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Lebanon, where Joy comes from, lies right by the Mediterranean Sea. This is the first spot where Joy went to when she returned to visit and the last place she went to on her last night. (Courtesy of Joy Ismail)

End of a Chapter, Beginning Of a Book

When I was younger, I used to fantasize about moving to a new city.


I imagined biking to work, wandering around charming old alleys, and learning a new language. I dreamed of lying around in a lush park, reading all afternoon. These were things I wasn’t able to experience in the city I lived in most of my life – Beirut.


Today, I live in a city that is almost an exact replica of the one in my childhood dreams. Ironically, the one thing that is missing is happiness. Things may be picture-perfect on the outside and I may technically have achieved what I thought I so desired, but nothing is as it seems. Ironically, I want nothing more than to go back home. I suppose it is true what they say about not knowing what you have until it’s gone because it took leaving Lebanon to truly understand how much I love it and what it means to me. My attachment to Beirut was amplified beyond anything I could have imagined.


Perhaps this is the way I am meant to live the rest of my life; never really there, but never really here. Maybe I am destined to be a nomad, a wandering soul, grasping desperately at some place that can fill the outline of the hole in my heart. Perhaps I am meant to roam, until the homesickness kills me, or I give up and go back home, which is a death sentence, but is also the sweetest suicide. I love you Lebanon. I feel you every second of every day. You are in my veins and no matter what I do, I can’t get you out. I don’t even want to try.

When I moved to this new city on my own six months ago, I fell into a black hole of depression so unlike me that I could no longer recognize myself. I felt completely untethered – which happens to be the title of my book of poems. I am typically good at helping myself when I am struggling mentally, but this time, I was not willing to help myself. I’m an avid reader, but I wasn’t able to pick up a book for two months. I used to exercise four times a week, but for weeks I couldn’t even get myself off the couch. I spent entire nights staring at the walls in my apartment, sometimes in tears and others numb and exhausted.


I was forced to venture out,

An alien in a new city,

I explored it begrudgingly,

Unwillingly.

I marked my territory across every corner,

With tears.

I cried on park benches,

In empty streets,

In bustling cafes.


Weeks came and went as I was on autopilot until I started writing. Writing has always been an intense passion and hobby for me, but, like most things in my life, it was put on hold during my Ph.D. Every time I had a breakdown or panic attack, I wrote a poem. Sometimes I wrote five at a time. My pen never stopped scribbling after that. I was never much of a poet, but short lines and phrases were the best way to get my feelings out. I wrote down on paper everything I was unable to express out loud, everything that I felt no one around me could understand, let alone help with. Months later, I accumulated a lot of poems, all about leaving home and experiencing a dark and stubborn kind of homesickness. I chose not to sugarcoat my experience, so many of the poems are quite dark. I decided to put them together in a book of poems and publish them with the leading publishing house in Lebanon. There is good that came out of all this because I’ve been dreaming about publishing a book and becoming an author since I was 14. Now, it’s finally happening. Although some poems recount the Lebanese experience and why it is uniquely challenging, the book as a whole will undoubtedly reach any ex-pat or immigrant who struggles with homesickness and feelings of yearning or nostalgia.


 

Joy poses in Leuven, Belgium, when she was finally feeling better and starting to explore and appreciate the city around her. (Courtesy of Joy Ismail)


Today, I am in a somewhat different place: somewhere between acceptance and adaptation. The depression I witnessed has evolved, at times growing and at others receding, but it is still ever-present. It has made me question everything, from the meaning of life, to what I truly want, to whether I even want to exist in the world.


Your heart goes numb,

The hunger in the pit of your belly,

The ache in your heart that sometimes stuns you into paralysis,

They go away.