FREE

It happened again. Something. Anything really at this point could send me out to pasture. The triggers had added up so much that it seemed anything could set me off. I had bottled up enough already. It was time to release.

They say routines and self care are crucial to mental health. Of course I knew this, but most of the time I spent convincing myself that I had “more important” or more “pressing” things to do than go out for a walk, or I’d settle for indulging in a self-medicating splurge of some kind or other. But eventually, I’d hit a point of no return and the only thing that could release any of the pressure, was precisely this self-indulgent focus on nothing.

My mind would race, but I’d just let it spin without trying to pin-point anything. Just let it whirl and dizzy itself into oblivion, but the only way it would work was if I was outdoors. Indoors I might break into sobs, binge eat chocolate, or over-exercise. Worse still, I might turn on the tv or God forbid… social media and plunge myself into a spiral of mental and physical annihilation. On special days, I’d drown my discontent and weariness in manic organization, and cleaning. The sight of neat spaces and the fresh smell of cleanliness would level me, for a few minutes, but even this, after having kids, was too short lived to be worth the hassle. This eventually became a chore, rather than a release, its futility snarling at me with the gnawing inevitability of its ephemerality.

No, going out, where I had no wi-fi, where I couldn’t fix and organize anything, where I had to accept the architecture and the sprawling or dwindling of natural spaces, and where, despite fading into the background I could be seen, I would exercise self-control, hold back the tears, walk with composure, and concentrate on not noticing people staring at my hijab or my unusual fashion sense. Here, where I could control nothing but myself, I rediscovered my center.

Outdoors I’d claim my space, because I had to share it, I had grown accustomed to delineating an invisible comfortable space in which to move about… I guess that’s everyone, but I like to think that I had to push a bit harder for this space to stay as it is, as a woman, as an ethnic minority, as a visible Muslim in a non-Muslim country. Claiming my rightful space, and keeping it sacred and inviolable was a skill I had developed long ago, and continued to exercise as the layers of my otherness accumulated. My bubble of private space within the public sphere was an exercise in self-determination, in fortitude, and my God-given right to exist and thrive on His earth. It was here, in this confined bubble, that freedom greeted me most often. Not online, not even with the careless anonymity of avatars and made-up usernames. Here, where I could be recognized, where I might have impact, where I co-existed, is where I asserted my will to fight, to renew my resolve, and to push forward.

Is it the air? With its unpredictable smells, the moving surroundings, the fact that it is happening beyond me, in spite of me, in front and around me. The smell of baking bread, fries, stale coffee, gasoline, the sound of birds, car engines, kids being their inexorable selves. The breeze… the breeze, this invisible force that makes everything move: immovable trees, freshly coiffed hairdos, carefully buckled coats, waves, sounds, and smells. The breeze brings everything back to life, stillness is pushed into motion, and careful concealment is uncovered. Birds play with it, work with it, and teach us how to navigate it. We try to fight it, and sometimes we win, the challenge renewing our hope in our strength and determination. Or we enjoy it, letting it caress our faces and absorbing whatever it brings our way, succumbing to our fallibility, recognizing our limitations, and embracing them. Both are reminders of our humanity, and that we’re not alone, we don’t act alone, we are part of a whole, distinct yet inextricable from us.

From this vantage point everything comes into focus, priorities crystallize, my worldview acquires a new balance, and my faith is restored, ready to go on and tackle anything that comes my way. Armed with the grace of someone who has seen her limitations and peered into her potential.

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