Hey readers, just a heads up that this piece talks about depression and suicidal thoughts. Some of you might want to save it for later.



I don’t know if I could write under a pseudonym. I don’t know if I could breathe under a layer of bricks.

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When I talk to you about the dark thoughts I have sometimes, or extreme sadnesses that tried to push me off the edge of my life, I’m not airing my dirty laundry. I’m trying to wash it clean.

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If I were to adopt a pseudonym, would it absorb all my troubles while Lur Alghurabi can have more peace? Would my alias be the one to suffer while I could have a life? If she takes all of my writing, does she also take all of my sadness?

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Sometimes I go to bed and wake up in a state of motionless panic. I feel the cold corpses of my loved ones, heavy, on top of me. I can’t move my fingers to signal for help or move my lips to say a prayer. I try and fail to say the name of God and beg for mercy. Every bad thing that has ever happened solidifies and weighs tons on top of me—I suffocate.

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What’s so dirty about dirty laundry anyway? What do we see when we look at the private life of others that makes us want to take a shower? Is it the question: how did we let things get this bad? Do we see ourselves in there somewhere—in the ugliness—and do we feel afraid of just how greatly humans can cause and be hurt? I don’t see the dirt in my failure to love bad men, my failure to love good men. Don’t you know how badly I wish my life was different?

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I count on the people I love showing little interest in my work. I count on my relatives saying, “oh, when does the book come out?” with no intention of reading it. They “cannot wait”, but they can and they will. I pray to God that they never Google my name for all the dirty laundry I hang wide and free on the internet.

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When a good friend says I should consider a pseudonym I can’t help but wonder, who would she be? Who is this person I could have been hiding behind all this time? If she existed, I would still be divorced. I’m still (ex-)suicidal. I’m still oscillating in and out of depression, depending on what kind of year it is. If I write under a pseudonym because the story is too ugly, the story doesn’t get any less ugly. My pain isn’t going anywhere. I wish it would.

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Close friends tell me my work is off-putting and ugly to read. They don’t like how many people know so many details of my life. Closer friends tell me I should ignore them, that good memoir is just good memoir and there’s nothing to be ashamed of or discreet about. But I don’t know how to exist independently of my community. I haven’t written anything in three months, and I can’t.

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Is it possible that what I write about publicly will come back to haunt me? I guess so. Is that risky, knowing I’ve written things I’d never discuss at the dinner table? Knowing that—if someone brought them up to my face—I would just turn around and start running in any direction as fast as I could, hide under the desk, set fire to the moments of this conversation?  The last time I wrote something ugly, a friend said he really loved it. I couldn’t look him in the eye: I looked at the floor, and at the empty space to the left of his body, and at my hands, and at the area above his hair, and at my shoes. He did just the same until I left his house.

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I have no sense of shame about things that weren’t my fault. I don’t understand what’s dirty about my secrets. If I hid my marriage from people until I wrote about it, that’s not because I was ashamed; it’s because I was hurt. Shame implies guilt. I don’t feel guilty that he hated me and neither does he, probably. I don’t feel guilty that I hated him back.

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A friend of mine says that she’d never have the courage to write personal memoir and read it out loud, let alone publish it. But I’m not any less afraid. Imagine one of you telling my parents that my sexuality is fluid. I’m terrified. Please, never do that to me.

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The first thing I ever wrote about was my bad dreams. I dream of men grabbing my arm as I push them away and leave bruises on theirs. I smile at them and kiss their cheek so they won’t retaliate and I pray they don’t kiss me back. I walk into an exam I have already failed, but for some reason I still need to sit it and answer well. The people I love are all dead and I dig up their graves and bury them again, over and over and over. I call to my mother for help but she can’t see or hear me, even though I’m standing right in front of her.

I scream so loud in my dreams at the horror of what I’m feeling that I wake up with a burn in my throat and I cry. I write it all down, every detail, so that my dreams are just stories and I don’t have to stay awake for thirty-six hours again because I’m too scared of what I see when I’m asleep.

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I know it’s not living itself that’s hard: it’s living with the things I have to live with. I don’t know where I’m from. I don’t know where I can go. I’m haunted by where I’m from. The places I go to don’t want me to arrive. I scramble to find a new roof but by the time I find one, the storm has already won.

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My friend asks me, what is the point of making my life public in my work? He asks what I’m trying to achieve, but in my mind I don’t have any achievements. Wouldn’t it be nice if I could say something about finding our place in the world or about the universal human experience? But I have none of that. I’m just trying not to die.

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I don’t enjoy experiencing my pain in public. I used to joke that writing was cheaper than therapy, but it’s really not. It’s a very expensive hobby and I probably really need some therapy. I once found myself on the phone to Lifeline twice in one day because I wrote about something I wasn’t ready to write about and it took me to a very bad place. I hung up on Lifeline when I realised the call was distracting me from writing even more.

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I used to pray and ask God to give me time—time to forget, time to let go. But nothing I want to let go of releases me. Mud clings to my clothes and shoes and under my nails and even tries to dry in my throat and block my breath. Maybe this is the law of my life and the lives of those who find ourselves constantly running. Maybe God can’t break this law. Maybe He can’t undo the hurt we cause and he can’t prevent its impact. But sometimes he gives me water when I need it and I wash my face, my clothes and the words in my throat, and I write.


Lur Alghurabi is an Iraqi writer of memoir. In 2017, she won the Scribe Nonfiction Prize and was shortlisted for the Deborah Cass Prize. Her work has been widely published by the best literary journals of Australia. Currently, Lur is pursuing her Master’s degree in Creative Writing at the University of Oxford.