As far as I can go in my childhood memories, I always felt I was different. I could not really identify what made me feel this way, since I was a healthy, cute, doing-very-well-in-school, talented little girl and then a less-cute but still doing-well teenage girl. I had friends, suffered from intimidation in high school but in a “normal way”, came from a good family, but still. I didn’t understand why there was always a form of collective informal consensus about how we should behave, feel, interact with others. I couldn’t grasp why the norm was the norm. It didn’t make any sense to me. I was suffering because I was not thinking, feeling and reacting like others would. I didn’t connect with them on a deeper level.
Feeling more related to nature than to humans
When I reached my twenties, that perception intensified. I felt more related to the botanical or animal world than to the human specie. At that time, I considered it to be a very negative thing and felt an intense loneliness because of that sense of strangeness. I spent more and more time alone and became extremely self-aware. I didn’t really fit anywhere. I was studying psychology and hated it. I couldn’t stand to be in a group, and felt like an outcast from my own kind. In 1996, I suffered from a very painful breakup, got super ill, received a diagnosis of Crohn’s disease, dropped out of school, left everything I used to know to go work in London and travel. Best decision ever to feel even more alienated.
All that time spent alone and struggling (personally, financially, psychologically) helped me realize it might not be such a bad thing to be different. What if it simply meant I was unique and special? What if I had something to offer to the world that no one else could? Despite these thoughts, I didn’t have the self-confidence to embrace that uniqueness concept and kept trying to find my place and be myself at the same time.
Praying for answers
I remember asking “the universe” to tell me where I belonged. From what planet I was from. Why I was feeling so special, in a inglorious way. I was going crazy because it was like everyone on earth was acting or pretending that things were fine, normal. I felt an awareness that I couldn’t share with anyone. I couldn’t describe it. My soul felt homesick. I reached a point where even life itself didn't make any sense. I started to pray almost every day for a sign that I wasn’t completely insane. And my prayers were answered in the most unforeseen way. A friend handed me a Quran without me asking or sharing anything about my suffering, and told me my answers might be there.
And yes. They were. And my crazy, long and extraordinary journey to islam started. I learned that we are in this world but not from this world. That we are not earthly creatures with a soul, but spiritual creatures with a body. That we don’t belong here. That our soul longs for God and suffers when it is not connected with Him. All that I learned made sense. At last. Something made sense. I was no longer an alien wandering on earth, looking for a tribe. I had been created for a purpose by the One who Knows.
What it now means to be different
To this day, I still feel different. I am often reminded I don’t belong. As a Muslim. As a convert. As a Canadian living in the Middle East. As someone who suffers from an invisible chronic disease and has a very specific diet that makes it impossible to eat like everybody else. As an artist. I’m a stranger in this world. But I’m fully and wholeheartedly embracing my Sick-Muslim-Convert-Immigrant-Artist identity. It is me. It is who I was destined to be.
Being different now translates into expressing my difference in a non-verbal language that is my art. It is my way of sharing my unique outlook on reality. It's my offering to the world.