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Getting a Cow to Kick the Elephant out the Room

How Introspection Was the Wake-Up Call of a Lifetime

Riviere Noire, Mauritius (Azeezah Aziz, 2018)

I'll admit, I'm not a fan of emotions or getting in touch with my inner self and if you asked me to talk about how I was really feeling I'd probably ignore you or laugh in your face or both. Depending on how you asked.

All in all, taking the time to look deeply into my psyche was usually a no-go for me.

However.

When I was thrust into a completely unexpected situation last year, I found that ignoring what I was feeling and trying to, essentially, erase what had happened from my mind was doing me more harm than good. Exactly the thing I didn't want to think about was constantly with me, the elephant that just wouldn't get the hell out of my room.

I'm a practicing Muslim. I pray five times a day, I ask my Lord to guide me and give me the best in this life and the hereafter, I pray for my family and my friends and for the good of the world. I prayed for it all to go away. I prayed for help, I prayed for ease. I prayed for Allah (swt) to fix it.

But one thing I didn't do in prayer was ask why I was feeling the way I was feeling and why I wasn't getting any better. Why was I stuck in this one boring, horribly repetitive place and never quite being able to snag that 'Get Out of Jail Free' card? Why weren't my problems being solved for me?

Because as much as I wanted to get better, as much as I needed to get better, asking for something to simply happen, even with all the conviction in the world, wasn't going to get me anywhere without doing a bit of work myself first.

Deep self-investigation is encouraged in Islam; it is a way to develop your personality and fortify your faith, to truly understand how to improve yourself and look forward to who you can become.

The thing was, I just didn't see that until this year, on the first of Ramadhan 1439 AH (16th May 2018), when it all just clicked. I had to stop fighting what I was feeling and make sure I got myself through every bit of negativity before I could finally begin to properly heal.

And so, I got myself to do a some long-awaited, though initially dubious, digging.

First, I'll make one thing clear.

Introspection is a cow.

It goes on for ages, it takes the life out of you, and if you're trying to get yourself over a particularly prickly past problem, it hurts like a bitch.

But it works.

Now, I'm no psychologist, I'm no therapist and I've certainly never studied or researched mental health and its treatments. Unless you count AS Psychology fifty million years ago as 'training'. Point is, I'm not saying this is the be-all and end-all of self-treatment. But introspection is a first step in the right direction.

After prayer, I would sit, close my eyes and think about what I could feel and what they meant. Essentially, I was having a conversation between me, myself and Allah. Instead of throwing a whole wadge of ugly emotions at myself and hope for the best, I tried my best to systematically go through and identify each and every one.

Sadness? Check. Anger? Check. Denial, anxiousness, hopelessness, grief? Check.

Systematically grasping and interrogating these emotions meant that I could finally pinpoint exactly why I was feeling the way I was. Each emotion is attached to a thought or memory, each thought or memory, after a little investigating, produced a reason for feeling the way I did.

I got a cow, to confront the elephant in my room.

So, what now?

By this time I was exhausted and I had no intention of staying by myself in this fragile state, so I went to sit with my brother in the living room to watch television. Because after putting myself through all of that rubbish, something as simple as watching a stupid cartoon and bantering with my brother was a refreshing change of scenery.

Don't have brother? Text your best mate. Call your mum. Go on YouTube and watch RIP Vine compilations. Get yourself as far away from the emotions you've now categorised as you can and seek out the things you love, the people you love, the places you love. Draw, paint, write, compose, listen to music, cook, dance (I highly recommend cheesy Bollywood songs at two in afternoon in the middle of the kitchen singing tone-deaf into a fish-slice. Works wonders.).

Get yourself meeting new people. Volunteer on the weekends. Take yourself to places where you'll counteract those negative emotions. Beat anger with care: help out at a charity shop or a care home! Tackle anxiousness with excursions; go to your local library, visit your favourite museum, plan a day out with some friends. Apply to jobs! Even if you don't need one, even if you don't want one, apply and big yourself up in a cover letter. Highlight everything good about you, and god, it can be so embarrassing, I know, but everything you've said about yourself on that page is true.

Talk to people. Talk to people you hardly talk to. Build a firmer, warmer relationship with them. That mutual on Instagram that always likes your posts? Tell them you really like the stuff they put up! Mention one off the things you have in common! Build new ties, create more opportunities to talk about what you're passionate about. Plan something a week or two in advance. Remind yourself that there are things to look forward to. That you're able to live even if your past is (wrongfully) telling you not to.

Dedicate your time to fulfilling pastimes, make new memories. The old ones won't disappear, but you'll soon find yourself paying more attention to the present and the future than the past.

And if you don't have the time, money or ability to do any of these things, think about why. Who or what is stopping you? What can you do about it? Who can you trust to help you? Where is it that you can go that you'll be able to breathe.

Talk to someone.

After you've sorted through your thoughts and emotions, tell someone. Anyone! Call up an anonymous helpline, let yourself vent. Even looking in the mirror and talking to yourself as if you were a whole other person asking you for advice, do that. Talk and talk and talk until you're all talked out. If you belong to a religion like I do, don't just pray for ease, speak about your hardship, figure out with your lord what you're feeling and what you can do to help yourself.

Be proactive.

It's hard, I know, and you'd rather curl up in a safe space and just not feel anymore. And I know it's never as simple as just 'fixing' it, because stuff like that can't just disappear (although it'd be great if it did). But please remember: Nothing will be solved, nothing will change, by doing nothing.

If you can do something positive, if you can find something that'll help make you look forward to the future, do it.

Search and overcome.

Get that cow to kick that elephant out your room.

Breathe.

-----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------NB: Do not, I repeat, do not rely on just yourself to help through difficult and dangerous situations where your mental or physical health is at risk. If you have or think you have a mental illness, please talk to your doctor or GP, get diagnosed and get the aid you need.

This article was written to detail my personal experience and show how I, a relatively stable-minded person, healed. This is not consultative, it is not a professional opinion. If you are of a balanced and reasonable constitution but are going through a process of healing, then yes, carry on.

But if you're facing problems that will hurt you, where there is no visible solution in sight and you have a history of lapsing into states of instability and pain, or states of pain that occur over a prolonged period, please, please, seek help.

Below are a few sites and helplines to visit or call for advice.

You're not alone.

Anxiety UK : www.anxietyuk.org.uk or call 03444 775 774 (Open Mon-Fri, 9.30am-5.30pm)

CALM (Campaign Against Living Miserably, for men aged 15-35) : www.thecalmzone.net 

Depression Alliance : www.depressionalliance.org

Mind : www.mind.org.uk or call 0300 123 3393 (Open Mon-Fri, 9am-6pm)

No Panic : www.nopanic.org.uk or call 0844 967 4848 (Open daily, 10am-10pm)

Samaritans : www.samaritans.org.uk or call 116 123 (Open 24-hours)

SANE : www.sane.org.uk/support or call 0300 304 7000 ( Open daily, 4.30-10.30pm)

Refuge (for domestic violence advice) : www.refuge.org.uk or call 0808 2000 247 (Open 24-hours)]

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