I will be happy when…No you won’t.

How long have you been saying that?

I’ll be happy when I get into this program, get married, have a child, get a haircut, get thin, get published, pass an exam, get a job, retire..

And on and on the list goes. 


There will always be something looming ahead promising happiness.

It’s an empty promise, it’s time to wake up..

and be happy now.


Empty tank



For several nights in a row now, I’ve been stumbling to my room so tired, that I fall face down, fully dressed, on top of the covers, legs dangling from the side of the bed..so exhausted that I fall asleep and my children are the ones to cover me and kiss me goodnight.. before going off to bed.

No matter, I march on the next day and the next, gotta keep going. Today, something happened to make me pause for a second.  While driving home after dropping them off at school, and mentally going through my to-do list, I noticed I was running low on gas. Great, one more thing on my to- do list. Can’t run on an empty tank.

“What about your tank?”

“Wha..? who’s that?..Oh, it’s you”

Everyone, let me introduce my self-compassion voice. She’s new, and her voice is still very low..or  is it a he? I haven’t decided on the gender-or the accent for that matter. He’s kind of like my internal Siri. Let’s go with deep throaty Irish accent today 🙂

So, Irish here raises a good point.. What about my empty tank? what about my falling asleep all over the place? huh?

So. I stopped the car downtown,  walked to my favourite store, and  bought this belt with pink feathers, which I have been wanting for a while. It was the very last one, and on a double sale!

(if you don’t know the significance of this belt, read this, you’ll enjoy it):


Then I went to one of my favourite cafes and had  a sinfully delicious breakfast (yes, it involved Nutella). And then..I went home, and did some work to ease my gnawing conscience (I’m not used to this degree of pampering). After that, I exercised, then practiced my new secret hobby # 1 and new secret hobby #2 (I’m a beginner and too shy to tell you what I’m learning).

By the afternoon, when I caught my reflection in the mirror, I swear I looked different. Some colour back in the cheeks and some sparkle back in the eyes.

Hey.. there you are, Wid..

You know, we work so hard at our careers and as mothers and caregivers that it’s hard to stop and take care of ourselves. Days like this are so rare and so special. Do they have to be?

In the end I went back to working on my computer and cooked and read to my children (we finished the last chapter of Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets today..amazing!). I did all I had to do.

And I wrote..It feels like ages since I’ve written for my blog..

I guess I had something to give ..only after filling the tank.


What’s in a name?


New Year’s Eve, the world is optimistic, hoping..hoping that 2017 will be better, at least less bloody, than 2016.


The attack in Turkey on New Years Eve took the lives of people close to home. Some of the dead.. we know their names, their families. They were related to and -colleagues of -some of my family members. And if I were in Saudi Arabia, I’d be attending the wake of a young woman named Lubna right now. There was also an attack in Madina a few months ago, in the Holy Mosque, where up to millions of Muslims gather to pray every day..there were attempts in Jeddah this year too, where I will be living in 6 months time. (inshallah, God willing).

But you know what the killer is? As if being killed is not bad enough.. what is really special, is that although Muslims, are the most likely victims of terrorist attacks.. we are also the most likely suspects.

No sooner did the attack happen, than the rest of the story unfolded in a sickeningly familiar sequence. The media shouts: it’s the Muslims again! the Terrorists! ISIS! (They are all the same thing in the media you see, who cares about mere nuances amidst such tragedy?)

What people often forget though, is that Muslims form 82-97% of fatalities in terrorist attacks (hey, don’t take my word fort, look it up : http://www.globalresearch.ca/muslims-are-the-victims-of-between-82-and-97-of-terrorism-related-fatalities-us-government/5516565 ).

No matter. I am always “randomly” selected at airports for extra tests or pat-downs. Here is one particularly painful event: I was traveling alone to New York to attend my mother’s college reunion (Vasser). After passing the metal detector, the security agent-he had kind eyes-said, somewhat apologetically: “I’m sorry M’am, but if you’ll present your hands, palms up, I have to run a test”. I complied silently as he swabbed my fingers. He looked at me and smiled..”Sorry, we have to do this to anyone wearing “headgear” “.

Why did I suddenly feel like crying? “You do what you have to do” I said, tight smile.

but don’t do that. I thought. Don’t be kind. Don’t be human. Don’t you pierce my comfortable prickly shield of anger.. and stir my grief..which is never far below the surface.

Then I’m given the choice of the x-ray like machine or a pat down..hmm, what do you think I’ll go for..I think the pat down is less humiliating than allowing a semi-naked reconstructed image of me to pop up on a screen. Done. I quickly run to the ladies room and cry. To this day, I’m not completely sure what those tears were about, so I don’t really expect you to get it either.

So there it is..here I am..The Muslim (thunder sound effects would be nice here)

The most likely victim

the most likely suspect

you think I am them

so..you are afraid of  me

but..I am afraid of them

We all lose

I’m so tired of explaining

and defending




Note: look, I know the security guard was doing his job. I know he is ensuring my safety. I know everyone is doing their best. This is an emotional account. Not a political one. I’m revealing a human facet of myself, and if you can turn or bend, to align  your own facet of humanity to mine, then we’ll understand eachother, and see eachother, and never ever kill eachother, or call eachother names.

Wid Kattan





“You need to assess this patient RIGHT NOW! I put in the consult an hour ago! He’s making a racket in MY ER!”

I sigh inwardly and look up at the emergency room staff who is yelling at me, oblivious to the fact that he is making a bigger racket than the patient he’s referring,  then I peer over his shoulder at the tall angry middle-aged man with dark sunglasses pacing at the entrance of the psychiatry emergency room.

I say: “I’m reading his chart right now, and will see him as soon as I’m done”

“That’s not good enough! I want to know EXACTLY when you’ll see him!”

Wow..sorry I missed the memo about me being your slave.. (of course I don’t say this out loud, but I think it) I look up at the clock on the wall, it’s 9:50 pm. “I’ll see him in 10 minutes” .

“OK” he puffs, looking a little deflated  and disappointed he had no excuse to keep yelling. He marches off to his next poor victim-uh I mean- patient.

After he leaves, I roll my eyes behind his back (I know-shame on me!) and smile at my team of two. He’s not ruining our shift. The nurse, Jack shakes his head and laughs. He has more experience than I do in this ER. Jack is funny and usually relaxed, and a good advocate for our patients- I’m always relieved to find him on duty when I’m on call. Bonus, he is tall and well built, and when in the ER, it never hurts to have team members with more muscle than you do-just in case physical strength is needed.

Peter, the med student, was the other member of our team tonight. It was the first time I’d worked with him, but I could tell, he was one of those students who actually shouldered some of your load. I could delegate to him, and I could trust him.

To him I take a”teaching moment” to say: “never just give in to pressure to see a patient quickly without going in armed with all the information you can get. Rushing may give you the feeling that you are getting things done quickly, but trust me, reading the chart is a good investment of your time, especially when you’re dealing with a potentially dangerous patient. Your interview with a patient like this is mostly a mental status exam. Honestly, what information will you get from a screaming patient anyway? You need to enter the interview room with a preliminary idea and plan”

You learn these things from experience, from the lucky “near-misses”. In my first month in psychiatry, I spent over an hour alone in a room with a patient, totally clueless that he had a history of  violence and antisocial personality disorder. The last time he had graced our ER with a visit, he had thrown and broken furniture in the very room I sat with him! When the staff -who knew him- realized I was interviewing him, he was kind of horrified, and took me off the case. “I’ll deal with him, don’t go back into that room!” he had barked.

I  had to hit my forehead with the heel of my hand-again-for my naiveté. I had been totally taken in by the patient’s heartbreaking story, and had not picked up on the antisocial part at all! What can I say? It’s my fatal fault, my achilles heel. I trust. I believe. One day after getting back a positive tox screen for a patient, I said to the staff: “but how can this be? she said she didn’t use any cocaine this weekend!!” The psychiatrist teaching me chuckled, looked up at the heavens and said: “Wid, have I not taught you anything during your time in addictions and personality disorders? PEOPLE LIE Wid. people lie

So, back to the current situation. Let’s call our patient Mr.Maxwell. He is pacing the hallway like a caged animal. We are so busy with other consults that I decide I can’t afford to take the student or nurse with me to see him. Better divide and concur, I thought. In hindsight, this was my first mistake.

I invite him into the interview room, and that was my second mistake-why for the sake of protocol, even for the sake of privacy, cage in someone already wild with anxiety or anger?  I think I at least kept the door behind me slightly open.

“Hello Mr.Maxwell, sorry to have kept you waiting. I’m the doctor on call tonight. What’s going on? You obviously don’t want to be here, so how’d you end up here tonight?”

He starts talking. It’s often a good idea to let people talk for a few minutes at the beginning of an interview, and listen with all your senses. In seconds I’m thinking: this guy is not just anxious or angry, he’s manic. No I mean MANIC manic. And psychotic. Not good.

There he is, leaning  back in his chair, all smug, 3 days of stubble on his face. He emanated grandiosity. He thought he was God’s gift to mankind..or womankind. He spoke so fast, it was hard-and pointless- to try to follow everything he said.

“….I want to get out of here. How long is this going to take? How old are you anyway? Do you know doctor, I bought a motorcycle recently? and a guitar? I could show it to you, I could sing for you..

Goosebumps. Distant alarm bells started to ring, the hair on the back of my neck was raised, my spine tingled ever so slightly. I ignored it. (ding ding ding.. mistake number 3) I’m a brave resident aren’t I? I can handle this. I’m no coward. Who else is going to do this job if I bail? I’m not bothering the staff at home.

“That’s Ok Mr. Maxwell, no need to sing for m-“

He started singing in a low voice

“..And girl I’m a bad boy so I gotta do what I gotta do

Risk my life

In the late night

Cause girl I’m a bad boy yeah..”

He was wearing those mirror sunglasses, did I mention that? even though we were indoors. I couldn’t see his eyes but I knew he aggressed me. A woman always knows. It’s like a physical punch in the gut. I felt sick, and stood up, backed away to the door saying:

“Oh look at that, my pager just buzzed, I’ll be right back. So sorry to cut our interview short”

He was not happy I had cut him off.

I rushed to the nursing station, “Jack! that guy is gonna explode on us. He is floridly manic and needs to be kept against his will, but he will FREAK. We’re going to need the code white team present before I tell him I’m signing a confinement form”

Jack smirked: “Who, that guy? noooo” he waved his hand dismissing my concern, “I know him, he’s been here before, he’s ok. He scared you? I can handle him”.

In my head: yes he scared me. On the outside, I was a bit embarrassed. maybe I am a scardy -cat -girly-girl-coward after all. But I don’t like the way this is going. Not wanting to appear uncool, I cave in (mistake number..oh who’s counting?)

“Ok, Jack, just be careful if you go talk to him. I still think we should call the whole team first”.

“Nah, I said I’d handle him”

I sat inside the somewhat protected area of the nursing station. It’s sort of like a glassed in cubicle where we write our notes. The whole upper half of the walls is made of glass, and it’s “semi” sound proof.

I was on the phone updating the psychiatrist on call with me, and filling the form needed to keep this man in hospital -unfortunately against his will-and through the glass window I kept an eye on the two men talking.

Suddenly Mr.Maxwell takes a dive at Jack! and they disappear from my view and onto the ground. Between punches Jack is yelling: code white! call a code white!

-which I did with shaking hands and voice, then waited for an agonizing minute for the team to rush over to us. I hate that feeling of utter paralysis when I’m faced with violence.

Eventually the team came, and the patient was restrained and medicated..things calmed down. Neither Jack nor Mr.Maxwell were badly hurt, and I was fine.. but you don’t forget a night like that. . another near-miss. If Jack, who was physically more than a match for this patient , was attacked in an open hallway, I shudder to think what could have happened to a 5 foot 2 inch wisp of a girl like me in a closed interview room just moments before.

The lessons I take from this experience, the ones I teach students I supervise:

trust your gut

don’t let others make you doubt your perception

your safety comes first

don’t have to prove yourself to anybody

don’t rush into labile situations unprepared

don’t succumb to outside pressure

Note: All the names/characters have been changed in this story, though the essence of it is very true. Also, please don’t think that people with mental illness are violent. They are more likely to be the victims of violence than the perpetrators. In this situation, the patient is the one who suffered the most, and it wasn’t his fault. Sometimes the violence is just the result of anxiety, or bad situations like this one.

Wid Kattan

Upside down


One boy says to his brother:

Hey Moony Moony look!

I’m gonna do something that will make Mama gasp like this: ahhhhhhhh!


What’s with my boys

And upside down?

I get it’s smiles

And no more frowns

Only thing is

my mother’s heart

Which somersaults

Until they’re down

Can’t they just stand

Like normal kids

With both feet firmly

on the ground?!

Must they swing so high

while standing up

And must they land

With such a sound?

Can’t they just slide

From up to down

Instead of climbing

All around

Can’t they have mercy

On this heart

Know that their risks

Will make it pound

I swear I age

at least 10 years

with every trip


To our playing-ground



where is home?

is home where you were born?

is it where you wish to die?

is it where you wish to live in between?

is it where you find yourself?

is it the one you love?

is home something you carry with you in your soul?

is it all of these things?

what if these things are scattered all over the earth..and buried under it?

Someone once said to me: once you’ve crossed the ocean, you feel you’re always on the wrong side..

I’ve published these poems about leaving Montreal, which is a home




and here is a poem about going back home..home-home

They’re contradictory, but true



As I step off the plane

I let out a breath

one I didn’t know I was holding

Though it’s all beige and bland

with some sea and sand

To my sore eyes

it’s a sight to be-holding (close)

I feel safe despite wars

And breakneck speed cars

I feel fair cloaked in my abaya*

Best of all I blend in

And completely fit in

No longer …a pariah

  • Abaya: long black cloak worn by women in Saudi, over their clothes
  • Finding Your Place



This will be clumsy, stilted, contradictory

It’s a reflection of how I feel

It’s my best

I have not been able to write for a few days..or enjoy eating, or sleep well

How dare I, when people are being massacred in Aleppo?

I know that my sleepless nights, my fasting, my paralysis does nothing to help them

but how dare I live as if nothing is happening?

how dare I write about anything else?

but how dare I write about it?

what do I know about it? about their suffering?

I feel Iike I’d deserve it if they spat in my face.

I’m not writing about Aleppo

It’s too huge, anything I say is inadequate, disrespectful

I’m writing about my paralysis

But how dare I?

How selfish to think about myself and write about my own misery?

Maybe it will mobilize me to do something useful..but what? Maybe it will touch other paralyzed souls.

I’m sorry for this disjointed incoherent message

It’s my internal dialogue, spilling over onto the screen

It’s the vicious cycle that has been my home this week..no its been my home for a long time, but like a chronic disease,  like a volcano.. it flares up and goes dormant. It is the same disease, though it has many faces: Syria, Palestine, Egypt, Iraq, Afghanistan, Bosnia.. It has other faces, of other countries I’m guilty of not knowing enough about.…it may be my own country one day. It feels like all these countries are my own..but how dare I say that..from the comfort of my heated home, from beneath the warm covers of my cosy bed. This waxing and waning disease that paralyzes me has been my home since the Gulf war at least. I was in second grade then. I know that I know nothing of real war. I only got a whiff of its smoke, inhaled -moreover -through the privilidged filter of  a gas-mask, something the less fortunate did not have. We heard of war, but we only heard the sirens -not the bombs.. well, not that I can remember.

My paralysis..It flares up when reality seeps through the barriers I build

I know, how dare I build barriers to protect myself when others suffer? -Guilty

My paralyzed state goes into remission when- in exhaustion, I retreat, and bury my head in the sand-Guilty again

My inaction is not born out of no action

It is the result of actions so strong-so strongly pulling me in opposite directions

It tears me apart

fight -flight

give to charity- but whats the point?

anger -shame

they should- we should

speak- but what is there to say?!

spread the word, the images, the videos- but doesn’t that feed into the collective sense of despair and  hopelessness..and more paralysis

How can I be hopeless?

but how dare I say: everything is going to be ok

what do I know?

even if I believe the most terrible things happen for a reason

Can I say that to those over there? who may have lost all faith

Would I lose faith if I lost everything?

I don’t know..

All I know is that an image of child in the rubble..is an image of my child dead

And a video of a girl hugging her doll, or asking where her father is..is a video of my child too

But it’s not

so how dare I say that?