The puzzle: birthday reflections from a tired soul


As I write this, it’s approaching 11 p.m. It’s just a short while until my birthday. Technically, that milestone doesn’t actually begin until the afternoon of tomorrow….but who’s keeping track?

I’m writing this in a dark room – the lights are off because I’m hiding from my 5-year old. She had an afternoon nap…a power nap at the worst possible time…which means she’s full of energy now. Nobody else shares that verve, so she’s alone. She wandered in here – looking for attention – and I feigned sleep, because the second she sees me awake, she’ll want to play. Or eat (she does that a lot). Or make some or other demand. Which I’m usually happy to oblige…but not at this hour. Not when all I want is some time to reflect and write.

She left after a while, and now she’s sitting in the passage – playing alone.

I feel some pity for her, and would want to join her. But that would send the wrong message, prolong her night even more, and get me into trouble if (i.e. when) her mother finds out.

So it’s better to keep the lights off and write in the dark. Thank God for backlit keyboards 🙂


Anyway, so exactly 10 years ago, I wrote 28 . At that time, it was the first year of marriage, with no kids in sight. In fact, it was shortly before my wife fell pregnant – so it was pretty much the height of our ‘single’ married days.

For those of you who are newly married – please enjoy that time before the first pregnancy. You’ll need it….

Anyway…so the theme of that poem was gratitude. Gratitude to my Creator for taking me through my most challenging years, to a point where I was living the dream I had yearned for.

A decade later, and I’m in a different job – back where I want to be – for over six years. I’ve been on Hajj with my wife. We’ve moved house – now living here for more than eight years (which, I suspect, is at least the joint longest I’ve ever lived in one dwelling).

And,  of course, we have two kids – both of which are quite possibly autistic (to varying degrees).

What else has progressed, though, is my own writing. In these last ten years, my personal outputs (on this blog) have peaked, gone through a long drought, and found resurgence in the last two years. The creative expressions – the poems – come from time to time, which I’m grateful for, after many years of fearing they’d permanently dried up.

The book – the compilation of what I consider my best writing from these 12 years – is now nearing completion.

And, thankfully, one of my long-held goals – which I’d pretty much given up on – is being fulfilled: nine years ago – while depressed by the stagnation of a dead-end job that stifled my soul – I longed for more creative space and time, and a full-time position writing what I wanted to write.

Now, I’m finally getting paid from that kind of writing. The freelance gig has been good to me – Alhamdullilah.

A burden too heavy

Over a year ago, I took on a role as trustee in our complex. That turned into a leadership role after a while – which I reluctantly took on.

Earlier this year, I escaped the stresses of that position. I had initially taken it on with the hopes of doing something positive for my home environment and the people here. And I hope I made some positive contribution in my time….but I couldn’t continue.

It was too draining. Not so much in terms of time – though that was heavy in periods. But mostly psychologically: this burden – these pressures – of governance, when I didn’t have the qualifications, knowledge, nor strong support to make it work as I wanted it to.

To have to drive a team of what were effectively unpaid volunteers – who all meant well, but realistically, could not put in the time, effort, or professionalism required to make the venture a roaring success.

So I bowed out – despite their pleas for me to stay. I didn’t want the mental chains anymore. I can’t just sit in a position and do a half-ass job. I can’t be careless and just get by doing the minimum.

That was motivation enough. But the cherry on top was the constant threat of an old adversary who found reason to attack again near the end of my term. So it became abundantly clear that I needed to move on.

And they’re fine without me, as far as I can tell.

Which is a life lesson, actually: we should never ascribe too much importance to ourselves or our contributions. If we leave, life goes on. People adapt, move on, and get on with what needs to be done. I’m not saying I feel I was particularly good at what I did…not at all. But as the ‘leader’, it was an important role. But one that others could do. And they have done…without any disasters.

No thriving when you’re barely surviving

Three years back, I wrote this – reflecting on where I was at that age, and hoping for wisdom and greater maturity to dawn on me as I approached the milestone of 40. I’m still two years off that, but not feeling much wiser. Not in abundance, at least…but just in little ways.

I guess I’ve just been weighed down by life. Family issues. And never-ending life admin – which is even more burdensome with the younger child growing up and taking on more.

My health is far from what it should be. Exercise is pretty sporadic – despite a strong intention not that long ago to be more consistent. Sleeping hours are consistently shorter than what should be healthy and normal…because I use these late night hours to write. And play. And indulge in entertainment – which I can’t when the kids are awake. I need those outlets to enjoy myself. To have fun. To release things from within.

I classify all of the above as ‘health’ – and you would think I’m getting sick a lot, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. In the last 15 months, I’ve taken just one sick day from work. Haven’t been to the doctor once in that entire period. Alhamdullilah.

It’s a proactive management of the infection that I know I’m most prone to…so I catch it early, and fight it hard.

And yet despite that, I feel I’m doing my body a huge disservice. I’m not taking care of it like I should. Life is just too…full. Too much. There’s just too much happening. Too many demands. I don’t prioritise my body because I don’t see it as urgent.

It will probably take an extreme health event to shake me out of that. Because I can’t proactively do it. Not now. Not while things are as they are.

I know I should be better. I should try more. But I just don’t have the mental energy for that.

People can talk about self-empowerment and being active, etc…but I feel like those people, while meaning well, just don’t understand. They cannot understand. Because they don’t have the issues I do. The particular never-ending demand and stress which drains me most. Stresses which are hard enough to deal with internally – but exacerbated when they cause problems with other people…in other critical relationships outside the home.

So it feels like – for the last few years – I’m mostly in ‘survival mode’…unable to move higher. To where I can actually achieve more than just getting by.

And I don’t say all of this claiming that I’m facing the world’s toughest problems. I don’t say all of this to complain. Not at all. Everyone has stresses and challenges. These are the vicissitudes of life we all have to face.

Others have it far worse: outwardly and inwardly. I think of the horrific starvation the people of Yemen are facing. The never-ending wars faced by the people of Syria and Palestine. The genocidal terror faced by the people of Myanmar. The extreme infringement of religious rights faced by the Muslims in China and elsewhere. And internally, people with mental and psychological challenges live through a silent hell every day.

I’m far better off. And I thank God I’m not tested like they are. And I pray that their reward is abundant – as compensation for all they have to endure in this world.

But just because others face worse, it doesn’t mean you dismiss or diminish the magnitude of your own struggles. Because to do so would be to deny the legitimacy of your own battles. Battles which were handpicked for you. Put in your path to teach you. Strengthen you. Build you.

The puzzle comes together slowly

So I guess my final thought here is that while it’s difficult, it’s all worth it. Looking back on the last decade helps me see – acknowledge – the growth…the advancement. It’s important to do that. To not just dwell in the present – wallowing in the trials – and not live in fear of what hardship the future may hold. But to look to the past, see the progress, and know that it’s all part of a bigger puzzle which I’ll only see much later.

Though this post was more a personal milestone reflection, thank you to those who read until the end. I hope you took something beneficial out of it.

It was pretty heavy, too, so here’s something uplifting to lighten the mood:


And in case you’re wondering about the opening picture, that’s what my daughter was playing with earlier on. I’m happy to report that she’s now fast asleep 🙂

3 thoughts on “The puzzle: birthday reflections from a tired soul

  1. Happy early birthday! “Battles which were handpicked for you.” That’s a great way of putting it. Sometimes I feel like that things I worry about are trivial compared to what I could be struggling with, but each one of us struggles in a unique way and we were given our current trials for a reason. For me, I think it is to appreciate how far I have come and how blessed I am. Out of the blue, I started listening to my old Zain Bhikha CD today! Wow. This was before I even saw and read your post. Do your children have any plans to celebrate tomorrow… er, today?

  2. Happy birthday dear Yacoob and we all have our stories the moment we take birth till we die. A great read and u have gone through a lot of things in life but thank God for all what he has given. His blessings will take u forward and keep on writing what u like it unburdens your life.

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