Gender & Identity Life

The Desi community always shames me for being Pakistani and Indian, ever since they found out

I’ve been thinking about traditional red wedding dresses a lot lately, because there are so many traditions ubiquitous of Muslim weddings I’ve attended that are from India, even when the bride and groom are Pakistani. The red dress so commonly worn by brides has Hindu origins. The event known as the Mehndi ceremony has both Hindu and Sikh origins. When I discovered this, it surprised me, especially considering how much animosity there is regarding inter-religious and intercultural marriages.

I have never felt like there was a difference between India and Pakistan. When I was a child, my maternal grandmother spoke fondly of her own childhood and education in India. When I drew our family tree in third grade, her branch, and therefore a branch within me, had “India” written next to it.

[bctt tweet=”I have never felt like there was a difference between India and Pakistan.” username=”wearethetempest”]

My maternal grandparents were from Uttar Pradesh, which is still a part of India today. Because of this, although I was told that I was Pakistani and my parents referred to themselves as Pakistani (they were born and raised in Pakistan), I have always been acutely aware that a part of me was Indian.

When I tell people this, I get mixed reactions; some confusion and a lot of aggression. “There was literally a war between Pakistan and India,” people would tell me. “You can’t be both.” Some even said, “People died for Pakistan to exist – to be able to say they were Pakistani and not Indian!”

But growing up I understood things differently. My family watched Bollywood as often as we could when I was younger, and I could understand Hindi as well as Urdu. In fact, Bollywood is where I went when I had a desire to see famous people who looked like me.

[bctt tweet=”Bollywood is where I went when I had a desire to see famous people that looked like me.” username=”wearethetempest”]

If nothing else, I knew that India and Pakistan were much more similar than Pakistan and the United States. I had more in common with my Indian Muslim friends from college than I did with friends from other backgrounds. When I speak to store owners at the Desi grocery store, our common language is enough to unite us; it doesn’t matter if one of us is Indian and the other is Pakistani. Here, in the United States, we feel like we are a part of the same community.

Even so, it seems like Pakistanis and Indians find it much easier to say that they are Pakistani-American and Indian-American, respectively. These identities don’t offend the way it does when I assert that I am both Pakistani and Indian. But this is my reality. Both are in my blood. Both have shaped the way I grew up.

Both are a part of my history.

[bctt tweet=”Somehow, being Pakistani-American is easier to swallow than being Pakistani and Indian.” username=”wearethetempest”]

In fact, my paternal grandfather, a Pakistani Ranger who patrolled the border of India and Pakistan, would often cross the border and attend the weddings of Indian soldiers whom he befriended with while on patrol.

A friend once told me: “You can understand why a Bengali or Indian wouldn’t want to marry a Pakistani, right?”

I did not understand, despite her matter-of-fact tone. Walking home from volunteering one day with my Indian friend, a man asked us where we were both from. Being American first and foremost, born and raised, we both answered: “New York.” Upon his insistence, we offered up our ethnicities: Indian and Pakistani.

The man was genuinely surprised, “Aren’t you supposed to hate each other?”

Why? Why should I hate another person because of their ethnicity? What does my friend’s place of birth have to do with who she is as a person? Neither she nor I took part in any war; neither of us was alive when it happened.

[bctt tweet=”Why should I hate someone because of a war that happened before either of us was born?” username=”wearethetempest”]

There is no reason for us to carry on the animosity that the generation before us won’t let go of. There is no reason for us to pass it down to our own children. Contrary to popular belief, ending this animosity does not mean erasing history or discounting the lives that were once lost. You can have love for a country, for its people and its culture, without being in support of everything its government has done.

My sister-in-law is, among many other wonderful things, Indian, and this surprises so many people. Every time someone is surprised, it both upsets and pleases me. It upsets me to know that love between two people from different places is so uncommon that it comes as a shock, but it pleases me to know that my family is a living example of how beautiful that love can be.

I am American. I am Pakistani. I am Indian. And there is nothing wrong with that.

Love + Sex Love

1 out of 6 women hate your sexist jokes for a major reason – so why do you keep telling them?

One out of every six American women has been the victim of an attempted or completed rape in her lifetime. Think about those numbers: One out of every six. There is a one in six chance that your female friend, silently sitting across from you while you’re making or laughing at a misogynistic joke, has been a victim of sexual assault.

It is true that sexual assault can and does happen to people of different genders and sexualities, but right now, without discrediting anyone else’s experience, I want to talk specifically about women.

So, to everyone who thinks it’s okay to make misogynistic jokes: it’s not.

It upsets me that this kind of discussion even needs to happen in 2017, but we’re going to talk about why it’s not okay.

If any woman listening to you has experienced sexual assault, think about how unsafe you are making her feel. The memories you are bringing up for her. The internal fear, panic, and shame you are reawakening, even though she’s smiling back at you and maybe even pretending to laugh along with you because, God, she just wants to feel normal and fit in.

This is happening around you more often than you think. Is that possibility really worth a few ill-conceived laughs?

If you sympathize, think about how much more it would help if you stood up against your friends when they made misogynistic jokes or statements – if you used your voice to make sure that every woman felt that their experiences were being respected? It’s important to do this whether or not there is a woman present. Because here’s the thing: sexual assault and misogyny go hand-in-hand.

Many abusers are also misogynistic, so jokes or comments that have misogynistic undertones are triggering for women who have endured abuse.

What this means is that even if a joke is not about rape, it could be about women belonging in the kitchen or the bedroom, it can and often does remind victims of sexual assault of what they’ve been through; it triggers their memories and the pain that come with those memories.

Many people misunderstand the word “trigger”, but it has very real connections with mental health. Triggers are defined by as: “something that sets off a memory tape or flashback transporting the person back to the event of her/his original trauma.” Anyone that is even remotely tied to the medical community can confirm this.

Too many times have I shut down a misogynistic comment or joke only to hear something like: ‘The feminist has arrived, everyone! Stop having fun!’

Reactions like these swim around inside of me for days: am I too sensitive? Have my experiences weakened me? Have they made me boring? Is something wrong with me? 

The cruelty of these kinds of comments consistently flies over the heads of so many people, even people I consider my good friends, simply because they refuse to sympathize with my past experiences.

Sometimes, I wonder if any other women in the room or conversation are feeling what I’m feeling. We are all so silent about our experiences that it’s hard to tell.

There are also other people who criticize the victim for not stepping up and shutting down the misogyny that’s triggering them (‘Why didn’t you just say something?’), which is basically like asking someone who is drowning several feet underwater to call a life guard. This type of response contributes to the culture of victim-blaming in discussions about rape and sexual assault.

Instead of expecting me to educate people about misogyny when I am trying to hold myself together, why not hold the people making the misogynistic joke or comment responsible? Why not expect them to access the wealth of resources on misogyny and sexual assault, educate themselves, and change?

There should be someone else who is willing to stand up on my behalf and on the behalf of other women. More of us need to be that person for our friends; more of us need to be vocal in our disagreement with misogyny without being asked.

Maybe you’re thinking right about now: ‘I don’t make misogynistic jokes, this doesn’t apply to me’. And if so, that’s great, but ask yourself this: Do you laugh at misogynistic jokes? Are you silent around your friends who make misogynistic jokes?

If so, your laughter and your silence is just another thing preventing women from reporting sexual assault. They see the complicity that the world has with misogyny, and this makes it harder for them to report their assault. Your “it’s no big deal” attitude is shared by the men who commit these acts in the first place, and allows them to walk free while their victims suffer in silence.

So, the next time you want to target or insult a woman for calling herself a feminist, think about what might have happened to her throughout her life for her to become one in the first place. The next time you want to make misogynistic jokes with “the boys,” think about your complicity in rape culture.

Science Now + Beyond

The Muslim community in Minnesota is suffering a major measles outbreak – but they won’t get treatment.

There’s a measles outbreak happening in Minnesota right now.

Yes, you read that correctly.

Since April of this year, 79 cases of measles have been confirmed, 74 of which are in children (ages 0-17) and 64 of which are occurring in Somali Minnesotans, according to the Minnesota Department of Health. Out of these 79 cases, 71 were confirmed among individuals who were unvaccinated for the disease; this is not a coincidence.

Measles is both incredibly infectious (it is an airborne virus) and deadly. Medical care can prevent further complications or ensure that symptoms are managed to an extent, but there is no cure, so to speak. It is, however, entirely preventable.

Before a vaccine was created for measles, this disease took hundreds of lives every year in the US alone and led to tens of thousands of hospitalizations. Fortunately, in 1963, the measles vaccine was introduced, and measles was actually eradicated in the US in 2000.

However, because of anti-vaccine groups pushing parents to opt out of vaccinating their children, outbreaks have occurred here and there. For example, in 2014, an abnormally large outbreak of measles (over 600 cases) occurred in an Amish community that was collectively refusing vaccines.

Why is this happening specifically to children of Somali descent?

There is evidence that Somali-Americans, in particular, have been the target of misinformation regarding vaccines, misinformation which then became widely spread and accepted among the entire Somali-American community, resulting in families denying vaccines for their children.

The Somali-American community in Minnesota felt that autism was becoming prevalent in their community in a way that was disproportionate to other communities. In response to this concern, the University of Minnesota agreed to research autism prevalence and ultimately found that there was no such disproportionate prevalence.

However, advocates representing the anti-vaccine movement organized repeated events and meetings for Minnesota’s Somali-American community, during which Andrew Wakefield (known for falsely spreading the idea that vaccines cause autism) was invited to speak to parents about their children’s health.

This is a particularly disgusting form of targeting because immigrant populations such as the one mentioned are mainly composed of individuals who are unfamiliar with the English language and still in the process of learning how the American healthcare system works. These individuals are often vulnerable, marginalized, and unable to advocate for themselves.

Because of these reasons, among others, immigrant communities often seek guidance from sources outside their community regarding issues such as health. Wakefield’s followers took full advantage of this vulnerability. As a result, anti-vaccine sentiment, although scientifically baseless and uncharacteristic of views in Somalia, is now deeply entrenched in Minnesota’s Somali-American community.

Unfortunately, it has become entrenched to an extent that will be difficult to repair long-term even with the recent outbreak of measles. It is entirely possible, and perhaps even likely, that these anti-vaccine sentiments will be passed down from generation to generation, the way so many health-related myths are passed down in tight-knit, minority communities.

We can do better.

In fact, we must do better. This really should not be happening, especially when so many Muslims are in the medical field.

When it comes to providing information, education, and awareness, we need to be at least twice as active as the anti-vaccine movement, and we need to actively reach the right people: those who do not have easy access to education or information. Lack of education should not be the reason we take advantage; it should be the reason we educate.

The primary victims of this entirely preventable measles outbreak are the children of Somali immigrants who left their home country to provide themselves and their children with better access to education, healthcare, and opportunities to succeed, much like my parents did.

The irony is that they have come to a “developed” country and are still suffering the very same fate as so many people in their homeland. The victims are suffering a fate they essentially left their home to be safe from.

If I’m being honest, it is somewhat appalling to me that this community in Minnesota had to rely on false professionals to gain information regarding the health of their children. In my personal experience, every Muslim community I have ever been a part of has been composed primarily of individuals in the medical field.

Because of this, it is profoundly disappointing to me that somehow our Somali-American brothers and sisters have been let down in such a devastating way.

Becoming a doctor is a wonderful thing, but too often something detrimental happens: when immigrants Muslims become successful doctors, they often stop interacting in meaningful ways with anyone in their community who is not a doctor, professional, or whatever they perceive as educated.

In other words, how educated we are and what we do for a living has become a status symbol, and who we interact with reinforces that status. Whether we realize it or not, we often stop interacting with people who we deem lesser than ourselves or with whom we have less in common, even though we call ourselves a community.

This needs to change.

There is such a huge, gaping lack of medical awareness in immigrant Muslim communities that really should not exist if we, and especially the physicians in our midst, simply care for one another indiscriminately.

No, I do not “blame Muslims” for Minnesota’s recent outbreak of a long-eradicated virus.

I do, however, see this outbreak as an opportunity to realize that we can and should be doing better.

We really can and should be doing better.

Career Advice Now + Beyond

You and your Desi parents don’t agree on your career choice – now what?

My parents, both of whom immigrated to the US almost 30 years ago from Pakistan, are both physicians, and all of my siblings are studying to become doctors. In fact, almost every adult I knew growing up in our local Pakistani, Muslim community was a physician of some kind.

One of my brothers struggled immensely to gain parental approval when he first decided to go into the humanities for his graduate studies, but he courageously pursued his passion regardless, a choice that time proved to be an extremely positive one. Eventually, he found his way back to medical school (of his own volition) when the time was right, a much more happy and confident man than before. Ultimately, my parents and siblings genuinely find medicine both fun and meaningful.

Even so, I’ve always known that medicine wasn’t for me.

I’ve always been attracted to being different things growing up, both in school and during my free time: a writer, an artist, a singer, a dancer, a teacher. To this day, I still have a burning desire to be all of these things, some professionally and others recreationally, but all of the above in order to develop myself into a complete and happy person.

My parents supported me, so I thought pursuing what I loved would be easy, but it was difficult in its own way.

I want anyone else who’s doing something new and different to know what’s possibly and probably in store for them.  It’s difficult to pursue a career that is unconventional by you parents’ standards, peers’ standards, and community’s standards, even if your parents aren’t forbidding you from doing it. Here are a few things to remember if you’re breaking away from the norm career-wise, even if you have permission to do so.

1. The people who disapprove might not always be your enemy.

This I learned from observing my brother’s initial struggles within our family. It’s easy to paint your parents or anyone else who disapproves of your career choice as the bad guy, but most of the people whom society (including your parents) admires and puts on a pedestal are the very people who broke the mold, stepped out of their comfort zone, and shattered the expectations everyone had for them.

Society really does value individuals who dream big and follow their heart, but only after they’ve succeeded.

I know it feels particularly painful when the people you love aren’t supportive of your dreams, but the most common reason for this is because they worry about the risks that come with those dreams. Most of our parents (especially the Desi immigrant ones) encourage professions like medicine not to crush your soul, but because they truly believe there is no other way to lead a financially successful or well-respected (in other words, what they define as happy) life.

Your parents aren’t always right and by no means must you do what they say, but they are usually coming from somewhere (often a different country and culture) that’s worth at least understanding. That being said, there’s a difference between something scaring your parents and something being wrong.

Coming to terms with this is key if you’re going to follow a new and different path; you won’t succeed if you’re guilty or confused.

And remember, your parents may not be happy with your decision now, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they will never be. Do what you need to do and show them how great your choices are for you and everyone involved. Simply telling them doesn’t always cut it.

Some things have to be seen to be believed.

2. That being said, you should expect certain negative consequences and reactions.

This is more from personal experience. Sometimes, it’s family members not being particularly excited about your accomplishments, not because they don’t care, but because they don’t understand. Maybe you won’t be able to have detailed conversations about your goals with the people you love. You may not even be able to tell them about a great day at work because maybe you were excited about a particular Common Core teaching method and they just don’t know what that means.

It’s a bit like being fluent in a language that no one else is familiar with, but you have to find the people who either know the language (these are usually going to be coworkers) or who are willing to learn. For example, my dad went online and researched the entire history of the graduate school I’m attending in September; he had never heard of it before, but he made the effort to learn.

That’s what matters.

Other times, it’s more annoying than that. Get ready for people with virtually no background in your field to give you their unwarranted opinions. “Writing? So, like…what are you gonna do with that?” They never wait for an answer before they follow up with something like: “You/your parents kind of wasted money on that degree, don’t you think?” Maybe, but hey, at least they raised me to not be an inconsiderate jerk like you, so I’m not complaining.

If you’re a woman, people will somehow relate every career move you make to how it will affect your non-existent husband and kids.

“That’s so great that you want to be a teacher,” they always tell me. “You’ll get off work at the same time as your kids, and you’ll have all summer long to spend time with them!” Expect to experience and hear things like these, but just let them roll off your back. Remember, it’s all just noise.

3. Most people are haters because they’re jealous of how much you love what you do.

You’ll meet a lot of people who love to complain about how difficult their very prestigious jobs are because they think it makes them look cool. Students during my undergrad career would flock together to talk about how difficult their science or engineering majors were, and they would often use me as an example of someone who “had it so good” because my Writing major was “so easy” compared to theirs. These comments were always meant to place themselves up on a pedestal and place me below them.

But I didn’t take it as an insult. Loving what you do is cool. Finding meaning in what you do is cool. I’m starting to think that somewhere deep down people who are negative about your choices probably wish they had made different choices themselves. I would respond: “You don’t have to be pre-med, you know if you hate it so much.” Then, I would shrug and walk away. I had papers to write.

4. You are your own biggest potential enemy.

If you truly believe in what you’re doing, don’t think twice about it. At the end of the day, the only doubts that are going to derail you completely are your own. The only voice that can convince you to give up is your own. When you’re doing something new and different on your own, know that you are forging a path for others like you to follow.

Take that responsibility seriously, put on your blinders, and charge forward.

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Love Life Stories

I didn’t help my friend when she was bullied for being gay, but she stood up for me when I was attacked for being Muslim

As someone who clearly looks Pakistani (in other words, brown), I’ve experienced my fair share of racist remarks growing up.

I was, after all, the only “brown” person in school every year. Gorilla Arms had become my nickname for a while when I was in elementary school. Another time, my white classmate thought I was African and told me that if we lived in the time of slavery, he would gladly hide me and keep me safe. Much to my present-day disgust, I thanked him.

After 9/11 occurred (I was in 3rd grade at the time), things didn’t change all that much for me bullying-wise. Most of the bullying I went through still had to do with being brown and hairy.

Maybe there were a few more remarks or threats here and there specifically about being a terrorist, some of them were even jokes from friends, but these didn’t affect me as much; I wasn’t a terrorist, so I didn’t see any reason to take offense. As far as I knew, terrorist attacks had nothing to do with me.

Attacks on my religion didn’t feel like as direct of an attack on me as it did when kids commented on my appearance.

At least not at first.

It wasn’t until an incident high school that I felt differently.

A huge nerd in high school, I was a weekly attendee of Debate Club, in which every week we were given a topic and asked to choose sides. The topics were provided beforehand, so anyone who wanted to prepare was welcome to, but most of us showed up without preparing. The purpose was just for us to learn from one another.

And boy, did I learn.

One week, during my freshman year, the topic was Israel VS Palestine. Young and naive, I didn’t understand the conflict at all, and so I went to my elder brother for some background information. He, of course, shared everything he knew and thought with me.

I didn’t realize at the time that I was receiving only one perspective – his version seemed so obviously factual and correct to me that I went back to Debate Club ready to argue our (but really his) point of view in favor of Palestine, a place I didn’t know existed until a few days before.

I bring up this point in retrospect not because I have changed my views because I haven’t, but to highlight the fact that kids (and sadly many adults) hold a lot of very strong views simply based on what they are told (or what is implied) by the people they trust. In many ways, views are passed down from generation to generation.

I chose the side I chose solely because of a) my brother said to, and b) I was Muslim, and the Palestinians were Muslim – in retrospect, these weren’t the right reasons.

Fortunately, as my story goes on to show, we have the capability to learn, change, and grow.

Needless to say, I wasn’t prepared for what happened next. Two girls of Israeli background had brought in a huge map of the world.

They had notes written all over it, most of them containing seemingly violent quotes from the Quran, and pictures stapled to it showing graphic images of injured or killed Israelis, which was uncharacteristic of the low-key Debate Club atmosphere and very intimidating, to say the least.

I remember wondering if they really knew what they were talking about, or if they had also, like me, just gone home and asked a parent or sibling to tell them the answer.

And the crux of their argument? I remember it word for word: “Muslims want to kill all the Jews.”

This immediately sounded to me like a very extreme thing to say. I piped up the first time they said it, feeling like I was being accused of something as serious as murder, or at least murderous intentions, and wanting to make sure I had heard them right.

“Well, I’m Muslim. I don’t want to kill anyone.” Everyone looked at me, the one brown girl in a sea of white, and I suddenly wished I’d stayed silent.

“Well, you don’t, but Muslims do,” they replied. Just like that, I was seen as something other than who I was. I was used to this from my Muslim community – I was used to being seen as “less” Muslim for various superficial and mostly cultural reasons.

But this was new. This was about white kids in my school doing the same thing.

Was it because I didn’t wear a hijab? Was it because English was my first language? Was it because I talked to boys? Was it because I had known most of these kids since kindergarten? In other words, was it because I didn’t look, sound, or act the way my peers thought Muslims did? Was it…because I didn’t want to kill anyone?

I’m still not sure.

Strangely enough, unlike the judgmental Muslim community, I think the two girls meant what they said as a compliment – my religious identity was evil, so to avoid insulting me, they had to strip me of it completely and place me somewhere above all the other Muslims.

“Don’t worry,” they were saying. “It’s not you, it’s just everyone who believes in the thing you say you believe in!”

In other words: “You’re not like other Muslims; you’re the exception.”

Almost no one took any issue with the statement that “Muslims want to kill all the Jews.” At the time, this shocked me. I was looking to my right and left, confused. Everyone on the Israel side began to nod and throw in their opinions supporting this awful statement, stating their other negative views towards Muslims and Islam. The more heated their attacks became, the more I began to tear up.

The debate was slowly changing from “Israel vs. Palestine” to “Should we hate Muslims? Yes or no?” And I couldn’t help but replace the word “Muslims” with my own name. I couldn’t speak.

I kept thinking: “What did I do to deserve the hate?” I kept asking myself: “How many other kids here at school feel this way?”

All of a sudden, one girl, a close friend of mine at the time, surprised me. Let’s say her name was Alex. She and I had several classes together, liked the same teachers, and ate lunch together; we liked the same Disney movies, and we made each other feel better when one of us got into a fight with our parents, which was often considering we were 15 at the time

. Alex spoke up when it was our side’s turn and very passionately stood up for me – and for Muslims – in a way that I wasn’t able to for myself.

She spoke thoughtfully and compassionately. I remember feeling a wave of relief wash over me while she talked. The debate continued, of course. Nothing really changed; the two sides continued to argue with one another in the immature, uninformed way a group of high school freshman would be expected to argue.

But I felt better knowing that someone who wasn’t even Muslim was arguing on my behalf. That was a new feeling.

It wasn’t Muslims against non-Muslims, and that felt important to me. To this day, it’s still incredibly important to me that I avoid that dichotomy, because never has it been completely accurate in my experience.

I ended up leaving the classroom about halfway through this debate. I was starting to cry from what I can only assume was the shock, and I decided to do that in the hallway away from all the other kids. No one wants to be seen crying in high school.

Little did I know I was about to feel even more embarrassed.

Post-debate, Alex found me in the hallway with my back up against the lockers, wiping the last of my tears off my face with the sleeves of my sweatshirt. She sat next to me, put a hand on my shoulder, and asked if I was okay. I told her I was, and I thanked her.

“You don’t have to thank me,” she said. “I know what it’s like to be hated just for being who you are. Don’t you remember the gay rights debate last month?”

I did remember – the focus had been gay marriage, and I had been on the side that was against gay marriage. I just stared at her, the wheels turning in my head a little too slowly. She took a deep breath.

“Yeah, so…I’m gay,” she told me. “I never told you, because I knew you were Muslim. I just didn’t know if you would be cool with it?” She looked a little anxious like she thought I was going to say something mean in response, and that’s what hurt me the most – that I had given her reasons to feel anxious around me.

To be honest, I didn’t really understand what it meant to be gay. I knew little to nothing and hadn’t thought about it all that much. I had chosen the side that was against gay marriage primarily because a) I was Muslim, so it seemed like the right thing to do considering I had never known a gay Muslim before, and b) because the anti-gay marriage side needed more people and (this is the worst part) I simply didn’t care enough about the topic to prefer either side.

There was literally an entire group of people whose rights I didn’t once think or care about.

When Alex told me she was gay, the next thing I felt wasn’t surprise or judgment: it was shame. I had been in the gay rights debate the month before, and it had completely flown over my head that Alex was being treated the way I was just treated.

When I thought back, it was so clear that she had endured cruelty, but at the time, I didn’t even notice. Because it wasn’t me in the hot seat. It wasn’t my rights being debated in a dehumanizing way. I felt like such a big jerk, because for all I knew, she could have been crying in the hallway, and I definitely wasn’t there to see if she was okay.

We were both victims of something, but until that day, I had felt like I was the only one.

I realized while getting to know Alex more that although we were both victims, there were stark differences between our experiences too.

Being Muslim was something I chose to be, whereas being gay wasn’t something she chose. I thought for a while it was similar to me and my skin color, which after all, I could not control, but I felt even that attempt to draw a parallel was flawed somehow.

I kept trying to do that; I kept trying to draw a parallel and assure myself that we were both the same because, somehow, that made it a little less uncomfortable for me to think about. But it never felt right, something felt amiss whenever I tried to relate. Why?

Because we weren’t completely the same, we were different, and that was the thing I needed to learn: that it’s okay to be different.

I’m cringing as I recall a particular conversation in which I asked Alex: “I get that you didn’t like, choose this. But then…how did you become gay?”

She responded with a question: “How did you become straight?” The truth was clear when I considered her completely fair question: neither of us became anything – it was just who we were.

Alex’s patience with me, which I wish she had never had to display in the first place, changed my life. Growing up, I was always taught how important it was to be Muslim, to be close to my Muslim community, and to have friends that helped me be a better Muslim.

But here’s the thing that I had to learn on my own: anyone, regardless of their race, gender, sexuality, or anything else, can be someone that makes you better. This is something that I truly hope other Muslims who are living outside of Muslim countries take to heart: there is honestly so much to learn if we don’t limit ourselves to people that necessarily believe what we believe.

Because of people like Alex, I know how much more important it is to me that my friends are good people, not necessarily Muslim.

I apologized to Alex a few days after the debate club incident for having taken a stance against gay marriage without knowing anything and, more importantly, for not really caring enough to know. I realize now that what I should have apologized for was not seeing that the “gay population” we had been discussing in Debate Club was actually…well, made up of real people. I had been living in a complete bubble.

In response to my apology, she was characteristically forgiving.

I don’t remember the name of the girls who led the anti-Muslim attack that day so many years ago, but I remember Alex.

Knowing her increased my capacity for self-reflection and colored my perception of the world with compassion, not because she was gay or even though she was gay, simply because that’s the kind of person she happened to be. I only wish I had not taken so long to start thinking outside of myself.

I can only hope that more of us learn to do this sooner rather than later because I honestly don’t know if there is anything more important.

Science Now + Beyond

Do fidget spinners even help people out?

We all know kids who can’t seem to just sit down. It can be frustrating. Especially when it’s time to eat or sleep or learn or go to the movies. But often times, that child is just as frustrated.

These same children, if their inability to focus is left unaddressed, are more likely to face trouble in school and in the workplace. They may always be putting in extra effort to focus, only to absorb a fraction of what everyone else is absorbing. In fact, due to recent rises in ADHD and anxiety among children, this is something many children are experiencing.

The world today is more overstimulating for kids than it ever has been. Despite this, most children with focus issues are seen as badly behaved and scolded. Their own potential struggles to remain focused and please their parents and teachers are going unnoticed. They may want to be successful, but they simply don’t know how.

I myself have anxiety and experience periods of time during which I desperately need to keep my hands busy and bring myself out of my thoughts, back into the physical world (a process known as grounding). I have left social gatherings just to be alone for a moment and breathe; I have even left and gone home. So, what can we do to help either kids or adults that are silently suffering from anxiety or ADHD? We can start by understanding the purpose of fidgeting.

Why do some of us fidget while we work in the first place?

According to Fidget To Focus: Outwit Your Boredom: Sensory Strategies For Living With ADHD: “If something we are engaged in is not interesting enough to sustain our focus, the additional sensory-motor input that is mildly stimulating, interesting, or entertaining allows our brains to become fully engaged and allows us to sustain focus on the primary activity in which we are participating.”

In other words, when part of our brain becomes bored, fidgeting distracts part of the brain and keeps it busy. This allows the other parts of our brain to focus on whatever we are doing. Many of us have probably experienced this phenomenon while “doodling” during one of our classes in school or flipping a pen around with our fingers.

In a study published in 2014 by the NIH’s US National Library of Medicine (PMC), it was found that more intense physical activity is associated with better cognitive control performance in ADHD. Children with ADHD in particular “generated higher intensity movements in their correct trails compared to their error trials,” suggesting that they were moving around more to focus and perform better on the task. Ultimately, fidgeting, although it seems like an indicator that we are distracted, has a very specific purpose: to help us pay attention.

So, what are fidget toys?

Fidget toys are tools that are designed to help with focus in a multitude of ways. There are many different kinds of fidgets, to help different types of people focus or stay calm. And yes, both children and adults can and do benefit from fidget technology.

Who are fidget toys specifically designed for?

Fidget toys were originally made for anyone that has sensory needs or focus issues, especially children on the spectrum, children with anxiety, and children with ADHD. Special educators have been familiar with fidget toys for a long time. More recently, adults have begun to take an interest in fidgets. In fact, there have been fidgets produced more recently that were made with the intention of being marketable to adults, such as the fidget cube.

So, do fidget toys work?

The short answer is yes. 

For children and individuals with sensory needs, like many of those who are on the spectrum, fidget toys can be very effective. The term “sensory need” refers to individuals who have a higher threshold when it comes to neurological input. Fidget toys are designed to provide the user with the adequate amount of sensory input in a less distracting way. In other words, fidget toys target the tactile system; they help us focus on the toy instead of all the other distractions in the room, helping us pay attention to the task at hand.

Unfortunately, fidget toys are not a universal cure-all for focus issues or anxiety. For many individuals, fidget toys only work if the toy is the right one – if it addresses their particular sensory need, for example. In addition to this, many children find themselves even further distracted by fidget toys.

Some children find themselves focusing on the fidget toy so that it proves to fully distract them from the task at hand. Even more, many children seem to perceive fidget toys to be just toys and use them to play games with their friends. This defeats the purpose (and is the reason fidget spinners have been banned in many schools).

Ultimately, studies have shown that fidgeting is often an indication of a larger problem. Fidget toys are not really toys, they are tools used to fight the symptoms of anxiety, ADHD, high sensory needs and more in both children and adults. But like any tool, it must be used thoughtfully and correctly in order to be of any benefit.

And honestly, if so many of us are going to buy and use these things, it can’t hurt to educate ourselves on the aforementioned disorders. Let’s not use tools designed for particular groups while continuing to remain ignorant regarding those groups.

If anything, the beauty of fidget toys being welcomed by all people is that it gives everyone a chance to learn more about individuals who may have struggles different from their own.

Either that, or it shows us that many of us share similar struggles when we look across a classroom and see another kid rolling a spinner in his hand under his desk during a test.

Love Life Stories Wellness

Here’s why I wish people stopped lying about what meds actually do to you

There are a lot of articles going around trying to discredit the use of antidepressants, specifically SSRIs, on the basis of the fact that low serotonin levels or a “chemical imbalance” do not cause depression.


They don’t cause depression.

Got it.

There are, of course, countless factors that contribute to a person experiencing depression, clinical or otherwise.

But I fail to understand how this equates itself to the fact that serotonin has nothing to do with depression. I keep scrolling through my newsfeed and seeing things like this, which honestly feels like a huge slap in the face:

The stigma is real, but it does not come from a place of logic. Images like this are usually made by people who have never experienced mental illness, people who think depression is just sadness, and for whom taking walks in nature has been enough. But let’s remember that everyone’s illness is unique to them, and the same thing doesn’t work for everyone.

[bctt tweet=”Depression isn’t a joke. It can be lethal, if left untreated.” username=”wearethetempest”]

Depression isn’t a joke. As the number one cause of suicide, it can be lethal if left untreated. We need to think about how we speak about depression; we need to think about the impact of what we’re saying or posting. By shaming someone for choosing a different option than the one you chose, you are often leaving them with no remaining options but to suffer.

Why are we so intent on suffering? Why are we so intent on doing things “without help” even if that means we never get better, even if that means we might not survive? Why do we tell people that their life is not worth living if they can’t do it “on their own”?

[bctt tweet=”Why do we tell people that their life is not worth living if they can’t do it on their own? ” username=”wearethetempest”]

As someone for whom SSRIs have significantly helped, and as someone who tried everything humanly possible (yes, including walks in nature!) and was still not able to even begin the process of healing, I am going to take the time to explain what exactly SSRIs do.

For starters, SSRI stands for Selective Serotonin Re-Uptake Inhibitor. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter, meaning it is a chemical substance (naturally produced by the human brain) that carries a specific message and travels from a neuron (nerve cell) to a neuron within the brain, like so:

Among other things, serotonin is a natural mood stabilizer. A healthy human being has a ‘normal’ level of serotonin. In other words, there is a range of all emotions (happy, calm, focused, anxious, stable, etc.) that is normal, and serotonin is a big part of what keeps us at that level.

According to the National Institutes of Health, a normal serotonin range is 101 to 283 ng/mL (a pretty wide range, if you think about it). It definitely isn’t always the case that one’s serotonin levels are linked to depression, and we cannot say that serotonin levels cause depression, but it’s absolutely another factor to potentially take into account.

[bctt tweet=”Serotonin is naturally produced by the human brain and regulates our emotional stability.” username=”wearethetempest”]

Usually, serotonin is released, circulates in the brain, and then absorbs into the bloodstream. SSRIs serve to block the “re-uptake” or re-absorption of serotonin by blocking some of the receptors in our blood that usually absorb serotonin after it is released; they prevent blood from absorbing serotonin in the brain.

This allows more serotonin to be available to our brain for a longer duration of time. Ultimately, SSRIs don’t increase the production of serotonin, they allow our body to use the serotonin we already produce in a more efficient and effective way.

In 2015, World Psychology (The Official Journal of the World Psychiatric Association) published an article that highlights the ways SSRIs help to ease depression, regardless of the fact that low levels of serotonin do not necessarily “cause” depression in the first place.

The primary reason depression is mitigated by consistent, long-term use of SRRIs is that SSRIs promote “synaptic plasticity,” or the ability of synapses (gaps between neurons) to strengthen or weaken over time. Synaptic plasticity is important because it is part of what allows humans to be able to learn, unlearn, and re-learn emotional responses. This is why therapy often works exponentially better in combination with medication like SSRIs.

[bctt tweet=”Synaptic plasticity, promoted by SSRIs, helps humans be able to learn, unlearn, and re-learn.” username=”wearethetempest”]

Emotions are not the same as moods; emotions are temporary, automatic responses to internal or external stimuli. Most people with depression (known as a mood disorder) have “negatively biased” emotions, which lead to a permanent negative mood. Increasing serotonin activity in the brain gives individuals with depression the opportunity to shift their thinking, to re-learn negative emotional responses as positive ones.

Without SSRIs, some people are unable to break their pattern of depressed or anxious thoughts. Not because they are not trying hard enough, but because their brain does not provide them with the right chemicals at the right time. People with depression are not weak; they genuinely have a harder time feeling good – the same way someone with a broken leg might genuinely find it harder to walk.

 mental health GIF

For example, perhaps when an event occurs that triggers depression or anxiety, serotonin levels are not where they should be in order for the person to feel good, even if they are trying to think positively. It’s like your brain is reaching for its naturally produced “feel good” chemicals, but those chemicals have come and gone too quickly, and your brain is stuck with the negative.

If you choose to take SSRIs, you are simply allowing your body to do what other peoples’ bodies are already doing. It really is similar to taking insulin for diabetes, something your body naturally makes but doesn’t make enough of in some cases.

[bctt tweet=”Serotonin activity helps the brain re-learn negative emotional responses as positive ones. ” username=”wearethetempest”]

Depression is not just sadness. It is sadness at a level which prevents one from functioning in the most basic of ways. After taking SSRIs for a while, I’ve definitely experienced a change. I don’t feel like this “happy pill” has cured me or saved me from having to put forth any effort. I do, however, feel more capable of putting in the effort to exercise and go to therapy. I feel this way about a number of activities that benefit my overall physical, mental and emotional health. I am functioning.

I finally feel like the amount of effort I put in is actually leading to more appropriate results, emotionally-speaking, as opposed to putting in 200% and gaining little to nothing, or somehow feeling worse. I know this is something that is difficult to understand or relate to if you’ve never experienced it, but so are a lot of illnesses that we still manage to accept as valid health issues.

[bctt tweet=”The brain is part of the human body.” username=”wearethetempest”]

The brain is part of the human body. Mental health is a kind of health – it is no less important than physical health. They are both subsets of our overall health. When we start to see it that way, maybe we’ll finally start to take better care of our brains, ourselves, and each other.

When we start to see it that way, maybe we’ll finally start to take better care of our brains, ourselves, and each other.

Love Life Stories

I work with children with special needs, and your pity-“compliments” are totally unwelcome

However well-intentioned it may be, I do not like hearing things like: “Oh wow, you work in special ed? You must have so much patience!”

I get it. I used to say things like this myself, back when I had no personal experience with individuals with special needs. It was through my work experiences that I learned the important of getting to know every child for who they are, not just their diagnosis – the child’s diagnosis tells you something, but not everything, not even close.

When we highlight the “patience” of special educators, it’s meant to be a compliment, and I appreciate the sentiment, especially considering I am often not taken very seriously in certain social circles when it’s discovered that I’m in education as opposed to medicine, engineering or law.

[bctt tweet=”Whether or not we realize it, we often think of special needs kids as inherently difficult.” username=”wearethetempest”]

But that’s why phrases like this one bother me. Generally, society does not really respect or value teachers. Why? Because people think it’s easy to teach. “Those who can’t do, teach.” I’m sure you’ve heard that before.

So why do so many people praise me for choosing special education as the career I want to pursue? Because they think it’s difficult – because, whether or not they realize it, they think of special needs kids as inherently difficult. 

But would it be so  bad to realize our own internal biases and address them?

It’s uncomfortable, sure, but take it from me: it’s worth it to do so.

[bctt tweet=”Teaching children with special needs is not more or less difficult – it’s just different.” username=”wearethetempest”]

Usually, I respond with something like this: “All kids do. Are there any kids who don’t require patience? Are there any people that don’t require patience?” or “Some of my kids do, some don’t, they’re all different!”

Teaching children with special needs is not more or less difficult compared to what general educators do – it’s just different. And to be honest, it’s not even that different.

Anytime a child with special needs poses a challenge to me, it is not because they have special needs. Even before I entered special education specifically, I had students who posed a challenge. Every child, with or without special needs, poses their own unique challenges; it’s what makes them who they are.

[bctt tweet=”Every child, with or without special needs, poses their own unique challenges.” username=”wearethetempest”]

Children are also more or less challenging to different adults because of the different personalities, weaknesses and strengths adults have as educators.

In order to believe that children with special needs (which is by the way such an incredibly general descriptor that could mean over a thousand different things) are so very different from the “normal” kid, we have to believe that there is such a thing as a “normal” kid.

[bctt tweet=”There isn’t one way a child is supposed to be. Every child is unique.” username=”wearethetempest”]

But despite what we are told by the existence of standardized tests, there isn’t. There isn’t one way a child is supposed to be. Every single child is unique and it’s so important to embrace and to work with that uniqueness, instead of “despite” it.

In fact, I would go as far as to say that there is no student that would not benefit (either academically, mentally or emotionally) from the type of specialized education students with special needs receive: one-on-one instruction that is tailored to his or her learning style and moves at his or her pace. In an ideal world, every kid would have access to something like that.

Next time you meet someone who works in special education, try asking them a question instead. Don’t say: “Oh wow, I could never do that!” Ask them what it’s like, if it’s something you’re unfamiliar with. It’s okay to admit that you don’t know much – in fact, it’s encouraged!

[bctt tweet=”There is no student that would not benefit from specialized education.” username=”wearethetempest”]

I know special ed is not for everyone, and that’s okay, but I love what I do. I absolutely adore it. Working with the kids I work with is a privilege, not a burden. It’s something I enjoy, something I’m pretty good at (and always improving at), and let me confess one more thing:

I do it for me as much as I do it for the kids.

Working in my kids makes me a better person each and every day in one small way or another; I gain so much myself from the work I do that I refuse to label my students as a difficult challenge that I should be praised for taking on.

My kids have taught me a million and one new ways to think and see the world – especially those of my kids who are deemed as “different’ in any way.

[bctt tweet=”Let me confess one more thing: I do it for me as much as I do it for the kids.” username=”wearethetempest”]

In fact, I learn an entirely different set of beautiful things from my students who have autism, ADHD, a developmental delay, a processing disorder, etc. It’s not in any way more difficult or worse, it’s simply different – just like working with teenagers is different from working with elementary school students.

I get to help kids learn math and reading, but also learn things like overcoming anxiety, making eye contact, and communicating something as simple as “I’m tired” without words if they are nonverbal.

I get to celebrate every victory, no matter how small, and see what makes each kid tick – what motivates them, what inspires them, what, what calms them down, what makes them smile. And yes, I get to be reminded every day not to take even the smallest things for granted.

[bctt tweet=”I refuse to label my students as a difficult challenge that I should be praised for taking on.” username=”wearethetempest”]

But kids with special needs are NOT here on this Earth to “teach us how to appreciate” the little things in life or how healthy we are by comparison. Absolutely not. That is not the purpose of any child. This type of thinking is at best, problematic, and worst, egocentric and downright cruel.

We don’t get to decide what someone else’s purpose is – that isn’t our decision to make. We don’t get to decide that another person’s life situation has entirely to do with us. That is not okay.

A special educators job, much like the job of the parents or caretakers of children with special needs, is just to guide the child closer to where the child wants to be – to help children reach their own potential in terms of happiness and health, and to help them develop a love for learning, growing, and most importantly, themselves.

[bctt tweet=”Kids with special needs are NOT here on this Earth to teach us how to appreciate things. ” username=”wearethetempest”]

The children I work with are not charity cases. No one likes being pitied. No one likes it when assumptions are made about them. But everyone welcomes warmth, acceptance, genuine curiosity, love, and an open mind.

Long story short, I am not “amazing” because I work in special education, and no special educator wants to be viewed in this way, because we tend to see our special needs students first and foremost as children – as a group of people as diverse as any other.

[bctt tweet=”Long story short, I am not amazing because I work in special education.” username=”wearethetempest”]

In other words, children with special needs are not all the same; they cannot be lumped together and perceived as difficult.

The services I help provide to kids with special needs should not be considered amazing, I simply help provide the basic rights every child deserves anyway. I don’t want to be seen as amazing, because the way I see kids with special needs shouldn’t be considered amazing, it should be the norm. 

And I hope it does become the norm, over time, as we listen to one another’s experiences and learn from them. I hope our conversations start to sound more like this: “Oh, you work in special ed? You must love it. Tell me all about it.”

Love Life Stories

I’m afraid of getting over my depression. Who am I without the disorder?

I’m at a really weird point in my life when it comes to my mental health.

Thanks to the right medication, I am finally able to do a variety of things to help myself, like exercising and meditating, and beyond that, I’m seeking even more outside help on a regular basis, like going to therapy. Finally, with what feels like the right combination of everything working together, I feel like I’m starting to break free of my depression. I can feel myself becoming healthier and more stable. I should be thrilled, right?

I wish I was, I really do, but it’s not all rainbows and butterflies. It’s actually incredibly difficult to experience this change, even though I know, somewhere deep down, that it’s a positive one.

My depression wasn’t a result of one bad thing that happened to me; I’ve always had it, and bad things only exacerbated it. I thought no one could truly or fully understand what this was like for me, and I spent so much time and energy trying to educate as many people as I could, but things are shifting in my life. I feel like I just got so many of my friends and family to somewhat understand me and my depression and my anxiety, and now it’s…morphing into something else?

[bctt tweet=”I can feel myself becoming healthier and more stable. I should be thrilled, right?” username=”wearethetempest”]

The fear is starting to settle in. Yes, the fear of getting better. Believe me, it’s a thing. What if, even if the change is a positive one, my loved ones become frustrated that I’m changing? What if they feel like I’m not me anymore?  What if they’re tired of keeping up with my “ups” and my “downs” and now this change is the final straw?

Even worse, what if I do appear to be getting better, and it’s so apparent to the people around me that they take away the compassion and support they have thus far been providing? What if they think I don’t need it anymore? What if they think I’m totally independent, because it seems like I am, but deep down, I’m not there yet? And then when I experience a low, I’m all alone?

And even worse than that, what if my friends and family become extremely relieved when they realize I’m getting better, and then me being healthy becomes the expectation? What if I slip up and disappoint them? Will they forgive me?

[bctt tweet=”The fear is starting to settle in. Yes, the fear of getting better. Believe me, it’s a thing.” username=”wearethetempest”]

I feel like I’m balancing on a high wire and the world is watching. If I do slip up, will it be worse than ever before? Does having come so far mean that when I fall, I’m going to fall farther and harder? What if I can’t get up again?

Yeah, I know. This is probably my anxiety talking. And a little bit of my depression. But that’s what is so funny about all of this – even during the process of healing and recovering, there are new things going on that trigger my depression and anxiety. There’s literally no escape.

“The goal isn’t to be 100% free of my demons,” I have to remind myself. “They will always find reasons to come out. The goal is to be able to function regardless and to overcome them more easily and more efficiently.”

[bctt tweet=”There are always going to be new things going on that trigger my depression and anxiety.” username=”wearethetempest”]

“Even healthy people have negative emotions at times,” I remind myself. “The goal is not to be free of all negative emotions. That would be just as unhealthy as depression.”

“You’re doing great,” I remind myself. “You always get back up.”

Even though I know I’m getting better, I need the reminders.

Breaking free of something I’ve been trapped with my entire life, as someone who has been clinically depressed since childhood, is beautiful. I wish I could think of a way to say this that doesn’t sound over the top, but I can’t. I genuinely feel like I’m meeting myself for the first time.

[bctt tweet=”The goal is not to be free of all negative emotions. That would be just as unhealthy.” username=”wearethetempest”]

It started like this: There was one morning several months ago when I woke up (this was a few weeks after I started new meds) and sat right up in bed, stretched, and smiled. I felt great. I stood up and stretched. I danced a little bit on my way to the bathroom. And by the time I got back to my bed, a few minutes later, it hit me. I had just gotten out of bed. It had only taken me a second, not hours of talking myself into it, trying to find the value of being awake or even alive.

And I felt good. I didn’t feel my entire weight being pulled down onto the mattress. I didn’t feel suffocated. I didn’t feel small. I didn’t feel dread thinking about the day ahead. I didn’t feel sick. The sun coming in through the window was warm. It seems like such a simple, normal moment, but it wasn’t. I hadn’t gotten up and out of bed like that in as long as I could remember. I remember calling a friend and crying from both confusion and joy as I told them what was going on.

The magic, for lack of a better word, that I felt that morning didn’t last, of course. Depression isn’t a switch you can just turn off one day. But slowly, over time, I’m seeing myself get better and better. There are still ups and downs, but the ups are a little bit higher and last a little bit longer, and the downs are a little less low and don’t last quite as long. That’s progress, and it’s a pretty big deal.

[bctt tweet=” I genuinely feel like I’m meeting myself for the first time. ” username=”wearethetempest”]

That was just the beginning, though. There was a time not longer after this when my friends were going out to some campus event and I asked, “Hey, can I come with?” Everybody was quiet and stunned. “Is that okay? Like…is there time for me to change and stuff?” I asked. More quiet stunned, stares.

It was so unlike the Aafia they knew to want to go out and socialize. They had assumed we’d just meet up when they got back, which was what usually happened. The quiet shock quickly turned into excitement, though. “Yeah, we can totally wait for you to change!” (Even though they were probably going to be late, I love my friends).

Does this mean I went out every single time with enthusiasm and socialized with everyone like crazy? No, of course not. But it means that at least sometimes (which is better than zero times), I am now capable of something I wasn’t capable of before, and at those times, I have more options, more choices, more times when I don’t have to feel isolated.

[bctt tweet=”More quiet stunned, stares. It was so unlike the Aafia they knew to want to socialize. ” username=”wearethetempest”]

What I started to realize, as I got healthier, was how many parts of me (the parts I had beaten myself up for constantly throughout my entire life) were not me.

Taking medication proved that; after taking the right medication, it occurred to me that no amount of effort or willpower would have made my depression go away the way medication did. And I know that because I have spent years putting in as much effort as possible, learning and using every single tool I could to feel better.

I had been working so hard on my own to change certain negative aspects of myself, and it felt like they were just stuck to me – they were just who I was and I had no choice but to continue to hate myself. But that just wasn’t the case and I know that now.

[bctt tweet=”Taking medication proved that the worst parts of me were never me to begin with.” username=”wearethetempest”]

It’s an enormous relief to realize you were not as bad as you thought you were – to realize, and to have proof of the fact, that you were just experiencing a mental illness. A majority of the actions and behaviors and thoughts and feelings that I thought were just a part of me, no matter how much I pushed them away, were just my depression and my anxiety. I was not a failure – I was sick.

But I’m getting better.

That means there are parts of me I have never known – parts that were clouded by my depression in such a way that they could never be expressed. Lately, I feel like I’m starting to discover those parts of myself, and honestly, they’re the best parts of me. And while it’s a shame that the best of me has been locked up for so long, I’m so grateful to have people in my life that were there for me even though I was never at my best. I’m trying to focus on learning who I really am.

I always thought I knew myself very well, but I knew my depression very well. In fact, I only knew my depression. Now, I’m getting to know me. As it turns out, I like a lot more things than I thought I did. I like to do more things than I had realized before. I like more things about myself than I had realized before. There is a lot more love and positivity in me than there is hate and negativity – this is a surprise to me, but more than that, it’s a huge relief.

[bctt tweet=”There are parts of me I have never known, clouded by my depression.” username=”wearethetempest”]

So here’s what I personally want you to know if you’re feeling any of the things I’m feeling because maybe you’re in a similar place:

Depression feels like it’s in your head, inside of you and a part of you – your identity. But mental illness isn’t a choice any more than a broken limb; you don’t have to take responsibility for it. Your depression, regardless of how down you feel or how well you’re doing, is not who you are. It’s not your identity – you choose who you are.

So, the way I see it, depression is an outside obstacle that brings to light your inner personality, the character traits you choose to embody in response to depression, such as self-awareness, empathy, patience, resilience, and strength.

[bctt tweet=”Your depression, regardless of how down you feel or how well you’re doing, is not who you are.” username=”wearethetempest”]

Therefore, becoming healthier isn’t a loss of identity, it’s the exact opposite – being healthier allows your true personality to genuinely grow and flourish in ways that it couldn’t before. Managing depression creates an enormous amount of extra energy and free space in your life, and with that energy and space, you’ll be able to discover that you’re so much more than just a fighter of depression.

Just remember that when you begin to feel like you’re beating depression, that is the time to start talking to your friends and family about how your needs have or have not changed. Maybe you feel like your sadness what drew people to you because they wanted to help, and, without that overt sadness, you fear losing them. Be open and make clear that you still require a support system in order to maintain your progress, if that’s the case. Because it really is hard to know what someone needs, even if you know and love that person if they don’t communicate with you.

[bctt tweet=”You’re so much more than just a fighter of depression.” username=”wearethetempest”]

And lastly, but most importantly, enjoy getting to know yourself. You’ve traveled through an ocean of depression and finally found yourself deep at the bottom of it. I have a feeling you won’t be disappointed with who you are underneath that ocean – I have a feeling you will love yourself so much that you will grab yourself by the hand and pull yourself back to the surface.

BRB Gone Viral Pop Culture

Pepsi messed up big time – and so did these 8 other companies

What’s the big deal, you ask? The fact that in 20-freaking-17 there are still boardrooms full of people who are being paid to create advertising – it’s literally their job – that collectively seem to believe not only that racism and sexism are totally and completely okay, but also that they should be promoted by the media more than they already are.

Racism and sexism are absolutely still a mainstream problem in advertising; they are still being perpetuated blatantly. The public is exposed to them constantly and ultimately absorbs them unless they are actively trying not to.

Pepsi, Nivea and Shea Moisture are the most recent perpetrators of wildly backwards and offensive marketing, but unfortunately, they’re not the only ones. Check out these other commercials and print ads to get into the heads of the people who made them, how those people see the world, and what they’re willing to do to make money.

1. Pepsi

When did it air: 2017

What is it advertising: Pepsi

What’s wrong with it: Everything? Kendall Jenner as the face of the Resistance? The whole white woman as the savior of colored people thing? The trivialization of the Black Lives Matter movement? The turning of the issue of police brutality into a casual, laughing matter? The commercialization of the violence and tragedies that have occurred in black communities throughout the US? I could go on, but the commercial speaks for itself.

What happened next: Outrage. Pepsi has apologized. However, Pepsi also apologized to Kendall Jenner, who had read the script and still agreed to do the commercial. Sigh.

2. Nivea

When did it come out: 2017, Singapore

What is it advertising: Deodorant

What’s wrong with it: The association of “white” with “purity” juxtaposed with the image of the back of a white woman, ultimately glorifying whiteness and implying very heavily that anything other than white is not pure and thereby dirty. The ad is talking, presumably, about having lighter underarms as opposed to darker underarms, but this does not take into account the fact that only white people have white underarms. So, I guess only white people have attractive underarms? Okay, cool.

What happened next: Nivea has been slammed on social media as a result of this very recent ad.


When did it come out: 2006, Holland

What is it advertising: Play Station Portable

What’s wrong with it: There is literally a white person grabbing a black person very aggressively and violently by the chin. There was really no other way to advertise a new color available for the PSP? We had to resort to this? What group of people thought this was an okay idea?

What happened next: People in the U.S. were particularly upset by this ad, and their collective criticism caused SONY to pull the ad; they did not apologize, however, claiming they were unaware of the implications of the ad outside of Holland. Apparently, this is okay in Holland, though?

4. Intel

When did it come out? 2007

What is it advertising? Improved Internet Speed

What’s wrong with it? Well, there is a professional, wealthy-looking white man standing in the center with his hands folded, looking smug and powerful, surrounded by muscular black sprinters in running position, meaning they are quite literally bowing down to the white man. This is extremely and appallingly inappropriate on a remarkable number of levels, the first being that it is reminiscent of slaveholders and slaves, and the second being that whoever created this and had the power to print it found it to be a normal and acceptable image.

What happened next? Due to public backlash, Intel apologized for the “insensitive” ad, claiming they had not realized it was offensive. I have to wonder if there were any black people involved in the decision-making process when this ad was given the go-ahead.

5. Nivea (again)

When did it come out? 2011

What is it advertising? Men’s Skincare Products

What’s wrong with it? It is implying that there was something wrong with the featured black man maintaining his natural afro and growing a beard. Even worse, in using the phrase “re-civilize” yourself, this ad is saying explicitly that the “natural” look of a black man is uncivilized. How about go back in time and de-colonize minorities, instead?

What happened next? Nivea apologized for their “unintentionally” offensive ad and pulled it. I don’t know about you, but tone and deaf are two words that come to my mind.

6. Shea Moisture

When is it from? 2017

What is it advertising? Moisturizer

What’s wrong with it? Shea Moisture has been supported primarily by black women, and this ad was probably an attempt to attract white women to the brand. That’s not a problem in itself – every brand needs to diversify its marketing. But using white women (and using more white women than black women) in what is essentially a “natural hair” commercial does not seem to me like the best way to go about marketing; it serves to diminish the discrimination black women face for their natural hair every day and have faced for generations.

What happened next? The public (namely, Twitter users) accused Shea Moisture of “whitewashing” and this led to the company issuing an apology. I can at least appreciate that the apology began with, “Wow, okay — so guys, listen, we really f–ked this one up.”

7. Burger King

When did it come out? 2009, Singapore

What is it advertising? Either food or oral sex, I can’t be too sure, to be honest.

What’s wrong with it? This is overtly sexist. We do not see men portrayed this way in any advertisements, so why is it okay to portray women giving blowjobs in advertisements that have literally nothing to do with women or sex? Fine, I get it, sex sells, but this is on an entirely different level. Especially because the model herself had no idea her photo was being used in this way.


When did it come out? 2009

What is it advertising? The benefits of “going vegetarian”

What’s wrong with it? Once again, for perhaps the billionth time, the female body is being used in a completely irresponsible, offensive way in order to sell something; this time, an idea is being sold instead of a product, but women are still the target. The ad is described by PETA itself as showing “a woman whose ‘blubber’ is spilling out of her swimsuit,” further emphasizing that the term “whales” is indeed meant to apply to the woman in the image.

What happened next? PETA replaced the ad, but did not apologize. Instead, they took to their website after replacing the ad and told the story of an overweight female supporter of PETA who was eager to try their 30-day vegetarian challenge and lose weight. In other words, there were no lessons learned in this case.

9. McDonald’s

When did it come out? 2013 

What is it advertising? The Big Mac

What is wrong with it? This ad makes fun of PSA ads that deal with issues like depression, anxiety, suicide, and more. Do we really need more trivializing of and laughing at matters of mental illness and suicide? Is that really helping to destroy the current stigma associated with seeking mental health support, or is it simply adding to the stigma? I’d say it’s the latter. Let’s stop joking about depression. Let’s stop joking about any and all mental illnesses. And let’s stop joking about suicide. I’m baffled that this needs to be said.

What happened next? McDonalds apologized when the issue was brought to light by viewers of the ad, claimed that the ad was unapproved and took it down immediately.

Love Life Stories

I was a tomboy growing up – for all the wrong reasons

Before I get into this, I want to make something a clear: being a tomboy is totally fine. My story, though, wasn’t too great.

When I became a teenager, I became a tomboy, but to be honest, it wasn’t entirely by choice. Because I was Muslim, it was insisted upon that I dress a bit more conservatively, and when you do that, you automatically can’t wear a majority of girls’ clothes. But this honestly isn’t about religion making my life difficult or saying that there is anything wrong with the teachings of Islam – it’s simply about the inadvertent effect religion and culture had on my ideas of femininity and womanhood.

Everything with a cute front had a low, open or lace back. Everything with a color that suited me had a low neckline or no sleeves or was too tight. I didn’t wear shorts anymore. I didn’t wear skirts anymore. If I wore dresses, I wore leggings and sweaters, and those things pretty much always ruined the look in my opinion.

[bctt tweet=”When I became a teenager, I became a tomboy, but it wasn’t really by choice.” username=”wearethetempest”]

There was something “wrong” with everything I liked that was “girly.” I ended up going to a bunch of Sweet 16 birthday parties in my traditional Pakistani clothes, because I couldn’t find a dress, and feeling like the ugliest person there.

The only things that were made to look good (or what I thought was good) while still being conservative enough in terms of Islam were clothes that essentially made me look like a boy; my unisex t-shirt from Hot Topic with the Batman symbol on it became my favorite and most commonly worn shirt. I wore it with jeans and converse pretty much all the time.

Other than that, I just wore a lot of large, baggy sweatshirts with jeans and a t-shirt. Always one size up. I was considered too young for make up or threading or waxing (which is a significant detail considering I had one long, connected eyebrow). To put it lightly, I didn’t look too great (that’s an understatement), and I didn’t feel too great, either.

[bctt tweet=”The clothes that were conservative enough for my parents essentially made me look like a boy.” username=”wearethetempest”]

Something else happened during this time that I think is important to share. I started to internalize the criticism I received over my “girl” clothes to the point where I felt like just being a girl was inherently bad or something to be ashamed of.

 upset gossip girl taylor momsen jenny humphrey whats wrong with me GIF

I distinctly remember writing in my diary night after night that I wished I had been born a boy; it felt like, if everything I wore was somehow wrong, maybe it wasn’t the clothes, maybe it was my female body.

Sometimes, during my prayers when I was speaking to God, I would apologize for being a girl. That is how much shame I felt.

I didn’t feel uncomfortable in more revealing or more feminine clothing, I felt ugly. And worst of all, I had this idea that trying to look good and feel good was somehow bad. I would go to the mall and cry.

[bctt tweet=”Sometimes, during my prayers to God, I apologized for being a girl.” username=”wearethetempest”]

My parents and friends probably thought I was frustrated that I couldn’t find “Muslim” things to wear that also looked cute. But that wasn’t it. It was about feminine clothes, not skin-showing clothes.

I wouldn’t even try on different, more feminine things, even if they were deemed “appropriate” by Islamic standards. If I did, I felt ugly and took them off, cried a little bit, and insisted that we leave the mall immediately.

Often times, I went home and cried more behind closed doors. Especially in the summer, when all of my friends wore pretty dresses and I still looked…well, the way I looked.

[bctt tweet=”I had this idea that trying to look good and feel good was somehow bad.” username=”wearethetempest”]

My self esteem was extremely low at that time. I didn’t know how to empower myself in regards to my appearance – I thought that doing so was immoral. Feeling ugly made me sad. Feeling pretty made me feel guilty, like I was a bad Muslim. There was no way to win.

When I got just a little bit older, my femininity started to feel like a switch that other people could turn on and off at will, and it was confusing, to say the least.

I was pushed to look as “non-female” as possible for so much of my adolescent life, but when I finally became comfortable in my asexual-looking wardrobe, it was insisted that I embrace my femininity. Not for myself, but for others.

[bctt tweet=”I was pushed to look as non-female as possible for so much of my adolescent life.” username=”wearethetempest”]

For example, if my family was invited to someone’s home for dinner and the crowd was primarily Desi or Pakistani or Muslim, it was insisted that I wear shalwar khameez and put on make up. I was suddenly encouraged to straighten my hair for these kinds of gatherings.

 make up GIF

These types of cultural incidents served to really blur a lot of lines for me. I wasn’t sure anymore why I had to dress the way I had been dressing.

I distinctly remember feeling very uncomfortable with a full face of make up and choosing not to wear it to my cousin’s engagement party, at which someone criticized me for being “rude” because I was not “dressed up” enough for the occasion.

[bctt tweet=”My femininity started to feel like a switch that other people could turn on and off at will.” username=”wearethetempest”]

I felt like no matter what, no matter what I wore, I couldn’t win. I couldn’t impress boys. I couldn’t fit in with my girlfriends. I couldn’t please the adults in my life.

And worst of all, I couldn’t even please myself.

If the problem was being a woman with a woman’s body, there was nothing I could do. I had learned to be comfortable and resigned with my hopelessly bad appearance, but never how to be confident about it.

[bctt tweet=”How I felt about myself came second to how men felt about me.” username=”wearethetempest”]

Don’t get me wrong.  I was taught some wonderful things as a child: the importance of inner beauty, the value of personality, kindness, empathy, and hard work.

I understand why love for my body and appearance in general was set aside. I really do. I’m not writing any of this to “bash” my parents; my parents are absolutely amazing.

I do, however, think it’s important to share my experience. Too many people think it’s just a matter of rebellious teenage Desi girls wanting to show skin and not being allowed to.

[bctt tweet=”I felt like just being a girl was inherently bad or shameful.” username=”wearethetempest”]

I want to show that there’s more to it than that, that there are deep, complicated emotions involved, and that we need to start thinking a little more carefully about how we speak to and treat girls, how we approach their relationship with their own femininity.

I was never clearly told it was also okay to feel beautiful the way I was told clearly to be modest. I was never told it was okay to feel sexy or how many different things “sexy” could mean (sometimes it’s just a new way of wearing eyeliner), not all of which were necessarily bad.

Essentially, it seemed like how I felt about myself came second to how men felt about me, because the embracing of femininity happened at the same time I became the “right age” for potential husbands to start looking at me. This may not have been the intention, but we need to consider how our words and actions are received – sometimes, they are not having the positive effect we think they are having.

[bctt tweet=”Feeling ugly made me sad. Feeling pretty made me feel guilty. There was no way to win.” username=”wearethetempest”]

Not so long ago, I cut off all my hair. Yes, all of it. My parents, being as awesome as they are, didn’t take any issue with it. I went to the local salon and asked for a pixie cut, and a few weeks later, I asked for it to be buzzed even shorter.

 movies disney mulan fa mulan cut hair GIF

I told myself and everyone else it was because I wanted to follow in the footsteps of Emma Watson. I said I wanted to be edgy and cool, and for the most part, people thought I was, especially being a Desi girl, because Desi girls don’t do that. Without even trying, I made a statement.

What a lot of people don’t know (confession time) is that I cut my hair off because I gave up. I gave up on trying to feel like a beautiful woman, and on trying to please people, especially men. I just couldn’t do it anymore, and hair had always been my most prominent, feminine trait (I used to have over 24 inches of pin-straight, silky black hair), so that’s what I got rid of.

It was a statement, but not the statement everyone else perceived it to be.

It was me just giving up.

[bctt tweet=”I wasn’t just a rebellious teenage Desi, Muslim girl who wanted to show skin.” username=”wearethetempest”]

The good news? I’m not a tomboy anymore. Well, I am sometimes, but only when I want to be. How did that change?

One day, a very good friend figured out my story (friends can read your mind like that), took me shopping and pushed me very hard, against my will, to try on some really nice outfits. Things I never had the confidence to wear before, not all of which was in any way more revealing, by the way.

Some of it was just more fashionable or more feminine. Things that made me look less like a boy and feel more like a woman (although I realize that the idea of femininity is different for everyone).

[bctt tweet=”What a lot of people don’t know is that I cut my hair off because I gave up.” username=”wearethetempest”]

When I finally saw myself in the mirror that day, I was honestly amazed. I cried that day, not from disappointment, but because I was happy. Yes, even with my short hair! I was so happy that, for once, for the first time, I could look at myself and even without my conventionally-feminine hair, see a woman, and actually like what I see.

I’m about to turn 24. I’m not married. Regardless, I wear makeup pretty much every day and I love it. I go shopping just for fun. I take selfies and send them to my friends and my mom. I match my lipstick to some part of my outfit, whether or not I’m about to see someone I know that day. I smile when I get compliments.

[bctt tweet=”For the first time, I could look at myself, see a woman, and actually like what I see.” username=”wearethetempest”]

Sometimes, I even imagine myself in a TV show or movie when I walk down the street on a sunny day in an outfit that I love on me.

 beautiful girl GIF

And you know what? I don’t feel bad about it. I feel great. 

Love + Sex Love Life Stories Advice Wellness

3 things to remember if both you and the person you love have depression

Can two people who are both suffering from depression be together? I remember Googling something like this in the past (when I was very young and had my first crush on a boy who also had depression) and feeling disappointed.

There’s a lot of information out there about how to support someone with depression. There’s also a lot of information out there about what steps to take if you have depression.

But what do you do if both you and the person you love – a friend, a significant other, a family member, whoever –  have depression?

Step 1: Realize that you are two people who love each other, first and foremost, not just two people who suffer from depression.

In other words, the majority of your challenges are faced by any two people who love each other. To be honest, most of the things I’ve blamed myself for in the past haven’t been my fault or even the fault of my depression – they’ve been byproducts of the relationship, things that came with those relationships no matter what.

In that same vein, when someone else’s mental illness seems like it’s the problem, it really helps to stop and think – is it really their depression or their anxiety that’s to blame? Is there anyone or anything to blame?

Conflicts happen. To me, they honestly feel like the end of the world pretty much every single time, but conflicts have to happen in any situation that involves two people being close enough to love one another. What matters is how you work through them – if you can do that, you’re not just growing, you’re growing closer together.

Often times, those of us who are battling depression are equipped with more tools to work through conflicts than others – after all, we’ve been working through our own internal conflicts almost constantly and somehow made it this far.

Step 2: Learn each other’s patterns and triggers. And talk about them – communicate.

A lot of us have the misconception that if we suffer from depression ourselves, we understand depression as a whole. But here’s the problem – depression is a completely unique experience for everyone it affects.

It is so important that we understand this, regardless of our shared conditions, and still make the effort to learn the specifics of one another’s conditions, because the one thing that’s worse than someone not understanding what we feel is someone saying “I understand!” and not really understanding.

There are going to be three different uncomfortable and difficult incidents that occur between you and the other person when you both suffer from depression. The first is when you are in need and the other person takes care of you. The second is when the other person is in need and you take care of them. These are the easier ones. The third is when you are both in need.

There are ways to get through these times, but these aren’t times you’re going to get through by just winging it in the moment. It helps to talk and prepare for future similar incidents. Here’s an example of a conversation I’ve had in the past with someone (shortened, of course), after which our relationship significantly improved:

Me: Look, it really hurts me when we start to have a disagreement and you just hang up and disappear for an unknown amount of hours or days. The entire time, I freak out, and I wonder what’s going to happen, and my anxiety causes me a lot of pain. Why do you do that? I feel like it’s because you just hate me in that moment…

Them: What? No, not at all. It’s because I care about you. I just know that in the moment I won’t be able to say the right thing. I’ll say something mean or hurtful or stupid, so I’d rather just be a way from the situation for a while and get some distance from it, and then when I come back to it, I’m less emotional and more myself. I just don’t wanna hurt you.

Me: Okay…that makes a lot of sense. But what you do instead still hurts me, the waiting to see what happens is so difficult, can we figure out some other way?

Them: I didn’t know you were going through that. Sure we can, like what?

Me: I just think the uncertainty makes it really hard for me. I want you to have the time you need to work through those initial intense emotions, but can you at least say something before you hang up or stop responding? Like, something to remind me you don’t hate me?

Them: I don’t know if I can do that in the moment when things are heated. The reason I leave is because I’m usually unable to say the right thing. Would it help if I just let you know that I’ll call you or text you the next day? So you don’t think I’m just gone indefinitely?

Me: What if you need more than a day? I don’t want to push you when you’re not ready to talk.

Them: Then, I’ll call or text to tell you that I need another day.

Me: That would help a lot, actually. Thank you.

Them: Anytime.

Me: So, what are you doing this weekend? Let’s go to the zoo!

This conversation might look pretty different if only I had depression, because my needs would probably be prioritized, since the situation would have been much more difficult for me. It might also look pretty different if only the other person had depression.

But we both had depression, so we needed to wait until things were calm and recap what had happened emotionally, and then find a way to do better for both of us. Keep talking. Keep communicating. Learn each other. You both might have depression, but you are not the same.

And you know what? These conversations get easier every single time.

Step 3: Maintain your independence as much as you can when it comes to your mental health.

The person that loves you is there for you, and you are there for them, and that is beautiful, but they are not your caretaker, nor are they responsible for you. When it comes to your mental health, you are your only caretaker, in addition to any mental health professionals you work with. Like everything else, this goes both ways when you both suffer from depression.

It will help any relationship if both parties are doing whatever they can for themselves before going to one another. The people we love are there to support us, not to take our depression away. At times, they are there to just be there even though we are depressed, not necessarily to make things better.

Imagine you’re walking through the park and you have pain in your leg. Your loved ones aren’t the crutch you’re using to continue walking, they’re the person who will sit on a bench with you when you need to rest. When both of you have depression, you might take turns being that person for each other.

The key is this: You do these things for each other because you want to, not because you have to.

However, sometimes, you are going to need support, and the other person will not be able to give it to you. And likewise, you will not always be able to give it to them.

This does not mean they do not love you. Just like you not being able to be there at times does not mean you do not love them.

Please do not make it about you in that moment; try to acknowledge the other person’s struggle as much as you can. If you don’t, there’s a huge chance you are going to deeply hurt the person you love while they are in their most vulnerable state.

At the same time, you can still feel sad or disappointed or anything else. Those emotions are normal and appropriate when you have depression and feel abandoned. When I say “don’t be angry at the other person,” I don’t mean “don’t be angry.” Not all negative emotion needs to be directed at someone.

Here’s what I want to leave you with:

A lot of people tell me depression is something that gets in the way of relationships. They tell me I’m not ready for a relationship. I hear a lot of, “How can you love someone else if you can’t love yourself?” And I hate that. For someone with clinical depression, this means they are doomed to a life of solitude.

Depression is not merely a case of someone having low self-esteem and not loving themselves enough. It’s a legitimate mental illness and should be treated a such, not as a personality flaw. If you suffer from depression and the person you love does too, it’s okay.

Your chances of having something beautiful and successful are the same as any two people. Do not let anyone tell you otherwise.

You are in no way less deserving or necessarily less capable of maintaining a healthy relationship, nor is the other person.