Sexual abuse is one of the most horrific experiences any woman can go through. It causes you to lose your innocence, weakens your sense of self-worth and can lead you unto a path of utter self-destruction.
In this episode of She Is A Mess, hear from Noor Pinna, a woman whose childhood sexual abuse led her to develop severe anorexia, body dysmorphia and a host of other problems.
Learn from her experience and hear her story as she speaks, not from a place of shame, but from a place of strength.
Full Transcript Below
Dee: Today in the studio we have an amazing woman who has an incredible story that you just need to hear. So, Noor, she is a Mental Health Therapist and a Transformational Mindset Coach, but she did not start there.
She has one of the most inspiring and somewhat tragic backstories, but she has managed to overcome it. So thank you so much, Noor, for coming. Why don’t you introduce yourself and tell us what are you not very good at?
Noor: Sure. Thank you for having me here. It’s a pleasure talking to you. I am a Mental Health Therapist, as you said, and a Transformation Mindset Coach. I host a Facebook group called “A Magical Mindset in Resiliency”, and that’s about overcoming shame boundaries and creating self-care.
So it talks about a variety of subjects. I love hiking. I am an outdoors person and I really love working on self-development. What I’m not good? Uhh, at time management, I guess. I have so many projects that I work on all the time.
And I have a day job and then I have my part-time job that I do on the side, which is being a Private Practice Therapist as well as being a Transformation Mindset Coach. And I absolutely love those things. Then I have like too many hands in, too many ochres in the fire, as you might put it.
So I’m trying to real back and see what’s really on my plate that’s going to give me joy and is not going to burn me out. So learning how to make those decisions is something I’m working on.
Dee: Many people feel that when you a professional, or when you’re an entrepreneur, you have time management all set. It’s all good. You are great at it.
So many don’t realize that as an entrepreneur, in that nature, you have so many different hats that you wear. Sometimes you have so many things going on that sometimes time management just isn’t there.
But, as you said, you are working on it. You will get there one day, but you don’t need to be absolutely perfect or good at it right now. I completely appreciate that transparency.
Noor: Yeah, I totally agree with what you just said. It’s a work in progress as I always say to everybody. Whatever you’re working on, it’s a work in progress.
Dee: I love that. So I have been reading your story and I’m just like, wow! So why don’t you tell us where you grew up and what was your childhood like?
Noor: Sure. I was born in Pakistan and I was there till I was 5 or 6 years old. While I was living there with my father, my mom and my four siblings in my grandparents’ house, I was sexually molested by the cook next door to us.
We went over one day and I was in the kitchen and the cook did inappropriate things to me. My family found out and they told our next-door neighbour and, he got kicked out and was not to be seen again.
So that was something that came out of it.
Then I also was sexually abused again by my school bus driver. That was pretty tragic and like any tragic story, it was hard. I doubted myself and I did not tell my parents about that one. I’m not quite sure why I didn’t. Then as I grew up, my father one night, decided to walk out the back door, like literally walk out the back door.
We were having guests and I remember being on the veranda and seeing my father walk out the back door. He made eye contact with me and I sort of had this intuition at 5 years old, 6 years old, that he wasn’t coming back, and the next morning my mom was freaking out and she’s going through the closet and she’s saying, his clothes are still here.
I don’t know. He’s coming back. And I just said to her, being a “Smart Alec” at like 5 or 6, I said, you should just donate the clothes to the servants or give them away because he’s not coming back.
It’s probably the only time my mom, like, ever hit me because in shock, she slapped me and she was like, hello, he’s coming back. He’s coming back.
My life would have been pretty tragic. It’s not a story for me to share because it’s my mom’s story.
But if my grandmother had not arrived at the time that she had arrived, surprising us, we probably would have not been alive.
So my grandmother decided to bring us to the United States. My mom had a very hard choice.
Either give all the kids to my father or bring all her kids with her when she went to the US. My mom was only 19, 20 years old at that time. So she decides to take all the kids and she brought us to the US.
So that was my upbringing. I remember fleeing in the middle of the night, not sure what was really happening because my mom was crying. And I just remember both my mom and my grandma like just praying, and hoping that everything was fine.
We got to the US, and here’s a funny story about me. It was snowing the day we arrived in the U.S. and I had never seen snow. Not that it doesn’t snow in Pakistan, but where I was raised in Karachi, we do not have snow. We had a lot of rain. It got cool things like that. So I thought the world was ending.
I thought that the sky was falling down. I’m not going outside And I threw a temper tantrum. My uncle and my aunt had to bribe me with chocolate and orange juice. That’s where the love of chocolate and orange juice came.
So they got me into the car and we drove to my grandparents’ house and that’s how I came to America.
Dee: I wanted to ask you, though. I knew it must have been a hard experience for you, having someone that you trust so closely to you do something as violating as abusing you- the Cook next door and the Bus Driver.
But how did you feel when you were actually going through this experience? Because I know some people say that time stops and they freeze. But what was it like for you?
Noor: You know, honestly, I did not understand it. I was freaking out as a child. I threw what we now call behavioural outbursts due to the tragic event. And I was acting out. I couldn’t sleep. And in those moments, I felt a dread; like I knew something was wrong. I just didn’t know what it was. I went along because these people are elders for me and you’re supposed to listen to your elders, you know?
It very much felt like my life was being pulled apart in many ages, and this is me reflecting on it now. At that moment, I do think that time had stopped and it felt like a long time. As far as my memory can remember, it was when is this going to end? Why is this happening to me? I don’t understand. I wasn’t allowed to cry. You know, I couldn’t show crying.
So in that sense, it was very much restricting of who I was, how I could repair myself. It was just a very confusing time as a child honestly because I didn’t understand what was happening to me.
Dee: We’re pretty innocent as children. We kind of see the world through rose-coloured glasses. So I can empathize with not be able to understand what this experience is, because all I know are my ABCs, my princess stories, my books, TV. I don’t know what abuse is.
So I can only imagine what must have been going through your 6-year-old mind. I wanted to ask, though, apart from, you know, the abuse and things that you went through, what was life like in Pakistan?
Noor: It was fun. When my father was a good father before he turned 360-degrees on us, he was good. My mom was happy.
She got her college degree with the help of my father. We had good times, but I don’t really remember them as much. I have a few segments of memories that were good because my father physically abused me like he was hit me. I would get in a lot of trouble when the tutor would come over. I don’t and I still don’t understand it.
My dad would hide my notebooks under the couch or wherever and I’d be looking for them and the tutor would get angry with me. Then somehow, miraculously, the books would be found after the tutor was gone.
My dad would hit me with a belt, but he wouldn’t hit the other siblings, and my younger sister, also went through some physical abuse from the hands of my father. He never hit my mom, but he did yell at her quite often. She went to her own set of trauma.
I’m only seeing it through a 5 to 6-year-old lens?
I don’t remember having such a grand old time. I do remember my grandmother from America. She used to live in Pakistan then migrated to the US and she would send us toys, and when she came it would be a lot of fun. But it wasn’t exactly the happiest of childhoods.
Dee: When this was happening to you since you and your sister went through it, did you think that there was something wrong with you? Did you think that there was something wrong with him? Why do you think he would hit you and do all of these mean things?
Noor: I still don’t have an answer to that question and to this day I’m not sure I will ever find out. I don’t know why he picked on me, and why he did the 360 where he was a gentle man and then became a violent man.
Why he chose me and my other siblings? I’ll never know. I was more of a heavy burden and I did think there was something wrong with me. I thought like if I acted or if I behaved a certain way. If I was good, I didn’t complain, I did whatever was told, then he would be happy.
For instance, my mom was making breakfast one day. You feed the kids because they’re hungry. That’s the natural response of the mother. The adult should just wait his turn. But my mom gave me the food for breakfast and my father punched me in the mouth because I got food before he did.
And I still don’t understand it. Like, why would you do that to a child? If you’re that hungry, go grab some food for yourself while your wife is making food. I still don’t have any closure on this.
It’s something that I have to struggle with and learning to accept that I may not get the answer that I want, and I have to live with that. And it’s very confusing. I don’t know why. It made me question why. It made me question my identity.
It made me question my worthiness as a person, because, you have a role model who is your father figure. He’s supposed to support you, be loving and be kind.
Instead, I got a taste of kindness, but I never got the full kindness. Instead, I got punishment, corporal punishment from him in a sense for just being who I am. No other reason. There was no explanation of why he would get into an angry fit and why he would be loving and kind. I have memories of him being kind to me.
I got kidnapped when I was four and I remember that clearly. We were at a wedding and my mom told my older brother to watch me. As kids, we were all playing around and this lady picked me up and put me in the closet and my mom started freaking out when she found out I wasn’t available; she cannot see me.
She brought the police and they’re knocking on doors. Then they opened the door and I’m crying in the closet. And they’re like, who’s hiding in the closet? Can you show it to us? And she’s like, oh, it’s my daughter. They’re like, well we want to see, This is not appropriate.
I saw my mom, but I didn’t want to go to my mom. I wanted to go to my dad so when they brought my dad around, I ran to him. He grabbed me and I felt a sense of safety and loving-kindness, and I remember feeling happy about that. But I don’t know how to answer that question. I don’t know how or why he picked on me because he never explained himself.
Dee: That really breaks my heart because fathers are supposed to protect you, and guide you and support you. And I just don’t understand that. It’s very foreign to me. But I know that after that a lot of things happened to you.
You said you engage in some self-destructive behaviour and eventually develop body dysmorphia. Could you tell us about that period of time?
Noor: Sure. So I moved to the U.S. after all this happened as a child. And around 7 to 8 years old there was a family friend. And it was some holiday or something. I don’t remember. In the middle of the night, he came and did what he needed to do and I ended up in the morning where I was petrified while he was doing it. I knew it was wrong and I did not have the power.
I felt to be able to say something to him or just scream. I was just paralyzed. The next morning, we’re hanging out at my aunt. She asks me a question and I’m like, I don’t want him sleeping over at my aunt’s like, why? What’s going on? I explained.
My family threw him out of the house late. They were really, really upset with him and never talked to this person again. So all of these experiences made me believe that there was something wrong with me because why am I the one being chosen?
If all of these men are doing things to me, therefore, in my rational mind, I am a piece of garbage. I am something to be used to. I am not worthy enough. So all these negative thought cycles kind of developed. I thought that I was pretty skinny as a child, reflecting back, but I thought I was really fat and obese, and in essence and I really wasn’t. Some of the self-destructive behaviours I got into were like not eating properly, and I almost borderline anorexic, but I really wasn’t because I didn’t fit the diagnosis of it.
For a short while, I engaged in harming myself through cutting because I wanted to feel numb. I didn’t want to die, but I wanted to feel like something other than what I felt. I felt dirty inside and I could not clean myself and no matter at the amount of showering, no matter the amount of praying I felt I was dirty.
It became this obsessive thing. I would stand in the mirror for hours. I would avoid people. I would wear really baggy clothes. I would be more tomboyish. I would question my identity in the sense of who am I? What am I doing here? Am I worth living?
So I had a lot of suicidal thoughts and they were always passive. I didn’t have an intent but living in that world of depression and anxiety and just stigma because in our culture you don’t go out and you don’t talk about your problems to another person. It does not matter if it’s confidential.
You just don’t do that. You keep it in the family, hide it under the rug. You pretend like it’s not going on. It’s such a cultural phenomenon in the world or even here in the US-going to seek therapy. So I never got therapy as a child.
Dee: It really rings so close to home because for so long I would do the same thing. I remember when I went through a tragic event and after that I felt like I was too fat
Other people would be like, oh, no, you’re fine. But in my mind, I was obese. Like I was a fat cow and eating what just not the thing to do. I remember out only I would eat until maybe 12:00 PM.
And then if I did eat, I’d eat a salad or pineapples or stuff like that. But it did affect my health after that. And I wanted to ask you, did your eating disorder, the way you were treating your body? How did it affect your health, your physical and mental health?
Noor: Well, I think I did a lot word self-destructive behaviours, and I think because of those behaviours, my I have GERD or acid reflux. My stomach lining is destroyed. I get also ulcers very easily. I have developed anxiety because of it. I didn’t have the best relationship with food back in the day.
I’m doing much better now. I had a hard time with exercise as I would exercise too much because I thought I was too fat. You know, and I have arthritis. Part of it is genetic, but I have early arthritis.
My mental health, if anything, was much more impacted than anything else- my physical health. I feel I’ve developed acid reflux. As I said, my hair doesn’t have the lustre that it used to have. And it takes time to rebuild the body from the ground up again.
So I am working on my relationship with food. I’m working on how I perceive myself in the mirror. Like I wouldn’t have a mirror in the house only where you could see my face and even then I hated that. But I needed to have a mirror. I just got, maybe like five years ago, a full length mirror where I can look at myself.
But other than that it was difficult to look at myself in the mirror because I would spend hours agonizing over like what outfit I should wear. I would change my outfits multiple times. I know that’s not exactly the answer to your question at the moment, but like, that’s how it impacted me.
Dee: There is absolutely no right or wrong answer. So I appreciate your honesty. It shows that you are you’re progressing. Yes, you went through this, and yes, it has affected you in more ways than one. But at least you’re trying.
You used to have a bad relationship with food. Now you’re better. You’re getting better and better and better each day. And I know that there’s someday that you relapse because it’s still a crisis and there are some days when you don’t want to look at yourself.
There are some days when you don’t want to eat. And trust me, I’ve had many of those days, but I appreciate that you are trying and you’re progressing. As I said, you’re making an effort to. Every day is another chance to be better.
Noor: Absolutely. I absolutely agree. The only thing that’s constant is time. My mind is like either I sit and kind of hover in this corner, a shadow or do I begin to let go of these stories that I’ve created for myself from this past that I have. I don’t want it defining me.
Dee: I think that’s one thing that so many women struggle with- having their path to find them. I mean, there are many of us who’ve had horrific pasts or made horrific mistakes.
But one of the very messages of this podcast is to show you that even if you’ve had the worst of backgrounds or you’ve made the worst of mistakes, your past doesn’t define you.
What defines you is what you do with that path. Either you let it control you or inspire you. And I’m glad that you’re letting us inspire you.
So what was your life like in college? I know you went to college to become a doctor. So what was it like for you?
Noor: Well, in our culture, you get into IT; you become like a doctor. That’s usually what the two professions you get into. So I always wanted to be a heart surgeon. Ever since I was a child, I was like, I want to go to med school. That’s what I want to do.
So I graduated from high school and got accepted into Marymount College at Fordham University. It was an all-girls college and I was an organic chem, and the teacher there had tenure as a professor. She told me, in front of everybody, that I was dumb.
I didn’t have a brain and that I was never going to get into med school. That really brought me to tears. And I walked out and withdrew from the class and it really impacted me. I was like, I don’t know what I’m going to do with my life now that this dream is no longer accessible to me.
I was talking to my biology professor and she said, well, you love to help people. Here are all these options. I think you’d be really great at psychology.
I was like, oh, no, I’m too sensitive. I don’t think I could handle that, you know? And she said I want to just give it a try and be open-minded. And I was like, OK.
There I met a professor who was thirty-two. She was beautiful, talented, smart and just amazing. She had her PhD. She was teaching at a college. She had a private practice and she was in research.
And I just looked at her and I was like, that’s who I want to be, you know? From there, I went into psychology. I took a lot of her classes and it fit like a glove to me. I mean, it’s great that my background helped also, but it’s not the reason I went into therapy.
I went in because someone told me I couldn’t achieve a dream.
And a friend of mine told me, you know what Noor even though you can’t do heart surgery, you’re still working on people’s hearts. So you’re still doing what you want to do. That felt really nice to hear from someone because my family were in a rude awakening because all I’ve ever talked about is becoming a doctor.
That’s what my parents expected of me; like my mom, my grandparents. Then when I had to tell them, listen, I am changing my major and it’s turning into psychology, they were like, what? Why are you doing that? That’s not an acceptable profession and so it was hard for them to accept it.
My mom still has a hard time because she doesn’t understand it. But she’s respectful of it now. So that’s nice. My siblings are fine. They’re like, you should just do whatever you want. It’s good for you. You’re doing a good job at it. So that’s kind of how I started my career as a therapist.
Dee: That is an amazing story that really shows that, some of us. we do go into college and we do have teachers and people who don’t believe in us.
But it shows that there’s one person believing in us and really giving us the opportunity to spread our wings and to explore things that are probably not, in our point of view right now, can really change the course of our lives and our future.
Noor: Yeah, absolutely.
Dee: Recently, though, I found out that you did a TED talk about your life. What was that TED talk like?
Noor: I am still accepting the fact that I did a TED talk this year. Like it hits me and I’m like, oh, I actually did one. It was an amazing experience. I really loved it. I recommend everyone going for it. If you have a story to share, please share it because it’s going to be so helpful for people to hear.
I found out on Facebook. I was part of the Hudson Valley Women’s Business Group and they have posted a link for a TED talk. And I said, you know, this is something that’s on my bucket list and I really want to do this. Why not try it? So in the middle of the night, I wake up because I’m like, I have to do this.
I wrote a three-page poem to. My piece was going to be spoken poetry on what shame is.
So I submitted the questions and then I heard back and I was like, oh, my God, they accepted me. So I was still in shock. I was like, no, this is isn’t real until it’s down on paper, a contract is signed and then I’ll realize that and then also celebrate.
And so one thing after another, they accepted my video. They got me to coach and my talk was really about shame resilience and how to overcome it.
So again, part of the story is about how I overcame my cognitive distortions, like my negative thinking patterns and in ways of like gratitude and emotional resiliency, emotional, authentic connections, doing charity work and just being really empathetic and how that has helped me overcome shame and talk about the story of my father in that process. I also talk about my mom in there. I also talk about my own demons that I fought and have learned to overcome.
That’s just a quick overview of my TED talk.
Dee: So if you could hold on to just one part of that TED talk, one memory from that event forever. What would that part be?
Noor: I think being on stage and realizing there are about 100 hundred people, like between 50 and 100 people. You know, my friends and family have shown up and I’m nervous as heck.
I’ve practised my lines and I was like, OK, we’re just going to go with this.
I remember feeling a sense of shame washing over me because I have forgotten a line. It’s such a minor detail, but it still stays with me and I’ve worked on it and now I can laugh about it. But in that moment, I was being such a perfectionist. I was like, dammit, I forgot this line and I’m standing in front of people.
So I laughed and I started over again and I caught myself. I almost wanted to say, you are all in for a treat right now. I’m having a shame experience because I forgot my lines and I didn’t do that. I just said, I’m just gonna laugh and I’m going to continue. And so that part showed me, you know what? Like, you’re walking the talk. I laughed and I made it OK. And I continued and I didn’t, like, run and hide as much as my body was like. You need to run and hide. I did. I just stood there and I continued my speech.
Dee: That’s amazing. That is amazing in itself.
Dee: How do you define success for yourself?
Noor: That’s such a great question because I think everyone’s opinion is so different. It can be based on how much money you’re making, how much visibility you have in the world, or the amount of impact you’re having on the world.
I don’t really have a definition of what success is. I just know that it feels good and I’m helping others, whether it’s one person or fifteen people or more, if someone’s hearing my story and it’s changing their lives and they’re coming to me and they don’t even have to come to me, but it’s impacted them and they’re making a change. Often times, I will have people tell me I’ve listened to your story, and it really changed my life. It really resonated with me.
So in that sense, it’s a success for me that I’m making a realistic impact on someone. Yeah. And where I am right now, success to me that I could have gone down a really bad road with all the trauma that I had in my life and my self-doubt and my self-harm behaviours.
I could have gone down a really bad road, but instead, I kept choosing to focus on my college. I’m a first-generation immigrant, and I was the first one in my family to get a masters.
In my family, my sisters and my brothers do have their masters, too. But I’m the first one in the family to be an entrepreneur. You know, whether I’m successful at it or not, I’m still doing it. You know, and I’m hoping and shaping lives. And that’s really great.
The fact that I didn’t fall down into a pit. I climbed out of it. I’m not allowing my past to define who I am. Those are all things I find successful. The fact that I’m living every day; I’m so grateful for that. I was such a pessimistic. Now I’m I’m optimistic person, but I still have shitty days. And guess what? That’s OK. You’re allowed to have those days and just go with the flow.
Dee: You know what? You are a success. Like you said, the fact that you didn’t go down a rabbit hole. You made the best of your background. You use it to forge yourself a better future.
You are a success and I am so happy to have had the chance to really hear your story and hear everything that you went through and everything you overcame.
I really hope that you inspire so many women and you heal so many hearts. Yeah. Wow. Thank you.
Noor: Yeah. So it’s a work in progress. I really enjoy the journey I’m on currently. It’s really nice.
Dee: That’s awesome. For all the women listening to this, you know, this podcast, whether it be now or years from now, wherever they are in the world, however old they are. Is there any piece of wisdom you’d want to pass on to them?
Noor: Yeah, there’s a couple. One: Never give up. It sounds like something that everyone says, but no matter how hard it gets. And no matter how many times you want to quit, I promise you, around the corner is the thing that you’re waiting for. And for me, faith was a really big coping skill for me.
And I questioned God a lo. I abandoned God. But guess what? He was always there no matter what at the end of the day. So whether you’re religious or your spiritual or you believe in whatever higher being. Use that and surrender to it and allow it to fill you with goodness and keep moving.
And the third one is forgiveness. Forgive yourself. Not because the other person, you know, deserves it or anything else. It’s because you deserve it.
You need to heal and it starts with forgiveness. And I’m working on that. Like anytime a negative thought pops up, I say I forgive myself. One of the things I say often to myself to that inner child to that’s within us that have been hurt.
I often say thank you for being present You don’t have to be present anymore. I am capable. I can handle this. Thank you for your time and thank you for your patience. But I’ve got this.
It’s just a way of forgiving, providing self-compassion to the individual that was seven years old, thirteen years old, sixty years old. It doesn’t matter.
Just forgive yourself so that you can be kind because that’s where it all- starts with yourself.
Dee: Where can our listeners connect with you online?
Noor: So I have an Instagram page. It’s my name, Noor Pinna. And I have a Facebook group which I just created. It was a passion project and I finally was like, OK, I just need to create it so you can find me hanging out with a bunch of amazing women in Magical Mindset and Resiliency, which is my Facebook group. I believe I sent the link to you. If not, I can always send it to you again.
Dee: Oh, definitely. I will include all the information in the show notes.
Noor: Yeah. So that’s where they can find me hanging out mostly and just giving a lot of like feedback and just asking really open ended questions. I really want women to feel empowered, own their story, not be separated from it.
And in that process of them owning their story, feel empowered, stand in their truths and just really be powerful and say I can do whatever I set my mind to. I’m not going to allow shame, which is so pervasive and we don’t notice it, and it’s such a word that people are like, oh, I don’t want to talk about this, but it’s there and we need to talk about it.
Dee: Amen I completely agree. This has been an amazing episode filled with lots of stories and listens. And again, I’m so thankful to have had you on the show. You really shared a lot and have given us a lot to think about. I completely appreciate that. So thank you so much again for coming.
Noor: It’s my pleasure. Thank you for having me.
Dee: So again, please check her out on her Instagram and on Facebook. And if you do have the time and if you can find her Ted Talk while on your way to work I’m encouraging you to give it a listen because I can guarantee you that there are many things you will learn from it.
And for all of you amazing women out there listening. Always remember, you are braver than you know. You are stronger than you appear. You are smarter than you think you are. And you are loved we more than you will ever imagine.
This is Dee and you have been listening to She Is A Mess.