About Maham Shah:
Maham Shah graduated with a Bachelors in Sociology from the University of Punjab. She is a storyteller, a creative and academic writer, a poet, a spoken word performer, and an active community worker. Currently, she is enrolled in the MPhil Education Leadership and Management programme at Lahore University of Management Sciences where her research and advocacy interests revolve around psychosocial development and rehabilitation.
We recently talked to her about her book ‘My Therapist Tells Me Not To Ruminate‘. Have a look at what she had to say.
What would you say was your biggest challenge when putting your thoughts on paper, especially considering the sensitivity of the topic?
Initially, my first challenge was my own self as I had to go through everything all over again. I had already written many of the poems at different times in my life, mostly at midnight. Any event that had left its mark on my mind in the day, I would write it down later at night. It was hard visiting every nook and cranny of my mind, but at the same time, it felt like I was relieving myself of the burden of keeping it all inside myself. Later, it started feeling therapeutic in a way.
After every attempt to bare my mind, my tone was getting more bold and unapologetic. There were things that I was not able to vocalize, but when it came to penning it down, I was unstoppable. I would have gone way too far while writing in terms of exposing the darkest of my memories and thoughts, but the next challenge came when I wanted to be heard. Because at this time, it was getting stifling again. I started regretting having it all bottled up inside me first, and then, keeping it locked in my journal or in my phone — in either case it felt the same.
In this desire to be heard, I gradually started sharing some pieces first with some of my trusted friends and then on the WhatsApp statuses. I was still afraid of the backlash. And this was the biggest challenge. I am not comfortable with sharing this piece of my work with people who are going to judge this side of me. I am afraid of the rejection, but I decided to sail through it, still by getting myself published and venturing to get out of my comfort zone.
Do you think this is still an issue? In fact, is this now a bigger issue now that your book is out?
Indeed, this challenge is still there because of the stigma our society associates with mental health issues. Quite ironically, when it comes to mental illnesses, people assume the cure as the expertise of a faith healer, which was one of the biggest issues I faced in my recovery. And maybe the reason why it took so long and worsened overtime was because I couldn’t find the right treatment for a very long time. I also had to isolate myself as my condition became quite noticeable when in gatherings. I have carried many labels for the longest time which added to my suffering until I decided to change my perspective.
When I say that “my therapist tells me not to ruminate,” I say it literally! Finding the balance between what is right for my treatment and the urge to write i.e. let my mind wander for some time while being told otherwise was part of it. On a lighter note, my therapist did not know until now that I never really left ruminating entirely while writing. This is why I find a stream of consciousness as a therapeutic style of writing; I disregard any inhibition in my way to express myself.
How has that affected your writing? How would you and others describe your own work?
My work, My Therapist Tells Me Not To Ruminate, in particular, is something that has phases within phases. I often think of this idea of writing everything in verse. So this book is the kind of work where I have tried to write a story about my journey with something in my head that torments me sometimes, then is there to soothe me, and then helps me bounce back from that suffering. Psychologists call it “my mind” — it treats me the way I allow it to!
The story is divided into three chapters but all in verse as opposed to the traditional way of story writing. There are 21 poems, or twenty-one events, that I have reflected upon. Rumination is the major theme of the work apart from its sub-themes of mental health, illness, recovery, etc. You’ll not only find “rumination” as something I have talked about, rather you’ll find the rumination principle into practice in my writing style and at many different levels of this collection. For people who truly understand the concept of rumination, it’s going to be an interesting and a promising read for sure!
Ideally, what kind of impact do you want to have on your readers?
I never approve of myself transferring any kind of negative vibes to another person. My goal is to build people up even if it requires me to relate my own experiences. This is a piece of art and everyone chooses to express themselves in their own way. On one hand, there is inspiration to be gained from the writing style. On the other hand, for those who have the eye to identify the grit and passion in these instances of expression, there is grit and passion despite the adversity. As simple as that!
What advice would you give other writers like you?
The advice I’ll give here is something I would like to say to the Maham who was once wondering whether to call herself a writer or not. The advice is, don’t try to fit in! Break rules, break barriers, build new ones … build your own words, for instance the flight-full calling the frightful you! You’ll find this one in the collection. And yes, experiment, while keeping it eloquent and elegant in writing!
Have there been any writers who have inspired you to think this way?
For the longest time, I have had this image of my Nana Jaan, my grandfather, in my mind, sitting on his table, his white head bent over some notes, his white brows furrowed deep in thought, and his white moustache. He would keep his pen in his mouth and sometimes run it through his moustache, all the while thinking hard on something while writing. I associate writing with that image of him. He was my first inspiration, although I was very young when he passed away, but I remember he never had the resources to get his work published after retiring.
I have written about a moment of inspiration with him in the acknowledgment section of the book. When I recall him as a figure with everything white — as pure, innocent, and benign as white — I think of him as an angel. I get from him the inspiration that the act of writing is spiritual! There is a poem in the third chapter of the collection, “The List Of All The Things That Are Going Extinct.” I couldn’t understand until now from where the inspiration to write this one was coming from. That’s my Nana among all the white things that are going extinct!
Apart from that, I hardly ever remember the names of the authors whether popular or novice, I just read a lot and anything by anyone can stay with me and inspire me to write!
This was Maham Shah for you all. Hope you enjoyed the interview because we sure did! You can check out more author interviews in our Da’knights category. You can also Sign Up with Daastan to receive our newsletter!