There’s more to life than morphine

Small moments landscape

It was in those early few days of returning home from the hospital, and going about the slow business of recovering that it dawned on me.

I’m still here. I keep waking up, day after day. I keep living.

That’s not something that happens by accident. We’re not here to be dead weight, just tread water until one day we’re gone. There’s a purpose to it all.

 

Starting over

That’s a very dramatic way to welcome you back to my blog. It’s been with a heavy heart that I’ve been unable to write over these last few months. I’ve been suffering from a severe form of an illness that took my life apart piece by piece. I stopped working, stopped exercising, stopped socialising. I ceased to be all the people that I’ve cherished being- wife, mum, daughter, friend, writer. I sat in my house for seven months waiting for the pain to stop. Waiting to live again.

“In four weeks you’ll feel better”

“The operation will give you back some quality of life”

Well, two operations, many drugs and seven months later, I’m still on the road to recovery, and there’s a fair distance to go.

But I’ve made a decision. I’m not going to wait any more. I’m getting on with my life. Because in life- in all of our lives, there are no quick fixes to our dramas. Problems surround us.

Broken marriages

Bodies that don’t work as they should

Children living in squalid conditions in refugee camps

Governments bankrupt of money and sense

Cancer

 

Make a different kind of list

But you know where the hope lies? It lies in the many little things that fill our lives. The small moments. No, there are no quick fixes, and we certainly need to find answers to the bigger problems. Cancer ain’t going away. There’s no short term solution to the migrant crisis. As for me, well I face the prospect of yet more pain and more drugs until I can be free of this illness.

The recent operation I had, and the weeks that followed it have taught me to live in the smaller moments. As a good friend of mine says “Today is ok. I can do today.”

In the hospital there was morphine to dull the pain- thank God for it. In life, what dulls the pain?

God’s embrace

My husband’s unconditional love

My daughter

That my parents are still alive

Friends who just ‘know’

Writing that unlocks my soul

Losing myself in a delicious night’s sleep

The first taste of the cheesecake

 

Next steps

That’s my list. Now make yours. As the saying goes, one day, we’ll look back on life and realise that it was the little moments that really mattered and made our lives what they are.

I hope you’ll join me as I begin again. I don’t know how often I’ll be able to post while I’m recovering but I aim to try. You can expect to see much of what you guys have told me you love about my blog: my take on cross-cultural life, opinion pieces on current affairs, media reviews. There’ll be new stuff too, because I’ve changed in the time I’ve been away.

It’s a kind of watch-this-space type scenario.

In the meantime, what are you waiting for? Start writing your list….(and feel free to share it below.)

 

P.s. It’s good to be back! x

 

If you’re new here, why not stay and look around? Here’s some of my most popular posts to get you started:

Rape is not just India’s problem

No Country for White Men

An Interview with Gurinder Chada

 

Think, plan, achieve!

business resolutions for 2015

Not getting anywhere with your new year’s resolutions? It’s not too late to set your goals for the coming year. Here are a few thoughts on approaching 2015.

Goals v’s resolutions

Keep it simple. Write down no more than three goals you’d like to achieve. And think big-however crazy or unobtainable they seem. Because it’s those crazy big dreams that really make you tick and working towards them is what will make you want to get out of bed everyday.  Then work out the steps you need to take in order to achieve them. Set a time frame to work towards. This could be something like achieving a certain number of steps by your birthday, for example. Visualisation helps. So if it’s paying off a debt by the end of the year, get a credit card bill and write “paid in full” across it in big red letters, and stick it somewhere that you’ll see it everyday. Make sure you review your progress on a regular basis.

Other people know stuff too

Take time to listen to people- you’d be surprised how much you can learn. Everyone has a story to tell and something that you can learn from, you just gotta take time to really ‘hear’ them. The problem is, that we all assume we already know what we need to. Never stop learning! Knowledge and learning is exciting and fun as it opens up new possibilities.  Never underestimate what other people can teach you and always assume that there’s more stuff you need to know.

Hope never fails

My best friend taught me this. Sometimes faith can fail us- your faith in other people, faith in yourself, faith that you’ll get the job done, get that bill paid off, shift the extra weight. But the hope that things can change, can be better, never fails. So if you’re starting this new year in a difficult place, hold onto the hope of better times. And when you start to think more positively you’ll have the motivation to make change happen.

Keep on being your awesome self

My biggest problem with the whole new- year, new- you- thing is that it assumes you were doing something wrong before. You weren’t. There’s nothing wrong with you and your life is ok!  Yes, new year is a chance for a do-over and it’s great to set your sights on achieving something new. But don’t let the pressure to reinvent yourself overshadow the great work you’ve done this year and how far you’ve come. So keep being yourself- trust me, you’re ok.

That’s it! Keep things simple in 2015 and focus on making it happen.

 

This post is dedicated to my three best friends- special ladies who have taught me so much over so many years. x

We have to stop should-ing on ourselves!

lifestyle balance

It’s that time of year when the diary is looking really full- and it’s not even December yet. Deadlines are looming, so are countless parties and social events. Then there are the nativity plays and carol concerts and Christmas school fairs which need time out of your work day. And that’s all before you’ve even thought about presents, shopping and looking your best. The Most Wonderful Time of the Year is also the Most Stressful Time of the Year.

But actually, how different is that to the rest of the year? The festivities sort of step up the pace a bit more, but I’ve had periods over this year where I’ve literally had weeks of going from one thing to the next without any break or down time in between. I’ve juggled childcare and domestic life with meetings and deadlines and volunteering work and family commitments.

It’s the unwritten rule of modern life that we all need to pack in as much as we can in order to feel validated. It gives us a sense of purpose. We look at the woman next to us and think we need to maintain the same pace as her, or we simply feel we have to accept lots of responsibilities…because that’s just what you do.

Margaret Sentamu said: “women carry a disproportionate weight of responsibility in society” and how true that is.

Whether it’s the economic or social climate that we live in, we all feel that we ‘should’ have it all. A great career with a clear path of progression, a social media strategy with Brand Me all worked out, a great figure, a thriving relationship, a foot on the property ladder, an active social life, healthy active kids with their homework all done. All perfectly captured on Facebook and Instagram- on which you have hundreds of followers of course. We all know that none of that ever happens at the same time. None of the pieces of the jigsaw ever fit together that well. But somehow we think they should.

Feminism gave women more choices. No longer are we expected to fit into some patriarchal mould of womanhood. But all that choice has brought with it a lot of pressure to perform. We’ve bought into the lie that we can have it all- and should.

Ladies, we’ve got to stop should-ing on ourselves!

We blame society, the media, Instagram- anyone really, for that pressure, but really it comes from within.

work life balance

When my daughter started nursery at the age of three, I felt I ‘should’ fill the few hours while she was away. My other mum-friends all seemed to be going back to work and I felt I ‘should’ re-invest in my career too, and with that came the pressure to succeed. I spent my few spare hours researching writing and pitching stories. I’d be tired and irritable all the while as I never gave my body or my brain time to reload.

Arianna Huffington is someone who knows all too well the cost of not taking time to reload. In her book this year, Thrive, she talks about the breakdown she suffered seven years ago. She attributes this breakdown partly to not sleeping enough, carrying too much responsibility and too many burdens. I love two of her top tips for maintaining a healthy work- life balance: go to sleep half an hour earlier than you already do, and choose to off-load something everyday that isn’t working for you whether it’s emotional or professional. This coming from a tremendously successful woman who’s been there. She knows.

So here’s a radical thought: how about NOT having it all, take on fewer commitments and do them really really well. Work out what’s essential ‘to being you’- and select the top two priorities and give them your all. And above all, schedule in some down time once a week. It might just be blocking out 45 minutes on a Sunday afternoon to have a nap, or an hour to finish reading your book.

And if off-loading some of the burden just feels impossible at this point in your life then ponder this advice that I was given last week:

“Start by doing what’s necessary, then what’s possible, and before you know it, you’re doing the impossible.”

The 5 People You Need to Know  

5 people

 

Do you remember at high school when you had one group of friends that you hung out with- constantly? You did everything together, went everywhere together, dressed the same, used the same lingo. They were your whole world and defined so much about who you were.

Much as I love those friends (who are still in my life) my horizons have broadened since those days! We all pick up friends along the way don’t we? Former work colleagues, school mums, neighbours, gym buddies, friends of our other halves…

But one thing I’ve found with these different friends and even different groups, is that lately they each seem to meet a different need in my life. Whether its professional support or girly chats, here are the five women that we should all have in our lives to help us become well-rounded individuals:

1. The Mum- Figure

This might actually be your mum, or someone else who fills a maternal role in your life. She’s the person who you go to when life is all a bit too much.  She gets your world view and most importantly knows you really well. She’ll make you a cup of tea, bring you tissues and helps you re-focus and see the bigger picture once again. Yes sometimes her advice might cut to the bone, but…..in the end she’s usually right!

2. The Career Mentor

I’m a big believer in mentors both having one and being one.  She will usually be someone from your industry who gets your vision and sees your potential to achieve it. Her industry knowledge and experience are ahead of yours so she can steer you in the right direction when making career decisions. She won’t be a shoulder to cry on- this is a purely professional relationship, but she will be sympathetic to your life challenges and how they hinder you reaching your professional goals. Think of her as the sixth form careers advisor but for real life!

3. The Intellectual Equal

Different from your career mentor, this is a friend who is on an intellectual and academic par with you, and usually shares the same interests and passions. Your coffee dates are made up of sharing new ideas, perhaps specific to your sector or area of interest and you bounce ideas off of each other. The phrase “iron sharpens iron” comes to mind here as she is the one who challenges you on your new ideas and gets you to refine them.

4. The Listener

The next time you’re in a public place, just observe (discreetly!) how effectively people listen to each other, even in a one- on- one scenario. You’ll notice that they don’t. We interrupt each other constantly: to state our opinion or our response, or come in with another line of thinking. In short, we’re talking but not being heard. We all need someone who will not only listen, but hear where we’re coming from-without interrupting you and crucially, without making it about them. This is where the old adage “ a problem shared is a problem halved “ comes into its own here, as The Listener allows you to unburden yourself. She does share some crossover with The Mum-Figure and perhaps will give you some advice too, but really she is someone who will listen to you without judgement.

5. The Girlfriend

This is the friend, or group who you really laugh with. I mean belly laugh, gonna- be- sick, might- wet- yourself laugh with.  What’s most important about them is that they help you connect with a part of yourself that is completely outside of your day to day roles of responsibility. With these women you’re no longer a mum, a wife, a teacher, a recruitment officer….you’re just you. They allow you to let your hair down and just be who you are- without having to play a role or meet any expectations. They’re you’re best friends, sisters, shopping buddy, partners in crime. Enjoy them, hang on to them and invest in them as they’re the friends who will be with you when a relationship ends or someone in the family is diagnosed with cancer. They are your bridesmaids and the first ones to visit you in hospital when you gave birth.They’re the ones who knew you when you had bad eyebrows and bad hair but love you anyway!

***

 Don’t make the mistake of confusing these friends. You can’t go to your Intellectual Equal and expect to let your hair down. Chances are they’re not going to make you laugh or get your sense of fun the way your girlfriends do. Likewise, your Girlfriend isn’t necessarily going to give you the best professional advice in the world, but she’ll meet your need to kick back and have fun.

Of course friendships are not passive- you can’t simply be on the receiving end of these qualities all the time- it’s vital to give back and play these roles yourself.

Have I forgotten anyone in this list? Who are the women that shape your life? 

 

 

When did you realise you were Asian?

 

When did you realise you were Asian?

What do you think of when you hear the word “gorah”? Or “chav”? All labels, however crude or unkind have been defined by society. We all eventually accept our personal label: Asian; British Asian; Black Person; White Person and so on-and all the baggage it comes with. Being Asian isn’t just a case of circumstances: the family you were born into, your country of origin; and we aren’t born with an awareness of it. At some point in our lives we come to a realisation of our racial difference.

I was 7 when it hit me. We had recently moved to an all- white neighbourhood. I started school mid-way through the year so everyone else knew each other and had little friendship groups. If that wasn’t bad enough, after a couple of days of my being there some of the boys started to call me “chocolate face”. At that young age I realised they were saying this because I looked different to everyone else. They singled me out for my race because I was different to anyone they had seen before and they didn’t know what to do with that. I was mortified. And I never forgot it. I went home and realised too that my mum was different- she dressed differently to all the other mums at pick-up time. Over that year I gradually started seeing that I was different. We ate different food. My parents spoke another language. And so it began: all the ways that you see and experience racial difference.

It’s heart breaking and confusing and disappointing. You realise that inequality is all around you. And it’s not just defined by skin colour but cultural practices. Not eating a roast dinner on a Sunday. Not being allowed to go to sleepovers or the school disco or have a boyfriend.

Being different is not easy.

But then as an adult, I learnt another word to describe all this: diversity. And that’s a good word!

It’s also a buzzword that people like to band around to sound inclusive and fair minded. There are diversity awards, diversity programmes, diversity initiatives, diversity policies….

You know when you say a word over and over it loses all meaning? That.

We need to reclaim diversity so it has some meaning to us, as individuals- where it’s more than just a programme or initiative of some HR manager. Growing up, I was acutely, painfully aware that I was different to everyone else and I tried desperately to hide my racial difference- I would make up stories to sound the same as the other kids, like what we had for our Christmas dinner- as if! I know all kids just want to fit in, but I wish someone had told me it was ok to have brown skin and have parents from a different country. Because difference can be exciting and fun; and what’s more, being different is what makes us individuals rather than a herd of sheep.

And FYI, if you have a child or teenager that denies their racial heritage or identity, like I did, give them time. There will come a point when hopefully they will stop wanting to just blend in but understand a bit more about their background and their heritage. Cue you, the parent, to answer their questions and share your experiences.

So how do we reclaim diversity? Well can I suggest that ‘owning’ your racial identity is one way- rather than trying to hide it like I did. Be an individual! It’s ok to be different from the culture that surrounds you, it’s ok to even be different from other Asians.

And wear your difference with pride. Look at Pardeep Bahra Singh, founder of the fashion blog Singh Street Style– who does that quite literally. He celebrates the fact that he wears a turban through his photography. By doing so, he normalises his sense of style which is different to mainstream fashion. He makes his culture accessible to others by saying: “this is who I am and how I dress and I’m not ashamed of it.”

People of colour spend a lot of time talking about the negatives of racial difference. We focus on our negative experiences too much. It is good to share these types of stories because there’s a sense of unity that comes from that. But we must also talk about our racial differences with pride. It’s the racists and the ignorant who want us to just curl up and go away. Their vision is for a country with no multiculturalism, no diversity, they want to deny that racial difference is a reality of 21st century life. It’s up to us to reclaim it, not just to silence the bigots but to silence that inner voice that screams “you’re different, you don’t fit in, you don’t belong….”

 Share your stories of when you first realised you were Asian- and then a positive one on what you love about being Asian.

Celebrating 1000 Followers!

When you start a blog you really don’t know if anyone’s going to read it. It begins life as something you do for yourself and you hope people will join you along the way. Now, as I celebrate two years of British Asian Woman and specifically, 1000 followers (yippee, thank you guys SO much for following!) I’ve been thinking a lot about how to mark these two milestones, particularly my awesome 1000 followers. I thought about writing the obligatory piece on highlights & low lights. But that felt a bit self-indulgent and rather like writing a thesis on my own blog. Dull, dull, dull.

Instead I’ve decided to write about the two biggest things that have come out of British Asian Woman over the last two years: the Thing I’m Most Grateful for and the Thing I’m the Proudest Of.

So let’s see.

The Thing I’m Most Grateful For

Well it’s two things really.

British Asian Woman has been a real sounding board for me. As pretentious as this sounds, it is my world: it’s literally the things I think about every day. Like current affairs. We look at what’s happening around us and often cannot relate or make sense of it, even when they’re the big issues that we should be aware of.

For example, when 200 Nigerian girls were kidnapped earlier this year, the whole world got tweeting #bringbackourgirls. I use Twitter a lot, but even I thought “what good is that going to do?” Can hashtag activism really make any difference? And when the Government started the British values debate, right off the back of an investigation into extremism in our schools, I immediately wanted to know how British Asians can respond and where we fit into that discussion. Researching, thinking about, processing and eventually writing about these things have really helped me to understand and find some answers- and that’s point number one of the thing(s )I’m most grateful for.

Identity is a big deal to me, mainly because as a first generation, South Asian expat who has lived in Britain all her life, who is now in a mixed race marriage and raising a mixed race child, there are a lot of factors to work with. I always used to think of myself as a coconut- you know, brown on the outside, white on the inside. Growing up, I identified more with the ‘British’ part of who I am. I even felt a little sheepish about calling my blog “British Asian Woman” like I was extolling myself as some kind of archetypal Asian person, when deep down I knew I didn’t fit that mould. But slowly, over time in writing I’ve come to see that there is diversity everywhere- including within the Asian community.

So when I wrote “What kind of Asian are you?” it was kind of like my putting to bed all those guilty, mixed up feelings and thoughts on identity. I was, and am finally able to say to other Asians “not Asian enough for you? Oh well, you hold onto your stereotypes while I celebrate my heritage.” Or to the British people who look at me wondering if I speak English or “is she like us?” I laugh and know I don’t need to act white to make them accept me. I can just be myself, and that’s incredibly freeing.

So the (other) Thing I’m Most Grateful for is that writing this blog has been like a cathartic working out of my often mixed up thoughts on identity and issues. I’m so grateful that I’ve been able to tackle some of the big things that I’ve struggled with, and all the while my readers have patiently let me rant,  muse, and ponder (and still continue to read!) until….I reach that light bulb moment and I know I’m done with it- I’ve found the answer I was looking for.

 

The Thing I’m Proudest Of

Finding answers and solutions to problems has been an interesting development that has come out of my writing.

When I wrote “The only brown face at the school gates” I would never have thought someone who Googled “the school mums all ignore me” would find me; (WordPress offers some analytics tools that allows me to see who finds my site and through what search terms they put in) I really hope that person found some practical help in the tips that I offered for making friends with the other school mums- the school playground is a scary and isolating place- for parents.

Time and again, so many of you have thanked me for writing on subjects like rape, child abuse, what it’s like to parent a mixed race child, British Asian identity. As I said before, when you blog you don’t even know if people are reading, so be thanked and told through comments and tweets that “you’ve nailed it” on a certain topic is so rewarding. Probably the best comment I ever received was:

“You write about the things we all think about, but just never know how to put down onto paper”

Wow.

When I wrote my first post on the rape culture in India, which is to date my most successful due to getting Freshly Pressed two years ago, I never thought of the massive response I’d get. The most moving comment I received was:

“You obviously are concerned about everyone receiving the respect they are due. You are not just interested in your own fame and fortune. That’s refreshing.”

That comment blew me away and I spent a lot of time thinking about it- it was never my intention to be some kind of advocate for issues or disadvantaged groups or people. But it’s happened that way and a new focus of British Asian Woman going forward will be to do just that and importantly, find solutions.

You’ll see a series that I’m doing on Asian women in the workplace, a practical angle on how we can as Asian women can channel workplace disadvantage and discrimination for positive change as just one example of this.

This series came out of collaborating with Asian Women Mean Business, a fab group of like- minded British Asian women. I’m really proud to have worked with them and some great people over the last two years: the fabulous MasalaMommas, Indian Connect and Red Magazine. I love the partnership aspect that blogging allows, and hopefully creates more interesting content to reach a wider group of women- women who are perhaps struggling with the same issues I am.

I’m excited about the future of British Asian Woman and the potential it has to be a platform that continues to help people and ask provocative questions.

THANK YOU all for following, reading, commenting and being a part of my journey. See you along the way.

British Asian Woman x

Why can’t you be more like your sister?

It’s one of the less desirable parenting techniques of the 70’s and 80’s. So many in my generation were cajoled into better behaviour by being told we needed to be more like so and so. “Why can’t you be more cheerful like your sister?” or “your cousin is studying Economics, why can’t you do that?” or the one I always used to get “see how nicely you’re your brother is eating, why can’t you behave like that?”

Comparison. We evaluate ourselves by looking at how well someone else is doing. The inevitable next step is wanting what they have. Green-eyed monster anyone?

For those of us who grew up being told we needed be more like our brother/sister/cousin/next door neighbour’s dog- anyone, just hurry up and eat, I wonder if this has engendered in us an innate desire to be someone else and never be happy with who we are?

It’s a conversation that I have had with so many of my friends. There’s always someone we know who seems to have it all together, and you berate yourself for not being more like her. But is it any wonder that we make these unhealthy comparisons, when all through childhood it was drummed into us that we should be doing that?!

Ok so envy is a common human trait that can’t just be blamed on bad parenting. We are always going to look at the person more successful than us, or the woman who is slimmer than you, or the colleague who gets the promotion and think “I want that”. A little healthy competition is good for us as it motivates and keeps us striving to do better. But take it one step further and it becomes damaging. Never being satisfied, let alone thankful with who you are and what you have achieved is simply soul destroying. If you are always looking to the next guy and wanting- envying- what they have, you’ll never become the person that only you can be.

It’s something that I have grappled with, particularly after I became a mum. I spent so long thinking- no, actually fixating on the things I thought I should be doing, because I compared myself with those around me who I thought were doing a better job than I was.

I remember in the early years of my freelance career, I tried to model myself on a good friend of mine who seemed to be doing such a good job of things. She juggled small two children and a domestic life that seemed like a well-oiled machine with a successful freelance career as a book editor and journalist. I was so envious of her work-life balance: she could pick up her kids from school, go on playdates and park trips, whilst having articles published, new book deals coming through, even going to book launches of projects she’d worked on. Yes I spent a long time thinking “I want that” and even dabbling a toe into the field that she writes in attempting to get published. I had very limited success and faced constant frustration to the point that I gave up.

It all sounds quite pathetic now as I put it down on paper, but at the time I was doing what I knew to do: look at someone else and desire to be like them.

I did eventually find what was right for me and life is much more fulfilling. I define success on what works for me and my family and we make that work for us. I guess the key thing is, um, not to do what our parents told us to do in being more like so and so, but to have a vision of your own and a little self-belief.

Luckily today as parents we are told to motivate our children to bring out the best in them, rather than point out their misgivings. Appeal to the child who likes to please by using reward charts. The competitive one is spurred on by a challenge like “who can tidy up the fastest?”  We are supposed to find what makes them tick and go with that. I’m not saying that our children are not going to be prone to envy; as I said before it’s a natural human tendency. But I do hope that their self- esteem will be a little more intact through guarding against damaging self-comparisons.