Many times we don’t suffer from life’s tests but from the repeated sadness from the unhealed scars which those tests left on our souls. It’s essential to find a remedy to recover from the scars, because like a pretty girl doesn’t want a small scar to ruin her beauty, our souls want to be liberated from the old wounds and shine again.
My name is Fatimah Abdulghafur Seyyah, I am from a distant and mysterious land called East Turkistan. I live in Sydney with my husband. I am a geoscientist, a writer, a poetess, a holistic healing advocate, and a volunteer social worker. I am both excited and nervous to speak to you; I am excited because it’s the first time I am sharing my life’s jewels with colorful audiences like you are, the reason I am nervous is that I am afraid to bore you out with my melancholic stories. Anyways, to convey my soul’s calling of connecting with more souls, I’ll share a couple of stories with you.
Life is like a big sack filled with colored balls. It’s such a magical sack that it gifts us with random balls. On one hand, if the white ball is easy and successful in life, sometimes we get white balls one after another to fill our lives with happiness, success and decorates our souls like a shiny pearl. On the other hand, if the black ball is the symbol of hardships, it jumps out from time to time from the sack to pull us down. Some of the black balls may come to us as the permanent loss of our loved ones and some show us the temporary failure in our career. At times the black ball may have the form of bad health and at times it reveals itself as a mistake we made. Nevertheless, no one is immune to the surprise balls that life sack throw at us and I am no exception, here is my story.
Until mid-2016, I was a geoscientist living with my first husband in the United States of America. I’ve just finished up my four long days of Ph.D. candidacy exam and excited to get my degree in 2 or even a year and a half. My days were busy walking between the lab and my office as I was full of hope for a better future. My abusive ex-husband’s mood seemed to be more stable and our roller-coaster marriage life was finally felt not so turbulent anymore. I was semi-drunk with the forefeeling of our good future and expecting to receive some white balls from life. Unfortunately, a black ball just hit my forehead hard: I’ve come to know that my ex-husband had been committing an unforgivable mistake during our marriage.
At the very moment I heard the news, the whole world has shut down on me; there is only peace, no noise, not even a bird chirping. The artificial peace lasted for several months, I could see people talking but couldn’t hear a word, especially any word coming out of my ex-husband’s mouth. I would sit speechless in my room staring at the blank wall for hours. It feels like the magical sack had been broken and all the balls had spilled on my soul’s floor, I was the clumsy clown in saggy clothes who was stepping on the balls and falling down with her messy hair, a colorful face filled with tears and scars. The poor clown had to perform to unknown audiences on the shattered stage of life. I wasn’t sure how long the play lasted but I came to my senses upon hearing a voice coming from the back of my head, ‘you should seek help!’. I stood up and went to my family doctor and told him everything I was going through and accepted his advice to see a psychological counselor.
I grew up in a place that there is no such profession called psychologist or counselor. We live together as a family and share each other’s sadness and happiness. We cry and laugh together. That’s why in the land with the purest water, bluest sky, and golden sands, I’ve never heard of a psychological counselor. I have always been an independent person with a strong personality who made my decisions based on logic, suggestions from my family and close friends. I was blossoming, or at least that’s how I saw myself. Because of this, it was hard for me to admit that I need ‘stranger's help and ‘counseling’ in my life. People in the East often do not openly talk about our feelings, we don’t talk hours about our ‘sick soul’, let alone openly admit our ‘weaknesses’ and find a ‘medical solution’ for them. We just ‘indicate’ randomly and casually about our life struggles at the dining desturxan (a type of dining arrangement with a piece of cloth is used as a dining table), at the family gatherings, at the wedding or funerals or on the phone conversations that don’t happen regularly. These indications often meet such responses like, ‘everything will be fine; be patient, or that’s how the fate is etc.’ We are also used to these kinds of ‘solutions’ and be content with the problems.
That’s why it was such a bumpy journey for me to sit one-on-one and talk and analyze the unfortunate balls that life’s magic sack threw at me. Or should I say, opening up my hidden sack was not easy? Eastern people like and tend to think as a group, unlike the Westerners, we don’t concentrate too much on ‘I’ or ‘me’. (that’s why iPhone wasn’t invented in the East, just kidding). This no ‘I’ cultural context made it double uneasy for me to only talk about myself and made me feel like I am a selfish dude. My feeling was soothed under the patient guidance of Jane, a 70-year-old gentlelady who offered psychological help combined with a spiritual component. She made me realize that there is nothing selfish to work on ourselves to become a better version of ourselves and I was brave enough to be opened up and work the hard feelings through to a healthier future.
During our conversations, Jane informed me about the various forms of trauma and domestic violence and their effects on my psychological and physiological health. She offered detailed plans on how to come out of the trauma as a stronger and more resilient person with a deeper understanding and appreciation of life. She also suggested me to have a healthy diet, trying out the energy healing, to think about my safety, and not stay in an unhealthy relationship that would only harm me more in the future. After learning about what happened to me, the knowledge empowered me to make the right decision about my ex-marriage and inspired me to have a lead a better and healthier life. I got divorced from the abusive ex-husband despite of his threats of taking my life if I got divorced from him. But I stood by my decision and with complicated feelings, became a divorcee.
As I mentioned earlier, we Easterners have a strong family environment that shares pretty much every decision. When the decision was made, I was anxious about what my family would say about it. In our culture, people don’t get a divorce easily, on the contrary, they try to make things out and spend the rest of their lives together. Although it’s good for many normal families, for many abusive relationships it’s the main factor of life-long unhappiness. I had to tell my divorce decision to my family and ask for their suggestions. Sadly, I wasn’t lucky enough to deal with the darkest and coldest black ball of my life with my family: my loving and wise mother, my fearless father, my kind brother, and my intelligent sister who understands every shiver of my soul. I couldn’t talk to them and couldn’t listen to their suggestions, their comfort, and love when I faced the divorce alone a million miles away from home.
I wasn’t lucky at all, not because my family wouldn’t talk to me if I wanted to get divorced but all of our communications were forcefully cut off since 2017. It’s not also because they lived in a remote village without internet and phones, but on the quiet opposite, because they were Uyghurs and they had to be locked up at the concentration camps because of their identity. My parents, brother, and sister all born and lived in Kashgar city in East Turkistan, a land my 70 generations were born, lived, and poured their heart and soul to it. My family spoke the Uyghur language, lead an Uyghur way of life, ate Uyghur food, and kept the Uyghur culture. However, life also hit them with the blackest ball in the name of genocide, along with other 4.5 million Uyghurs, my whole family has been taken to secret camps and prisons by the Chinese Communist Party. They couldn’t pick up my phone when I want to cry, they couldn’t tell me how much they miss me, I couldn’t tell them how much I love them and want to be with them during mine and theirs dark times. Because they have lost their personal freedom and right to be human beings and facing the unknown future in the camps. In the 21st century where we can find anything and everything on google, living in one of the most developed countries the USA, I couldn’t find my family in one of the Boss countries, China. Yes, I lost my family when I needed them the most. They lost me when they needed me the most also.
It seems like the black balls out of the magical sack are never-ending, but I had to continuously search for the white or colorful balls. After a year of seeing Jane, believing that God loves me and He has a plan for everyone, eating a healthy diet, going on vacation, and getting a final court judgment on the divorce I have recovered a great deal than before. My trust in people and relationship has been slowly but surely coming back and my heart was filled with the light of the beauty of having a family again. In hardships where we can’t reach to the white ball, it’s our good friends that encourage us and show us the way to gain happiness again. One of my American friends told me about her first marriage and showed me how happy she is in her present marriage. I was avoiding everyone and all the social occasions after the marriage and felt ashamed of myself even though I clearly understood I did the right thing. When I shared my thoughts with Jane, she told me that these are normal feelings after a divorce and it’s not a shameful act to be my own captain, and I am not as ‘weak and bad’ woman as I thought I was. Soon, I recovered my relationship with my old friends and felt much more connected and less isolated.
It’s not all about black balls in life’s sack. At times, we are surprised with rainbow-color balls. I was getting much better with pink cheeks and a better mood, that’s when I met my present husband. After having numerous deep conversations and communications, I’ve got to know him better, he is a resilient, reasonable, and loving person with practical knowledge of psychology and high emotional intelligence. I realized I was steadily in love with this amazing human being and quit my Ph.D. research to arrive at Sydney to be with him. We have a harmonious and peaceful life which I would love so much to share with my family back in East Turkistan; I wish to call my family and tell my mom not to worry about me anymore and tell my father that he should be proud of himself for raising a resilient daughter, to tell my brother that I am doing fine and tell my sister how much I miss her. Every time we visit the beautiful beaches and peacefully rest under the palm trees, I think of the whereabouts of my family: what ugly places have they been taken to? What dark spaces are hiding them? And how disturbed they are should be by stripped off their personal freedom for not committing any crime but for being an Uyghur?
I am aware that I am not alone in this struggle, everyone I met in Australia has the same tragic story: they all are missing one or more family members in East Turkistan and everyone is suffering from mental health issues caused by the trauma. Uyghurs all over the world leave comments on my pieces about their deteriorated mental health situation and ask for help and solutions. When we are weakened in life, it usually sends us people as a gift to give us strength. My husband is such a gift from God to me in the dark days of my life. He not only takes detailed care of every aspect of my life but also helps me to recover from the old emotional scars and wounds. When I told him about my personal sufferings, I also mentioned the commonality of the issue among Uyghurs. He suggested me to share my experience and knowledge on trauma and recovery with a wide audience to help my community. I took his advice and prepared eight serial lectures on trauma and recovery and translated it into Uyghur language to present it on the Uyghur Internet TV. Thousands of audiences have seen the videos and it helped to raise awareness on the importance of mental health especially in a time of crisis. It helped people to normalize the help-seeking process and take away the stigma of being a ‘crazy person for asking for help. To minimize the cultural differences, I wrote and published many pieces on the similarities and differences between the Eastern and Western ways of psychological healing and encouraged people it’s ok to see a Western psychologist. As a result, many write to me and tell me that they started seeking psychological help and how it’s helping to better their lives.
Helping others is another joy in my life. When the random black ball entered their lives, they need help the most from people like me. With this intention, I became a volunteer translator for the ‘Sydney Uyghur Women’s Group’ at the Trauma-Informed Yoga class organized by STARTTS. In the past year, I witnessed real changes in some women’s mental and physical health and decide to continue my volunteer services. Just recently, I was invited to be an interpreter for a 7-week Mindfulness class at STARTTS and we achieved great results upon finishing the class. I also delivered three speeches on the importance of mental health and identity to Uyghur teenagers.
I have a strong belief in the universality of a personal experience and expressing it through words has tremendous power. This is the reason for my poetry writing and publishing a collection in the Uyghur language last year in the United States and share it with my community. My poems speak about the trauma, about healing, about making a colorful ball out of a black ball, about depression, about the deepest uncertainties and suffering of the human soul. I hope my book helps my brothers and sisters who suffered trauma and gives them some hope for a change, a better chance.
Life is unpredictable, we are totally unaware of what life’s magical sack will pick us tomorrow. What we know is that there is always hope, there is always help; help from the mental health workers, from our good friends, from the loving family members, and from God who loves us. Let’s not forget, The dark is so rich and fertile, and so often underappreciated. It is in the depth of our darkness that we can see our light shine most brightly. Through deep self-care and awakening, we share more of our light, love, compassion, and healing with the world.
Dear friends, I don’t know what’s happening to my family at the moment, but I will not lose hope of a bright future: a future that we reunite with our families, a future that we come out of the cloudy depression, a future that there is no more trauma and suffering and a future that makes us see the white balls when life hits us with the black one. Thank you very much!