That decade

I guess I obsess a bit about the 1990s. That’s because it was my worst decade. That ten-year period, from beginning to end. Of course, many my age would say the same thing, since that was the period of our adolescence when we were all finding our feet. True, I imagine, to some degree.

Some might say, “But you found faith in that decade.” But that would be to imagine faith to be like paracetamol, taken in the morning when the hangover kicks in. In those early days, it was more like a glass of lukewarm water.

It’s true that I made lifelong relationships in those days, but it was mostly a period of alienation. From my family, mostly, but also from everyone around me. And my new companions on the path: lets just say I met some pretty unsavoury people back then.

My last year of secondary school was marked by me being pinned to the wall by my neck, feet off the floor, by a prefect who needed to show me my place after I resisted his attempt to victimise me.

My last year of university, six years later, was marked in exactly the same way, this time at the hands (literally) of a brother in faith, who also needed to show this upstart his place. Welcome to the faith, brother.

I had some pretty hideous experiences in that decade. In secondary school — at supposedly the best school in town — I’d learn what I was and all I would ever be: a lesson which has stayed with me all my adult life. Those experiences crushed my spirit.

Only one person ever seemed to pick up on my depression then: my form tutor when I started at sixth-form college, who referred me to a counsellor. Both prior to and after that, nobody thought to do anything about my evident low mood and clear anxieties, or what looked like the effects of an eating disorder.

I had long learnt not to speak of what was happening in my life, so I never told anyone about anything that happened during that decade. Experiences at school I just dealt with by setting myself a milestone to strive towards: that final GCSE exam, after which I would walk away with no goodbyes and never look back. “Screw you,” ringing in my heart.

I never spoke to anyone about what happened at college. I didn’t speak of my disintegrating relationships. Nobody seemed alarmed by my extreme anxiety. First refusing to learn to drive, then deciding not to apply to university, certain in the knowledge that I was destined to failure. I could not speak of the best friend who disappeared, or of a heart that got broken.

I never spoke of my intense despair in that period in Cambridge, That was the year I took up writing, because even if I had been able to articulate my feelings, I had no one to talk to at all. And then when I finally ended up at university, and history simply repeated itself all over again, it was the same again: my typing fingers would have to counsel me.

I think my parents were dreading the day I’d return home, coming out of the closet. For that was the narrative of my bullies through secondary school — set by student and teacher alike — and it seems my parents believed it. Indeed, it was invoked when I announced that I had become Muslim: that they would continue to love me unconditionally, regardless of what I was.

Wonderful, except that wasn’t what I was. This affirmative statement just hurt me even more, discovering that even my family believed the slanders that had caused me so much pain for years. Seriously, the harassment I had faced because of that lie was unrelenting.

Clearly my body revealed something about me. Even they saw what others saw, but none bothered to speak to me about it, to explore how I was feeling, or its impact on my life, which was immense. I too, innately, knew something was wrong with me. I hated my face, and my skeletal frame. Mostly I hated that I appeared to be unable to do anything about it.

So yes, the 1990s do occupy my thoughts a lot. They were truly the worst of times. Yes, they did carry me towards the light of faith. That search began in earnest just after I had smashed up my own face with a glass bottle, leaving it covered in bruises and scoured with scratches — but not even this seemed to alarm those around me.

I suppose that’s why I set out seeking the aid of the One alone. I suppose that’s why the One called me back.

Alhamdulilah, then 2001 came, and I was sent a life raft. With that companion at my side, the past two decades have seemed all ease. Ease in comparison to the 1990s, despite all the trials and tests we have been through. Only she could embrace me, with this diagnosis, my devoted friend and soulmate.

That decade was the crucible in which I was forged. The most horrible period of my life. But, alhamdulilah, perhaps there was good in all of that for me. Perhaps you hate a thing, but it’s good for you.

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