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.
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.
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!
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.
Today happens to be the United Nations sponsored International Day of Peace, which prompted me to write this blog post. It relates to the notion of “peace of mind”. Readers of this entire blog, might ponder why the title has the word “explorations.” This is because I have attempted to balance personal and professional lines of thought and action which are outlined by numerous themes. As part of my exploration in physical spaces, I found an exhibit at the MIT Museum on the “Beautiful Brain” which sums up the essence of my exploration in mental health.
At the Santiago Cajal “Beautiful Brain” Exhibit at MIT Museum. Photo credit: Unknown, 2018
The founder of modern neuroscience, Santiago Ramón y Cajal, a Nobel-Prize winning scientist, was also a Madrid-based artist who drew intricate sketches of the brain as part of his study of its structure and function. The beautiful hand drawings (for example, see below) are very detailed and helped pave the way for modern neuroscience to make early discoveries about the brain and cognition.
Cajal drawing at MIT Museum, Photo credit: T. Mohammed, 2018.
I could really relate to Cajal’s quote below from the way in which psychotherapy and cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) has helped in my mental health recovery. It has never been my intention to cause confusion (although it does happen unwittingly from time to time), but to seek greater understanding and balance of the boundaries of my personal and professional reflections. Many people (some known and unknown to me) have helped contribute to my health and wellness for which I am grateful. Many of them have reminded in small but simple ways to “stay happy, stay healthy.”
Cajal quote at MIT Museum, Cambridge, MA. Photo credit: T. Mohammed, 2018.
I recently safely returned to the United States from a vacation in Kerala, and learned that today is the International Day of Charity which is observed by the United Nations member states. During my extended stay in Kerala, the state faced unprecedented floods (yes, climate change is real) that caused immense damage to its people, economy and infrastructure. Fortunately, my maternal family members were not severely affected by the flooding. Several cousins did however, mobilize resources with local organizations to assist with the flood relief by distributing food, clothing and care packages as well as organizing fundraising events for flood victims.
Mother Teresa and my maternal great grandmother of the Kuruvinakunnel family in Kerala, India. Photo Credit: Unknown.
I am proud of my Kerala family tradition of leading in social and philanthropic causes, beginning with my great grandmother from the Kuruvinakunnel family (my maternal grandmother’s mother). Above is a picture which Mary Michael, my maternal grandmother shared with me while we were housebound due to landslides. The photo is of Mother Teresa during one of her visits to Kerala and my maternal great grandmother. During the summer of 2012, I was fortunate to make a 3-day visit to the Mother Teresa Center of Calcutta to assist with social service activities.
The purpose of my trip to Southern India, and Kerala in particular, was to visit my maternal elderly grandparents, Michael Kallivayalil and Mary Michael and other relatives. Upon returning to the United States I created a video slideshow to remember my visits to Peermade, Kerala and Bangalore, Karnataka which were among some of the places I traveled through. Joseph Michael Kallivayalil, (Managing Director of Glenrock Rubber Products Pvt. Ltd), my uncle is an avid golfer so there was a great day spent together on the Peermade Club golf course, despite the calamities caused by the flooding in nearby districts. This visit made me realize there is potential for sport tourism in Indian states like Kerala.
Nonetheless, Kerala faces an uphill task of rebuilding its infrastructure and economy as well as rehabilitating people severely impacted by the flooding. As with many humanitarian disasters the coordination amongst government, business and civil society actors “on the ground” is critical for efficient and effective reconstruction. Building on the momentum of the goodwill shown to Kerala by its diaspora and well-wishers, those ordinary citizens of Kerala who lost everything including their homes, livelihoods and sense of well-being must not be ignored and forgotten by the media, local, state and federal relief agencies and the private sector.
Since approaching middle-age, I am learning more about the importance of both physical health and mental health through conversations with educators, artists, entrepreneurs, caregivers and medical professionals. It is really about balancing both and checking in with yourself, a friend, colleague or medical professional, if needed. The advice of a former Jeddah Prep and Grammar School swim coach was to “Keep it Simple Student,” or (KISS) in short which is a coaching philosophy based on avoiding complexity and focusing on doing a few things really well both in and out of the pool. Upon living in Massachusetts, I was impressed by the quality of the track and field at Danehy Park (seen below) which prompted me to remember Mr. Sither, a former Physical Education Teacher.
Danehy Park, Cambridge, Massachusetts. Photo Credit: T. Mohammed, 2017.
Presidential Physical Fitness Awards earned by Tariq Mohammed. Photo Credit: T. Mohammed, 2018.
For individuals seeking to maintain or improve mental health, the physical fitness awards can be instructive when having anxiety, paranoia or thought disorders by counting out aloud the numbers, 1, 2 and 3. As I get older I have found that the simpler the activity or exercise the better I feel. This might not work for everyone, but if an individual finds a routine or activity that helps them maintain both physical and mental health then this will stand them in good stead. Not to sound too prescriptive, but from a policy perspective the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) would also do well to mainstream their programs with coaches, teachers and educators at the Squash + Education Alliance. I am writing based on personal and professional experience and perhaps this will be of help to future student-athletes.
Thanks to my uncle, Tawheed Hazarika, one of my local volunteering stints was with the Andover Village Improvement Society (AVIS). This enabled me to discover the conservation efforts in the Town of Andover, Massachusetts while improving upon my prior knowledge of conversation when gorilla tracking in Uganda’s Bwindi Impenetrable Park. The gorillas are amazing creatures, but given the distance, I could not replicate my African safari so my AVIS volunteer opportunity was the next best thing. I learned about the various trails, vegetation and waterways closer to home. Goldsmith Woodlands, one of the trails led to the sign post below. Since discovering this trail, I have taken many refreshing walks along AVIS trails in the vicinity.
Goldsmith Woodlands, Andover Village Improvement Society. Photo credit: T. Mohammed, 2017.
When reading this sign I questioned my wanderings across Europe, Asia, Africa and the Americas. As mentioned, I realize I am very fortunate to have studied, lived and worked in many countries, which I believe, are now part of my DNA. It is sort of fitting that I found this sign in Andover, MA which has been a wonderful base to explore the world after my undergraduate graduation. My understanding and reading of this sign is that it is an indication for me to make a new beginning. Every ending means a new beginning.
The United Nations Office of Sport for Development and Peace has aligned itself with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals to be met by 2030. Therefore, it is time for me to take stock of all my blogging and lessons learned to apply myself in a real, self-motivated and practical position. I have a keen sense of the what I’d like to do, but the where and when remains to be seen. I’ve been writing this blog for 8 years which is the equivalent of 2 Presidential terms in the United States with a blog posting, approximately once a month. My hope is that it can be a basis for publishing a book or memoir in the future. Gracias, Merci, Weebale, Efcharisto and Thank you for watching and reading! Bon voyage!