Nadiya Hussain has spoken openly about growing up with anxiety and a panic disoder. Here, she shares the beautiful and moving advice she would give to her younger self.
Nadiya Hussain is undoubtedly one of our greatest national treasures. She first lit up our screens as the winner of the Great British Bake Off in 2015, and she has gone from strength to strength ever since.
She has published no fewer than four cook books (Time To Eat, Nadiya’s Family Favourites, Nadiya’s British Food Adventure and Nadiya’s Kitchen), presented programmes including Time to Eat and Nadiya’s Asian Odyssey and has now written her first ever memoir, Finding My Voice, published last month.
She has also been a vocal campaigner on the power of being more open about our mental health, and has spoken candidly about her struggles with confidence and living with anxiety and a panic disorder.
Speaking at Stylist Live LUXE, Hussain shared the moving and relatable advice she would give to herself at age 11. Revealing to the audience that her nickname at that age was ‘Noddy’ or ‘Nads’, she described herself as an anxious child who was always worried and very unsure of herself.
Hussain described how teachers would dismiss her as ‘just an anxious child’ who was too worried about everything, but she spoke about the bullying she endured at school and how every day was a ‘fight’ for her. She has spoken openly about this bullying and the effect it had on her life before, and she revealed during the talk that a lot of the decisions she made in her life were based on the bullying she received.
Talking about how she imagined the adult Nadiya to be, she said she dreamt of being successful – a dream that has, happily, come true.
She then went on to share the beautiful and moving advice that she would give to her younger self, which you can read below.
Nadiya Hussain: my advice to my younger self
1. It’s going to be OK
First of all, Hussain would tell her younger self that it’s going to be OK. She would tell herself to be kinder to herself, because she thinks she was too hard on herself at that age. She also wouldn’t fight her parents on everything… because she now knows that she’s going to win, anyway!
2. Mental health is an illness
One thing Hussain didn’t realise when she was younger was that mental health is an illness, just like breaking a bone or getting an injury. So she would tell herself that she isn’t awkward, weird and different at that age, but rather that she is unwell.
“It would have given me comfort to know I’m not just difficult and stroppy,” she said.
Hussain also pointed out that in her community, there’s no word for mental health, so when she was growing up, there was no way to properly discuss how she was feeling.
“We need a word for mental health so that we can help people talk more openly about how they’re feeling,” she said. “If we don’t have a word for it, then how else can we explain it?”
3. Listen to your own voice
Hussain would also tell her younger self to listen to her own voice more than to others. She described how, growing up, men played an important role in her life, whether that was her father, her uncle or another relative. In comparison, her mum played a smaller role.
“My mum would always be at home cooking for us and looking after us, and there’s nothing wrong with that,” she said. “But her role shouldn’t have been made to be lesser [than the men’s].”
Hussain also described how, at the age of 20, she was told she was “getting older” and needed to get married.
“If I listened to my own voice when I was younger I would have walked out of my parent’s house and gone to university,” she said [Hussain has spoken before about how her parents stopped her from going to University, just two weeks before she was due to leave home to start her course].
“I used to be boisterous and fight every situation,” she said. “That was knocked out of me when I was growing up. When you’re older you become more polite, but it’s OK to question things, and to keep asking why.”
4. Elbows out
Hussain ended the letter by talking about the golden piece of advice she would give to herself, that she also gives to her children now: “elbows out”.
“When I feel like I don’t belong, which is every day, I say ‘elbows out’. I don’t mean a physical elbows out, but I mean that I need to make space. After all, if I can’t make space for myself, then how can I make space for everyone else?”
Images: Getty, Bronac McNeill
Sarah Biddlecombe is an award-winning journalist and Digital Commissioning Editor at Stylist. Follow her on Twitter