Like sunlight piercing cloud

Sunlight piercing cloud

In the final days of 2011, I read my horoscope for the year ahead, never suspecting it would bring me to my knees…

Just to be clear, I’m not a big believer in horoscopes. Like many people, when they’re positive I look forward to the good times, if not, well – it’s all a load of rubbish, isn’t it?

But this one struck me…


“A draining, confusing influence that has plagued you for fourteen years will leave early this year, never to return in your lifetime. This influence sapped your strength and made you emotionally, intellectually and physically weary.”


It was as though someone had read my innermost secrets, the braille of my brain or the graffiti on the walls of my heart, and told me the struggle was finally coming to an end.

Instantly I was fourteen years and three and a half thousand miles away, back in the basement flat I rented at university – alone on the evening of my twenty-second birthday, gazing at the ceiling and wondering if this was the year when it would all finally make sense, the year I would stop struggling with the aftermath of a decade of abuse and live something closer to a normal life. Good thing I didn’t know then how much worse things would get before they got better. Fourteen years is a long time.

Reading those words, I was filled with a sense of relief. Caught off guard, I cried soundlessly at the just-deserted breakfast table, a mime of someone coming undone. I reached for my notebook and wrote the words down; as though they were some spell I might need to repeat for it to work. I was deeply moved but felt foolish & self-conscious at my groundless reaction. No stranger to disappointment, I knew I couldn’t let myself believe the message, but my mind betrayed me with illicit questions anyway.


“How early this year?”

“February? March? April? May? May isn’t early in the year…”

I closed my notebook, dashed the tears from my face and rose to clear the breakfast things.

❇ ❇ ❇

In March this year, I travelled into Toronto to the Centre for Addiction & Mental Health (CAMH). I wanted to volunteer. It was years since I’d escaped the infinite darkness, the consuming maw of depression; though the culture shock of moving to Canada had brought me to the edge of the abyss again for a while. I wanted to help others who fought similar demons from my hard-won position of better health. Although no longer depressed, I was still dogged by a kind of weariness, a fog that blurred my focus, and a fragile self-esteem that was easily shaken. Like a jack-in-the-box, I had my bursts of joyous exuberance, but it didn’t take much – a snide remark, a disdainful glance – and I folded back into the protective darkness of my personal world.

It turned out I was unable to participate in the study I‘d volunteered for, but in the weeks that followed I was contacted about another – the one I’m documenting here on Expatlogue: The Use of Mindfulness in Depression Relapse Prevention.  As I covered the weekly sessions and completed the practices, I realized the benefits of what I was learning. I wasn’t just documenting the research anymore, I’d begun to nurture a secret hope – that I’d actually further my own recovery and find my way out of the fog, like sunlight piercing cloud.

Every session I’d “press play” or “click to interact,” optimism glowing like an ember within me, only to find that the words I heard told me nothing new. Nothing that served as tinder for a conflagration of enlightenment anyway! I learnt small truths. No… learnt is the wrong word, they’d always been inside me. I was reminded of them and reassured that it wasn’t selfish or indulgent or arrogant to believe in them. Small things like taking time to listen to yourself, to contemplate how you feel. I allowed them their importance and incrementally, amazingly, they came together to show me that I AM within reach of the key to my well-being. The realization has happened slowly, I guess that’s what people mean when they say “it dawned on me;” that slow sunrise of understanding climbing steadily up the wall of doubt. The tools were there all along – my body always told me so, but I chose to ignore it. And now I feel sorry, not the draining self-pity of before, but a genuine sorrow for how I betrayed and ignored my SELF.

Can you imagine the impact this is having on me? I feel like someone who’s been catatonic for years suddenly coming back to life with a new self-knowledge wrought from their own insides, not some textbook guff or trite social media post to apply like an overlay. Words I’ve heard over the years hold new meaning, as though I can finally see what was there all along, what others tried to convey – that the ears heard but the brain was unable to understand.

Well now I understand, and I’m so thankful. Thankful for that message of hope in the horoscope and thankful for the opportunity given to me by CAMH when all I was looking for was the chance to help somebody else.


Whitby Shores, Whitby, Ontario

By Aisha Ashraf

An autistic Irish immigrant in a cross-cultural marriage, Aisha Ashraf is the archetypal outlander, writing to root herself through place and perspective. Published in The Rumpus, The Maine Review, River Teeth, HuffPost and elsewhere, her work explores the legacy of trauma, the nature of being an outsider and the narrow confines of belonging. She currently lives in Canada.


  1. I can understand how that horoscope struck such a chord with you – something so specific is hard to ignore. I’m very happy for you that your work with CAMH has helped you to to heal.

    1. Thanks Marianne, I can’t wait to lose myself in your photos of Spain! I can’t promise I’ll get something done in time for the end of this month, but I’m looking forward hearing what next month’s theme will be…

  2. This is really amazing. How odd that the horoscope seemed so directly designed for you personally to read…extraordinary. I don’t go for them much myself, hardly ever read them. Isn’t it funny too, that the protective “cloud” you talk about actually isn’t protecting you, whenever you retreat to it – it is actually helping you to run away from your Self? It is so, so helpful to you and others (like me) to write on your mindfulness sessions. Thanks!

    1. You’re right about the “protective darkness” I mention – it’s how I refer to the way I withdraw into myself when my mood gets low – it’s protective in a negative sense, helping me to run away from things I’d be better facing.
      I’m glad you and many others are finding this series helpful – I never imagined the effect it would have on me!

  3. thank you for being so honest and open in your blog – I am sure that will reach out to so many other people and help them too
    I love the way you describe things – “that slow sunrise of understanding climbing steadily up the wall of doubt”.
    You were right too – I am sure that “The tools were there all along” – but sometimes even seeing the toolbox itself is hard – let alone being brave enough to open it up and start using the tools!
    and how often do we find help and healing ourselves when we reach out to help others.

  4. The specificity of the horoscope (fourteen years, not eleven, not seventeen) and the fact that it said it would leave completely (rather than the hedging wording of ‘lessening’) is a bit startling. The conscious mind said to help others while the subconscious mind probably acquiesed, sensing it would be good for you. But as you say, you couldn’t possibly know that you would receive such an amazing bounty, and I bet even your subconscious mind didn’t quite realize the extent, either! Very happy for you, and for others thanks to CAMH and your participation.

    1. Yes, startling and totally beguiling to have that possibility dangled before you in black and white after all those difficult years. And you’re right – I didn’t realise the potential of what I had at my disposal at first, it was a very gradual awakening…

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