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Colours

Asked to do a self-portrait at art class, when I was 11 years old and freshly arrived into the UK from Iraq, I enthusiastically drew myself as pink skinned with pale green eyes and bright yellow hair. Classmates sniggered at my picture in break time, and I wasn’t sure if I’d inadvertently walked into another opportunity to be bullied (I was an easy target in those early months) or another case of lost-in-translation— Art and Arabic were the only group classes I attended, as I was learning the language. Turns out it was a bit of both, but more, a culture clash that I continue to excavate deeper layers into.

In Iraq, I was a relative minority in how I presented physically: I was indeed ‘blonde’ compared to the standard black, my hazel eyes relatively ‘green’ compared with the average dark brown, and my skin ‘white’ in relation to the warmer, olive skin tones.

I’m setting aside for a moment the European ideals of beauty, which often grade beauty in a hierarchical colour palette. Setting that hefty piece of the puzzle aside for now.


Even amongst my international schoolmates, my colourings had shifted with the change of country. I was now olive skinned with mousy brown hair and brown eyes. The variation I experienced in my youth transposed into a monolithic non-European/ non-white category. Not only that, as I didn’t have a Middle Eastern ‘Fro’ or silky mane to proudly exhibit or the big black almonds to peer through, I teetered precariously on an edge.


At 21, when my first white hairs prematurely came out of their closet, I began to colour my hair darker than mere mousy, even at one point, dying my brows and lashes to match. I didn’t fit my own image of myself anymore, so I attempted to fit the image others seemed to hold of me. At university, I was mostly with white English friends and a sprinkle of Brits of South Asian origin, but I was firmly, the only foreigner.

A foreigner who lived in a diaspora bubble. I proudly ate baked beans (an English national dish!), served cold (it’s surely sweet and intended as a salad side dish!). I enjoyed various privileges like being left out of the South-North England divide or Public-State school prejudices. Spared by virtue of being on the periphery and in a box all of my own. Even my religion was left alone, possibly with a potent mix of fear and ignorance.
And when talk inevitably shifted to childhood references, I stayed quiet, inwardly recalling the Ba’ithist propaganda songs and dances I took part in as a child, the school trips visiting ‘war heroes’ in hospitals, namely, dismembered and traumatised soldiers returning from the battlefields. TV programmes proudly exhibiting those with lost limbs still managing to survive daily tasks like brushing teeth and fixing lunch… no Magic Roundabouts or Where’s Wally.


In London, I’m a Londoner. Simple. In my therapy training course, I’m again a minority. Not just me as an individual, but ‘me’ on an institutional, and systemic, level. My college is not an exception in this, although other organisations have been more forthright in exploring both the minority position and ‘whiteness’. Black and Asian networks (BAATN), Irish communities (iCap), those working with gender and sexuality (Pink Therapy), others getting uncomfortable with discussions on ‘race’, ethnicities, culture and power (Aashna and Minster Centre).


The mental health professional field is contradictory. On the one hand, the intention is to heal, strengthen and support clients to live more fully, with integrity. On the other, the profession’s history has some pretty harsh realities of suppressing, even creating scientific justification for Othering those who are different; often dehumanising an ‘entire’ race or community, justifying and enabling atrocities from slavery to pathologising homosexuality, to putting many women in mental asylums for not acquiescing to the male figures in their lives.

I’ve been part of a student-initiative looking at our experience and relationship with diversity and difference, both personally and professionally, and although I’ve done a fair amount of work on this theme, I find it’s (I am) an evolving process. I only woke up to the historical element with Rose Cameron’s book, which covers marginalisation on an individual, institutional and systemic levels.

I’ve always been clear: I’m not white. I may look white to some, but that doesn’t matter, because I am not ethnically ‘white’ or European. I know what it is to be exoticised, Orientalised and objectified based on what I look and sound like. The frozen fear I experience, when the whiff of persecution sways in the air connects me as much to childhood experiences of war to my great grandparents’ stories of migration as refuge. Black Earth Rising is as much my region’s turmoil as it is Africa’s, from the draws of the colonial powers and corruption to genocides and survival guilt.


And I am white. I am visibly not black or brown. That reality, and privilege, of that reality, is something I’m choosing to be with. In the past, I’ve been frustrated at not fitting into any one category, of being an ‘invisible Muslim’, questioned on my Iraqi-ness by other Iraqis etc that I’ve often refused to accept the privilege that comes with that same facade.

I can relate to both explorations into whiteness and those from ethnic minority perspectives. And I’m not sure how I fit into any one of the organisations listed above. Beyond my individuality, my entire country is a misfit of ethnicities, religious, colonial influences (from Ottoman to British) and languages and tastes and smells, and I am still more white than the majority of my own family. When I don’t want to stick out, I can better hide under the umbrella of my relative invisibility. That’s my reality.
A sleeveless top and exposed hair as telling as my pasty olive tones.

I’m sitting with the privilege of not having my race thrust upon me at every turn by those unaware of theirs.
And I feel a nonverbal affinity with those of ethnic minorities groups, which I sensed without any cognitive understanding, when I chose my first psychotherapist in 2013, the start of my therapy training; I didn’t care where they were from, as long as they were ‘ethnic’, and basically, not white or European. I had experienced different colours of objectification that frankly, I was less interested in exploring their colour blindness than my own baggage. It’s not my job to educate my therapist, that’s their responsibility (and their training college).

However, the affinity I felt with ‘minorities’ also blinded me. I was unable to feel provoked when my formidable mixed race trainer/ teacher pushed me for a year, possibly in an attempt to explore transferences, yet was triggered at the first push from their white, male colleague. The same-ness I felt towards them and their race blinded me to their power, their hierarchy, essentially, them. My heritage of safety in same-ness needs to shift to truly accept- on a body and spiritual level- the beauty and richness of difference.

Music in my Soul

‘No, I’m not fasting.’

Hard words for me to say. An admission of not practising my faith in this Holy Month.

I want to say this first week has had a considerable impact on my life; a delicate veil of listening more deeply, a silent dhikr/ a remembrance of God’s infinite wisdom, of prayer and reflection, modelling rituals to my children, sharing these with my mother, who thanks to COVID is stuck here with us!

This would have been my first Ramadan when I’m not pregnant or breastfeeding (both of which exempted me from this part of the practice), and so far, strictly speaking, I’ve not been ‘clean’ to fast (thanks to my intense monthly cycle). And regardless, I do not, right now, feel in the right place to truly slow down, to turn my gaze inwards, to switch off and float, as I’ve enjoyed doing during this Month for most of my adult years. By the time I graduated from university, my family had all left the UK, so fasting become a solitary practise for me, my eccentric way of tuning inwards, of letting go (physically and spirituality) of basic needs. I’d practise Kundalini yoga, alongside silent dhikr at home, a Sufi circle or the occasional tarawee7 in the mosque. I also made sure that at least a handful of times, I invited friends over for Iftar, regardless of whether they shared my faith or practise, to share in the spirit of Ramadan. This was my past practise, when I had my support system in place, when my responsibilities were different, and life felt more steady and stable.

Right now, I need my strength, my clarity of mind, my feet strongly rooted to the ground, to anchor myself, to be present to my current reality. I have a myriad of reasons, beyond COVID, to say that I do not want my faith to be a burden, but a support. How can I support myself with God firmly in my heart? 

Ramadan is not simply about eating, or not, it’s generally agreed that the practice is deeper than the physical, but why is variations on fasting disregarded so quickly by other Muslims? Any variance is viewed, at best, a joke, at worse, an insult. A taboo at both ends. This judgement is subtle and familiar.

‘Fasting’ as far as Muslims are concerned is not eating or drinking from sunrise to sunset. Simple. If you choose to have water, that’s not fasting. If you smoke, that’s definitely not fasting- and I have personally silently judged smokers who claim they are only ingesting air! But I’ve admired those who say they will only drink water but not eat, or have a banana with their medications in the morning and continue until sunset, fast half the day, like we did as children… these creative modifications strike me as people choosing to find a way into their faith, fitting themselves into a practice that can otherwise seem unattainable. Can they not say they are ‘fasting’? 

Similarly with reciting the Qur’an. A woman is not to recite to a mixed audience. Anyone reciting has strict rules to adhere to, like which vowels to elongate and how to clip particular consonants. Do not make the recitation akin to singing! Although musical, this is not music. This is the word of God. No one is to recite with any mistakes. A mistake is near blasphemy, an insult on what is perfection and inimitable. 

I recently recorded a short chapter from the Holy Book, and when I played the recording to my mother, she looked concerned: ‘There are two mistakes!’ I was aware of one of the mistakes, but I was glad to have recorded something in-the-moment, that’s alive and connected. I wanted to share with friends, the unconventional way I choose to vocalise God’s words to my children every night at bedtime. There will be mistakes, because I learned these chapters by heart as a child, and to my ears, this is music, because to me that is not an insult, but the highest praise. 

‘The same archangel Gabriel who visited our Prophet (Peace be Upon him)’, my grandfather used to say, ‘visited Mozart and Verdi, because their music is divinely inspired.’ 

A blasphemous statement to many Muslims, but to me, this was an enlightened man, whose love for God was echoed in all that he loved and what enriched his soul, from nature to music. 

My experience last Ramadan was torturous attempts to connect with a man who attended Friday prayers and did not eat from sunrise to sunset, but who chose to punish and deny me the pleasure of sharing iftar with him, to leave our home ten minutes before his first and final meal of the day, knowing the peace and pleasure I have in cooking for those I love. Alas, how we adhere to our faith is not in his or my judgment, but in God’s infinite wisdom, His ability to see beyond the surface, into our heart and soul.

When I questioned my grandfather as a child, asking why all our household fasted except my grandmother, he immediately defended her:

‘Whether your grandmother fasts or not is between her and her Creator. Besides, your grandmother looks after you, she prepares a sumptuous meal for us, puts up with our low energy and short temper, even our stinking breath! Perhaps to God, her actions have more value than our fasting, because we fast for ourselves, but her actions are for us all.’

Islam places a lot of value on niyya, or intention, as that is the essence of our thoughts and actions. Practise without intention is misguided, but to those following the petrified shell of religion, rules are paramount.

To those of us who choose the malleable, subtle, inner workings of our faith, we carve our path to the Divine, and do so with music in our soul. 

Covid Creates 2

‘People say: we are all in this together. Whilst some families enjoy quality time together, playing in a big garden, walking in nearby forests… others are locked in a high rise, with a mentally ill or violent parent. We are not in this together.’ 


Paraphrasing a speaker from an impromptu talk by TISUK, focused at therapists and counsellors working remotely with children and adolescents. 
Before Covid, the work was done in schools, but now, setting-up a Zoom meeting with the parent/s and school, ensuring there’s a safe space to run the confidential session, that there’s a computer available and the tech know-how etc. is not an easy feat. Some have resorted to postcards or letters. Anything to preserve that connection. Sometimes the therapist is the only emotionally available adult in the child’s life, and the only person who has the potential to provide this young person a resource in themselves to get them through this extraordinary time.

We listened to case studies of children and young adults coping under Covid, and how working remotely can be challenging, but also, how we can maximise that work. 


A 7 year old boy: 


‘Daddy is like an earthquake, when he gets angry, I feel everything shake… but I run and hide under my bed, and guess what I have under my bed? Biscuits!’


The angst, the anger, the rage that has nowhere to escape, is locked into a pressure cooker. A ticking bomb. 

‘Women will be beaten in their homes.’ 

The above line jumped at me from an article in the Guardian weeks ago, and has embedded itself beneath my skin. Locked in with the person you fear most. Women beaten, their children witnessing. Children beaten, and no one to witness.

I have felt challenged, frustrated and lost, alongside deep feelings of gratitude, moments of pure joy and relief, to simply be with my children, to play more, to lounge, to get messy and creative. So many privileges I take for granted.

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Some simple ways TISUK suggested for practitioners that I feel can help children in general to better connect to loved ones online:

Maintain eye contact- not eye balling, but also not checking your watch or being distracted.

Invite them to hug a cushion, as you do the same, to help them feel more embodied in an otherwise disembodied, remote connection.

Help prepare them for the abrupt goodbye of the online connection (or disconnection), share what you might do immediately following your time together, for example, ‘I’m going to sit here and think about the lovely song you just sang to me and try to learn some of the words to sing back to you next time! what will you do?’

Also to help with the abrupt ending, is to find a simple ending for yourself, like counting down together, before you click off. 

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COVID CREATES

Sharing photo’s of our day, what resources we are drawing on to help keep our kids (and ourselves) sane indoors; juggling the normal stuff of life, from a full-time job, study or to teach pilates online…
Six mum friends on a group chat. We met when all our children went to the same nursery. My children have been out of nursery for over two months, but our precious connections have continued to thrive. Our kids are preschoolers and younger, so we don’t have the extra challenge of actual homeschooling just yet!  
We share images of activities, sometimes creating pendants from homemade play dough, a dress-up with face paints, a dance competition, mother-and-daughter pilates at home or just an extra long bath time with more toys than usual. 
One mum made s a smiley face for when her daughter is allowed in the room, and a frowning face for when mum is cramming in some work time.
And yes, a screen is a lifesaver for those more desperate moments when you need to take a work call, and don’t want to have your child loudly announce that they have just taken a massive poop, whilst your boss politely pretends he didn’t hear. 


Looking at everyone’s sharing of their day, I feel moved. We are in this together. 
Even with me, as someone who’s kids no longer go to nursery and I’m pretty much with them full-time, I’m feeling this extra pressure. Our days were punctuated by playgroups, classes, a Family event at the Science Museum, a puppet show at Little Angel Theatre, swimming class on Mondays, ballet Tuesdays, Chickenshed drama workshops Wednesdays at our local library, Thursday morning is ours to explore somewhere new, or maybe just chill at the library…
Before kids, I loved being home alone, but with kids, I got cabin fever if we are not out by 9:30am! 
I’m finding this is shifting our pace of life. After making some play dough yesterday, I lay down on the living room sofa to read a key text for my course, whilst my two monkeys happily cooked themselves a feast (in their toy kitchen) and had a picnic with all their stuffed toys. This was a total of maybe 20 minutes. A first for me. Just to sit, read and do something independently of them and mothering, whilst being in their presence. Granted, I read five pages, and yes, I tasted most of the culinary feasts being conjured, and this was a milestone for us. 
Challenging times, and interesting too, in terms of how we, individually and collectively, manage our response to the unknown and to imposed change. We have seen what happens in other countries, but like children who refuse to heed what their parents warn them of, we mostly refused to act responsibly, even sensibly, as we ourselves have not experienced this before. 
It’s not just my mum group, it’s my course peer group, my single parent support group, my smaller group of three friends across the globe, individual friends and family, we are pulling our resources together. Gathering ourselves. I pray that this will leave us more integrated and working in synch with one another, and dare I say, nature. 

Against Reductionism

‘I am against reductionism of any kind, because, satisfying as any ‘nothing-but’ explanation may be, it does violence to the complexity of inner life.’

Ellen Siegelman 

In the preface to her book Metaphor & Meaning, published in 1990, she talks of her background in literature, as well as her extensive experience in clinical psychology and child development. She draws similarities between her patients and poets, who she believes share ‘an underlying imaginative process’. I’m just in the Preface, in an attempt to begin reading for an essay, and already struck by Siegelman’s beautiful and complex use of language!

Awareness

“To be aware is to be responsible.”

Joel Latner

The Enablers

Who inspires you? What ignites, propels and supports you? What enables you to reach your optimal in any given moment; to do your utmost, to feel grounded and whole in your self?

I first came across the notion of what enables, as opposed to what hinders, through Gestalt psychotherapy training. The aim of Gestalt therapy, as I imagine with most forms of psychotherapy, is to enable the client to feel alive, creative and to act spontaneously, utilising the present moment, rather than allowing past patterns and calcified ways of being to dictate her way-of-being-in-the-world.

These would fundamentally begin with increasing the client’s awareness of himself, and ultimately to allow him greater choice in how he can change to gain more from his life or be satisfied in knowing how he is being and doing. Both would build towards enabling him to take full responsibility for himself, rather than give this over to others. If not, then he may blame others for his feelings, actions, life situation etc, and inevitably disempower himself rather than take the reigns to lead himself in the direction that he want to be in.

Another way I may enable someone is by turning a blind eye to his actions. He may make unrealistic demands of me, consistently attempt to belittle and diminishes me and my contributions; he may even create lies to shame and scare me, but it’s my responsibility in how I choose to act. If I give myself a little distance to detangle my self from his troubled patterns, then I will become aware of infinite choices open to how I respond. I become response-able, and feel satisfied in taking responsibility and power back into my own hands.

Conversely, if I find myself caught in his intricate web, afraid of his threats, shamed by his judgement and punishments, then I enable him to continue in his way. I most likely would not be the first. This is how people who struggle with toxicity in their lives, often leave a trail of rotten relationships along their path. Falling outs, unresolved arguments, disagreements that turned into angry silences, or worse. He will isolate himself, his true, wounded, pained and afraid self, from those around him. He may be highly accomplished at acting the part of a loving, confident, tender husband/ brother/ son/ friend/ nephew, when in fact he is filled to the brim with self- doubt and loathing, and fear. A deep, familiar and stifling fear.

This is when the safe therapeutic space can allow her to experience herself differently, to notice how she is being, to find words to familiar emotions that may have seemed annihilating in their intensity, to contain what was overwhelming, to test out different ways of being, and ultimately to find ways of feeling alive, spontaneous and response-able.

Cognition alone wouldn’t do, but nourishing experiences, words with deep personal connection to events, ways for him to make meaning of difficulties in his past, to enable his body to make sense/ or create new senses, and his mind to rest from its habitual need to manipulate and control.

I don’t believe any of us resolve our selves whilst we are alive, breathing and out living in-the-world. And being back in therapy training, alongside weekly therapy sessions, I’ve found myself enabled to see my role in past relationships that I allowed to disempower me, make me feel small and insignificant.

I’m not saying ‘it’s my fault’, because that’s always an oversimplified hook that leads into a stagnant pond. I’m saying that I’m curious, in a gentle and holding way, as to how I got myself in particular patterns with people; how I blinded myself to the realities of the situation, and how choiceful my world seems right now.

Shantay You Stay

Last summer, I became a fan of Rupaul’s Drag Race. That’s 10 years after it first aired and became a sensation globally. I was aware of RuPaul as a celebrity drag queen, as well as the show, as a close friend has been a dedicated fan from the beginning, yet I didn’t feel an inclination to watch.
Honestly, I didn’t see how a reality show about drag would have much relevance to me. Drag, to me pre-RuPaul, is men dressing as women, be this in an exaggerated way, and was synonymous with transvestites, cross-dressers, transgender and transexual. I will not go into the differences between these groups- though I do encourage anyone who isn’t familiar to educate themselves- I will say, on a basic level, I’ve learned the majority of drag queens who go on this reality show are men who dress as women professionally to perform. I’ve heard contestants clearly separate themselves, majority gay men, from their drag personas, women of all shapes and sizes. They put on their costume to perform and entertain, in a myriad of variations within the genre (comedic, conceptual, pageant, fishy etc).
To me now, drag queens ultimately fulfil the role art and artist hold in society: to act as a mirror, reflecting back, with commentary, on how we see ourselves, inviting us to question and dialogue around change.
The reality show makes all this accessible, as it humanises what are often a minority within a minority group of people, historically marginalised and persecuted, often by their own family. The contestants find ways, often highly creative ways, of actively battling to hold onto themselves, their inner authentic selves, which I’ve found astounding and deeply moving. They have an opportunity to be seen and heard, not just on a platform to catapult them professionally onto the world stage, but as people, to be amongst peers, to be ‘normalised’, validated and accepted in a way that society might not have done.
This inclusivity, acceptance of difference and celebration of diversity is what excites and speaks to me most as an audience member, whose life on the surface still seems a world away.
In reality, I now see that I’ve much in common, as a human being who has struggled (like the majority of us) to be accepted wholly, and in turn, continue the struggle by not accepting parts of myself I’ve since learned are not acceptable (like being angry, dressing provocatively, being loud etc). The successful drag artists are those who have come to recognise their life script, to accept and often weave this into their artistry.
As a mother, I have often felt important life lessons were at hand too, listening to contestants’ experiences of acceptance and rejection. I am inspired and moved, not just by the contestants, but by their families, who we also hear about and often meet at the end of each series.
I resonated with this recently when I enrolled my son onto ballet classes, to join his older sister, and was met by resistance from immediate family. The implicit fear saddened (and angered) me, and though I believe I’d have taken on this battle even before my introduction to RuPaul, the impact of accepting/ rejecting a child has deepened somehow since.
Ballet is an art form where it’s male dancers are often discouraged or explicitly rejected for their passion; sadly too, more often by the male members in their immediate family, like brothers, fathers, grandfathers etc. I don’t imagine my son will become a ballet dancer, in as much as I don’t imagine my daughter will become an Olympian swimmer, because they are taking lessons, and I want to continue to expose them to experiences, expand their toolkit, offer them creative and healthy ways to express themselves, and hopefully accept themselves.
I watch some contestants thrive in the competition, as they push themselves to their limits, whilst others self-sabotage and crumble. RuPaul often shares part of his story, his struggle, just enough- almost in a therapeutic judicious self-disclosure way- to encourage and facilitate this process. Sometimes his words are heard, sometimes his words are not. All this I see as immensely reflective of life journeys in general, how we meet challenges, what we take from our environment, and what enables us as humans on a constant path of change.

Switched On

As human beings, we are wired to need human connections to feel well, alive, have a sense of joy and be curious in the world we live in. 

Fulfilling human connections help us feel loved, wanted, cared for, that we belong and are supported when in need. As adults, if we are well adjusted, we will often know when we need help, and how to reach out to enable ourselves to feel better. This may be as simple as noticing I feel tired, and being able to take a moment to rest. 

Sometimes, we aren’t able to reach out for this help. Maybe, not even know that we need help at all. Not even know that I feel afraid, or deeply exhausted, or that I’m immensely angry. 

Instead of feeling what I’m feeling, I translate my feeling into something else, and get into a place where I’m deeply upset with someone close to me for what (to them) would be a minor event, or having a confrontation with a stranger on the tube for not getting out of my way. Namely, I’m triggered into an emotional response that relates more to something that might have happened to me in the past, or more correctly, to a need that was left unmet when I was a baby or child, that as an adult, I am no longer even aware of. It’s out of my conscious awareness. 

Babies, unlike adults, are completely helpless and vulnerable to the world around them. If hungry or scared, they rely 100% on their carer to attend to them, to feed them, to cuddle them and help them feel secure. This applies to young children, and even, into young adulthood. How responsive is my environment to meeting my need, determines how secure I feel in my world. 

This may be sounding a little cryptic. Or maybe an oversimplification of an immensely complex subject. 

What I’m struck by, is how research, particularly neuroscience, has allowed us to have empirical evidence into the impact of healthy human connections, ie, relationships that enable us into being our best selves, to heal and repair, and relationships that leave us switched off. Not just metaphorically switched off from feeling something nourishing, even something painful, but literally, our genes switch off the parts of our brain that feels joy and love. 

In epigenetics, methylation is the process whereby gene function and expression is modified, and this is not exclusive to you, but can be something you inherited. So we don’t just inherit a set of genes, but we can end up with sleeping genes that then impact how we function in the world. 

An example, let’s say my mother as an infant did not have a loving, responsive mother, who worked to meet her baby’s needs, or as a child, she was reprimanded for crying, repeatedly punished if she expressed her anger. To survive, she adjusts her behaviour to meet her environment, and her brain helps her by forgetting her unmet need. Now, if she’s scared, she might frantically tidy to calm herself down. She might eat to swallow down her rage. This is an adult just getting on with life’s challenges as best as she can. These are her coping strategies, left unchecked since she’s been a child, unable to do much else. 

This isn’t just a behavioural response. Her nervous system has also learned to cope, to translate her needs and her world in this unique way. Her genes have also taken note, and politely switched off the parts of her brain that is nourished with playful curiosity, true intimacy, with enabling human connections. 

As an adult, as a mother herself, she projects her fear onto her baby. She may become overly anxious in her responses. If baby cries, she panics. If her young child is angry, she panics. Maybe, in time, she snaps and punishes them like she was punished. Or maybe she is scared, and finds other ways to quell her angry toddler with sweets, presents, and other momentary distractions. 

Her baby, toddler, young child grow up in their mother’s world. The old wives tale of a nervous mother raising a nervous baby, according to epigenetic, rings true. 

It’s not all doom and gloom.

The research also shows how intervention, say psychotherapy, can rewire us, not just to feel and behave differently, but to actually wake those dormant genes that switched off with developmental trauma (the baby not attended to, or child growing up tiptoeing around her father’s anger). I’m purposely not tackling examples of physical abuse or physical abandonment, and focus on emotional abuse and the impact of an emotionally unavailable primary carer, because again, research has shown the impact of the latter is as damaging as the former. 

Back to the good news. 

Research shows that being able to access our needs, maybe even gain emotional awareness so we know what we are really feeling, then to be able to put words to our true feelings, calms us. Calms our nervous system, the part of our brain that might have been triggered because it has a sense memory of our deep anger, fear and the sadness of not having been taken care of as as a child. 

As an adult, when we are able to recognise,be with, hold and care for our younger, wounded child, then we can begin to repair. 

The therapist, in these cases, may be the first person who is allowed a glimpse into my deepest fears, to meet my raging toddler self, to help me learn that expressing my need does not make me a ‘cry baby’, or if I’m a man, does not mean that I’m weak and needy. 

The stigma surrounding mental health and mental illness, in my opinion, is a major barrier. The idea of getting help when we are not diagnose with a mental illness still seems strange to the majority. In my culture, as in the family and environment I was raised in, those who are mentally ill need to get treated, otherwise, you’re OK and you just get on with life. Maybe why, I met many clinical psychologists and psychiatrists, in Middle Eastern circles, but not so much psychotherapists and art therapists. It’s clearer, cleaner and easier to Other those with mental illness, than to accept most of us can do with attending to unmet needs. 

Truth is, the majority of us have our unique ways of dealing with our world, which would fall under some neurotic pattern of being. We can still function as ‘normal’ individuals in society. I can eat whenever I am distressed, or stonewall my wife when I’m angry with her, which she in turn can manage by avoiding conflict... 

And yet, if you’re in a position to invest in yourself, to do the work in a therapeutic space- not just self help books!- to heal yourself, then it wouldn’t be just you potentially living in a brighter world with those around you, but you’d also pave a path for future generations, to help those you love to switch on and into a better world.

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I’m clearly not a scientist, but am sharing the above as new learning, four weeks into a therapy training course. I’m struck by the evidence that shows how effective therapy, and some other mindfulness type work, not just in profound individual change, but beyond ourselves. How our parents’ life experience impacts us, and more, how we are able to repair not just ourselves but generations to come. 

Bearing Witness


Bearing witness is a term commonly used in therapeutic circles to mean the sharing of life experiences with others, whether talking or via various art forms. In telling our story, we are better able to process our experiences and to integrate these into our whole self. This ultimately can lead to healing of trauma, and an overall sense of wellbeing.


I’ve been aware of how witnessing our children can help validate their experience, to develop and strengthen their sense of self. This practically can be as simple as being present with your child as she plays, maybe show you part of his pretend game, maybe invite you into her imaginary world for a moment. Putting mobiles away to simply be.


What I’ve been with recently, is the power of the witness, and specifically: the importance a child bearing witness.

Previously, I’ve only thought of this in terms of negative experiences, like a child witnessing domestic abuse, perhaps as simple as father ignoring mother or putting her down, and the messages this ultimately penetrates baby.


However, in the last few weeks, I’ve had the opportunity to share parts of my non-mothering self with my children, which felt significant to both child and me. As someone who only takes on limited freelance work, largely due to childcare issues, I am limited in having much of a life outside of the domestic sphere. So opportunities to share such parts of myself feels particularly important to me. 


One example has been attending last Friday’s Central London meeting of Mothers Who Make, a support network for professional/ passionate artists who are also mothers. I’d been interested in the group for practical networking reasons, to try to get back into my creative practice, but last Friday, with both my kids near, I felt how important their presence can be as I share my artist self with others. I write and sometimes paint, but do both when the babies are asleep or in their part-time nursery. I have shared work in 2017 and taken on short freelance jobs, but again, the babies are tucked away. So here, they were very much part of my dreams and ambitions, and integrated into a community that I belong to (be it in a limited sense for the time being).


Another opportunity has been including my babies in my helping out at their nursery’s summer fair next Friday. I’m part of a parent choir, put together over 5 weeks, to sing at the fair. I couldn’t secure childcare, so brought my kids along to their nursery after hours, where they snacked and played with a few other children, and listened to us rehearsing. Simple, and somehow this felt important. Initially, the headmistress had intended to keep the kids in her office or the staff room, away from us, in order to avoid their disrupting the rehearsal process and for her to get on with the ever piling load of admin. However, with the long daylight hours and gorgeous weather, we managed to convince her to keep the kids in a contained outdoor area near us. Within ear’s shot, they wondered in and out of the musical action… excited, and visibly aware that they are part of something bigger than their usual time at this familiar space. 


I’m not sure I can articulate the importance of the above. 


In a baby music class in San Francisco, back in 2017 when my youngest was a few months old, the group facilitator talked about the importance of baby hearing mum/ dad’s voice in the choral singing of the group. In doing so, baby can gain strength in developing their own voice and sense of self. Perhaps this is what I’m imagining, namely, my children witnessing their mother sharing her voice (literally and metaphorically) and being part of this process.


Such moments feel significant. Especially when the majority of my job as mum is left unwitnessed. There’s no-one to witness when I read, sing, take them on the underground, soothe upset, cook, book dentist appointments, book theatre tickets, clean, feed, play, break a fight, bathe, laugh at their shenanigans, put them to bed (with varying success)… the moments of a job well done, as well as the more challenging moments. I don’t have someone to share these moments with, even on a daily chit chat sort of way. This leads me to Maya Angelou’s often quoted:


There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.”


So here I am, telling. I realise, now as I write this, how this blog site came into being and my need to share with whoever reads, parts of my story as it unfolds. 


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Anyone interested in joining Mothers Who Make, I’m now part of the North London Hub, with details here.