Najwa Zebian is a Lebanese Canadian author, poet and educator. Her two books Mind Platter and The Nectar of Pain empower people by speaking the truth about pain. It allows her readers to feel in depth and let go of their suffering. In our world to speak about feelings and emotions is a taboo. It is seen as a defect. And to top it off, we are taught that vulnerability is a weakness. But in her TEDx Talk she emphasizes the importance of being vulnerable and to feel. She has been through hell and back, and through writing she has been able to heal. So I have interviewed her on the importance of feeling in a world were you are told not to feel. Through writing is Healing Power.
Q: One of the traits that most stands out from you is strength and strong women have endured difficulties. Can you tell us a bit about your story?
My story is similar to the stories of millions out there. I have been in search of a home my whole life. A place to feel like I belong. A place where my heart feels full and content. I lived most of my life defining myself worth by how others saw me and how much they welcomed me into their lives. I did that until I fell for someone who completely shattered me. I almost lost myself. I didn’t even resemble myself anymore. I lost the color from my life. I invested my whole being into fighting for a love that turned out to be nothing but abuse. And after I completely burnt out, I started coming back to myself and building a home inside of me for myself. A home that reminds me of what I deserve. A home that always. Always. Always welcomes me.
I am left with the trauma of what I went through. And for so long, I denied it. Because I couldn’t accept that I was hurt this badly. It made me feel ashamed of “allowing” this to happen to me. I blamed myself. And only when I decided to see things for what they really were, where I went wrong and where I had no control of the story, did I start healing.
I am a human who is working on healing. I am working on myself. I am working to make sense of myself and the world.
Q: Growing up, you were bullied for being sensitive? But, I personally believe sensitivity can be a power. Do you agree? If so why?
Growing up, I was bullied pretty harshly for being sensitive. I was made to feel that it was a horrible thing about me that made me deserving of being let down, taken advantage of. And I believed that. I internalized it. This took place for years, and only when I started writing, did I start cherishing my sensitivity. Here is a piece that I wrote that I always come back to:
Your sensitivity is not a sign of weakness. Your sensitivity makes you beautiful. It makes you different. It makes you unique. You see, we live in a world where it’s easier to pretend that you don’t feel, and if you dare express that you feel, you become an easy target to be picked on and hurt. So, from a young age, you’re taught that strength means hiding how you feel, or not expressing your feelings at all. I want you to ask yourself, if you don’t feel, how can you truly love? If you don’t feel, how can you empathize with the tragedies happening in the world? If you are sensitive to being disrespected, it means that you will not disrespect others because you know how it feels to be disrespected. If you are sensitive to being ignored or lied to, you will not ignore or lie to others because you know how it feels to be ignored and lied to. Promise yourself from today to be at peace with your sensitivity. Instead of trying to hide it, cherish it.
Q: How did you get into writing, and how did it empower you?
I started writing when I was 13. One of my friends in Lebanon at the time gave me a journal for my birthday. It was a little weird at first because I was not used to it. I continued to find comfort in writing for three years. When I moved to Canada at 16, I stopped writing because I felt so out of place. I was angry with the reality of where I was. I started writing again seven years later when I started teaching a group of students who had the same experience of having to move to Canada. That is when I started healing.
The way that writing empowered me was by giving me a voice. Anytime I wrote, I felt heard. At the same time, I felt like I needed to project my voice even louder. Being quiet my whole life, it was hard to finally put my feelings to words. There’s always a fear there that something is wrong with your words because, for so long, you thought that something was wrong with your feelings- with you. But taking the brave step of putting my work as a self-published author out there into the world and seeing how many people out there relate to my words- that has been so unbelievably empowering. That is why I say “I write to give a voice to the silenced souls out there.”
Q: Tell us about your books: Mind Platter and The Nectar of Pain.
My first book, Mind Platter, is a compilation of about 200 reflections on life. It gives a voice to those who need one, offers a crying shoulder for those who need someone to listen, and inspires those who need a reminder of the power that they have over their lives.
Published in the same year, my second book, The Nectar of Pain, is a collection of poetry and prose that the pain of love and loss gave birth to. With this one, you have to be ready to dip into the core of pain to feel it and let it leave you.
Q: You’re an amazing writer, and sometimes it’s hard to choose your favorite poem that you’ve written. But if you had to choose can you tell us which one it is?
You’re right. It’s hard for me to choose just one when they’ve all been part of my being. One of my most favorite lines, which came to me during the worst time of my life is this line. It still continues to get me through my hardest times:
These mountains that you are carrying, you were only supposed to climb.
Q: In your TEDx Talk, you share the importance of feeling like you have a home? Why do you believe people yearn for that place? You also stress, the mistake of looking for a home in someone else. Why is that?
Where do I even start? Who doesn’t want that feeling of being home? Belonging? Feeling connected? Who wouldn’t want that? A home is a place that should be a place that is nourishing to a human’s soul. It should be a place where you feel safe, loved and worthy. No matter what kind of day you had, a home welcomes you and makes you feel heard. People yearn for a home because it’s natural to.
Looking for a home inside of someone else can destroy you because you invest everything inside of you. Your love. Your care. Your kindness. Respect etc. You take it all and give it to someone else. You build a home inside of them that contains parts of you. So when they walk away, that home walks away with them. And everything you’ve invested in them walks away with them.
I urge anyone reading this to watch my TEDx talk because that was the most vulnerable I had ever been at that point. I wore my heart on my sleeve in that talk and I don’t think I’d be able to give a better description here.
Q: What does being vulnerable mean to you and how can writing help you overcome it?
I have to give credit here to Brene Brown, whose work on vulnerability has literally changed my life. Vulnerability to me means putting yourself out there. Taking a risk. Having the ability to be who you are, knowing that it might mean that you will be hurt, but not allowing that fear to stop you from authentically being yourself.
A personal example for me was putting my poetry out into the world. I write for myself. To free that ache inside of me by validating it. But some might read my words and say “wow, she is a drama queen!” but I don’t care about that. This is who I am. This is how I felt at one point. I am being authentic in describing my feelings. So someone’s opinion or perception of that does not matter to me. The liberty that I feel when I put my feelings on paper is worth the exposure and risk.
Q: If you could leave one piece of important advice to the readers what would it be?
Be yourself. Own your story. Have the courage to say “this is who I am. This is what I went through. And this is how I will not allow what happened to me to define me. I will define it and what place it holds in my life.” Don’t fall into the victim mentality of blaming life and everyone for what you went through. Is there blame on them? Maybe. But that will get you nowhere. You have to focus on yourself. On what YOU make of it. it happened, yes. It cannot be changed though. What YOU do with it, how YOU end it, THAT is what you need to focus on.
Q: As a teacher and author, how do you plan to make a difference in a world where feelings are seen like a defect?
I will keep writing. I will keep speaking from my soul. I will keep that guard down when it comes to expressing my feelings to my audience. I don’t want anyone to feel alone in the way that they feel. Feelings are natural. They are with us every moment of everyday. We would be denying our own reality if we denied our feelings.
I will keep being proud of who I am, with every part of myself. I will keep growing as a person. I will keep climbing. I will keep fighting. And on that road, I hope that everyone who reads my words does the same with me.