“Feel empowered because you’ve died a little whilst trying to live. Don’t lose yourself in the process of people-pleasing. Rebuilding one’s self-worth requires an open mind; don’t close your heart, those valves work in two ways. Bounce back, align those emotions, focus on your consciousness and always remain humble whilst doing so. ~Mekella Mehmet-Yesil~
The first seven years of my life were relatively uneventful from my perspective. We were an ordinary family doing ordinary things. My dad, an immigrant, worked at two jobs to support his large family – ten children- in all of whom I’m the seventh eldest. He also had a larger vision to own his own security company, and was successful in becoming the first Indian man to set up a registered security company in Cape Town back in the 60’s.
Weekends he devoted to his family, and these inevitably involved camping trips or other outdoor activities. We had repeats of dhal and rice for many meals and wore hand-me-downs from older siblings, but we were happy. My mom was quiet and sensitive, and the nurturer of the family. I was a clingy child, and have very distinct memories of holding onto my mom and crying endlessly. I found it difficult to articulate my feelings, and the only way I knew was to cry for attention. I felt miserable and unwell a lot of the time. Whether it was this or the fact that I had a sister a few years older than me with polio, as well as three younger siblings, two of whom were seriously ill since birth, I felt lost and scared.
I was nearly 8 years old when we moved to our own home across the street. We had watched for several months as it took shape, and we were excited to move into our own home. I had started primary school a few months earlier, and as I was a painfully shy child, my first few weeks at school, away from the comfort and security of my home, was horrendous. I hated it! I didn’t speak a word until I overheard my teacher talking to her colleague in earnest about me one day. She was concerned that perhaps I was in the wrong class and needed to be transferred to the Afrikaans-medium class. I broke my silence there and then! My memories of school beyond that, quite ironically, was of a happy time. I had lots of friends and a few close ones. Doing very well academically may have had something to do with my popularity.
I am not who you think I am. You are what you think I am.
My mom died when I was 10 years old, incidentally the same year I first started menstruating. I was prone to fainting spells until it was discovered I suffered from a severe iron deficiency. I was always tired and unwell and lacked energy. Despite that, I was an active child. After my mom’s death, it felt like a dark cloud had descended upon my family…just a general morbidity that clung to the air. My dad became more immersed in building his “empire”, and by the time I reached high school, we were doing very well financially.
Our double garage no longer housed our cars but was a mini-supermarket all kitted out with deep-freezers and shelves for my father’s regular bulk-buying trips to Makro. Weekends were for entertaining around the pool and food was always a focus. Something had changed in him though. While the old, loving father still showed up at times, he was prone to mood swings and as easily as he could switch on his charm, so too he would have angry outbursts directed at us. On such occasions, his behaviour bordered on vindictive and he would become completely unrealistic in his demands. We were forbade from speaking Afrikaans, a language he didn’t understand, and if he was in a particularly foul mood, he would communicate to us in HIS language, an Indian dialect; a language we did not understand and could not respond to.
The boys had free reign, as is the case in most Indian families, while the girls were restricted in many ways. We were not allowed to cut our long hair nor could we wear denims as they were “skollie” clothes. I found it difficult to reconcile my image of the kind and caring father I once knew with this emerging picture of a tyrant and dictator. My siblings had a way of dealing with this abusive behaviour by humorising it. Inside me, though, there was a growing resentment for what I knew and felt to be a violation of ME. I found it increasingly difficult to call him DAD, and avoided him as much as possible. I lived for my days at school where I continued to excel and had many friends. Back home felt like a prison, and I isolated by developing a love for reading and drawing. I tried to make myself as invisible as possible, and daydreamed about the day I would be famous and acting on a big stage. I think all I really wanted was to be noticed.
I was also aware that I felt different to my siblings. It was just a niggly feeling that left me uncomfortable and ill at ease. I kept a lot of my feelings to myself especially after often being called oversensitive. I didn’t understand this and it deeply upset me each time I heard it. Why was no-one feeling or seeing things the same way I did? Was there something wrong with me? I started becoming preoccupied with the same question “Why was I here?” constantly drumming through my head, but more particularly after an incident where I felt misunderstood. I wished they would only take the time to understand me! I eventually figured some time later that I had a heightened sense of awareness, a feeling of having knowledge of things without really understanding why. While it felt frightening at first and made me anxious, I came to accept it as one of my biggest gifts.
Adolescence hit me with a bang. By age 14 or so, and thanks to my Indian heritage, I was sporting a moustache that most young boys would be proud of! It was a terribly painful and embarrassing time for me. I started hating being outdoors, and was teased endlessly, not by my friends but by my siblings. For some time they focussed all their attention on me and pulled pranks on me. One particular event that I found hard to forgive was my sister sending me to the kitchen, and then all of them closing the interleading doors to the passage. I was afraid of the dark and stood there petrified but they didn’t care. They were having fun at my expense. I promptly added them to my hate list.
By the time I reached my penultimate year in high school, I lost interest in my schoolwork. Prior to this, I had only ever had reason to speak to my father at end of term when I presented my report card. I was never in trouble. Now I needed to explain why I wasn’t doing well, and I didn’t have the courage to tell the truth even though I desperately wanted to. I felt sad, angry and empty and had started gaining weight, not massive amounts but enough for me to feel more inadequate about myself. In my matric year, my step-mom, who had arrived on the scene 3 years earlier, came to my rescue and sent me off for electrolysis. The ugly duckling had finally transformed into a swan!! Quite ironically, my name, Hoosne (correct spelling Husna) means beautiful in Arabic. I felt anything but beautiful until then! My name being spelt incorrectly didn’t help either. If my plan was to remain under the radar, being asked to pronounce my name over and over again seemed like a punishment.
At the end of this year, I initially declined my dad’s invitation to join my step-mom at the High Rustenberg Health Farm where she was attempting to lose some weight. He thought it a good idea for me to “rest” before starting university. It was only after he suggested that I could cut my hair if I wanted to, that I jumped at the idea. I wasn’t going to pass that up! I did lose a few kilos and enjoyed the healthy experience. This was a very empowering time for me.
Embrace uncertainty. Some of the most beautiful chapters in our lives won’t have a title until much later.
My first year at UCT was a complete disaster. I ended that year feeling like a complete failure especially after having to deal with my father’s anger. His disappointment would have been enough for me. Humiliating me by broadcasting to all and sundry what a failure I was, was just too much to bear. I fell into a deep depression that December holidays. By the time February (and the start of the new academic year) came around, I had lost nearly 17 kgs. I had no will to live and without realising it, I had stopped eating. I only realised the gravity of the situation when my father forced rice water down my throat and lectured me on anorexia. It was also during these holidays that I believe I sub-consciously made the decision to leave home.
I had two failed attempts at running away. I knew I needed to bide my time. Over the next 4 years, I made peace with my siblings and developed a close bond with them. I had my own car and made sure to spend as much time away from home as possible. I had freedom of movement and that’s all that mattered then. I applied myself to my studies and worked really hard, finally obtaining my degree in social work and my licence to freedom.
The upside of the ‘unhealthy’ weight loss was a feeling of confidence I had never felt before. I received compliments before even realising that my body had drastically changed. For the first time I felt like I was in the driver’s seat and weight loss was the defining element in this feeling.
The best day of your life is the one on which you decide your life is your own.
It took me only 5 days to make my decision, all done undercover for fear of being stopped in my tracks for a third time, and I arrived in Durban on a late-night flight, went for an interview that same morning and by 11am, had my first job! I then took a walk down West Street where I shopped around until I found a Ronald Sassoon jeans my size. It felt like my “long walk to freedom” and I was bursting with pride. My last stop was to buy a Quran and prayer mat. Then I spent the next few days looking for a car that my R2000 (back then) could match. I remember proudly counting out every single note as I handed over the cash. I had given up everything that was familiar to me- a comfortable upbringing, my own car (even though I didn’t own it), and my siblings, whom I had grown to love. But nothing compared to my newfound freedom. For the first time, I felt I could breathe with my entire body. For the first time in my life, I felt absolutely free. With my first salary, I was able to afford my own flat. I was on a roll. For the next few years I felt like I was walking on air. I was definitely unstoppable.
It was during these years on my own doing lots of introspection, and no doubt working in the mental health field, that I came to a better understanding of myself. To my relief, I discovered that there was nothing wrong with me! My reaction to being called oversensitive had always bothered me. I now understood that I was one of a small percentage of highly sensitive people, and this explained A LOT!!! My great sense of intuition, and why I felt more deeply about things, sometimes to the point of being overwhelmed; that due to my sensitivity I reacted more emotionally (and this was not a bad thing), and that I cried even in response to happy events, my deep connection with the world, and so on. This new knowledge was so liberating. All these years I had felt deeply criticised for being “too sensitive” and that I was overreacting. My sensitivity was not a curse as I had believed, but a blessing. As I learnt to embrace my authentic self, I felt powerful beyond measure. I was finally able to make peace with my resentments.
“For beautiful eyes, look for the good in others; for beautiful lips, speak only words of kindness; and for poise, walk with the knowledge that you are not alone.” ~Audrey Hepburn~
I know that I am kind and caring, and go out of my way to ensure my loved ones are happy. I’ve always had the ability to cultivate meaningful relationships. I love focussing my energies on people who value and appreciate me, and in return, have been very fortunate to attract people into my life who add meaning to my existence.
Trust yourself. You’ve survived a lot and you’ll survive what is coming.
Shortly after my 38th birthday, my husband and partner of 13 years passed away after routine surgery. At the same time, my two older children who are asthmatic were hospitalised due to their inability to cope with the ongoing stress. After the initial shock of his untimely death had worn off, I had weeks and then months of anxiety-filled days intertwined with more sorrow than I had thought possible. My soulmate, the love of my life, the one person I trusted with my life and the only one who was capable of lifting my mood in a split second, was no longer there. I was devastated. I was left to raise our five children, the eldest barely 12 years old. The sheer enormity of the task that lay ahead frightened me. To try and jog my memory around how I survived, is nearly impossible. I do remember very dark days but I also remember looking at my children and seeing a bit of him in each one of them-his generosity and kind-heartedness, his wicked sense of humour, his dazzling smile, his “connection” with people and his love of music.
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Face Everything and Rise.
I learnt to train all my focus and energy on them. It wasn’t all smooth-sailing. I was passionate about my work in the addiction field and had a good job, but I was unprepared for being a single-parent and only one income. I embraced my challenges by immersing myself in my work to the point of being head-hunted. I was brilliant at my job (I say that without a hint of arrogance but rather as an expression of my passion for working with individuals in recovery) and made it work for me. Within three years, I had taken my family to a comfortable place financially where we were able to afford our first few holidays. I also treated myself to a few holidays abroad . Emotionally it was tough and that was my time out to re-energise. For a long time I refused to take off my wedding rings and I hated being called a widow. I felt angry and cheated but had little time to wallow as there were five human beings utterly dependent on me. I put up a brave face for them when they were around. At night I cried myself to sleep. My children only had one childhood and I wasn’t going to screw that up…. and slowly we started counting our blessings.
They continue to be the single most important thing in my life. Our lives were a strange dance of extreme highs and very low lows but through all that, I did for my children what I would have liked others to do for me. I encouraged them from day 1 to grasp opportunities with both hands even if it meant me running between a ballet, soccer, hockey and drama class. I would do it again. I educated all five of them, and they all hold down professional jobs (barring the youngest who is currently at university). I have taught them values which have held them in good stead as they journey through their own adult lives. More than that, my connection with my children transcends any petty disagreement we may have on any given day, because they are relationships cemented in trust, honesty and love. In my eldest daughter’s words “I remember a time when it felt like we were in a bubble”. What she was referring to was the space we had created for our children to thrive in-a safe and happy space where they were unaffected by the turbulent nature of the world around them.
Ironically, in 2006 when we were at our most stable as a family, I was swept off my feet and married for a second time. I so desperately wanted to fill the void left by my larger-than-life late husband that I missed the red flags. I wanted to recreate that happy bubble. 5 months later this marriage was dissolved. I was left spiritually, emotionally and financially broken, and physically incapable of functioning properly. I felt like I was dying a slow death, and remember thinking death would take all the pain away. In a matter of months, I had “given” away everything that I had worked for and had placed my childrens’ lives and my own in jeopardy. I felt guilty and ashamed for what I regarded to be my mistake. My kids held onto me and breathed life back into me. It remains as the most destructive period in my life but one that’s taught me the most lessons.
Since 2009, I’ve experienced a series of losses of close family members, my father and 3 siblings, and my beloved cat. In 2009, my youngest daughter was also diagnosed with diabetes, and later lipodystrophy. I struggled to focus on my private practice, and by 2010, I had stopped working completely and took time out. But each loss took its emotional toll on me. In July 2017, a mere 7 months after my sister and close confidante had passed away, I was involved in a horrific car accident. I remember one of my children jokingly asking the next day if I had time to say a last prayer. My last thought, in fact, as the truck continued to plough deeper into the driver’s side of my car was “Is this how it’s going to end??” Hell no! I wasn’t ready yet!!
We all had a moment in life when everything clicked in, and we were blessed with guidance. –
How exactly the Sleekgeek Group landed on my Facebook feeds, I have no idea. But shortly after this incident, I started seeing posts of people getting their lives together here on Sleekgeek. I think there may have been an influx of posts from the Winter 8-Week challenge.
I was intrigued. I felt like I was given another chance, and being deeply spiritual, saw this as my sign. I had accumulated a considerable amount of excess weight between 2015-2017 which left me feeling uncomfortable and inadequate.
I wanted to lose as much weight as Yajna Kilawan, and transform my body as much as Hermien Elago did! Needless to say, I did neither.
Instead I joined the 30 Days Healthy Habits challenge. It was a simple enough exercise and there was no pressure. For the first time in ages, I was able to do something purely for myself and to my surprise, I lost 3 kgs. During this time, I celebrated my 57th birthday and chose a hiking trip over cake and tea. I was horrified when I saw the photos taken on our hike. My determination grew and soon I had signed up for my first Sleekgeek Summer8-Week challenge with Team Leader Jana du Toit, who literally held my hand all the way through. What a positive experience that was.
During this8-Week challenge I quit sugar completely and cut back on my carbs. I tried to make healthier food choices wherever possible, cut out fizzy drinks completely and substituted it with water. I also tried to walk as much as possible as I was fairly inactive until this point. Another 9kg loss felt fantastic but what I valued most was the positive changes in my mindset and mental wellbeing.
In recent years I felt worn down by life and responsibilities but here I was getting excited about life again. The daily affirmations from my children and others who supported me on my journey, especially on Sleekgeek, made the journey easy. I never felt alone. I recently completed my second challenge and although this challenge didn’t go according to plan, I did lose more weight. I managed to maintain my weightloss since the first challenge by making healthy choices in everything I do, whether they be related to food or exercise or setting boundaries on what or who I will allow into my space.
The last challenge has seen me take charge of my journey. From being a solitary Sleek at parkruns to initiating my own daily walk with other Sleeks in my neighbourhood, and networking with other like-minded ‘Sleeks’ (I wasn’t aware that there were so many just up the road from me)…I know you all have my back and value your support.
What I love most about my journey is having reconnected with the ‘old’ me. I discovered that I was at a point where I was becoming complacent with a mediocre existence, and having transformed my life, my energy has now shifted for the better.
For some years now, I had allowed myself to be distracted from focussing on myself, and my life had become less purpose-driven. I had subconsciously shelved my plans to start my own massage therapy practice. In the past few months, I have set up practice and I am ready to go!
Here are a few tips that helped me along my journey.
- There’s no better time than NOW to make your first move. Procrastination only makes matters worse as the voice in your head doesn’t go away anyway.
- Live your life with authenticity. The more real YOU are with yourself, the easier it gets to attract realness into your life.
- Live out your dreams and dream big. You can do anything you set your mind to. At 57, I’m living my best life.
- Take small steps and build on that. From struggling to do 2000 steps at the start of my journey, I now do daily walks covering many kilometres. I have also recently joined a gym close to home
- Focus on yourself. Don’t worry about someone else’s progress. Ensure you get to the finish line.
- You are not alone. Embarking on a life-changing journey can be extremely daunting. Network with other like-minded people. The help and support I’ve received from fellow Sleeks as well as family and friends, has been invaluable and makes it so much more fun.
- Keep it simple. I don’t allow myself to become overwhelmed and lose focus. Have a simple plan and stick to it.
- The more you give, the more you receive. My children and I are involved in various charities. It gives us purpose and keeps us humble.
The past 9 months feel like a re-birth. Before joining Sleekgeek, I was weighed down by lots of sadness. I have learnt to let go of the past and move on, and I am immensely grateful for having this community to support me.
May we all continue to uplift and inspire!