2020 in review: the highs, the lows and the in-between

When the year first began, it started off with hope and a firm belief of making it ‘the year of me’, of being the absolute best version of myself and making moves. From finding and securing work placements and internships, to getting a part time job.

The year was filled with moments that have shaped me into who I am now, feeling, in some ways, more relaxed and in some form of peace with everything, accepting things happen as they do, and nothing exists or is without reason. It’s been a year of finding love and shanti, of sinking into the murky depths of depression and clinging onto the lifeboat bobbing along the surface, of loss — so much loss — and grief and fear so strong, I could taste it.

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On fear

the low

But early January, my dad was hospitalised for almost a month and it was the scariest few weeks of my life. The fear I felt was like a vice, stronger than anything I’ve felt before, and in it, I had to be strong, to hold myself together, to keep the tears away, if only for my mother. It was hard, so hard, to have to deal with it and not have anyone to share that pain with. Sure, I had my cousins there to help, and the waiting room was always full with our family members and friends, something I will forever be grateful for: a community and family that always came together in times of hardship, but it’s never the same as having someone, like a sibling, to help shoulder it with.

Something I know about my dad is that he’s a people’s person; he drops everything to help his community, his people, his friends — a lesson he’s passed onto me is giving. Giving a helping hand, giving to charity, giving to those in need. It’s a form of love, of showing how within reach it is, if only you search for it and give it out to people. Kindness is never weakness, and my father is kind. Just seeing everyone coming to visit him, the phone calls from people I didn’t even know, from Italy to France to Portugal, and Bangladesh, was evidence enough of how important it is to be kind and to treat others with love and maya.

A few weeks later, when dad was back home and we were all settling back into a routine of figuring out what to do, and i was catching up with all the uni work I missed, Shajjy and I went to Urban Chocolatier, and Turkuoise, as a way to unwind and wash away the stresses from a month of hospital visits every day and fielding calls from various aunts, uncles, and cousins-who-aren’t-really-cousins. It was a day of laughter and stupidly spending money, reminiscent of years prior, filled with so much more ease. But it reminded me of the light after the dark, how the hardship never lasts, and the verse from the Qurān:

Fa inna ma’al ‘usri yusra. Inna ma’al ‘usri yusra

Verily, with hardship comes ease. With hardship comes ease.

This ayat is something I held close to my heart, and never before did it ring as true as it did in 2020. The promise from Allāh in this ayat is the aram with every difficult thing — and Allāh never tests us beyond what we can bear. I know this. I have always known this. But in those moments when it seems like the world is caving in, and everything is so much harder than what we want, or feel like we can cope with, it is hard to believe in those words, in that promise. But God promised us twice: with hardship comes ease.

And for me, it did.

Because the day after mine and Shajjy’s outing, I started talking to J — and the day after that, we went on our first date. And the rest, as they say, is history.

But of course, it wasn’t an easy journey.

On love

the high

I fell in love with J easily and quickly.

The feeling arose in me like the warmth from the sun on a gorgeous summer day, feeling the glow on your skin and indulging in your favourite ice cream, feeling wholly and completely at peace. Knowing it was right. I was scared shitless, of course — who wouldn’t be, really?

But love and relationships are never always easy and even ours was — is — filled with its own share of hardship, of a war still waging, with the whole Muslim thing being a huge issue for my family. But this man made the hardest parts of this year easier to cope with, because I had him through it all. It’s crazy realising that our entire relationship has been during a global pandemic. I wish I could be more poetic, but right now, I’m dealing with an infection, a headache and the urge to pee every 5 minutes, so I’m a little bit at a loss for words, other than to say, meeting J has truly been one of the best parts of my entire life and the most glorious thing to come out of this shit hole of a year. He’s my best friend, the love of my life and the more logical, rational part of me (like gosh, sometimes let me be overly dramatic pls) (ilysm u loser).

On life and self-love

the in-between

Life is never really easy — everything changes and with those changes, our emotions shift. Moments, while they don’t necessarily define us, help to shape us into the people we become, forever growing and evolving. Like the beauty standards forever changing by society’s standards, we too change and grow. It’s easy to succumb to the thoughts loitering around in our mind, to give into the voice telling us we’re not good enough, pretty enough, skinny enough, smart enough, talented enough, to let the abuse hurled at us to consume us. It’s easy to do that.

But the hard thing?

The hard thing to do is to fight, to not give up, to fall in love with who we are and keep trying and fighting. Persevering through the dark bayou during a storm, when there’s no light in sight, seems like the most terrifying thing, but when, at the end, you find that glimmer of gold and find your way back home, it’s the most beautiful thing.

Depression is a toxic illness, slowly slinking into every cell in your body and making you sink into its warm embrace. It holds you close like a lover, with the whispers of never leaving, but it slowly destroys you from the inside, leaking out in tears and the darker, messier things nobody likes to talk about: lack of care for personal hygiene, not brushing your hair or your teeth, or getting out of bed, not cleaning, not eating, not caring, not having any motivation, being tired. Constantly. And the harder part of is the thought of not wanting to exist, but not always meaning wanting to die.

Because sometimes, I don’t want to exist, but it doesn’t mean I want to die. But I just . . . don’t exactly want to exist? Does that even make sense?

There have been months, this year, where I allowed myself to fall into that rabbit’s hole of depression and loneliness, despite having friends and a boyfriend who love me and give me their support. But having depression and anxiety made me feel so alone, feel so helpless and like I was never good enough for even the most simplest of things. I felt exhausted and just wanted to stay in bed forever.

But staying in bed only makes it so much worse. It’s something we want to do, something I always want to do, but it leaves you alone to the thoughts that aren’t good and makes you feel even worse. Wallowing in this misery doesn’t help. That’s actually something I guess I always knew, but only really realised from restarting therapy again earlier in the year, around the first lockdown.

You have to follow the plan, not the mood.

I’ve been trying to implement that into my activities, and found it to make a difference. Even making a simple dinner makes a huge change in how I feel. Doing something, no matter how big or small, really creates a shift in my emotions.

It’s hard to come to self-love when you hate everything about yourself and find yourself falling back into the same old habits of comforting yourself with food. Lately, I’ve been hating my body more than ever be, triggered by Insta models and comparisons, finding fault in myself rather than properly understanding ‘someone else’s beauty does not take away my own’. It compelled me to think more negatively, leading to self-hate in ways it shouldn’t have, restricting calories, but still feeling full. Though I am going to try and be dairy, gluten and sugar free, due to health reasons, I’m hoping it’ll make me accept (?) my body more, love the way I look despite being unable to look in the mirror without picking myself apart piece by piece, nitpicking at every flaw until I pray to wake up looking different the next morning. And of course, that never happens.

It’s hard to commit to working out daily; it’s been a week since I last did any form of exercise other than walking, and that thought fills me with unending guilt, but the motivation seems to have sapped out, replaced by exhaustion and a tiredness that doesn’t seem to fade no matter how much sleep or rest I get.

On everything

This year, more than other years, has been the biggest for my writing. I’ve written more on my blog and more for various publications, including Metro, one of my biggest accomplishments, as well as featuring on the BBC’s Asian Network radio. If anything, it’s made me realise that if I put my mind to it and actual effort in, I can accomplish a lot more. I just need to try.

It’s just frustrating because I know I would’ve been able to get a number of work placements at a few big publications and even a few big firms if it hadn’t been for 2020. God, it just made the whole world come to a standstill, didn’t it? It annoys me so much, because I could’ve potentially been a lot more ahead of my plans, if this virus wasn’t a thing. It’s been shit in following my plans of getting a job and work placements, but I guess all I can do now is focus on acing all my uni work and the exams (god, I hope the exams are cancelled — who can even focus on that whilst we’re in the midst of a pandemic, an ongoing lockdown with contradicting statements and constant losses???) and still applying to wherever and whatever. And writing.

And I know more than before, that there is always aram with every hurdle life throws at us and we will always find shanti. In life and in love, you need to be able to find what makes you feel at peace and do your piece in giving ease to others, just to make it a little easier. Pass on the maya, the kindness, the generosity and it will find its way back to you. In loving others, I found it makes it a little easier to take those small tiny steps to love yourself — even if it is a long battle.

I am trying to find pieces of peace in everything.

Credit: @mazadohta | instagram

Sadness is part of life, the lows yanking away the moments of bliss and unadulterated joy, but it is never permanent and I know it will pass. It’s way easier said than done but I know how to work through it and more often than not, reality is far different to the visions of what is happening in my head. (Damn you, anxiety). Because honestly, I’m more okay than I think I am.

You’re more okay than you think you are.

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Things will be better. I don’t know what 2021 will bring, but I hope it’s better than what this year has been. Hope is a beautiful thing, let it wash over you in the days and weeks and months to come, like the rays of the sun and fill you with love, so much love, for yourself. It will get better. It always does.

My Top 13 Articles of 2020:

1. Brown Girl Guilt
2. Periods: The Secret Shame of Womanhood
3. Self Love vs Self Hate
4. Sexual Double Standard
5. On love and heartbreak: is it worth it?
6. All Your Perfects
7. Sex, Religion and Culture
8. Brown Boy Privilege
9. Dating in a pandemic
10. The Brown Girl Guide to Moving Out
11. Break the taboo: on sexual abuse, hypersexuality and cultural stigma
12. The Cost of Fast Fashion and the Power of (Small Business) Lingerie
13. I stopped wearing my hijab because I was scared for my life

If you enjoy my writing, feel free to support my work via Paypal or buy me a digital Ko-Fi. If you’d like to commission me for any work, please check out my portfolio.

Published by Sumaiya Ahmed

Sumaiya Ahmed is a Muslim student, poet and freelance features journalist, aiming to break down the boundaries of cultural stigma and shame attached to mental health and sexuality within the South Asian culture, and bringing marginalised topics to light.

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