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On Building Mental Fortitude

Mental Health is something I worry about a lot as I have a natural predisposition to anxiety and depression. When whatever happened happened in June, my main concern was to minimize its impact on my life as much as I can. Especially now that I’ve turned into the cliched millennial back in my parents’/brothers’ extra bedroom (Thank God it’s not the basement). I’m listing down the things that have helped so far;

– Supportive family and friends. When your life turns upside down, it’s very easy to want to hide away and just disconnect from everyone. Maybe you feel ashamed or don’t want to appear in a weak position lest other people judge you, but the truth is, you can’t go through something like this alone.

Okay, maybe you can, but the road is just going to be harder so why do that to yourself?

The thing I’ve learnt recently was to not be afraid to ask for help when you need it. Brene Brown says that “To be vulnerable and dare greatly you must be comfortable asking for help. When you cannot ask for help without self-judgment, you are never really offering help without judgement.”

Now of course, who you ask for help from is important and is a function of the quality of your relationships.

– A positive mental attitude. One thing that makes some people sad is the discrepancy between what is and what could have been. In the context of my story, ‘What could have been’ was me settled in a good job, making good money, getting good experience…especially since it was not the job that I didn’t get – it was just the visa.

‘What is’ is me sitting in Java House because there’s no power at home, checking out job application websites in a country whose educational and work systems I’ve never navigated before. While someone else might think ‘what is’ is sad, it’s not, because the upside of today’s ‘what is’ is me turning to the person next to me to ask if the wifi was connecting on her laptop only to start an awesome 30 minute conversation that wouldn’t have stopped if it weren’t for the fact that we really had work to do.

The reason we connected so fast was because we share a few common things;
– She just returned to Kenya after 15 years in the US
– The power was also out at her place, and she needed the wifi for a deadline as well
**Shoutout to Jackie**

When my parents left Kenya for the UAE 37 years ago, it was because they believed the grass was greener on the other side, but as a Kenyan influencer once tweeted;

So whenever someone brings up the whole ‘what could have been’ conversation I shut it down because it’s just a waste of cognitive energy. I gave myself 2 weeks to talk about it but now I don’t even mention it again.

– Gratitude. Another thing I try to do is take a few moments every morning to be grateful. I’m grateful for the 3 decades living in the Middle East to begin with. I picked up an extra language. I picked up great friends who are now spread across the world. I’m grateful for all the opportunities that were opened for me in that country. Now I’m grateful to be surrounded by a loving, supporting family, and I’m grateful that one of my friends is flying over for a visit this weekend.
Most importantly I’m grateful for my love of reading and for the books I still haven’t opened on my Kindle.

The books that are helping build my mental fortitude;

Option B by Sheryl Sandberg and Adam Grant that’s teaching me such a hardship is not personal, permanent, or pervasive. Whatever happened does not diminish me in any way. It gives me a chance to go through a post-traumatic growth.
Obstacle is the Way by Ryan Holiday that’s making me reframe this experience to the inciting incident of a story where I’m the heroine. The way I react to this moment will help shape and define me so what matters next is I stop whining, and I make the best of the situation.
– Another book I’m reading is Walden by Henry David Thoreau. To be honest, I don’t know why I’m still reading this book. I think it’s crazy for someone to go and live in a cabin in the middle of the woods (without wifi) and write entire chapters titled, “Sounds,” “The Bean-Field,” “The Ponds.” However, every time I say I’ll stop reading it, I find a line that resonates with me, and I continue reading.

Most importantly, I try to write every day. Even if I don’t post every day, at least I try to put pen to paper or finger to keyboard. I write to process my feelings. I write to extract the pearls of wisdom from every situation and I also try to share the insights I gain during this experience, in hopes it’ll help them if they ever face such a situation.



Published inBooksPersonal DevelopmentQuarter-life crisis
  • Deep; it’ll be great to hear about your experiences settling back at home some day. Stay strong.

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  • Hanan

    I find it difficult to keep a positive attitude when things go wrong, but sometimes the best things happen when plans fail. Planning is naturally short-sighted because we can only plan as far as we see/know, but still they make us feel safe and in control, and it’s hard not to be attached to them. I love your attitude, especially about focusing on the “what is” and making the best out of it. Also, Walden sounds great. I’ve always wanted to disconnect and live in the woods without wifi and think about sounds and bean fields 🙂

    • Yeah, you’ve always struck me as the live-in-the-woods kind of person. Thanks for reading. Sorry didn’t update you on everything. I had to leave in a rush