Pan & I

‘Panic’: derived from the name of the Greek god Pan, who supposedly sometimes caused humans to flee in unreasoning fear.

I was 14 years old when I experienced my first panic attack. I remember it clear as day.  I was at my local cinema with a friend watching the animated version of the Prince of Egypt. Suddenly the large darkened theatre became small and I found myself struggling to take in a full breath. I felt like someone was squeezing my heart with their hands or standing right on top of my chest. I broke out in a cold sweat. I frantically searched for the exists in my mind and thought about how I could get out of this theatre without causing a scene or embarrassing myself in front of my friend for walking out half way through the movie. Everything collapsed inside me after that, this foreign feeling to me felt like Death. I was going to die. I was convinced of it in my mind. I ran out of there quicker then I could remember and run to my sisters work (she happened to be working  a shift part-time at a clothing store in the shopping mall at the time). By the time I reached her the feeling had passed, I was a ball of tears and the only way I could describe to her what I was feeling was, I felt like a couldn’t breathe and I was going to die.

You see in 1999 no one ever spoke about panic attacks or any sort of mental health related condition especially not in a pre-adolescent. Nope not at all. Physician after physician and not one said, these are classic panic attack symptoms. Many just sent me home with a clean bill of health ensuring me that I was not dying, that there was no physical problem causing my symptoms, some would even look to my mum and imply, ‘perhaps this is a cry for help or attention seeking behaviour’. WHAT A JOKE! If there was one thing I didn’t want at the time was more attention!

Soon these episodes would start happening in car rides, trips to anyway and everywhere. All of a sudden, bang out of no where this impending sense of doom would overcome me and I would need to escape, find help or I would DIE. My heart would beat its last beat, my chest would cave in on itself and everything would turn to black. I began to lose count the number of times I had to insist my parents pull over and let me out of the car as I stumbled onto the curb gasping for breath.

Claustrophobia? Surely not, and since when? And why now? These were all the possible scenarios I rattled with in my mind. Long before Google, I took to my Encyclopaedia Britannica and searched endlessly for answers. From doctors to witch doctors, there came a point I was convinced that I was cursed, possessed and needed some form of an exorcism.

I went to church and lit countless candles asking God to rid me of this torture. After a few months the panic attacks stopped but the emotional damage had just began. This fear of death imbedded so deep within me – I had died so many times in my mind. I became sad, angry, confused, difficult, my 15-year old self was the hardest Tanja I ever had to deal with.

My panic attacks resurfaced in my 1styear of University (18/19) and stuck around for quite some time after that. It was then that I started medication. The wonder drug, an antidepressant was the answer to all my woes. The panic attacks stopped, I didn’t feel so sad about my existence any more, I could start living my life again, get into my car, drive to uni, hang out with friends, be a “normal” young adult.  Until I wasn’t. Until they crept up again, and again and then again.

Many times I felt defined by my panic attacks, sometimes to this day I still do. Now at almost 33, I’ve forgotten who I was before them. I’ve lived more then half my life experiencing them. In all places, at all times, with so many people as witness. I don’t recommend living more then half your life in that kind of disabling fear, its crippling. But somehow, I’m still here. Still kicking, still breathing. Still surviving. Now a mother of 2, I cant help but look at my kids and wonder, which one of you will inherit this genetic curse? Oh God please help me help them through it if they ever do. I talk about my mental health openly because that in itself is a medication for me. It’s the healthiest and most natural way I know how to deal with them. Hopefully by doing so I can help someone else feel less alone and more normal, something I wish I had when this journey began.

IT

Image from: Living with IT. – A survivors guide to Panic Attacks, 1996. 

One of the first self-help books recommended to me.

Why I Chose Islam.

Why I choose Islam.

Would it be completely cheesy if I started this post by saying, I didn’t choose Islam, Islam chose me?

HAHA! Yes! Totally and massively cheesy, so No I won’t start with that!

Let’s start with an incredibly curious, open hearted, open minded young teenage Tanj, overwhelmed by some deep, emotionally and mentally exhausting questions, desperate to know God! Desperate to understand her own soul, what happens after we die, why we have to die, and so on. Often I read about what motivates converts or religious people and Death is almost always the motivator and centre of it.

At the ripe age of 13 I experienced my first paralyzing Panic Attack (which felt and still feels a lot like what I imagine dying would feel like) what I didn’t know until 6 years later was that these panic attacks would cement my need for answers and belief in something greater than this dunya. My condition would fuel my faith in a Creator which would ultimately save me from some of the darkest moments I have ever endured.

Let’s fast forward to age 20, in which I was blessed with a profound Islamic dream…(more on that perhaps for another post) this dream would set in motion my need to know more about why I was shown the signs I had been shown.

I recently told a friend that choosing Islam saved my life. And it did. It became a light for me in a very dark tunnel. It gave a very depressed me hope again. It gave me direction, motivation, purpose and meaning.

When I frequent the Aya, “Verily with every hardship, comes ease” (Quran 94:5) I can’t help but think about my diagnosis with depression and anxiety disorder, my conversion and estrangement from my family, my miscarriages, and the ease that followed soon after. I look at my husband and I feel ease, I look at my children and feel peace. Alhumdulliah. “Verily with every hardship, comes ease” (Quran 94:5)

I chose Islam because it was a truth I felt I knew and believed in long before I knew it. Does that make sense ? I can’t really explain in words what it feels like to know something deep down to your very core, in your heart of hearts, to be awoken to something so undeniable. For me that was the realization of God. I knew God existed before Islam, but I didn’t quite feel connected to Him. I tried. I tried really hard to adopt my then Orthodox roots, but something just wouldn’t stick. There were just too many questions left unanswered, which Islam simply answered for me.

Image courtesy of @thearistochick

Estrangement

Hello, it sure has been a while. I have had brain block for quite sometime, not knowing what to pour some soul into for a while. So I took to instagram and asked you what you wanted to know sure enough the majority voted for ‘estrangement’.

This isn’t an easy topic to talk  about, for me it has become my biggest burden and continues to be my biggest heart ache. But it is a reality for so many people and so many converts and I hope that by sharing my story I can help others feel less alone.

I have been married now for almost 7 years and identified as a muslim since I was 23, almost 10 years now. It was no surprise to me that converting wouldn’t be taken lightly by my family thus I lived in secret for over 2 years. When I met my husband it was time to “come out” – I felt I had the support I needed and that living in secret was no longer necessary. Of course my parents didn’t take to that news lightly and here we are. Over 7 years on, I can count on one hand how many times I have spoken to my mother or seen her.

It isn’t easy. This post isn’t going to be about me telling you that it’s ok and that time will eventually heal all wounds, because there is a reality that time might not heal those wounds. She may never accept my choice of becoming a muslim and I may never have a civil relationship with her ever again.

There is always going to be a feeling of overwhelming guilt that I feel for having hurt her. None of us want to disappoint our parents; many of us just want to feel like we have made them proud. I know deep down in my heart that if my mum allowed herself the chance to see the life am living and the person that I’ve become that she would be so proud. She would love and embrace my children, she would love her son-in-law and they would adore her, I know it!

I mention her to them and I show them photos of her so that they know they have another grandmother who loves them. I don’t think I will ever tell them about these hard years, about these years apart, about these years where we have become like strangers to one another. I don’t want them to know that.

From an islamic perspective I fear I may not be doing enough; Heaven lies at her feet and right now there are days when I feel hopeless. If paradise relied on my mothers forgiveness, if I died tomorrow I may not see its doors. These are the heavy thoughts that keep me awake at night. I make dua for her and I pray and I wait. Patiently I wait.

“We have enjoined on man kindness to his parents; in pain did his mother bear him, and in pain did she give him birth” (46:15). 

IMG_2757

Anxiety

I recently asked on my Instagram stories for some ideas on what to write about. One person got back to me and said, “how do you manage your anxiety?”

I thought, great, thats a topic I can share so much on.

But I would be lying if i said I knew how to ‘manage’ it, because most days its far from managing, sometimes I feel like my anxiety manages me.

I should start from the beginning though, the first time I learned that I was “anxious” which later turned into a diagnosed “Generalised Anxiety Disorder” with “Panic Disorder”.

I would say I always knew or felt like I was an anxious child, and my mother did not shy away from telling me that I was ‘difficult’ and fearful of most things growing up. But it wasn’t until I entered my 14th year that i started experiencing anxiety and panic attacks on the regular. At the time no doctor would diagnose me until 5 years later, I was 19 and a good friend of mine at the time forced me to see another doctor for a second opinion. It got to a point where I would come to her crying fearful of almost every little thing. I stopped driving my car, attending university lectures, socialising with friends because every single day was a struggle with panic attacks, irrational thoughts, feelings.

Recently a friend described me as ‘calm’ and I almost fell off my chair.

Who me? Calm?

Woah! I had never heard those words used to describe me ever, or more accurately I had never seen myself in such light. It made me think, was all this nervous and anxious energy I felt only what I was noticing and feeling internally, or was I still holding onto old versions of myself, the voice of my mum echoing in my ear… on the outside was I was in fact cool as a cucumber? Calm and collected?

I’ve mentioned in a previous post that I have an intense fear of flying. There isn’t a single flight I have taken in my life where I haven’t experienced a panic attack. Anxiety for me is very much tied in with my panic attacks. But it’s also related to the people and things I surround myself with. I learnt very recently that weeding out toxic people from my life helped my anxiety levels. I think this relates to being an empath; I absorb other peoples energy instantly. I also stopped denying myself the need for self – care. I turned it into a priority. I allowed myself “me-time” and push aside any “mummy guilt” or human guilt I had towards it.

As a mental health condition/disorder I don’t think I will ever be anxiety – free. I think some personality types are just more prone to it than others. I am a strong believer that it is both nature and nurture that contributes to our mental health. Faith and spirituality have helped me become less anxious, but even as a spiritual and religious person I am not completly anxiety or panic free.

A friend I made online recommended this book/app to me recently and I couldn’t thank her enough for it. Visit the link below. The number of times I have opened this app up in the middle of the night to help me over come irrational thoughts and feelings is insane. I even made my husband listen to some of the audios with me and he started implementing the dialogue from them whenever he started seeing me in an anxious state.

https://dareresponse.com

“What is destined will reach you, even if it be underneath two mountains. What is not destined, will not reach you, even if it be between your two lips”. – Al Ghazali

Depression & Faith

I am going to make this post short, sweet and effectively to the point.

It is not true that if a person has true faith that they can not feel depressed or cannot experience bouts of depression and sadness. It is not true that a person who suffers from depressive or anxiety type illnesses is essentially suffering from low Imaan.

The Quran itself is filled with stories of great sadness and hardship. The Prophet SAWS experienced his own great sadness and a Year was in fact known as Ām al-Ḥuzn, the Year of Sadness in which his beloved Khadiga RA passed away and his uncle Abu Talib died. The prophet also stopped receiving revelation from Jibrail for a period of over 6 months in which he felt an enormous depression. Ya’qub (AS) cried until he became blind from the great sadness he felt when he lost Yusuf (AS). Let me reiterate again, that depression is NOT a lacking of faith.

Suffering from sadness or depression does not make you weak, it doesn’t come from you not being grateful enough or even religious enough! Depression is not your fault. Depression does not mean you don’t have enough faith or that God is angry with you or has forgotten you.

We need to remember that Allah tests different people in different forms, and by His help every single test can become a tool to get closer to Him. Remember “Verily, with hardship their is ease.”

Depression is NOT a lack of faith.

This too shall pass.

DXB Eats

These days I find there’s an impressive art to the way food is prepared and presented. I don’t know about you but when I get served a plate that looks like the picture below I get a little excited.

So please enjoy a short write up on some of my favorite cafes in Dubai, perfect date spots or coffee catch ups with your girlfriends, trust me you won’t be disappointed.

These recommendations are in no particular order but I start with Tom & Serg only because it was one of the first spots I checked out in Dubai purely because I heard it was owned by a fellow Melbournian and let’s face it, in Melbourne our coffee shops and cafes are up there with some of the best in the world 🙌🏽💃

Tom & Serg – Al Quoz.

You wouldn’t think it looking from the outside but as soon as you walk into that huge door your in a MASSIVE 2 story space that serves some of the best coffee in town, and some incredibly tasty food.

Always gets Laila’s tick of approval !

Friends Avenue – Cluster T JLT

For 2 years I lived in JLT and thankfully walking distance to this cute little breakfast spot. Once again coffee was great, and the food was tasty and well priced.

Amongst Few Cafe – Palm Strip Mall

This place is worth the drive to Jumeirah 1. Located in Palm Strip Mall, this place is a cool contemporary space with a throwback to the early 90s. The coffee is spot on and oh the food, my goodness where do I start! It’s FANTASTIC! If you’re game to try their Ginger shot though for a bit of a pick me up, I warn you that thing is POTENT! 🤣

Ginger Shot and Bliss BallsVege Tempura Tacos Nintendo Forever 🤣

Culinary Boutique – Jumeirah 1

I recently ate at Culinary Boutique on one of our weekly day dates with the husband. Let’s just say you know a place is great when your extremely fussy husband approves of the spot! Of course his breakfast was something sweet and mine something savory, we sat upstairs on the lovely terrace, the food was fresh and tasty any wholesome (well my dish was) Ramos was decadent, we are definitely coming back for more!

 

Society Cafe and Lounge: Jumeirah 1

A new kid on the block this cafe is aethetically pleasing and the food does not disappoint. Again well worth the drive to Jumeirah 1, Society Cafe have an awesome menu, let me just say the halloumi pomegranate fries are OUT OF THIS WORLD! Once again a fave for the hubby and I on day dates 🙌🏽

Arrows and Sparrows – The Greens

This cafe is what I call food and coffee art! It’s like Picasso on a plate! I’ll let my photos do all the talking on this one! Again another great breakfast or lunch spot, especially for the corporate offices near by. The coffee here is spot on!

Common Grounds – Mall of Emirates

If you find yourself shopping at Mall of Emirates and in need of a caffeine fix and a bite to eat, look no further then Common Grounds. Owned and run by the masters behind the Tom & Serg Group, Common Grounds has deliciously wholesome food and fantastic coffee, not to be bias but anything Aussie owned is guaranteed to be great quality 🙈

Home Bakery – Galleria Mall

To Satisfy your sweet tooth you can’t look past Home Bakery at Galleria Mall on Al Wasl Road. A small favourite especially amongst the locals, Home Bakery is definitely where I like to spend cheat days! The Nutella and Vanilla Cronuts are my personal faves – oh and if you’re addicted to LOTUS please try the Biscoffato – a Lotus Biscoff inspired Affogato 😲😍♥️!

Cocoa Room – Galleria Mall

Just a short walk up from Home Bakery in Galleria Mall, is Cocoa Room, a fantastic hotspot which closes its kitchen by 11.30am and turns into a completely different concept by night called the Slider Station. Be sure to get there early and enjoy some of the most decadent pancakes you’ve ever tasted. Cocoa Room got my thumbs up for my annual birthday breakfast where I indulged in a lotus cruffin and and the lotus pancakes!

I hope you enjoyed just a few of my favourite foodie finds in Dubai. There are so many more, perhaps I’ll save that for a post on where to eat out for dinner on date nights or a girls night out. These places are the perfect breakfast / lunch spot, day dates, catch up with friends and my fave coffee spots, for real quality coffee seeing as though I’m a bit of a Melbourne coffee snob ! Still don’t know how people drink Starbucks or watered down Americanos!

Nova

nova [ imenica / NOUN ] nova [ ženski rod {astrologija/astrology} ] Latin, feminine. singular. of novus new.

– A star that ejects some of its material in the form of a cloud and become more luminous in the process.

– Star suddenly increasing in brightness for short time.

– A faint star that suddenly erupts in brightness by 10,0times or more. Novae are believed to occur in close binary star systems, where gas from one star flows to a companion white dwarf. The gas ignites and is thrown off in an explosion at speeds of 1,5kps/9mps or more. Unlike a supernova, the star is not completely disrupted by the outburst. After a few weeks or months it subsides to its previous state; it may erupt many more times.

The name comes from the Latin “new”, although novae are not new stars at all.

NovaSerbian; meaning ‘New’.Sentence; “Sretna Nova Godina; English = Happy New Year


It’s that time of the year again, another year has passed us quicker then the year before it. Time is funny like that. I always feel a mixture of emotions when the year draws to an end. I can’t help but look back on the one that’s past and and recap it’s highs and lows, as well as await eagerly with anticipation on what the new one has to offer.

2017 was a huge year of personal growth.

It was the year I truly found my feet in Dubai as an expat. It was the year I finally stopped doubting myself as a mother. It was a year I accepted that maybe returning to Melbourne wasn’t on the cards right now and that that was ok. It was a year I accepted my new life and more importantly it was a year I accepted myself.

I started this blog, I put myself back out into the world both online and on the ground, and in doing so I’ve met some incredible woman along the way. Some of whom have become family filling the void that comes with packing up and starting anew. I couldn’t have done it without some of them, without their support, encouragement and love.

2017 was a year of letting go. I let go of the all the negative self talk, all the false beliefs that I dragged with me for far too long. I let go of guilt and shame and owned my story I feel for the very first time. I owned my mental health condition and stopped believing that anxiety and panic attacks had any real control over my life. I stopped defining my well being based on panic free days. Even a panic filled day was a day lived to its fullest. I stopped doubting myself and my capabilities and truly started to believe that I could do whatever it was I wanted too, I was free to start living the life I chose to live.

2017 was a massive year of change. I embraced the notion of wearing a headscarf. This was HUGE! I changed a life long mentality towards something I felt no connection too into a huge form of personal empowerment and a massive step in my spiritual growth. I renewed and recalibrated my focus towards my Creator, and found an overwhelming love of self in doing so.

It has been easy to embrace in my current environment however I do anticipate the day that I won’t feel so comfortable wearing it in Australia or around my non-Muslim family. I still care far too much about their opinion and their acceptance of me, and I fear this is something they just won’t be able to look past just yet. I guess only time will tell and only prayers will make easier.

This is the thing about change, so many people fear it, I guess the familiar is always more comfortable. But unless we allow ourselves to truly embrace change and understand that growth is dependent on it, only then will we be able to accept and embrace the blessings that come from it. Like I said, my mind only 12 short months ago was completely closed to the idea of hijab, and then in one desperate night of begging God for a door to open for me, supplications saturated in tears, a seed was planted in my heart. And just like that I began to love and embrace something I won’t ever regret.

All in all, 2017 has been one of my favorite years to date. I pray 2018 brings more growth and lessons, more stars erupting in brightness, more light spread and shared amongst those we love and love us. I pray we find our inner peace and then maybe we can attain a collective peace; I pray for light upon light, for hearts to be ignited with it and for forgiveness to run through the veins of those who seek it. I pray that we never stop becoming bigger and better versions of ourselves.

Dubai, UAE – 2017