LIVING BEYOND LIMITS & MENTAL RESILIENCE. Tiffany Soi & Dr Heidy Khlaaf

Hello everyone, this is Tiffany Soithongsuk, or Tiffany Soi as I may be better known, and I am so pleased to be hosting this Friends of WeMove podcast themed Living Beyond Limits & Mental Resilience: an exploration into other’s personal relationship through these themes, not to mention their movement journey. First off, I am supremely grateful to Chris & James for asking me to enquire into these ideas, after having been a guest on the WeMove podcast myself way back in Episode 10

In order to introduce this series, I thought I would briefly recap that conversation that has led to here: we covered my personal history as as an athlete, more recently as a competitive climber, formerly as a young gymnast with real Olympic goals; my life as a female astrophysicist in science & STEM industries, whilst simultaneously upholding thespian passions; and also being a mixed race woman (at a time where there were few). Within that, we uncovered the personal hurdles I faced in inadvertently challenging a multitude of stereotypes & stigmas about women in science, sport, and the creative space - and with that, the mental health difficulties I worked through in terms of burnout & depression. These are dark and deep topics that I wasn’t expecting to talk about and there is still a lot of fear and stigma attached to talking about these topics for many people. But these were drawn out of me through the powerful and honest conversation we were having. 

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I am far from alone in these experiences: these themes of living beyond perceived limitations & constructs, mental health/resilience and perseverance in the face of adversity are ones that will resonate with many of you listening. I feel fortunate to be connected to truly inspiring women & men who are achieving incredible things on a mental-physical level. I do believe the extraordinary is occurring around us under the guise of lives labelled ordinary: these are individuals on their own profound journey in breaking boundaries and exercising great mental resilience.

I’m so excited to share my first conversation with Dr Heidy Khlaaf, a woman and friend who is a testament to themes of this series. We had such a big and deep conversation - there are so many juicy nuggets as well as harsh realities that we venture through: from the real impact of poverty trauma; racial prejudice and sexism as an ethnic minority woman; survival mode and eroded mental health; olympic dreams, physical impairment to climbing passions; cultivating healthy partnerships without compromising on self; and the overriding untainted belief in pursuing her true calling as the only real motivator to carrying her through to where she is now - as an athletic, successful, modern woman. Even the f-word that is feminism was dropped. It took some reflection after our conversation for me to process the enormity of the journey Heidy has made and just how powerful inner conviction, sense of truth and tenacity has served in the long haul, not to mention good humour. 

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Heidy is a Doctor of Computer Science: she received her PhD from UCL, where she also partnered with Microsoft Research. She now works on analysing & developing technology safety systems for industries in nuclear power, aviation, autonomous transport and more. When not immersed in changing our futures on a daily basis, you can find her busting out strong moves at her bouldering gym or crag in London. 

I hope there is something that resonates with you in this insightful, open and honest conversation. It all comes out! Enjoy.

SHOW NOTES

15:46 

Egyptians don’t think women are dumb! In fact, they recognise how intelligent women are, particularly in STEM subjects, but the conservative expectations are such that, yes, you might be smart, but you need to get married and be a housewife.

29:30

Poverty trauma: the only thing keeping me from a mental breakdown was pure survival mode. Survival mode is knowing you are [mentally] ill, but if you stop, you will starve [literally]

33:10 

One of the reasons I worked so hard is because I wanted to eat.

35:43 

To be a woman of colour and constantly told “you’re not good enough and you will never make it”…to be on top was the only choice [for me]

43:15 

Discussion on: women who are forced into these “combative arenas” between themselves amongst male-dominated [work] environments
47:38

Scoliosis and Spina Bifida deformations

1:01:00

Climbing relieved a lot of acute anxiety (that could be so severe, I could feel like throwing up) and became a haven against abuse experienced on daily basis.

1:05:20 

Two years no dating: finding a partner was the least important goal in life. It was time to focus on being myself, my goals and aspirations.

1:09:50

Our mutual thoughts to answer the question “what scares you?”. The answer, mediocrity. “What scares others?”. Ambition. 

1:18:11

Acknowledging women who are now in their late twenties to thirties who were considered an anomaly in their time, who worked through adversity and prejudice, and are part of the evolution of change (not to mention our mothers’ generation)

1:21:13

Driving themes: genuinely pursuing what you truly love [not what others dictate you should love]. We always evolve, yes, but if you are not true to yourself, you will never be satisfied with what you are doing.



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