When Silence Is Not An Option:
Interview with Iram Gilani
By Carin Chea
Altruism has a new hero, and her name is Iram Gilani.
The Pakistani-American author's uplifting memoir, Silent No More: An Intimate Portrait of How Trauma Affects Us All, chronicles the brutally traumatic early stages of Gilani's life and its transformation into relentless courage and hope.
Gilani, who is a mentor as well as a public speaker, has a clear mission: To bring healing and recovery to the hurt and traumatized.
Silent No More is a testament to the unrelenting human spirit and its surprising resilience. The author, who has turned her past hurts into vehicles of healing for others, is the epitome of the proverbial Rising Phoenix.
How do you pronounce your first name?
How did you get started in writing?
Never in a million years did I think that I'd ever write or publish a book. Because of the trauma I've gone through, every time I'd talk to someone, they would always find a way to relate to me. They hadn't gone through the exact same thing, but they could relate.
I came to an understanding that we all deal with our own unfortunate circumstances in life. That is truly what movitaveted me to write. If I can inspire just one person to survive, then whatever I've gone through has a purpose.
I normally ask authors where they get their inspiration from, but in your case, it is apparent. Tell us about Silent No More.
The book itself is split into three parts. The first part of the book focuses on my life. In order for me to talk about the second and third parts of the book, I had to share why and what makes me credible enough to say all these things.
The first few chapters of the book are about my personal life where I highlight my experiences with molestation, abandonment, forced marriage, bullying, homelessness, PTSD, and eventually becoming a victim of gunshot.
I needed to draw a line through my life in order to connect with those I wanted to give my message to. I need people to know that I've been in their shoes.
The second part of the book focuses on how I did not get the support that I needed. If you do not get support as a sufferer, you pretty much are left either dependent for support, or go towards substance abuse and suicidal thoughts.
I share everything I've done in my life, starting from scratch -- having faith, writing messages to myself, writing this book, which started 8+ years ago. I'm telling my readers what they can do if they have no one to lean on.
The third part of the book focuses on those who've never experienced trauma or neglect. I want those people to know how important it is for us, the people who suffered, to have their support. I had to show them what we go through, physically, emotionally, and mentally. I encourage people to focus on an individual's importance, rather than their scars and the imperfections.
Many of my problems stem from the family I come from. I needed to show that the lack of support I received from them was very painful, hoping that one day if they read my book, how important that was to have their support. Sometimes people just have no knowledge of this.
Also, I keep my book short and direct-to-the-point. My book is 120 pages, minus 15 to 20 pages for pictures.
Has your family read your book?
My extended family, who are not living around here - yes, they all have. First, they were just shocked. Being a Pakistani woman who was raised in a well-educated middle-class family, the things I've gone through are not expected from that societal status. Their first reaction from my extended family was, "Please: Tell me this is fiction."
Some of my closer family members reacted with: "Why did you do that? We have a status in our community to maintain, and now everyone will know what you've gone through and they'll blame us."
The reason why I chose this title was because of one thing only: When a person goes through unfortunate circumstances, they blame themselves. They feel like they're doing something wrong, or maybe they're abnormal. But, in order for us to recover, we have to believe that we are not the cause of the problem.
I wanted to break that chain. I wanted people to not be silent anymore. I want people to believe: "I did not cause this myself. I did not shoot myself. I did not cause someone to rape or molest me." You have to break free from these thoughts.
Could you describe the experience of writing your memoir? Was it difficult re-living painful moments while telling your story?
When I first started this book, it was so difficult. I couldn't pick up my pen. I'd start to sweat. I was shaky, tearing up. I had done so much to suppress these feelings for so many years that I didn't want to re-live them. But, by writing this book, I was doing that.
Initially, it was difficult. But, what kept me going was: I am not the only person who has gone through this. Most of the time, people are so focused on women with trauma. But, there are so many men, LGBTQ, and others who go through trauma and they are not able to express who they are.
When I was writing this book and re-living these experiences, I had to keep them in mind. I had to remember that I was doing this for more than myself. This book was not about me.
How would you describe your recovery process? What message would you like to convey to those currently living with PTSD?
My recovery process is still ongoing. It is going to be with me as long as I live. I have so many artificial parts in my body, especially in my jaw, that I'll need surgeries and procedures for the rest of my life. I'm dealing with things one day at a lifetime but also living life as normally as I can.
I'd tell people to stay strong; I am surprised that God has made humans so much stronger than we know. We are able to take so much more than we can imagine. We're so much stronger, more valuable, than others may perceive us as. Know that there is more than your own current circumstances; things will get better.
Oftentimes, survivors have a skewed perception of themselves and can only see bruises and scars when they look in the mirror. That's what I saw every day.
For those who are willing to offer support: Interactions that make people feel outcast or make them feel not worthy, only highlights their sense of isolation. Start a conversation with someone and focus on who they are, not just what they've gone through.
If you could go back in time and give your younger self a piece of advice, what would it be?
I would say: "Talk to someone, anyone around you."
That's one thing I did not do was because I felt I was alone in my pain. I felt no one understood me. But, I didn't realize that I wasn't alone. I left myself in isolation for so long that I forgot there were people around me who could've provided the love and support that could have helped me heal faster.
Help for ourselves is so much closer than we can imagine. Don't be stuck and isolate yourself. Express yourself. Don't be afraid to ask for help.
Do you have any upcoming projects or follow-up books you'd like to tell us about?
I've done Zoom sessions. My focus has been the younger generation. They are so focused on media and image, on likes and dislikes. Those things overtake our lives. We forget we have a life to live for ourselves. I mentor younger children, boys and girls, and I help them see things beyond themselves, beyond their social media accounts, and help them understand that, if someone doesn't like you, it's not the end of your life.
My hopes are also to become a motivational speaker and continue to write. I hope to make a difference and live life beyond myself. My focus has been on reaching Pakistan. A lot of the issues I've dealt with is very common in that Asian regions. My hope is to get the highlights down there as well.
Also, my recovery had solely to do with my older brother, Ali. He has developmental mental issues. He's 44, but has the mind of a child. He was my motivation - he became a shield for me. He provided me with care and love and everything you could imagine, even though he did not understand my pain.
Many times, when we have children with disabilities, they are seen as less important or as a burden. I want to write from a perspective that they are equally as valuable. All we have to do is give them a chance. Had I not given my brother the chance to support me, I would not have been able to succeed. It was so critical that it pretty much saved my life.
I hope to write my second book from a perspective of those who are disabled and how much value they have in our lives.
My book is free. Six years ago when I was recovering from my gunshot and totally dependent on my family, having even $10 for myself was difficult. I wanted to make e-book available for everyone. You can download an e-book and audiobook for free from my website: IramGilani.com.
I'm also encouraging anyone who wishes to contact me directly via email: Contact@iramgilani.com
Please visit IramGilani.com for more information on the author and her current and future endeavors. Silent No More is free as an e-book and audiobook, and can be found on her website.
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