Being An Adult

This adult life has hit me all at once. Full time work is weird. What’s weirder though is how much I’m loving it. I’m working with adolescents in an inpatient psychiatric hospital and boy am I loving it. I mean, it’s hard. I cry a lot and very rarely leave things at work but I’m learning.

I’ve been thinking – this might be it. I think this is my calling – working with teens. As if I don’t get enough of them at work, I’m trying to organise youth events at my mosque in my spare time. What even is this? Since when did I enjoy this so much? Damn, they’re just so amazing. They’re interesting and fun and persistent and determined. It’s inspiring, when it’s not being used negatively. It was a conversation I had with a colleague that led me to this thought process actually. She was asking how I had been finding everything and suddenly hit me with:

“You’re an absolute natural with young people, I hope you keep working with them.”

Honestly I nearly cried (I’ve been emotional lately, sue me). It’s so nice to hear positive feedback, even nicer when it makes you really think about the work you’ve been doing pretty much on autopilot. It was nice.

I don’t know, maybe I haven’t tried other things enough. I just feel like this is what I want to do, you know? I just want to be there for these young people during their most vulnerable and difficult times so far in their lives. I want to be there to encourage them and work with them and see them beginning to empower themselves. It’s hard and it’s upsetting and most of the time, I feel like I’m putting in far more than I’m getting out but at the end of the day, it is so damn worth it. I think maybe this really is it.

So there are my most recent ramblings, hope you enjoyed. Maybe I’ll keep you posted.

“I’m enough of a realist to understand that I can’t reach every child, but I am more of an optimist to get up every morning and try” – Preston Morgan.

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The Think and Judge Cycle

Recently, I’ve been overwhelmed by self-judgement. I feel like every time I do something, I’m filled with negative thoughts, judging myself for every movement I make. Example – you know that horrible moment when you think someone is talking to you but they’re talking to the person behind you? Right, so I was just at the wedding of one of my closest friends and had that moment when I thought my friend, who was with the beautiful bride, was calling me up for something. I went, literally in front of everyone, only for her to say she was calling someone else. It was fine, I laughed and chatted with the bride and I’m pretty sure no one even noticed, but as soon as I sat back down I was overwhelmed with this negative internal dialogue:

“What if everyone was laughing at me?

Why am I so stupid?

How could I possibly have thought she was talking to me?

Why do I always embarrass myself?

I bet everyone thinks I’m a total loser.”

Overthinking has been found to activate some of the same parts of the brain involved in anxiety and fear, which is why it is such a huge trait of anxiety disorders. Every now and again, I manage to get a grasp on mindfulness and the non-judgemental aspect of it where you simply accept your thoughts and let them go, rather than judging or dwelling on them. But it’s not always easy to do that and the situation I described was just one example of my mind in overthinking mode.

Judgements from others are difficult to cope with. I know some members of my own community are pretty judgemental so I often feel like I’m under a microscope for every move I make when I’m around them. But to be honest, I feel like I can cope with judgements from others because I’ve adopted a bit of an “I don’t really care what you think because you’re irrelevant to my life” attitude (which probably has its own issues but whatever). It’s self-judgements that I find hardest to cope with because you can’t really escape your own head, can you? I think that’s what makes it so hard to break out of the cycle of negative judgements and internal dialogues – it takes so much effort to remove yourself from the trap of your own mind.

We have a concept in Islam called Jihad-un-Nafs. I guess when most people hear the term “Jihad” they’re like “oh crap” but this concept talks about the struggle against the own self. Although the media (and so called “Muslims”) think otherwise, the most important, major and difficult struggle we have to go through to achieve closeness to God is this struggle – the one against ourselves. It’s fitting really, when you think about mental health. It really is the struggle you face with yourself, with your own mind, that is the hardest. Maybe I’ll do a whole separate post about this one day but in the meantime, I think I need to go back to mindful colouring. If you need me, I’ll be with my collection of adult colouring books.

“Overthinking is parasitic. It’s viral. It’s deadly, even. Letting yourself fall victim to overthinking doesn’t just kill your happiness, it destroys who you are. The mind is a beautiful and complex thing, and the only person who can hurt it is yourself” – Genereux Philip.

The Trouble of a Fixed Mind

Following on from my last post about my summer job on NCS The Challenge, I wanted to write more about something I was reminded of in one of the workshops. The facilitator – Ingrid – led a public speaking workshop and managed to engage 60 young people stuck in a classroom for about 6 hours. She also managed to engage me, and all of the staff. She briefly spoke about fixed and growth mindsets, which brought back my intense love of positive psychology.

Having a fixed mindset essentially means holding the belief that certain skills, like public speaking, are something you are either born with, or not. Basically, if you don’t have the skill, you never will (my rhyming game has been strong recently, side note to myself to take up poetry). In contrast, the most successful people are those with a growth mindset, believing that everyone has the ability and potential to develop skills if they put the work in.

I’d like to think of myself as having a growth mindset, but the truth is that most of us have a fixed mindset on at least a few things. Example for me – art. I can’t draw to save my life, even my stick men look ridiculous. I’ve never been good at drawing or painting or any of that, art in school usually just stressed me out. But art isn’t just drawing or painting, I learnt that when I was with a team when they went to meet their community partner – an organisation called Turf who have been working to increase access to art and encourage creativity in the local community. While we were all attempting to build something out of clay, they emphasised that art encompasses so many things – drawing, painting, dance, music, writing, sculpting, poetry and so much more. It’s not just one thing, it’s not just something you either have or you don’t, it’s not a fixed skill.

Clearly, I enjoy writing. I always have. For a long time, I dreamt of being an author or even a journalist. Whether or not I’m good at it I do not know, but I write for myself. I find the whole process therapeutic. To have it clearly told to me that writing is a form of art pretty much blew my mind because all my life, I’ve thought of art as something I will never be able to accomplish, something I will never be good at. That’s my fixed mindset – when it broke, I realised that there is truly nothing you cannot accomplish. If you’re willing and dedicated, you can achieve whatever it is you want to, even things you never thought possible.

“You must have a level of discontent to feel the urge to want to grow” – Idowu Koyenikan.

NCS The Challenge

This month, I worked on the National Citizen Service programme “The Challenge” as an assistant programme leader. My role was largely pastoral care and behaviour management, making sure that 60 young people, aged 15-17 years, were all supported, included and happy during the two residential weeks. The first week – Cornwall, activity centre in the middle of nowhere, camping all week, water sports, heights and hiking. The second – Kingston University, living in dorms, skills and enterprise workshops and cooking and eating their own meals.

The programme is in summary all about social action and being able to gain skills and work as a team to create some sort of change in the community. The teams were all assigned different community partners, including charities working with adults with learning difficulties, the vision and hearing impaired, those seeking to encourage a greener society and even some wishing to increase access to creative and art workshops.

I’ve worked with young people for a long time, but never like this. Never in a residential setting where I am around them and responsible for them 24/7. It was challenging (ha ha), but one of the most incredible experiences I have had because right before my eyes, I got to see them grow. The ones who were so reserved at the start, nervous about activities or meeting new people were, by the end of the week, accomplishing great things and showing immense skills. Those who were outgoing at the start were also able to accomplish these great things in a different way, helping along the way to encourage others and developing their own confidence by boosting the confidence of their teammates.

One of the most difficult things that I have found when working with young people is that you can never really tell if you’ve made a difference. Honestly, I don’t know if I did. We had an amazing staff team – the senior mentors each assigned to one team they would spend the whole programme with, and the programme leader I worked super closely with – which made the whole process so much easier and we were really able to work together to help make it a great experience. Often, I found myself wondering if I was really needed, because it really seemed like everyone else had everything covered. I think that was my biggest personal struggle – needing to realise that sometimes you have to put in far more than you might get out and that everything can still make a difference even if it seems like you should be doing more.

More than all the personal development I did however, the biggest honour was having the opportunity to see all of these young people really develop. When I did the physical activities with them, I got to see them all conquer their fears or pull together as a team to help others conquer their fears. When I worked alongside them in public speaking and enterprise workshops, I got to see them create or enhance all of these skills in just a few hours and conquer even more fears, accomplishing things they did not always think they could do. I got to see them bond with each other, create the strongest friendships, have parties and karaoke sessions (which the staff may or may not have joined in with), display their incredible talents in a talent show and work entirely as a team of young people without staff input to organise and perform a showcase of their experience on NCS.

I’m quite a cheesy person – I think they all figured that out pretty quickly. I’d say things like “be yourself, because everyone else is taken,” and “everything you do, think TRUE” (trust, responsibility, understanding, empathy – we would give out awards every day for those who showed these qualities). At some point, even our programme leader had to tell me to stop because she was cringing so hard. I just hope they knew how honest I was being when I told them how proud I was of them. How proud I was that they confronted everything head-on, that they accomplished all of these great things despite everything, that they demonstrated impeccable resilience and how proud I was that they were able to inspire the staff, each other and themselves.

“And these children that you spit on
As they try to change their worlds
Are immune to your consultations.
They’re quite aware of what they’re going through.” 

– Changes – David Bowie

 

 

How to Love

So recently I read this book – “How to Love” by Thich Nhat Hanh.

It made me realise something – I don’t love as deeply as I thought I did. I think I’ve talked about how I care for people very deeply, almost too much and how intense it can be. But on reflection, do I really love? Do I love mindfully and unconditionally? I don’t think I do.

There are so many things that we do in our daily lives and not even think about – eating, drinking, talking, walking…loving. I’m into mindfulness, I think everyone knows that. But there’s a difference between dedicating some time to mindfulness each day, like for me taking time when I’m stressed to mindfully colour, and being truly mindful in everything you do.

This book, it enlightened me. It showed me what love is and how different it is to what most people think. I want to learn more, I want to implement it, I want to read about how to eat and how to sleep and how to talk and how to walk. I want to learn how to be. How to really, really be.

“To love is not to possess the other person or to consume all their attention and love. To love is to offer the other person joy and a balm for their suffering. This capacity is what we have to learn to cultivate”– Thich Nhat Hanh.

Messing Up Pt 2

So it turns out that I’m getting better at messing up, hence a part 2 for this.

Someone told me the other day that I have very high expectations of people and that might be why I have so many unstable relationships. I’ve put a lot of work into developing my understanding of boundaries, both professionally and personally, but I still struggle to form “normal” relationships. I put everything I have into my friendships, if I care about someone, I care with my whole heart. It can be intense and perhaps overwhelming for other people but I genuinely just care so deeply and my closest friends know that.

I think maybe I expect the same. If I’m putting everything into our friendship, why aren’t you? Why am I giving you my heart and soul when you won’t open up to me? And it hurts, when things aren’t reciprocated, when I’m not getting back what I’m giving. But because of how deeply attached I get, I let it go. I carry on giving everything, regardless of what I’m getting back, and eventually it takes its toll. Eventually, I need more, and people walk. It kills me every time.

People sometimes say that maybe it is them, they can’t handle the friendship or the intensity of it. But this is such a pattern in my life that it’s hard to think of it as anything but my own doing. Who knows? Maybe I just don’t know what I’m doing, or what I want.

I’ve been trying to be someone I’m not for so long that I can no longer figure out the someone I am.

Who Am I?

Sometimes, I wonder who I am.

Identity has always been a pretty big thing for me. That’s why for my undergraduate dissertation, I partly studied the link between religious identity and psychological well-being (something I try to go on about as much as I can so it doesn’t feel like a wasted 6 months. In case you were wondering, my results were significant – exciting times). I guess it is something we all experience, trying to figure out who we are. It usually happens in adolescence – wanting to fit in but also “discover yourself” so to speak.

The thing is, how can you know who you truly are when you are someone different in each situation? When you adapt yourself to the people you are around? When you change so much that it starts to confuse even you? People have so many dimensions. The keywords that I use to describe myself are things like “Muslim,” “student,” “sister,” “daughter,” “volunteer,” “friend” etc. Maybe the struggle is how to integrate all these things. How do you become comfortable being everything all the time? Why am I a different student at home and at university? Why do I act more “Muslim” when I’m in mosque or with my family?

There comes a point, I think, when your identity changes and varies so much that you begin to lose yourself. Lose who you really are. How can anyone else know me when I don’t know myself?

“I am made and remade continually. Different people draw different words from me.” – Virginia Woolf.