Stopping the Stigma: #BellLetsTalk

January 25, 2017

535324_10150798966353437_660913436_9592816_663798851_nI’m writing this post as I leave my yoga class with a sense of joy and tranquility – a feeling uncommon to me as of late.

Last week my anxiety caught up to me, which resulted in a very traumatic panic attack at work in front of a majority of my coworkers. Though a number of stressors contributed to my increased feeling of anxiousness, there was one incident in particular that triggered my attack: the belittlement of my anxiety when I reached out to ask for help.

Mental health issues are too often swept under the rug, due to the shameful stigma surrounding them. Not only is it challenging to reach a point where one is able to come forward and say “I need help”. But as my incident last week demonstrates, even when people do ask for help, the seriousness is overwhelmingly overlooked. This causes many to continue suffering in silence, and this is part of the reason we lose far too many lives each year because of mental health issues.

Throughout my life I have witnessed many people and close friends fall victim to a variety of mental health disorders. The most difficult and upsetting memories to recall are the ones involving eating disorders. At a very young age, bulimia was the first mental health issue I became exposed to. Shamefully, I have watched too many beautiful young women become completely consumed by their eating disorders, and the worst part was that I could never do anything to stop it.

Though I had watched many people fight very serious and life-threatening mental health battles, I never realized I too was fighting a battle of a different kind. For nearly my entire life, I tried to suppress my anxiety and write it off as my tendency to be a perfectionist and an “over thinker”. Even when things got extremely unmanageable and I had my first panic attack, I still didn’t want to accept the fact that anxiety was affecting me. I felt embarrassed talking about it, and I feared that it might lead to being medicated.

Ironically, it wasn’t until I encouraged someone very close to me to seek help after experiencing a string of traumatic panic attacks, that it finally registered that I too need help.

Receiving the help and resources I needed has since helped me learn how to better manage my anxiety. Although it tries to creep up on me at times, I no longer feel ashamed and embarrassed to talk about what’s going on and how I feel. It took a long time to reach this point. But now that I’m here, I feel that it’s extremely important to help others arrive at this same destination.

I used to be under the impression that in order to inspire people you need to be perfect. You need to the best. You need to have no flaws. But there is nothing further from the truth. Coming to terms with your imperfections and the way in which you embrace your imperfections, can prove to be just as inspiring (if not more). Sharing your stories, experiences and battles make it that much easier for someone else to find the courage to share theirs. No one deserves to suffer silently, and ending your battle begins with sharing your story.

And that is what today, Bell Let’s Talk Day, is all about: starting a conversation about mental health issues and reducing the stigma surrounding them. Today is a reminder that you can never tell what someone’s going through just by looking at them, reinforcing the fact we should be kind and compassionate to everyone we encounter. For me, today is reminding those around me that they are loved and always supported. That I am someone they can reach to when they are struggling and feel alone.

Take today as a reminder to be kind and gentle to yourself – you’re doing the best you can:)

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#GirlCrush

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June 21, 2016
“Girl Crush” is a term, which refers to one woman’s (typically non-sexual) intense admiration for another woman. Although this term usually denotes to ones appearance, beauty, or physical attractiveness, the term is not limited to such. 
 

When I think of the term girl crush, it needs to encompass much more than the shallow judging of a woman’s exterior. It needs to be a woman or young girl who shatters statistics, and helps break down barriers for other women and individuals around the world. It needs to be a strong female who displays admirable traits of drive and ambition, and isn’t scared of disagreeing with social norms or speaking what’s on her mind. Someone who values the importance of education, and strives to educate and empower others.

 

Each week, I will be dedicating a post specifically to my personal girl crushes. I will explain a bit about their story, and the work and/or awards they have been honoured with, in hopes of inspiring and motivating others. I have learned a lot from these women, and when I am struggling with something in my personal life, I think about their stories and use them as a sense of strength to get me through whatever it is I am faced with.

 
While all the women I will be featuring are undoubtedly beautiful from the exterior, they are even more beautiful inside. I look up to these types of women, as they are so much more than an inspiration to me. They are also exceptional role models and constantly remind me of the type of women I would like to grow to one day become. With this being said, I think it only seems right that I kick off my Girl Crush Series, with none other than my #1 girl crush of all time! 

                                                         Malala Yousafzai

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Malala Yousafzai is most certainly a heroine in every sense of the world. She is admired around the world for her courage, outstanding achievements, and noble qualities. Malala courageously stood up and spoke out against the Taliban, when they tried to deny the females in her town the right to attend school (even though she knew this would put her and her family at high risk). She has made significant strides in advancing the conversation and notion of educational equality around the world, and continues to fight for all children to have the right to attend school. On top of this, at age 16 Malala also co-founded the Malala Fund, an organization focused on securing and ensuring 12 years of free, safe, education for young girls through funding leaders and projects on the ground in developing countries.

HER STORY:

In the documentary He Named Me Malala, Malala recalls her childhood growing up in Pakistan as a very happy and beautiful time living in Swat Valley. But issues began to arise and intensify in her region, when the Taliban a powerful terrorist organization in Pakistan, began travelling from city to city burning and destroying all books, computers, and other educational related supplies. The Taliban began a campaign, which advocated the notion that the education of girls is against Islam and therefore, girls shouldn’t go to school. The Taliban viewed education as a threat to their organization because education helps give children (girls in particular) the power to question and challenge things. The Taliban began imposing strict Islamic law, and started gaining more and more power. With this came the frequent destruction and bombing of schools in Malala’s town. Worse than the bombings and destruction, was the Taliban’s demand that no girl attend school, and their related threat of what they implied they would do if they were to find out girls were attending school.

imageIn 2008, at the young age of 11, Malala used her voice to speak out. Malala’s father Ziauddin, an active advocate for education himself, took Malala to a press club so she could openly protest against the issues taking place in her region. At the press club, Malala gave her first speech titled “How dare the Taliban take away my basic right to education?”. Early into the following year, Malala began blogging for the BBC Urdu under the pseudonym ‘Gul Makai’. In the blog, Malala chronicled her struggles as well as the devastating details of rights abuses in her day-to-day life under Taliban rule.

Malala continued to secretly attend school after the Taliban had threatened everyone against it. During this time, Taliban tensions continued to rise due to the increasing awareness and criticism surrounding their actions, and by Malala and her father’s continuous speaking out on camera and news stations, demonstrating their refusal to be silenced by the Taliban. Malala began receiving death threats from the Taliban, but her and her parents never thought the Taliban would go as far as attempting to kill a child. Unfortunately, they were wrong.

imageTravelling home from school on October 9th, 2012, a Taliban gunman came onto her school bus and shot Malala in the forehead. The bullet entered the left side of her forehead, travelling under her skin along the entire left side of her head, and into her shoulder. Two of her friends sitting close to her also suffered gun shot wounds. No one at the hospital thought Malala would survive. Her brain was damaged, her skull was shattered, and the bullet ended up destroying her left eardrum and the small bones in her left ear, unfortunately leaving her deaf in that ear.

WHAT SHE HAS ACHIEVED:

Since recovering from the nearly fatal incident that occurred in 2012, Malala has gone on to achieve INCREDIBLE milestones. Even before the incident, Malala was making significant humanitarian strides from the age of 11. From 2011 until now, Malala has received some of the most prestigious national and international awards and honours. These include the 2014 Nobel Peace Prize (the youngest EVER to receive this might I add), International Children’s Peace Prize, The Peter Gomes Humanitarian Award from Harvard University, Anne Frank Award for Moral Courage, and the list goes on and on and on. Malala even won a Grammy last year for ‘Best Children’s Album’ for her audiobook I Am Malala, narrated by Neela Vaswani.
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WHAT MALALA’S STORY HAS TAUGHT ME:

Stand Up. Stand up for yourself, and stand up for what you believe in. Speak out especially when you know others are too scared to. Use your voice on behalf of all of those who are scared. Most importantly, stand up when you know something isn’t right.

Always Question and Challenge Things. Just because someone has more power than you, or they are scary, doesn’t mean that what they are telling you is true, correct, or fair. Malala questioned the Taliban’s restriction of female education, because she felt what they were doing was unfair. Malala has taught me to never be afraid to question or challenge things that I disagree with, and this is an important lesson for all of us to remember.

Forgiveness. In the documentary, Malala was asked if she was mad at the Taliban for what they did to her. Her response? She said never once has there been the tiniest bit of hate, not even an atom of hate in her body towards the Taliban, because her religion (Islam) taught her humanity, equality, and forgiveness. Malala is true inspiration to all, I admire her outlook on life. She is a symbol of bravery, and despite her horrible tragedies, she still continues to practice and teach forgiveness.

Don’t Sink to Their Level. During an interview with John Stuart, Malala discusses how she used to think about what she would do if the Taliban came into her house:

If he comes, what would you do Malala? I would reply myself: “Malala just take a shoe and hit him”. But then I said “if you hit a Talib with your shoe, there will be no difference between you and the Talib. You must not treat others that much with cruelty and that much harshly, you must fight others through peace and through dialogue and education”. Then I said, “I’ll tell him how important education is, and that I even want education for your children as well”.

Jon Stuart, like myself, were both left to pick up our jaws in amazement. These are such powerful words for a 16 year old to speak, and this further demonstrates how astonishing Malala really is as a human being.

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WHERE TO CHECK HER OUT:

You can join Malala on her journey to making education a fundamental right for all, by following her on Twitter at @MalalaFund (she does not use a personal Twitter account as of right now). To stay informed, learn more about her projects, or donate to her efforts, you can check out www.malalafund.com. Her book is titled I Am Malala: The Girl Who Stood Up for Education and Was Shot by the Taliban and I highly reccomend watching her documentary as well, called He Named Me Malala.

FAVOURITE MALALA QUOTES:

It is so hard to get things done in this world. You try, and too often it doesn’t work. But you have to continue and never give up.”

There’s a moment where you have to choose whether to be silent, or stand up.”

We realize the importance of light when we see darkness. We realize the importance of our voice when we are silenced.”

Taliban shot me on the left side of my forehead. They shot my friends too. They thought that the bullet would silence us, but nothing changed except this; weakness, fear, and hopelessness died. Strength, power, and courage was born.”

Let us pick up our books and our pens. They are our most powerful weapons.”

Make sure to subscribe so you don’t miss any upcoming blog posts or girl crush features! Please feel free to comment if you would like to see someone included in the coming weeks, of if YOU have an interesting story about yourself or someone you know that you would like to have featured on the site! Below I have also included a wonderful video, of Malala’s father discussing the importance of gender equality and his role in raising such a strong young girl. It is definitely worth a watch so please check it out!
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The Best Attitude is Gratitude

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June 9, 2016

Growing up, my mother always instilled the importance of counting your blessings, and doing so especially when nothing seems to be going right in your life. When I was a teenager, none of this made sense to me. I would complain and whine about everything and anything, and my favourite thing to do was throw around the phrase “I hate my life” like it was nobody’s business. Every time I would complain about how horrible my life was or how unfair something was, my mother would pay me no time of day. Her response was always: “you are healthy, you have a roof over your head, there is food on the table, you have all your limbs, you have a family who loves you, and you have the privilege of attending school. There’s a lot to be thankful for Saba”. This line always made me cringe, and instantaneously triggered a dramatic eye roll on my behalf, and the most theatrical exit you could imagine (loud stomping included). But as I grew older, and a wee bit smarter, this idea became ingrained in my DNA, and I am so thankful I have since shifted my mindset to think like my mother.

imageIt is way too easy to get caught up in counting all the things we hate about our lives and all the things we don’t have. This is an extremely toxic practice. Whether it’s money, the latest fashion must-have item, clearer skin, a boyfriend, or your idea of the perfect body, there will never be a shortage of things we don’t have. All of us, myself included, could easily make lists that go on for days of everything we don’t have, and maybe some of you are thinking about these things right now. DON’T!!! The problem with focusing on everything we don’t have is that in this process, we forget about all the things we do have, and all the things we should constantly be thankful for. We might beat ourselves up about our arms not being toned enough, but consider this. Consider a woman who lost one of her arms in a tragic accident, and with each and every day that passes, all she thinks about is what she would give to have her arm back. If you put yourself in her shoes, then those arms of yours that may be a little less toned than you would like, seem pretty darn good don’t they?!

imageGrowing up in such an amazing country like Canada has definitely spoiled me, and sometimes I take my privileges of being a Canadian citizen for granted, without even noticing. I am reminded of this every time I hear about my friends experiences growing up in different parts of the world, where the basic rights and luxuries I take for granted everyday, simply do not exist there. I think we are all guilty of taking certain things for granted, but if we take a step back from our hectic lives and reflect on what we have, we learn how lucky we actually are.

imageNo matter how bad our lives may seem at certain times, we all have so much to be thankful for. The point I’m trying to get across here, is that it is extremely important to remember to be thankful for what you have, because despite what you may think, somewhere around the world there is someone who would die to be in your shoes. From time to time our brains are bound to wander to this negative ungrateful space, and this is natural. When this happens, be mindful of not dwelling in this space, and correct it. Refocus your thoughts on at least one positive thing you have going for you, and start to think about some of the things you are lucky to have. Whether it’s your health, access to food and clean water, supportive friends, a stable job, a talent or skill, or a home, whatever it may be there is certainly something to be grateful for. When you learn to be grateful and appreciative of the things you have, rather than upset over the things you don’t have, you start to live a much happier life.

Try to keep this post in mind, or better yet, keep this page bookmarked for the next time you are feeling down, and revisit it to help inspire some positive thinking! Although I myself am not Muslim, I am aware that the month of Ramadan began four days ago on June 5th, and I think this can be nicely tied into this post. A large part of Ramadan involves fasting, and this month-long practice is to instil and cultivate gratitude for what you have, and to realize what life is like for those less fortunate. Thinking about the lives of those less fortunate than you, or actually experiencing how those less fortunate live, can really help to open your eyes and also teach you to appreciate what you have. To the over 2 billion Muslims celebrating this month around the world, I would like to wish you all Ramadan Mubarak (which translates to a ‘Blessed Ramadan’). Regardless of practicing a religion or not, please stay positive, thankful, and remember to always be appreciative. Gratitude is the best attitude!

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#MotivationMonday

April 26, 2016

I’m writing this post from my bed, a lot later than I had planned to, because I am not feeling so hot today.

The reason I’m in such rough shape today is because I ran the Mercedes Benz Oakville 10k race yesterday morning, which in my opinion, was well worth the state I’m currently in (even though it would be nice to having feeling in my legs again). The course I ran was absolutely stunning, and took me on a winding journey throughout downtown Oakville, along the waterfront, and past some of the most gorgeous mansion homes. It was no surprise I woke up feeling not so great, because similar to last year when I ran the Nike Women’s 15k, I got super sick the next day, which is fairly common if your body isn’t used to running long distance races.

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In my training leading up to the race, I had ran a total of 46.5k and finished 10k in under an hour, so I was very confident that the race would go well (as I was much better prepared than I had been for the 15k last year).  But boy was I wrong. Yesterday was an extremely challenging day for me, both physically and mentally.  During the first three kilometres, I was thinking “okay, I got this, this is going fine”.  But as I neared the halfway mark, I noticed my problematic knees really beginning to give me trouble, despite having attended physiotherapy the day before the race for knee mobilization work and taping. It also didn’t help that I was overdressed for the run, and the sun decided to show up and warm things up, making it even more of a challenge for myself.

To be honest, I was so close to giving up and walking.  My stomach started cramping up, and I started feeling very weak and exhausted around the 7k mark. I have no idea how, but I somehow found the strength to push through and keep going, and I think that is partly owed to some of the people with smiles from ear to ear clapping and cheering the runners on from the sidelines.

I finished the race with an official time of 01:12:17.9, with a pace of 7:13/km.  At first, I was very unhappy with my race time, due to the fact that in all my training leading up to the race, I had ran a lot quicker and finished in much less time. But what I soon realized is the fact that the time really means nothing. The medal is what means something, and this medal signifies perseverance and personal growth, which is much more important.  When I think back to three years ago when I used to smoke a pack of cigarettes a day, and I couldn’t even run to catch the bus without losing my breathe, my race distance and time shows significant strides. The race was not easy, but it was definitely worth it. Although my time wasn’t what I had hoped for, it still represents personal growth, and it is a nice reminder that running really teaches you that you are capable of much more than you could ever imagine. Thinking back to my lifestyle a couple of years ago, I would have never in a million years believed anyone if they had told me I would willingly run 46.5 kilometres in less than a month.

My time not only shows I have come a long way in changing my lifestyle for the better, but it also inspires me to keep doing so, and to keep running so I can beat that record next time. The slogan of the race was #MindOverMileage, and I couldn’t think of a quote more fitting to sum up how this race made me feel. Running is all about your mindset, and a positive mind can help take you to places you could never have imagined, not only in regards to running, but also in regards to every aspect of your life. There will always be instances in life when you don’t achieve things in the time you wanted to, but no good comes from beating yourself up over it. You must remember to always be proud of what you have accomplished, and to persevere and push through the struggles that come your way and keep going until you get what it is you want.

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