Shadows fall

I was born intense and sensitive. My first year, I was crying nonstop. Everything seemed to bother me. Mum would feed me 5 times each meal time because I’d vomit everything. She’d change me, change her clothes, clean the floor, try feeding me again, vomit. Man, my parents were super patient. I wouldn’t sleep at night, so when my dad would get home from work, he wouldn’t even remove his shoes. He’d take me out on a night stroll, and it was the only thing that would soothe me. Until today, walking outside at night has the same effect on me. 

When I turned 1, I suddenly turned quiet. I’d sit still and just observe. Mum would find it a bit odd that if she’d tell me to sit somewhere I wouldn’t move until I’m told to move. My speech was unusually developed – but I spoke gibberish. Dad jotted my words and their meanings in shorthand, and he’d translate for me to mum and others. He does the same for my nephew. 

Once I walked up to him as he was eating supper, and I said something that sounded like ‘ Fushuq faashuq ma fagta’ whilst pointing at his plate, and he said ‘Fago’ which basically means dig in. And I actually did! 

I was a year and 8 months by the time my twin brothers came along, and this pushed me further into my inner world. An incident that still baffles me till this day ( as told to me by my parents of course, don’t remember) was a day when I sat in the kitchen with my parents who each held a twin, and my distant aunt. Mind you, mum had an emergency c-section with the twins and suffered serious health complications that forced her to be in and out of the hospital in the first 6 months. Out of the blue, I blurted

‘ Aabo mid, hooyo mid, aniga baabah’
Dad one, mum one, me nothing. 

I wasn’t even 2 when I said that. 

My hypersensitivity and my above average intelligent made a dangerous concoction. I’d see and understand things a child my age shouldn’t have to ponder. I’d be debilitated by the emotional impact of my idealism and bleeding heart. I was incredibly naive, as lying wasn’t something I could fathom. And I had high expectations of the world. When the world inevitably showed its cracks, I didn’t know how to reconcile that.

So I assumed it’s because I was cracked and flawed. It was easier to absorb all the wrong and darkness in the world than to live with the cognitive dissonance of seeing the disparity between the ideal and the reality. 

From the ages 4 and 5 I started to philosophize about the macrocosmic; where I came from, why I was here ( on earth), why dads existed if mums were the ones giving birth ( my 5 year old conclusion was that the dads were there to help take care of the baby once it was born. ) 

Focusing on grand ideas led my focus away from my extremely early inner conflicts which would prove to be the forerunner of my existential depression ( if it weren’t the beginning of it). 

I attributed all bad in the world to myself and as such I believed I deserved all bad. This mindset would be the gateway of the most horrendous things that were to happen. 

My head was in space and my body was on the playground. Only, I didn’t enjoy playing with kids or watching cartoons. I’d see through the make-believe and lies pretty quickly and it made no sense. Looking back, my mind was a dark cloud, even at that tender age. My carers at day care would take this up with my parents when they’d pick me up – that I’m awfully quiet and reticent. My mum made it her mission to bring me out of my shell, and for a decade we were tied at the hip – she’s more my close friend than mother. 
I start school. I’m an adult in a child’s body. Obviously the school don’t know how to accommodate for me, nor did I want them to. I wanted to be as close to invisible as possible. I didn’t want to be noticed. I didn’t want my badness to be noticed. 
I remember an incident that happened in the beginning of third grade that set the tone for how I viewed school – till this day. Our teacher Jane, a red haired and freckled short lady with round glasses, had given us maths homework over the weekend. A few pages. 
I LOVED school so much so that mum would threaten me with making me stay home from school when I misbehaved 😂😂 . Obviously she never followed through with her threat. 

So I got around to doing the homework that same Friday evening. 

By Saturday noon I was done. But my momentum wasn’t anywhere near done. Once I get into flow, it’s like a trance. I’m still like that today, with writing. I disconnect from time and space. 
I continued beyond the designated pages and one thing (page) led to another – and hey presto! I had completed the entire book! 
I come to school on Monday, all giddy and proud. I was grinning from ear to ear over the anticipation of my teacher’s positive response. 
Nothing of the sort happened. She became cross with me. Who asked you to do all this? she hissed. I froze. I told you I freeze when I’m caught off guard. I shrunk back into my chair. I felt so embarrassed. 

‘Erase everything you wrote beyond the homework’ she commanded. I didn’t even wait to process what was happening. I just wanted her to stop. I didn’t want to cause a scene. I remember I spent most of the lesson erasing my efforts and my confidence, page by page, with my head so bent over the book that my nose nearly touched the pages. 
I never tried with school after that. I was the class clown who pretended to be funny to show my bullies that I didn’t care. I’d wait till last minute before I’d do my homework or revise for tests. I didn’t want to commit. I’d consistently get mostly A’s, some B’s. 
School didn’t provide much challenge, I was always bullied. So I shifted all my energy into reading. Books were a portal to an alternate universe where I wasn’t defective. I thought everything that happened did because I was inherently defective, that it was a reflection of my worth. 
Books suspended time for me where I could leave my reality behind and live vicariously through others. In school I’d daydream about going to the library and discovering new books. 
I’d read about 4-5 books a week on average. 

Meanwhile, my rich emotional side remained stifled. I had shut everything off but my intellect. It was my armour I hid behind. 
But unbeknownst to me, my emotional side was brewing with vengeance and planning to overthrow me…


dirty shoes and doormats

Today I took my ayeyo out for a brief stroll in the beautiful Swedish spring weather. There’s something about spring that spells hope for me. The air feels alive. And the sun shines like it means it. Anyway, as we were walking, we were met by two middle-aged Somali women, one of whom abruptly stopped in front of my ayeyo – the other stood to the side. The lady who stopped seemed to know her.
She asked my ayeyo ‘Ma i taqaana?’( Do you know me?) And though my petite ayeyo has been tried with a lifetime of illnesses, I swear when I say that her mind is clearer than any youngster I know, I’m not exaggerating. And the corner of her mouth curved up, to form into a brief smile as she replied that of course she knows the lady, she’s so and so.
The lady clapped her hand in joyous surprise as she gave her friend a look that said
‘ can you believe this old woman remembers stuff?’.
There’s something that irks me about the way Somalis patronize old people and young kids. But that’s besides the point.
After exchanging a round of small talk, the middle-aged lady suddenly turned her face to take a sharp look at me, as if she just noticed that I was standing next to ayeyo, and asked
‘ ma ina cali baa?’ ( Are you the daughter of Ali?)
I have my mother’s signature looks that gives me away instantly.
I said ‘haa’ (yes). And what she said next took me aback;
‘oo maxaad saan ula balaaratay? Maxaad cuntay’
( Why did you become this big, what did you eat?) as her squinting and prying eyes looked me up and down. Her boorish words didn’t warrant a reply so I looked her in the eye and silently looked away. I wasn’t afraid of giving her an answer she deserves, but I didn’t even know her so I didn’t even want to acknowledge what she said.
She didn’t relent. She scrambled for something to save face with; she turned to my ayeyo and said in an explanatory tone
‘ waxaan u maleynayey inay aheyd tii wax dhashay’
( I thought it was the one who had the baby) referring to my younger sister who had the measurements of a supermodel with her 5’10 frame and envious body shape. Drive the knife deeper will you.
Ayeyo quipped back ‘ no, this one doesn’t have a baby. She’s not married.’
I glanced at her friend who stood silently on the side, to see if she was as shocked as I was at her rudeness? But she wasn’t. And the rude lady didn’t seem fazed by her intrusiveness. What world did these women come from that made it seem normal to be so unhinged? I tugged at ayeyo to signal that we should head back home. The afternoon sun was receding, and it was getting a bit chilly.
When they left I told my ayeyo ‘ma la yaabtay?’
( Did you become shocked?) at which she grinned, knowingly. My ayeyo says more with her facial expression than she speaks. We walked the rest of the way home in silence.
I noticed that it didn’t bother me. It was offensive, but it didn’t stir my emotions. Because I know that for someone to talk like that, they must be full of pain and problems. Normal people don’t go around saying shit like that. But had this been a year ago, it would have broken my spirits and would have set me oh so far back. It’s odd, how gradually change seeps into your being. A thought challenged here, an essay written there. Before you know it, you’ve thought yourself into a new person.
I thought to myself, if I hadn’t created my own world I would have died in other people’s worlds, paraphrasing something I had read. People project their insecurities and vices on others all the time. If I didn’t have a stable self-esteem, a sense of self, then I would have crumbled under the weight of all the negativity (no pun intended :p ).
Someone can come and destroy all the hard work you’ve done by a thoughtless word if you open yourself up to the opinion and approval of others.
I don’t need to explain to anyone why I gained weight, how I feel about that, or when I’m planning on losing it. Because one thing is for sure; feeling good about yourself is NOT tied to a number on the scale. If that were the case, we wouldn’t have thin girls hating their non-existent flab. I’ve battled with eating disorders and body dysmorphia ever since I was 12-13 because of what others said, because of what I saw in the magazines and on tv. I thought to be liked, I had to be perfect in every way. So even though I was slim, I hated my body. I hated it. There was never a moment where I felt ok. And it’s ironic that it took me gaining a whole lot of weight for that self-hate to come to the surface.
I relay this incident because I know that many girls and women suffer insecurities that leave a dent in their lives. If it’s not body size, it’s skin tone, it’s hair texture, it’s height, it’s the nose, the eyes, the hands, the waist, the hips, the neck. If not the physical aspect, then it’s how ‘lady-like’ are you, how hard-working are you, how good a manners do you have, how good a cook are you, are you married, are you able to have kids, are you able to balance the entire world on your shoulders–
When you open yourself up to the definitions and remarks of those who haven’t felt your pain, who haven’t witnessed the suffering that gave you the strength to carry on, the beautiful heart you have — even if it’s your own mother, then you basically say ‘ my own opinion doesn’t matter. I don’t matter until I am validated by others’. It’s this act of self-transgression that invites the transgression of others.
Don’t. YOU set your standards. YOU set your rules. YOU set your own boundaries. Teach people how to treat YOU. If they don’t respect it or try to mock you by saying that you’re too sensitive, cut them loose. Someone who doesn’t respect your wishes or boundaries is someone who doesn’t respect YOU. You don’t need that garbage in your life. You’re no dumpster mmkay?
The role of a writer is not to say what we can all say, but what we are unable to say.
— Anaïs Nin

Iron Curtain

by the

I’ve always acted stoic. When I had no friends, when I’d be picked on, when my parents broke my heart. I never let it show. I convinced myself that it didn’t matter. I convinced myself that it was ok to go through life unheard,unseen, misunderstood. I’d look every fear in the eye and charge right at it out of spite, because I didn’t want anything to exert that control over me. I was the quiet nerd with her nose buried in novels during breaks to keep myself occupied whilst the girls congregated in the hallways or bathrooms. I’d be stonewall so much that it was like living behind the Iron Curtain that separated Western Europe from the East during the Cold War.I guess it was technically bullying, but every time they tried to hurt me, I’d stand my ground. I would not flinch, not cry, prepared to fight till the death of me. Or on the days when I was scared and wanted a conflict-free day, I’d keep out of sight so as not to let anyone see my pain. Yet my heart would drown in tears and my soul became so drenched in suppressed tears that I became so mushy inside. On the outside though I was the Sahara desert.

One survival mechanism I developed during my tenure as bullied (LOL) was to never give my bullies the satisfaction of seeing the pain their bullying inflicted on me. If I acted that way, perhaps my wish for them to be a figment of my imagination, a portion of nightmare, would become true.

That survival mechanism turned into a habit, which turned into second nature. You betrayed me? Cool. You’re invalidating me? No probs. You stood me up? Don’t worry about it. You don’t give a shit about me? Ts ok.

And that’d be the last you see of me. Sometimes I forget I hurt. Actually most of the time I’m not aware, like someone who’s been stabbed in the back with a knife yet doesn’t feel anything.

One thing that still gets to me is why I don’t have more girlfriends. Majority of my friends are guys. I’m a people’s person and I know many people, but I’m always shut out of girls’ circles. I pretend it doesn’t bother me. I see how girls comment on each other’s insta, how they dress up for aroosyo and I find myself pining for such a relationship.

I know it’s something I’m doing – or not doing. Is it because I live so much in head? Is it because I’m not a makeup or fashion fan? I try to keep up, watch makeup tutorials to try to recreate the eyebrows on fleek look or contouring or whatnot. But my enthusiasm always fizzles out and the expensive makeup I’ve bought end up expiring. I don’t feel so beautiful on the inside, so it’s only a matter of time before my brain catches on and decides to drop the act.
Is it because I’m so blunt?So obsessively steeped in philosophical musings?My incessant obsession with finding the truth in all matters?

I’m not often visited by the ghosts of my past who bring up these questions, but I’ve learnt that when they do come visit, to let them in. To hear them out, and drain my heart of the well of tears – a little each time. I allow myself to feel my human emotions and I let the bottled up tears rain on my Sahara desert exterior, leaving seeds of hope planted in their wake. And when it’s time for the ghosts to return whence they came from the bottom of my subconscious, my outside is a bit softer, my inside a bit stronger, and I realize that I’ve overlooked the phenomenal friends I do have whilst pining for childhood dreams more rooted in wanting approval than in actual friendships.

I have a codeword that I only use with friends; yo. I don’t know why I do that, but if I use that with you, or randomly check in on you, know that I count you as a friend. And I think the fact that you accepted me inspite of my eccentric randomness and blunt questions, makes me realize that I’ve got the type of friends people daydream of, and write poems about.

It’s when I realize that those ghosts of my subconscious don’t come to torture me by making me revisit stuff, but to allow me to see that my oddity has attracted gems of humans, whilst keeping the scum at bay.

I feel like I’m awaiting execution

I’ve never been gripped by fear in this way. Mum ambushed me with a secretive plan of hers that she’s had for months, which she demanded I comply with- threatened me in fact. And I effectively signed my death wish when I made up my mind that come hell or high water, I would not give into this. I’ve never provoked her in this way, so brazen and direct. I didn’t know that I feared her this much, nor did I know how brave I really am. I spent the past 48 hours alert, with tensed muscles, clenched jaws, adrenaline rush- I knew she’d pull all stops in her scary manipulative antics and it was going to be really bad before it would be good. I ran through the possible worst-case scenarios and what I would do in each. I was ready to die for this, although I knew the fear-mongering was a bluff that no one has called her on because no one has ever dared. Before me that is. When she speaks about how people fear her and her overwhelming methods in getting her ways, she does so with a smirk that suggests that she is proud of this.

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How emotional abuse is manifested

I used to think that emotional abuse and neglect were cut and dried things that were obvious, and that emotional validation was…well, validating the person, right? Only, I discovered how vague my understanding was and how I, in many cases, was guilty of invalidating others because it can be so inconspicuous. I’ve extracted pertinent passages from this website that has the most comprehensive material I’ve come across on emotional abuse and bpd (borderline personality disorder).

Invalidation is to reject, ignore, mock, tease, judge, or diminish someone’s feelings. It is an attempt to control how they feel and for how long they feel it.

Constant invalidation may be one of the most significant reasons a person with high innate emotional intelligence suffers from unmet emotional needs later in life. A sensitive child who is repeatedly invalidated becomes confused and begins to distrust his own emotions. He fails to develop confidence in and healthy use of his emotional brain– one of nature’s most basic survival tools. To adapt to this unhealthy and dysfunctional environment, the working relationship between his thoughts and feelings becomes twisted. His emotional responses, emotional management, and emotional development will likely be seriously, and perhaps permanently, impaired.

[…] Psychiatrist R.D. Laing said that when we invalidate people or deny their perceptions and personal experiences, we make mental invalids of them. He found that when one’s feelings are denied a person can be made to feel crazy even they are perfectly mentally healthy.

[…] Invalidation goes beyond mere rejection by implying not only that our feelings are disapproved of, but that we are fundamentally abnormal. This implies that there is something wrong with us because we aren’t like everyone else; we are strange; we are different; we are weird.

None of this feels good, and all of it damages us. The more different from the mass norm a person is, for example, more intelligent or more sensitive, the more he is likely to be invalidated. When we are invalidated by having our feelings repudiated, we are attacked at the deepest level possible, since our feelings are the innermost expression of our individual identities.

Psychological invalidation is one of the most lethal forms of emotional abuse. It kills confidence, creativity and individuality.

Telling a person she shouldn’t feel the way she does feel is akin to telling water it shouldn’t be wet, grass it shouldn’t be green, or rocks they shouldn’t be hard. Each person’s feelings are real. Whether we like or understand someone’s feelings, they are still real.

Good guidelines when dealing with emotions are:


→ First accept the feelings, then address the behavior.

You can’t solve an emotional problem, or heal an emotional wound, with logic alone.

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