The 21 Day Mental Health Challenge, Day 4: The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single act of honesty

When you are in a thick cloud of depression, it’s hard to see hope.

What do you do when you are overcome by feelings of intense sadness and pain? How can you claw yourself out of a labyrinth of emotions that seem to just circle in around themselves? What can you do to feel more yourself?

Depression is messy and scary and the only way I’ve managed to find my own way out is by being honest: first with myself, then with others around me.

In an Instagram world where everyone seemingly has their sh** together, it’s easy to think that your struggle is yours alone. It’s easy to think that perfection is real when in fact, it’s just a mirage in the desert of our social landscape. No one has their sh** together, not even those whose instagram profiles may profess otherwise. We all struggle with one thing or another and the sooner we can let go of the idolisation of perfection, the sooner we can accept and love our imperfections. Real joy lies in being honest about our struggles and in embracing our beautiful mess.

I hope you are having a nice day but if you are not, reach out to someone you trust to share your pain with. There are mental health professionals who can help you cope with mental health issues and depending on where you live around the world, one may be just a phone call away. Finally, there are valuable resources online that help support mental health and wellness. In the UK, the NHS has a dedicated website that deals with all things mental health.

The point is, you don’t have to go at it alone. Forgive the cliche but it is true: a problem shared is a problem halved.

“He told me about his monster. His sounded just like mine without quite so much mascara. When people shine a little light on their monster, we find out how similar most of our monsters are.”
― Anne LamottBird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life

abstract art artistic artwork
Photo by Dom J on

21 Day Mental Health Challenge Day 3: Is the solution actually part of the problem?

The popular clinical model for psychiatric illnesses in many developed countries is institutionalization. For years its been thought that is the gold standard to treatment: isolating patients in special ‘homes’ and medicating them in order to fix whatever biological imbalances they present. Maybe we are wrong.
thinking environment depressed depression
Photo by jim jackson on
One day a few years back, I listened to a podcast episode that changed the way I thought of mental illnesses. The episode begins with a narration of a man’s quest to fix his bathroom plumbing and gently superimposes his journey-the journey to finding a solution-onto the standard mental illness model in the US. Lulu, the show’s host, argues that our obsession with ‘fixing’ problems, is actually part of the problem.  We give labels to people who have been diagnosed with psychiatric illnesses, burdening them with apparent fragility and low societal expectations. She offers instead, an alternative thousands of miles away from the US in Geel, Belgium.
Geel is a city that is home to hundreds of psychiatric patients although in this city, they called ‘boarders’ instead. The locals of Geel have opened their homes to mentally ill people from all over the world and treat their guests as any other lodging would.
“Do you find it a burden to live with someone with a mental illness?” the shows asks numerous Geel hosts.
“No” they all answer back at various points of the research, “It’s just normal life.”
Normal life. 
Unless you are new to the city, no one blinks an eyelid when people talk to themselves out loud or when they walk from side to side in a zig zag manner.
The podcast is fascinating.
Towards the end of the show, the podcast host interviews a woman who attempted to recreate the Geel model in New York city, starting a housing community of residents hosting mentally ill boarders. It was a success, to some degree. A resident host, Tony, had had a string of boarders in her home who went on to get successfully treated.  All, that is, except the one person whom she loved the most-her son. Apparently, the more you care about a mentally ill person, the more you set them up for failure. Tony’s son had more relapse episodes living with his mother than he had anywhere else. This is precisely the paradox of fixing the mental illness issue: if you care too much and you try to hard, you are making the problem worse.
Crazy as it sounds, sometimes the best way to fix the problem is to actually focusing on it less. For families dealing with mental illness, this means being more careful about expressing our own emotions towards our loved ones with mental illnesses. They don’t need to hear our frustration about them or instructions on how to ‘be better’. What they need is for us to treat them with compassion and empathy no matter where they are on their mental health journey.
Couldn’t we all use less fixing and more acceptance?

The 21-day Mental Health Challenge, Day 2: Is being stressed part of mental health?

Yesterday I woke up at 5.30am ready to tackle the day, my mental health checklist in hand. As per the pre-scheduled arrangement, I did yoga, read the Quran, read and had a cup of tea. All was good and zen until the children opened their eyes at 7am.

After that, everything went zig zag. By 8am, I had already refereed a verbal argument between two little humans and shouted after them to pick up their toys. By 9am, I was deep in an internal argument with myself while washing dishes (what will give me greater peace: a clean cups and plates or a lie down on the sofa?) By 11am, I closed my eyes for a quick second only to wake up half an hour later in a panic over being late to a party that we were due to attend.

My husband-ever the zen-master-looked over at me as I was getting dressed and casually remarked that I looked stressed.

It wasn’t even midday but Day 2 was already a failure, or so I thought.

While talking to a good friend of mine (a medical doctor) about yesterday’s ‘failure’, she reminded me that being aware of  these stressful feelings is half the battle against mental illness. Self-awareness is important because it helps us understand who were are and why we behave the way we do. The more self-aware we are, the better masters of our emotions we become. Instead of feeling helpless in the face of stress, we can take control and respond to it in a healthy and productive way.


The 21 Day Mental Health Challenge, Day 1: Children and Grandmothers


I wanted to start my first challenge day with some research on positive psychology-the field of psychology involved in studying happiness-so I went straight to the experts on this subject: my own children. Below is an excerpt of my interview with them.

What makes you happy?

Sakina: Movie night, ice-cream, crisps, and chocolate.

Muhammad: Chocolate, ice-cream, a rainbow, the Queen, and castles.

What are some of the things that you do that make you happy?

Sakina: Hugging, and kissing you.

Muhammad: Squishing your tummy.

What things make you sad?

Sakina: Time-outs.

Muhammad: Time-outs.

How do you cheer yourself up?

Sakina: I play on your bed.

Muhammad: I give hugs, I wipe my tears.

What can people say to you to make you stop crying?

Muhammad: ‘I love you.’

Earlier today while walking, I listened to a fascinating TED talk on how grandmothers are at the frontlines on the fight against depression in Africa. Dixon Chibanda- a psychiatrist based in Zimbabwe-created a program called the Friendship Bench after finding that a large population of the country did not have access to mental health services. Because there are very few psychiatrists in the country, he decided to train grandmothers as informal mental health workers in their communities. The grandmothers did not provide formal psychiatric diagnosis but rather, they provided emotional support through evidence-based interventions and guidance. They use indigenous terms to identify mental health problems and provide culturally-relevant solutions that focus on eliminating shame and stigma and thus empowering patients with hope.

Have a listen to the full TED talk here: here


I did some exercises while watching two World Cup matches, each lasting about 10 minutes. They weren’t intense but they did raise my heart rate. I also drank my quote of water, wrote my in my gratitude journal and wrote tomorrow’s top 3 goals in my bullet journal. Now I’m off to bed with a book. I’m reading Stephen King’s ‘On Writing’.

I feel pretty good about today.



The 21 day Mental Health Challenge

Hello friends and (after a long absence), welcome back to Chai Chat!

For the next twenty one days, I’ll be doing a mental health challenge and writing about my experiences and reflections here (and my FB page). The reasons for this are quite simple: I want to be be healthier and I want to do my bit in promoting mental health.  Regarding the former, I want to develop healthier habits through consistent practice and planning (I am a firm believer in pre-meditated happiness) and about the latter, I want to explore issues surrounding mental health today.

What will the challenge look like? I’ve broken down the challenge into key focus areas:

Physical: building physical strength, increasing levels of endorphins

-eat greens every day in form of a salad, smoothie, or in stir fries/steamed veg

-drink 1.5 L of water

-exercise, including 30min of yoga daily, walking 7000 steps, and 20 min strength training/HIIT exercises every 2 days

-getting enough sleep (aiming for 7 hours)

Spiritual: surrendering to a greater power than myself

-reading Quran for 15min every morning, every day

-I already pray consistently (5 times a day) but I will incorporate a meditation practice for 5 min after every prayer

Psychological: building emotional and psychological resilience, being more organised

-writing in my gratitude journal every night

-writing 3 goals for the next day every night, no matter now small they may seem

-switch off from Facebook and Instagram by 8pm every night to quiet the chatter

-read every night before bed to help me relax and unwind

-doing something new or different every week

-writing in my blog/FB every day to track my progress. This is also an opportunity for me to write more consistently (and hopefully, more fearlessly with time)


Social: leaning in on others

-reaching out to family, friends and professionals for advise or help

-volunteering once a week in any capacity as time permits

I’ve already created my daily template in my trusty bullet journal to help visualise my ideal day and I will be breaking it down as I progress with each day, inshallah.

Thank you for coming on this 21 day journey with me and as always, please do feel free to chime in at any point along the way.





You are loved

don’t let anyone change you
turn you into a bitter,

don’t let the hurt get to your innocence;
the kind that is pure
and untouched
and holy

don’t let those words
pierce your heart, my love
you see-you are enough


are extraordinary

if it’s empathy that you need, show it
if it’s courage that you want, grow it
if it’s compassion that you seek, give it

afterall, isn’t this the irony of life?
to be broken over and over again
so that the cracks can let light in,
and rebuild us
from something to nothing to something

just remember.
that through all the aches and the pain
the dark days that seem never to end
the betrayals, the disappointments and misunderstood sentiments.

you are loved.
you are loved.
you are loved.




The Craving for Wholeness That Drives Our Actions — zen habits

By Leo Babauta There’s a sense of incompleteness in our lives. We have felt it since adolescence, at least, if not since early childhood — it’s a feeling that something is wrong with us, that something is missing, or that we’re missing out on something in the world. It’s a feeling of disconnection or loneliness…

via The Craving for Wholeness That Drives Our Actions — zen habits