By Zahina Shah
Content Note: This post includes descriptions of a friend passing away from cancer and grief.
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Grief, an intangible feeling that words can’t describe. Everyday felt like trying to reach through the wide expanse of darkness, reaching towards something desperately to hold onto, like looking for the light switch in the dark. I didn’t know when I’d be able to untangle myself out of the feeling, everyday my thoughts felt like a violent disk of knots in my gut winding me further into grief.
During early 2018, my high school friend passed away from a rare type of cancer and being 17, turning 18, I had no clarity of my future. The feeling of loss is hard to describe, but it wasn’t just mentally painful, manifesting through my eczema and leaving me in physical agony. Eczema is usually manageable for most people, but the build up from the trauma of losing someone so close made it worse. It started to spread across my whole body due to an infection and formed thick rashes, flaring up every single night for two years. My sleep spiralled into severe insomnia, and for weeks the most I could manage was a nap that lasted an hour or so until it flared up again.
Whilst everyone was steadily furthering their education or deciding their career paths, I had no motivation towards anything. I dabbled in various courses but struggled to stay consistent because of how ill I had been feeling. Medications weren’t strong enough to work, or sometimes made it worse and caused me to doubt myself. I started to wonder if there was any way I would be able to recover, or if there was anything I could even do with my future.
One thing I managed to find enjoyment and passion in was writing, and during the nights I wasn’t able to sleep I stumbled across videos of powerful individuals sharing their stories through poetry. This encouraged me to write my own, and immediately after finishing a piece of work it filled me with a sense of contentment and power that I hadn’t experienced for a long time.
I started to search for places where I could share my poetry but grew disappointed that there weren’t many venues that were accommodating to Muslims, as they were usually held in bars and premises inaccessible for us. I knew for certain writing struck a fierce passion within me, and each time I had performed in front of an audience, the feeling of holding the microphone in my hand demanding attention from everyone to hear my voice was a surreal experience. Unfortunately, the events I could perform at were sparse and my family encouraged me to start thinking about education. I was adamant on studying literature at university, which I knew would be the best place for me to start. The fear of not knowing whether taking up education was the right thing to do was overwhelming, especially as a young Muslim woman where representation of women like myself in literature and publishing remains alarmingly low.
However, I knew if I decided not to pursue my passion further and strive to push for proper representation, then who else would? I was determined to make change, and the first thing that I had to start with was making space in my own community. After taking up my major I took up volunteering at the MSA (Muslim Students Association), which is a club catering for young Muslim students studying at university. I knew that contributing my time towards young people like me was the first step in creating space. This year we’ve decided to expand and open up a team dedicated to creating events and opportunities to elevate the voices and artistic talents of young Muslims in and out of university, which I will be leading as the head of the team.
I believe stories are one of the most impactful things an individual has to share with the world, and that everyone deserves the chance to have their voice heard. The lack of representation for people of colour in the literary industry is frustrating, considering the broad talent we have to offer. However, the power is still in your hands and is enough to light the world. The first thing is to have conviction in yourself, and more importantly, patience. The journey that you’re on now is special, and only belongs to you. There’s always a way for you to anchor it through believing in yourself and taking action.
Zahina is a 21-year-old student, currently studying English and Literary studies. She enjoys reading and is passionate about representation across media. You can find her on Instagram @literary.gardens
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