2019 – Moments, Reflections and Milestones
Whenever I tell the story of Myrihla (formerly known as MuslimGirlJournal), I’ve always been open in talking about how it’s linked with my mental health journey. This blog wouldn’t exist in the way that it does if I hadn’t gone through severe depression in my second year of university. I’ve written frequently about feeling suicidal at the time, going through despair and numbness, to name a few emotions. But there is one thing I had never mentioned publicly until March this year.
When Samayya Afzal invited me to be one of the key note speakers at MCB’s Inaugural Muslim Women Conference, she told me I had free reign to talk about whatever I wanted. I knew instantly that I wanted to talk about story telling particularly in the context of power, both for influencing self image, reinforcing or challenging prevailing norms in society.
“Until the lions have their own historians, the history of the hunt will always glorify the hunter.”African Proverb
Chinua Achebe has been one of the greatest influences for me in seeing the way stories can be a form of soft power to challenge narratives which allow oppression to thrive. When Islamophobia becomes embedded in political institutions as we were seeing with remarks such as comparing niqabi women to ‘letter boxes’, Muslim women bear the brunt of the violence both mentally and physically. The New Zealand attack also happened shortly before the conference, so I also wanted to lay emphasis on the importance of mental health, the need for de-stigmatising conversations and providing community care especially for the women who are the fore front of organising.
To do that, Myrihla was perfect both in how it allows me to share my experiences as a Black Muslim Woman and the mental health story related to it.
*self harm trigger warning – The day MuslimGirlJournal started
It was a couple of days before my second year exams, and this particular day I had spent the entire morning crying and feeling hopeless. I was also alone at home and all of a sudden I found myself going to the kitchen, picking up a table knife and running it through my arms again and again. After a minute or two I stopped because something in my mind just said, “Write.”
So I picked up my laptop and I poured everything out. The mental break down I had been experiencing for two years, my regret with choosing my course, feeling like I was the only person that was struggling at uni and not being able to talk about it.
I remember being finished, feeling like a weight had been lifted off my shoulders, closing the Ever note page I had written on and promising myself that after my exams were done, I would start blogging and writing about mental health.
It’s been three years since then, so you might not understand why it was the most courageous thing I had ever done then. At the time, mental health wasn’t something we talked about in the way that we do now. There was so much silence around it because it was seen as a taboo topic both in the Muslim and African community. I decided that day that the silence was killing me. Once my exams were done, MuslimGirlJournal was born and I ran with it! These are some of the posts that I wrote on the website then,
All of a sudden, I had people commenting and messaging me privately (even guys) to thank me for writing about these topics. Even friends shared their own struggles with me whether it was with depression or anxiety. Just like that, I was no longer alone. I had a community that I felt safe to speak to and who felt seen through my writing. Of course MuslimGirlJournal has now evolved to Myrihla but that day and that moment of reaching rock bottom set the foundation for everything Myrihla is today.
Why did I decide to share the story at the conference?
I could have easily spoken at the conference and not mention that specific story but I wanted to tell the origin story in its entirety because I had gotten to that point in my healing. I also wanted to pass on three messages on the day:
- People fall through the cracks every single day because they don’t fit our image of someone who needs help. When I was going through my mental crisis, there was no way anyone could have known because on the surface I looked like the happiest human being on earth! So it’s important that we are aware that mental illness doesn’t have a particular face.
“For us to give the best to our community, we have to be at our own best and that means taking care of our mental health.”Tweet
2. We can’t get to where we need to be in our healing both individually and as a community without spaces where we feel safe to be courageous and vulnerable about our deepest truths. If I was telling people to be comfortable in their truth, I wanted to be comfortable in my own truth by talking about an occasion I had associated ‘shame’ with for a long time despite my growth. It fills me with joy that every time anyone has spoken to me about the conference, they always mention the story and the impact it had on them so I consider my intention mission accomplished.
3. The last thing I wanted to emphasize was the importance of community. Nurturing it through stories (online and offline) and really taking ownership of our narratives.
One last side lesson: As a creative or a writer, it can be all too easy to share experiences when you’re not ready. It took three years before I could verbalize what I attempted to do that day in front of other people.
My best advice for any writer out there: You have to process and heal from things before you share. That’s the process that works for me. There is so much I could write about on myrihla but I will never put myself in a position where I talk about things that I haven’t processed myself because that wouldn’t be good for my well being.
Lastly, the conference was a special event and I’m indebted to the knowledge everyone shared on the table and throughout the day. To be in the company of such a vibrant sisterhood is a gift and I pray we continue to empower and help each other on our journey.
I’m horrible at getting people to record when I do public speaking (partly because I never watch them back) but you can catch up with some of the things I mentioned on the day through the tweets. And thank you to my darling Arwa for being in the audience!
I shared this quote at the end of my speech from Mona Elthaway’s essay in “It’s Not About The Burqa,”
“We are the ones we have been waiting for.”June Jordan
I pray that you benefited from this post and I would love to hear your thoughts in the comment section. Subscribe via email for exclusive content and new post notifications. Listen to my podcast Bookversations here.