depression · immigration · mental health · mindfulness · PTSD · recovery

Parentless Schooling

Although I never really got into trouble much, I remember always feeling like I was a bad child.  The feeling just lingered there, staining my thoughts and drove my words and actions.  I remember feeling like I had to lie to make myself sound more worthy, because I’d already accepted that I couldn’t possibly be good enough as I was. I can only assume now that I must have felt that way because of how easily my parents seemed to have left me.  The lack of apology for leaving me parentless destroyed any self-worth I had as a 4 year-old.

Now that I look back on my childhood, I’m impressed by how well-behaved I was.  Aren’t parentless abandoned children supposed to go off the rails, rebel and get into trouble all the time and then end of on The Jeremy Kyle show one day?  Instead, I was this weird mixture of timid and brave.  I rarely tested the boundaries (even though I had the urge to) as I was much more concerned with adults’ approval.  I had no parents, so I was desperate for any other adults’ attention.

I found school exciting and loved helping my grandmother around the house when she let me. She taught me to knit and crochet. She even convinced my teacher to give me a report card even though I wasn’t officially enrolled.  I mean, I heard her convincing her to do it and I knew that all the As were meaningless but it still made me happy.  My gran cared about me.

Our little school in our little village in Cyprus consisted of two classrooms in a building surrounded by almond and cherry trees. I loved getting lost in the surrounding woods at playtime, daring myself to go in deeper every day. I would usually be alone as being in the wrong year group isolated me.  As the school had accepted me 1 year early, I was younger than all my peers and found it hard to be accepted.


I pretty much started my school life as a loner. I was in the infants classroom with Teacher Oya. We were arranged in rows according to our year group. There were 3-6 children in each year group. She would teach us from the blackboard one row at a time while the rest of us sat or worked in individual silence. She was a softly spoken lady from Turkey, who wore a black velvet Alice band. I remember trying to get my hair to sit like hers. She was probably the closest I had to a mother figure for a while. We barely spoke to each other, but she was someone to look up to.

Her husband taught the juniors (aged 9-11). He was called teacher Ferit and was scary. He had all the features of a teacher from the 50s. He had a hot temper and readily used his cane. He had nicknamed my older sister BigBird because of her larger frame and would regularly humiliate her in front of the whole school, especially during PE. He would throw items he found irritating out of the window (e.g. scented rubbers, tiny bouncy balls) and hit our knuckles with a ruler if we didn’t meet standards.

I do remember occasionally doing naughty things for attention and always feeling awful for not getting in trouble. Once, I kept and spent a coin I found on the floor in the school shop and was so terrified of being caught I hid under a willow-tree-like tree at the end of the playground when playtime was up. As I saw the teacher marching up to me, I tried to hide deeper in the tree, terrified of being told off and publicly scolded.

He simply told me to come to class. The guilt wouldn’t leave me. Why hadn’t they told me off?  I was so consumed by guilt that it never occured to me that I might not be found out!

I tried to make up for what I thought was my inherent badness by being a good student.  I found the work they gave me too easy and just took it upon myself to start doing work set for the class above.  I understood the teacher’s explanation of column addition, so I did that instead of the dot-to-dot activity meant for me.  I finished all the sums faster than most people in the class and proudly took my work up to the teacher’s desk- I still remember that I got about half of them wrong, I remember the shame, the disappointment.  Why do I still remember this sometimes and why does it still make me feel bad?  I was a 4 year-old doing 6 year-olds’ work but I still fail to impress myself?

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


Fearful Fabric Face
I tried painting on fabric in a dark and depressed time as a teenager.

I was 3 when I started living with my dad’s parents at the top of one of the two hills that made up our village in Cyprus.  My parents were working in London.

I remember being stood on my grandfather’s belly reaching up for his binoculars hanging from a nail in the white wall. He was the source of a lot of laughter for me, singing my pains away when I fell and grazed my knee or getting me to walk on his back, calling it a massage. These fond memories were later tainted by my mother’s accounts of how controlling he was of her, spying on her house at the top of the other hill to see what visitors she had with his binoculars. He would then ban certain visitors. 

I remember the smell of pan-toasted bread in the background as my grandmother washed me and my little sister in a tin in the middle of the huge kitchen with water heated on the fireplace.  I wasn’t old enough to realise the simplicity of our lives and I was living moment to moment- something I haven’t been able to do since my early childhood; now I’m too often stuck in circles of memories.
I remember the day my older sister arrived from London a few months after us.  My parents had decided that they couldn’t work or save money with any of us still with them in London.  We were all now to be under our grandparents’ care.
My older sister’s arrival was an exciting day. I can still see her skipping towards me with a huge smile. I then moved to my other grandparents’ house with her and would daily visit my little sister. My grandmother, who lived in the sandy valley was too old to walk up that hill with me every time and my older sis wasn’t interested in us little ones much. I guess the age gap was too big then. I was 4 by now and she going on 7. I honestly can’t remember a single conversation or game with her in Cyprus after her arrival. Little did I know she was facing troubles no little girl should. 
My grandmother – being the pragmatic woman who she was- convinced the village school to take me on a year early. She needed some rest between looking after us and my grandfather who soon became completely bed-bound. She was such a tough woman, but always gave me little speeches to tell me that she believed I could be something.
I only remember disobeying my gran once. I don’t remember the spanking. Just her anger. I had quickly nipped out to accompany the neighbour’s daughter to pick up something from her uncle’s house ten minutes’ walk away. I had gone to a stranger’s house without telling her.
I cried myself to sleep that afternoon and woke up to overhearing her explain herself to the neighbour, telling her how she had gone crazy looking for me in the whole neighbourhood. It wasn’t until I learned of the dark things that happened in that village that I truly appreciated her fear. 
And so months turned to years, and we would be parentless until I was 7.  
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 physically. Despite all the odds being stacked against me, I eventually did that. 
Eventually I realised, I can’t run away from my thoughts…