A Little Bit Of Perspective at Christmas

I read a lot of books. Usually about 5 at any one time because I need to switch around a variety to stay engaged. Typically in my reading portfolio there’s a business book, a self development book, a science/research type book, a book about spirituality and a novel of some kind. The novels are usually about someone’s life story or life events, obviously because I love analysing human behaviour.

Recently I was recommended ‘The Girl On The Train’ by Paula Hawkins. I’d seen adverts for this book plastered all over the place – most notably the displays at train stations – and I noticed that there’s a lot of hype about the book at the moment. It made me wonder why. From what I read, I wondered if it seemed quite reflective of the situations that many people in modern western society find themselves in. Popular books usually hit a common note with it’s audience if it resonates with them, usually through the stories or the characters. That thought left me feeling quite sad about the society that I live in. Let me summarise the characters to give you an idea why.

There was:
A alcoholic who is avoiding the depressive life’s she’s created for herself and appears to drink as a way to numb the pain – at least from what I can make out.
A woman who has narcissistic behaviour and uses intimate relationships as a way to fill the gaping void of grief for the death of her brother that she hasn’t fully deal with.
A mirage of other characters who live in the illusion that they’re happy because they have a job in the city/own house/status quo happy relationship (inc baby in one case) even though their secret thought patterns are very negative.

The book is very well written and the author did a great job of creating character depth and drawing the reader into the situations. However, I simply couldn’t finish it because the reality of the situation made me feel so deflated. In one sense it’s a compliment to the author because I was clearly so drawn into the book that it was evoking such a depth of feeling within me. However, the feeling itself was depressing. It made me realise how inept we are as a culture of dealing with certain life events. The very popularity of the book made me wonder if we face an epidemic in western societies – a subconscious apathy in the illusion of happiness?

Lucky for me I already had another book to switch over to: ‘In Order to Live’ by Yeonmi Park. This book is about a girl who escapes life in North Korea. It talks about the famine and what it was like to live through starvation. How she and her family would risk their lives and walk for miles to receive less food than one UK family might throw away in a week. This girl has to repeatedly physically fight off men who constantly try to rape her while she is trafficked across borders like a commodity. She’s 13.

In the second book there is no opportunity to create significance out of hardship, because everyone is in hardship so there’s no difference. However there is a strong sense of compassion and human intimacy between the characters, which together with the hardship seems to create a wealth of emotional resilience.

Both these books made me ponder about psychological trauma and the significance of it in the perspective of our lives. I believe that it’s necessary to acknowledge and validate a difficult life experience in order to process it. But I wonder how much quicker this process would be if we didn’t have the opportunity to claim significance for the story. I wonder if this perspective on life might make someone think differently about their situation.

As we come closer to Christmas, I remember how difficult last year was. A quite Christmas day with a gaping void that so many painful emotions swirled around in the absence of my Father. What I remember most though, is how we talked about missing him and how the conversations always ended with gratitude. We were grateful that we had such an amazing person in our lives for so many years. We were grateful that we had each other. We were grateful that we had our health, a roof over our heads and food on our table. It’s easy to say thanks flippantly but when we allow ourselves to immerse in the situation of others, that’s when we can really feel gratitude. I wonder if the characters in The Girl On The Train might think differently about their privileged lives if they woke up every morning with the excruciating pain of life threatening hunger? Or if they were separated from their family and anyone who spoke their language, in to a trade channel that constantly tried to rape them? I wonder if we might think differently about our own pain if we could see it through the perspective of others?

Even if we are missing someone at Christmas, have hardship or ill health it’s valuable to remeber that there are people in the World who don’t have food, safety or shelter at one of the most joyous times of year.

Wishing you a Christmas full of gratitude x

I want to create a world of greater wellbeing for ourselves and the planet that we live on. That’s why I’m starting an honest conversation about wellbeing; encompassing self care, emotional intelligence, body and mind awareness, personal development, and authenticity. If you want to learn more about these subjects then then head over to www.shereensoliman.com to find out more about the packages I offer.

Sending self care vibes,

Shereen x

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3 Values to Live Your Life by. From my Father, a Good Man

Nothing can quite prepare you for the phone call you’ve always dreaded. The panicked voice from a parent, relaying direct information down the phone.

“There are three paramedics resuscitating your Dad”

It was all my Mum had to say.

I got up from the cafe I was sitting in and heading down the escalators with the phone to my ear.

“Ok. I’m leaving now. I’ll be home in 3 hours”

“Ok” She replied and hung up.

I called my brother, he was on his way home too. It would take him 1 and ½ hours to get to our family home and in the space in between my Mum would sit and wait. Luckily a neighbour and friend went round to comfort her. The ambulance outside giving something away.

It took me 3 and a ½ hours to get home. Straight up the motorway from the bottom of England to the middle. I have no recollection of the actual drive apart from the vague feeling of the rush I had within me to get there and get there fast.

As I pulled up, there was a silver van outside my house. There were two men sitting in the front seats wearing black suits. Men from the morgue. I knew. I’d known all along. I’d known he’d had died before I got in my car and drove, but I hadn’t allowed myself to entertain those thoughts in case they sent me off the road spinning.

The rest of the evening was a blur. Each one took our turn to say goodbye to him before the men from the morgue took him away. Some family friends came round, someone made us food, and then all of a sudden it was dark and it was just the three of us. My Mum, my brother and me. Standing outside the house in silence.

I remember the night clearly. The moon was a waxing crescent and the sky was clear, the stars shining through sharply.  We all paused there, outside the back door, my Mum lighting up a cigarette. We stood in silence at first, no one really knowing what to say about the loss of someone so great. Not just for us, but the world. To lose a man of such good values, a local hero. Before long we were talking about what my brother and I had learnt from him, values which had been installed in us to live through a legacy. Values demonstrated without words and through actions. Values that will stay with us forever.

  1. Have integrity. No matter what the circumstances, my Dad would always come through on his word. Even in the most difficult situations, and trust me if you’re a community Doctor there are many difficult situations. Integrity was something that was installed in him and he expected of those around him, his children included. It was practised daily in our family life, something that my brother and I thought was the norm of society. It’s only now, as adults that we realise that it’s somewhat of a rarity in the world these days.
  1. Be compassionate to others. I never truly understood what compassion was until my Dad passed away but looking back I know that he completely embodied it. There was the time that a grief stricken family tried to sue him for an error that wasn’t his, only for him to say that “People act in unusual ways because of grief”. There’s also the time when a patient with psychiatric problems waited in his surgery car park to attack him, by slapping him across the face with a belt. All he would say is that it wasn’t the patient’s fault, and that they just needed some help to get on back on the right track. At the time I felt puzzled with him and angry at the people trying to do him harm but I can hear his voice clearly respond to me “You never know what someone else has been through, and maybe if you did, you might see things differently”.
  1. Have courage to stand up for what you believe in. The most admirable thing about my father was that he always stood up for what he believed in, no matter who he was up against. Amongst many strong and positive beliefs, he believed in providing the best health care possible for his patients, a value that would often come up against boards of directors when discussing health care budgets. My Dad would never compromise his values and he wouldn’t sell out on his patients, even if it meant losing his job over it. It took a tremendous amount of courage for Muslim Egyptian man to exercise these values in predominantly White, Catholic, ‘old boys school’ type environments but my Dad didn’t see the differences on the surface that many of us do. He just focused on what was important at the time – ‘what’s the best for the patients?’ Then he stood by it and fought for it.

The death of a parent, a spouse or any family member is always a difficult part of life, but what got us through the darkest parts was the reflection that we had such a decent man in our lives. Of course I would have loved to have my Dad around for another 30 years, and I miss him every day. But in the 30 years that he shared with me he gave me some of the best gifts I could have ever wish for – good values, and for that I’m grateful.

I want to create a world of greater wellbeing for ourselves and the planet that we live on. That’s why I’m starting an honest conversation about wellbeing; encompassing self care, emotional intelligence, body and mind awareness, personal development, and authenticity. If you want to learn more about these subjects then then head over to www.shereensoliman.com to find out more about the packages I offer.

Sending self care vibes,

Shereen x

Christmas Eve

A year ago today I fought.

It was Christmas Eve and I was in St Maarten (the Caribbean), in between jobs when a local man tried to rape me on the way home to my accommodation. There are some parts I remember and some parts I don’t but needless to say, the event somewhat traumatised me. I’ve spent the majority of this year trying to deal with the post-traumatic stress that wrestles with me regularly.

This Christmas I’m home but there’s someone missing – my Dad. It’s quiet in the house with one less person and it’s left a gaping hole in all of our lives. Being a Muslim, he never really celebrated Christmas, it was a camaraderie that he went on with for my brother, myself and my Mum, who’s Catholic. Being a Doctor, however, he worked every Christmas and when I was a kid I would go to his hospice to give out the lunches to the terminally ill patients that he was taking care of. Everyone seemed to love my Dad. I remember how the patients would fondly talk about him and tell me what a compassionate man he was, something that I would also be reminded of in the wake of his death as ex-patients and colleagues stop me, to talk about him when they see me.

The experience of giving out hospice lunches at Christmas made me very grateful for what I had – two amazing parents and my brother, all of us well and healthy. I think that’s what Christmas should be about too, being grateful for the presence of our loved ones. It’s only when we no longer have this that we realise that the presents, the dinner and fuss don’t actually matter at all.

I want to create a world of greater wellbeing for ourselves and the planet that we live on. That’s why I’m starting an honest conversation about wellbeing; encompassing self care, emotional intelligence, body and mind awareness, personal development, and authenticity. If you want to learn more about these subjects then then head over to www.shereensoliman.com to find out more about the packages I offer.

Sending self care vibes,

Shereen x