November 20th 2022:

Yousef participated in a big protest in Berlin. With his camera lens as his witness, he shared with me the videos he had taken. Through the snow, people shouted with a fierce passion. The cold didn’t matter.

Meanwhile, my sister sent me a song on Telegram. It was a cover of Shervin’s song in English by Rana Mansour, based on people’s tweets. Shervin got arrested a few days after the song’s release. The song moved me to tears, but my emotions were suppressed, held captive by a fear. I don’t know what was holding me back. Maybe I didn’t want to cry in front of Yousef, I thought. But he sensed my distress and remarked, “You never talk about the situation in Iran. That’s why I don’t talk about it that often too.”

I explained, “I don’t talk about it because I’m super anxious and stressed to say something. Maybe it’s a weakness that I can’t manage my anxiety, so I avoid confronting it. Do you remember the time we were at the protest and I was silent the whole time? You were constantly asking me if something was wrong. I cried my eyes out the day after. I felt that we were all so lonely. We were there because we had no home to be. We were shouting to rescue ourselves. We were all there because we were so lonely. Now that I’ve listened to this song, it made me cry, but…”

Yousef gently interrupted me and said, “It’s good to cry sometimes, you know?”

I nodded, feeling the warmth of his understanding.”Yeah, I know and I want to. But sometimes my emotions run so deep that it’s hard for me to express them.” I replied.

As we parted ways, Yousef’s train departed for Berlin, I walked home alone. The winter night was cold and dark. I put my headphones on, Rana Mansour’s sang: “For women, life, liberty”. Tears streamed down my face, unable to be held back any longer.

November 22nd 2022:

In my university group, there’s a German girl who’s currently working on her bachelor’s thesis. She recently told me that she had to delay her thesis defense because her project is going slower than expected. Her reason for the delay broke my heart: her father has cancer.

She shared with me that her family had discovered her father’s diagnosis ten months ago, and while the first round of treatment had improved his condition, he was now feeling worse again. The weight of this situation, coupled with the pressure of university, was too much to bear. I could see the pain and stress etched on her face.

I empathized with her deeply. I too have been struggling with anxiety over things outside of university. My family and friends in Iran are enduring immense hardship, and it’s causing me an enormous amount of stress. The government had cut off internet access in the country, making it nearly impossible to connect with our loved ones. The quality of our video calls is so bad, and the constant disconnections leave me feeling hopeless and alone. It’s been a month since I’ve been able to see their faces and hear their voices.

She asked me if I had talked about my struggles with Kathy, our supervisor. I said, “No, haven’t. I’m a bit hesitant to bring up this topic in conversation with others. Maybe it’s a kind of defensive mechanism. “

She replied, “I didn’t know about any of these. When you hear the news, everything seems far away, but now that you’re telling me, I can feel how close it is. I’m really sorry. You’re going through a really tough time.”

Mary’s message was a thoughtful one. She had attended Armin’s doctoral defense session and heard him speak about the protests in Iran. She wanted to make sure I was okay and sent me a message asking how I was doing.

I remembered Mary from our time studying together in Stuttgart. Armin was a doctoral student at our university, whose picture I had seen on the board inside the department. Mary and Armin were working on their thesis project in a joint group.

In my response, I expressed my gratitude to Mary and assured her that everything was fine. However, I couldn’t help but feel like I couldn’t open up to others about it. The situation was weighing heavily on me, and I felt like I was running away from it all. It was a strange feeling because I had never thought I would be that kind of person. I was experiencing a lot of anxiety and didn’t know how to strike a balance between not getting involved and getting too involved.

Mary’s response was comforting. She understood that there was nothing I could do from my current location and that I would eventually figure out how to deal with the situation. She acknowledged that it was a terrible situation and that I had every right to feel the way I did.

Overall, Mary’s message and our conversation reminded me that even though I felt alone, I had friends who cared and were there for me.

November 24th 2022:

Marie messaged me: “Hey, I attended Armin’s doctoral defense session and at the end, he talked about the protests in Iran. I thought I’d text you and ask if everything is okay?”

Armin was a doctoral student at Stockholm university, whose picture I had seen on the board inside the department. Mary and Armin were working in the same group.

I replied: “Thanks Marie. Everything is fine. It’s just weird that I can’t talk much with other people about it. The situation is weighing heavily on me. I feel like I’m running away from it all. And it’s a strange feeling cause I never thought I’d be that kind of person. I’m really anxious, and I don’t know where the balance between not getting involved and getting too involved is. Where should I stand to be able to do what I need to do without getting so anxious that I can’t even control?”

“There’s nothing you can do from here. You’ll figure out how to deal with it in your own time. This is a really terrible situation. You have every right to feel this way.” Said Marie.

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