Sounds of an Unquiet Mind

The fol­low­ing piece is ded­ic­ated to the memor­ies of Nab­il & Saeed

How do I even begin talk­ing about men­tal health? What do I say to reveal enough about myself so you feel that I’m qual­i­fied to speak on this, but not so much as to expose my open wounds to cri­ti­cism and ridicule? Maybe my open wounds are the only way you can see that men­tal health is not some­thing to be taken lightly. Per­haps the scars from my past and the wounds in my present are the lan­guage of love and belong­ing in a world that’s becom­ing some­what divided but increas­ingly self-aware.

The top­ic of men­tal health encom­passes two primary inter­woven areas; psy­cho­lo­gic­al well-being and emo­tion­al intel­li­gence.

Let me start here by telling you that I didn’t get this inform­a­tion solely from a bunch of read­ing I did; the inform­a­tion I’m present­ing right now also comes from years of prac­tic­al exper­i­ence, ana­lys­is and late-night dis­cus­sions with aca­dem­ics from the field. I’m present­ing men­tal health to you on the basis of what I’ve come to under­stand, but if you’re look­ing for spe­cif­ic ref­er­ences or a degree-hold­er then go read a book.

Let me also tell you that this is pretty long. So, either strap in and open your mind or skip to the end if you’re look­ing for the con­clu­sion.

Psy­cho­lo­gic­al well-being is the qual­ity of my thoughts and state-of-mind. It’s my abil­ity to exer­cise crit­ic­al think­ing and to use my mind in a pos­it­ive way which is of bene­fit to my learn­ing and growth. Psy­cho­lo­gic­al ill-health is when my mind cir­cu­lates around self-cri­ti­cism and neg­at­ive thought-loops which influ­ence my actions heav­ily. It is the “bad day”, or week, or six months. It is my inab­il­ity to shake the feel­ing that I don’t belong here and I nev­er will. Or that any pain I exper­i­ence is likely to be per­man­ent; and why would any­one choose this life over choos­ing the ulti­mate free­dom? This has been my exper­i­ence so far.

Emo­tion­al intel­li­gence is what I see as the two-headed creature. If you’re not famil­i­ar with this creature then it’s usu­ally because you’re blind to the fact that it’s lead­ing you and you’re fol­low­ing close behind. If you don’t have the abil­ity to empath­ise with oth­er people; it’s usu­ally because you lack emo­tion­al intel­li­gence. This is where I once was; and I was fine with it. Until I wasn’t. The reas­on I call it the two headed creature is because on one head, it’s my friend, my angel and my guide. And on the oth­er head, it’ll dunk me into the sea of grief and sor­row and hold me down, at times kick­ing and scream­ing, until I learn what I must learn. It is two-headed because no mat­ter which head is in con­trol; the oth­er is always patiently observing and accept­ing.

I believe the way to heal from our men­tal wounds and scars, is first by accept­ance, and then by the use of com­mu­nic­a­tion and vul­ner­ab­il­ity. To nur­ture the abil­ity to open ourselves up, talk about what pains us and allow that little bit of light in. It makes a dif­fer­ence. I’ll say that again. Com­mu­nic­a­tion and vul­ner­ab­il­ity make a dif­fer­ence. I really mean that, with all my heart. It can sin­cerely make the dif­fer­ence between life and death.

It’s simple. But it’s cer­tainly not easy. Being vul­ner­able is uncom­fort­able, unknown and the uncharted ter­rit­ory. I want to be able to talk about my pain but instead I con­cep­tu­al­ise and intel­lec­tu­al­ise psy­cho­lo­gic­ally until I run out of long words to hide behind. Then I recede into my shell. So con­sider this art­icle the glor­i­fic­a­tion of my defence mech­an­ism; a trau­mat­ised addict look­ing for approv­al and accept­ance from the voices in my head. I don’t take my men­tal health for gran­ted because I dis­cip­line my ego, embrace my demons and nur­ture my abil­ity to observe and ana­lyse my feel­ings, thoughts and beha­viour.


“Sounds of an Unquiet Mind” was an event organ­ised by MIND in Tower Ham­lets and Newham (East Lon­don). In par­ti­cip­a­tion with Beats Learn­ing and Queen Mary Uni­ver­sity of Lon­don, the even­ing was a cel­eb­ra­tion and expres­sion of men­tal health through the cre­at­ive arts.

MIND is a lead­ing organ­isa­tion that works to provide sup­port and empower­ment to people who are exper­i­en­cing any kind of men­tal health issues. From pre­vent­at­ive sup­port to act­ive guid­ance and coun­selling, MIND also work to raise aware­ness and pro­mote under­stand­ing wherever there may be stigma sur­round­ing these issues.

In speak­ing to CEO of MIND in Tower Ham­lets and Newham, Michelle Kabia a former nurse by trade, I learned that the organ­isa­tion aims to provide bespoke sup­port to the people who cross their path. Treat­ing each case with the respect it deserves; the staff and volun­teers aim to help improve lives. Hav­ing dealt with men­tal health issues in her own fam­ily and work­ing with vul­ner­able people, Michelle believes it’s import­ant to employ self love and self care as a prin­ciple factor. The organ­isa­tion works in schools, has out­reach pro­grams, and hosts cre­at­ive writ­ing groups for those who wish to use it as an out­let.

In con­ver­sa­tion with MIND staff and the vari­ous per­formers, some of the com­mon themes of this even­ing seemed to be that shame and stigma are still pre­val­ent sur­round­ing men­tal health. That men­tal health needs to be viewed by people in a sim­il­ar regard to phys­ic­al health; that invis­ible pain is just as import­ant as vis­ible injury, if not more import­ant. We all know someone who struggles with their own mind or per­haps we are the people who are strug­gling. It is import­ant for us, as a col­lect­ive, to recog­nise that there’s ways of deal­ing with these issues; simple love-filled ways that the major­ity of us do not get taught from a young age.

Niall Mor­ris­sey is the Men­tal Health Coördin­at­or for Queen Mary Uni­ver­sity. We sat down to talk about the types of issues he fre­quently sees among stu­dents. Of course there is the expec­ted, but no less rel­ev­ant, stress, anxi­ety and depres­sion. Then there are also the stu­dents who live with aut­ism and PTSD. I believe these are the indi­vidu­als who really bene­fit from the work of men­tal health pro­fes­sion­als. Hav­ing worked with people who deal with these issues over the years; I’m famil­i­ar with the patience, love and time required by all involved to steer these stor­ies in the health­i­est dir­ec­tion. Niall patiently works as the advoc­ate to help stu­dents access their ser­vices as smoothly as pos­sible; ensur­ing their men­tal health is a bridge not a bar­ri­er to their stud­ies and effect­ively, their future.

As people trickled in for the event, I sat on the floor next to the util­ity room, behind the harp­ist and cried. If you’ve read some of my pre­vi­ous work you’ll notice that I do that plenty. The cry­ing that is, not the harp­ist; she was quite a romantic new addi­tion which isn’t likely to be a fre­quent one. By this point in the even­ing I’d spent the pre­vi­ous three hours speak­ing to per­son after per­son, and the one thing that became appar­ent to me was the amount of pain they were car­ry­ing. I needed to cry by this point because that pain was now sit­ting in the pit of my stom­ach. Although the harp­ist did make me feel much bet­ter; this event in itself was like ther­apy.


A small orches­tra played people into the room. It was beau­ti­ful. The grandeur is unmis­tak­able and its’ abil­ity to silence a crowd is undeni­able. Even as they per­formed and took breaks between pieces, nobody applauded and there was really no need to; the silence sat in those moments grace­fully and when the applause finally did come, it was genu­inely giv­en and wholly received.

The even­ing was full of beau­ti­ful and unique per­form­ances; the num­ber of which exceeded single digits. How­ever, I’m going to focus on a select few for their sheer abil­ity to make me feel some­thing deep­er than most.

Emily Har­ris­on was a delight to watch. She injec­ted some well-placed and unex­pec­ted jokes into her story of being insti­tu­tion­al­ised. I think she has a beau­ti­ful mind and her sense of humour is sweet and won­der­fully inno­cent. I took a moment to try to under­stand her story, and I can hon­estly say that though she may not have had an easy life, it seems to have served her heart and spir­it well.


Yas­min Aut­w­al per­formed her poems. One was about woman­hood and made the point that we are for­tu­nate to be female; that we are the closest thing to the cre­at­or on this earth. The major­ity of my life has been a con­ces­sion­ary “you’re good… for a woman” type-of-deal. Being con­di­tioned this way even­tu­ally made me believe it; that women can’t share the elev­ated status of men. Com­ing from a fam­ily where I was encour­aged to bury my emo­tions also made me think that there was some­thing wrong with my high level of sens­it­iv­ity. This poem made me feel proud to be a woman; it made me feel grate­ful that I get to, as she said, exper­i­ence the world through my heart. Thank You Yas­min.

Of course this is a Hip Hop magazine and so it would be a dis­hon­our to avoid men­tion­ing the final act of the night, which was Lowkey. The broth­er was wel­com­ing, warm and gra­cious enough to allow me to sit and dis­cuss men­tal health with him pri­or to the show, and we explored some inter­est­ing ground. He poin­ted clearly to the fact that men between the ages of 20–49 are more likely to die from sui­cide than any oth­er cause of death;

“I think that’s largely due to a kind of aver­sion to talk­ing about these prob­lems because we’re put in a place where we often mutil­ate our fac­ulties of emo­tion­al expres­sion in the name of an idea of man­hood, which is com­pletely unreal­ist­ic and is based on the kind of por­no­graph­ic­a­tion of what it means to be a man, put in these kinds of super­hero terms and emo­tion­less terms, and it’s deeply deeply dam­aging.”

He sang the song “Ahmed”, about the people we’ve lost to the ocean when they were try­ing to get to Europe; in most cases attempt­ing to escape viol­ent situ­ations per­petu­ated by the very nations that close their bor­ders. I can’t listen to this song without a heavy heart. Every one of those refugees could be my fam­ily and we choose paper bor­ders over human lives almost every day.

We also spoke about music and how it can be a type of ther­apy for those of us who choose it;

“I think what music does is it facil­it­ates an expres­sion of the soul which is not really facil­it­ated by many oth­er things. I think it allows people to express them­selves in a very organ­ic and dir­ect way… it also can provide a cath­artic out­let for people to deal with what they’re going through and also deal with their isol­a­tion.”

Lowkey, backed by tal­en­ted pian­ist Karim Kamar and vocal­ist Char­lotte, also per­formed “My Soul”; a song that is a beau­ti­ful pro­clam­a­tion to the strength of the human spir­it and soul. Some­thing I sus­pect music has allowed him to strengthen and bal­ance in the most beau­ti­ful way.

He con­cluded our inter­view beau­ti­fully when I asked him if he feels that being social is a kind of relief for men­tal health issues;

“We have to assert that we are a col­lect­ive and find a col­lect­ive con­scious; I do think that provides pro­tec­tion for people… there is pro­tec­tion in the power of the col­lect­ive and I def­in­itely think that needs to be act­ively fostered.”

The entire event left me feel­ing both emo­tion­ally exhausted and whole-heartedly sat­is­fied. There are beau­ti­ful people in the world who struggle every day. There are beau­ti­ful people in the world who help oth­ers get through their day. And then there is the power in cre­at­ing dia­logue, rais­ing self-aware­ness and remind­ing ourselves of our inher­ent inex­tric­able con­nec­tion to one anoth­er. If you suf­fer, so do I.

This is the lan­guage of love and belong­ing.

These are the Sounds of an Unquiet Mind.


If you, or any­one you know, are exper­i­en­cing sui­cid­al thoughts, you can find sup­port here

Altern­at­ively, you can call The Samar­it­ans at ANY time on 116 123

You can also vis­it CALM for help spe­cific­ally ded­ic­ated to pre­vent­ing male sui­cide… please don’t suf­fer in silence.

I caught up with Lowkey to find out more about his par­ti­cip­a­tion in this event. Read my inter­view with him here. 



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About Aisha

Aisha is a Writer and Researcher based in London. She Thanks you for reading.