Overcoming the odds : Jamilah Khan

Entering a pageant wasn’t an easy step for Jamilah. In fact, just a few months ago, it was a challenge for her to even step into a crowded MRT train. She has not let her struggles define her and has faced every obstacle head-on to become the strong and confident woman that she is today. We talk to her find out more about her never-say-die attitude and how she has overcome her anxiety issues to put herself back in the limelight as a contender for the crown of Mrs Singapolitan Islandwide 2017.

What was the struggle you faced before joining this pageant?

I was suffering from high anxiety. I’ve been a performer for the past 9 years and am pretty used to being in the limelight and dancing alone. But some time back, I had undergone a very difficult pregnancy and was eventually forced to let the baby go. I think practically, I was able to let the baby go but emotionally, I couldn’t accept the loss. So the trauma from that experience had a deep impact on my life thereafter and from a person who used to perform solo in front of an audience, I became someone who couldn’t even enter a crowded MRT train. I would break out in cold sweats and get really bad palpitations when talking to strangers.

There was once when I didn’t sleep for over 48 hours and decided to bring my 7-year-old daughter for swimming. I thought after swimming, I would feel tired and hopefully, be able to catch some sleep. Instead, I completely passed out and was brought to the hospital. The doctors couldn’t find anything wrong with me physically but said that my palpitations were so bad that my sitting heart rate was equivalent to that after running around a soccer field, putting me at risk of cardiac arrest. I was then referred to a psychiatrist who prescribed me some medication, all of which my body rejected. Over 7 months, I changed medication over 8 times. I would get horrible side effects such as vomiting and muscle spasms after trying out different types of medication. None worked for me and instead made my condition worse.  It even came to a point when the doctor told me that they’ve given me all the medication that they now and suggested I check myself into IMH. That’s when my world came crashing down around me. There’s a huge stigma associated with IMH and you’ll be labelled the minute you step foot inside. I need to be able to take care of my kids. So I told myself that I need to do something about this and that it was now or never.

How has entering the pageant helped you with this struggle ?

It was only after this pageant did I take the drastic step of stopping all my medications. In this pageant, I realised that I’m not alone in my struggles and that people have managed to overcome similar situations. Some of them advised me to try natural healing. I just returned from a trip to India where I underwent homoeopathic therapy and met many individuals who have managed to come out of it by themselves. I realised that I had to do likewise and decided to stop taking all medication, against my doctor’s advice. Of course, it hasn’t been easy and I do get palpitations and muscle pains at times. But, I learn to bear the pain and accept the condition. I keep telling myself that I’m strong enough to overcome this and exercise regularly to keep my mind focused on other things. The breathing techniques that are taught during our fitness sessions have helped very much as well.

It’s been 3 weeks since I made this decision and so far, I can see some changes. I don’t hide in my room anymore and can finally enter a crowded MRT train, which to me, is an achievement by itself *laughs* Physically, it hasn’t been as smooth but my doctor has told me that it would take around one to two months for my body to fully accept the homeopathic treatment.

Being in this pageant has helped me build up my self-confidence. When you’re alone and facing challenges, you feel like giving up. I was initially very quiet and reserved when I joined. But when you’re part of a community of women who have been through similar struggles, you know you’re not alone and that you can overcome this. I’ve bonded so much with these girls and it’s become such a sisterhood that if you take away the crown, people might mistake this pageant for a confidence-building workshop *laughs*

Tell us more about your passion for dancing.

I started dancing because of Madhuri Dixit. I’ve been a huge fan of her since young. I love how expressive she is when she dances. My first few performances were at community centres. I used to be a parent volunteer when my children were studying in pre-school and many of the activities were held at these CCs.  So that’s how I discovered my love for performing and I’ve never looked back since. I started my own dance group called Nach crew. We consist of around 4-5 girls and include non-Indian dancers as well. The whole set-up is amazing. I’ve also taken up a more back-end role as a choreographer and costume designer. We currently do weddings, corporate events etc. but to me, no event is too small.  Whenever there are shows, I’m over the moon. It runs as a business, but to me, dance is first and foremost a passion.

Regardless of whether you win or not, what would you like to do after the pageant?

I’m a person who loves kids and having had an abusive father, I would like to support kids with family difficulties such as domestic abuse and sexual exploitation. Winning the pageant and the title would give me the reach and influence that I need to actually impact these kids.  Being just one person, you lack the influence to reach them. People might say that these kinds of things don’t happen in Singapore but who knows what happens behind closed doors? If I were to be crowned, I would open up my past to the world so that I can reach out to these kids and tell them that I’ve gone through the same thing as well and it’s not their shame to bear. Right now, I can only protect my kids. I want to go further than that and protect other kids from this kind of exploitation and abuse.

Even if I don’t get the title, I’ll still work on this but on a smaller scale. In fact, I'm thinking of holding free speech and drama classes for kids from this kind of abusive backgrounds. I believe that only through an expression of creativity such as dancing and singing can someone actually be themselves. I want to help improve kids' confidence and hopefully one day, they’ll be strong enough to say that whatever has happened is not my shame.  

What quote or expression would you print on a T-shirt that embodies your values and beliefs?

A happy person doesn't have to have the best of everything but instead, is the one who makes the best out of everything. I want my kids to be proud of me. As a young mother, I might have lost out on some opportunities before. But now is the time for me to reap the rewards of all my struggles. You only live once, and if you do good, one life is enough.

Miss and Mrs Singapolitan Islandwide 2017 will be shown on Vijay TV and Star Plus, starting from 26th May. You can also catch the action on Youtube.

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