I am a courageous surviving lion but I have battled ill health, being bullied at a very racist school, anxiety and depression from as far back as I can remember having been born through a traumatic birth due to various NHS failures and almost dying. 34 years on I still relive moments as if I am dying. I was considered stupid at school. My earliest memory is of a teacher in year 1 shouting at me and the whole class in silence – I didn’t understand what was happening and I was in a state of shock. What have I done wrong I thought as I felt hot tears stream down my little cheeks, frightened. I coloured a lion in red. She said “have you ever seen a red lion you stupid girl?” I died of humiliation and hurt aged around 4. I loved red and I had never seen a lion. I was just little, full of hopes and dreams of a better world. My parents were told to change my ‘foreign name to an English one’- which I overheard my teacher telling my mother. It still hurts. It is an awful thing to do to anyone. I was basically being told I can’t be me and whatever I am is no good – unacceptable. I was stripped to nothingness. Much of my life passed with experiences of this and internalising the, “I must be stupid / worthless / nothing /unloved / unwanted mantra” which played out unconsciously.

I ‘failed’ my GCSE’s (2C’s and 7D’s) and it felt like the end of the world but what else could I have got with no one investing in me and being ignored as the brown ‘waste of space’ girl of the school. Failing was my first moment of roar. After crying for 3 days in grief, not knowing what would happen, some tenacious, determined fighter came out of me – maybe the same little girl who fought for her life as a baby to live. I went back to school and asked to retake my exams – they refused. It is not a college they said and at that time it was unheard of to retake exams at my school. I didn’t want to go to College, it was seen as the drop put place of hang out back then and it was over 12 miles from my home and a long journey by bus. I went back to school I insisted they let me rejoin year 11 but no one took me seriously so I just went into a year 11 class and sat down at the back not wearing uniform. I remember standing outside the brown wooden door afraid of what was behind it but somehow that day I went in and sat down and I kept going back to classes for the week until they stopped telling me to get out. I distinctly recall the head of sixth form standing 6ft tall over me pointing his finger as I cried telling me “get out”. I just wanted an education, a life, a future.

A teacher saw my determination and commitment and spent time helping me through tutoring. It was invaluable to know someone finally believed in me. I ended up eventually getting just about enough to scrape through and in fact that year I was the only person to get a C – a high one I was told and no one else got anything higher than me on that paper – which was shocking to me! A C is nothing to many people but it was the world to me it meant I could take the next step. I knew I only got C’s having hardly been to school fearing bullying and the dark nasty horrific experience that my lower and middle schools certainly were. I got enough to do My A Levels and realised I was not so good under pressure so I didn’t do that well in exams but for me that doesn’t define intelligence. It’s a very stupid measure of so called intelligence. Anyway I eventually scraped by again to get into a University. Another painful but courageous roar moment. It didn’t work out at this university and it was an unpleasant experience but I got a distinction, as soon as I was out of the negative school environment I went straight to distinction, that meant lot to me. Next I was able to get into a good university and straight into second year as well which was pretty amazing. I did well and graduated. My life changed and I was seeking deeper meaning and purpose, I was seeking knowledge I was parched in need of knowledge. I went on to do a Masters in Muslim Community Studies (originally I took Islamic Studies as I was so interested in this religion).

I then found my love for understanding people and switched some modules to allow me to get this degree. Alongside this I travelled to another city to do a 2 year course in Psychodynamic Counselling. Surprisingly I received a distinction in all 6 modules over the 2 years. Every paper I submitted was graded highly – including my highest 84% – this was all shocking for me as I had been told I was stupid. I did excellent on both courses and they opened my mind to a whole world of ideas, concepts, and philosophies. My curiosity kept increasing. I worked for a while and co-authored a report. I got a job as a Muslim Chaplain at the age of 24 – possibly the youngest employed. It was all really amazing. Difficult and challenging but astonishing in many ways. I then pursued another Masters and it was the biggest shocking achievement of my life – I got into University of Cambridge to do a Masters in Child and Adolescent Psychotherapeutic Counselling. This was an amazing experience – a childhood secret dream – to one day go to the best – not that I could let myself believe this could happen.

Again full of challenges as after the first term I was put through a horrific incident which caused a slipped disc and I couldn’t walk. It was hard to move. Life changes when you can barely walk, eat, sleep and pray. The meaning of life, its purpose, and the way we chase after worldly things, ideas, statuses, roles, jobs, material things nothing mattered any more. Nothing. The only thing left was that I felt helping people was the only way. So whilst I laid in bed I conceived the idea of a counselling service – it would be called Rahmah Counselling. Rahmah because this word in Arabic had the meanings of extremely loving, gracious, compassionate, beneficent and is related to the word for womb ‘rahm’ which is my area of interest for my research. I am interested in the space of the womb and what gets internalised, the governance of the womb by patriarchy, medicalisation and all sorts of factors. I think there is an alchemy of the womb and I did my thesis on how women’s feelings and experiences regarding menstruation and birth affect their attachment to their child. I would like to write a book on this one day but haven’t got that much belief in myself yet! I think there is so much study on the mind, body, soul but very little on the womb – the place that creation happens.

I then set up Rahmah counselling though it has been a struggle with my health and lack of funding. I also strongly feel that the people who need therapy are often so vulnerable and struggling they should not have to worry about paying for it and I would like to set up a fund in future where it makes it easier for people to access therapy without this worry. I had to leave my chaplaincy job because of my health and I wanted to work in counselling now anyway. I resumed Cambridge after a year out. It was difficult making the weekly drive into Cambridge in pain but I persevered. It is a beautiful place and once I would get there it would feel great. In May 2015 I had one of the best days of my life when I went for my graduation ceremony. I felt amazing. I felt empowered. I did it despite everything from my childhood, my constant sufferings and pain and not even being able to walk at some points. I did it with the love and support of key people in my life and by the Will of God and my faith, I DID IT.

Today is a Lions roar moment because after everything the grief still sticks and I felt like giving up and this is what came out after the breaking through – I decided to write this – and I (massively) avoid writing about myself as I feel it makes me vulnerable but somehow I have managed to let this flow out and not worry about whether its perfect, articulate and how I may be judged. I have a right to live, exist and express too. After all I wouldn’t be able to do what I do without the depth that comes from a lived understanding. I learnt something this year – as a society there is too much focus on criticism – even at school we are taught to critically analyse everything – which may be okay to some degree but what if we look beyond it with gratitude – how about I am grateful for what that person / thing / place etc contributes in whatever way they can.

How egoistic is it to think we have the right to criticise or ‘feedback’ – why not just say it’s great you did what you did… so that along with not feeling the need to hide any more and not being ashamed by what I have been though, here I roar… in the hope that even one person out there will roar with me and continue roaring with courage even in moments when there feels no hope like I did just hours ago. I want to set up a support group for people who feel suicidal feelings, depression, anxiety and suffering so perhaps that is the next step. Current medicalisation and so called health service’s in my experience are the worst places to turn for help, devoid of compassion, humanity and love, full of bureaucracy, labels, politics, power and control. We need to create alternative systems of real care for well being. There is still a huge lack of understanding about the neurobiological and social consequences of anxiety and depression and so much needs to be done. I chose to write this from a position of empowerment. Let’s keep roaring with courage…