anxiety · depression · health · mental health · mindfulness · psyhology · recovery · self-help

Maslow Got Me Low


I’m very lucky to work for an employer that not only offers professional development courses and workshops, but also ones to help personal development.  A few months ago I attended a workshop called Optimum Wellbeing.  It was motivating, it was inspiring and all those things it should have been to make us want to better ourselves straight away.  Unfortunately, it wasn’t real-world-proof, so as keen as I was to be a better me when I left, reality caught up with me and I wasn’t able to immediately turn my life around as I’d naively hoped.

However, full of naive hope though I was, the cynic in me had already started a plan B in my head.  I would put the book that came with the course and the notes into my office and timetable small chunks of reading time to reflect back over the stuff in it.  Last week was my first timetabled spot to look over the stuff and as I flicked through the papers, my eye was caught by the bright colours of Maslow’s pyramid.  I’m no different to a primary school kid I guess, bright colours and you’ve got my attention!

I remembered finding this theory appealing in the workshop; the arrogant part of me immediately wanted to see how far up the pyramid I had reached.  For those who haven’t come across this theory before, it is called the Hierarchy of Needs– a great summary can be found HERE.  When I first came across it, the desperate-to-be-happy girl in me immediately interpreted it as a tick-list of achievements to get through before finding final happiness, peace and contentment or as he called it ‘self-actualisation’.

I started reading through the list of ‘characteristics of self-actualisers’ and was so happy to see I could already tick off so many things on the list.  Some characteristics I knew straight away I had, like ‘unusual sense of humour’ and ‘democratic attitudes’ even though I had never really used them to think about and describe myself.  But then, inevitably, there were the short-comings.  For example, the following did not apply to me:

-Accept themselves and others for what they are. (I have a hard time accepting myself and often have a confused/fluid perception of others)

-Able to look at life objectively. (I can only do this sometimes usually when it’s not my life)

I immediately started thinking about how to fix myself and forgot all about critical thinking.  Just because this theory was presented to me in an academic setting, it didn’t make it right.  Luckily, the Simply Psychology summary I used to read up on the theory ends with an excellent ‘Critical evaluation’ section which calls the whole theory into question, pointing out flaws in Maslow’s methodology (his data came from uncontrollable/biased sources such as biographies) and his limited sample (mainly educated white men).  I was letting conclusions from a very flawed study convince me that I was on the wrong path!

One thing I definitely learned from judging myself against the characteristics and behaviours Maslow claimed ‘self-actualised’ people had was that I need to reflect on who I am and who I want to be with a bit more kindness.  The truth is that I possess most of the characteristics and behaviours on his lists, but it just wasn’t good enough for me and Maslow got me low!

What theories have you come across in your attempts at self-improvement?

anxiety · depression · health · mental health · mindfulness · recovery · self-help

Reflecting on Anger

I found something I wrote about 2 years ago and I felt my heart start scuttering up towards my throat again as I read it- my body so readily believes that it is in a state of distress!  In the spirit of Narrative Exposure Therapy, I wanted to reflect on it, dissect it and reduce its ability to remove from the now.  This is what I wrote:

…One of the reasons I started writing here was that I wanted to confront the anger that I internalised. Even today it haunts me. I’m riddled with impatience and anger in unexpected times and places.

Today I tried really hard to control it and I couldn’t. I suppressed it with all my might but it still poked out and I’m trying to defend myself and explain it but I can’t. And he gets so annoyed with me. And everything he throws at me angers me more and I can’t even express the anger because it would end it all. He tells me it’s PMS. He tells me I’m being assy. He tells me I’m being a princess. I’m raging inside and want to scream the place down. But I hold back. It would only make things worse. So I take it. Let him keep belittling me for fear of losing him.

How can it be that I anger such a calm man? How I wish he came with instructions. I am willing to do it right. I just keep getting it wrong. He knows I’ve realised I’m wrong most of the time, so now he’s willing to let me take the blame for it all. It’s all my fault.

I loved him. I’m starting to resent him. He knows my memory is failing and is using it against me. He is making me feel bad for shit I’m not sure I’ve done.

Or am I being paranoid? I’m sick of not knowing. What’s wrong with me? Am I broken forever? I’m sick of secretly crying on the cold bathroom floor.

I need to get up and face it all. Life is so hard. If I wasn’t such a coward I would just end it all…

adult alone backlit dark
Photo by Pixabay on

I would love to say it was a different me who felt that way, who felt she was treated that way, who wasn’t coping, but it was the same old me, in a lower place than I am now.  I still feel all those things on occasion, but there are other things in my life now that don’t let me fall down the rabbit-hole of self-sorrow for too long.  These new things (a job, more space and creative activity) have also given me the distance necessary to get some perspective and see what was real and what was imagined.

As much as I hate to admit it, John was right about one thing: my moods are extremely affected by my menstrual cycle.  I used an app to track it and to my utter annoyance, John is pretty much as accurate as the app about when my period is due.  As annoying as it is, it has armed me with information to help me be more self-aware.  I’m now conscious that I might be more irritable or have the hunger to enable me to eat the entire contents of the fridge and take precautions.

I have also realised that during times where I’m not affected by an imbalance of hormones due to my menstrual cycle, John has his own issues.  He is sometimes irritable and impatient and it’s not my fault and it doesn’t have to mean that my world stops.

That’s the main change.  I know that my world would not stop without him now and in the past I had convinced myself that it would.  It strangely sounds like I’m not as in love with him as before, but it’s quite the opposite; I am now with him out of choice and not out of necessity.  For too long I believed and behaved as though we were not equals.  I believed him to be so superior to me.

That is why I know I love him more now.  He did not make me feel like we are equals by lowering himself in my eyes.  He made me feel like we are equals by boosting me up.

And now I still get angry because of him but it’s a lot briefer and scarcer and usually ends up being because of misunderstandings.  I am still shite at communicating my feelings to him because my feelings are still confusing to me.

I know I need more therapy.

anxiety · cycling · depression · feminism · immigration · mental health · mindfulness · PTSD · recovery

Cycling For Muslims

I wrote this just before starting this blog last year…

As depression threatened to debilitate me chronically again, yesterday morning I fought it and got my bike out. After weeks of anxiety building up (I naively stopped taking my antidepressants before I was assigned a new psychotherapist) and feeling worthless and hopeless again, the fighter in me resurfaced. I decided to give the finger to all the voices in my head and do something that has always proven to make me feel good about myself: cycle til I could no more.

When I got back home, as predicted, I was energised to do my chores and much more willing to let bad thoughts go. Still, when I sat to write the next bit of my story here, I could only think about what cycling meant to me as a child, even though we are not yet chronologically there yet. I was stuck, so I didn’t write. Having slept on it, I’ve come to the obvious conclusion that I can’t tell you this in chronological order when I am living a present constantly interrupted by the past (compliments of PTSD).
So, although I will come back to where I left off in my story, I will now jump forward a few years to 1993.  At age 7 I was newly and permanently back in grey London and the main feeling that plagued me was longing for the freedom I had in my Cypriot village. After being free to roam the village unattended and playing amongst trees and crops, being stuck to the confines of a semi-detached house was so frustrating.
On a sunny September day my younger sister had asked for a bike for her birthday and was crying having been told it was too expensive. A visiting uncle took pity on her and ordered one for her. When it arrived, the true reason behind my parents not wanting to buy the bike emerged. My dad sat us down and told us that bikes weren’t really for girls because it could “spoil” their virginity. Until I actually understood what virginity meant later in my teens, this fear nagged at the back of my head. I didn’t understand how or what would happen, but he made it clear it would be the most shameful thing that could happen to a girl. 
You see, in London, thousands of miles away from our village mosque (only really used during funerals and Eid) Dad had found Islam. Well, at least he thought he did. Having been kicked out of my mum’s by police following yet more violence in 1991, he made friends with some practising Muslims. In his most needy time, having lost his wife and home, they picked him up, helped him and told him about their version of Islam, which he then combined with his existing thoughts. 
Well, Dad worked long hours, and Mum wasn’t bothered about bikes.  The bike was too big for my little sis and she got bored of it soon. I kept falling but I learned to ride it. I would use the downhill alley running down the side of our garden as a starter and ride down and up that cul-de-sac, dreaming of being able to actually go somewhere. It was the first tool that enabled the daydream world I would later create to help me escape the reality of my childhood. 
So for me, cycling is escapism. Not ignorism.  It keeps me sane and calms me so I can go back to concentrating on the main plan. When I was a child, the main plan was running away from my parents physically. Despite all the odds being stacked against me, I eventually did that. 
Now I need to get them out of my head. 
anxiety · depression · mental health · mindfulness · recovery · self-help

I didn’t write much


So 11 months after I wrote my first blog, I received an email that my domain was expiring in a month, and I realised that I haven’t written much.  I then started to feel really sad and disappointed thinking of all the intentions I had and the accomplishments that never happened.

But then I started reading over my first blog, ‘Freedom’ and decided to check myself.  OK, so I didn’t ‘write my heart out’ as planned, but I wrote and I did a lot of other things.  I knew that in order to want to keep coming back to writing, I needed to give myself stuff to look forward to writing about.

I’m going to try and come back to writing by reviewing the goals in that first post.

  1. I want to write my heart out- OK, so I didn’t write the next big novel, but I continued with my poetry when my concentration would allow, so actually, I have stuff to share on here and that’s something to look forward to.  I just need to reorganise myself and make regular time for writing.  I’ve finally found a job that I enjoy and that leaves me time to write- that’s a huge accomplishment.
  2. I must get physically healthy- so I’m not Miss Universe, but I’ve come a long way.  I now walk to and from work every day, I’ve gone down a dress size since last year and am sticking to home-cooked food.
  3. I will focus on my mental wellbeing- I completed my Narrative Exposure Therapy sessions and the experience has been life-changing.  I am by no means cured of PTSD, depression and anxiety, but they no longer dominate my life and happiness is not some distant dream anymore, but a regular feeling I experience.
  4. I need to show my partner how much I appreciate him and have more fun with him- this has been difficult without any real disposable income, but I’ve tried.  I have to admit that this is an area I need to keep working on- I just haven’t quite figured out how to do it without money yet.  I try to tell him how much I appreciate him and the things he does for me at every opportunity and offer to help him with what I can.
  5. I need to reconnect with my family- at one point, I thought that this would be impossible, but my therapy really prepared me for it.  I keep my family meetings brief and try to keep conversations with my parents superficial in order to avoid trigger topics.  It has been amazing building a relationship with my baby niece and being more involved in my sisters’ lives.

So actually, I didn’t write much, but I did a lot in the last 11 months and I’m proud of myself.  I managed to finally believe that I can do better.

Here’s to doing!