Why we shouldn’t be ashamed of expressing our feelings

"For the first time in my life I was able to see my own flesh and bone."

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By Aisha Al Qahtani

One of the most challenging times I’ve ever experienced occurred last year. There was construction going on in my home. Pieces of glass were moved up and down the stairs by the workers.  I wasn’t wearing a pair of shoes in the middle of the chaos. A piece of glass carried by one of the workers slipped from his hands, and before I knew it the piece landed on my toe and deeply cut it.

I stood there in shock as I bled excessively. For the first time in my life I was able to see my own flesh and bone. I pressed a piece of cloth against my foot and rushed to the hospital. 

Naturally, I was very emotional. I was home alone that day, and my family wasn’t close. I knew that this incident would mean so many things beyond a severed toe. It meant that I would not be able to walk properly, and I knew that it meant my life will be altered for a while. I wouldn’t be able to depend on my feet to run or bike. I also knew that I would definitely need surgery, something that I had never undergone before, and the idea of which  frightened me to my very core.

As I sat in the waiting area of the emergency room, I fought to hold back my tears, to appear gathered and collected, as I was always taught to be, in public. I breathed heavily, and was shaking with emotions. An elderly lady spotted me, and came and sat next to me. She placed her warm hand on my shoulder and asked me what was wrong. I told her that I felt choked, and just wanted to cry.

She smiled and asked me to cry, telling me that I should. “You’re a human and you’re in pain. Cry as much as you want to!” she advised. Her words were a password that unlocked a door that was shut for a long.

And cry I did. I cried the entire day I was at the hospital. I cried at the operating theatre and when I had left the day after. At some points I didn’t know why I was wailing, but I knew I had to. It was years of bottling up necessary emotions that I should’ve expressed a long time ago. 

As members of Arab societies, we often place so much emphasis on appearing strong and put together. Even if the world around us is crumbling down, we know how to put on a smile and carry ourselves well. Though this teaches us to handle tough situations very well, with time, we slowly forget how to feel necessary emotions. We forget that it’s absolutely fine to cry, that it’s not a sign of weakness.

As I slowly recovered, and my scars began to fade, I promised myself to express myself more freely and not be ashamed from displaying my emotions. If something bothered me, I would discuss it then and there. If doing something saddened me, then I would stop doing it, and wouldn’t delay the matters any longer.

As an emotional person, I display my emotions publicly even though it wasn’t how I was brought up . It’s who I am. Being emotional is also a sign of compassion, of empathy, and that I care about something, and above all that I shouldn’t be ashamed of showing my humanity.

A few months ago, Emirati social influencer Mthayel Al Ali’s interview with Anas Bukhash on his YouTube channel, went viral, and the reason why so many viewers related to the interview is because Mthayel did something that many in Arab societies weren’t accustomed to. Sitting on the single arm chair, Mthayel showed everyone how vulnerable she was. She cried when she needed to, discussed her therapy journey, paused when she needed to take a deep breath, and spoke about her personal life and her feelings toward it. Mthayel reminded thousands of people across the Arab world, that they shouldn’t be ashamed of their vulnerability, that they aren’t robots, that it’s all right to feel lost, and that it’s absolutely fine to cry if you feel like it.

As we go through these challenging times, and try to navigate through the piles of thoughts and emotions, I hope that you too find a way to truly express yourself, and to never hold back from sharing your emotions.

Aisha Al Qahtani is a Saudi writer. This is her first published article.

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