amounts can be a motivating factor, depression is a serious condition and can go on for a long time if not addressed. So it is important to distinguish between stress and depression. The good news is that depression is highly treatable with the right help. In my case, I was able to overcome my depression. It was not a pleasant time, nor was it easy. But it was also a time of immense growth. I had to come face to face with my own vulnerabilities and really, as I have always believed, through vulnerabilities come strength.

I had a lot of help and I asked for a lot of help. At times I was a pain in the ass I admit, but then I think I am always anyway. I had the unending patience and support from my husband, and learnt really good techniques for coping through a specialized online treatment program called mummoodbooster, targeted at women experiencing post natal depression.

During this time I learnt how to track my mood. I learnt that there are certain triggers that brought on negative emotions. I learnt that all I needed was to be aware of it, not even necessarily avoid it. I learnt to practice anti-ruminative activities such a:

  • consistent counting of blessings (instead of sheep)
  • journaling my thoughts
  • picking my battles
  • letting somethings go
  • replacing a negative thought with a positive one
  • and more importantly I learnt that I could catch a negative thought when it comes and do anything I want to it, before it spirals out of control.

The next most important thing I learnt is to redirect my rumination aka worry aka anxiety into something positive and physical. This may sound like a cliché, but for me this approach was incredibly helpful. I started with identifying five pleasant activities that I would genuinely attempt each day. “The main thing is to get your mind off your ruminations for a time so they die out and don’t have a grip on your mind,” explains it well. While I didn’t really have the mind to do it everyday, I still gave it an honest effort.

At this time I also realized the importance of a support system, someone trusted to be there in times that you need. Someone who would listen without judgement and with empathy. At times even our most loved ones do not understand and are not patient with us. And at times, it is not really their fault too. Because unless you have gone through something similar, it is really hard to understand what the other person is feeling. This is why professional help is almost always the best solution.

End of story.

Not really. I still feel sad, overwhelmed and stressed at times. I’m still human, and a mother of two now, which means a hundred times more stress and worry. But I’m better equipped to cope with it now. I am inspired by what I experienced, although it’s a mere inch of what so many people with anxiety and depression experience on a daily basis and for years on.

It is important that if you are experiencing overwhelming emotions to, Talk to someone, and ask for help. If you feel that someone you know is having a difficult time then Ask if they R OK? The link in text gives some great tips for ways to ask in a way that gets answers and how to go about helping them. It also helps you figure out if you are in a good head space to provide support for someone.

I asked and someone helped. Consistently and without judgement. And I am really OK.

Me, myself and I

I sit down to write, with a coffee (black, one sugar) and my favorite music in the background (Beyonce mix, what a cliche, I know).

My mind wanders, did I clear the pillows from my daughter’s cot before putting her in. Is my son alright, he’s been having a dry cough. What will I cook for them? I have to vacuum before they are up. I drag my mind back to the page on the laptop. I type, and I see my fingers. My nails are grown slightly. Reminds me, I have to cut the kids nails. But where is that nail cutter. It has the ability to disappear just like half of all our socks and tupperware lids, to be never seen again. I should go find it, else I may forget again. Beyonce starts singing Single Ladies. Makes me laugh at the irony. Take a deep breath, smile and focus.

I then realize, what I want to write about – How does one enjoy life as a busy mom. I know most mom’s do, but I also know that motherhood or rather parenthood is extremely exhausting and repetitive. Studies show that parenthood is also associated with a higher risk of depression. How on earth can the thing that brings us the greatest joy put us at the risk of depression?! But I know, every mom and dad will acknowledge this to be true. As for me, I didn’t plan on being a stay home mom, but here I am. I didn’t think I was equipped to be one, first of all. I am not patient, I have a quick temper and dislike the invasion of my private space and time. But yes, here I am. Practicing patience, smiling at the spilt milk on the carpet and have two kids attached to me like extra limbs.

Yet, I absolutely love being their mom. 

But enjoy? Not as often as I would like to. 

Enjoying parenthood means placing great importance on fulfilling our own personal needs and wants. I know it’s hard, and we tend to tell ourselves that we will get time for ourselves maybe in the next few years when the kids are bit older. Let me burst that bubble for you, which was burst for me by other parents. It NEVER gets any easier! It just moves from one set of challenges to another.

LOL. At myself.

So there is really no later for this, it has to be now. It is now that I need to exercise, now I need to go on a date with my husband and now that I have to read that book. 

I love this article How to Enjoy the Often Exhausting, Depressing Role of Parenthood. She talks about the importance of leisure time, both personal and with the spouse. Personal time has been linked to positive mental health by numerous studies. So make time for exercise. Laugh outrageously while watching the comedy you have long wanted to. And more importantly, pursue a hobby or project that brings happiness to you and lets you feel rejuvenated. Because, not only will it increase our mental health, it will also allow our kids to see us in a different light. An empowered parent who enjoys life.

She also highlights the importance of free play for children, where the child has freedom to explore and learn on their own. A decline in free play has been associated with increased level of negative feelings in children. So, it is justified that we take a step back from our tendency to helicopter parent or fill their day with structured and supervised activities. I remember what my grandmother used to tell us about growing 10 children. She says all they needed was empty cardboard boxes and tins to occupy their day. I think she would find me and my two baby complaints hilarious. What surprises me is that my aunts and uncles recall stories of their childhood with so much fondness and happiness. Isn’t that good enough reason to stop our guilt for not entertaining them all their waking hours, give them an old box and put our feet up?

Maybe write a blog and enjoy a cup of coffee. 

Have some quality time for ourselves.

Beyonce sings, Run the World (girls).

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Hindsight is a Bitch..or is it?

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Hindsight :noun

1. recognition of the realities, possibilities, or requirements of a situation, event, decision etc., after its occurrence.

How many times in life have you said to yourself, “I wish I had thought of that”, or regretted an action because in hindsight you feel that you could have done things differently?  It happens to me from time to time, and probably more now since I became a mother. While I blame it on my pregnancy brain that apparently continues for years post pregnancy, I am curious as to why things often seem clearer after it has occurred and passed.

Sometimes when something occurs unfavourably I scrutinise the situation only to have hindsight tell me that I could have acted differently. But, while there could have been other options, given the same situation I probably would do the same again. When something occurs it’s a combination of numerous things. It’s circumstantial, emotional and depends on the physical and environmental state at that time. I may criticise myself with the information I currently have in hand, in my current state of mind and current environment. But hindsight is 20/20, we look back at an outcome with a perfect eyesight. By the we have a better understanding of things and more information than we had when it occurred. The tragedy is that once we know all the information that would derive the most favourable outcome, the event is already in the past.

So how can this hindsight with her “Woulda. Coulda. Shoulda.“ be less of a nag and more of a friend to us?  Bill Butler explains the hidden powers of hindsight, where reflection can be used to inform our foresight. Foresight is the ability to perceive future outcomes and plan actions based on this information. This is possible if we are able to understand what we could have done differently when something goes unfavourably, without criticism or judgement. By allowing ourselves to question what options that were at our disposal at that point, and take a minute to forgive ourselves and see the benefit of this opportunity for future endeavours.

While this can help in a thing or two, no two experiences are same. We will still be faced with completely new circumstances and state of mind. The best we could do is take a minute to speculate the outcome and just hope for the best. Find our comfortable space between yesterday and tomorrow, and live in the moment. Like Judy Belmont said, “Forgive yourself for not having the foresight to know what now seems so obvious in hindsight”.

Daughter,

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I have not yet fully fathomed the significance of birthing a daughter. It makes me anxious thinking of the immense responsibility but also gives me a sense of pride. I myself, am a daughter. Now I have my own. The circle of life is such. There is a sense of familiarity in seeing you, a part of both your dad and I, but a daughter. Like me. I want to smile and laugh and tell you so many things, share so many secrets about the wonders of being a girl. But for now, I will let you be little and pen my feelings.

You are so beautiful. I catch your father staring at you with awe and wonder. I know what he is thinking because I think the same when I look at you. You are a unique creation of Allah, and it is your uniqueness that makes you most beautiful. Your beauty is in your delightful little yawn, in the way you cringe and in your strange little whimpers. It’s in the way you look at me, match my gaze and follow it. It’s in your smile, although I know right now it’s only a reflex. It’s in your sweet baby smell, your wisps of fine black hair. It’s in the beautiful color of your skin, the radiant shine of your face. It’s in the way you kick your legs and in the tininess of your fingers. There has never before existed a child like you. You are one of a kind, a marvel, a unique work of art created for great things.

One day soon, too soon for my liking, a young girl will replace my little baby. I can promise you, even then, we cannot stop watching you. With the same awe as the day you were first put in my arms. Everything about you, from the peeling-off of your newborn skin to the way you fit perfectly right next to my heart, mesmerizes me. Dear daughter, you are so beautiful just the way you are.

You are important. You only have to look into our eyes, hear our voice, and feel our love to know just how important you are. You only have to see the joy and pride you have given us by being our daughter to know how much you matter.

For now you are in our arms, cocooned safely in our embrace. But there will come a day when you interact with the world and become curious of the worlds expectations. But even then remember that you matter. You have a strong voice. You are to be heard. Do not ever lose your voice or lower your expectations. You won’t need to when you are in the company of loved ones. When in doubt and when you look for affirmation remember that the only affirmation that you need is yours.

Be kind hearted and compassionate. While you are important, realise that others are too. There will be times when you will be needed, and when these times come be there for others. For now, cuddle up in our arms and rejoice in the warmth of our embrace. And know this, daughter, you are so important.

You are brave. How brave you are already at just few weeks old. To be adapting to a brand new world after spending a lifetime in the comfort of my womb. How scary everything will seem to you. But you seem so resilient. I hold you tight in my arms, rock you to sleep, kiss your forehead. A lot of times it is me drawing comfort from you my little one.

I want to tell you so many things. To be bold and curious. To not hesitate to ask questions. Sometimes there are no right answers but only the right question. There is a world inside of you as well as outside, waiting to be explored and discovered. While at it, also, stumble and fall. For many a great lessons of life comes from failure. Make big glorious mistakes, for it will make you strong. Do not be afraid my little one, the world is beautiful and waiting for you to conquer it. Daughter, I wish for you to be so brave that you will find the infinite light inside of you.

Have faith in Allah, you are our biggest proof that He answers prayers. Ask him sincerely with a heart of gratitude and he gives. “And your Lord says: “Call upon Me; I will respond to you.” (Quran 40:60). For now, let me pray for you, and ask Him to keep you safe and shower you with His blessings and protection.

I wish you would see yourself through my eyes and you will see just how beautiful, important and brave you are. For now I will let you be little.

To the one who made me a mother,

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Dear firstborn,

When you were born I was born too, as a mother. Before you, I didn’t know that my heart could burst spontaneously, overwhelmed with love and never have I whispered, I love you to someone possibly a hundred times a day. Looking after you and cherishing you has been the biggest pleasure of our life and it will continue to be as long as we live.

As you turn almost 20 months, I can’t help wondering how much your life will change forever in just a few days. As you are going to become a big brother. I have no doubt that you will be wonderful at it. You are loving, nurturing, and so sweet. You may not understand it but you being you is enough for us to know just how much you will love the baby and how she will fall head over heels in love with you.

Yet, you are so small and your existence revolves around me and your dad. You are most secure when you are in our arms or have us in your sight. I know we are your world and you feel that we belong only to you. But the reality is that it will not be just us anymore. We will have another little addition to our family who will demand my time and need me more than you may at this time. It makes me scared and sad wondering if at times I will make you question our love.

I will be distracted, tired and irritable at times but it does not mean that you have become any less special or you come after the baby. I may not be able to spend the extra hour cuddling you after you wake up every day or read you your favorite book 5 times before you fall asleep every night. You will see me loving and taking care of someone else. You will see someone else occupy so much time in my arms, arms that belong to you. As you still try to make sense of the world, this will come as an added confusion. But I promise you that we will adjust in a way that my arms will always be open for you whenever you need me. My love for you only expands, that’s what a mother’s love is.

I will continue to be the overbearing mother who gets over excited and celebrate every little thing you do. I will cook your favorite meals and laugh with you while watching Wiggles. I will dance with you and play with you whenever I have a chance. We will even squeeze in our morning and nighttime rituals. It may be shorter but nonetheless sweeter. I promise you that you will still have the loving childhood you deserve and is used to. And better, you have someone to share it with.

You are my first born and no one can hold that space. You didn’t just come into our life dependent on us for your every need. You with all your worldly wise from the womb have taught us so much. You have forced me to grow in ways that I did not expect. You with your tiny hands and feet have managed to direct us to make better choices. You with your big bright eyes have enlightened our life and we cannot imagine a single second without you. Your energy and enthusiasm is contagious and I sometimes feel like a teenager wanting to dance in the rain and jump in puddles. Just to put a smile on your face. You are a miracle and everything with you is a joy. I can only hope to give you as much joy as you keep giving us.

We are going to say goodbye to the days of just us, and I will miss it terribly. But seeing you as a big brother will probably put a permanent mist in my eyes. I look forward to all the wonderful things you will continue to do with the same anticipation as the day we welcomed you to the world.

I know we have enough love in our hearts to go around, just like there is always room on mother’s lap as in our favorite book. You who made me a mother, you will continue to be my baby always.

Yours forever,

Mommy

 

What’s the secret?

The inevitable question, what do you want your child to be? When I first thought about this, I didn’t hesitate to say that all I want him to be is happy. It also made me realize the elephant in the room that I need to address. Am I a happy person? What makes me happy? What is being happy to me? We all know that children are great imitators, and have a selective deafness to what we tell them. So for them to grow happy I have to be the best example.

Happiness is something pursued by all. How do we obtain it? Is there a formula? Is it quantifiable? Can someone always be happy? Sometimes life seems to be on a rewind, going through the same drudgery  motions day in and out. There is also the inevitables of life: hardships, sorrow, separation, arguments, sickness or death of loved ones. This leads to build up of negative emotions such as anxiety, anger, sadness or depression. Happiness is not a constant high, we all get dealt with different cards at different times.

Despite the lows some people are incredibly resilient. These people have such a healthy and positive attitude towards life. They exude calmness, and being around them you think, what is their secret? The conclusion that I keep coming to is that they are just happier people with a naturally better temperament, but I am not sure that it is the answer. Happiness is not an inborn trait, it’s something we all have to work on.

It was interesting to read up on and find so much literature on happiness. It’s definitely a happy task to carry out!  I came across this talk by Tal Ben-Shaha, Positive Psychology: The Science of Happiness that I really connected with. Writing about it gives me a chance to really process the information in my own interpretation (I’ve been listening to it and reflecting for almost a month now) . He lists out 6 lessons which he thinks is the basis for long-lasting happiness.

  1. The permission to be human

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The first lesson is about how we underestimate the power of feeling our feelings. Ben-Shaha describes this as cognitive and emotional flexibility which is expressed abundantly as children but suppressed as we grow into adulthood. He explains that the simplest way of processing any feeling is to observe the feeling, be it anger, jealousy, sadness, etc. This makes sense, most times when we get these negative emotions we act on a whim without really understanding it. It’s natural that we get negative emotions, we don’t have to apologize for that or judge ourselves. It’s when we act negatively we end up resenting ourselves and have bad and sometimes long-lasting repercussions to it. So rather than act at a whim its better to understand the feeling and then act accordingly. To understand it we first need to give ourselves permission to feel it fully.

A Technique for Feeling Painful Feelings summarizes helpful techniques by therapist and author Tina Gilbertson, in her book Constructive Wallowing: How to Beat Bad Feelings By Letting Yourself Have Them on how to feel and let go of negative feelings in a positive way.

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2. Simplify

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I can relate to this so much. I have always thought that the person who multi tasks is the most effective, and the person who has a full schedule is most productive hence more successful and happy. This direction of thought has definitely succeeded in giving me a lot of stress over the years. Once I have started simplifying my life (material, emotional, commitments, etc) I feel so much lighter. I have a smaller wardrobe, cleaner kitchen, clearer living space, and time to do all the small things that makes me happy. Also, I feel more confident in letting go of negative emotions.

3. Meaning and Pleasure

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He goes on to describe the third lesson which says that happiness is sustained when both meaningfulness and pleasure is derived from what we do. The problem is that our goals and actions are very often based on misguided expectations. We look at others and try to emulate their life without realizing what really makes our life meaningful and pleasurable. This results in a pursuit of happiness that comes up short since our association to happiness is based on the wrong things. Happiness is derived from goals that are aligned to OUR personal values, OUR interests and OUR sense of purpose which really differs from person to person. He asks a good questions, How many things in your day-to-day do you do because YOU HAVE to do, or YOU WANT to do?

4. Relationships

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Relationships, be it family, friends or intimate is so important. We are social animals by nature and we crave and thrive in it. But why is it hard to sustain highly successful relationships? One reason, which struck a chord to me discussed by Tal Ben-Shaha is that most people don’t realize the potential that lies in a relationship and tend to give up when expectations are not met easily. According to a research, highly successful relationships are not the most smooth, but consists of both positive and negative experiences. According to him negative experiences such as disagreements and arguments are what immunize and strengthens the relationship and paves a path for growth both personally and in the relationship.

But how do we obtain this? The answer he gives is simple, highlight the positives through the little things such as touch, smile, interest in each other, paying compliments, spending quality time together, flowers and such. More importantly be your authentic self in the relationship, express yourself freely, be assertive, expose your fears and insecurities, share symbiotically in a respectful way. If we are able to overcome the short-term hurdles however hard it seems we are able to reach a point where apparently even sex gets immensely better over time in a marriage.

5. Mind-Body Connection

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In lesson 5, Tal Ben-Shaha describes the importance of mind-body connection in terms of exercise, prayer, meditation and mindfulness living. What I gathered from this part of the talk is that exercise is a physical must that we as human beings need. It is a basic need in the pyramid of happiness, because not exercising is going against the natural state of being human. He highlights how as human beings we are wired to be physically active and when we go against it by being inactive it will leave its mark both of the body and mind.

A research by Duke university studied clinically depressed people over a period of 10 months, where results show that exercise treatment had the same effect on recovering depression as to strong antidepressant medication. Also the group of people who continued exercising after 10 months had lower levels of depression relapse than the people who took medication. This is an interesting study which shows just how connected our mind and body is.

He also highlighted the importance of mindful prayer in our everyday life. Even prayer is fast tracked in our busy life. Prayer is a time where we need to focus on words and observe, reflect and be grateful for all of God’s blessings.

6. Focus on the Positive

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If we really open our eyes and ears and look around we see things to be grateful about all around. How do we incorporate a sustainable state of mind that is grateful and not take life for granted.

There is no denying that the world is full of negativity, and there are negative emotions in every relationship and every person. But Ben-Shaha adds that there are also wonderful things in every person, every relationship and every circumstance. He emphasises that the key to gratefulness is to learn to appreciate those wonderful things however small or big. He says “…when we appreciate something we don’t just express gratitude for it we also appreciate it in the other sense. Just like money appreciates we make it grow and we bring more good things to our life”. He also adds that the key here is to do it regularly and mind fully.

He talks about keeping a gratitude journal where he writes in every night about the big and small things he is grateful about. Simple things like what he ate, where he visited and the bigger things like being grateful to Allah, being grateful for the blessing of a family and good health. Studies also show that gratitude journals even if its five-minute a day ,can increase our well-being in the long-term by more than 10 percent which is the same impact as doubling our income.

Being mind fully grateful has been something that has elevated my well-being over the past year. I have learnt to catch myself when I am in a negative thought spiral and turn it around to think about all the good in my life. But maybe it’s time to kick it up a notch and learn to practice being grateful on a more regular basis.

Keep Calm, Its Girls day out

“Cinderella never asked for a prince. She asked for a night off and a dress”, Keira Cass

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All photos by thoodles
It’s no secret that becoming a mother often makes us lose a bit of ourselves despite the priceless joy that it brings. We tend to develop a new identity in the role of a mother and revel in it to the point that we forget our own self identity. The fun-loving, self indulgent and happy go lucky girl slowly chips away. What remains is the shell of a woman that you used to be, trying to perfect every role that is expected of you. We take it on happily and all too eagerly. And why not? Becoming a mother is an honor and a privilege. The problem is when we lose sight of ourselves.

This is why it is so important to have other women in your life as friends. While it’s not always easy to build or maintain friendships it is not something worth overlooking. How Friendship Affects Your Physical & Mental Health describes the impact of friendships on health and well-being; “Good friendships have a myriad of benefits, such as increased feelings of belonging, purpose, increased levels of happiness, reduced levels of stress, improved self-worth and confidence.”  Many such studies also show the positive effects women have on other women when they spend time together. This is why the occasional girls night out is priceless. A girls night out is not about detailing how the baby is ahead in their milestones or painstakingly describing the color of their poo while they were sick (something I may do). It is about reminding yourself just how important you are in addition to blowing off some steam. It is all about some girly, indulgent time to rebuild your own self.

Personally, I am on a journey to reclaim myself. That is why it was so welcome and pleasing when some friends organized a pamper party to celebrate the pending arrival of our baby girl. What did the pamper party entail? A spa corner, an afternoon tea, handcrafted photo props, a great movie (so appropriate because it was about a woman becoming empowered) and just amazing company.

The spa corner was just so elegant and extravagant, that a girl just cannot help herself. I did a rosewater face cleanse, baking soda exfoliation, sandal wood face mask and finished it by a layer of natural yogurt for moisture. I also got my nails polished by a beauty queen! My nail polish has started to chip away but the feeling and memory of beautiful peach nail polish on my nails will remain a luxurious keepsake.

According to Irene S. Levine, Ph.D., creator of The Friendship Blog “Other women also shape us as people. Our female friends provide virtual mirrors that allow us to see who we are and whom we want to become,”. Never have these words rung so true to me than this phase of my life. I look up to other women, I am encouraged and motivated by women and spending time with them gives me a new and improved perspective to just about everything.

Have a look at these mouth watering treats! Cheesecakes, panna cotta’s, eclairs and chocolaty heaven to feed the soul. Savoury treats included dainty sandwiches, salmon bites, rolls and wraps too pretty to eat and our own beloved gulha and havaadhuleebis. What was most amazing is not just the taste but the impeccable beauty of it. That’s what I love in a woman, they are not just the sexier beings but they are also capable of almost anything.

The anxiety that creeps in when I imagine having two under two in few months is definitely under wraps. Why? Because I had a girls day out and it reminded me of the beauty of being a woman and what we are capable of.