My Journey with Mental Health Issues: Part 2/4 (2014-2015)

Trigger Warning: Depression, Anxiety, Mental Health Issues and Sickness.

My Journey with Mental Health Issues is a 4-part series I am doing on my blog and Youtube channel as a means to share my story and provide resources to those who may be seeking help. Everybody’s journey is unique and I hope by reading or hearing my story, you will be strong enough to share yours in a way that will empower others as well.


2014

2014 was a tough year for me health-wise. In February 2014, I suffered a serious concussion as I fell on the ice and hit my head twice within a span of an hour. It not only triggered physical symptoms like short-term memory loss and migraines but it also caused my mental illnesses to flair up. I was battling physical and psychological symptoms that were debilitating to say the least. My concussion also lead me to dropping my courses that semester which put me behind a year in school. I was devastated that I would not graduate with my friends.

Once I made a plan for myself after my physical symptoms were much more manageable, I started feeling better emotionally. Fast forward to late July 2014 and that is when my life changed yet again. I was on the subway going to my university when I was spat at, had my hijab pulled and verbally attacked by a middle-aged white woman. It caused me a lot of anxiety. I never spoke to anyone about it for at least 10 days. Once I processed what I went through, I decided to take off the hijab temporarily. While it relieved my fears of being attacked again, I was on the receiving end of a lot of backlash. That took a huge toll on me. People asked me if I left Islam, if I still pray and said I am making a horrible mistake. I lived with guilt for so long. I felt like I wasn’t myself.

I got over the guilt eventually but soon after another test came my way. In October 2014, I started having sharp pains in my stomach periodically. They were so debilitating that I would vomit quite violently. I kept going to the hospital. Some called it was it was: a gallbladder attack and some called it muscle spasms. This pain went on for two months. On the evening of December 3rd, I was in bed relaxing after my final exam. I had another exam the next morning at 8:00am so I was heading to sleep shortly after. While trying to sleep, the pain started again but it was 10x worse than any other pain I have had in my life. I quickly started vomiting very violently. This went on the whole night. My vomit eventually turned black and that’s when I knew I had to go to the hospital. Long story short, my gallbladder was about to explode as confirmed in an ultrasound and I was rushed to the main hospital where I was going to have emergency surgery.

I got over the guilt eventually but soon after another test came my way.

My anxiety was severely triggered by the fact I was going to have a 3-4 hour surgery. The last time I was under the knife was when I was 6 months old so this was the first operation of my living memory. I recovered quite well from the surgery but my mental health was slowly deteriorating to an extent that I would find out in 2015.

2015

My mental health was [seemingly] doing well in the early part of 2015. I was doing relatively well in school, I was very involved in many student groups and I was blogging more often. However in June 2015, my life changed forever. See, I lived with my mom and her brother. My uncle had a form of autism and we were very close. We were more than just uncle and niece; we were like siblings. I was on my way to Windsor to go to a conference when my mom told me: “Your uncle is sick, I have to take him to the hospital.” The last time my uncle went to the hospital was in 1966 so this was a big deal. I was supposed to come back in a few days but I decided to book the earliest possible train back to Toronto. Once I arrived home and got to the hospital, our worst fears were said: there are tumours in his colon and his bowel was perforated. He had to have surgery which they would take as many tumours out as possible and test them for cancer. Days later, we sadly found out that my uncle had stage 4 colon cancer and it was not curable. I was beyond shaken. I tried to remain strong but the stress got to me eventually.

In October 2015, I started getting extremely anxious and would have bouts of crying in public. One day while I was having a panic attack, a staff member that knew me well saw me and took me into their office. Through that discussion, I talked to my professor of the course I was about to write a midterm for and with their support, I sought out accommodation to help cope. I also booked an appointment with my doctor and was seen within a week. That is when I was put on medications for the first time.

The medication called Effexor really helped me stay in control of my emotions throughout the rest of 2015. However, I gained weight quite quickly and it put a damper on my overall mood and confidence.

How I Stay Organized & Plan My Time Effectively

Organization and planning are things that I have only come to embrace in my life during my years in university. See, I was a mess before. I may have used my memory to remember everything but I NEVER, EVER wrote in planners. I remember being in middle school and my grade 8 teacher would check our planners every Thursday. If it wasn't filled out by us and signed by our parents, we would receive consequences. I was the type of student, at the time, who scribbled in stuff late Wednesday night, had my mom sign it and present it to my teacher the next day.

While my 13-year-old self saw that as tedious and time consuming, my 24-year-old self thanks herself for trying to instil something in my life that would become a vital part in it over 10 years later.

Now, I am an organization freak. The desk I am writing from is coordinated to the T. Notebooks and pens to my right, other stationary to my write in a beautifully sectioned off caddy. My iMac there in case I need to hop on and do some work. I have two planners - one is a day planner and one is a weekly planner. I use my weekly planner to plan out my week as an overview while my day planner is used to for specific details. I try not to get upset if I don't follow my schedule 100% but I do try to stay on track. I use sticky notes and notepads. Also, Google Calendar has become the apple of my eye (no joke!). Now if people want to meet up for coffee, they can see my calendar and see when I am free between classes, meetings and other stuff that consumes my time. Now, I can safely say that my life has greatly improved after I stopped being stubborn and dived into the world of organization.

I KEEP IT SIMPLE

While I am one who loves colour, when it comes to my planner, black and white is how I roll. However, if something important needs to be written, I write it in red. I find too many colours distracting when trying to retrieve important dates and information and by having a simple and clean planner, I am able to see what I need to do easier.

GIVING MYSELF SPACE

I like to give myself time to let things naturally happen. While I like to stay on schedule, I feel it's really important for me to give myself some leeway as a buffer. So for example something that would most likely take 1 hour to do, I give myself 1 hour 15 minutes or 1 hour 30 minutes just so I don't need to rush from one task to another. 

I SET SHORT AND LONG TERM GOALS REGULARLY

I am an avid fan of goal-setting. Whether it be for my personal brand, my business, faith or even my career aspirations, I love goal-setting while keeping the present in mind. Something I talked about here before is destination addiction and that is something that can happen when you’re focusing on the future and not at your present. It is great to strive for a better future but if you are not aware of your present and you don’t set realistic goals, you’ll set yourself up for failure. That being said, I find to always exceed my capabilities slightly so I see growth within myself.

I SET PRIORITY LISTS ON A QUARTERLY BASIS

I have a list of different areas in my life that I prioritize. I rank them from 1-5 (or beyond). I set these priority lists so I can have a scope of what I should strive for. It’s super important to help you stay on track

So everyone, tell me how you stay organized. I would love to hear some different ways to perhaps refine my own habits as well. To everyone going back to school and work today, I hope it goes well and that 2019 brings you a year of clarity, success and refinement. 

Resources I have used and loved

1) The Content Planner
I highly recommend it for brand/business planning.

2) The Day Designer
A very detailed (kind of pricey) day planner that changed my life.

Any large whiteboard calendar to write goals and any pocket sized weekly planner to set quick goals.

Following My Dreams

18 year-old Mariam

As I head into my mid-twenties this year, I have done a lot of self-reflection. I graduated high school six years ago and looking back, I wish I could tell my younger self not to rush into post-secondary education. While I was mature for my age, I was pretty much living an academic life that did not fulfill me entirely. While I enjoyed subjects like Calculus, English, French and Spanish, some other subjects haunted me.

I was fortunate enough to get into almost every program I applied to (including engineering) based primarily on my Grade 11 marks. I really struggled with handling my anxiety in courses like chemistry and physics. While I was good at them, the pressure to excel was very daunting. I always wanted to do something that uplifted the voices of marginalized people; whether it be through politics, media or perhaps both. However, I felt the need to please one of my parents as they had saved any extra money they had since I was a baby to ensure I go to university. Through that, I decided to enrol into chemical engineering at a university here in Toronto.

First year woes

I got into extra-curricular activities right away. I joined my campus’ TEDx group and loved every bit of it. Later that semester, I joined the Muslim Students’ Association and I finally felt at home. However, a big problem was lying beneath this happiness. While I did well on my midterms that semester, final exam anxiety hit me hard and I had the lowest term GPA I have ever gotten to date. I felt like a failure. I was so used to excelling and enjoying learning that I felt something similar to imposter syndrome. Entering second semester was a big shock. I disliked my courses even more. Instead of evaluating why I chose engineering, I decided to give another stream a try in my second year.

Second year and beyond

Second semester of second year came around and I started taking courses in my new stream: mechanical engineering. I was still feeling the pain of not enjoying what I was learning. What kept me going was my involvement in and out the engineering community. I did not care about my resume and what it had on it. I cared about uplifting people and improving student life. Through that I decided to give another stream a try: industrial engineering.

While I had to stop my studies twice in industrial engineering due to health reasons, I was in this stream the longest. Before my major hospitalization in February 2017, I was at a wall. I absolutely hated what I was doing and my health was suffering. I decided it may be time to switch to another program. In mid-February, I gathered my written work, created a portfolio and wrote an essay in order to apply to journalism. Within five days of my submission, I found out I was accepted. I was elated. However, my mental health had already been damaged and I was hospitalized a few days later for almost three weeks. Through that hospitalization, I decided to give industrial engineering one last shot.

...I truly realized I need to focus on my happiness and writing my own story.

I completed the 2017-2018 year barely hanging by a thread. I was planning my wedding that happened in July 2018, I co-chaired Canada’s largest student-run national Engineering competition and I balanced it with a full course load. I was about to give up but I pushed myself. I commenced my second last year of my studies in Fall 2018. But of course, I got sick and was hospitalized twice in October for a week at a time. That’s when I truly realized I need to focus on my happiness and writing my own story.

Following my dreams

While in the hospital the second time, I worked on updating my portfolio, wrote another essay and applied to journalism. I was not confident in my application but I made dua every day during every salah and praise be to God, I was accepted in late November.

I have always wanted to make a difference to those around me.

I kept the fact I was following my dreams to very few people until I felt I was ready. Knowing myself, I kept my secret for a couple months because I was scared that people would judge me. However, once I publicly announced my career change in February, I was met with well-wishes and messages of support.

I have always wanted to make a difference to those around me. I have struggled immensely with my mental and physical health for a very long time but I try not it affect me and my goals.

If I could tell my younger self anything, it would be to live your life authentically and truthfully. Follow your heart and do what makes you content.

My Journey with Mental Health Issues: Part 1/4 (2004-2013)

My Journey with Mental Health Issues is a 4 part series I am starting on my blog and Youtube channel as a means to share my story and provide resources to those who may be seeking help. Everybody’s journey is unique and I hope by reading or hearing my story, you will be strong enough to share yours in a way that will empower others as well.

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Dealing with Anxiety during Ramadan

It's been a while since my last blog and I am truly sorry. Studying full-time, working part-time and planning a wedding all at the same time really took a toll on me. Now that school is done for a few months, I can breathe and come back to blogging which I hope to keep up even during wedding season (LOL).

Ramadan Mubarak to everyone celebrating. I cannot believe it is almost over. May Allah SWT keep us steadfast through the next several days and continue to build our Iman, Islam and Ihsan.


Ramadan is very dear to me. Ramadan 2013 in particular is when I started wearing the hijab. Ramadan brings ease to my heart which in recent years has seen its fair share of pain. As many of you know, I suffer from anxiety and depressive bipolar. Anxiety has ruled my life in many ways. How I interact with people, how I prioritize things, how I cope. My anxiety really gets bad when I am studying especially because I am not entirely passionate about what I am currently studying. Exams, don't ask me how I manage to survive them, but they really test me, literally and figuratively.

Like exams, fasting tests me. On top of my mental illness(es), I have had a fair share of physical ailments that periodically make fasting hard for me but, Alhamdulilah, I still manage to get through most days okay. My anxiety brings out the perfectionist in me and that means if I feel my fasts weren't perfect, if i didn't observe as I expected or hoped, it creates more anxiety and I become hard to deal with.

So how do I deal with my anxiety during Ramadan when worship is at an all-time high and I want to pray 20 rakahs of Taraweeh each night but always seem to fall a little short of my goal and pray 8 rakahs?

1) Entrusting my efforts in Allah SWT

Allah says in the Quran " فَسَتَذْكُرُونَ مَا أَقُولُ لَكُمْ ۚ وَأُفَوِّضُ أَمْرِي إِلَى اللَّهِ ۚ إِنَّ اللَّهَ بَصِيرٌ بِالْعِبَادِ - I entrust my affairs unto God. Truly, Allah is aware of His servants” (40:44)  Allah is the One who understands how we feel, how we strive to perfect every form of worship towards Him and how we want to be better so we can enter Paradise. Allah never made worship difficult, we did. We fill our lives with so much nonsense and forget what truly is important.

2) Taking one day at a time

I cannot stress this enough. I find myself projecting about the future so much that I lose sight of the fact that today may be my last day and as long as I do my best, Allah will leave the reward up to Himself. In Ramadan, I tend to ground myself more and think about the day at hand and how I have to manage fasting, praying, reading Quran while I go about my daily activities. If I just keep each step ahead of me in my view and not the rest, I can manage. 

3) Eating properly after Iftar and sleeping well

Sleep and proper nutrition really affect my anxiety. If I am not nourishing myself in these key areas, I find my anxiety spike and it slowly builds up and becomes intolerable. I nap when I can, I stay hydrated and eat very healthy, nutrient-filled foods (the Keto diet in particular has helped my anxiety). I almost immediately notice my mood change when I don't get my 8 hours of sleep a night or don't get enough nutrients in my food intake.

4) Taking medication/vitamins on time daily 

I rely on medication to stabilize my moods and vitamins to help me feel more alert throughout the day so it's important for me to take them at the right time. I tend to eat suhoor early, before sleeping, just before Fajr, so I take my medications and vitamins so they start working gradually throughout the day. If I miss a dose or I take one too late or too early, it really affects my anxiety.


I hope this gave you some insight in to how I cope with my anxiety. It is not as simple as increasing prayer and dhikr; it is also critical that I avoid pressuring myself to do more than what I can do. In the end, intentions go a long way and our efforts are always noticed. 

 

My Hijab Story - 2017 Edition

As I migrate my person work to this site and turn Infinitely Classic into a community based blog, I thought it'd be fitting to kick this off with a partially updated Hijab Story. A lot of the content is the same from the one I posted almost two years ago but with updates.

 


1995-2010

“There was no where that I could turn to but God.”

My hijab story is quite a unique one thus I will start the story prior to when I first wore it. I was born almost 22 years ago in the hustle and bustle of downtown Toronto to loving parents. My father, an Egyptian immigrant to Canada was raised Muslim while my mother, a Canadian by birth was raised Anglican Christian and converted to Islam 8 months prior to my birth. In fact, she converted two weeks before she found out she was pregnant with me. As a result of having practicing Muslim parents, I was always exposed to Islam and I always felt I resonated with my Egyptian side much more. From the age of 4, I went to Islamic classes daily after I would go to school (public school) and took Arabic courses almost daily as well. I loved Islam. I lived in a predominantly Muslim area which made it much easier for me.

When I was 8  years old, I ended up moving to the other end of Toronto where Islamic and Arabic classes were not accessible so I stopped going. That is when I started losing touch with it. My mother would pray and I would pray occasionally as I still was not at the age to be praying full-time yet and I did not fast. Sadly, I lost all my Arabic skills because I never had anyone to practice. Note: by this time, my father was not working or living in Toronto due to the nature of his field of work.

 Fast forward 6 years and it was the first time I went to Egypt alone. I had a hard first year of high school as my grandmother died (in front of my eyes) 3 days before I started the 9th grade and coming to terms with my mental health issues. I had no self-confidence, I still held the times of bullying and loneliness in my head and most of all, I missed my grandmother. When I was in Egypt, I had a hard time. I was there for 9 weeks and the culture shock (despite being the 5th time that I had visited) really shook me. I felt very alone, secluded and isolated.  There was no where that I could turn to but God. At that time, I had started praying full-time as I should have been for a couple years. I felt at ease, I felt purpose and I finally felt that Mariam was coming back. Despite my eventual struggles with my anxiety and depression, I always had a place of solace to go to, with my head on the ground submitting to the Lord.  After reconnecting with my religion, I made myself a promise – to wear the hijab upon graduating high school. It was a promise that was not shared with anyone.

2011-mid 2013

“It was a beautiful feeling. A new beginning and I finally felt content.”

Grade 10 ended up being a much better year for me. I still prayed, my grades were higher than ever (Thanks be to God I was always a decent student) and I finally had friends I could trust. I went to Egypt again in the summer all by myself and really learned more about Islam. It reaffirmed my promise that I was to wear the hijab in two years time. Grade 11 on the other hand, was a very tough year. My health was very poor, my anxiety was quite bad and my self-image was not at its best. Grade 12 was a good year and I luckily got into all the programs and universities that I applied to (Thanks be to God once again). After months of going back and forth, I picked the university I was going to attend. I chose the university because although it was still in my hometown, no one I knew was going to be in my program.

It was Ramadan 2013. I had graduated from high school and was 6 weeks away from starting university. I was sitting in my room and was pondering about my promise I had made three years prior. I suddenly felt ready. Ready to wear the hijab and fulfill my promise to myself. That day, in July 2013, is when I started wearing the hijab.

Wearing the hijab in my area was nerve-wracking at first as people knew me. However, once I started university, no one knew that I had just started wearing it. It was a beautiful feeling. A new beginning and I finally felt content.

End of 2013 – mid 2014

“The hijab to me is not just a cloth, it represents the journey I am on and the ones that I was on…”

I had been wearing the hijab for almost 4 months now and all was well. I was enjoying my program, I had made many new and great friends and I was happy. I did notice something strange. Some people treated me differently. I came to realize much later that it was because of my hijab and the misconception some people have of it. Sadly in my second semester of university, I became quite ill and had to take a leave of absence from my studies. That is when I started a downward trek. I was quite sad because that would put me a year behind and I had nothing to do. Due to my illness, I could not do much. I could not even put my head on the ground for sujood because of it and I honestly felt the impact. My faith was not faltering rather I was losing hope in myself.

A few months later, I was well on my way into recovery when a life changing event happened. I was on the subway when I noticed a woman looking at me funny. I never thought much about it. I was getting up a couple stops before mine just to stretch and offer my seat to someone who had a longer way to go. I felt that she spat at me. I minded my own business because I am not one to retaliate or act out. However, close to my stop, she started tugging at my hijab. That is what shook me. Something that took me years to put on was being tugged. The hijab to me is not just a cloth, it represents the journey I am on and the ones that I was on. The incident left me emotionally distraught. I was too scared to tell anyone so I kept it to myself. I sat in my room thinking about taking it off. Reasons being: safety, insecurity and being unsure. Two weeks later, after many sleepless nights, I decided to take it off in order to fully work on my Iman (Faith) while not blatantly looking like a Muslim.

End of 2014-Mid 2015

“It was something I had to do, not want to do”

Alhamdulilah (thanks be to God), the months after taking my hijab off were quite eye-opening. I really became more faithful to God, learned a lot more about Islam and about myself. I was still quite immersed into the Muslim community at my university. Some people misjudged me, including those closest to me but they have no idea how I felt taking it off. It was something I had to do, not want to do. No words can describe the pain of losing something that was a part of you. It was April 2015 when I had an epiphany. I knew I wanted to wear the hijab again, not sure when, but the desire was there. I was awaken by a vivid dream. A dream of my late geddo (grandfather – may God have mercy on him). I have had this connection with him since I was little. He died 10 months before I was born so I never got to physically meet him but I have in my heart. He encouraged me to face my fears, stand up for what I believe in and fought for so much and continue my dreams. He reaffirmed my belief that I am the same Mariam with or without the hijab and that those who love and cherish me will accept it. I woke up in tears. I needed that assurance. I was worried that when I were to put it on again, people would figure I would take it off again especially some closest to my heart. Two weeks later on, I wore the hijab again and this time I know it is permanent.

Mid 2015 to Present

“Today, I am the Mariam I am supposed to be.”

Today I am nearing 2 years of wearing the hijab again and I am so happy. I have not had the urge to take my hijab off once. I feel like I am strong in my beliefs and my goals to create a platform for folks like myself to express and do work no matter what their identities are. I was verbally harassed pretty badly a couple times since putting my hijab on. That period of “hiatus” gave me insight. Gave me the strength I needed to overcome so many of life’s obstacles and gave me the wisdom to stand far above and beyond those who belittle others for their amusement.

That being said, I cannot say that I am not worried about how this Trump presidency will echo and unleashed horrible sentiments in covert bigots. I fear for my sisters in hijab. I fear for my siblings of colour and for those who are ridiculed for being themselves. But what I am is hopeful. Hopeful that we marginalized folks will stand together through thick and thin.

Today, I am the Mariam I am supposed to be. The young, almost 22 year old, daughter, sister, fiancée, friend, classmate, entrepreneur, designer & blogger etc.  Today is another day into my journey towards doing good for the world as I hope and dream to do.