“It is during our darkest moments that we must focus to see the light.” — Aristotle
Dear Fellow Warrior,
As I noted in my last post, it was my birthday yesterday, as well as the EID holiday for Muslims.
I like to take in these moments to reflect and/or to “hit refresh” on a new year. There has been a lot on my mind, but I will keep this post brief.
I was worried it would be humid, but the summer evening was so beautiful, despite being rainy and cloudy throughout the day. We have been sent good weather today. 🙂 And I decided to stay inside and write this post for you, and for me.
I had a chance to take in the healing power of the water last night, at one of my favorite spots in Washington DC, the Georgetown Waterfront. I wasn’t sure that was where I’d go last night, I allowed my heart to take me where it wanted to go… and I ended up there, naturally. But then I remembered it was a special place for many reasons, including dinner with my parents when they came to visit me in DC, back in December 2008 when I worked at the Embassy of Pakistan for a Fall Semester program during my Masters, and recently for my doctoral graduation hooding ceremony in the winter. I had spent some time there with my sisters and friends in the past. It was the perfect place to return for the special day.
I came here for a few birthdays in the past as well. Actually my 35th birthday as well as my 30th birthday. I remember on my 30th birthday, after watching a movie, I came over to the dock and sat there, next to the water, as tears fell down my cheeks, while I debated whether or not I should jump in. People saw me. No one said anything. No one would have rescued me. I rescued myself that day. … And so many other days, whether I’d tie a rope around my neck, drive and park in front of train tracks, stare in the darkness of waters of a dock, or hold onto a rail on the other side of the bridge railing…etc.
I wanted to title this post “Celebrating your birth when all you think about is your Death.” But I thought that might be a bit too heavy, even though the word “suicide” is a major faux pas especially in my culture.
There would be times I would think I should go forth with the actual “Qurbani” (sacrifice) and be just another martyr for this cause. Maybe then people would believe me. Maybe then people would find a need for collective action in destroying the stigmas. Maybe that was what I was meant to do. Maybe that would be my mark. But I am giving my life too much importance if I call myself the “Qurbani ka Bakarah” or a potential martyr even. Sometimes I feel that the evil eye (burree nazar) is waiting, hoping, waiting for me to accept defeat and surrender.
And sometimes I go into the danger zone of comparison. If I had cancer, would it be any different? Would people have shown up for me in the most important moments of my life, had they known that I accomplished something big despite attempting to beat cancer? It’s dangerous because it’s painful that the answer to this question would be 100% Yes.
The truth is that we either brush off mental illness as something so common that it’s not a big deal, “it’s just in your head,” “she just needs to sleep it off,” or we push the individuals who are visibly suffering from their invisible illness or who choose to be open about their struggles, further into the margins, because we make the choice of dismissing “awareness.” I want to encourage people to see this as a collective issue, as well as a personal one, that if you have anyone in your life that you care about, who is struggling, please make the conscious choice of “awareness.” Please take some time to learn how you need to be there for them.
The cost of being high functional suicidal is being stuck between wanting to die, and having the ability to perform your daily operations at least enough to get by. But as I have said before, how long can this be sustainable? Allah says there is no burden that He gives to any soul that one cannot handle.
I remember saying this in my late 20s, how I don’t want to live like this into my 30s and my 40s if I make it that far. But my entire 30s went this way, unfortunately. I want to change this for the last two years of my 30s. But I highly doubt that’s possible, it is not something that we can change over night. And I have been working on that. I will never get credit for the progress I have made and for my incredible struggle and fight for survival. I say this NOT because I want credit or acknowledgement, but because the Stigma is that strong that if one expresses their struggles openly, it presents it as a weakness, when it is actually a strength. I have been writing about this for a long time. And when I see sometimes that people in my life still don’t get it no matter how much I explain, it feels hopeless. I will write another post in the near future on what I believe “loved ones” should be doing if they have family members struggling with suicidality.
I have realized recently that my mental health would probably be much better if I was offline. But I stay online not only because of a fear of being forgotten and sense of catharsis for my struggles, but also to share my story, to contribute some insights on various things, to share knowledge and resources, and in case others may need me or may need to see another voice out there they can relate to or who understands them. It is painful when you cannot connect to a community online, no matter how much you share and give, but you stay strong and show up. Because your presence, just your presence might be important for your empowerment and potentially the empowerment of others. It is good to perhaps take a break here and there if necessary. But I find sometimes when I share the good or the bad, I will get the “evil eye” from somewhere. I understand I am not most people’s cup of chai. I am still a work in progress, even as I have approached that category of “late thirties” officially now…
But I do want to emphasize that I’m with gratitude to those who don’t give me the evil eye with whatever I share or contribute in my life. Those who genuinely care. And I ask for your forgiveness that I cannot see you sometimes.. But if you see me and see something good in me, I appreciate you.
I didn’t think of jumping in the Washington harbor last night. And two more years until I beat my predicted life expectancy. I will keep the fight going. And I hope you will too.
I came across many of my past facebook memories with birthday reflections over the years. I would write about how I didnt accomplish anything, no PhD, no marriage, no kids.. nothing…
This was the first year, I felt different on my birthday, even though there was some sadness. It was the first year I could look in the mirror in the morning and say “Happy Birthday Dr. Elsa,” and alongside my daily affirmation that keeps me going….”You are a Warrior Queen.” The first year I had my birthday fulfilling one of my biggest dreams of completing my PhD. And I did it all despite my suicidality. I sometimes think that I could do so much more and better (which is what I felt about my dissertation and defense) if I didn’t have this extra burden. But I know there must be a reason for it. It will be almost a year now since I achieved this title last summer. And I remember telling myself that if I can get this PhD despite my mental illness, I can do anything. It is a good reminder to me that I need to keep going, even if it means that I have to carry not only the burden of this illness, but also the responsibility of spreading the “awareness” on my shoulders.
Some Muslims believe that in Islam, Muslims should not be celebrating their birthdays. It is one school of thought. I disagree with it for many reasons. And I think celebrating your birthday is necessary for those who are suicidal. It is another reminder, another day to try. We try again and again. And you can celebrate yourself any day. But take your birthday as another opportunity to celebrate your life, and your fight to keep living…
May Allah (God) help us all struggling with these invisible illnesses and the stigmas that make it harder… to stay resilient, stay empowered, and stay connected, and keep fighting as our stories, our journies continue…
It isn’t over yet.
Peace, warmth, and blessings,
“She wasn’t looking for a knight. She was looking for a sword.“