When we wish one another a ‘Happy New Year’, I’m very aware it’s not because we are ungrateful for the year that has just passed. It’s more about looking forward to new things which have yet to be discovered.
Starting at the head of a new year is a convenient excuse to remind ourselves of that perpetual journey – the constant quest to seek and get more out of life. Not in the selfish sense but in a way where we are always aware of the diminishing nature of time itself.
I enter this year with gratitude for the things I’ve pulled through till now and with hopefulness of good things to come. I know challenges lie ahead too because no life is without them.
Yet this is a moment to be just still and take it all in and reflect…
The goals I have set myself for this coming year are not new. Rather, they are a continuum from 2022 but the challenge is to keep forging ahead. As long as I have good health and a default happy state of mind, underpinned by my faith in Allah, I can only expect that the future will be bright inshaAllah.
Asked what charity looks like and most probably people would say “giving money to the poor”. It would definitely be the most popular answer. Whilst that is very true, we know that charity can encompass so much more.
Sometimes, it doesn’t even involve reaching deep into our pockets. But always, it should involve reaching deep into our souls. We need to search for something within that we can share with others for their betterment and not for our self-aggrandizement. Of course, all of this should happen with a firm belief that we only seek the best reward from Allah and not necessarily a ‘thank you’ from the ones we aim to help.
So, even during this time of global political and economic gloom and doom, I know that charity doesn’t have to stop. I may not always have money to spare but Islam teaches me that charity can be practised in so many different ways. For example, smiling at someone, lending an ear in someone’s time of need and for me, not least, writing this blog for the last 2+ years.
Whilst the original intention for writing here was to help myself offload years after my divorce and find a form of release, the blog has since evolved into a place where I hope others can find respite too, inshaAllah. So, the intention (niyyah) for it has also reshaped itself and it’s heartwarming to have received replies over the months from people I don’t even know and yet who have welcomed the implicit advice I have shared along the way. But it’s not even about receiving praise from others; it’s about learning that there has been a tiny positive impact made on their lives. May Allah always allow this humble blog to ignite a flame of adventure and plant a seed of empowerment in the minds of others, inshaAllah.
Not surprisingly, even now, I still come across divorced women who are in a total quandary about life. I sympathise. I was one of them myself. For a short time. Now I know better than to put all my eggs in one basket. But whilst I may not be able to alleviate people’s pain with money (I doubt money is the ultimate solution anyway), my task here is to draw upon my own experiences and share them appropriately in a manner where others may take heed. I have been blessed with this platform and a voice and hope to make it work for others. That’s what motivates me to keep returning week after week. It might be the only charity I can afford for now but I pray it has far-reaching and meaningful consequences for all who stop by.
In an ideal world, who wouldn’t love to give money to those less fortunate and help set them up in life? There will always be the desire to do good in this way and there will always be that need somewhere. However, money is in the hands of many and beyond simply emptying our purse in a dispassionate way, Allah has blessed each of us with unique capabilities and we need to draw upon and exploit them for the benefit of others. I believe a real sense of charity comes at a cost to ourselves – and I don’t mean in monetary terms only. For it to have meaning to us, there will be inconveniences. Making personal sacrifices with time, physical and mental energy, intellectual abilities and other intangible qualities that we all possess, takes a charitable act onto a higher level. That’s where the individual challenge should be sought. Arguably, those examples are where the best forms of charity even lie.
Ultimately, we connect everything back to Allah. Even the ability and desire to do good in the first place. Recognising the tools He has placed in our hands is a wonderful start. Using them effectively is an even bigger example of the gratitude we express in return. Ultimately, anything we give in the name of charity has its returns and often in ways we couldn’t even begin to comprehend. The best return is the one which reconfigures our thinking and aligns it closer to what Allah wants from us. The real lesson in charity is not that we have made a difference to the lives of others but they have made a difference to our understanding of ourselves.
A question I ask myself many times and always the answer would be ‘yes’.
Why would I want to try to make new friends at this late stage of my life? How could two people possibly catch up on all the previously missed years of each other’s growing up, schooling, marriage, having kids etc etc.? Too much work and too little time to fill each other in on all the gaps. But life is strange and sometimes you bump into those rare people who you know you can connect with almost straight away. Despite them not having been present in your earlier life, in the ensuing conversations that you have, it’s almost effortless to fill them in on the details of your life as time goes by.
For the most part, I have a select few friends who’ve been by my side for many years and witnessed all those major milestones in my life. Likewise, I’ve been a part of their lives too. Such friends are not easy to come by and even if we don’t catch up weekly or monthly, we know we can just pick up where we last left off and not feel guilty for the silence in between. We get it. No need to explain ourselves. That’s a special type of friendship.
In more recent years though, I’ve met a few wonderful people who I feel confident enough to call ‘a friend’. They are very few but the quality is deep. If the definition of ‘friend’ is someone who wishes only the best for you, or who offers their time and advice unreservedly and without any self-interest, then I have definitely been fortunate to have made a few new friends, Alhamdulillah. Though I was never in search of them, Allah had bigger plans and I’m grateful for them enriching my life. We’ve shared happiness, sadness and madness! But it’s all been great.
And yet here comes the cynic in me…
I don’t believe all friendships will stand the test of time. Sadly, I’ve lived long enough to know that people can be very unpredictable. Suddenly, they disappear from the friendship radar and unexplicably so. I’ve lost a few friends over time for reasons I still don’t understand today. No explanation. Nothing. Cold turkey was the dish for the day. It’s disappointing given I’d at least like to have known the reason for their sudden disappearance. However, I’ve come to learn that if such people can’t see the value of my friendship, then I really don’t need to waste my energy trying to prove it to them. The biggest reminder of being in that demoralising state was the time leading up to my divorce – when I desperately tried to convince my ex to reconsider his decision to separate. Ever since then, I vowed I would never denigrate myself again and beg to be of any significance in anyone’s life. I will never chase someone for validation. A rule I even apply to my own sons. My purpose on this Earth is not to prove my worth to anyone except Allah.
In life, some you win, some you lose. The same applies to human relationships. I intend to keep moving forward. If anyone wants to join me on this journey, they are welcome. However, they need to understand that I will not be checking in on their commitment. I no longer fear people deciding to get off at the next stop. It’s perfectly fine.
I will no longer apologise for taking care of myself and understanding my self-worth. And I make the distinction between self-worth and self-importance. The latter has a haughty connotation to it whereas the former speaks of a silent dignity within. I feel unfettered by people now. It’s not that I don’t cherish human interaction. To say that would be totally disingenuous. It’s more that I haven’t got time to hang around and collect reviews on my personality.
The biggest irony is that one of the best things my ex-husband did for me was after divorce. He inadvertantly taught me never to diminish my self-worth, never to rely on a human too much for anything and never to seek meaning in my life through others. I’m sure a little bit of all that existed in me already which is why I have managed to bounce back, Alhamdulillah. In fact, it’s precisely because all of that existed in me, I was not the archetypal dependent wife. Too bad.
Like a tide that ebbs and flows, so too are some of our friendships and human encounters through life. Each situation brings its own beauty and lessons and there should never be regrets for what the tide takes away with it. Let it float on downstream.
I believe that the ability to carry and deliver a child into this world is more of a physical one than anything else. For most women, we are predisposed to this ability given our physiological makeup. Yet, moving through the years, and beyond bringing a child into the world, the practical considerations of raising that child take over. As parents, we concern ourselves more with issues related to their emotional and spiritual wellbeing.
I am a firm believer of children never overstepping the boundaries between themselves and their parents. I make no apology for that. However, there are times when that boundary needs to be blurred a little bit to allow children to understand that this relationship is not invariably about power and control of the adults over them. It’s important for mothers and fathers to come down from their self-appointed pedestal and engage at a level with their own children. Stripping away the airs and graces which come with the territory of being a parent, allows us to appear more amenable to our kids in a way that doesn’t threaten our status. It’s essentially about foresight. Knowing that these strategies will serve us well in later life when children become teenagers and then young adults. If that relationship of trust isn’t forged early on, we will face problems in future for sure. At least, that’s how I see it.
Parenting comes with its plethora of risks. I can – and do – sometimes get it wrong. However, that doesn’t make me flawed. It makes me human. And being seen as a fallible human rather than a robot dispensing perfunctory orders can create a relationship with my children whereby they feel comfortable opening up about their own personal worries or struggles. Being a mother is hard work. Being perfect is near impossible. And being a perfect mother is an ideal which will forever elude me. Which is why I don’t pretend to be one.
Instead, one way for my children to earn my trust and find ease in one another’s presence is to have those frivolous moments together and simply enjoy one another’s company. Occasions where there are no instructions, no chores to complete and no pending goals to discuss are occasions to be used to discreetly learn about one another and what makes us tick. It’s about creating confidence -laying the groundwork for a time when those serious matters will arise and when that child or young adult will need to have my full attention.
Once a mother, always a mother. Till death us do part. However, having carefree banter or generally, times when we can jump off the hamster wheel of life, is so important. It’s cathartic for all. That’s why I am a strong advocate of unashamedly releasing the child in me from time to time – and making sure my sons (who are no longer children) see it. It diffuses tensions and resets us to a lightened mood and allows us all to step back from whatever stresses we might be going through. Moreover, my sons know that although I will never cease to be their mother, I am happy to sometimes surrender my control of a situation and let them steer the way forward if they wish to. In other words, I don’t mind if they want to swap roles and let me take a back seat whilst they manage decisions for a while. After all, this is what I have trained them to do. It started with household chores when they were younger and now they have grown into managing bigger decisions. Today, it’s comforting to see them wanting to spread their wings to protect me instead. The tables have turned and I have become the one who they plan to watch over, inshaAllah.
I guess life would be boring if, as a mother, I was always in control. Over the years, I have enjoyed gradually releasing the taut rope that connect my sons and me. This isn’t about abandoning my responsibilities but moreso about surrendering absolute authority over them. I don’t feel guilty about this. After all, it’s my formula for preparing them for adulthood and simultaneously, allowing me some respite. The carefree child in all of us definitely exists and at some point in life, we should let it resurface if only to help us cope with whatever lies ahead.
It all boils down to that. My summary of a life fulfilled. Each day has to contain all three of those composite elements to make that day worth living.
So what about the cynics who would argue that it’s impossible to laugh through difficult times? Or those who feel bitter about unrequited love or one that has been lost forever? I would agree that they have a point. There’s no medal to be earned in trying to suppress those feelings of sadness, anger or disappointment. After all, they are emotions gifted by Allah and it’s best to let them have their say. However, my stance is that wallowing in negativity can’t be the final stop in that journey of emotions. Once the darker or sombre emotions have been purged from our systems, we need not be afraid to allow the lighter and uplifting mood to return and help us transcend all that’s weighing us down.
It’s this latter state that I have chosen as my default setting for some years now. To be honest, knowing that life itself is borrowed time, I have learnt to take a step back from stressful situations and pause for thought. I want to remind myself that the focus in this life isn’t simply about the achievements or challenges. It’s more about all the decisions we make that will determine our outcome on the other side of this existence. Some decisions are thrust upon us. Others we make of our own choosing. But whatever the case, they must be governed with our sights set on the journey beyond. Not easy I know, given we can’t even see what lies ahead in the afterlife. However, believing can be done without seeing. As much as I know I have internal organs in my body without ever having seen them, so too am I convinced that there is a Creator who is in control of it all.
As a perennial student of Islam – as a Muslim – I look to the life of the Prophet (peace be upon him) who found many moments of pure joy despite his litany of challenges and woes. Nobody could have had it more difficult than him. Yet we know he found times to enjoy banter with his companions, to play with his young children and grandchildren, to race for fun with his young wife through the town of Medina and, no doubt, to marvel at the beauty that the natural world presented him with. These are but a few of many examples where he allowed himself ‘time out’ of the more serious matters he had to contend with on a daily basis. So, this is proof enough that the life of a Muslim is not one to be surrendered to constant misery and being morose. No. We have to learn to be characters that rise to difficult challenges and never be overwhlemed by them. I refuse to move forward on a permanently punctured tyre.
Life is short. But I never understood that aphorism till recently – when I finally realised that the better part of my time on this Earth is definitely done. ‘The better part’ being my youth and carefree state. Like it or not, I can’t deny the ageing process and the fact that my sons, being independent or not, will always be my concern till I die. That’s exactly why I know that to laugh through the tears and to love through all the forlorn memories is even more important now than ever before. Bitterness is a dead weight too heavy to be dragged around all the time. I liberated myself from that load a long time ago, Alhamdulillah. It was more improtant to free up that energy and mental mind space for things which still lay ahead and would be potentially much more rewarding.
Perhaps it’s worth to pause and clarify a thing or two. I want to make the distinction between ‘bitterness’ and ‘hurt’. I see the first of those two things as destructive and soul-destroying. It eats up your insides. The latter is one that I felt I had no control over as I am a mere mortal and have emotions. Yet, hurt can be processed throughtfully and should be allowed to be expressed. But once it has, lessons have to be learned. And this is why I say a day in which nothing new has been learned is a day wasted – a lost opportunity. It could be something as minimal as a new word or as profound as the meaning of a verse of the Glorious Quran. We need to stay healthily inquisitive of the people and world around us so that we don’t become consumed by our own problems.
I obviously don’t know what challenges lie ahead of me. I’m sure more are on their way. However, I pray not a day goes by without having a reason to laugh about something – even for a fleeting, carefree moment. That doesn’t make me flippant or immature. I think it just makes me try to be grateful for the good despite the bad. Whatever circumstance I am in, will, after all, always be temporary. I have seen others contend with far more difficult challenges than myself and I am in awe of their resilience, mashAllah. Compared to them, I’ve had a life of ease, Alhamdulillah. I’m relying on my older age to not let me be given to any extremes of emotions any more anyway. With it too, I’m hoping wisdom and faith will also keep me in a healthy check.
There comes a point in one’s life when they need to pause and reflect on everything to date. To be honest, there should be many points when that happens. In those moments, we need to examine where we are heading with regards to our future ambitions. Whether these are to do with career moves, marriage prospects, educational goals and more, stopping to question ourselves about where we’re heading is never a bad idea. In fact, it’s often necessary.
So it is that I find myself at a crossroads with my work situation. Although I wouldn’t describe myself as a career woman aiming to climb the employment ladder, I have recently decided to hit the breaks whilst I figure out what my next venture is going to be. For the most part, the jobs I’ve done till now have been ones I’ve fallen into rather than seeking them out by design. Whilst I’ve enjoyed all the positions of employment I’ve occupied over the years, they’ve also been ones which have had to fit in around my young family. As such, I curtailed my opportunities. My young children always came first.
Now that they are all grown and more or less independent, it seems the right time to address the situation again. Interestingly, I notice a strange dichotomy within. On the one hand, I find great pleasure in writing. Words and eloquent language transport me to another dimension like a mellifluous melody floating through the summer breeze. I often get blissfully lost in a sentence or two that exudes eloquence. So it is that I love to lose myself in my own words, writing at home undisturbed in my own thoughts. Not just here in my personal blog, but also more formally, producing articles for publication and writing for others and being paid for it. That is a side hustle still in its fledgling stage but one which I intend to pursue with increasing vigour especially now that I have more time. On the other hand, the greatest ambition I’ve always had is to travel and work on behalf of an international charity. Alhamdulillah, that dream has shifted into reality already but there is much more to do. (If anyone reading this knows of a particular job that is available and can provide me the best of both worlds, please do tell.)
Initially, I did feel a huge sense of guilt for resigning from my last job. However, it was not a capricious act. It no longer provided me the satisfaction I needed for motivation. I had to make a bold leap and put myself in a place where I’d be forced to search for something new. I also knew that as long as I didn’t make time to reflect and seriously consider my options, I would always be hopelessly stuck on the hamster wheel. Not many people have that privilege, I’m aware but I have also been running the show alone for the last six years and am feeling mentally exhausted. Once I find my new niche, I hope to be back in the driver’s seat and ploughing on, inshaAllah.
I must confess, it’s been wonderful to have time to myself again. After many years of self-sacrifice, I’m making myself a priority once more. The niggling sense of guilt may always threaten to overshadow my thoughts but I will fight it. I tell myself this is normal and comes with the territory of motherhood – we women can never disentangle ourselves completely from familial life and its responsibilities. However, the pursuit of new goals is on.
This isn’t a lesson in how to use a dictionary in the English language. This is a lesson about life, or moreso a lesson to be taken from life.
I had an interesting conversation recently with one of my nieces – a family member who obviously knows me well. Although I don’t remember the fine details about what we were discussing, I do recall that somewhere in that conversation, I mentioned about my past marriage. I was sharing anecdotes from my own experience but, as I often do, I follow up any comments with the acknowledgement that my marriage didn’t stand the test of time – almost like an appendix at the end of a book. Not quite essential reading but an important detail to be included nevertheless.
My niece actually made me pause at that point. She asked me to reflect and consider my understanding of the word ‘success’ and in particular, in the context of marriage. To paraphrase her, success of a marriage shouldn’t be measured by its longevity. A married couple who stay together till death they do part aren’t necessarily the epitome of a success story since we know that some people choose to silently bear the misery of their marriage for the sake of not being alone or for fear of being seen as a failure. Then, there is the opposite scenario (like my marriage). Although it wasn’t for life, most of the years that we were together were happy, fruitful and harmonious. It is within the details of those years that I should seek out the evidence of success. Perhaps the most potent proof of that is that I had healthy children all of whom are still alive and doing well, Alhamdulillah. This is another measure of success. Her words, not mine.
Wise young lady my niece, mashAllah.
The conversation had got me thinking… Firstly, in those few minutes, I had an amazing epiphany: I realised that I have always felt the need to clarify my current position and explain to others that, although I am no longer married, I still want my opinions on this topic to count. I don’t want my views on marriage to have no currency just because I am divorced. But that fate alone should not negate the wealth of experience I did gain whilst I was married. I also know there were many other successes within those 18 years which I achieved but are difficult to measure at all. They are not necessarily tangible things. In fact, those successes are often of a deeper spiritual nature which are impossible to quantify. But sadly, we live in a world where success is too often measured through material wealth and Facebook followers. I guess, for someone looking in from the outside, I have failed miserably on many scores.
The truth is, success sits on a continuum. It is very fluid and can’t be contained within or be represented by a single tangible item. Do we even know what it looks like? Take, for example a job that comes to an end. This is not an example of failure. Perhaps it was meant for us to move on or we simply outgrow a situation and the time becomes ripe to explore new territory. The same applies to a marriage. In some cases (as with mine), one of the partners may feel they need to move on. As much as it’s painful, it’s a reality that has to be accepted. I know, in my own case, I was not a failure in my marriage and have long stopped blaming myself for its demise. I simply became obsolete to a person who decided he wanted to explore something unknown.
For me, in my life success continues even though my marriage ended. I don’t measure it in worldly terms. I look to the esoteric, spiritual dimension of life. I continue to live with my emotional strength and self-respect and self-worth, Alhamdulillah. My status was never attached to a man or husband and never will be. I strongly maintain that this belief is what has helped me pull through divorce much faster than I initially expected. Success is how I am perceived in Allah’s estimation of me. Everyone else can go hang. Strong words I know but I am tired of being judged by others’ criteria which I refuse to subscribe to in the first place.
Manmade constructs of success are fickle and egocentric. I chose to liberate myself from them to the best of my ability when I realised I had to walk this path alone, post-divorce. This is why I confidently say, with hand on heart, that if becoming more conscious of my relationship with Allah is the outcome of my divorce, then I am truly successful, inshaAllah.
A question many people ask themselves in latter life. Looking back, in retrospect, I’m sure they would produce a litany of regrets which make them hanker for their youth all over again.
I’ve learnt not to go down that dangerous path. Although life hasn’t been a walk in the park, it hasn’t all been jeopardy in a jungle either. In fact, those close to me would know that I often say that given the chance again, I’d have had pretty much the same life with all its imperfections. And there’s a perfectly good reason for that. It’s because all those peaks and troughs in my life so far have made me the person I am. No, I’m not vainglorious and I definitely know I have so much I need to improve on. However, without those exact sets of experiences, good and bad, I would not be who I am today.
So, who is this person I call ‘me’? Well, I know for one that my life, being circumscribed by Islam, gives me purpose and contentment. So when things get difficult or even ugly, I resort to my Creator for guidance and hope. The same goes for when life is smooth sailing.
To ask the question, which forms the title of this blog, also implies ingratitude. There is an innate assumption in it that if a person had made different life choices, it would necessarily have been a better life. To me, that is a wild and arrogant assumption. Who knows how things would have turned out if we had not studied at university, or if we had married someone else, or if we had taken a holiday in Prague instead of Paris? The ‘ifs’ and ‘buts’ are too many to contemplate over and so it’s best we don’t. We tend to believe that if different choices were made, our lives would have been infinitely easier or better. Who is to say that would have been the case?
The fact of the matter is that we are all where we are meant to be -here and now. I am totally convinced that the totality of my life experiences have brought me to the point where I now live independently without a husband but with a total gratitude for arriving at this point. There is no sour grapes attitude and I definitely am not putting on a brave facade, Alhamulillah. It might be late, but I am now finally able to catch up on things I couldn’t do in my youth because of time and/or family constraints. I am having a secret party in my head! And yes, that’s notwithstanding the stresses and strains of daily life.
On the outside, it would appear that I have not achieved much. My marriage succumbed to an abrupt end, I don’t own a house, I don’t drive a fancy car and I definitely have not established a faithful following on any self-adulatory social media sites. But what I have is a freedom which is immeasurable in terms of money and social status. Living this post-divorce life, I have learnt to speak for myself and demand to be heard. I need no representation. Definitely, I refuse to seek male representation. I’ve had my fingers burnt already. No expectations, no disappointment.
In essence, I am truly grateful for all life has shown me because it has shaped the person I am today. And that person is one who is even more eager to nurture the relationship with her Creator. I wouldn’t have changed anything in my life because I understand this is the life Allah had planned for me anyway. Am I going to argue with that?
Despite the financial struggles many of us are facing, the principle of giving should always continue….and before anyone secretly, or openly, thinks I must have lost my mind at a time when we are all thinking of protecting the self, I would like to qualify my statement.
You see, there is the myth that ‘giving’ is always in a financial form. Whilst spending money to help others is perhaps the most obvious form of giving, we know too well there are many other ways to benefit others which would not hurt our purse but would weigh heavy in our balance of good deeds. Examples are smiling at someone or clearing the path of debris for the next passerby – great prophetic practices in Islam or sunnah. They cost us very little effort but the potential reward is exponential. And the Islamic belief is that the reward may never be seen in this world; it may be only revealed to us in the Hereafter but who would deny that is a far superior place to be rewarded? So, the results of a good action aren’t always tangible in this world. However, that does not make their pursuit not worth our while. On the contrary, it should make us even more invigorated to do good.
No matter how difficult our personal circumstances may seem, it’s important to be a blessing to someone else’s life in however big or small a way. The purpose of life is not just to take from it what we can for ourselves but to reciprocate -and to do so on an even bigger scale – so that our lives have meaning and especially where our own selfish desires are removed from the centre of all our concerns.
In my own experience, I’ve never failed to discover that helping someone up is a way of keeping myself grounded. It is a check on the reality of life. Just today, I was out helping to feed the homeless in a city outside of my hometown. Looking at every individual’s face, I wondered at how these people had ended up in the situation they were currently in. Some had trauma and sadness etched into their faces deeper than others. Yet all of them share pain and have a story to tell. If circumstances were different, I’d have loved to have listened to some of them narrate their personal stories. A few were well-spoken, all were polite and I know all the echelons of society were represented in that queue of forlorn people waiting patiently in the cold and dark to collect food and clothes.
These such encounters are so necessary to keep oneself focussed and humble. Whilst my own problems will not dissipate just by serving others in whatever way I can, at least my perspective on life will be recalibrated. That’s the most important lesson. Being in control of a situation and not letting it overtake you is a goal worth aiming for. In the bid to keep mental health in a positive state, I would argue that it is worth visiting a place or people who are less fortunate than ourselves. Nobody can come away without being moved in some way and without reassessing their own issues which may thereafter seem insignificant – or at least surmountable – compared to others.
In the last few weeks alone, I have met a vast array of people. Some have been children, some with cancer, some homeless, some disabled, , some depressed and some in financial ruin…but all have been encounters to help remind me of my own insignificance and especially the temporary nature of this life. The largest assignment I have been given in life is to make it to the other side winning the favour of Allah. I hope the trials and tribulations I have faced and continue to face will only serve to help me look forward to that Day with confidence, inshaAllah.
It seems that one of the most prolific results of the Covid pandemic is the unprecedented rise in people suffering from mental health issues. Not surprising given the wildly different and bizarre circumstances many people worldwide found themselves in.
Today, in a world which has been shaken by the pandemic and is still reeling from the aftermath, the recovery process is ongoing. It isn’t just the physical recovery either but the emotional or mental recovery too. There are those individuals whose lives have been forever changed due to Covid having suffered it themselves or been uncomfortably close to someone who has. I can’t even begin to imagine what those people have endured.
However, in the wake of the pandemic, I have also become cynical of those individuals who have cried ‘mental health’ in the anticipation that they too are counted amongst the unfortunate souls who have suffered immeasurable pain when the reality is that they have used the label as a cop-out for not taking on the responsibility for their own situation. (By now, I’m sure I’ve unleashed the anger of some readers).
Whilst I am not one for dismissing the emotional turmoil someone may be suffering, it seems to be all too convenient for a minority of people to jump on the bandwagon and claim ‘mental health’ issues. It provides a useful screen behind which they can hide and avoid facing problems head on. They can dictate when or even if they want to tackle the issue at hand. Meanwhile, these individuals become untouchable – their issues are ones the rest of us cannot possibly understand. And so, any constructive suggestion to help them is met with a rebuttal.
I have been witnessing this phenomenon especially with young people and those close to me and the frustration I feel is real. Not only are any offers of help on my part often declined, the possibility that, despite our age difference, I might even understand a little of what they are feeling, is totally rejected. That’s clearly because I’ve never been young and have always had a life of ease! True, we are all unique individuals and therefore our experiences of life are unique. However, there is always some shared human experiences which we all can relate to between ourselves. As it is though, as an older person, I feel my suggestions are dismissed simply because I could not possibly understand the challenges of this modern world which younger people are having to contend with.
I know the anguish and anxieties young people face today are real – as real as the ones I faced in my youth. However, it does appear that young people today are less equipped with resilience and determination. As was the case when I was young, we did not have the luxury of having someone to talk to about our emotional struggles and simply had to navigate our way through life in a haphazard way. Arguably, that was not an ideal situation and having a label such as ‘mental health issues’ would have been much more beneficial. Yet, not having labels for these types of things also forced us to find solutions for our own problems, rightly or wrongly. Today’s young generation seem to refuse to take matters into their own hands and yet shift the onus onto everyone else where possible. I wonder how they will cope when real tough decisions in life need to be made?
So, whilst being able to identify ‘mental health’ as a priority for wellbeing, my conclusion is that it has also done a huge disservice in that young people use it as a means to escape their own reality. Identifying the problem is only halfway towards finding a solution. But we have a generation now of young people that are more like deciduous plants which succumb to the harsh winter rather than the evergreen conifers that stand firm and strong.
I know I run the risk of incurring the wrath of many young people who might be reading this. I’m prepared for that. However, I stand by my views. A life of smooth sailing will never create fighters and go-getters. Challenges in life encourage creative minds, deep thought and a search for solutions. Challenges were never meant to create a generation of weak-minded whiners. It’s normal to be in a state of initial shock followed by inertia. But being stuck there is unacceptable. Help should be sought where available but the initial step must be taken by the individual concerned. I understand life is all very complicated but I also believe being in denial about how much one can positively change their own lives is a huge factor too.
If, when throwing out the lifebuoy ring, a drowning person refuses to grab hold of it, then nobody except that person can be held responsible for the predictable consequences. This is the scene I am seeing being played out time and again. I’ve now learnt to hold onto the lifebuoy ring for myself when my own emotional health is being unfairly encroached upon. Self-preservation is now my goal.