“Depression”

Around this time last year, I had been struggling with a major episode of depression (and anxiety).

[Sometimes I feel concerned that I may be sharing excessive facets of myself and my life on this blog of mine. But I sincerely believe that these things must be talked about, therefore I suppose this is a risk I am willing to take.]

Overpowering suicidal urges, piercing and burning pains throughout one’s head, issues with focus and memory, an unmatchable feeling of exhaustion. For roughly two months straight, my entire existence felt like one giant walking panic attack. Nervous lump in throat, heart always pounding, not able to truly be ‘here’ at all.

Some people chose to think that I had been making it all up, or that I myself had chosen to be in such a difficult state. I can assure you, nobody at all would ever choose to go through such things. In truth, I think I am a rather optimistic person. I am especially fond of the idea of persevering; of… mountain-climbing. And I know that neither anxiety nor depression, nor bipolar, nor all these other mental health conditions, are indicative of any sort of personal failure. Some people can make it all the more difficult, though: by being ignorant, or even angry towards you, when all you are trying to do is get better.

All in all, I do not feel as though the terms we commonly ascribe to these conditions are that useful or… accurate. Because we use the term “depressed” to describe both the impossibly challenging neurological condition (which, often, like a 20-foot-tall dark monster, appears out of nowhere, and brings to your being the most pain you have ever known) and the reactive emotional states of misery/sorrow, alike. Same with ‘anxiety’. If anything, the phrase ‘atrophy of the mind’ might be most fitting when it comes to Depression (that severe inexplicable type that would appear to plague certain families, I mean: there is undoubtedly a genetic element to it). And, since the mind and body are so deeply integrated with one another, mental atrophy is something that every millimetre of you comes to feel.

Mental atrophy is: disorientation, and it is extreme fatigue. It is wanting, desperately, to know why, yet discovering that none of it can be rationalised, reallyIt is the seeming decay of one’s mind, before one’s very own… mind. Suicidal thoughts, pounding voices; a feeling of poison being injected into both sides of one’s brain. Headaches, body aches, wanting to eat too much, or wanting to starve oneself (without actually…wanting to). All I can say is that it is the worst thing I have ever known.

And, Alhamdulillah, for me, in this moment, it is nowhere near as bad as it used to be. [It is barely even here!] But I sort of want to really hold onto my knowledge of the severity of the formerly quite intense experience. I want to remember how important it is, to truly be there for anybody who tells me they are suffering from one of these diseases of the mind. I want to remember how important it is, that we work together to find true solutions. To mental atrophy; to other mind-generated ‘implosions of the self’, including anorexia, complex-PTSD (etc.)…

And, perhaps a better term for ‘anxiety’ (i.e., the disorder) would be… ‘life-destroying fear’. [What am I afraid of, though? There is no explanation. Such things, one finds, cannot be intellectualised]. And it all comes out of nowhere, and it will not let you sleep at night, or rest during the day. Everything in your head flips, upside-down, and your whole universe is sinking. Total suffocation, and… nobody else can hear it.

“There is no disease that Allah has created, except that He also has created its treatment.”

Muhammad (SAW), Sahih Hadith

Right now, it would appear as though most of the ‘treatments’ humanity has found, for these neurological/mental health conditions are… woefully experimental. Trial and error. Unsure of themselves. A mind-numbing pill here, some talking therapy there. And, on the whole, there is this emphasis on ‘managing’ the conditions, not necessarily on trying to resolve them, once and for all.

There is so much to learn about mental diseases; so much stigma to work on eradicating. And there is a cure, out there somewhere; not merely one that dulls all feelings, causing patients to walk around like apathetic robots [this, along with intense sickness and insomnia, had been one of the terrifying side effects of a particular medicine I had been prescribed]. There is much to be learnt about; much to be found.

Indubitably, there is a significant ‘biological’/neurological component to consider. Mental health disorders are evidently quite hereditary by nature. I wonder if the theories pertaining to ‘inherited trauma’ are true. Or, perhaps, it is something about the nervous systems of particular individuals that renders us more susceptible to… being so badly affected by stress? 

If stress (and stress-based conditions like Generalised Anxiety Disorder and PTSD) are analogous to a bushfire, then what we term Depression is the aftermath of the destructive blaze: a mental forest that has been burnt to the ground. Bare and seemingly utterly destroyed. So, some key questions that arise might be: 1) What, exactly, makes certain forests more flammable than others? Overactive minds? Larger amygdalas? 2) Just how does stress manage to affect so many mental faculties at once? 3) How best can we make the ground fertile and good again; how can we rebuild those forests that had been lost to the flames?

And, how can we prevent fires that occur in the ‘more flammable’ forests from becoming massive and destructive ones, in the first place? I think emotional intelligence undoubtedly needs to come into play, here. Especially if a child, for example, might have a high genetic predisposition to Depression, his or her emotional needs should really be looked after, at home. A little bit of emotional nurture can go a long way. Sadly, in some families in which the levels of predisposition to mental illness are high, adults can be extremely dismissive of, and even abusive towards, children. Thus, ‘the forest’ is quick to catch on fire, and quick to burn right to the ground.

Does stress always precede mental atrophy? [When it comes to ‘endogenous’ Depression, those who suffer from it more often than not also suffer from one or more anxiety disorders, OCD, etc.] Is the condition, then, in concise terms, a holistic and ongoing sense of exhaustion? 

[Stress (as a result of life events) is typically the factor that ‘realises’ mental health conditions in people, though some have a particularly strong genetic predisposition to them. This is explained by the ‘Diathesis-Stress Model’]

“I have Depression.”

“…Oh. Why don’t you try thinking more positively?”

“No I mean, I suffer from the neurological condition that is commonly referred to as ‘Depression'”

“Oh. You should exercise more! No matter what you do, though, do not take medication. You can sort this out by going jogging, and by eating more fruit and veg, and drinking water. Also, have you tried meditation?

“Well, —”

“You should go and spend time with your family members more. And cheer up! Smile more! Stop being miserable. There is so much to smile about! I feel sad too sometimes, you know! I normally just get some ice-cream, watch a movie or something, and it goes away.  It’s all about emotional resilience! Everyone goes through what you’re going through, you know…”

“It’s not like that. I don’t —

Never mind…”

There are ‘biological’ things to be considered, when it comes to Anxiety and Depression, and related disorders, certainly. But, what is unique about mental health is that there are also spiritual, social, and emotional things to consider. The way in which our societies are organised, and how they function. Stresses, and stress relief. And, just how accurate might, for example, Freudian views on such things, be?

https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2016/apr/19/depression-awareness-mental-illness-feel-like

An “implosion of the self”, a flood of leaden waters. And you cannot stop them.

So if/when somebody tells you that they suffer from, say Depression: please try not to dismiss them. When it comes to family members and friends; when it comes to your ‘boys’ who may even laugh off their own experiences of it. I hope you do not attempt to speak over them, or to look past them.

I hope you try to look into their eyes, and try to be there for them; try to really listen.


Sadia Ahmed J., 2020 

Olive Tree

Motion, motion, with little time and space for reflection. Trains zooming into view; people hurry on, hurry off. Many of them, there seems to be a little something that their eyes are missing, if I am honest. Dragon eyes, as some might refer to them. Head bent towards phone, top buttons done up, and I wonder if I could ever consider living like this forever. The thrum of the city. Industry, hyper-everything. Something about the energy in the air; something about the way the people walk and do things and speak to one another, around here.

I don’t think I could do it. I’d say there are levels to this: there are the ones who go to work at these tall glass buildings, caught between walls, ever so professional. And then, there are those who live in more… rural areas. Where the natural world is allowed to be more of a priority, maybe: where human life is seen as being a little less dispensable, a little more… sacred.

And, yes, I am generalising hugely here, but have you seen their eyes, by contrast? Something a little purer about them, maybe. Something slower, more reflective, about the way they do things. Walk their dogs as the sun rises, feel the warmth of jumpers and cups of coffee in their hands. Know their neighbours, and know them well. Honour the trees just as they should be honoured, and the geese, and the robins, and pieces of paper on hardy wooden desks, and the sky.

We humans do not fare so well, when we are made to live in zoos, treated in ways that run contrary to how we need to be treated. Enclosed, and smoggy, doing work for the sake of work for the sake of… I know, I know: I am being rather dramatic, here. But these are just my views.

The next level, perhaps, after the ‘rural’ one, is the one that I have been thinking about the most, these days. And I cannot seem to recall who said this to me, or if I had read this somewhere, perhaps — about how some of the most content people in the world that one could possibly meet are the people who make bread near Al-Aqsa Masjid, in Jerusalem. Contentment: make their bread; walk atop those gorgeous cobbled streets under olive tree sun; beckon to the call for prayer five times daily; laugh and eat with their friends and neighbours. It is not “more” that they are ever-in-pursuit-of: it is “enough”. Smile, and smile, footsteps gentle, hearts at ease.

Noble people, I imagine, the ones who live in such a way. Noble, but, to ignorant eyes, maybe not ‘civilised’ enough. Their gentle smiles, their cleanness of clothes and manners, their generosity. Tell me, how is this not ‘civilised’ enough, for you?

These lives: lives in which spirituality might form the lifeblood. For better, and for worse. In which it is firmly acknowledged that if “enough” is not “enough” now, then there will simply never be an “enough”; one might just carry one’s own greed and soul-centred disquietudes to one’s grave.

People first, and worshippers of God — and labourers or whatever else, only second. The Earth is shared, and neither industry nor arrogance, nor any of these substitute names we seem to have generated for them, can replace what it is we seek.

I have never been to Jerusalem myself, though it has always been a dream of mine to go there. But I have come across some very spiritual people (spiritual-in-a-worldly-way people, I mean — not necessarily monks who live alone in the mountains) in places like Istanbul. Cities seemingly designed with holistic humanity in mind, and not centred on speed and mere ‘productivity’.

A lady sitting outside a shop — her workplace — painting. Arabic calligraphy, and with such flow and skill. I asked her where she had learnt to paint like that. Art school, she told me. She told me she was going to be an architect (or, something along these lines) but opted for this job instead. She figured it would bring more “Baraket” (blessing) to her life. She looked rather content, and had a distinctive glimmer in her eyes. And the sun, and the sun, as well as what we, here in the city, might refer to as being this gorgeous sense of…  ‘simplicity’. But, no: it is not they who are ‘simple’. It is simply we who have learned to be too much, so utterly far away from ourselves.

Contentment of the heart, and spiritual connection — and all its different branches. And living life, and really feeling like you are here, on this Earth, doing so.

Being. And not being overtaken by things like greed or pride, or petty wraths or envies. Instead: bread, and friendship. Prayer, and comfort, and meaningful work, and adventure. And not too much, and not too little. Gentle, and known, and held, without feeling a need to be loud, and to then be louder.

Enough. And whatever the stuff of ‘every day’ looks like for us, this will likely make up every one of these days of ours. Wherever one is, it is one’s mind that all is filtered through: it is only the soul that experiences. And there is no dress rehearsal for this life: these are the days that we have been given,

and these are exactly how we are spending them.

 

“Rather, true wealth is the richness of the soul.”

— Muhammad (SAW), Sahih Hadith

 


Sadia Ahmed J., 2020 

Shades of Reality

I am almost certain that I have already said the following numerous times before, but:

is the human mind not… just the most fascinating thing ever?!

We just become so accustomed to our own realities; we can very easily fall into the trap of thinking that everyone else sees the world, and thinks, in the same ways that we find we do.

I know of some people who don’t have an inner monologue, for example; some of them do not ‘live inside their own heads’ at all, cannot ‘dissociate’ from whatever is immediately surrounding them, retreating inwards. They do not really form emotional attachments to past happenings; they do not idealise the future. They live very much in the present; nothing in their heads instructs them to do otherwise. Knowledge of this came as a shock to me, truly. My inner monologue is pretty much always there. I can recall, during a certain phase in my life for instance, being able to visualise words as I thought them, as I spoke to myself internally.

Some people can conjure up, in their ‘mind’s eye’, distinctive scents. On command, they can remember, bring into being via their own minds, the exact smell of freshly-baked cookies, or of perfume. Some people can visualise actual 3D things, in such vivid ways. I find this absolutely fascinating. When I think of something – say, an apple, I know what an apple is, and what it looks like. But when I try to close my eyes and visualise an apple, I sort of only remember… a ‘feeling’ of what it looks like. I have what might be classified as being ‘aphantasia’. Many others do not have this: they can visualise things powerfully, and to their hearts’ content!

Everybody thinks in different ways. Some people’s thought processes work quicker than others. Some are given to experiencing vivid daydreams. Some always have music playing in the back of their minds. Some seek poetry in everything. Some think more logically, more mathematically. Some are more creative: imagining things beyond themselves. Some are more analytical, able to quickly make links between things and identify patterns. And some are more practical: they have things like better spatial awareness, among other things (an ability that I truly lack, as evidenced in my inability to be better than a six-year-old, at Fortnite).

The ways in which you process the world are so, so different to how others do. 

From the uniqueness of how the photoreceptors in your eyes work together, to the uniqueness of every single memory and frame of reference you have gathered over your lifetime… Cognitive frameworks, and then there are also different neurological conditions to consider.

I mean, did you know that some people view the entire world as a series of individual pictures – snapshots, as if time works differently for them! Some people see the world, usually following a very traumatic experience, as if it were all a series of comic-book-like sketches. We assign all these different names to these general conditions, attempt to collect and categorise: dissociation, depersonalisation, derealisation, depression. OCD, ADHD, and the like.

But, we are all experiencers of our own realities, and this, while we are necessarily outsiders when it comes to others’ realities. We can only use our words, really, to try to understand where others’… entire worlds… are coming from.

But language, also, is by nature limited when it comes to the matter of attempting to describe our realities. Because when I think of a ‘tree’, for example, the word signifies the thing itself. But I will only know of the thing itself what have seen – experienced – of it. No human being knows what a tree looks like ‘objectively’ – without our ocular and mental filters…

[In the middle of writing this, I am reminded of things like the Blue/Gold dress. And about the fact that some people may have acute phobias towards things that I may adore. Because we are, each of us, the sum total of our own cells, ensuing cognitive processes, experiences…]

Moreover, when a person who suffers from depression tells you they suffer from depression, perhaps, by reflex, you encourage them to make some lifestyle choices, to try to ‘shake it off’. You may not realise that depression, if I may use this limited tool that is my language, is a disease of the mind. It is absolutely not the same as reactive sadness. It is an insidious disease, ravaging, and it can tinge an entire reality with an inexplicable darkness, an ongoing feeling of grief and mourning, the feeling of one’s brain being trapped inside of a fiery cauldron. You know how, generally, feelings can be said to be borne from thoughts? The thing about depression is that, often, the (afore-described) feeling comes first. And you may find yourself at a loss, trying to explain them.

Reactive sadnesses may have a ‘why’. Sometimes people refer to these reactive sorrows as ‘depression’. But the thing about depression is, it tends to be scary in how unconditional it is.

What happens is that people often respond from a place of ignorance when it comes to things like this. They demand explanations, yet when explanations are offered to them, they sort of impose their own mental realities onto others’.

You and I are not the same. I cannot see things precisely how you do: this is impossible. And you cannot see things how I do. The very best we can do is to talk to others; to read things borne from others’ minds. Bridges, you see, are (semi-)built through words. But the complete realities of what they represent… well, these remain a secret to all of us outsiders. They can only be known by the experiencer. And, on this Earth today, there are roughly seven billion different (human) experiencers, roughly seven billion different human realities, different eyes looking out into different worlds, and coming to some very different conclusions about all of it…

Subhan Allah. 

  • Some very cool questions to ask people: How do you think? How do you see the world? Do you have an inner monologue? If I were to tell you to visualise, say, an apple, right now, what goes on inside your mind?

Sadia Ahmed J., 2020 

Tomorrow

Dear friend,

The nature of Truth is such that it is (meant to be) for the one who experiences it, utterly transformative. And this is true equally when it comes to matters of friendship, and of love, selfhood, and, indeed, when it comes to matters of Truth itself. This is what True things tend to do: they aid with the clarification of muddied waters.

When Truth arrives, it has this tendency to strike you rather like lightning, to take you by surprise. And when what is Real becomes, well, realised… usually, all the surrounding noise tunes out; the static ceases to be. One’s focus tends to sharpen, while what is peripheral gradually fades out of view.

But how can we get there, in the first place ⁠— to the embracing of what truly matters, and to the dissolution of all that does not?

Each of us has our own life story (as well as the various splinter stories that the ‘bigger pictures’ are comprised of), and a life story that I find particularly fascinating is that of my uncle.

When he was younger, he had been something of a ‘gangster’. He had come to this country at the age of fifteen. All the girls had wanted him – the white ones and the Bengali ones, alike – apparently. And I used to listen to such stories, thinking this was likely something of a massive exaggeration, but no: I have heard the same things from the mouths of his sisters (my mother and my aunt) who had attended secondary school with him, and from others who had grown up with him ⁠— including my friend’s mum, who insists that, yes, all the girls (including, rather disgustingly, some of his own cousins) had been after him, but not her: she just used to find him annoying (and still does, apparently).

My uncle used to get into a lot of intense fights. While the ladies used to find themselves completely infatuated with him, some of the boys around him had not been, towards him, so open and welcoming. They used to hurl insults at him ⁠— “freshie” and the like. And thus arose a number of bloodied fistfights, one of which had resulted in my uncle’s dismissal from his part-time job at PC World. One time, a certain conflict with a certain man (which concerned his sister) led to his eventual use of … fire. Let’s just leave it at that.

Sometimes, when I listen to all these stories about my uncles and aunts ⁠— about who and how they had been when they were younger ⁠— I wonder what it would be like for them, now, to sit with a former version of themselves. How much does ‘now’ they know, compared to ‘then’ they? And how much would they be able to relate to one another?

My uncle, for example, is nothing like this past version of him that I constantly hear about. He has probably retained the ‘popularity’ element to some extent ⁠— it would appear as though most people I come across know, or know of, him.

I guess you could say that he grew up. And he changed – as it is in human nature to do. We are not, not at all, set in stone. [I mean, without these scopes for change and for the allowance of complexity, what, really, is the point?!]

What I like is that his story reminds me of that beautiful quote from ‘The Curious Case of Benjamin Button’:

“For what it’s worth: it’s never too late or, in my case, too early to be whoever you want to be. There’s no time limit; stop whenever you want. You can change or stay the same; there are no rules to this thing. We can make the best or the worst of it. I hope you make the best of it. And I hope you see things that startle you. I hope you feel things you never felt before. I hope you meet people with a different point of view. I hope you live a life you’re proud of. If you find that you’re not, I hope you have the courage to start all over again.”

It was almost like my uncle had chosen to live his youth again – but in a different way – from the age of thirty, onwards. His own children noticed the change in him; it had been a noticeable shift. Perhaps the first and most significant of his life changes had been his coming to Truth, at the age of twenty-five, or so. But even thereafter, his relationship with Islam had been (noticeably) ever-changing.

He had started off, maybe, by adhering to a version of the Deen that had been quite strict, quite rules-orientated. But the point of this religion is not to lose one’s spirit. It is, rather, to hone the soul, and to cherish it.

My uncle had always resented the fact that he never had the chance to go to university. But, throughout his twenties and his thirties, he had made sure to spend a great deal of time educating himself.

I distinctively remember his bookshelf from over a decade ago, for example. Filled with books on Islam, on the hijab, on Christianity; he even had his own annotated copy of the Bible.

I think, what is nice is that nobody really thinks of him as who he had been way back then, anymore. He is no longer the pugnacious and thrill-seeking ladies’ man he had once been popularly known as; he had wanted to change some things, and so he decided to actually do so.

And the beauty of it all is that, throughout this journey, while some things of ours will necessarily change, some things will stay the same, but in differing ways. For example, now my uncle chases thrills and adrenaline rushes through climbing mountains and through braving 3G swings and the like. He drives up to Scotland at least six times a year. He travels quite a lot, and learns some pretty cool things every time he does. The University of Life, as he is known to call it.

He takes his wife on picnics; these days, they act like they are two eighteen-year-olds in love… after twenty-one years of being married to one another! A relationship is the coming-together of two people. And, firstly, people are ever-changing entities. Secondly, it is not the job of another person to complete you. A relationship is the coming-together of two complete-in-and-of-themselves, ever-changing individuals. Symbiosis; allowing the other to lean on you, and you lean on them too.

And if, day by day, people are changing, it must necessarily follow that, day by day, interpersonal relationships change too. Sometimes for better, and sometimes for worse.

We ought to be defined, in the popular sense, not by what we may have done, nor by what people may say of us, nor by anything else other than what we (present tense) do. What we are choosing to do now. 

So, with that information, dear friend, I say, very well then, perhaps we ought to see this day, today, as being Day Zero.

And tomorrow shall be

 

Day One.

The clocks have turned; we have flipped all the calendars. We have chosen to begin right wherever we may be now.

And if you are, say, twenty years old while reading this, then you are roughly 7,300 days old.

7,300 days ago, you popped outta the womb, so to speak, and you said hello to the world, all red-faced and confused, presumably.

And if you are to live to the age of eighty, then there are roughly 21,900 days left, for you, here. Such a vast amount of time, and yet, such a small one. 21,900 days left – if even this much – until you reach the gates of eternity.

 

Dear friend,

Where are you going; where are you trying to go? And which people are you trying to follow, to get there?

What are you going to do with these days that remain – that remain untouched by you, thus far? And will you, perhaps, give yourself a try? I so hope that you do. I hope you chase your passions like the wind chases the leaves. I hope you sleep very well tonight; that there is something beautiful in every new day, for you.

Perhaps it is time to part with a lot of these preconceived notions of ourselves, and of the world around us, too.

You will find that there is very little use in renewing one’s sorrows, by looking backwards too often. And there is so much good that may come from having Sabr and from praying one’s Salah, today. Pray for today, and for tomorrow, and for your Ākhirah. Learn, I guess, to wave goodbye to good – and bad – days that have now passed you by. And remember that all old chapters had been relatively new, once. But they had only been allowed to happen, via change. Via some necessary goodbyes. Like… goodbye to the womb; hello to the world. Goodbye to always being at home; hello to Nursery [where, apparently, I kicked and screamed at my teacher on my first day. I tried to escape, a few times. Separation anxiety, I guess]

One educational experience ends. A new one takes its place; a new place, for a newer version of you. One friendship ends. You change, and they change. Maybe you will meet again, at some point soon. But, in the meantime, may Allah bless you with the most beautiful connections, and ones that truly nurture your being and your growth; Ameen.

 

What I think I have realised about Life, by now, is that it tends to give rise to periods of action (which, yes, can be good or bad) followed by periods of… relative inactivity, transitional phases. But there are some golden threads, we may find, that can be weaved through all of these days. It begins at Fajr, and continues with the intentional cherishing of all of the ‘small’ things. The ‘little’ ones ⁠— those timelessly valuable ones. The ones that actually make it all worthwhile, I suppose.

You have got to remember that, in reality, in your reality, your own mind and spirit are all there is. Your field of vision, what you see, and how you process it all. That is all there is, for you. Objective truth, which is from Allah, and then, the truth of you, the experiencer.

It is hard to allow yourself to end certain chapters in your story, I know. And it can feel like time is stealing you away from yourself; like the ground beneath you is about to give way, any time soon. But, no, it is not. It is not going to give way. You are safe, and you are going towards some things that

you are not quite able to put your finger on, just yet. But there will be awe, and laughter, and butterflies. Afternoon naps, perhaps, and sleepless nights. You will not be here forever. You will not live here forever; you will not look just like this, nor think just like this, forever. Who knows whom you might turn out to be, after, say, 1,000 of these days?!

And Day Zero could be today; Day One tomorrow. 

One of the most important things to bear in mind is the notion of authenticity. Hypocrisy is a scary thing, and it is a disease of the spirit that seems to affect so many. Analogous to people always auditioning for roles that they do not actually ever play. Blindly pandering to others’ expectations; obediently cutting out parts of oneself due to perceived criticisms. I would personally say that this – hypocrisy, irony – is the biggest ill that plagues numerous Desi communities, today.

It gives rise to misery; it allows for the concealment of abuse behind closed doors; it makes us lose trust in various things, from very young ages. Well, with all due respect, I say, fudge that!

I do not wish to live an infallible life: I want to live a real one.

We want to make our days count, somehow, don’t we? We fight with consciousness; we look for love. We eat food that sustains us; our slumbers take us someplace else. We want to own things; we fear death so. But fear not. It is all just an unwinding story; maybe it won’t all make sense right now. The ways of today will not be the ways of forever.

We are, each of us, divinely-decided souls, coupled with limited compilations of breaths. Inhale, exhale. We lose a little part of ourselves each and every time we do so. But we also gain, as time runs forth, through loving and through learning.

In living, dear caterpillar, one must not forget to dream; do look up at the sky, from time to time. Oh, and in dreaming, little butterfly, one must not forget to live; look down at your feet, too. These days are passing you by, surely. And, in you, there is such potential; doubt it not. The yous of yesterday are long gone.

So I ask you now, dear friend, who is the you of today? This is the only version of you that truly counts, right now. And, a question that is completely unanswerable at present: who is the you of tomorrow? 

(And just where will you end up, in the life after this one?)


Sadia Ahmed J., 2020 

The Allostatic Curve

This article has been written at the request of a certain young lady who goes by the name of Tasnim. Therefore, this article is dedicated to a certain young lady who is called…Tasnim. 

 

Stress. That feeling. The biological push, an instinctual thing that urges us to get something done about something. Fight, flight, or freeze.

‘Stress’ is not a bad thing in and of itself. It can be an excellent motivational force, when experienced in moderation. Aside from urgent biological threats (e.g. the intense ‘stress’ we may feel when some threat of physical attack looms before us) we tend to stress about things we care about.

A drive to get things done, always towards some end goal, towards some overarching philosophy. You might experience some stress when thinking about your to-do list. “I need to get these tasks done. Send this email. Check this essay.” Why? “Because the deadlines are coming up. I don’t want to be scolded by my teacher.” Why? “Because I care about my education. It adds some meaning to my life; it is a part of me, and a part that I fear losing.” 

‘Eustress’ (‘good’ stress) is, well, good. Without it, we probably would not do much at all. We would not care about doing things. With eustress (see: the left side of the given curve – a theoretical curve that shows stress that is good; where this peaks; then, where it falls – where the stress becomes more harmful than ‘good’) we are driven to carry out the work-related tasks we need to complete [we care about doing well, about not losing our jobs, about maintaining our social reputations and our self-expectations] and we are also motivated to, for example, pray on time, feed babies on time, and to do things for the people we love.

In our heads, we think about the potential rewards of doing certain things, and about potential negative reinforcements and punishments if we fail to do them. The stress, I believe, comes mostly from the latter. And also from the internal and self-inflicted punishment that may arise, if we end up missing out on the rewards, or if we end up losing certain things – like our jobs, or our statuses, or beloved elements of our identities.

The allostatic curve is probably quite an important thing to bear in mind. It is also probably a very subjective thing: some people work better than others do when under lots of stress. What is represented by the ‘optimum point’ on one person’s curve may be different to that of another person.

And, beyond our optimum points, we can quickly descend into harmful stress: the type that may, for example, result in sleeplessness, psychosomatic pains, and more. The key difference is that eustress tends to result in action and ensuing satisfaction from this action. ‘Bad stress’ – after the optimal point – tends to result in inaction. Worrying so much, for example, that suddenly, stress ends up doing the opposite of what its ‘job’, so to speak, is to do.

Threat, stress, action, resultBut, sometimes, there are no obvious courses of action to take, against certain perceived threats. This is when stress can balloon, multiply; it has nowhere to go, unfortunately. Nowhere to go but everywhere inside of your mind. Somehow, we need to teach ourselves to mentally minimise these particular ‘threats’ – the more abstract ones.

Moreover, I do not think that stress is an inherently bad thing – again, when experienced in moderation – but I do prefer it when there is also a good helping of that other sort of motivational force. Call it passion, maybe. Stress may make us worry about letting a friend down when they have tasked us with something, because we do not want to disappoint them; we do not want to compromise the friendship in any way. But that other type [passion?] makes us joyfully run towards doing certain things, because we cannot wait to see the smile on their face when we do this thing for them. Yes, stress is about the avoidance of negative reinforcements, driven by thoughts of negativity. Passion is about positive reinforcements – about a drive towards gaining something, maybe a new lovely experience.

Doing things towards love and towards a want to be appreciated: I do not think these forces count as being ‘stress’-based ones. Also: simply enjoying the process. Stress may drive you towards completing work-based tasks and such [which is great when in moderation – if it helps you to get the required things done, on time, and if it prevents all those potential negative consequences from eventuating]. But passion will make you enjoy the process, too!

Furthermore, I came across an interesting idea [I forget where I came across it, though, as I tend to do] that general considerations concerning the allostatic curve ought to be reflected in one’s day. The calm part in the morning, some eustress – preparing you, building up, for an optimum point. This might be during midday, when we should aim to be the most productive. And then, wind down time. It is certainly a bad idea, for instance, to put pressure on oneself to experience one’s optimal performance immediately, right at the start of one’s day, or right before one intends to go to sleep…

So, the allostatic curve then. A wonderful idea, and something that is very useful to think about, especially right now, in a busy world driven, so it would seem, by freneticism and stress. The health component, and the passion one, ought to be deeply considered, too.


Sadia Ahmed J., 2020 

On Vessels and Causation

What is a ’cause’? According to the OED, this term refers to “a person or thing that gives rise to an action, phenomenon, or condition”. It must be noted that something [thing A] preceding something else [thing B] does not render A the (ultimate, first) cause of B. For example, at train stations in London, the tannoys blare out the words, “Mind the gap” before swathes of passengers exit the carriages. Does this mean that the tannoy’s repetitive words have caused the passengers to depart the train? No. These are just different components of a certain chain of causation: the respective thoughts in the passengers’ heads (e.g. “This is my stop”, “If I don’t get off here, I won’t get to work on time”, etc) give rise to certain actions – like preparatorily getting up from their seats, and gathering near the doors. The ultimate cause of the passengers’ collective departure is intentionality. But what is the cause of this ability to funnel thoughts into intentions, and later into actions?

Well, one could argue that the physiology of the human brain gives way to the functionings of the human mind – rather like technological hardware being a point of projection for technological software – like, say, apps on iPhones. What can we narrow such functionings down to? Decision-making arguably takes place in the human frontal lobe. So can we point to this segment of the brain and say that it is the cause of certain actions? But we can delve deeper: what is the cause of our decision-making capacities arguably dwelling in this part of our brains? The interactions between certain cells? The brain’s inner electrical happenings? Can we magnify this all and state that the atoms that form certain cells, which consequently form this part of our brains, is the cause of intention-fuelled human actions? What about considerations of the sub-atomic level? What about the level on which everything can arguably just be reduced to energy? Can we look at any individual human being’s intentional actions, and say, “energy, man. Energy was the cause“. 

And what was the cause of this energy? The process of creation requires a sense of will – whether this is a direct and calculated will or not. Something needs some sort of motivation in order to do something else. Should we go on to say that base-level energy is the ultimate creative force; the Cause; the Cause with a Will, which translated into the materialisation and fruition of everything? 

The universe – and all the caused processes it accommodates (from the gestation of mammals in wombs, to the controlling of the tide by the moon, to gravity, to… [and so on]) had a beginning. This is undeniable. Things do not give birth to themselves: this is a logical fallacy. The Big Bang [Sheldon says “Bazinga!” here] had a cause; otherwise, it would not have occurred. But was energy the cause, or was God the cause? But energy does not do anything unless it is made to do something – by some external force. It is not conscious; it does not have a will.

Surely, then, God is the most logical explanation – the Islamic, Qur’anic conceptualisation of Him? A Rabb [a complex and multifaceted Arabic term that describes the Creator]? Self-sufficient; He does not require a cause. In fact, He is not in need of anything [and this is truly difficult for we extremely needy beings to ever comprehend]. Eternal. The Cause. The Unmoved Mover. The One who is totally unlike His creation.

Does energy have a brain, in order to make these decisions in the first place? But then again, we must bring the following into question: is the brain the cause of human thought and intentionality, or is it merely a vessel? Uniquely human traits – like the ability to make art; the ability to love so deeply; the ability to write; the ability to create; to think – can we not see all our abilities (so boundless and yet so limited) as diluted subsets of Divine qualities? What is the cause of love? Mere neuro-chemical cocktails? But what if these, too, are just vessels – the ways, vehicles, through which Divine qualities pass through, and into the material realm? And eyesight? At which level can we look at our eyes beneath microscopes, and say, “Aha! The ultimate cause of eyesight!”

We find letters in letterboxes. This does not render the letterbox the cause of the letter. Likewise, we find the ostensible ‘origins’ of certain functions within certain bodily organs (etc). Are these organs the (unguidedcauses of said functions? This is all just something to think about; something through which one may cause oneself to have an existential crisis, on the spot…

 

The Stars in the Darkness

Warning: this is perhaps one of the cheesiest articles I have ever written

I struggle to understand why depression seems to strike so many of the most sincere people I know- the people with the greatest, kindest souls. Perhaps it is a question of spectral binaries: the people with the most intense light within them also, unfortunately, have the most acute darkness within them, too. For them, existence is not just existing: it is a never-ending battle between light and darkness. There are days- entire months sometimes- when their emotions are pervaded by this darkness. It results in feelings of deflation and hopelessness, like nobody cares about them, and like everything they do is wrong.

Depression does not strip people of the colours of their personality; rather, it shrouds their vibrancy in heavy coats of grey. But they are still the same people underneath. Observers looking in from the outside might mistake their sullen behaviours for obnoxiousness or a lack of gratitude. In reality, depression is overwhelming, and uncontrollable. It arrives unexpectedly, and remains for indefinite amounts of time. The least you can do for friends who are facing the demons of depression by themselves is offer to listen to them, and to do whatever you can in order to aid their recovery. Do not let them face it alone.

The solution to the problem is not as simple as changing one’s routines, or ‘loving oneself’, without really knowing how to. But there are a few things that might assist in lifting some of the heavy manacles that mental illnesses impose: firstly, extracting the weeds that inhibit the growth of your figurative garden. By this, I mean, try to get away from toxic people and habits; the things that broke you simply cannot be the things that fix you. Your body, your life and your mind belong to you, and you hold the power to design and live a life you truly love. Things might seem hopeless now, but at least you still have yourself. You don’t need to be strong all the time, and your life does not always have to be structured or in the pursuit of great ‘success’. I hope that you come to give yourself credit for every little thing you have done, and every difficult day that you have managed to get yourself through.

It’s okay to cry. It’s okay to cradle your own shaking body and watch your tears spill from you. You have been hurt, and parts of you are still hurting. Maybe you’ll never be done with healing, but you are here now. You are a survivor, and I am proud of you.

Life is glorious, and this world is still beautiful, but sometimes it gets messy: trust me, I know what chronic sadness feels like. Other people, irrespective of how ‘close’ they might be to you, will never be able to truly comprehend what you are going through, and the workings of your mind. Your thoughts and experiences are your own, but that does not mean that you need to go through difficulties alone. Although your brain might attempt to convince you otherwise, there are people who love you, and who would, from the bottom of their hearts, yearn for your presence if you were gone. When it comes to emotions, to put it crassly, people can suck. They can go for years without writing to you or telling you how much you mean to them, but they still care about you. Besides, your value as a person does not decrease based on others treating you poorly. It’s their loss, not yours.

To quote Logic, “You’re the reason I believe in life”.

You are loved, you are beautiful, and you are doing so, so well. There are billions of stars scattered within your darkness, and I hope that you soon find the strength to see that.


Sadia Ahmed, 2017

Why GCSEs are a problem

Every British student has his or her own story to tell when it comes to the topic of GCSEs. There are the ridiculously bright, organised and perpetually energetic who jump with glee at the thought of endless hours of revision. Then there are the other 99% of the British teen population: the insanely intelligent and unique individuals who are not particularly compatible with the GCSE system of broad memorisation.

This article is dedicated to all of you: the brilliant, creative beings who have been labeled “dumb” or “lazy” due to your reluctance to sit down for hours on end, memorising an abundance of pointless information; the ones currently suffering from anxiety or depression or ADHD, so revision becomes synonymous with torture; the teens whose lives are currently too unstable for them to bear the burden of the responsibility of such a task, and, of course, the model students who suffer endlessly for their grades. I understand you, and I believe in you. You are not stupid or incompetent, and the system has failed you.

“Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.”

To any non-Brits reading this article who are wondering what on Earth GCSEs are, they are a series of examinations fifteen and sixteen-year-olds take here in the UK, across eight to fifteen subjects in total. Most of these tests rely not on creativity, practical skills or logic; they rely primarily on memory retention. Imagine having to memorise subject content (usually about three textbooks of information for each subject) across numerous subjects. Some students have to sit over thirty exams- exams that do not focus on a particular career path, but across a desultory range.

Of course, as a keen socialist, I am all for education- it is the key to success both on a personal and global basis. However, that being said, the GCSE system here in the UK is in desperate need of reform. Not only does it counterproductively dull down intelligence and creativity, it also does little to prepare young individuals for life in the real world, especially in the digital age.

The system has failed to modernise- the constructors of the GCSE system must be unaware of the existence of Google. We do not need to memorise useless dates such as when the NHS Act was introduced, nor do we need to memorise complex algebraic functions or how dust precipitators work. The education of our generation- Generation Alpha- is being placed into the hands of a group of old, incompetent, privileged politicians who are simply making it increasingly difficult for the underprivileged to succeed.

GCSE grades lull high achieving students into a false sense of security and subsequent academic arrogance (which is sometimes absolutely demolished come A-levels) and give underachieving students the false impression that they are stupid and good for nothing. The truth is, not every GCSE Physics student will grow up to become a Physicist, and the same can be said for every other GCSE subject. Everyone excels at something- whether it be painting, baking, engineering or politics- and everyone deserves to be commended for their talents, irrespective of whether or not they were able to bag 10 A*s at GCSE level.

I do not, in any way, believe that GCSEs should be scrapped altogether, however I believe they are in desperate need of reform; the British education system must keep with the times, make learning more accessible and enjoyable (without leaving students with a feeling of perpetual exhaustion and dread), and do a better job at preparing us for the future.


Sadia Ahmed, 2016

Where Youth and Laughter Go

This poem is about the inherent folly of war.


From fighting for  my country, I have learnt

That bombs fall like raindrops,

But so do tears. So does vomit. So does blood.

And the human ego is so

Fragile, yet indestructible.

It finds itself woven subtly

Into uniforms, weapons and empty pledges of empty allegiance.

Looking up at the sooty, dust-filled sky,

I thought it was almost beautiful

How one person flying overhead,

Holds in his hands the limitless power to kill,

To destruct and destroy,

To take our lives and wipe our sins away

And compete against infinity.

Every bullet that slices through the air like a shooting star

Holds the power to slice through a heart,

To bring a man down to his knees and breathe

His very last breath.

To orphan a child, to widow a wife,

To extinguish a thousand hopes, dreams and fears,

To steal a life.

Because war makes us feel powerful- immortal- like gods.

But it reduces men to nothing- to ghosts, not gods, hiding in their own ribcages,

Unsure of what to do-

It’s almost beautiful how men cry too.

In a life where love is the only war we’ve yet to wage,

Where men sit in shallow trenches- shallow graves,

Praying- begging- to see their loved ones again.

They don’t have time to see the irony of it all:

They demolish cities and wreck livelihoods

While they yearn for the comfort of their own families.

Dulce et decorum est, pro patria mori,

Show me where it hurts, and listen carefully:

Listen to how gunshots sound like heartbeats in the distance,

See how the blood that flows whimsically through the veins of the Earth

Has no name, no nation, no personality;

They are fluids of cowardice and terror, of tenderness and humanity.

We are just children, pretending to be men, and I long

To be held again.

To lay roses over the eternal tombs of the fallen, but there are no roses left-

Only shrapnel and shells of men, hollow and bereft.

Slovenly, we shoot for the moon, for the stars, for love, for peace.

But we all end up in the hell

Where youth and laughter go.


Sadia Ahmed, 2016

#TwoMinutePoetryChallenge

I wrote this poem in the space of two minutes and I challenge my readers to do the same.


Look outside.

Are the clouds weeping? Do they share my sorrow?

Or does the world simply go on?

Did the sun rise today? Did the winds still blow?

Did time just carry on as though

Everything is okay?

Did the birds sing this morning? I would not know,

For their symphonies continue to be cancelled out by my desire to hear nothing.

Tell me: did the trees sway in the breeze today? Did they notify you of their reluctance to bear fruit at this hour?

Why must we wait for things? Why do we challenge ourselves to wait to escape?

Patience reflects delusion and a false sense of

Immortality.

Are we all just kidding ourselves?

We are all just kidding ourselves.

Look outside. The clouds are weeping, but they do not share my sorrow.

I am here, encapsulated in a universe that is neither happy nor sad, yet here I am,

Embodying (compensating for)  its lack of happiness and sadness,

All at once.

Like how the clouds gush tears of neutrality, I cry tears of happiness, sadness

and everything in between.

 


Sadia Ahmed, 2016