Since we are in a month of gratitude with Thanksgiving (in the United States) and the holiday spirit soon upon on us, I wanted to build on this important theme. I know I am not alone when it comes to facing adversity and looking for ways to overcome obstacles, but I do think there there is a lot to be thankful for, especially those of us who do find positive coping strategies. I would like to put this in perspective so readers can make positive changes and derive their own benefits.
“Helping professionals,” namely teachers, doctors, nurses, coaches, educators, therapists, religious leaders etc. have all played a critical role in my life and ongoing recovery. Through their kind words and deeds, I was able to receive the care I needed at the right time and place. As I’ve alluded to in an earlier blog post, we are all on journeys through time and space which only we as individuals experience to fully comprehend our life on earth. Sometimes, our individual and collective journeys can lead to painful emotions, sometimes it can lead to dullness and sometimes it can lead to awakenings, among other ways of being.
2013 Gift from Khelshala Service Trip Photo credit: T. Mohammed, 2019.
I have come to learn through experience gained over the last decade, that if one practices gratitude with a positive attitude this can lead to happiness. Practicing gratitude is a habit that can be formed through both small and big acts of kindness. These are usually learned at home from family and friends and then through socialization at clubs, schools, universities, faith-based organizations, businesses or even at times, government agencies. A retired educator once noted that there are no limits as to how many times you can say thank you. To operationalize this concept, I would add that if one exercises the “gratitude muscle” through random acts of kindness with a positive attitude this will result in greater happiness. Thank you and may you find happiness!
As mentioned in earlier blog posts, I’m big fan of music of many different varieties. One recipe for mental wellness is combining music and human movement. This can be done in the name of economic or social development to give potential mental wellness seekers greater impetus to take action. As such, my musical adventures of attending and listening to street performances, concerts, and festivals was self-documented from early 2017 to 2019 in the Youtube video below.
What I learned from this personal mini-experiment was (a) music enables healing (b) music is a convener of people of diverse backgrounds and (c) music is a vehicle for social change. These lessons might not be new for some folks, but they were brought home to me when I listened to a live performance of the Me2 Orchestra in Boston, Massachusetts.
In the words of Me2 Orchestra’s newsletter it is “the only classical music organization in the world created by and for people living with mental illness and those who support them. The orchestra’s mission is to erase the stigmatization of people living with mental illness through the creation of beautiful music, community, compassion and understanding… one concert at a time. Most important, it is changing the lives of the musicians and audiences in powerful and surprising ways.”
The events highlighted in my video above were both “pay to play” such as Cold Play, UB40 and Karsh Kale to name a few as well as several free concerts such as the 2019 Cambridge Jazz Festival, the 2019 Boston Art & Music Soul Festival and the Shake Away the Blues Winter Festival. Sport was not an explicit theme in any of these events, but there was an economic and social development perspective for each event given the individual artists’ backgrounds, influences and interests. Activism and social justice dialogue were interspaced with the music for audiences to reflect upon and take action.
During this week, I attended my third The Child is Innocent (TCII) fundraiser in Boston courtesy of one its co-founders – Kevin Schwartz, MD of Massachusetts General Hospital. I was introduced to this non-governmental organization by Stefano Rossi of the Centro per la Cooperazione Internazionale in Trento, Italy and have found it a good way to stay connected to the people and well-wishers of Uganda. Kevin and his team at TCII are planning to build a new school campus called Hope Academy in Gulu, Northern Uganda in three phases. The detailed architectural plans were on display at the event to encourage others to donate and get involved.
Hope Academy: Vision and Master Plan, The Child is Innocent Photo credit: T. Mohammed, 2019.
What impressed me about this organization was its core group of volunteers and dedicated supporters. They are committed to the TCII mission and travel frequently to Northern Uganda to meet with local staff to be proactive with decision-making and fundraising. Perhaps one area they could improve upon relative to other NGOs I have worked with is on the concept of “radical transparency.” Attending a fundraiser in Boston with little knowledge of the issues on the ground in Northern Uganda, I can understand how some observers might feel skeptical as to how funding might be mismanaged. This is not a criticism of TCII but of many charities around the world. Therefore making budgets, financial statements and fundraising transparent and available to everyone via the Internet might garner even more support and goodwill for TCII and other similar charities.
Hope Academy Architecture, The Child is Innocent Fundraiser, Photo credit: T.Mohammed, 2019.
In the spirit of transparency and collaboration, the front cover of both the printed and online version of this blog are of a group of African HIV orphans who I had the privilege of coaching and refereeing more than fifteen years ago in a suburb of Kampala, Uganda. Though not part of my official United Nations Volunteerterms of reference (TOR), it was a very signifiant experience in my personal growth and development. Hence, I would like to acknowledge Stefano Rossi of the Centro per la Cooperazione Internazionale in Trento, Italy, who along with several Italian and Irish volunteers in Uganda invited me to the orphanage in Uganda on a weekly basis. This coaching experience became one of my many inspirations in the field of sport for development and peace.
I would like to express my gratitude on the 20th anniversary of my first psychotic episode in New York City in 1999 to everyone who has helped me get this far by committing to continue my journey of lifelong learning for mental and physical wellness. I was able to make a strong recovery thanks to my parents Vimala and Pervez Mohammed as well as Rukhsana and Tawheed Hazarika (my aunt and uncle in Andover, Massachusetts) for giving me the time, space and support I needed in the weeks and months soon after my first and second episodes. After my first psychotic episode, I was told it would be like managing diabetes since I would have to take medication for the rest of my life to stabilize the “chemical imbalance.”
Tariq with his parents, Vimala and Pervez on 21st birthday in Ann Arbor, Michigan, 1997. Photo credit: M. Mohammed.
As an amateur athlete I did not take well to the side effects of the medication, in particular the weight gain and lethargy. Therefore I fought against taking medication and eventually persuaded my psychiatrist that I was well enough not to need to take medication anymore which led to my second psychotic episode in 2005. After my second episode I realized the seriousness of my illness and worked hard to regain my mental wellness. It was a painful and challenging process, to say the least and I would never wish such an illness on my worst enemy. However, with the the appropriate medication, psychotherapy and family support, recovery is possible and can be sustained with time and effort.
Recovery is a continuousjourney and therefore, even though I am currently feeling relatively stable and can perform rational thinking and do complex tasks, I have enrolled in recovery education classes at Boston University Center for Psychiatric Rehabilitation. It is my belief that I can always learn something new about myself while striving for humility. Even though the episodes happened when I was in my twenties and now I’m in my forties, the courses I have enrolled in will hopefully make me feel even better, stronger and more resilient to take on the next 25 years of my working life. Learning and unlearning new and more effective ways of living, working and playing will help me become a better version of myself.
My introduction to racquet sports as a kid in Abu Dhabi, UAE was thanks to my father so it was fitting that both of us visited the International Tennis Hall of Fame together in Rhode Island. Unlike my solo journey to Ancient Olympia in Greece, this was not just another pilgrimage or site visit but a special summer escape for father and son to represent extended family members in India and the United States who are amateur tennis players and supporters of the sport in their respective countries. We are not considered racquet sports royalty or celebrities of any sort but we do hold tennis in high regard and want to see others in the sport succeed.
Visit to the International Tennis Hall of Fame, USA, 2019. (Photo credit: P. Mohammed)
Pervez Mohammed, my father was an amateur tennis player who grew up playing the sport in Assam, India and played through his mid-life in Saudi Arabia while working at Unilever. On my Kerala side of the family, there are other amateur tennis players such as Michael Kallivayalil, my 94-year old grandfather who has won several amateur veteran tennis tournaments and Geetha Varghese, my aunt who has enjoyed many league matches and tennis round-robins in the United States. Also Jacob Kallivayalil, my mother’s cousin, is a former President of the Kerala Tennis Association. Therefore our visit to the tennis shrine was a family affair.
Rolex Clock at International Tennis Hall of Fame, 2019 (Photo credit: T. Mohammed)
Whether you find yourself on a tennis or squash court, timing is important just as in life. Both tennis and squash have been enjoyable pastimes for our family as lifelong fans. There can be ups and downs and wins and losses, but I think Rolex has got it right in their commercials of “perpetual excellence” from outstanding sport professionals. While watching from home with my father, the incredible and historic 2019 Men’s Singles Wimbledon Championships bared a strong resemblance of our visit to the International Tennis Hall of Fame. Thank you Papa for introducing me to tennis as well as being part of my journey in sport and life.
As part of my rehabilitation and ongoing recovery I have strived to practice greater self-care to ensure my own health and wellbeing. While every individual is unique and may have their own limitations (medical or not) the importance of health and wellness takes on a greater role as we age if we seek longevity. Healthcare providers, employers, caregivers and well-wishers all play a role in managing recovery (as depicted in the graphic below). The reason why I am sharing this illustration is to provide guidance for others to learn from and develop coping strategies.
Recovery Enhancing Environment, 2015 (Source: Boston University Center for Psychiatric Rehabilitation).
One of my coping strategies has been to travel which I have shared with various Youtube videos on this blog. I have been traveling internationally since I was an infant and find that it is still something I enjoy. Traveling internationally can become expensive overtime so staycations are also another good option especially if on a budget or have time constraints. While there are many memorable travel moments, the video below captures some of the highlights of my staycations in the New England area of the United States.
In the video one can notice images of the Sun and Moon at various stages. Native Americans believe the Sun and Moon represent life for all. We know that the Sun is an essential element for human existence and the Moon for dreams, high spirits and the assurance of a long and prosperous life. What is not visible in this video, but is another important coping strategy is managing Sleep, Time management, Relaxation, Exercises, Smiles and Self-Talk (STRESS). Through self-regulation, planning and implementation I continue to strive for a balanced, healthy life and long life while cherishing one’s freedom. Happy Independence Day to all Americans!
Polo is considered to be the “sport of kings” with the relatively high cost of equipment and upkeep required to reap the benefits of its favorable socio-economic demographics. Unlike squash which originated in the United Kingdom, polo is a sport which traces its history to developing countries in Central Asia. While squash is yet to be accepted as an Olympic sport, polo was once an Olympic sport but did not maintain its sporting status in the Olympic movement.
Zihan Ahmed, a distant cousin of mine from Assam is a good horseman and enjoys playing amateur polo in his time away from being an IT executive. Zihan’s dream was to enroll in equine studies but he currently spends most of his day as a new business strategist for Google. While I am not a rider myself, I can appreciate the skill of many sports including polo where athletes are to be physically fit, be spatially aware and demonstrate adaptability to swiftly changing conditions. In this regard a polo player and a squash player are quite similar.
Zihan Ahmed, an Assamese cousin playing amateur polo in Argentina.
Crocker Snow Jr., Head Coach of Polo at Harvard University is a former colleague who I have crossed paths with on multiple occasions in international affairs. Our first encounter was at the Global Meeting of Generations in Washington DC in 1999 while I was an undergraduate at Bowdoin College. Thanks to Iqbal Quadir a former mentor to me at the Harvard Kennedy School, I have since had the good fortune of working with Crocker on a variety of consulting projects for economic and social development in emerging markets. It is great to know that Crocker is rounding off his career by following his calling as a high-performing polo coach. My best wishes and much success to Crocker and Zihan with their pursuits in the world of polo!
My father’s early passions were sport and music, but he later settled on a career in international sales and marketing. On a couple of occasions while living and working in Dubai, my father’s employer sponsored music concerts in the 1990s with artists such as Ravi Shankar and Zakir Hussain, who bridged East and West in what is today known as the genre of world music.
Pandit Shri Ravi Shankar graciously signing autographs in Dubai, UAE. Photo credit: Unknown. 1990s.
As a teenager, I accompanied my father and mother to both these concerts and was fortunate to have shared a moment with the late maestro Ravi Shankar. He was an icon not only in the worlds of Indian classical music but in the fusion of Western and Eastern music. Though I do not play a musical instrument, my love for music and enjoyment of listening to a broad range of music played a significant role in my recoveries both as a child and adult.
Pandit Shri Ravi Shankar, generously sharing his time with audience members in Dubai, UAE. Photo credit: Unknown, 1990s.
Today is Pervez Sarwar Mohammed’s – my father’s 70th birthday – and I would like to thank him for the many gifts and opportunities he has enabled and bestowed upon me. We wish him lots of love, good health and happiness in the years ahead.
In my failure biography on this blog, I describe my first psychotic experience in 1999 in New York City. Twenty years later after a lot of psychotherapy, medication, vocational and family support I am very lucky to have not ended up on the streets of New York City without food, clothing and shelter. In this blog post, I would like to share some of the amazing work of the Bowdoin alumni I am grateful to know who swiftly saved me during my medical emergency.
Marc Wachtenheim, Founder and CEO of W International based in Washington DC and a member of the Class of 1997 was the first person to call and alert my father in the early morning hours in The Netherlands when I experienced my first psychotic episode in New York City. Marc and I have remained in contact over the years and he has been a mentor to me and gracious host during many of my subsequent visits to Washington DC. The video below is Marc speaking about human rights at the Oslo Freedom Forum.
Eddie Lucaire, Vice President of Brand Partnerships at Copa90 and a member of the Class of 1999 walked me to Bellevue Hospital in Manhattan where he assisted in voluntarily admitting me for emergency psychiatric care. At the time I did not know where or why I was going to the hospital but thanks to Eddie’s good guidance I was safely given the treatment I needed. Eddie now lives in Los Angeles working for a start-up in the global soccer business and we have remained in contact over the last 20 years.
Adam Stevens, Principal of PS 4 Duke Ellington School in New York City and member of the Class of 1999 was employed by American Express Corporate Travel Services in New York City. I was about to begin my first day in the same department of American Express with Adam, but did not make it to my first day of work. Adam also reached out to my father and family by sending them a fax in The Netherlands to let them know how things were going. Adam and I are not in frequent contact, but I know he is continuing to serve the common good through education.
While I was in New York city, I had two roommates in Manhattan – Crispin M. Murira and Daniel P. Rhoda – who were working in investment banking for Credit Suisse First Boston. They too noticed the warning signs of my psychosis and helped work as a team with Marc, Eddie and Adam to get me the care that I needed at Bellevue Hospital and later at McLean Hospital in Boston. Sadly, in 2013 Dan passed away due to an unknown reason but I was able to attend his funeral in Houlton, Maine. Today, Crispin is the Co-Founder and CEO of Copia Global which leverages technological solutions for bottom of the pyramid customers in Kenya (see video below).
The reason I share this true story is not only to express my gratitude, but to assist with fundraising for Bowdoin College and the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) both of which I contribute to in meaningful ways. I hope readers of this blog post will feel moved to make a contribution to these mission-driven organizations.
Ever since I can remember I’ve always been a kinesthetic learner which is perhaps why I ended up completing my graduate degree in Physical Education. I missed out on having an older brother as a kid, but I am super proud of John “Jay” Morrison, my elder brother-in-law who completed the 2018 TCS New York City Marathon recently in over 4 and half hours. Respect to anyone who completes the 26.2 miles of a marathon.
John “Jay” Morrison, my brother-in-law completing the 2018 New York City Marathon. Photo credit: P. Mohammed, 2018.
While I am yet to run a marathon myself, the preparation and training before to qualify and compete in a marathon is not only a physical but mental challenge. Jay was a recreational ice-hockey player in his youth and became a fan as a season ticket holder of the men’s ice hockey program at University of Denver (his alma mater). He is also a golf and skiing enthusiast. His interest in athletics did not stop him from staying physically fit and maintaining a balanced diet (which he learned how to do as an award-winning chef). Currently, Jay is leading a busy life in the food distribution business, but he still finds time to keep fit even though he recently turned fifty!
Miriam (my sister) and Meena and Anjali (my nieces) cheering on Jay at the New York City Marathon. Photo credit. P. Mohammed, 2018.
What can we all learn from my brother-in-law Jay? Well, he is a great example of an American male who is aging well by staying physically and mentally active. Jay did not specialize in sport but is a well-rounded athlete who is sharing his sporting lessons with his young daughters and wife. Perhaps the most important lesson we can learn from Jay is to keep on moving and learning new things. Whether you are in third grade or a senior citizen, maintaining physical and mental fitness throughout one’s lifespan is worth it!