Inas and her husband left Syria for Turkey before eventually resettling in Canada. She talks about the pressures of keeping her family afloat while managing her multiple sclerosis — and finding hope for the future.
“I have multiple sclerosis. I used to live in Aleppo. The drugs that I took for MS were provided by the government, but during the war their payment was cut. I obviously couldn’t buy the drugs myself because they were so expensive.”
When I got multiple sclerosis I became more anxious, and the explosions and bombing during the war made that worse. I couldn’t sleep. I felt depressed. So, with my family I left Syria for Turkey in 2012. We thought we’d be gone for two months and then we would go back.
“We were in Turkey as visitors, not refugees. If we had been in a camp we would have been given food, a place to sleep, and stuff like that. But we had to look after ourselves. We rented a house. It was horrible but we couldn’t pay more.”
“Right away I started looking for work. I was lucky because I had studied English literature in Syria. So I started working with Médecins du Monde, a French NGO, going with doctors, physiotherapists and nurses as a field translator. I needed a full time job to support my family, but it was really tough because of my MS. My MS became worse because of the stress of my job and not being on my medication.”
“Everywhere you can find somebody who is really nice. There was a Turkish professor at the medical department in the University near where we lived and he felt badly for me. He taught in the hospital and he had inpatients. Sometimes they had doses of MS drugs that they didn’t use, and he gave them to me. For about seven months I was taking spares.”
“Despite the MS drugs I started feeling really tired – the hours were long. I worked from 8:00 in the morning until 8:00 in the evening. And in Turkey you can’t think about a future, right? I mean if you thought about bringing a child into life, he is going to be stateless. No citizenship. Nothing.”
“I started working for the Danish Refugee Council with Syrian refugees who had the same issues as me. That was very stressful. So, my husband and I decided we wanted to emigrate. My parents and sister went to France. We came to Canada.”
“My husband and I were allocated to Ottawa. We stayed in a hotel for the first month. It was like being in a small camp. There were families from many different places in Syria all sharing their stories, which after a while we didn’t want to hear because they made us more stressed.”
“But it was so well organized – the breakfasts, the lunches, the dinners. We were in the Travel Lodge and it’s a very nice hotel! I mean a lot of people don’t have a chance to come to such places. So, the practical stuff was totally fine. The organization that was working with us offered us a house and we said yes right away. Some people wanted to choose but we didn’t want to spend a lot of days in the hotel.”
“A really nice thing that happened to me is that I received MS drugs while I was still in the hotel. I saw a nurse practitioner who came from a community center to check for vaccinations and stuff. When she heard that I had MS she wanted to meet me. I told her it had been around nine months that I didn’t have my drugs. She said she was going to work on that.”
There was a pharmacy that was working with the refugees called the Guardian. The pharmacist was a Syrian person who has been here for a long time. He could speak Arabic. I remember that out of the 200 people, I was the only one who spoke English. I don’t know how it happened but the drug just arrived, with an auto injector!
“The nurse practitioner who works with the community centre said that she could be my (primary care provider) if I would like. I said for sure, I would love that. She referred me to two specialists. I am seeing an MS specialist at the Ottawa General Hospital and I see her every three or six months.”
You said that you were depressed when you were in Turkey. Has that been an issue since you have been here?
In turkey my depression went to the lowest levels where I’d spend literally three days just sleeping. I didn’t open my eyes because I just wanted to not be there. An antidepressant helped me a lot. It was my holy grail, as they say. I started functioning again.
“When I came here I started having panic attacks. I felt like I was not inside myself anymore. As if I was not me. I felt like I was going crazy. I start to get scared, but not scared like the typical panic attack where you feel you are going to die. I wanted to sleep and feel safe. I started covering myself and that would make me feel better. I’d just cover myself very tight and then I felt okay. And if somebody hugged me, that worked as well. We also increased the dose of the antidepressant.”
“I also tried to study what was happening. Why was I having these feelings? Since moving to Turkey I have had great responsibilities. I had to support my family. I’d never done that before. That was something big! I was afraid that I was going to lose my job. Who would feed my family? I felt guilty that I was not doing everything I was supposed to. And I didn’t have a lot of supports.”
“And then when we moved to Canada, because my husband didn’t speak English, I was doing all the communication. And then add MS guilt. There’s a kind of guilt that develops when you have a chronic health issue. It makes you feel less than you were before. You start feeling guilty for cancelling appointments, you start blaming yourself for not being able to keep up with the pace of life that others are living. I became afraid I couldn’t do what I needed to do. It was hard.”
“I am looking for a job. I have great experience in procurement and supply chain management. That’s what I was doing with the NGO in Turkey and they trained me very well. I also did a lot of translating.”
“But I get really depressed looking for a job here. Whenever I apply, they say I need Canadian experience. But if you don’t hire me, how do I get Canadian experience? I have just been offered temporary work in a daycare. It’s not what I want to do, but I love children and I am good with them. I will put it in my CV as Canadian experience. Hopefully they like me and will be a reference for other jobs.”
You are coming close to the end of your first year here. Is that something you’re worried about?
Yes. I don’t want to go on welfare. I want to find a job. I feel I am a capable person. I have studied and did a lot of work before I came here. Welfare is meant for people who can’t support themselves. I have MS and my dream job is a part-time job. I would contribute to society. I would feel at peace with myself and I wouldn’t be exhausted.
“My husband is studying English and once his English is at a certain level he will take special English for accounting.”
“I had seen snow once in my life in Syria. It was a little bit on the ground and melted the next day. When we arrived it was winter. Like a horrible winter. Once I fainted because it was so cold for me. But then when the summer came, I just couldn’t believe that this was the same country that was so cold. It was even hotter than in Syria!”
“I love that although the winter is harsh, you have spring and fall and summer. With my MS, if it was gloomy weather all the time it would be depressing. But this is so fun. I mean you can go swimming in the summer! Me and my husband never thought it would be like this. We always thought that Canada was like the North Pole.”
“When I first went to Turkey, I still felt like Syria was my country and I would go back there one day. The last time I went there was in 2013, and it was horrible. It was like the area where I lived was not my area anymore. Part of it was that everybody left. I mean, they were being bombed and shelled with every kind of arms and guns, so they had the right to seek another life.”
My husband’s family is still there. Thank the universe that they are okay because he is so attached to them. He thinks that he will live there again someday. But I don’t imagine this any time within the coming 20 years. I don’t see it coming at all.
“If the war ends, the bruising and the wounds will last for a long time. Assad has killed the sons of a million families, right? I mean who is going to go back and live with him? It’s not easy for me and he didn’t kill anybody in my family! How about people who lost a child?”
“And ISIS is now there! Oh my God, I really can’t imagine that! That is not my country. We had every kind of religion. We had people who don’t believe at all, together with people from different religions. I am a Muslim but my best friend – now she is in England – is a Christian. I have pictures with her in churches. I used to go with her everywhere. We were not the country we are now. I don’t think I will go back.”