The telephone, the handgun and the pole dancing Muslim Woman

24 Feb

I received a phone call from my cousin several years ago. She informed me that her younger sister had been admitted into the Priory Hospital, a low secure unit for people with Mental Health issues or illnesses such as self-harm, eating disorders, alcohol or drugs misuse, anger management. Could I visit her as I appeared to have a good understanding of her “issues”? I said I would and immediately made my way to the hospital in question.

My cousin appeared to be slightly sedated and did not seem to comprehend the reason behind her being “incarcerated”. All she could say was that she was at work one day, had flared up with anger and frustrations and had an outburst at one of her colleagues, which appeared to be out of character. My cousin, when normally presented to us at the family home, had usually appeared to be very docile, passive and placid with people.

As I had not seen her for several years, all I knew was that she had married an Egyptian man of her choice. A man she had met over the internet. I didn’t know much about him and neither did my family. Nor did her own family, truth be told.
So. My cousin informed me that her “marriage was on the rocks” and she was trying to salvage what she could. She had tried to hold her emotions in check she said and did not wish to disclose her feelings or emotions with anyone. She just realised something was happening to her mindset when she could not concentrate at work and had to repeat requests and tasks several times over. It all became unbearable when her manager asked her to do something and my cousin retaliated in anger. She didn’t mean to hurt or upset anyone. It was an emotional pressure cooker. She had just exploded at the wrong person. She meant to direct her anger at her husband. Her parents, when informed of her “difficulties” were trying to be very supportive but didn’t quite appear to understand her predicament. As always, they tried to protect their young daughter from harm. Everything will be alright, they assured her.

“You don’t understand”, she said. “My marriage is failing, I have failed and I have failed my parents. I’ve lost all hope to live”.

After several weeks or was it months? It’s hard to tell…it was a very stressful time. After treatment, therapy and medication, my cousin was eventually discharged back into the community. She returned home to her husband and everything appeared to be okay. However, all was not as it seemed as her husband decided to go on holiday – back to Egypt – for a week and when he returned, he told her he couldn’t live a lie anymore, packed his bags and walked out.

 “I knew it was going to happen”, she said, “It was just a matter of time, and when, what or how…”

The outcome was two fold: On the one side, it offered her independence and at last, for her, so she said, a sense of freedom.
“Freedom from what?” I asked.

She divulged the fact that in her opinion, he was very domineering and abusive. She cited recent examples of how he tried to control her life, telling her how to dress , wear the scarf on her head, not cut her hair, not approving of her long term friendships, not picking her up from her support groups or abandoning her alone when she happened to be two minutes late coming out of her meetings. He’d rather she stayed at home, cook decent meals although they seemed to manage to consume a large number of takeaways, visit low graded restaurants or cafes, or eat at her parents as she admitted to being a “hopeless cook”, iron his clothes and carry out all the household duties. This is a role that my cousin knew she could never fulfil and had no inclination to be the obliging Muslim wife. After all, she said, I’m born and bred in the UK, I’m an intelligent, educated British Asian woman and my mind is full of Western cultural beliefs, outlook and opinions. I couldn’t dispute her logic and agreed that a partnership or relationship should strive to of equal balance.

But it did not stop him accepting the fact that she had to work at several different jobs in order to maintain him and pay for his academic courses or degree to train as a pharmacist…

She also admitted that in 5 years of marriage, she could not, or they could not, consummate their marriage. This was an issue that was discussed. Could this have been the reason for the failing or strains within their relationship? This was a question poised many times but hardly drew adequate or satisfying responses.

Needless to say, this did not stop my cousin from exploring her sense of self, her sexuality, sexual orientation or identity. After her husband left, she began to believe that she was either frigid or had lesbian tendencies. No wonder he didn’t fancy me, she said. I didn’t give enough…
So. She started going clubbing on her own, explored the nightlife, frequented gay nighclubs in the hope of being chatted up or finding a female companion, although she found some men “so fit and hot – but GAY!” and attended several pole dancing classes in the City Centre. Although she said the other attendees were of similar age, they were fitter, leaner, more supple, flexible and dedicated to use the pole with skill and determination.

Bearing in mind, my cousin was still, effectively, under the care of a mental health Psychiatrist and on medication. She did not meet anyone nor did she attempt to strike up a friendship or relationship. She was merely reacting to her frustrations, anxieties and belief that she was unwanted, unloved and undesirable. She was looking for her “ideal companion or just wanted someone to love”. She was reacting to major life stressors.
One day, whilst at home, she went upstairs to her bedroom. Before she knew it, she could smell smoke and realised that her kitchen was on fire and smoke was bellowing up the stairs and began to choke her. She managed to climb out the window and stood on the roof of her porch. The fire service and police arrived and she was taken care of. She was temporarily re-housed in a small flat, not too far from her parents. Her coping mechanisms were put to the test.

She was invited to a fancy dress party. She went as a cowgirl. She had bought a cheap, plastic toy gun but did not think it authentic enough. She then went out and bought a BB airgun from a toy warehouse. She had no intention of using it, but as she had experienced two major life changing events in her life – an estranged husband and the marital home almost grazed to the ground – it came as no surprise that when she visited her Psychiatrist, to review or renew her medication/prescription, she was calling out for help when she said she was having negative, vengeful thoughts and produced the bb gun, still sealed in its box, and placed it on the desk of the professional.

The Mental Health Consultant, in his or her capacity or professional assessment or opinion, rather than query to find answers to what was going on, saw a bespectacled, South Asian Muslim woman, wearing a headscarf tightly bound around her head, and clothes that appeared to restrain a plump body, pressed the alarm, called in two security men and had my cousin, who would not, could not hurt a fly, had her sectioned for “being a risk to self, being in possession of a handgun to use for criminal intent and harming others”.

Now, tell me. What would you do?


The Learned Kat


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