5 Strategies to Survive a Life Storm

By: Deeba Salim Irfan

Everyone faces a life storm at some point in time! You may have survived one or heard a friend share with you. Some are serious storms like losing a job, losing someone close and others are trivial yet may weigh you down. Whatever the case may be, be patient and keep an eye on ‘expiry date for your blues.’ You can lie low. Feel sad. Cry if you must, wear black, celebrate the blues and hang tough! Tomorrow the smile will erupt on your lips. Sun will shine and you will laugh again till your stomach hurts. You just need to wait!

I have outlined below 5 coping strategies that I find very effective:

Stay Calm – No matter how serious the issue! Count till 10. Breathe. And repeat till 10 and breathe. And repeat. This will help you catch your breath and comfort you.

Postpone – Postpone the thought of whatever the issue is to a later date! A time when you get healed and are ready to analyze it. Trust me, that time will come!

Stay Clear – This one is logical. Someone once told me, imagine you are swimming in your sorrows and you reach a waterfall. If you come out before the fall, you will be able to control yourself. However, if you let yourself fall, you will not be able to control yourself. If you do not control your depressing thoughts before the fall, you will be in that waterfall stage of depression when it becomes increasingly difficult to control depression. To counter try to stop your thoughts before you reach the waterfall (of your thoughts). For example, listen to upbeat songs or watch comedy!

Colors – What we wear or surround ourselves with impact our mood. If you are going through a storm, hide in the blanket and cry till your tears dry. Then pull yourself, wear bright colors, dress up and visit your optimistic, positive friends.

Keep Busy – The trick is to trap your mind. Keep it occupied and let it not sense the loss!

What I describe above, practice and preach, I call it my ‘insulating technique.’

When you have healed, taper the dose and allow your ‘painful’ thoughts to seep into your mind and toy with them! This may take anywhere from one week to six months depending on the storm / loss and upon your immunity, as each person has a different bouncing back ability!

Share if you find the above helpful.

 

-About the Author:

Deeba Salim Irfan is an Advertising professional, and an Author based in Dubai. Her novel – URMA is with a backdrop of Iranain revolution is based on surviving personal losses. Her poetry book – CHARCOAL BLUSH, has vivid and uplifting poetry full of spiritual wisdom (both available on Amazon). Her next novel is ‘Will Time Find Us.’ Deeba blogs on relationships and helps writers build their ‘Author Brand’. She is also the founder of (soon to be launched) portal TheWriteScene.com.

You can contact her on – Deebairfan@me.com

 

My Book Launch – A mom’s perspective

The frenzy started a week before the launch when the Chief Guest confirmed availability. The realisation struck me that my book launch was just a week away. And there was still a lot to do.

 

My son came to me, “Mom, can we please have a match of chess?” I said, “please, can it wait till after the launch?” My 5 year old came and asked me sweetly, “mom can you please make my favourite sweet?” I hugged her but just had to say, “babe, can it wait for a week, you know mom is busy for the launch, right?” and she complied.

 

It was all about the launch. The moment was building up. A week to go. ‘To do’ list was never ending. Invites done, Nourooz table done, speech prepared, days just flew…  Backdrop was yet to be done. A night before, I realised, we had not finalised a photographer. The day finally arrived and I had no MC. A friend came to the rescue….last minute changes….. adrenaline rush…  my mind went blank. Guests arrived, and I just floated… friends, more friends, relatives, guests, press and VIPs all came almost simultaneously. I couldn’t keep control of people I greeted. I got into an autopilot mode. Our brains are programmed to operate in such a mode in an event of an emergency. I experienced it. The next moment, I found myself sitting with the chief guest discussing Iran and blink, I was on stage. It all happened in super fast forward motion. And within a flash, it was all over.  Speeches over. Book unveiled. Friends flocked for autographed copies. TV interviews. And then, just as the ballroom had filled with people it got empty again…. and it hit me, what rises to the brim depletes again…. and with that awareness, my BP plummeted…. but with a relief, it was all over and all went off well.

 

Now I needed myself back, back from that autopilot mode. But couldn’t yet. I couldn’t afford to. Not yet. As the  launch got over, my 5 year old came up to me and asked, “mama is your launch now over?”  I said, “yes baby.” She smiled and said, “so now can you make my favourite sweet for me?” I couldn’t help my tears. I knew everyone around me had taken a toll at my hands. I put an end to it when the event gets over. But till then, nothing can defocus me. Obsession, perfection, focus, you can call it whatever you want. But as the event or task at hand comes closer, my focus gets on the target, and surroundings get blurred. A task may be as minor as completing a self imposed deadline of 500 words, yet, it’s a commitment. So, at that time, I hugged her tight and told her. “Yes babe. I can!” and her eyes widened, and a bright smile sparkled her naughty eyes and spread from one corner of her face to another brightening me too and squeezing all my exhaustion away. That’s my energiser smile. My destress hug and a destress kiss from my 5 yr old.

 

So the next two days, I belonged only to my kids. No meetings, no interviews, just nothing. A well deserved time together. The much awaited chess matches between me and my son and girls cheering me up. A much requested sweet for my baby. A quite dinner – just me and my kids. Aah that drained me and I had to head back to my MacBook to write. So having spent time together, I have earned two hours of writing time. And a day to lock myself off from the world. To find my words again. To focus on my next book.

 

MY PARADISE

A step
at a time
I tread.
Dive deep 
then arise
to absorb my paradise!

My soul alive,
enriched…
but
am I pleasantly disguised,
as I live my paradise?

I imbibe the nuzzle
akin a kiss
a brush against my skin
of this warm
summer wind!
A deep breath
of praise
as serenity exhaled!
For yet another
trice
savored in my paradise!

Building Characters

For a while, I have been wondering how to bring my characters to life. I want them to react the way each one of us does. Make them more believable, livable. Tonight is strange. I woke up about an hour back, when it was still 3 am and kept thinking of certain issues at hand. Just can’t go back to sleep. Whether it is the issue at hand or the double doze of antibiotics I am on, difficult to identify.
What’s interesting is the learning from the past hour, when I let my mind toy with various thoughts that crossed my mind. I am sure, this learning can be quite natural to a few of you, or maybe, well learnt as a part of some writing course, by few others out there, but for me, it was a lightening.
I realised that the characters behave out of their own experience. We need to create that experence around them for them to behave the way we want them to. If I want my character to take everything casually, I need to have his/her childhood experience or maybe some close people around them that would condition their thinking in that direction.
It is imperetive that we have a background that is a perfect match to our charater’s reactions. I cannot have a character who is happy-go-lucky when I am showing that the entire childhood of my charater was spent in turmoil and amidst violent parents.
These character traits are obvious, for some, but then, once we learn from our own experience, we know how valid they are. If I have a character who is timid, I need to have a reason for her to be that way.
Also, some of this backround can be withheld and revealed as the story unfolds, at a point where the antagonist realises the motive of the protagonist, or at a self-actualizing state.
It’s amazing, how sometimes, we get ideas at the most unexpected times of the day. I had to get up and write this and now I am off to bed again….

Such is Life…(a few moments with my mom!)

I returned day before from my monthly visit to my home town, New Delhi. I have been going for a week every month since September, 2013, when my mom had that fateful Meningitis attack.

It has been an uphill task ever since. With setbacks and achievements, the road has been exhausting for her! However, this time, I saw a marked improvement in her state.

I realise the value of small things that we take for granted. Appearance of emotions on her face, her tears – for the first time in six months, reflects that she is healing. The voice does not sound automated, distant, mechanical and cold anymore, it is that soft and warm voice, my mom’s voice. She lifted herself from her bed, albeit with great effort, but she did! Bravo… a feeling of triumph over what would be inconspicuous for most of us! In past six months, I have come to realise that these are enormous achievments… I have learnt to see life a bit more intently, learnt to appreciate it all a bit more…

Can’t thank God enough for these tender moments with my mom, these small, yet, great achievements and milestones… her baby steps towards recovery…

There was a day when my mom had tears of joy, when I took my first step… and today, I had tears of joy as my mom took her first steps, unassisted, after six long months…

Miracles happen, many have happened since September, wait for a few more… for her complete recovery!!

SHADES

Bright shades of sunshine and the dull endings of the day, a toll on my own mood. I wondered what the hues meant. Bright and sunny or dull and rainy? Was my life impacted with this? Of course it was, it is!

The reason of my smile is the sun and the dark clouds bring me tears! Well, I sat and thought about the whys!

But at the end I realised, there is no point fighting it, I should just try and use this to my advantage!  And now, every time I feel blue, I reach for something bright and pink!

I may not be perfect, I may end up feeling low, I may not always look up at the bright side of the things, as often as I would want to, I am only human!

However, I feel reassured with my pink lipstick, tucked away in my bag… I carry the brightness with me! It feels as if I carry my sunshine with me… even when the tears approach, I reach for my lipstick, to smear back my smile…. to drive the blues away!

Brightness, only a lipstick away….

Learning From Every Day Life

Few months back, I sent my manuscript to an editor and I got it back with lot of encouraging words and some areas where I need to ‘Show Vs Tell’.
As a first time author with no literature background, I am hell bent on ‘learning as I write’. This is taking me longer to complete my first novel, but I know I am working on my foundation as a writer and it is more gratifying.
After having studied the basics for ‘Show Vs Tell’, I still wanted more clarity for content to flow to me naturally in relation to my characters. During my normal course of day to day activities and meeting I tried to find cues but noting was as clear as a scene that made things crystal clear for me…

 

I am sure many first time authors will agree with me when I say, I find sometimes that the best writing coach is life. Lessons learnt from everyday life are seldom forgotten!
For a week, I scrutinized most of my conversation to analyze where I was telling and where was I showing, still it was not very clear. I wanted clear examples and not from books!
Today was memorable. A new team member had joined and I went out for lunch with her and 4 other team members. I noticed the body language and language of all. ‘Give me a drag’ – said one to another as the newcomer looked on and learnt the casual comfort level between the two.
As she looked on, the two girls were discussing the menu. ‘You will have what I tell you. I want the steak. Share it with me.’ She absorbed that one dominated the other to the point of taking complete control including the choice of food. I was looking at the group from her perspective.
Instead of me sitting and telling everything about each team member, she actually could see. We all showed her in that one hour. A team member turned to me and said, ‘No use asking you. You will not eat Fish, Mutton, Mushrooms… does that leave anything worthwhile in the menu? Anyway whatever you order, I am sure more than half will be left when we leave’ very effectively it showed that I am extremely picky in food and have a small appetite without actually saying those words. And it also showed the very close bond I shared with that girl.

 

A very meaningful lesson absorbed well today. Seeing from the perspective of the new girl, it helped so much to learn this important lesson of fiction writing…
We as authors have a way of life.  I for instance, sometimes experience life in scenes in front of me, around me and sometimes am so absorbed in my own thought process, that I feel I am a part of some ‘fiction’ myself…. Sometimes it baffles me. Sometimes it’s enriching.
I think what helps more is to just sit and observe people. Anywhere. People study, helps. In a coffee shop, at a party, gas station, restaurant, anywhere. Grasp what we learn from their actions. How people we don’t know, give away so much by their actions and words.
Now, it’s time review a scene of my book and change the ‘Tell’ to and ‘Show’ !!

Conflict – Essence of Fiction writing

Write a good mushy novel, where everyone is perfect, everything is immaculate and there is no conflict… I am sure, the reader would hardy make it to page 25, if they don’t already throw the book off before that. Without conflict, a work of fiction is what it shouldn’t be, extremely boring.

Conflicts like creeps need to jump at your readers, and grip them at the most unexpected turn, and make them glued to the pages to know what happens next.  Even better,  give a slight feel of what’s in store, to let them yearn for more!

There are many ways to add conflict. Microscopic view of a few here –

Make the character face internal conflict – turmoil, want, greed, ethics, anything where they are internally torn and don’t know which way to go. This will add internal conflict. This will also emotionally connect the reader to the character.
I make my protagonist fall for a man in a situation where she should hold herself back.  How she reacts determines her future. The inner turmoil she goes through while she makes her decision makes my reader connect with her.

Outer influences on my characters, give them external conflict. The macro world of my novel. The external forces, posing choices for my characters. How they deal with them will again add conflict.

Hooked to a place? My character may have strong affinity to a place and putting them in a situation where they can neither stay there nor leave, will add place conflict. However, they need to have enough reason for that conflict.

Similarly, opposing personalities can add conflict. The interactions, motivations and clashes can add enough conflict. It should not be a war situation all the time, but different personalities at cross-roads with conflicting ideas can add conflict interestingly.

Each chapter should have a conflict at various level. We need to control the pace of the conflict throughout the novel so as not to exhaust the reader and give them a breather… the phases, when everything sails smoothly and looks perfect, before another conflict hits them.

Baby Steps – My Journey To Publication

Fiction is to the grown man what play is to the child; it is there that he changes the atmosphere and tenor of his life –  Robert Louis Stevenson

I think the tenor of my life changed with the advent of the Iranian revolution, when as a ten year old I lost the exuberance of childhood and the warmth of my loved ones.

Urma, my protagonist was born the moment I exited Iran – a country that was not my birthplace, and yet my home. The first sketch of Urma was etched on the paper during the summer of 1989 and yet lost in the vagaries of everyday life, as I jostled studies, career, marriage and later motherhood.

It was yet another life changing moment that drove home my father’s advice of following one’s dreams, aspiring and working towards achieving them. Urma, again rose like a phoenix from the tangle of my everyday existence, nurtured by a lot of love, labour and sacrifice.  And not to forget the frustration that seemed to stretch till eternity as words eluded me. After five laborious years, the Urma that lived in my mind metamorphed into a novel.

Before delving on the novel itself, I would like to answer a question that I have been often asked i.e. why Iran of all places. My answer is…

I remember walking with my dad, mom & sisters on Pehlvi Street, Tehran eating my favourite – bastani falioda.

I remember our Iranian friends, so very cultured and yet extremely modern.

I remember huge sacs of fresh pistachios that landed at our doorstep by happy patients of father.

I remember the lazy coastal town of Chaloos that I had fallen in love with – one of the most beautiful places with green mountains on one side of the road and caspian on the other.

I love Iran and I have extreme adulation for their culture. That was Iran as it existed and Iranians as I knew them. I wanted people to have a glimpse of that Iran which is only a history today.

Coming to the book, my protagonist Urma Behdad is a strong woman whose life gets unwittingly changed by the course of history.  People love and lose yet love again. Only, Urma is different. Her emotional clock stopped with the revolution of Iran as she fled the country without her love.  The book traces her life in the backdrop of the revolution.

All my women characters are strong and successful. I believe, strength is inherent to women and I always celebrate being a woman myself. But the world is rife with women who are overburdened with troubles, unfavorable circumstances, lack of opportunities, oppression or external forces like wars etc. I truly believe that a woman has the power of rising above her circumstances. She only needs to reconnect with her inner strength and sometimes one needs a catalyst to do that. Urma, is written with the perspective of providing that inspiration. This book is dedicated to all those Urma’s who have loved and lost and have never found love again!

The manuscript during the publishing phase, reached hands of Gen. Sec. of Urdu Press Club, India and her got my permission to translate it into Urdu with the aim of inspiring many more people. It was done in a record time and a limited edition hard bound was released along with English in India. Urdu Press Club has nominated it for an award to be announced in November.

This is today. But my baby steps towards publication didn’t have only ‘ups’ and smiles.… there have been many ‘downs’ as well! ‘Down’ during my writing phase, when my mind was plagued with writers block and I couldn’t write for weeks. And when I finished writing my novel, the next ‘down’ was the critique from my editor in California giving me a set of instructions that sounded Greek to me as I am an MBA and an advertising professional and not a trained writer. Writing was a need for me. So, I enrolled in the London School of Journalism to make sense of it all and learn the craft of writing. It was a great decision, I think. Then I wrote the drafts again. And was euphoric when my editor gave a go ahead too. Next ‘down’- set of rejections pouring from agents in UK and US with various reasons… either the project was not what they were looking for or the backdrop of Iran was too sensitive for them.

Either way, they were rejections. And then, I decided to print myself. So I did research and self published on Amazon through CreateSpace. Meanwhile I kept querying other publishers from India and around the same time I found a publisher in India, interested in publishing my manuscript but he was not a big publisher to be able to distribute worldwide. Hence, I gave him rights for India and Middle East. I found a distributor locally. So, the books reached the stores and I had a great launch in India with well-known dignitaries and in Dubai by the Indian Consul to UAE and well received. Book signing and road shows waiting in September. For me, a combination of self-publishing and traditional publishing turned out to be a great learning experience. Being a control freak, in publishing also, I am taking baby steps – so, I am focusing on local market and India for now. I gave up looking for a publisher in UK and US as the markets are out of reach for me. I am still querying for an agent, and unless I find a good agent to represent me, I will not touch other markets. I will visit Women Fiction Writers conference in Matera to find agents for publishing it in Italian.

I believe in ‘today’ and what fuels my drive is my fear of the line -‘if tomorrow never comes’ and this keeps me going. I try to pack as much as I can in my ‘today’.

Deeba breathes advertising during the day and writes at night. She lives in Dubai, UAE with her husband, three kids and one hyperactive Maltese. She spent her childhood in Iran, where her father worked as an ENT surgeon. She has first-hand experience of the Shah’s reign and the Iranian revolution. This gives her a unique sense of perspective into the events that unfolded and of course having lived in Iran, she has had the chance of closely observing the Iranian society and its culture.

Hello Yesterday

A day at a time

I soak and feel.

A moment shared

what a steal.

I see you there

with a tear in your hand.

I look at you and across

I turn away to pass

yet you hold

you  –  my yesterday.

So I say,

hello yesterday.

Once my tomorrow,

and then my today

but now,

just my yesterday.

Didn’t I tie you too to that pier?

You, but you did break alas,

To reach you,

I need to blend to yesterday.

So I stand affirm

look ahead

for tomorrow that

await too, to melt to yesterday!