Completed Cycles, Confidence Crashes, and Career Changes

This month's update has been a little later than I expected because October has brought a whirlwind of emotions and change, that I needed a couple of days to process everything. This month, I had started back at my part-time job, took part in another panel discussion and started a training programme with the UN focusing on Sustainable Development Goals. I also put to bed my master's degree!

It has been a month of short highs and difficult lows, as I also experienced some of the biggest confidence knocks and darkest mental health days that I have ever known.

To start off with the good stuff, early in the month I received my grades back for my masters! It was around nine in the morning and I was walking to work, and saw that some of my friends had their marks back. I was in two minds about checking because did I really want to be sad all day if I didn't do well, but the impatient side of me just checked and when I saw my grades I jumped up in the middle of the street I was so happy. It meant that my dissertation, the piece of research which meant so much to me on a personal level had been a good piece of work.

But, more so the best thing about the day was seeing all my friends do well and be so happy with what they had acheived because it was a difficult year and a difficult course. I say this all the time, and I acknowledged it in my dissertation that if it wasn't for the amazing bunch of people I met on that course I would not have made it through the entire thing.

It was a bittersweet ending because there was all this happiness and cause for celebration but we couldn't celebrate together. But, I did get to celebrate with my family which was really nice and felt like I had actually completed my degree.

There was, however, the existential dread that followed of not having a full-time grad job. In the weeks after, I began to feel lost and unsuccessful, like I had just completed my masters yet was still in a part-time retail job. Now, in the pandemic situation, I am so grateful that I have this and a company that really takes care of its staff. But, it was also hard to grapple with mentally because of the perceptions I had last year on what I thought finishing my masters would lead to.

Just to feel like I had acheived something more I began applying to any and every full-time position just so I would have more to do with my days. But, now reflecting on it I need to do something that fulfills me and accept that this will take a little longer given the world we are living in right now. And that is something I think everyone who has just graduated needs to remember, I know it's hard to sometimes, but we all need to be a little kinder to ourselves.

In this time period, and the looming second national lockdown was where my mental health took a massive hit. It first started with feeling exhausted all the time, and the lack of sleep. I would be overthinking every little thing from lack of success, the future, my relationships to nitpicking at my appearance. It would keep me up until I eventually fell asleep, but I would wake up three to four times in the night reliving the same cycle. Then these behaviours slowly began to affect my physical health as I lost my appetite and had constant headaches.

It wasn't until I actually allowed myself to feel everything I had been ignoring and actually cry it out multiple times to myself, and to one of my closest friends and basically older sister that I began to feel better. I started sleeping better, slowly began to feel my appetite return and overall feeling less anxious about myself and the world.

Some of the things that really helped, were new things that entered my life this month. One being the Young Humanists panel on 'Renouncing Religion,' which really affirmed to me how important is to talking about leaving faith, particularly as a woman from a Pakistani Muslim background. There are very few of us to exist, or at least exist publicly, and to share my story as one of the more positive ones regarding leaving religion. But, it was also speaking to others and learning about what it was like to leave Orthodox Judaism and the new research into the psychological effects of leaving religion and how that affects apostate wellbeing.

This combined with my masters research really gives me the motivation to research and map the relationship between lack of religious freedom and how that affects women's rights movements across the world, and their ability to communicate their stories to the world. Hopefully, that is something I can work towards forming a concrete idea in the next year.

One of the most exciting things has been this new Sustainable Development programme that I got accepted onto recently. It focuses on the UN's 17 Sustainable Development Goals, which will allow me to be a part of actual change in my local community, as well as equipping me with the skills and tools to make a change in the causes I am passionate about. It will be a little difficult because of coronavirus restrictions and everything now online, but I am optimistic about what can be acheived and excited to learn again.

Overall, it has been a busy month with some difficult days, but it has ended on real positives and November is looking hopeful despite the second national lockdown. I have managed to catch up with my best friends, and I have now moved back in with my family for the lockdown which I am grateful I have been able to do and have the company because I do miss them quite a lot. I am excited about the new opportunities that have come my way and very, very excited for the direction The Amber Journals is heading in, with three new contributors so you are not just stuck with me anymore! They are so talented and have such a diverse range of stories and ideas that they want to talk about. I just can't wait to share them with you all.

Here is to hoping we can end the year a little better than it started off.

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