#43: Lessons learnt from therapy
Layla Maghribi on what she's learnt, plus, support this crowdfunder to bring sex ed to our community, and more...
Hi, I’m Alya Mooro and you’re reading The Greater Conversation, a weekly newsletter honestly addressing all aspects of life through the eyes of a Middle Eastern / third-culture / woman / human. Alternately, there’ll be some thoughts from me, or a guest piece from a different Middle Eastern woman, along with recommendations of articles, books*, podcasts and etc worth consuming. If you’ve just subscribed, welcome! If this issue was forwarded to you, add your email to join the list.
A few months back, I wrote about starting therapy, and *finally* finding a therapist who gets me. In the months since, there’s been a whole lot of breakthroughs, and a whole lot of growth happening internally. It’s been exhausting and fulfilling in equal measure. All this to say, I am a big time advocate for therapy.
In this week’s newsletter, Layla Maghribi, who previously wrote about the importance of talking about mental health in our communities, shares the many lessons she’s learnt in her 16 months of therapy. There’s lots of great wisdom in there, and I hope you enjoy the read!
An fyi: as of next week, this newsletter will alternate weekly between a guest piece and my own shares.
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Layla Maghribi, 35, London
I have recently concluded my 16-month relationship with my lovely therapist, P. He’s been an immeasurable source of guidance and support over this time; an emotional shepherd guiding my soul out of the dull parched earth I was roaming, to a land with far more promising horizons. If it sounds a bit overly hyperbolic, then welcome to depression, a one-person dramatic tragedy without the applause.
The events preceding my knock at the therapist’s door are not at all exceptional. A close friendship break-up, the return ‘home’ after an absence of many years and dissatisfaction with my career were some of the unhappy ‘issues’ I was grappling with, and I think I was navigating a ‘third-life-crisis’, one an increasing number of 30-somethings go through. I was energetically low and unhappy in a way that was stealthily robbing my being of joy at every turn. And the kicker, the real mercurial and devious side of mental health, is that almost no-one would have noticed I was suffering with poor mental health.
I was working in a good job at a respected and renowned organisation, I had savings, I had friends and family, I was friendly, sociable, talkative, organised, and productive. I was also irritable, anxious, sensitive, weepy and emotionally untethered. Most of the latter took place behind closed doors (mainly toilet cubicle ones) and what was noticed was probably chalked down to ‘moodiness’ or ‘rudeness.’
All this to say that for a long time, no-one knew and somewhat worse, not everyone initially believed that I was as mentally unwell as I felt. But that is also the intriguing thing about depression, it’s clever and covert. The jovial, laugh-a-minute, witty person you were last night can be the same one waking up in a cold sweat with a racing heart, stressing over the person you were last night.
Over a year later, a large portion of which overlapped with the Covid crisis, it feels like I am writing this about an entirely different person. The (generally) forward-looking and relaxed person I contentedly am today does sometimes find it confusing that I was, not too long ago, staring into the dark abyss of life and feeling that all my good days were behind me.
We reflected on that during our last session; how far I’d come and the progress I had made. From two unmerged parts of myself fighting each other at every turn, to an integrated, kinder and more acknowledging version of myself that has even managed to ward off, for the most part, the avalanche of Covid blues currently descending on humanity. I like to think that the punches depression socked me in 2019, and the steps I took to square up to it, have given me the awareness and fortitude to withstand today’s trials. More importantly, I like to think it has made me more understanding and available to those currently suffering.
To that end, perhaps some of my lessons will help you…
1. You don’t have to have suffered a big and obvious trauma to need help. You don’t treat a cancer patient based on whether or not they’ve been exposed to toxic waste but based on the disease’s presence. Similarly, if you’re consistently feeling unhappy or anxious then there is a dis-ease within you that needs addressing. Just like you’d go get a personal fitness trainer to get fit, so too should you seek a professional to help guide you into balanced mental health.
2. Find your right fit. Don’t assume all therapists are the same or that their methods and modalities will work for you. Like any meaningful relationship, there has to be comfort and chemistry. Recommendations are always helpful.
3. Showing up and being received are the most crucial and rewarding parts of therapy. It needn’t be all lightbulb moments and Freudian dream analysis. Carving out the time and arriving at your session is already a huge shift away from the despondency and surrender depression would have you continuously lie under. It is your first act of defiance, squaring up to your unwanted guests to say, ‘listen mate, it’s time for you to f*** off now. I’m bringing in reinforcements!’ Complimentary to your arriving, is the act of being received. Often it is simply the act of someone giving you space to unburden yourself without judgement and without reciprocity (costs aside) that provides the biggest relief.
4. Just because it happened years ago doesn’t mean you ‘should be over it already’. Similarly, just because something big happened doesn’t mean you’ll be shaped and ruined by it forever, or at all even. Only you will know if that ‘something’ needs addressing.
5. Family may become kryptonite. They can be particularly insensitive around depression of their loved ones, becoming overly sensitive to the finger-pointing they’re expecting. Sometimes it’s the fear and worry for you that can have a similarly negative and suffocating effect. If you can afford it, give yourself a wide berth from them while you undergo your excavation and reassessment, they’ll thank you for it later.
6. It’s all about time. The time you give to yourself, the time you make to show up, and the time you allow for the process.
7. If you can afford not to then don’t stop too soon. It’s tempting to want to relinquish therapy as soon as you feel better but if you want to avoid pitfalls later then it would be wise to stay the course for a time when you are actually feeling better and make sure you haven’t temporarily plastered over your pain. Plus, therapy is just as valuable and insightful when guiding you through good times as it is during the bad ones.
8. Don’t ask ‘how long will it take?’ You don’t want to know, and you are not a race.
9. Don’t be afraid to question or push back on any observations or assumptions made by your therapist. Albeit trained, they’re only human and can therefore make mistakes. They’ll be using their training, experience and your cues to steer the sessions a certain way, but sometimes they are also on a bit of a fishing expedition to see what bites. If something doesn’t resonate with you specifically - however appealing it is to find your ‘fall guy’ – then say so.
10. Brown Girl Therapy is a wonderful social media platform founded by former HuffPost journalist, Sahaj Kohli, that provides personal and scientific insight into the particularities of mental health for children of immigrants. The platform CultureMinds Therapy is also a useful resource that offers ‘mental health support for diverse communities.’
11. Don’t be ashamed or embarrassed. While we don’t have to go full American and start every conversation with ‘my therapist says’ I do make a point every now and then to mention that I have availed myself of their services as a way of showing solidarity and empathy with anyone who may be silently wondering whether it’s actually ok to do so. It is totally fine, of course, to keep it private but letting your trusted circle know what you’re going through may yield just the sort of cheering from the side-lines you might appreciate. At the very least, it will open their eyes to your needs and limitations during this time.
12. You are going to be very sensitive, perhaps excessively so. Anyone who is mentally imbalanced means they’ve been hiding or shielding themselves from some pain they need to address and properly heal. You’re going to be reopening and cleaning out some old wounds before stitching yourself back up; expect there to be some pain and prepare yourself by not over-committing socially and by letting those in your immediate and day-to-day circles know that ‘you’re going through some things’ (additional details for you to decide on) and that you may need some reflective times alone. This is the time to allow yourself full access and permission to feel the emotions without worrying that you are unravelling into an abyss. Experiencing your feelings with the guidance of a professional is a totally different experience to feeling them while hiding in the office loos.
If you identify as a Middle Eastern woman and would like to contribute a guest piece to The Greater Conversation, please email me. You can share anonymously too if you prefer.
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 week, the narrative I want to share is: On a Trip to Nigeria, I Discovered My Black-American Identity.
“Growing up, I always envied white people because of their wealth,” writes the author. “I don’t mean monetary wealth; rather, their wealth of information—the photo albums, the diaries, the birth and death certificates, the oral histories—and those priceless artefacts that tell their story.” In this moving piece, the author, who is an actor by trade, writes about visiting Africa for the first time for a film he was shooting, and the many emotions that arose when discovering his roots.
Book: The Joy of Being Selfish by Michelle Elman. I’ve been thinking / talking / working on boundaries a lot over the last few months, and this is a brilliant read on how to create and uphold boundaries, and why being selfish is actually the most important act of love, both for ourselves, and those around us.
Newsletter: In the latest edition of Misfit, Dalia interviews the person behind Middle East archive, what is one of my favourite accounts on Instagram, posting old-school photos of the Middle East that our ancestors knew.
Podcast: Saudi storyteller and shadow worker Maryam Ghouth on the Goodness podcast with Noor Tehini, in which she shares how the human experience informs her art and how she works to help people get to know the darker sides of their identity.
Watch: Thank God Netflix keeps putting out new content almost as fast as I can bingewatch it. I loved Firefly Lane, an immensely watchable show that is being hailed as the This is Us for friendship.
Do: Rotana is a Saudi-born, Los Angeles based singer-songwriter who is just so bloody brilliant and inspiring. She’s working to bring out a new series called F*d & Blessed, which is all about bringing sex education to the Muslim / Middle Eastern community because lawd knows we need it. She has recently launched a Crowdfunder to raise the money needed to create this. Find out more and support here.
"Wasn’t I committing a grave sin by accepting who I am?" A beautiful read on reclaiming identity as a queer Muslim Bengali.
"During your late twenties and early thirties, whether you want to have children or not, whether you are physically able to get pregnant or not, whatever your sexual or gender identity, whatever job you do and wherever you live, if you have a uterus, then the question of whether or not you are going to have a child will hum through your life, everywhere, for years.” On The Panic Years.
Not all children of immigrants grew up embarrassed about their food, but pop culture convinced them they should be.
An interview with London-based DJ Nooriyah on championing Arab music in the UK.
My friend Anneka Harry recently released her book Lady Sidekick: 20 Tired Tropes for Women, debunking some of the most basic characters that women have been relegated to in the media throughout the years. Alongside the book, she’s released an audiobook which delves further into these tropes, with guests sharing their take. I was asked to write and read a bit on the trope of the Muslim terrorist character that we all know is super eyeroll worthy.
A quote from a book you should read:
“We all spend our twenties and thirties trying so hard to be perfect, because we’re so worried about what people will think of us. Then we get into our forties and fifties, and we finally start to be free, because we decide that we don’t give a damn what anyone thinks of us. But you won’t be completely free until you reach your sixties and seventies, when you finally realize this liberating truth - nobody was ever thinking about you, anyhow.”
-Elizabeth Gilbert, Big Magic
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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