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2019 Breakout Community Psychiatry Advocacy Award Acceptance Speech

Updated: Sep 17, 2020

by Dr. Yusra Ahmad, MD, FRCPC

delivered on March 22, 2019/ 15 Rajab 1440

at the Annual Ontario Psychiatric Association Conference, King Edward Hotel, Toronto, ON, Canada

Thank you with my whole heart for this.  I'm just going to share a few words that I wrote this morning with a Crayola pipsqueak marker that I obtained, courtesy of my daughter!  Thank you, dear Rania.


In the Name of Allah, the Most Compassionate, the Most Merciful.

My life has been written on airplanes.

I was born in Bangladesh to a mother who was a musician and to a father who was a biochemist.  They left on a plane to Canada in the midst of Partition -- a heart-wrenching conflict that saw the Indian subcontinent further ripped apart.  The price paid was steep.  It resulted in one of the largest forced mass migrations in history with rampant ethnic cleansing and genocide.  

After my father completed his PhD and post-doc, they then flew to Saudi Arabia where he taught at a university.  That's where I grew up.  Until the age of 10, that is.

At that moment, my mom and I flew out on the last airplane before the airport in Jeddah was shut down and the first Persian Gulf War began.  I never say my childhood home again.

In Canada, we struggled.  My father could not get a job so he went back to school.  My mother was the sole breadwinner and everyone else at home was a student.

We flew again, this time to Chicago, where my father was finally able to find work.  There, while I was an undergraduate student at the University of Chicago, 9/11 happened and on that fateful day, guess where I was?   

On an airplane.

There is a direct line from that moment to this.

The times we are living in are unprecedented.  We vacillate between despair and hope and criss-cross the emotional spectrum, breathlessly, as the very foundations beneath us seem to be collapsing.  

My life has been written on airplanes so I never had the rootedness that are familiar to some.

I found safety & stability in connection -- not necessarily with familiar objects & places, but through my belief in the Most Compassionate, the Most Merciful, through my family and the many, many people I have been privileged enough to meet.

Now, I feel that even that connection is being threatened --in all kinds of ways including within our own profession through the erosion of psychotherapy.   As doctors, we all know that our cells look uncannily similar.  As psychiatrists, we understand the depth of human suffering, the context that creates it and the dynamics at play.

We understand the power of minimization, denial, splitting, projection and projective identification.  Because of our empathy, our curiosity, our capacity for self-reflection and our finely honed skills of observation and listening, we are uniquely positioned to slice through situations and discern the truth.  

I urge you to fight back against the escalating tide of xenophobia that is erupting in violence by becoming softer, kinder, more compassionate, more curious and more open with yourselves and with every human being you touch.

Today, you see me on this stage, but look more carefully --there are thousands of people behind me who have made this moment possible.  I acknowledge and thank them all.  

There are even a few visible ones here -- my teachers, mentors & colleagues, Dr. Kenneth Fung, Dr. Susan Abbey, Dr. Lisa Andermann and Dr. Renata Villela.  Thank you.

Thank you again, deeply, for this honour.


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