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. 

Starting in Cyprus

I started writing out the past as part of my Narrative Exposure Therapy- the sessions alone weren’t enough and I was too self-conscious in the sessions to say it all.  On days when I don’t have time to write, I will share some of those autobiographical writings, giving me a chance to reflect still.


Here’s the first…

I was born in the late 80s to Turkish Cypriot parents in a tiny village at the very north of Cyprus.  My mum was 20 and had just remarried my dad. They had gotten divorced barely a year after the arranged marriage. You see, my dad had his family ask my mum’s for her hand in marriage. Her mum told her she didn’t have much choice, as she was barely taking care of my paralysed grandfather. They promised to treat her well and she went along with it.

She went from being the “bosbori” (baby) of the house to running a house, pregnant and hard farming. My dad’s temper, jealousy, possessiveness and late drunk nights were too much for her. He would go to the village gave (caf for men) after he was done with the goats and drink and gamble the evening away. But she was strong-headed and left him. Only to have my grandmother convince her to go back to him. She was pregnant. What would people say? Divorced women were not respected.
When I was 8 and she told me this story, I was so angered by the injustice that had been done to my poor mum, aged just 18.  But now I’m just angry at her because of who she became.
And so I was born. And then two years later another sister was born. And my dad carried on in the same way.  We were poor, living in the home of relatives who had moved to London. My parents’ siblings were all flocking to London in search of a better life, or with that dream of saving money to build their own home in Cyprus and mine made plans to do the same.
I spent the first few years of my life living a proper rural village life. I have a few scenes that play out in my mind from around age 3. I know I was 3 because my parents were still with me in Cyprus. In one scene, I’m on the back of my dad’s tractor while he is loading his tanker with water for his goats. My mum would always say that I adored my dad as a toddler. In another, my mum is waking me up at the crack of dawn, because her brother from London is there. I’m too sleepy to get up but note that they are having snails round the fire and as this was a favourite of mine, this disappointed me.
Soon after that last scene we all flew to London. I have no memory of the journey. I have two memories of my first time in London:
1- -An aunty we were staying with giving sweets to her children and not us.
2- -At the airport a couple of months after arriving with my grandmother, who was visiting and was flying back to Cyprus. My mum told me and my younger sister to follow my gran to the sweetshop at the airport. I was dragging my baby sister who had just started walking behind me, annoyed she was delaying our arrival at the sweetshop. Eventually, I realised my gran was checking us all in, turned to my baby sister and started wailing and sobbing that they had tricked us. We were going back to Cyprus and my older sis and parents were staying in London. I cried all the way to Cyprus. That memory has always been so vivid. And the flashbacks won’t stop. I remember the exact rhythm of my wailing and the words it contained. I remember how little I was and how big everything around me was. I remember constantly being told there was no reason to cry and how silly I was being. But no one would tell me what was actually happening or why.
I have always assumed that my mum as unaffected by this. She is always so cold and matter-of-fact when she talks about it. It was necessary because they couldn’t both work and save money with us all there. A couple of months later they sent my older sister back too. Did she shed a single tear for us? Did she miss us? Was she glad to be rid of us? For years, she has never uttered a single word of love or affection to me. Not once. She’s so cold.
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!

drugs · health · IBS · NHS

I saw the NHS crumbling around me

This is one of my accounts of being in and out of hospital last year:

Two years after his injury at work, for the first time, we were able to take day-trip with my partner last Saturday. Caught up in the British heat-wave frenzy, we headed to South End, chasing our childhood summers. He wanted to throw pebbles at the green flags on the beach and I wanted a picnic in the grassy hills overlooking the beach. pexels-photo-433267.jpeg

Soon after we finished eating, I got a migraine.  I soldiered on not wanting to ruin the day and completed the long walk to the end of the pier. By the end of the walk, I could barely stand and had to talk in small bursts between waves of abdominal pain. We took the train back to the beach and before long, I was sick and in agony. By the time we got home I couldn’t contain the groans and screams of pain and by morning I was in A&E.

Because of his injury, my partner had to go back home to bed to deal with his own pain.  I was there, on the floor of the waiting room on my knees, keeled over a sick bowl, alone.  I was still in my sweaty beach clothes from the day before, make-up smeared all over my face and uncontrollably squirming in pain. I was so embarrassed because I couldn’t keep quiet and asked if there was somewhere more private I could wait, but was told that there wasn’t.  I felt so discarded and barely remember the cab journey home.

After about twenty minutes the streaming nurse saw me and told me I’d have to wait at least an hour.  I was so dizzy I had to hold on to the walls to walk. Under any other circumstances, an hour may not have seemed like much, but the humiliation was unbearable. I went home and endured the pain for hours more.  I was in the worst pain I had ever known for a full 14 hours.  I will spare you my more unpleasant symptoms, as ultimately it was the pain that was unbearable.

This pain would last 6-16 hours with gaps of 3-6 hours. It kept coming back. My GP couldn’t give me an emergency appointment so I went back to A&E on Monday, waited again on the floor of  the waiting room, my head hanging over yet another cardboard sick bowl.  I was seen for about two minutes by an “Urgent GP” there, who didn’t even examine me, told me I had digestion problems and sent me home to wait it out as these things take a while to clear.

By Tuesday, having bought every suggestion of the pharmacist and endured another long stretch of pain that wasn’t quitting after 10 hours, I went back to A&E in my pyjamas to literally beg that they give me some pain relief. They finally decided I needed to see a specialist and  I was left waiting in a chair for about 20 minutes, worried that I had been forgotten about as nurses and doctors walked frantically past me.  I could see they were so rushed off their feet that I felt bad to ask for help.

Eventually, I was put on a trolley with the privacy of curtains. For 5 hours I cried, rocking back and forth over that sick bowl, squirming on the trolley bed, shame having become a distant memory. I had begun talking to the pain in my mind, telling it that I WOULD beat it.  The friendliest nurse I have ever met talked to me about controlling my breathing to help with the pain.  I tried desperately to do this, but the pain would always catch up with me and make me hyperventilate.  Lisa the nurse was so friendly and soothing that I was grateful for the distraction of having something to try to do.   Somehow, despite being pulled from all directions, she never talked as though I wasn’t there and never forgot about me. She kept me fully informed of what was going on, how long to expect to wait and listened to everything the doctor said with me.  Doctor Tom was also a star, who talked to me with the kindest bedside manner and gave me all the information he had, concluding that I was probably suffering from biliary colic, a pain caused by gallstones.

As soon as the pain subsided, I was again, sent home, advised to follow up with my GP. Less than 24 hours later, I was back, worse than before, not having eaten since Friday, unable to stand or sit unaided.  I was finally admitted.  This time, the morphine wasn’t working. They had to keep giving me more in small doses. After 3 hours and 3 doses, the pain subsided. I was taken off to a ward with my own room. I was told that I had to wait for a scan to help determine if I had gallstones and that they would need to operate on me if that was the case.

While waiting on the trolley to be moved to a ward, I called a nurse for help as I needed the toilet but was still attached to a drip on my trolley.  She took the saline ouch off the hook and handed it to me, followed by instructions to the toilet. I asked her if I could put the punch down in the toilet when I got there and she said no, and walked off. So, I stumbled to the bathroom in my morphine-daze.

People kept coming into my room, not telling me who they were as I lay there in a haze. One lady was a cleaner.  I saw her sporadically half-wiping random bits of the room with antibacterial wipes and leaving.  This woman either hated her job, didn’t understand the importance of it, or both. I cringed as I noticed she only wiped the hot tap and didn’t bother with the cold.  This is what happens when people are not payed or trained properly.  I was in the surgical ward of a hospital and the cleaner didn’t care to disinfect the taps properly.  I remembered all the headlines about the NHS again.

I waited for hours with no information and eventually asked when my scan would be.  After not hearing back from the first two people I asked, I tried my luck and got lucky with a third, who told me that my scan would be the next day. I was so hazy with all the morphine, I had no idea whether I had been talking with the nurses, cleaners or food distributors. It didn’t help that most didn’t knock or introduce themselves. In fact, one nurse terrified me in the midst of my pain, as I had my head between my knees, whilst sat in bed rocking and moaning.  She entered silently without knocking and made me jump suddenly when I heard her voice next to me. I jumped so suddenly that I got a cramp in my neck, leaving me with a whip-lash-like injury for the next 5 days.

Later that afternoon, a consultant (not sure but I think that means senior doctor) examined my abdomen and advised me that gallbladder operations are not considered emergency operations. It didn’t quite sink in til he left, but this meant if they found I needed an operation, I would be sent home to wait for an appointment.  Apart from confirming that my scan was due the following day, the consultant had no other information for me.

I was lucky to have a pain-free sleep that night, but soon after I awoke on Thursday, I was in agony again, clutching my sick bowl.  It took them about three hours to get me my first dose of morphine, which didn’t work. Around the fourth hour, I was attached to a morphine pumping machine which allowed me to push for a fresh dose every 5 minutes. After about half an hour, this worked, and I was finally pain-free.

I was so happy to be pain-free and felt armed for the pain with my morphine-button. I paid £7.50 on my card for 24 hours of TV in my room.  Grenfell Tower had burnt down while my insides had been busy crippling me.  And as I started having lots of reflection time, I started to think about what was going on right around me as I was too busily submerged in my personal woes.

I heard the old lady in the room next to me talking to the nurse and got up to introduce myself. Maggie said she was so worried fore when I was groaning in pain she was so worried she kept calling the nurses for me. I apologised for the racket I had made and said I hoped my TV wasn’t too loud. She told me not to worry and that she couldn’t hear a thing.

My partner came and spent the two hours the parking would allow for with me.  As he came in I heard Maggie from next door shout out, “I hope you’re alright, dear. Don’t worry about your telly.  I can’t hear a thing.  I called out my gratitude. I cried afterwards.

Then I went to the bathroom and looked at myself for the first time. I hadn’t showered in days…didn’t they have showers there? I had clearly lost weight. I tidied my hair and washed myself as best as I could over the sink next to the toilet. Then I went and had a chat with Maggie, who told me about her movie life. She was a professional ballet dancer, who married a doctor. She had two sons, one stillborn, and one who fell off a horrific height and died in his twenties. She then adopted a son about 35 years ago and he is now her carer and visits her daily after work.  She had been in hospital for 8 weeks and went getting better.

Then, this glamorous, charming lady cheekily fluttered her fully-mascarad eyelashes at me and said, “I need to go outside for a cigarette.”  Delighted at the idea of going outside, I joined her and smoked a cigarette for the first time in years.  I gave her my ear and heard her story and her health concerns.  One was that she would randomly fall asleep and suffer falls, but no one took her seriously. 

The next morning around 4am, I was awoken by a sudden thump and Maggie’s pained, weak shouts. I was plugged into the wall and couldn’t run out of my room so I instantly yelled for the nurse several times as loudly as I could.  Maggie had gone silent. What seemed like too long but what was probably about 30 seconds later, a nurse came running to my door and I pointed next door to Maggie’s room where I thought she was.  It took the nurse a moment to realise that Maggie wasn’t in face in her room to the left of mine, but in the toilet, to the right of it.

Then about 5 more nurses came rushing round the corner, one who told me to go back to bed and not worry and pushed my door closed for me while I was still standing as close as my attachments would allow to it… things only got worse…



I’m Shelz a 31-year old girl, hoping to start over. I live in Luton, UK and have just found freedom. 

Following a rough start and uphill struggle in life, I am finally in a position to take a step back and do what I want to do.  I can finally afford to not work in the traditional sense of the word.   I have to say, the freedom of it is unexpectedly unsettling. 

It’s been a week since I took the decision after my partner suggested it.  I’ve spent the last week in a weird state of limbo, trying to figure out what to do with myself.  I find that cleaning gives me good thinking power, and so I have started every day thinking and cleaning away. 
The purpose of this break from work is to help me finally find some happiness in myself and for myself. I suppose the purpose of this blog is to keep me on track, as well as giving me a chance to share some of the things I hope to accomplish in this time.  

So here are some of the ideas that came to me whilst scrubbing the bottom of my saucepan with screechy wire wool this morning:

  • I want to write my heart out. I always dreamt of being a writer and have scribbled stuff down here and there, but now is the time to do it properly. I will write poems, novels, plays, articles and share them here. 
  • I must get physically healthy. I have neglected my body for so long that I can feel it complaining. I love cycling, swimming and punching my boxing doll and I need to keep those things in my life regularly. 
  • I will focus on my mental wellbeing now that I’m getting the help I need. 
  • I need to show my partner how much I appreciate him and have more fun with him. 
  • I need to reconnect with my family after some difficult times. 

One of my doodles
I have finally found someone who wants to empower me and help me be happy.  I now need to prove that 31 isn’t too old to start being happy.