Noreen Muhammad recently turned 24 years old. It was then that she realized that she had struggled with dark thoughts for half her life – ever since she was twelve. Now she is determined to let the intergenerational trauma and oppression within her family die with her generation. “I won’t watch in silence anymore.”
The moment I was contemplating suicide, I thought it was a rash decision. I didn’t feel loved and blamed my mother for bringing me into this world. Suicidal thoughts are not there to accompany you once and then disappear, they are constantly recurring.
Growing up in a Western world with oriental roots is not easy. You hear everyone say it’s enrichment, but it brings a lot of struggles, especially when you’re a girl. I am the first girl in the family, born and raised in Europe. It caused some consternation among my family in Pakistan, the country of my roots. So she made a huge impact on my single mother to take me to her they Nurturing traditional values.
These traditional values are part of the intergenerational spiral into which I have been drawn. It is about a vicious cycle in which women are naturally oppressed. An intergenerational spiral is done mainly by the women themselves, because none of them speak up and feel pressure to raise their daughters the same way.
Somehow I understand where that comes from. The women in my family did not know themselves better in the Pakistani upbringing they had. My mother herself fell prey to emotional abuse. My grandmother, in turn, was deeply shocked when she had to flee to present-day Pakistan in 1947 when Hindustan separated after the British invasion. Since no one dared to speak publicly about his pain and give in to the expectations of the family, the cycle between generations had yet to be broken after many generations.
The perfect Pakistani girl
However, I lived my early years in Belgium smelling of roses and sunsets. My mother moved to this country with my brother and I. As one person, she had to start a new life here from scratch. Since we were young my brother and I, we did not notice her suffering. Then I can still be comfortable.
That changed when I went to elementary school. I was a very unhappy child. I was the quietest girl in the class. Besides, like many oriental girls, I was very hairy and thus was an easy victim of bullying.
Plus, I was always told that I wouldn’t stay far in life. Not only at school, but also in my immediate environment, some family members used to say that I would never be able to make friends if I kept quiet and shy.
A family should be a warm home, but I never had that feeling during my childhood. My introversion made me angrier about many things. I was instructed on how to dress and behave according to traditional and Islamic rules.
On the other hand, I have a western mindset and an open spirit. My family still has a typical oriental mindset in many areas. For them, the ideal girl is one who wears a veil and a long robe, is obedient, can cook well and knows exactly how to keep a house. Because I didn’t live up to the perfect Pakistani girl and wanted to be myself, I wasn’t the most likable person in my family.
Successes were not celebrated at home. I’ve never heard my family say “I’m proud of you”. At school I was very weak in mathematics. On the other hand, my brother was very good at it and never passed a tube in his school life. As a result, the whole family considered me an idiot. When I talk about it now sometimes, I hear some family members say, “You took care of that yourself then.” They persecuted me by keeping me young. At least I was scolded and told how weak I was.
But I couldn’t and didn’t want to live up to my family’s expectations. It was also difficult to communicate with my white colleagues. This struggle made me depressed. Two years ago, my doctor was shocked by my weight loss and saw that I wasn’t really feeling well. She immediately prescribed me antidepressants. Despite those pills, I couldn’t see any light at the end of the tunnel.
After the unsuccessful suicide attempt, a turning point in life appeared. Unexpectedly, I received a lot of support from my family. She responded with understanding, giving me time and space to heal. I received the necessary directions and was allowed to stop my semester until I recovered.
This recovery comes with trial and error. Dark thoughts penetrate deep into your body. Players are always around the corner. A few months ago, I was infected again during my trip to Pakistan. Fortunately, my mother came at just the right time to change my mind. Today I can say ‘happy’ because during my recovery I have had many beautiful days as well as many challenging days. I’ve been chasing my dreams, and some of them have already come true.
Although my family has relaxed since I sounded the alarm, I fear it may already be too late for my parents’ generation. They are a “lost” generation in which their traumas are too ingrained to be healed. There is no open talk about feelings, because they prefer not to confront them. They remain convinced that you do not have to be weak and that you must always remain strong.
My goal now is to make sure no one has to go through what I went through. A new batch of young children has appeared in my family from my late-born uncles and aunts who also live in Europe. My job now is to protect this generation of children from the toxic vicious cycle within our family. I treat them as if they were my children and give them the values and standards I stand behind. To what extent and for how long must a woman fall prey to oppression and live in cold silence? It is up to our generation of women to break these vicious cycles of trauma and intergenerational oppression and to eliminate toxins within society.
Noreen Mohamed is a freelance journalist. This contribution will also appear on StampMedia.