By Sheldon Lobo

Content warning: contains emotionally distressing content and mentions of suicide.

I can’t believe the university made me do this. The disbelief stirred my being to its very core. I wiped tears from my eyes as I looked at the fingerprint-stained mirror. A foreign image stared back… I couldn’t help but recall how blindfolds covered these very eyes earlier this morning.

***

The calm and still is almost magical. I feel like I’m not supposed to be here. The rooftop of my summer mansion looks beautiful when it is gently snowing. I stand, taking in the serenity of the moment.

The stark sound of a ring cuts through the tranquillity and, with it, the delusion. I do not have a mansion. I turn around. Where am I?  My body cooperates as I jump up from my dream, and Ms. Reality Check rudely pulls me towards her domain. Greeted by the warm gust of Middle Eastern summer winds, I turn over and reach out a weak hand to click snooze on my phone again. I lay in bed staring at the ceiling and sigh to myself.

‘Today is going to be a long day.’

‘Alexa, play Golden hour,’ I say as I dab the carefully measured drop of Hyaluronic acid serum on my face in a desperate attempt to get that plump, hydrated picture-perfect skin that the models have on Instagram. I spread the elixir that cost me a fortune on my cheeks because, apparently, this is what the “sheep” call “self-care”; nevertheless, I give into it. I find myself smirking as I see a glow on my face that deceives the world into believing that I, too, have luminous skin reflecting the glory of the stars.

Following the brief moment of interaction with myself, like a thoughtless robot, I move on autopilot. Grab my bag, feed my rabbit, and head for the door.

I wish my life had background music; that would make my mundane life that much more interesting.

It’s not long before I’m standing at the bus stop with my phone buzzing before me, going off for the second time today. There are multiple notifications from the Poetry club.

Yes, dear reader, your man here is a snobby Poet.

‘Mental health day! Please visit our stall in block 15.’

I scoff and let out a giggle, recollecting the trending TikTok audio ‘immediately no.’ I resolve not to go for something as cheesy as a mental health activity. Lo and behold, a psychology student resisting a mental health activity. My antics would make Freud, Rogers, and all the other famous and quite dead psychologists roll over in their graves.

‘But Sheldon, if anyone needs a mental health day, it’s you.’ A little voice in my head suspiciously similar to an annoyed Morgan Freeman sounds out, and I might as well listen to him. But no! I am a Taurus, and the strange TikTok astrologer lady says we don’t change our minds easily.

Little did I know fate defies will.

As I make my way into the university building after an exhausting commute, a cheery girl, probably five foot two inches, waves at me as I walk towards her. It’s not long before I notice why she’s trying to grab my attention. I now have the sudden urge to run very far away from here and adopt the life of a farmer and live off the land.

Then again, this city boy from Abu Dhabi has never even touched “the land” with his bare feet.

Hesitantly I follow her; the sound of the mental health day participants surrounds me as I ignore the happy chatter and strange stalls with their misty-scented sticks, a wheel with some weird yoga poses and a box of teabags…? 

Why does it feel like someone is going to ask about my aura and find me a black hole to oblivion?

‘What on earth am I getting into,’ I mumble, my expression cleverly hidden by the black face mask that I still wear despite Dubai easing the mask mandate. My feet lead me to a path my mind is trying its best to resist.

Come on, Morgan Freeman, now is when your subtle nudges could help me conform to society’s pressure to be “mentally stable”.

Pulling myself out of my mind, I see it. The fairy-like volunteer of the poetry club stall, all happy and warm. She comes over and leads me, a curly-haired mess of a person, to an activity that sounds extremely questionable. I’m suddenly blindfolded; the material feels almost like my teddy bear, Mr Pebbles, which strangely comforts me.

I fancy myself being a blind superhero fighting the bad guys, except this time, there are no bad guys except the sound of my beating heart resembling a thundering storm and my confusion about this situation as a whole. Another person is seated in front of me, blindfolded and unknown to me, a total stranger.

‘For this activity, you are placed in front of a total stranger, and now you need to speak to them as you would to your younger self,’ a voice sounds out.

My heart stops.

‘Speak to each other with the kindness you wished you received when you were a child,’ the feminine voice continues. I shift in my seat and offer for the person before me to start while I navigate the voices in my head.

How can I be so vulnerable? This isn’t going to work. Can the walls of a seemingly happy, charming person like me be allowed to have a peephole that exposes a mortally wounded soul that once cried in the wilderness begging for a light that never showed up until the very last minute…?

‘Hi, Adam*,’ a different masculine voice cuts through my thoughts.

Oh, he is a boy.

‘I want you to know that your parents love you, and you didn’t deserve to be bullied,’ he pauses. ‘You are perfect, and no one will ever hurt you again; you are not ugly; those were all lies.’

He sniffles. I realize he is getting emotional.

‘Adam*, I love you, I never told you this, but I truly love you; you were so strong to fight those dark thoughts.’

A lump forms in my throat as I heard this male human speak to me like I was the younger him.

Silence fills the space left by his confession. It is my turn now.

‘Hi, Sheldon,’ I start as I try to muster up the kindest words to speak to my younger self. ‘Sheldon, thank you for being so strong. Thank you for smiling even during the bad days; I am sorry you had to be stronger than you were at the age of 5.’

All of a sudden, I’m not a sarcastic comedian but a force of nature sending rains of relief to a dessert yearning for water.

 ‘Sheldon, I am happy you survived suicidal thoughts.’

At a pace that almost seems “miracle like”, the dessert in me gets its first sip of water and yields a rose from the thorny bushes that I once thought were ugly. It would be ten years since the world would have lost me; it slowly dawns upon me that it was worth holding on, I am an absolute treasure to have around.

I feel a warm hand grasp my shoulder tightly; this is strangely comforting.

‘Sheldon, they told you that you were stupid and would not amount to anything, guess what? You are a distinction student now; you are loved, and guess what? You sing now. No one makes fun of your girly voice.’

And while I mask the voice with the enthusiasm of a cheerleader in one of the early 2000’s movies, the truth lurks behind my tone.

I’m blindfolded, but I can almost see my younger self, the skinny, smiling boy standing before me. He is so precious. I feel the soft material glide off my face as fingers take off my blindfold, and I open my eyes to see the stranger, Adam*, aka mini-me, before me to be greeted by a tearful hug.

***

Even now as I look back, it’s hard to believe that I went through this at university. I felt so light and free as I swiped through baby pictures of myself later that day. I giggle, wondering why my life resembles a Netflix movie right now; it must be good writing, eh? I wanted to avoid World Mental Health Day, but I discovered just how much we need to face the things we’re running away from sometimes. I needed to appreciate myself. I’d forgotten about self-compassion. I’d forgotten about me.

But fret not, reader, this Taurus isn’t going to jump into the deep hippy pool and braid his hair after an early morning yoga session with the sun. Baby steps.

I see Adam* the next day and give a slight nod typical of a non-expressive male, but this time it’s filled with appreciation because he represents a memory in my life where I allowed myself to feel. It could be that he just thinks I am nodding, but to me, it’s deeper than just that.

*Name changed for anonymity.


Register for the mdxMindset talk on Suicide and Self-Harm on January 26th at 2pm here.

You can contact the campus Mental Health Counsellor, Nora Tahir, at n.tahir@mdx.ac.ae

Emergency Information

  • UAE’s police hotline, 999
  • Toll-free mental health support line 800-HOPE (800-4673)
  • -Ministry of Health and Prevention MOHAP’s psychological counselling line, call or message on Whatsapp – 04 519 2519 (Sunday to Thursday 9 am to 9 pm).