Tomorrow is my 24th birthday. I don’t really know how to feel. I’ve been feeling quite overwhelmed and uneasy over the last few days and have been hit with many realisations and truths of life, some more pleasant than others. I’ve been struggling with my mood over the winter period and haven’t been able to implement healthy coping strategies and mechanisms of self-care. I have re-registered for therapy and am on a 6-week waiting list. This seems particularly long considering I haven’t seen a counsellor in over a year and completed a round of cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) sessions last February as well as discontinuing my medication last November. I am feeling in need of support to monitor and manage my moods which are prone to fluctuate and are subject to turbulence and instability. There have been a lot of changes in my life in the past year and so it’s not uncommon that my mood would dip or change at this time.
I got married in October which was one of the most life-changing and surreal moments of my life. I was surrounded by my friends and family and it was the most beautiful day, full of love and tears and excitement. My sister and parents gave incredible heartwarming speeches which made me laugh and cry and feel loved unconditionally and wholly. My closest friends also spoke eloquently and affectionately about our friendship and their time in knowing me. I was overwhelmed by the gratitude and tenderness with which they spoke. I was also touched by my father-in-law and sister-in-law’s speeches which gave me an insight into how fortunate I am to have a husband that is loved so dearly by his family, and I feel so honoured that they extend that love to me.
I was blessed to have several tables of my loved ones, and in particular, that I was able to fill 4 tables with just my friends; from school, college, university and life beyond. I was filled with more love than I had ever experienced before and was astonished by the care and gracefulness with which my friend, and talented photographer, Adil, navigated the space and guided Stepan and I through the grounds to take photos in secluded spots on the grass overlooking the manor. Those quiet moments were funny and warm and it felt strange to be dressed up all in red and gold and be the centre of attention. Stepan made sure to make the most of our 15 seconds of fame and carry me back through the grounds into the wedding hall where everyone clapped and made me redder than my dress. Then came the butchering of the wedding cake, which was once decorated beautifully with a drawing of Stepan and I that my best friend had created for the wedding invitations. She had also designed the table plan, the order of service, and an incredibly adorable kids’ activity book for the occasion which my nephews and nieces had a lot of fun with. From the moment I knew I was getting married, to the wedding day, we had approximately 6 weeks or less to turn around all the invitations and preparations for the wedding. Noori was the hero that this wedding needed. Everyone sang her praises and were so impressed by the illustrated touches, it was perfect. You can find her artwork and cards here: https://nuriyah.portfoliobox.net/home
Preceding the wedding, it was a crazy few weeks of hectic planning and support from my family and friends. I couldn’t have done it without the endless support and encouragement from my older sister, Faaria, and my friends Noori and Saf. They really pulled through for me when I needed them the most and I will never forget that. For my mendhi party, I was so overjoyed that my sisters and cousins had choreographed some dances and my little sister Habiba sang a medley of my favourite songs with unexpected additions, changing of words and had enlisted Saf’s help and talent on ukulele and tambourine too. I was crying at her sheer talent and the words of the song still ring out in my ears: “Zahra, you are our rose. Oh Zahra, you are our rose”. It was an emotional and comforting time which calmed my nerves a few days before the wedding. I thoroughly enjoyed dancing in my saree to an exclusive stream of pop punk anthems before the groom made his entrance, clad in Asian attire. The nervous moments of the night included walking down my stairs with flowers hung on my neck holding my sisters’ hands as they took me into the living room, and waiting anxiously for Stepan to make his entrance into the living room and sit across from me on the other side of the room. I felt a flood of emotions as my family and friends sat around me with the knowledge that my life was about to change in a few short days. This feeling was short-lived as we were subject to the traditional Mendhi custom of being fed sweets and having relatives and friends apply turmeric to our faces. My brother made sure to shove a massive sweet in Stepan’s mouth in a playful gesture knowing that he would not be able to punch back (yet).
Since the wedding, I have travelled with Stepan to New York, Budapest, Berlin, Prague and Pontedera. We spent our honeymoon in New York, cycling around Central Park, eating breakfast bagels, having dinner in Jazz clubs, hiking in the Adriondacks, sleeping in the forest and standing on the rooftop of our Brooklyn airbnb overlooking the city. Marrying Stepan has been one of the most meaningful and special things about this whole year, and this whole life. I never thought I would find someone as kind, loving, silly and down to Earth. He knows how to make me laugh, and reminds me to love myself from time to time. When we met, we were both strangers in a café, curious to get to know each other and desperate not to lose one another. We’ve been married for almost 6 months now and have our legal civil ceremony coming up at the end of this week. Despite my mood feeling up and down over this period, this relationship has been a huge source of strength for me and has made me feel loved and valued when I have felt far from that due to the spirals and heaviness that my mind can so often create.
When I returned from my honeymoon, I started my first job working as a Research and Development Officer at an international development charity close to my heart (and close to home). It was the first time that I had a 9-5 commitment every day since I finished school. University itself wasn’t as demanding, given that I had long chunks of time off throughout the day/week and ample time to prepare for essays and exams. I have just returned from a week in Buenos Aires, Argentina, where I was able to attend a High-Level UN conference on South-South Cooperation. I was with my parents and colleagues and got to share a room with one of my closest friends who recently joined the charity I work at. It was an incredible opportunity for me to see how a UN conference operates from the inside, all the procedures in place to keep security very high and unmatched at all times, and the ways in which a simple pass can allow you unlimited access to events throughout the conference or not.
There were many high-profile individuals attending the conference from Prime Ministers to Ambassadors which gave the conference an air of prestige. I felt quite out of place at times, and didn’t venture into starting many conversations with high-profile strangers. My dad, however, did take the liberty to approach the Czech Ambassador to Argentina with the words “My daughter married a Czech man. Let’s take a photo” which was both unexpected and hilarious. I greeted him with the little Czech that I knew and he politely agreed to the photo, also saying “I don’t know whether to congratulate you or have pity on you for your wedding”, which is apparently the most Czech response possible.
I am keen to see what the future holds and am impatiently excited about where life takes me. I am interested in exploring different routes into teaching and journalism, or counselling and offering psycho-social support to refugees and vulnerable young people. I hope that in this 24th year I can find some steady direction, ease and calmness to my ever-changing tides. I hope I can learn how best to offer my skills and ideas to this world to create a more peaceful and inclusive society, one that loves its’ neighbours and does not discriminate on any grounds. I hope I can learn how to be a responsible adult that is able to manage her finances. I hope I can learn how to tidy my room and sustain a tidy and clean living environment. I hope I can learn to be patient and loving toward my siblings and appreciate them every day. And I hope I can learn how to love myself.