Learning About Dubai

Ejo #154 – ATC 101: Shift Work (aka Fatigue)

I’ve been an air traffic controller for over 22 years.   It’s part of who I am now.  And a big part of being a controller is the crazy shift work hours.  But what exactly is shift work, anyway?  It’s basically anything that requires people to work outside of regular office hours.  Restaurants, hospitals, nightclubs, fast food joints, bodegas and milk bars, call centres, media outlets, retail shops, security and airports all run by the grace of those of us who sacrifice normal lives to work shifts.  We’re a weird bunch, that’s for sure.  But I wouldn’t have it any other way.  I absolutely love shift work, and wouldn’t go back to an office job with office hours in a million years.  I love having time off when everyone else is at work, and I really love being at work on the weekends, when the desk jockeys of the world flock to the beaches, the shops, the cinemas, and all the cafes, bars and restaurants.  Have at it normies!!  Fill your boots. I’ll be eating out next Tuesday!

So yes, I do love shift work, but I don’t want to sugarcoat it.  It’s pretty hard yakka.  Regular people work some variation of nine to five, Monday to Friday, with weekends off, right? We don’t get weekends off. Or public holidays.  What’s Christmas, what’s New Year’s Eve, what’s Easter, what’s Melbourne Cup day?  Also, what’s Saturday, and what the fuck is Sunday?  I do not recognise any of these days.  They are meaningless to me.  For I am shift worker.  Honestly, I never have any idea what day of the week it is.  Occupational hazard, I guess.  Our work week is six and a half days long, and we are rewarded for that toil with three and a half days off.  Your cycle is seven days.  Ours is ten.  And it looks a little something like this.

Rinse and repeat.

The truth, however, is that even though this is the “standard” work cycle for ATCs in Dubai, our rosters are a lot more fluid, and a lot less predictable (we usually find out what shifts we’ve been rostered to work for a given month about half way through the previous one). I very rarely work the prescribed cycle of two mornings, two afternoons and two nights.  I wish I did, I would love that kind of stability.  But unfortunately due to staff shortages, training, annual leave, sick leave and controllers being seconded to the office, the roster is usually all over the place.


On the left, the standard roster template for 2018. On the right, the actual 2018 roster. Oh Mr. Hart, what a mess.

So, how does a typical work cycle actually play out?  Let’s start with morning shifts.  We are required to be at work by 0545 for a 0600 start (I’ll be using 24 hour time in this post, as per aviation convention), but I do like to get to work a little earlier to let the night shift zombies go home.  So, for me to be at work by, say, 0530 I need to leap out of bed at 0400.  I actually like to snooze my alarm for about 45 minutes before I actually get up (yes, I’m a weirdo).  This means that my first (of many) alarms goes off at the ungodly hour of 0315. 

Sleepy beepy!

The philosophy behind the myriad alarms is that my everyday alarm tone is a very soothing harpsichord sound, designed to gently rouse me from my slumber.  At 0315 in the morning, however, this doesn’t always do the trick.  The choice of alarms is progressively more likely to penetrate my repose. To that effect, the duck tone alarm is quite annoying.  The bark tone alarm is extremely irritating.  And the Leanne alarm (the back-up alarm of last resort) is actually my telephone ringtone which is the sound I would hear if I did accidentally sleep in and my watch manager was calling me to see where the fuck I was.  It instils enough fear and panic to wake me up no matter how sleepy I might be.  Committing the cardinal sin of sleeping in for a morning shift is a really horrible feeling.  Not only are you late for work, but there’s someone in the tower who has worked an eight hour night shift waiting for you to come and relieve them so that they can go home.  And they’re not allowed to leave until you actually get there.  I’ve only slept in for a morning shift once, and let me tell you it’s a very discombobulating situation. 

Another reason for the plethora of alarms is that it’s virtually impossible to get a good night’s sleep before that first morning shift.  I spend all night tossing and turning, subconsciously worrying that I’ll sleep in, inducing anxiety, which (of course) prevents a good sleep.  It’s a vicious circle.  Plus the only way to get eight hours in bed before my alarm goes off is to retire at 1915 the night before.  Which is impossible.  I always harbour well-meaning intentions of going to bed super early before my morning shifts, but usually turn the lights out sometime between 2100 and 2200 giving me about five or six hours of downtime. Not only do I usually wake up tired for the shift, but the entire cycle is off to a terrible start.  Welcome to shift work world. 

So I get up at 0400 and I get ready for work.  My routine at this time of day is so well rehearsed, it’s as smooth as Swiss clockwork.  Everything is done on autopilot.  David and I dance around each other like a beautifully choreographed ballet.  I don’t rush around like a crazy person, but every minute counts and there isn’t a lot of room for unforeseen variables.  The last couple of years I’ve also had to factor in an extra five minutes sprawled on the couch for the inevitable early morning hot flush episode that has become a stalwart component of my routine.  Menopause is fun! 

I’m usually out the door by 0450 and get to the tower by 0530 to take over position.  Depending on how many controllers are rostered for the morning, I might rotate through two hours in position, followed by a two hour break for the eight hour shift, or I might work two hours in position with a one hour break.  The maximum number of hours I can legally work is two and a half, after which I’m required to have at least a thirty minute rest period.  These rules are set by the General Civil Aviation Authority (GCAA), which is the regulatory body for aviation in the UAE.  And they lay down a lot of other rules regarding shift work in the tower, which I’ll talk more about later.  At the end of my shift, I’ll usually leave the tower some time between 1330 and 1400 and reach home by 1500 at the latest.  Those of you who read my previous ejo know that this is the ideal time for a coffee nap, and I almost always have one after a morning shift. 

Afternoons are my least favourite shifts.  The whole day is kind of fucked for getting anything done.  We usually get up around 0830 which isn’t super late, but it’s still an extra four and a half hours sleep than the previous two days so it feels like a real luxury, and actually plays a large part in our sleep debt recovery.  We have a little over four hours to get shit done before leaving for work.  Shit includes going for a walk followed by a yoga session, showering and washing my hair, reading my emails, playing Wordle, responding to messages, cooking and eating lunch (which is usually a delicious, juicy steak) and then doing the dishes, and also preparing something to snack on at work later that evening.  It can be a bit hectic to be honest.  I normally get to the tower at around 1330, send the morning shift on their merry way, and settle in for the next eight hours.  Maybe it’s because the shift straddles the transition from day to night, but afternoon shifts just seem to drag on and on and on.  They’re boring as hell and by the time I get home at around 2300 it’s way too late to do anything.

Morning shifts used to be my favourite because I’d get the whole afternoon off, but lately I’m starting to really feel the exhaustion of having to wake up so goddamn early.  Let’s not mince words, I’m an old lady now.  My new favourite shifts are night shifts.  Sure it’s tiring having to stay up all night, but when there are only two of us rostered, we work a great schedule that gives each of us a two and a half hour break in the middle, so that we can both have a good rest.  This means that I have the entire tower to myself for a couple of hours at a time while my colleague naps.  It’s me time, baby. I play a little background music, I eat a little midnight snack, I talk to some pilots in my night shift voice, I plan holidays, I water the tower plants, I do some squats and I work on my ejos.  I actually have a really good time.  David doesn’t have it so lucky.  Night shifts at DXB are usually the busiest shift of the day, so while I’m dancing around my tower, David’s working his ass off in his. 

Despite me having it relatively easy on the night shifts, I still have to be awake and alert at an hour when most people are fast asleep.  By the time David and I get home at 7am after a night shift, we are both pretty fucking knackered.  We’ll have a quick shower and go to bed for a few hours, and get up just before midday.  It’s definitely not enough rest, but sleeping into the PM messes with my circadian rhythms too much. Everyone deals with night shifts differently and a lot of the local guys sleep until the late afternoon following a night shift, but there’s no way I could do that. I subscribe to the jet lag school of thought, sticking as close as possible to my regular schedule, even though it’s exhausting, and even though it means I need a little extra time to recover. At least I’m not completely screwing up my sleep/wake routine. David and I tend to take it very easy in between night shifts, rarely scheduling social engagements or appointments that would require us to leave the house.  We lay low and make sure to squeeze in a 20 minute coffee nap sometime during the afternoon.  It ain’t a lot, but it definitely helps.  And later that evening, we lock up the house, get in our cars and set off in opposite directions to our respective airports to do it all again. 

The day after our second night shift is called a sleep day, or a rest day, for obvious reasons.  It isn’t actually considered a day off (since we’ve worked the first six hours of it), but it’s not considered a full work day either (since the shift started the previous day).  When I was a younger woman, I secretly did think of sleep days as a day off.  Oh, the impertinence of youth.  These days it truly is a day of rest, and it generally takes me the whole day to recover from having worked the cycle. 

Fatigue caused by shift work is a massive concern in the aviation industry, and there are very strict rules about the hours that air traffic controllers can work.  I already mentioned that we need to take a break every two and a half hours, but there are many other rules governing our rostering principles.  For instance, a controller can only work a maximum of ten hours in a single shift.  And we must have a minimum of ten hours between shifts.  We can’t be rostered to work more than three night shifts in any rolling ten day period.  And if we’re rostered to work seven days in a row, we must have a minimum break of two and a half days (or 60 hours) before coming back to work.  And there are lots of other restrictions that get a little technical, things like “Within 720 consecutive hours (30 days) the aggregate of duty periods and standby duties shall not exceed 300 hours, provided that duty periods do not exceed 200 hours.”  Blah blah blah.  At the end of the day the rules are there to protect us, the controllers.  But they’re also there to protect the unit.  And our employer.  And the airlines.  And the pilots. And the flying public.  Fatigue is no joke. It causes errors in judgement, and that’s something air traffic controllers simply can’t afford.

Working a reverse rotating shift cycle (starting with early mornings and progressing through to night shifts) is supposed to be the least fatiguing roster, and I actually prefer it to the forward rotating cycle that we used to work in Melbourne tower (which started in the evenings and progressed through to morning shifts).  But at the end of the day, fatigue wins.  It always wins, and it’s impossible to avoid. All we can do is mitigate it, but it will always be a huge issue in air traffic control.  As I mentioned earlier, I need to be functional while doing a relatively complex job at a time of night when all my body wants to do is curl up and go to sleep.  And that takes a toll.  Shift workers are notoriously prone to a cornucopia of health problems including heart disease, obesity, high blood pressure, reproductive issues, ulcers, diabetes, depression, low testosterone, insomnia and stroke.  In fact working shifts is so bad for your health it even has a disorder named after it.  Yay? 

As a bonus, we are also way more susceptible to death.  In a very large, famous, longitudinal study, The Nurse’s Health Study, researchers followed 74,862 nurses over a period of 22 years and concluded that the nurses who worked rotating shifts for more than 15 years were 38% more likely to die from heart disease, 25% more likely to die from lung cancer and 33% more likely to die from colon cancer than their counterparts who worked day shifts only.  Sobering.  In fact it’s so unhealthy that in 2007 the World Health Organisation declared that shift work was a probable carcinogenic.

So how does shift work wreak such havoc in the body?  It’s all to do with circadian disruption.  Having to be wide awake at 0200 isn’t just a pain in the ass, it also throws a spanner in the body’s finely tuned chemistry, creating hormonal chaos and laying waste to our biological homeostasis.  This is such an interesting and expansive topic that I’ll be writing about it in my next ejo, so keep an eye out for that.  In the meantime, all you need to know is that my highly paid job is almost definitely killing me. 

But I do not want your sympathy.  Absolutely not.  Fuck that noise.  I’ve made a choice to stick to this beautiful career, and despite its pitfalls I feel absolutely #blessed.  If you go back and have another look at that 2018 roster, zoom in and check out all those greyed out dates.  Those are holidays, bitches.  In January we went to one of our favourite destinations, Japan, spending time in the ski fields of Nagano, as well as drinking our body weight in sake in bustling downtown Tokyo.  In February we took a short four day trip to Sri Lanka during our days off for David’s birthday.  In mid-April we travelled back home to Australia to see family and friends.  And five days later we jetted off to France for a couple of weeks, attending a close friend’s wedding in the French countryside.  In June/July we spent two and a half glorious weeks in Amsterdam, introducing my youngest sister, Pieta, to our favourite city.  And in mid-August we were lucky enough to be able to travel to America for six days to go to the wedding of another close friend.  When we got home we had enough time to do some laundry before heading straight back out again three days later, visiting Sicily for the very first time.  We obviously loved it because we went back in October, this time with my sister Mary in tow.  So yeah, while my job is basically murdering me, at least I’m having fun with the time I’ve got left.

So now you know what it’s like to be a shift worker.  Or rather, now you have an inkling of what it’s like to be a shift worker.  If you dare, I challenge you to simulate just one of my night shifts and see how it really feels.  One Saturday morning, just get up at your normal time and go about your day.  Remember to have a coffee nap (or maybe an even better idea might be to have a proper, long nap), and then at 2050, get in your car and drive around for 45 minutes.  Come back into the house and start working on something.  Maybe you have some office work to do, maybe a hobby.  But you’re not allowed to watch TV or use your phone (coz we’re not allowed to either).  At 2330 you’re on a break for two and a half hours.  I suggest trying to sleep.  But don’t forget to set an alarm (or four) to make sure you are up and ready to take over again at 0200.  This is the tough part.  It’s usually quiet on the night shifts, but sometimes you wake up from your nap and you have to hit the ground running.  You can’t afford to give in to your sleep urges.  Feel free to have a coffee if you think it’ll help.  I no longer drink coffee on the night shifts (in fact I only have it for coffee naps), but I’ll often have a little snack right around this time for some energy.  A boiled egg or a few strips of bacon.  But you do whatever you need to do to stay awake.  And don’t forget to work.  You’re in position until 0430.  You can’t slack off. And you can’t fall asleep.  So keep working.  Naps on the job will get you fired.  Or, worst case scenario, kill people.  At 0430 your imaginary partner takes over and you can chill for a while, but you can’t go home yet.  Not until the morning crew arrives to relieve you from your duties.  You can have another little nap while you wait, but at 0600 you need to get up, get in your car and drive around for another 45 minutes.  When you finally get home on Sunday morning, you’re done.  Congratulations, you’re an honorary shift worker.  How do you feel?  Now do it again.  And repeat every ten days for the next twenty years.  Bet you can’t.

So, think of us… next time you have a late night pizza delivered, next time you need to go to the hospital in the wee hours of the morning, or have to call an Uber to take you home after a big night out. Think of us when you need to call a locksmith, or have to catch an obscenely early flight.  Think of us, the weirdos, the shift workers.  While you’re sleeping, we keep the world turning. It’s tough work, but someone’s got to do it.

Ejo #148 – A Tale Of Two Cities

Dubai really is like no other city in the world.  Check out this post-covid promotional video if you don’t believe me. 

See, I told you!  Looks amazing, right?  Well, it actually is an amazing city, made even more remarkable by virtue of the fact that it has grown and developed out of nothing, in one of the least hospitable places on earth.  That the country even exists at all is testament to the vision of Sheikh Zayed, beloved father of the UAE.  And the city of Dubai, the shining star of all seven emirates, is evidence of the determination of His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum to transform the emirate that he rules over into one of the most popular tourist destinations in the world. 

In fact, Sheikh Mohammed has many ambitions.  His most recent philanthropic campaign is a drive to provide one billion meals to needy people in 50 countries around the world.  The Ramadan initiative, called “One Billion Meals”, aims to develop “long-term solutions to improve lives across the world, without any discrimination” by collecting donations from the public until enough money has been raised to provide the aforementioned billion meals to “women, children, refugees, displaced people and victims of disasters and crises”.  A noble cause indeed.  Unfortunately, the initiative does not include people living in the UAE, with the website explaining, “Charitable institutions and humanitarian associations within the country already engage in community campaigns and continuous projects that meet the needs of impoverished individuals and families in the UAE”.  Wonderful. 

Remember that video I showed you earlier?  Every single building you see in that clip, every swimming pool, every harbour, fountain, iconic building, highway, resort, metro, island, amusement park, aquarium, hotel and mall was built by the hands of immigrant labourers, predominantly from Bangladesh, Pakistan and India.  It is through their blood, sweat and tears that this sparkly, shiny city was created and yet, for some reason, their faces are never represented in any marketing videos.  They get no kudos, they receive no recognition and they are shunted out of the way to live in hot, dusty, squalid labour camps, several men cramped together in a single room, the overpowering smell of garbage inescapable.  And that just really sucks because, despite being out of sight and out of mind, they are still here.  They are real people.  And they deserve a little bit of time and attention and kindness and respect, just like everybody else. 

So I want to show you their faces here. 


These are the men that the Sheikh doesn’t want to feed as part of his fancy One Billion Meals crusade because their needs are apparently already being met.  Charity, it would appear, doesn’t necessarily begin at home.  Or maybe feeding your own workers and providing them with better living conditions isn’t as strong a virtue signal to the world as a catchy slogan is (though in my humble opinion, it really would be).  So this Ramadan, as we have done for the last nine years, David and I and some of our wonderful, generous friends set out to provide these unseen men with a delicious, filling Iftar meal to break their Ramadan fast. 


I always get a kick out of being at these food handouts, witnessing the gratitude on the faces of the men, feeling the love that comes from giving to someone in need.  And this year did not disappoint.  This time though, there was a feeling in the air that was different.  Normally we hand out the meals from the back of a van on the street, but this time the meals, packed up in boxes, had been placed inside one of the dormitories.  That made it feel more intimate, and more personal.  We were in their world now.  It was also more chaotic than usual because guys from neighbouring labour camps had caught wind of the handout and swarmed the joint.  It always feels really bad that we can’t feed every single person who needs a meal, but that’s life I guess.  We were there to give food to the guys living in that particular dorm, and that was made a little tricky by the interlopers.  Eventually we figured out a system in which a representative from each room would approach and tell us how many men he was cohabiting with (usually between six and nine) and he would then be given the correct number of bags, each containing some dates, a piece of fruit, a bottle of water, some laban and a hot, tasty biryani.  That system seemed to work out OK. 

David and I stuck around after the food was gone because I wanted to take some more photos.  With the other volunteers no longer with us, we felt a little out of place, like we didn’t belong.  But I was never afraid.  On our way out, a few of the guys approached us and asked David and me if they could take selfies with us.  Of course we agreed, and before long we were surrounded by a throng of young men, taking photos, as if we were movie stars.  This was the first time we’ve ever personally interacted with the men we’ve given the Iftar meals to, and it was wonderful.  I hope to do it again next time, as it really made my day.

Our campaign to feed 2000 men was a drop in the ocean compared to the billion meals that the Sheikh wants to donate in his name, but for me what made this year so special were the fleeting human connections I made with those men.  I had the opportunity to chat to a few of the guys, and I made an effort to look as many of them as I could in the eye.  I got the chance to see them.  As people.  I smiled at a lot of them, and received many smiles in return.  And it was these beautiful smiles that truly uplifted me on that day.  The Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) has been quoted as saying “Even a smile is charity.”  And if that is the case, then it was I who was enriched by the experience.  Because I walked out of that camp absolutely elated and exhilarated, walking on air.  I wonder if Sheikh Mohammed knows the feeling. 

My beautiful husband.
Six men live in this tiny room. They were kind enough to let me in to take a photo.
At the end of a hot, sunny day, the stench gets pretty bad.
This young man should be out having fun with his friends, dating, dancing, living his life. Instead he is essentially an indentured servant, working 12-14 hour days to send money to his family.
This guy is my favourite. There is a fragility to him, but at the same time a steely eyed dignity. I wish him well.

Ejo #139 – The Extraordinary People I Know: Zimmy Khan


I met Zimmy in 2011, nearly ten and a half years ago.  I had just experienced two of the darkest years of my life and desperately needed help getting out of the deep, pitch-black hole I was in.  I’d consulted a couple of psychologists in Dubai, who had not been able to help me.  It’s the only time in my life I remember feeling such hopelessness, darkness, loneliness and desperation.  And then one day, I read an article in Time Out Dubai about a very special therapist called Zimmy Khan.  It felt like a dim light shining in the distance, and I ran towards it.  I checked out her website and wrote her an email. The subject header was “I Need Your Help”. 

Not only did Zimmy help me through that bleak phase of my life, she has, over the years, equipped me with tools that have allowed me to survive and navigate another decade in a city that drains my life force, being away from my family and friends, relationship ups and downs, career dilemmas, sometimes crippling social anxiety, and the devastating grief of losing my beloved Mum.  She taught me resilience, and she taught me how to have faith (a word I’d previously considered a profanity).   

I immediately fell in love with Zimmy as a therapist, and later, when it dawned on us both that we were spending the first 45 minutes of our sessions just chatting, I fell in love with her as a friend.  David calls her my guru because she helped transform me from someone who saw the world as an adversary, to be fought and challenged, into the woman I am now.  I am (mostly) at peace, I know who I am, I love myself, I am grounded, I am happy and I am open to receiving all of life’s possibilities.  I no longer feel alone, and I am no longer afraid.  Zimmy saved my life and I know it sounds like a cliché, but I am truly blessed to have met her and I am eternally grateful that she is my friend. 

Zimmy and me

It’s my great honour to introduce you all to Zimmy. 

Thank you so much Zimmy, for taking the time to (virtually) sit down with me and have a chat.  I appreciate it and I’m absolutely certain that my readers will enjoy it too. So, I started this post with an excerpt from an anthology you contributed to called “How The Phoenix Rose” in which you talk about your experience of severe physical and mental debilitation after suddenly developing a brain lesion in 2004.  Can you tell us about it?
I’d been working at JWT, one of the top global advertising agencies, in Dubai.  I’d been there for two years and was doing very well when I was suddenly hit with paralysis, and diagnosed with a brain lesion.  My mind has always been my savior and north star.  But the medications they gave me made me so weak, mentally, that I was not able to access my north star, my inner guidance, my mind’s ability to analyse and find solutions for me to heal myself; and that was the scariest part of the whole experience for me. More than the physical paralysis, it was the mental shutdown that made me feel alone and weak and hopeless. My superpower was taken away by the medications, and that’s why I stopped taking them, to see if I could still access my inner guidance. When that connection came back, I was able to heal myself through love and gratitude affirmations.

That sounds terrifying. Do you remember that time clearly, or has it faded with time?
Not as clearly as you would expect, because I live mainly in the present.  I remember things as a story, with minimal emotions.  I think I dissociate very reflexively from painful things, as a deep rooted trauma response – my analytical mind switches on to keep me safe and to protect me from feeling too deeply, and to just focus on what needs to be done to fix it, solve it or get out of it. I do remember the immense despair and fear that I went through, and also the great love and faith and peace that I felt for myself while saying the affirmations that healed me.  I really did feel like I went from wanting to kill myself, to everything will be alright, in a matter of only weeks.

Every hero has an origin story, and I wonder if that episode in your life is yours. 
The lesion did help me to honour my inner guidance more, and I will always feel fortunate about that.  But Chryss, I don’t see the lesion as my origin story, or even the catalyst.  It feels more like a very important fork in the road, but no, not the origin.

Are you happy to share your origin story with us?
I lost my mother suddenly and traumatically when I was only one and a half years old.  She had run away from her family to be with my dad while he was married to someone else. My parents married in secret, and for three years she lived as his second wife, whom no-one knew about; until his first wife found out.  Her brother murdered my mother to avenge his sister’s betrayal.  

Five month old Zimmy, with her mum and dad.

It was only then that my dad’s family learned about the whole situation, and of course they were in no position to care for me because the first wife had their loyalty.  My dad was also unable to care for me, and my mum’s family felt that she got what she deserved for disgracing them.  They wanted nothing to do with me as I was a reminder of their shame and loss.

Zimmy at six months.

Since the options were limited and my dad was concerned for my safety, he had to make quick decisions, and I was passed onto a childless couple who were our neighbours and family friends.  I was already quite comfortable around them and moved with them to Saudi Arabia soon after. Within a year my dad divorced his first wife, remarried, found a job in Saudi Arabia and moved there too. 

Zimmy at the age of four, with her biological paternal grandparents.

Between the ages of three and 15, I’d be with my foster parents during the week and spend the weekends with my dad and his new wife. I grew up knowing that my mum had died and that I now had two sets of parents. Both sets had their own baggage and issues and insecurities and wounds. I’m sure they all did their best to raise me as a team, but most of the time I felt alone, scared and unwanted, like a burden. I remember always being worried about something bad happening and feeling like I couldn’t trust or control life. I always needed to be on the alert and ready to fight. I never truly felt safe, or able to trust anyone, or have an irrefutable sense of belonging. So I became my own little unit – me, myself and I.  I always had the ability to talk to myself, to be there for myself and help guide myself through abusive experiences (physical, mental and emotional) in both homes, as well as feeling different at school.  

I found ways to work with my “defects” rather than allow them to defeat me. I used to analyse the other kids and try to figure out how to achieve the “desired result”, but in my own way. I created my own strategies on how to fit in and study better and focus better.  Things like doodling rather than taking notes in class, having music play while I did my homework and sleeping with books under my pillow. I always managed to get through with mostly As and Bs. School was very important to me as it felt like the only safe space in my life, and I wanted to do well and keep having that as my refuge.

By the time I became a teenager, with all the hormonal changes and bigger emotions, I was feeling very overwhelmed and suicidal. Even then it was my mind, my inner voice, my higher self that was my strength and got me through each day. I would have a pep talk with myself every morning: “Let’s do our best today, and if it’s not enough and things get too heavy, we can go to the top of that 15 storey building and just jump off. Don’t worry, we’ve got this, one way or the other. Just focus on one thing at a time and the day will pass”.  It was always “we” because that created a sense of belonging and connection, like someone had my back.  It is still “we” today.

I came to Dubai in 1997 to complete my bachelor’s degree in Business Management, with the intention of returning to Saudi Arabia to enroll in a Master’s program, and to wed in an arranged marriage.  And I was happy with that.  I was just so thrilled to have the opportunity to escape an oppressive family situation, to be independent, and get a higher education and live in a more open environment for a while.  During my studies, I was offered an internship at JWT, and after I graduated they offered me a job.  So I just stayed in Dubai. 

Well, I, for one, am very happy that you decided to stay. And thankfully (and miraculously) you fully healed from the brain lesion.  How did that whole experience lead to your evolution from high-flying advertising executive to life-saving healer and therapist?
I was so consumed with the miraculous outcome that I moved very quickly into delving into how the mind and body work together, how to be more than we’re taught we are, and how to access the superpowers that we all have. It was a rebirth for me, and a huge push towards my calling.  

I became keenly inter­ested in everything to do with “mind over matter”, “the power of thoughts” and “the attitude of gratitude”. Concepts that I had no prior awareness of, but that very naturally flowed through me and helped me to get my life back to its full glory. I made it my priority to study all that I could about these transformative powers that we all carry within us, and yet look for outside of ourselves.  It was this quest that trans­formed me from a hardcore, corporate intellectually-driven executive into a full-time therapist and healer. And it’s that exceptional and life-changing learning that I share with my clients in my sessions and workshops, reminding them to acknowledge all that they have to be thankful for, rather than focussing on the things that are missing.

There’s absolutely no question that you are special, that you do possess a superpower.  I attest to that and I happily recommend you to anyone that even drops a hint that they might benefit from your very special skillset. You have helped a lot of people. Do you think you were born with your superpower, or do you think that all the hardships you endured in your life helped to shape you that way? 
I think we are all born with these superpowers, and that is the real hallmark of being at the top of the food chain. We are the only beings that have the gifts of thought and analysis, and with that comes the ability to choose differently and to create different outcomes, to be better, to evolve. That is the superpower we all have. I don’t feel special in this respect, just really proud of myself for recognising the choices, and for choosing to be a better version of myself daily.

Life is bigger than us, and gives us both good experiences and challenging ones so that we can choose which ones we want to grow from. Some of us respond more to the painful push, and some of us thrive more when things are good.  So yes, my superpowers came to light due to adversity.  I wish I’d realised that I could have accessed them without the struggle!  But I think that learning so much about self-love, and finding these navigation methods, perhaps makes me a better therapist, and has helped me to create resources like The Happiness Project.  I’d sure like to think so. 

The other day when you were at our place for dinner you said something along the lines of, “I’m becoming mortal”.  What did you mean by that? 
I think that’s about progressively becoming a more feeling person than the mostly analytical one I used to be. I guess that comes with softening my armour and letting down my guard and starting to trust life and people, and allowing myself to connect, belong, love and live more fully. So yes when I allow myself to feel more, I do feel more human.  Vulnerable, but also more intuitive and alive. And I’m OK with that, I’m actually happy with that.  But sometimes I do become nostalgic about how in control I used to be.

Do you mind please listing the modalities you specialise in, for our readers, and what each one entails?  How can people benefit from them??  
Neurolinguistic Programming (NLP) and Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) go hand in hand as they are both related to learning how to direct our mind more consciously, rather than being directed by it and then feeling not in control of our thoughts and behaviours. So these are practical tips and techniques on how to reply to our negative, self-limiting thoughts, beliefs and programs by firstly becoming aware of them, secondly not fighting them but kindly and patiently shifting them to what would serve us better, and thirdly being consistent with the practice. This leads to a gradual but sustainable improvement in our mental, emotional and physical state of being, and gives us more energy and ability to be better versions of ourselves and to create a better life experience for ourselves. It also helps us to be more accepting and empathetic towards others.

Clinical hypnotherapy is used when there are deep subconscious wounds, fears, traumas or addictions that are creating pain in our lives. Sometimes we know what they are but we feel powerless to change or heal them; and sometimes we don’t even really know the root cause, but we know that no matter what we do cognitively, it just doesn’t seem to help for too long. So with this modality we connect with the subconscious mind, which has all the answers and solutions, and we heal the root causes from the past, so that they become disarmed and unable to create the pain in the present.  This is such a magical process and I am still in awe of how the mind takes us directly to the source, even when the client or myself have no idea what it is.  The healing that happens is so profound and long lasting, it still blows my mind. While hypnosis is still widely seen as just something to help with addictions and phobias, it really is much more than that and helps with healing traumas, PTSD, relationship issues, mental, emotional and physical illnesses too.

For energy healing I use a combination of the basics of reiki and pranic healing, plus my own intuitive interpretation. Energy healing modalities are based on the premise that we are all made up of energy and that everything that has form has an energy field.  How is my methodology unique?  I am able to get a sense of, and verbalise, the emotions that are creating the blocks in a client’s energy flow, and with their permission we work on allowing them to be released. This helps people to become more empowered and aware, and to be able to choose different thoughts and create lighter emotions so they can keep their energy system flowing better.

Akashic records reading helps us to connect to the client’s Super consciousness, the infinite essence.  Not just the conscious thinking mind or subconscious feeling mind that are limited to our bodily experience of life, but something bigger, wiser, made of love and connected to all that is. Through this modality, we access a “soup” of information that transcends time and space, and is made of our higher self (the part that knows our purpose in this life, and is a distillation of all the learnings from previous existences), collective consciousness, ancestral consciousness and so much more. The benefit is access to incredible love, wisdom, guidance and connection to something much larger and more powerful and comforting than we have ever known.  People also receive answers, solutions and healings during this process, giving permission to the therapist to access these through the client’s energy field, and to verbalise things that they may have been receiving through dreams, signs, gut feelings etc. but have not had the chance to really listen to, or interpret fully.

This is the newest modality in my portfolio, and the one that has truly challenged me to accept that I really am quite intuitive, and that I should trust and own this superpower rather than doubt or feel embarrassed by it. Since I come from such an analytical background, it’s been the most fascinating journey for me, first with energy healing and now with this. I know I heavily rely on my intuition, even when working with clinical hypnotherapy, but this really throws you in the deep end as there is almost no science to give you a sense of security. I used to be very hesitant, and actually avoided delving into it until the “call” became really strong and I decided to do a course, just to quell my curiosity.

During the course, my readings were really accurate and intuitive, and the teacher and students all wanted to work with me! So it’s almost like I had no choice but to embrace this facet of myself.  I slowly started doing readings, for close friends at first, and only after I felt more comfortable with this strange free-falling did I start offering it to clients.  It is a beautiful experience, not just for clients, but for me too, and I have never had a session in which I wasn’t touched so deeply that it led me to tears. The unconditional love, acceptance, encouragement and wisdom that comes through is really something special, and each client leaves feeling uplifted, happy, peaceful and more whole.  

Over the years, you and I have tried most of these therapies, plus some other, more experimental stuff.  Our hypnotherapy sessions helped me tremendously when we first started seeing each other and I was at a very low point, holding onto lots of shit.  I really enjoyed the Akashic reading you did for me in 2018, as it connected me to my yiayia, who died a year later at the age of 103.  My least favourite therapy was the past life regression (sorry!).  I didn’t really feel like I got much out of it (though it did inspire a short story, so perhaps that’s not quite accurate). 
The past life regression was your fifth session, and the objective was for you to have more discipline with your writing, and to enjoy it more. So we accessed a past life in which you had done that, to remind your cells, your consciousness, of how it feels to be that way again. Maybe it’s just me, but I do feel the past life session was more impactful than you may have realised.  I believe that it served the purpose of getting you to be more regular and disciplined with your ejos, and over the past few years I feel your writing has become deeper, and more open and honest.

Thank you so much!  You’ve definitely helped me become a better writer, and a better person.  After all these years, it’s still a wondrous experience for me to come to you feeling stale or blocked or stuck in some way, and walk away feeling like I’ve been fixed.  And for that reason, my absolute favourite therapy of all is your energy cleanse. 
Energy cleanses work really well with you as you are truly open and trusting with me and that’s all it takes to set things right, or to position them better, to create an easier flow. And thankfully you are aware of, and good at, self-regulating and you use your mind well, so we haven’t really needed extensive hypnotherapy etc. Would you please tell me what you like about it, and how it helps you and how you think it works?  I’m curious to hear your take on it.

To be honest, it all feels a little bit like magic.  And because we have worked together for so long I definitely feel that I can completely trust you, and trust the process, and let go and have faith that you’ll guide me in the direction I need to go.  Hypnotherapy is similar, but it feels like I need to do a little more delving into my own consciousness, and sometimes that feels clunky to me, like too much hard work (LOL, I’m so lazy).  When we do an energy cleanse, I just open the door to my sub-conscious and let you in, and let you do all the work.  I always leave your house walking on air, buoyant and buzzing but very clear-minded, and very happy. I want to thank you so much for all that you’ve done for me, over the years. I’m so grateful that the journey you took to overcome all the trauma and pain in your life led you to helping others overcome theirs. I’m so grateful that it led us to each other.
That really has been my driving force towards actively participating in life. Being there for others, and allowing them to use some of my learnings to heal themselves. So what you say makes me feel like I have been of service, and of love, and that you have helped me to fulfill my purpose. I really do love my work

If you feel that a session with Zimmy might help you in some way, you can get in touch with her at zimmy@epiphany-zk.com, or just let me know and I’ll set it up for you. She does in-person sessions in Dubai, as well as video sessions for clients all over the world.