Friday, August 22, 2014

Admitted to a Mental Asylum for Disbelieving

I can’t remember what convinced me to trust my father when he claimed we were going to go take a walk, just days after we had a fight about me wanting to take off my veil. Before I knew it, I found myself in front of an insane asylum. Three large guys shoved me inside as I kicked, screamed, and cursed. Hours later, I met Dr. Ashraf, a rather stern-looking shrink with hatred written all over his face, which was covered with a messy, bushy beard that resembled a small, furry creature trying to devour his head. It was strangely amusing seeing him in a lab coat. It was like seeing a Neanderthal in a suit attempting a more civilized look and waiting for him to snap and reveal his true barbaric nature. “You will room with her” he said, pointing at an old skinny lady with heavy makeup and sticky semi-dyed hair who glanced from the Neanderthal to me, then back to the Neanderthal, “oh don’t tell me she’s crazy!” She said laughing hysterically. “My, what a pretty young thing! Tell me child, have you ever been eaten?” She asked as she stared at me hungrily. I pictured her tearing my flesh and consuming me till I vanished into thin air. “Oh no, you get me out of here! You get me out of here right now! I am not rooming with a cannibal!” I said fiercely to the Neanderthal. “Cannibal?! Damn it, the child really is crazy” shrieked the old lady. “You will do as you are told”replied the Neanderthal smugly. I gathered every shred of strength I possessed and punched him. Seconds later, I was surrounded by an invasion of injections that made everything turn dark.

I woke up and started observing the women in the ward. Apart from a schizophrenic girl named Marwa, I was the youngest person there. “Marwa! Marwa!” shouted a nurse while Marwa gazed into space. “Marwa you bitch, I am calling you!” said the cruel creature. Marwa fiercely locked eyes with the nurse, and said quite assertively, “My name is Maryam (Mary).” She then claimed she was the Virgin Mary while the nurse burst into laughter. I wondered what it must be like having little connection to reality. I thought it must be the worst thing in the world. I felt sorry for her not only because of her mental condition, but also for being thrown into such a vile and useless place. Instead of getting the treatment, she needs,she's turned into a form of entertainment for the sadistic nurses. The nurses tried to pick on me a few times, but every time they did I’d hit them with a clever comeback. They hated me, I ruined their fun, and I liked it.Desperately trying to hurt me one of the nurses said, “Wipe that smugness off your face. Tomorrow is your electroshock appointment.” It was painful pretending her words had no effect on me when in reality, I felt like she poured acid on my face. Breathing got harder, I told her that I was suffocating and that I needed a bit of fresh air.She told me to go back to bed with a cold indifference. I started screaming hysterically like a mad woman. Suddenly, I was attacked by what seemed like an army of nurses brutally injecting me with enough sedatives to put an elephant to sleep. But the sedatives had no effect on me, I was as sober and awake as I could get, and I continued screaming till they agreed to let me get some fresh air. I stopped screaming, and after awhile, the nurses were in deep conversation. They barely remembered I was there. I glimpsed the guard struggling to stay awake, so I quietly snuck off and went out the door. All of a sudden, the guard became as alert as a watch dog, and ran after me till he finally caught me. “Trying to escape, eh?!!” screamed the guard. “You know what I do to people who try to escape?! I break their legs with my bare hands” he said. He mercilessly started twisting my feet. The sound of my screams kept getting louder. He then pulled on my leg and violently dragged me back. I used my hand as a barrier between my face and the flesh-tearing ground. I was thrown into my room, and the nurse locked the door as she said with a glimpse of amusement, “You’ll never get out of here”. I struggled to move my legs, but it was too painful. I laid on the floor that night drowning in tears and blood.

I woke up to the sound of a loud nurse dragging me to get electroshock. I limped my way into the rape room.While lying and awaiting the lab coat wearing monsters to ruin my head, the most private and intimate part of me, the only thing that calmed me was how close I felt to Sylvia Plath. Instead of screaming or shouting, I recited “The Hanging Man” to the sounds of the nurses’ ignorant laughter. “By the roots of my hair some god got hold of me. I sizzled in his blue volts like a desert prophet. The nights snapped out of sight…”and suddenly everything went blank.After regaining my consciousness, I spent hours staring at the ceiling trying to think but not being able to.I felt someone’s presence in the room; I turned my head and saw a nurse standing there. I never really knew her name. Her face and figure were forcefully hidden under layers upon layers of thick sheets of cloth, and her actions for the most part, revealed no identity whatsoever. She followed the orders she was given, and remained silent and opinion less. I thought there would be no possible way of distinguishing her from any lifeless object in the room, but to my surprise she gave me a glimpse into a trait of her personality. “You haven’t eaten anything in days”. Even though, I couldn’t see her facial expressions, I heard a crack in her voice that revealed concern. “The food here is nauseating, I wouldn’t eat it if they paid me” I mumbled. As she was about to speak, I felt that she was about to unmask her true nature, and lose her robotic exterior. I wondered if she would turn out to be no different from all the other nurses, and say something along the lines of, “you ungrateful child! You should be glad you’re being fed a tall!” But to my surprise, all I heard was her saying, “I will buy you a bean sandwich” (in a soft, mother-like voice). I hated beans with every fiber of my being. Under any other circumstances, the idea of a bean sandwich would make me sick. But compared to the hospital food, a bean sandwich sounded like caviar.

That nameless nurse was the best thing that ever happened to me in that asylum; she befriended me and often to took me outside for fresh air. One day while we were outside she pointed her head to the direction of a woman and told me that creature named Amal was the head of the Asylum. Amal was the text book definition of a mid-life crisis, her gigantic figure struggled to rip through her blouse, which was obviously a few sizes too small, and a few generations too young. I saw a lady walking up to her who wore a Turkish scarf like my mother always did. As I took a closer look, I realized that it was, in fact, my mother. They both walked towards me, I was taken into Amal’s office. My mother told me that she had no idea where I was until she blackmailed my father into telling her. “Amal, the child doesn't belong here, and I am taking her home “yelled my mother. “If you do I will be forced to call the cops, your daughter has a bizarre form of mental illness. I am afraid it might be months before she’s even qualified for the evaluation which determines her eligibility to leave our institution” replied Amal. “You know she’s fine, it is no wonder you were always called a bitch in college” said my mother as I remembered who Amal was, she was a classmate of my father in college and rumor has it she had quite a crush on him which is enough incentive to do him whatever favor he asks even if it is to lock up his daughter. “Momma give me the phone” I said, I called my father and made up an elaborate story about how I met an angel who showed me apart of heaven, and that I will wear my veil again because I wouldn't want to miss the opportunity to go to such a wonderful place. Fifteen minutes later I was released from the Asylum. I was ecstatic and started skipping in the street. I felt a huge sense of freedom until I stopped in front of a scarf kiosk and I realized that I wasn't free. I wondered how much longer my spirit will remain shackled.


  1. Hello

    What a story!!!
    No wonder you don't want to return to Egypt and I really don't understand how some people thinks you are not true.
    I shared this on facebook.

  2. Hi Rim, I have found your blog via Marwa's link (between a veil and a dark place) and am glad to have read this heartfelt post. It saddens me, yet it also fills me with hope to know resilient, strong women such as yourself are making themselves heard through social media. My sincere best wishes and I hope you stay in the USA for as long as you want to.

  3. You are an excellent writer and an incredibly strong woman. I too have started my journey to remove the hijab. It was never my choice and never will be!

  4. This made me cry!
    It is so sad. I hope everything is OK now. Islam is e dark thing for a woman, even without hijab. The saddest part is that your family took it so bad, with rage and desire to punish you. Some people only take it with sadness and accept the decisions of their loved ones. I guess it depends on their personality and their level of indoctrination.

  5. Reem, You're really brave.
    It's been a year since I've decided to label myself as agnostic/atheist. But I still don't have the guts to tell my family that I don't want to wear a hijab, that I don't want to be forced into praying. How did you get the courage to do that?
    Thanks and Kudos to you girl for living your life as your true self.

  6. You are a really talented writer but more importantly I totally respect your outlook and your strength through those trials. You are a visionary Reem; keep on pushing.