#33: My therapist says...

+ Creating for creation's sake by Aya Darwazeh, British Muslim women on disassociating shame from sex, and more...

The Greater Conversation is a weekly newsletter from me, Alya Mooro, honestly addressing all aspects of life through the eyes of a Middle Eastern / third-culture / woman / human. Each week, there’s some thoughts from me, along with a guest piece and recommendations of some things worth consuming.

Hi friends,

I started talk therapy this week. It’s by no means my first foray into therapy; I’ve been before, and I’ve been going to a hypnotherapist sporadically for a few years now.

I’m very lucky in that I have a lot of people I can speak to. Good friends and family with whom I can be myself and speak openly and honestly, but, over the last few months in particular, I’ve found myself increasingly drawn to the idea of regular sessions with an unbiased professional.

The pandemic and subsequent lockdown has brought all sorts of things to the forefront for me, and arguably for every single person in the world. According to a reader survey conducted by Women's Health, 70.3% of the 2,500 respondents said that their mental health had gotten worse since the pandemic began.

It can be hard to find a “good” therapist, though, particularly as a woman of colour. A couple of years ago I had a few sessions with a therapist – a white, middle-class woman – my first sessions as an adult. Though it initially felt good just to have someone to talk to, I soon began to feel like she just didn’t understand me. There were comments she would make occasionally, assumptions she held that were rooted in my being Middle Eastern, in my being “technically” Muslim. Assumptions that were wrong.

It’s something that my friend Tahmina Begum addressed in a piece for Women’s Health, in which she asked the question: Is talking therapy failing women of colour? Many of the women she spoke to seemed to have felt like I did, while sat on that therapists couch.

“Instead of a place to explore our trauma, therapy can quickly become a place where we have to explain our non-white selves as well as our culture and faith practice because those we are speaking to have no reference point by which to understand us other than what is said in the media,” explains Mariam Khan in a piece for Refinery29.

There’s also, of course, a lot to be said for who you feel comfortable opening up to, making the client-therapist match all the more important.

A few months back, I chatted to Sharnade George for my Shameless audio series for Restless Network. A celebrity therapist, Sharnade founded Culture Minds in response to some of these problems, and with the aim of making therapy more accessible for the Black and Asian community.

The Culture Minds directory was therefore my first port of call when I more recently decided to try therapy again, and I was immediately rewarded.

I’ve only had one session with my new therapist so far but I immediately felt seen and heard and understood. I didn’t have to explain my culture, to give a backstory, to swat away assumptions in an effort to get to the heart of what I really wanted to talk about, I just could.

And so I join the ranks of the “My therapist says…” Gladly, and with relief.

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Aya Darwazeh, 27, Amman / San Francisco

Since the world sort of hit pause over 6 months ago, I’ve found that I have more time on my hands. Time that has gotten me to realize that my default existence is to consume. Consume food, social media, music, news, TV, reading materials, clothing, beauty products, friendships…

For whatever reason – actually, many that I can identify, including my very structured upbringing in Jordan, and my lack of confidence in myself and my creative powers ­– when I’m not “working”, I find myself consuming. I intentionally use the words "find myself", because more often than not, my consumption is mindless, and I infrequently wake up to it.

Today, I am writing because I need you to hold me accountable. Honestly, I’ve had enough. I am exhausted, overwhelmed, and overstimulated by our consumer culture; constantly being bombarded with – and usually subconsciously persuaded by – chatter, photos, and advertisements of what to buy, how to look, how to be, how to love, and how to exist. Of constantly being trained to surrender my power to everything external. Of constantly living through others’ feeds; constantly being trained to seek instant gratification; constantly being trained to lose trust in myself, my body, and its infinite wisdom.

This mode of existing is killing my brain cells. It leaves me feeling used, empty, inadequate, and unsatisfied. It leaves me living for the "next thing.” Planning my next move, my next social gathering, my next job, my next set of goals. It leaves me feeling like a robot: programmed, predictable, tamed.

It’s only recently I started realizing that our consumer culture is designed to take advantage of our mindless conscience, our feelings of inadequacy, and our susceptibility to addiction.

As a consumer, she is predictable, tameable, and submissive. Even Instagram can predict with substantial certainty what she’ll do next. As a creator, however, she's destructive, unpredictable, wild… unstoppable. That’s when she ventures into unknown territories; territories that may even challenge those around her.

I’ve become curious to explore what it means to indulge in creation for the sake of expression. To explore what it means to creatively and fearlessly express myself, to jerk my hips to the beat of the drums, to whip my hair like no one’s watching, to roar out loud like a volcanic eruption.

I’ve become curious to explore what it would feel like to wake up every morning and choose to create. To create day after day. To create something that feels wholeheartedly authentic, something that awakens me, awakens my senses, and provides pleasure and fulfilment in the mundane tasks.

It’s not easy for me, and I’m sure for many of you, too. It’s hard when our society limits how we can express ourselves. I ask: How can she explore the avenues of her existence when the boundaries are so black and white? How can she create freely when she is not allowed to go over “red lines?” How can she be empowered to tap into her magic, when she is expected to follow one path and one path only?

I’m slowly discovering that there are ways, regardless of the noise. The paths have never been more illuminated, thanks to Corona. I’m grateful to it for forcing me to stay at home, and for helping me seek reconnection with my long-lost creator essence. I am determined to find her.

An Investor Relations Director by day, Aya seeks to facilitate deeper connections for individuals within themselves and those around them. A Writer by night, Aya explores the depths of the human condition, identity confusion, and the extra spice that comes with being an Arab woman. Aya graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in Cognitive Neuroscience from Harvard University. Check out her work and follow her on Instagram.

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This newsletter is sponsored by The Doe, a digital publication which shares unfiltered, anonymous stories in an effort to encourage conversation and engagement with new ideas. This month’s theme is Science and Tech and the narrative I want to share this week is Psychedelic Therapy Is the Therapy of the Future.

The conversation of mushrooms as therapy is one that has been coming up a lot recently in chats with my friends, so I found this narrative fascinating. It’s also, in a way, the subject of one of my favourite books, The Doors of Perception, in which Huxley chronicles his experience of taking mescalin and the very many realisations it birthed. To be perfectly honest, I’m curious but also shit-scared. In short, I’m intrigued, but not sure I’d ever really do it. Would / have you?

Read the narrative on The Doe

  • I’m currently reading Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides, the bestselling author of The Virgin Suicides. The novel is the 2003 winner of the Pulitzer Prize and is a stunningly written inter-generational and intersex take on immigrant life in the the US in the years spanning the 1940’s - 1980’s. Order the book and check out some of my favourite fiction reads on Bookshop.org, a new online platform that supports struggling independent bookshops.*as an affiliate I get a commission, too.

  • It’s OK to grieve the time you’ve lost this year

  • My mate Tahmina Begum chatted to British Muslim women on when they began to dissociate shame from sex.

  • "Just as there is now a general and growing acceptance among women that there is more than one way to be a woman, let’s hope that, in time, the same will be true of being a man."

  • A beautiful piece by Diyora Shadijanova on how she came to learn that her mental health issues don’t relate to the strength of her faith.

  • I have been OBSESSED with decluttering and tidying and containing and this, by Pandora Sykes, speaks to why that is so many of us on this most messy of years.

  • "We received countless anti-racism book orders. And yet, despite all of the learning that supposedly took place via these books, in early November 2020 exit polls stated that among white women, Trump still held their support: An estimated 55 percent of white women voted for Trump. This is at least a two-point increase for this demographic since the previous election." 

  • I loved listening to this episode of the Arab American Psycho pod in which Reem Kanj chats to host Noor about getting divorced as a 30-year-old Middle Eastern woman, launching management company Ego & East and more. I chatted with Noor for her pod a few months back, too - check out that episode here.

A post shared by Alya Mooro • عليا مورو (@alyamooro)

I want there to be a happy ending where they *don't* end up together. In my latest column for Restless Network, I explain why. 

If you’ve got any recommendations for movies / books etc with alternative happy endings, drop me a message, please.

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Thanks for subscribing! I'm Alya, the person behind this newsletter. I am a freelance journalist and the bestselling author of The Greater Freedom: Life as a Middle Eastern Woman Outside the Stereotypes. You can follow me on Instagram here, and Twitter here.

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