Let me introduce myself. I’m Amna. This is my advice blog. Here are a few facts about me:
- I am a Middle Eastern Muslim woman,
- I have lived in 3 countries so far
- I grew up in the Middle East
- I am currently living and working in the UK
- I am married but I have no children.
Why am I telling you this? Why is this information relevant? These facts have allowed me to consider things from a different perspective. Each of these facts have presented a challenge in my life that I’ve managed to get through (so far!). Each of these facts resulted in me feeling alone or isolated at different points in my life.
I am not sure who will be reading this; but if you are from a minority or are a woman you might know what I’m talking about. Even if you aren’t either, I’m sure you might have felt this way at some point or another. I’ve battled with my share of mental health problems (and still do), but I’ve only talked about it to a select few people in my life. There is a lot of social stigma attached to mental health in general, but much much more so in the Muslim community. So I have found it hard to get help or talk about my problems and often felt alone throughout my life, even when I was surrounded by friends and family.
In fact, this study on mental health within the American Muslim community finds “because the stigma of mental health problems and help-seeking behaviour is strong among Muslim immigrants, many go without essential treatment and often unnecessarily struggle with a mental health issue that could be easily resolved with professional help”. I was unusually lucky in that my mother realised she needed to get me help when I started showing signs of depression when I was 11 years old (this was when I started getting bullied at school).
She took me to see a counsellor. I will always remember this woman. Her office had high ceilings and dark wooden flooring and furniture. She sat behind a large fancy looking dark wooden table, it reminded me of a judge’s table — like I had seen on TV. It was intimidating. I sat in an armchair opposite her on the other side of the table. It was all very clinical, like I was seeing a doctor. I felt like I was being examined closely. She wrote a lot of notes. She had a posh British accent. She showed me a bunch of ink stains on paper and gave me exercises to do to boost my self-confidence. I don’t remember how much she helped, but I ended up changing schools during this time and I got better once I started at the new school so I stopped going to therapy.
Since then, I’ve been seeing therapists on and off and taking medication here and there during different points in my life. If it weren’t for my mother, I probably would never have tried getting help at all (even though my first experience wasn’t great). I would just try to “get over it” and “get myself together”. I always kept my problems a secret, I couldn’t even tell my friends at university because I was so ashamed I was getting help (“am I crazy?”, “why do I need to talk to anyone outside of my family and friends?”). I really would have appreciated having someone to listen to me, somewhere to ask for help anonymously so I could be more honest.
That’s why I decided to start this blog. I definitely could have used something like this — I’ve asked questions on forums like Reddit before when I needed some advice and I was too embarrassed to ask my friends/family or didn’t want any of them to know the problems I was having. It was always so public though and I was always afraid of being judged harshly or identified. Even going to therapy — sometimes I felt like the oerson sitting across from me couldn’t understand my perspective or there was something I wanted to discuss but thought it would make them think negatively about my culture/religion, for example: my parents didn’t allow me to talk to boys and I would be in serious trouble if I was seen by family with a guy even though I was over 18 and I was just meeting a friend. It sounds very restrictive but is perfectly normal in a conservative home in the Middle East.
I want you to ask me questions! I have to caveat this post by saying I have no qualifications: I cannot give any medical, religious or health advice. I won’t be opining on any religious rulings. I am not a licensed therapist and I am not a religious scholar. I am just a regular girl who has had a wide variety of experiences, lived in both the East and the West and more likely than not has been where you are now! I plan to give some more details about my background in future posts which I hope will help you decide whether or not I may be able to help you.
Whether you want a third party’s opinion on an argument you’ve been having with your friend or spouse, you want suggestions on how to deal with something at work or advice on moving to a new city or country — I want to help! I dom’t know if I’ll have the right answer, but I will try my best to provide some sort of guidance. In any case, I always say “a problem shared is a problem halved” — this has always been true for me and I think it works (even though some people don’t like to admit it). If anything, I can probably give you a fresh perspective on your dilemma.
I invite you to reach out. No matter what background you are from, how big or small you think your problem or question is, please send me an email with what has been bothering you or what you have been wondering about. I will try to give you a useful answer and post it on my blog. You will remain completely anonymous — I will not post any names unless you want me to.
In these uncertain times (to use the ever popular cliche!), people are far away from their loved ones and have lost a lot of their support systems. I want to try and do what I can to make the world a better place — one question at a time! Come on, what have you got to lose?
Until next time,