Travel, stereotypes, and being a coconut.

If you follow me on social media you may have seen that I spent the first 2 weeks of July country hopping in Eastern Europe and Germany.

Following the breakdown of a long term relationship in 2016, I subsequently was bitten by the travel bug, and have since visited 18 different cities (19 if I count the hour spent in the Eurostar terminal in Brussels).

In other words I embarked on a budget friendly, I’m a 20 something renting in London, and trying to maintain a full-time job, version of ‘Eat, Pray, Love.’

Travelling for me, like many things I do, is not only a way for me to broaden my view of the world – learning about new cultures, people, and experiences – it’s ultimately a way for me to understand myself and who I am, and how I fit within the society that surrounds me.

Figuring out who I am and what my place is in society is not a new concept to me, it is one I’ve struggled with my entire life.

I’ve previously written about growing up in British Indian household, and have touched upon aspects of my less than ideal childhood, from the stigma surrounding mental health in the South Asian community and also my relationship, or lack thereof, with my estranged father.

However, I’ve never really spoken openly and honestly about my experience growing up between two cultures, and how this has shaped the person I am today.

In an ideal world both my cultures would coexist peacefully, my Britishness and Indianness would no conflict in the slightest, and they most certainly wouldn’t lead to a conflict of existence in my inner being, more articulately describes as an identity crisis, which fuelled most of my childhood, adolescent, and early adulthood angst.

For me growing up with two cultures often meant choosing sides or being stuck in the middle, there was rarely a neutral point, I was either one of the other but never both.

Memories of my childhood visits to my father’s family in Yorkshire mainly consist of judgement and disappointment from my extended family over my apparent failure of not being Indian enough, and or appearing/behaving too ‘Western’. Visits often included questioning by various aunts and uncles over my ability to speak and understand Gujarati (my mother tongue) – with my elementary grasp of it often being considered a betrayal against my heritage, which was often accompanied by negative comments on my appearance and attire due to my choice of jeans and t-shirt over a ‘traditional’ salwar kameez.

On the other side of this, I spent a majority of my school years as a spectacle for my peers to examine, the curious minds of children never ceasing to amaze as well as the ignorance of some teachers – which I would grow to become amazed at and wished would cease. Each wrongly directed “namaste”, “I wish I had a tan like yours,” “when did you come over to England?” and “but where are you really from?” starkly reminding me that I was different and didn’t quite fit into their predetermined idea of what was British.

It didn’t take me long to realise that in the eyes of my family I was too ‘Western’ to be a proper Indian, and in the eyes of my British peers I was too brown to be a proper Brit. I was a ‘coconut’, stuck in the middle of constant reminders that I wasn’t enough of either of the two cultures I’d grown up in to be considered a legitimate part of them.

The separation I felt between the two cultures worsened following the breakdown of my parent’s marriage when I was 9. As I has opted to stay with my British-born mother as a opposed to my Indian-born father, I found myself assimilating with my British surroundings more and more, as our tie with the Indian community I had grown up knowing was severed – due to my mother’s apparent ‘unthinkable’ and subsequently ‘unforgivable’ act in their eyes (this act being my mother’s bravery to stand up to a man who was meant to love her but instead forced her to live in constant fear of him, through a myriad of psychological and physical abuse).

We were ostracised and isolated. I still had my melanin and my name, but my connection to that part of me was lost. As I had been shunned by my family and community I began acting in ways directly opposed to their values, I shortened my name to make it less Arabic sounding, I denounced my childhood faith becoming a kaffir, I started drinking alcohol with my British friends, and at 19 I got my first tattoo.

However, despite all these acts I was still a ‘coconut’. Instead of appearing British, I was just a non-traditional Indian girl who drunk and had tattoos, I still didn’t quite fit in.

The constant reminders of my otherness was apparent in multiple aspects of my life, from going to the shop to buy a pint of milk and explaining my entire family background to the shopkeeper out of politeness, to the backhanded compliments and fetishism that would paint my love life (my earliest encounter of this being at the age of 12, where I was informed by a boy in my year that none of the other boys would be as “open minded” as him as to like a brown girl).

To this day, dating and romance often comes with a caveat, usually accompanied by overthinking on my part. I spend a lot of the time wondering if someone genuinely likes me for who I am, or whether they hoping I fit a preconceived set of of stereotypical traits they think I have (which I will inevitably disappoint).

The constant exposure to phrases and sentences like “sari seduction”, “Asian persuasion”, “I’ve always had a thing for brown girls”, “I bet you make a great curry”, and a multitude of Kama Sutra references that I’m not even going to start on, have left me weary and skeptical about love (although I still remain a hopeless romantic despite this).

However, the more I travel, the more places I visit, the more people I meet, and the more cultures I am exposed to, the broader my view of the world has become.

I’ve come to realise that for every person who says I don’t belong, there is always another who says I do, and this has given me hope.

I wish I could say I’m no longer affected by the commentary which comes with being British Indian, but I would be lying.

Although, I am confident in referring to myself as both British and Indian despite growing up with the two cultures conflicting and I’ve learned that I don’t need acceptance from others to be myself, and I certainly do not need their permission.

It’s been a while

I haven’t written in a while. I could excuse this with the reasoning of a distracted mind or a busy schedule, but in all honesty the carnival has been in full force. My mind has been riding through a rollercoaster of emotions, that I’ve been trying my best to process.

I try my best not to react to negative happenings in my life, with the full blown consequences of my catastrophic thinking, but this is a rather difficult try.

Perhaps it’s the fear of being hurt further, or my attachment anxiety running on high, but as soon as something negative happens in my life, or something unexpected, I have the tendency to run and hide, trying my best to ignore it and to shut it out. Often pretending that everything is okay.

Whilst running away from this I usually anger someone, and recoil further because I feel like I’ve let that person down. I spiral. I often spiral, and push back against the negativity with my own negativity which just pushes me into a state of irrational being, and pushes those close to me further away. This isn’t always noticeably visible, but it’s there.

I often find myself in states of feeling like I’ve let someone down, which often feels, in that moment, like the worse thing in the universe.

In retrospect, it isn’t the worse thing in the universe, but try explaining that to anxious overthinking me …

I overthink everything.

I relay my life bloopers during the day and during the night. I have trouble sleeping, often due to the omnibus of shitty or embarrassing incidents of my life playing on a loop. It’s not a good thing, and I’m working at getting better at coping with these. To control it and cope in a healthier way.

During my attempt to do this, I’ve realised a few things:

  • I will push some people away, but the worthy ones will stay.
  • It will take time, but the prolonging of time is why we have patience.
  • The process won’t always make sense in the moment, but that’s why we have retrospect.
  • It’s okay to not have clue what you’re meant to be doing, most people don’t.

One day I will have a method to compliment my madness, until then I think I’ll be okay just trying to make sense of it all as best I can.

Some days I’ll find the words to write about it and on others I won’t. I’ll go off on nonsensical tangents (see this entire blog post), and on other days I’ll construct more thought out pieces of expressive emotion. Each one will be an expression of myself, and will hopefully make one less person feel less alone in this unpredictable world.

We’re all just trying to make sense of our surrounding, and find our place in it.

It will take time, but we will get there.

Harry Potter, caramel cardigans, tumeric, and stigma

My morning routine is pretty standard; I wake up to the sound of my alarm ‘flow’ and try to figure out why I’m still so tired, despite using my sleep aids. I listen out for the creaks and squeaks of the stairs and door hinges and wait for the shower to free up, I do my make up, sometimes attempting a cat eye, which often looks like I’ve framed my eyes using a Sharpie instead of with the intended subtle flick, and then I do my hair.

Until a few months ago I only wore my hair parted to the side, this was in part due to style trends but also due to two insecurities. The first being a squint in my left eye, which has since been surgically corrected, and the second, a scar in the middle of my forehead at the start of my hairline.

My forehead scar unlike Harry Potter’s doesn’t have a cool backstory about battling ‘he who shall not be named’ as a infant and bringing about a whole epic saga involving trolls and magical goblets; for starters my scar is sort of an oval shape, as opposed to a lightning bolt, and I didn’t get it from sacrificial motherly shield love, I got it running on wet cobblestones on the way to school.

Like many of my memories I remember moments of it in vivid detail but have trouble recalling other parts, often drifting between interpreted memories and real ones.

This is what I remember: I was on my way to primary school with my mum, it was Spring and raining heavily, I was running ahead of her (perhaps with excitement as school was a place I enjoyed in my early childhood), I came to the cobblestone path near the green space on our route and slipped forward, unable to break my fall I smashed headfirst onto the path.

My mum screamed to the heavens and held my caramel cardigan to head in an attempt to subdue the bleeding, I began to cry once I noticed I was bleeding and my mum attempted to comfort me. She took me to my school, where my headteacher, Ms Peacock, advised that the nearby doctors surgery may be able to help, unfortunately because this was not my registered surgery we were turned away. My mum took me home, and after explaining to my dad what had happened, he placed tumeric on my cut in order to heal it.

Growing up, in a British Indian household, it was commonplace to favour natural remedies to treat ailments; echinacea and homemade masala chai were often used to treat cold or flu, seeking help from an actual doctor was often a last resort, and was often discouraged if the treatment could be replaced by a herbal alternative in order to keep sanctity in the community.

For a wide variety of ailments natural remedies do have their benefits, to this day I still make masala chai every time I have a congested cold, but some ailments require a bit more than tea and spices to fix.

Speaking from personal experience, my elders held particularly damaging views of mental health. Often if someone was mentally unwell, the supernatural and superstition were often cited as the causation for it. Growing up I often heard stories about relatives in India who been possessed by a ‘djinn’ as cautionary tales, their mental instability tarring them with the derogatory term of ‘pagal’. A chemical imbalance in the brain or trauma was often complete devoid from any reason as to why the person was suffering, and instead they were often ostracised by the community because of it.

I was 13 when my mum first took me to the doctor for my mental health, she had found and read my diary which described my first documented thoughts of suicidal ideation and depression, at the time I was being bullied at school to the point where I was told by one person to “go die in a fire” after I revealed I had a crush on them, and added to that my home life was particularly turbulent due to my parents’ divorce. Sitting in the doctor’s office with my mum, I felt ashamed, embarrassed and betrayed, as my mum explained to the doctor that she didn’t know what to do and that most Indian families wouldn’t come to the doctor for help, but we weren’t like most Indian families and she didn’t know what to do. This was her last resort.

No constructive help came from that appointment, the doctor said due to my age it was most likely hormone related, and my mum declared that the end of it. I stopped keeping a diary, fearful it may be found, and I buried my emotions, bottling up my sadness until it erupted.

I was 15 when I made my first attempt on my life, I was in an abusive relationship at the time and I saw it as an escape. I made my second and third attempt when I was 20 and 21, again I saw these as a means of escape from the situation I was in at the time.

Following a doctor’s appointment after my second attempt, I found out this was in part due to my previously undiagnosed PTSD, depression and anxiety. My doctor commented that she was surprised no one had diagnosed me sooner, and also that many BAME people suffer from mental illness in the UK due to lack of sunlight. I was given a prescription of antidepressants. referred to a therapist, and put under the watchful eye of the mental health care team.

I was finally receiving the help I sought out almost a decade earlier. I often think back to sitting in that doctor’s office with my mum at 13. If there wasn’t such a damaging stigma of mental health in my community, would I have received the help I desperately needed sooner?

The stigma surrounding mental illness as something shameful or insignificant is incredibly damaging and is one that needs to go.


If you’re experiencing similar thoughts or feelings to those expressed in this post, it’s okay to reach out for help. You can find information about what mental health crisis services are available, how they can help and their times of operation here: https://www.mind.org.uk/information-support/guides-to-support-and-services/crisis-services/useful-contacts/


Wobbles and blips

On Thursday, I had a bit of a wobble with my mental health, and with my journey to improve it.

Following a large work event, myself and my colleagues went to a bar to unwind and celebrate a job a well done, a combination of anxiety, sleep deprivation, and not really having eaten anything all day resulted in myself becoming blackout drunk. I woke up the next morning having lost my phone and parts of my memory.

I’m too embarrassed and ashamed to ask what I did in those blackout moments, but whatever it was I deeply regret.

Over the past few months, I have been actively trying to avoid excessive alcohol consumption, after connecting it to heightened feelings of depression and suicidal ideation, especially when I am already feeling low.

Despite alcohol acting as a temporary break from my reality, once its effect have worn off I am left in an emotional pit of despair, catapulted back into the reality I was attempting to escape. Even though I know this in hindsight, I still have blips which blind me from common sense, resulting in situations like Thursday.

When I drink in excess my mind sets itself to autopilot. I’m unaware of how much I’m consuming until it’s too late, and I lose control of my reality, with my mind slipping somewhere else entirely.

When I drink like this I’m often in a situation where I feel uncomfortable, such as crowded or unfamiliar places where I feel out of place, this causes me to feel on edge and triggers my anxiety. In these situations I use alcohol to drown out my anxious thoughts and fears, and also to fit in with those around me. If my peers are drinking, I often will too. It’s unhealthy but in that moment it’s a mechanism to cope.

I think its a fair assumption that most people have a desire to fit in and be a part of a community, to be liked, and to be wanted. In order to do this we follow the status quo of whatever situation we find ourselves in, so that we are not ostracised or rejected, this can sometimes lead us to do dangerous or harmful things at our own expense.

I am not holding other people accountable for this desire, I have my own free will and am in control of my actions, but although I know I shouldn’t feel the need to change myself to fit in with others, it is often easier to assimilate, particularly when you are already different.

Throughout my existence, I have often heard that it is cool to be weird, that normal is boring, and having a brain that isn’t wired quite right is just a fun quirk.  An example of this being the portrayal of the ‘manic pixie dream girl’ in film and television, which often romanticises mental illness as a plot device for the protagonist to fulfil his role as the saviour.

In reality mental illness isn’t fun, quirky, or cool. It’s exhausting. I would love to have a normal brain; one that isn’t damaged in anyway, that’s chemically balanced, that isn’t deafeningly silent on some days, and an carnival of chaotic thought on others. I would love a brain that is calm and works in harmony.

However, I know that in my present state this isn’t a possible reality for me, there isn’t a quick fix that magics away my problems, some nerdy guy in a vintage band t-shirt isn’t going to swoop in and save me. If I’m going to survive I’m going to have to save myself.

I’m going to have to learn to control the wobbles and blips and to identify there causation, but I also need to accept that I’m human, and humans are flawed. Some days I’m going to have bad days, and that’s okay. I’m going to have wobbles and blips, and that’s okay. I’m not perfect, and that’s okay.

I will keep trying to identify my problems and also continue to work to overcome them. It’s a process of trial and error, but I hope that one day I will learn to control the darkness and the fragments in my mind.


If you’re experiencing similar thoughts or feelings to those expressed in this post, it’s okay to reach out for help. You can find information about what mental health crisis services are available, how they can help and their times of operation here: https://www.mind.org.uk/information-support/guides-to-support-and-services/crisis-services/useful-contacts/ 


 

Rumpelstiltskin

Last week I found myself at the edge point of a depressive episode.

I had received a message two weeks prior from my estranged father, who I hadn’t heard from in seven years. Instead of dealing with it rationally, I tried to drink it into submission, and bury it inside of me. This resulted in a bubbling of emotions, which eventually erupted in a cortisol fueled break in my stability. In summary: I cracked.

I rapidly spun into a depressive state, marred by the feelings of despair, loneliness, anxiety, and suicidal ideation. My previous post ‘Hold me like sand’ was written whilst in this state, it was a ‘cry for help’. I had fallen into a well of negative emotion, bought on by suppressing an unexpected occurrence, that had dragged up an armoury of feelings all targeted at my wellbeing.

I didn’t want this to occur but it was happening anyway. It was a cataclysm of external factors which didn’t fit neatly into my preexisting microclimates of things I knew how to cope with. I was out of my comfort zone.

I tried to ignore it but it was still there, and it was causing a rift of cognitive dissonance in my mind – I hadn’t spoken to my father in seven years, his neglect and failure to nurture me as a child caused me to show a great disdain towards him; when asked about him and I’d often respond with the rhetoric that ‘I don’t need him’ and ‘I’m better off without him in my life.’

However, this occurrence drudged up two questions from my childhood ‘why don’t they love me?’ and ‘why wasn’t I good enough?’

These questions are harboured in the foundations of who I am as a person, and are the likely causation of my attachment anxiety, which particularly manifest with romantic partners (something I hadn’t realised until a few days ago).

In the past I have reacted irrationally to the breakdown of a relationship, using targeted words and actions to cause the maximum amount of damage; because ‘I don’t need him’ and ‘I’m better off without him in my life.’ I feel rejected by that person so my brain uses its learned behaviour from my formative years in an attempt to protect itself.

I had thought if I continued to achieve in other areas of my life, than these questions would simply dissipate and cease to exist.

However, ignoring a problem doesn’t make it go away, identifying it as a problem and tackling it does – a bit like Rumpelstiltskin, if you can identify something you can solve it.


If you’re experiencing similar thoughts or feelings to those expressed in this post, it’s okay to reach out for help. You can find information about what mental health crisis services are available, how they can help and their times of operation here: https://www.mind.org.uk/information-support/guides-to-support-and-services/crisis-services/useful-contacts/ 


 

Hold me like sand

Some days are not ideal in the timeline of our lives.

For the last couple of weeks I’ve been struggling to stay positive due to a mixture of internal and external factors. I have tried to combat these dark feelings through positive thought, medication, exercise, and seeking support from people who I thought could offer it.

Unfortunately, people can be unreliable and support is not always available. I have had one friend reach out to me and offer some support, and I am grateful for them. However, many others have ignored my pleas for help, or perhaps they have not seen them. I have felt like I’m drowning but no one else can see the water.

I have previously written about how we are not entitled to other people in life, and how each person in your life has made a conscious choice to be a part of it, but I will admit that feeling unwanted or shunned away is devastating.

My mind often drifts to lonely plains where the silence is so loud it’s deafening, and I struggle to sleep. I’m often jolted awake by unpleasant memories that have resurfaced. Sometimes the tiredness is so consuming that is reduces me to tears. I hope most nights that the salty droplets will ease my silence and bring slumber, but this rarely comes to fruition.

Some of you may see this as a complaining. You may argue that if I had an internal locus of control than I could control my emotions better, and I wouldn’t be feeling this way. To those of you who think this, I would like you to understand that complaining can often be a cry for help, please don’t dismiss it so callously.

Life is a mixture of external and internal things, parts can be controlled in a microclimate, but others are beyond your being. The external events that have befallen me are not ones I have sought out, but they have befallen me, and they have affected me.

I try to appreciate what I have. I am lucky to have a heartbeat and to have been given a chance at life, although not always ideal. I try to be sunny and happy in my demeanor, and mould my life with positive attributes and qualities, but some days in spite of this there are rain clouds in my sunshine.

I can be a roaring giant that brings warmth, but I can also be a faint flicker that is barely seen. My experiences have given me strength, but that strength has grown from the remnants of my battles, some of these battles are ongoing.

I implore you to be patient with one another and cherish those that come into your life, for they are on loan – hold them like they are sand even though they may slip through your fingertips.


If you’re experiencing similar thoughts or feelings to those expressed in this post, it’s okay to reach out for help. You can find information about what mental health crisis services are available, how they can help and their times of operation here: https://www.mind.org.uk/information-support/guides-to-support-and-services/crisis-services/useful-contacts/


 

I am …

On the wardrobe to the left of my bed I have a blu tacked sign that reads: 

‘I am strong,
I am smart,
I am kind,
I am beautiful,
I am worthy’

I wrote this sign in September 2017. It is slightly crumpled with a distinct fold down the centre, and is decorated with a felt tipped drawings – a lightning bolt, a heart, a butterfly and a flower.

I read it every morning when I wake, and every night before I fall asleep. By reciting these words I remember to never underestimate myself.

My strength has made me smart, my kindness has made me beautiful, and all four looped together have made me worthy. These attributes make me worthy of living; of safety; of love; of confidence and respect – resulting in the self-actualisation to love myself and be the best I can be.

The realisation and understanding of what it means to be worthy has helped me to find calm in the chaos. I have come to realise that the worth that I am entitled to is that of my own, and not dependent on the thoughts and feelings of others. I am the measure of my own value.

No one is entitled to anyone else. We are merely granted the privilege of intimacy, both platonic and romantic, through choice. The realisation that the relationships and bonds you have with others is decided by choice, is a humbling one. It not only teaches that you dictate your journey in life, but also that you are important and you matter. Each friendship, each partner, each loved one, is someone that chose you. You are not entitled to them but they have deemed you worthy simply because you are.

Even those relationships deemed ‘unconditional’ by societal standards hold some sort of condition. This is usually dictated by whether an individual is deemed trustworthy and loyal enough to be worthy of this level of intimacy. Although, it can often be clouded by the feeling of obligation and or fear, which can stem from internal insecurities, resulting in self worth being hidden.

You are not obligated to give yourself to anyone you do not deem worthy, the intimacy you grant is your choice – and vice versa.

Coming to this realisation and understanding has allowed me to love myself and appreciate the person that I am, as well as all those who I have the privilege to know and love.

I will continue to recite the words on that blu tacked sign. I will continue to be, because I am.