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Confessions of a Hijabi



 

Chapter 1

Pressure and I

 

The pressure of measuring up to the world's standards, can sometimes do more harm than good. As I was growing up, I felt a lot of pressure. Pressure from everywhere. Pressure to succeed, to be successful, to help others and be as a good of a person as I can be. That’s what my parents expected of me. From pop culture and the culture I was raised in made me feel like I had to be perfect, to look great all the time, to behave as a lady should. Eventually it got to the point where these pressures had their own growing structures, their own life, where they didn’t need any living source to be. They were hovering over me and following me everywhere. They had their own reasons for doing is. They were born when my family and I became refugees.

My parents, sister and I came as refugees to the Netherlands. My parents have been through hell and back to get to where we are today. They fled the country for many reasons. They wanted to escape the war. But more than that, my health pushed them to leave their country, their homeland, their life. I was young and I was not aware of this factor. They told me many years later. They did everything in their power to secure our future. So how could I let them down? The pressure to succeed, as a refugee, is a lot. As a parent, you want your children to shine, and let this ‘foreign’ country know that we have something to offer too. Naturally you want to out shine the rest, because you’re already at a disadvantage: you don’t share the language, culture or color of skin. I never really felt like I was a foreigner, not until years later when I made a drastic decision to cover up, and people made me feel like I was. But for the most part I felt pressure to succeed, even as a child.

At primary school, I remember the times that I wasn’t really focusing. I wasn’t paying attention. I was dreamy all the time. Not because I did not like school, but there were thoughts that kept on coming. I’d hear or see something, and instantly I disappeared in to a world of fantasy. This made it hard to keep up. That’s why I tried even more to focus. So, when the teacher asked me something, I could answer. I didn’t want to seem 'stupid' and get laughed at. At a young age I would tell myself, "Make your parents happy, you can fantasize later" or “Listen, otherwise you don’t understand”. I remember that my teacher wondered why I was talking to my self sometimes. I actually was saying these words out loud. I felt the pressure to be normal, just like every child in my class. But that led me to act in a certain way that could be perceived as abnormal. I tried so hard, all because I wanted to fit in. The system teaches us at a young age that any behavior or trade that divert from the standard is not normal, and is considered to be abnormal.

‘‘I am not good enough’’, said my self-esteem.

The older I got the harder it was to focus on all the schoolwork. At the age of 10 I began to realize it was not working. ‘‘I am not good enough’’, said my self-esteem. Then I started to say that I didn’t know the answers. This made me angry and ashamed, but I did not show it. I did not know the impact of it, until i grew up and understood what was happening. But my teacher never really knew that I was trying so hard to keep up. So, when I didn’t try anymore, she began to notice. She didn’t know that this was actually me. The me who saw her mouth moving, heard sounds out of this mouth, but couldn’t hear a word she said. I was living in another world I had created in my head and I could not fight this world anymore. She asked me a lot of times why I wasn’t paying attention, and I just stared at her. This made her upset and were times she asked me to step outside the classroom, to ask why I was behaving the way that I was. She probably thought I didn’t want to answer in front of all my classmates. When she asked me why out side of the classroom, I still did not answer her. I just stared at her, with hopes that she would give up trying to get me to answer. This actually worked. I was not doing it to be an annoying child. I really couldn’t answer her. Maybe it was because at that age you don’t know how to. But probably also because I didn’t want to be labelled as stupid. I rather was labelled ‘a troubled child’. "That was much cooler", I thought to myself. It was ironic because I was a quit, shy girl, with no attitude what so ever. But I had trouble understanding it. The system made me feel I wasn’t good enough and as a child I was trying to please it. Please the school system, the teachers and my parents, so that I’d be accepted and labelled a normal child. Still, these hovering pressures that lived beside me, pressured up to the point where I would explode and had temper tantrums. I would go from a happy sweet child, to this fire of fury. With no explanation, or so these grown-ups thought. They didn’t feel what I felt, they didn’t see what I saw, they didn’t hear what I heard. Well, I didn't either. I didn’t know that the pressure was too much. Subconsciously I couldn't cope with it anymore, and my consciousness let it pass as a shut down of self and this manifested in rage. This was my way of expressing what I was actually feeling: pressure and failure. As a child, you don’t always know how to express yourself, especially in situations like these. I didn’t know how to tell the whole universe, that I was just not the kid they wanted me to be. It made me sad and angry, but mostly ashamed that I didn’t fit in with the system. The system that makes kids, who are different in their learning or development, feel like they don’t fit the standard.


 

Chapter 2

High school and I

 

With growth, there is more responsibility and expectations to 'get it together'. With expectation of coping well with responsibility, there is pressure. By the time I started high school, I was feeling more pressure. I was feeling it, all of it. Coping with this pressure got very hard. A lot of times I felt ashamed for not measuring up to the worlds standards. I didn’t really understand why. ‘’Why was everything so hard for me? Why couldn’t I keep up with the rest? Why was I so slow? Why does everything make me physically and mentally tired? What’s wrong with me? Am I stupid or just not good enough?’’ I found my answers many years later. Which was my mental and, partly, physical health.


Going through life, feeling like you have to perform all the time, with a smile on your face, had a strain on my mental health. Besides trying to achieve something, I felt the need to do it in a fashionably manner. Which meant, wearing the newest items, wearing make-up, acting like the paparazzi was following me everything and they just couldn't catch me looking ugly: the world can't see me that way. I felt that I was failing in so many aspects in my life, that my looks were the only thing that made me feel good about myself. The ‘my looks are all I have’ feeling was a big part of my life. This was also a factor of how people saw me. A lot of times people didn't like me, because they thought I was shallow. They thought I wasn’t anything more than a ‘doll’ with no character. Which I heard many times. Even a few of my good friends felt that way before knowing the real me. This caused me to be much more socially aware and try to let people know, I’m not these things. At that time, I felt the need to be socially accepted by my peers. I needed to be perfect. This was very tiring. So, I thought to myself, “I had enough” and I wasn’t going to let people talk about me that way. I went from a girl with no character and ‘shallowness’, like people thought or called me, to a spice girl, with a lot of attitude. I tried not to care, and I felt strong and empowered. I let these bullies know, “Don’t you dare mess with me, bitch”. Everyone knew now, you can talk about me, but honey, don’t think I won’t fire back. And I also made sure I had friends with my attitude of not caring. Usually that were ‘the nerds’ or out casts of my class. But I loved my friends. How different they were from me, or if cared about fashion and beauty or not, I still loved hanging out with them. I was an outcast too. Though subconsciously, this social aware behavior never really went a way, it just manifested differently. Still, on the school front, I expected more of myself, and I was not delivering. I didn’t need the high expectations of the universe to make me feel this pressure. I was doing it to myself, because that is what I have been told and taught. These pressures still lived besides me and still hovered over me. High school can be tough on anyone. Not only is this the time to grown and learn, but your future depends on it. It’s the path to your future and you have to succeed.


As a teenager, you are trying to figure yourself out, and may test the waters a little. I had no time to figure out who I was or what I wanted, I was busy trying to be normal first and foremost. The first few years of as a junior went by. I also started to realize that there were things I couldn’t do like the rest. My right hand, and right side of my body where not functioning as they should. At this point in my life I knew that I was different, but I didn’t quite realize in what way. At gym class, I would get confused about using the ‘dominant side’ of my body with a game, like football. I was feeling like my right foot was the dominant one, but it was actually much weaker, so I had to use my left side. And this didn’t go well. I couldn’t do all the things ‘right’ like my classmates could. I couldn’t climb up a wall or rope, without falling. Which made me feel more like a failure. I was ashamed of myself. Ashamed for not being able to do what others easily could. It made me nervous and anxious every time I had to do something in front of my class. And I always would try to explain myself, so that they didn't think I was a failure. And I kept on trying hard to do everything right, but still failed consistently. This trying and failing made me feel physically tired and useless all the time. ‘’But at least I’m doing okay with my grades’’, I told myself. For now, at least. My mom helped me study a lot, because every time I had a test, I would stress and cry a lot, thinking I’m not going to pass or get a good grade. I really wanted to get good grades, so then at least I was doing something right. Our school system has 4, 5 or 6 years of high school and depending on what level you did, you can go to college. The school said I could do the ‘highest’ level of high school educations, which is 6 years. My mom could see I couldn’t handle it, because of my performance anxiety. She made the decision to let me stay where I was, that was fine too. I could go to college at this level too. So, I was supposed to graduate after 5 years.


About two years before graduation, I was failing more and more classes. From this point, school started to get a lot harder. More homework, more hours of school, more of everything. It looked like I wasn’t motived enough. The truth was that I was tired all the time. Being sleep deprived is quite normal for teenagers, because you make less of the sleep hormone melatonin. But trying to focus on school made me more tired. I didn’t have the energy. Not to mention I was still living a life of fantasy in my head. Also when I tried to follow the class, the information was too much at once for me, and I couldn’t follow. Too many stimuli that i couldn't process. Because of trying to process them anyway, I'd get tired to the point were I felt i could't function anymore. At night, I would relive the whole day and classes I followed, and tried to process everything I ‘learned’ that day. But I missed the half of the information and I couldn’t always make sense of what I learned that day. How could I possibly sleep with all this information circling in my head that I didn’t even understood?! I relived everything in my head. What I said, how stupid I was, how lazy I must look and how I had to try harder the next day.I stayed up most of the night to doze of a bit for 3 hours until i had to wake up.


"They only saw my failures, my laziness and lack of motivation."

With half of the information missing, I had to study even harder than most students, to keep up. But I had no energy for it, even though I was trying. But nobody knew how hard I was trying and how much I hated to fail. They only saw my failures, my laziness and lack of motivation. The relationship with my family went downhill from there. My parents were very disappointed cause it looked like everything else mattered to me, more than school did, which was far from the truth. And my temper tantrums were still a part of my life, but in a different manner. At home, I was very quiet. When I did answer, I would answer very spicy. My sister would come up to my room and ask, “Why are you wearing so much make-up?”, or “Why do you look so extra?” I couldn’t answer why my looks were so important to me. I didn’t understand it myself, and I didn't see the problem, "So why aren't they leaving me alone?!", i thought and shout. To them it looked like that was what's keeping me from studying. But to me, it was just a way to express myself and feel better about myself. My parents would also ask me things or just say something to me and I would snap and explode. Nobody understood me, and I felt lonely all the time. I just couldn’t handle the disappointment from them, because I was disappointed in myself every day of my life. It caused a lot of fights between me and family, and they couldn't understand why I was behaving like this. I barely understood myself, so how could I explain it to them? These questions that I couldn't answer, the feeling of failure, the disappointment and disapproval in their voices, turned in to rage again. I was on survival mode and I was about to crack.



 

Chapter 3

Burn-out and I

 

With the pressure of finishing high school at a certain level, I still was dreaming for a way that I could be ‘normal’ and do this in the expected time. School and my parents tried so hard to help me graduate, even though I looked like an ungrateful brad. They made me go to school from 8 to 5, to that I would do all me home work at school, and had the evenings to myself. It was a great idea, if I was functioning normally. Their efforts didn’t pan out and I had to do some classes over. Eventually I did graduate. But I couldn’t be happy about it. I wasn’t feeling it. It didn’t feel like an accomplishment. The amount of time that it took to graduate, made it feel this way. It was just something normal, everybody graduates eventually, but I took it as a flaw that I did it in more than 5 years. Again, I blamed myself for not graduating in the ‘standard’ time it should’ve taken me. I did not measure up to the standards, so I still felt like a failure. So, I went on to university with this feeling and attitude. In every stage in my life, I tried to understand myself. Now I could finally choose a study that could help me with this: psychology. Not only did I wanted to understand myself, but I wanted to help others in a very personal way. I really loved what I was studying, but the university system didn’t work for me at all. Sure, I was finally doing something I loved and was more motived for. But the university systems are not made for everyone. So, I was still running after everyone, trying to keep up. The first year, I still was failing. But luckily our system gives a student 2 chances for every exam. I would pass the second try of every exam. Imagine to fail every single exam at the first year of university. I kept on failing in life, I was failing at everything, I felt. So,I pushed myself to do better. I tried to sleep better and to be healthier. I hoped that this would help me feel better, and I did do better the next year. So, I kept it up, while still trying to please everyone around me. But I was doing too much, which my body and mind couldn’t handle. Some weeks I would go to school from 9 till 6 or 7 o’clock, just to finish everything I had to do, because I was behind on a lot of schoolwork. Some weeks, I’d go to the gym 5 sometimes 6 days a week, just to have that ‘Instagram perfect body’. With the hopes of feeling better about myself in any way that I could. I was asking too much of myself, because the world was asking too much of me. Or did I pressured myself to be better? Still, I felt I was never good enough for myself, I didn’t live up to the everyone’s expectations, and certainly not my own. It broke my spirit. It caused me to make some really bad choices in life, just to feel alive again. Which had a strain on the relationship with my parents, few of my friends and the relationship with myself. Yes, myself. I didn’t like me. I wanted to be someone else. Someone who would be able to live up to all these expectations. When I burned myself out like that, my friends at that time really helped me get through this. They told me to get help, because this wasn’t going well. So, I decided to listen to their advice and I went to see my family doctor. I needed to know what’s wrong with me. They say what you don't know, can’t hurt you, right? No, WRONG. It did. Not knowing what was ‘wrong’ with me, meant that I couldn’t ‘fix’ it. If I knew, I could, and I would. People say that labelling someone is not good. Well I will tell these people that I wanted nothing more than to be labelled. I was like, “Please label me, for God sakes!” Because then I understand why I am the way that I am. If I can’t understand myself, how could I move forward? How could I grow? How could I change what’s needed to feel happy, to feel alive?

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