What is Foreign Bodies?

Foreign Bodies is a newsletter and online community centering immigrant and refugee experiences with a mission to de-stigmatize mental illness and encourage personal storytelling. It was born from founder Fiza Pirani’s reporting fellowship with The Carter Center Mental Health Program.

Every Monday, subscribers receive a roundup of must-reads called the Monday Matter. These roundups include personal essays, reader recommended books and the latest news coverage on immigrant mental health. It’s also where we include community updates, shout-outs and resources. Subscribers have access to our exclusive giveaways, too. We work with immigrant authors to send books to our readers, packaged with notes from the authors themselves.

Our main monthly issues, which are free for all to read, feature a personal essay on a particular immigrant experience, followed by research on its connection to mental health and well-being. You’ll get relevant resources and insight, a compilation of additional #relatable stories, plus expert Q&As and dog pics of Fiza’s sassy pointer bulldog rescue, Lady.

Why should I subscribe?

Becoming a subscriber means you’re noticing our hard work, that you find value in this newsletter and believe in our mission.

What’s your mission?

Immigrants and members of oft discriminated minority groups have long been conditioned to keep our innermost troubles to ourselves. We’re expected to appear resilient and submissive and we know we’ll have to work twice as hard to get half as far. For those of us with diagnosed or undiagnosed mental illnesses or disabilities, for anyone who might be grieving or feeling misunderstood, our experiences may even be keeping us from getting the help we deserve and need.

Here at Foreign Bodies, we believe shedding generations of internalized stigmas and stereotypes starts with dialogue—dialogue within our homes, at the dinner table, at our respective houses of worship and, perhaps most importantly, dialogue we offer our reflections in the mirror.

Through the stories we share in this newsletter and on our site foreignbodies.net, through the discussions we host and the community we build together, we hope to make you feel understood. We want to reassure you that you’re not alone and help is available. Let’s normalize the bearing of our untold narratives, one experience at a time.

How much does it cost?

While funding from The Carter Center helped build this newsletter, we’re fully reliant on readers like you to live on.

  • Free sign-ups get our main monthly issues, but otherwise have limited access.

Subscription options

  • Become a paying subscriber before 2021 to get the full experience for 12 months at a discounted $3/mo or $33/yr rate. This includes access to every post (not just the occasional free ones) such as our popular weekly roundup of must-reads plus numerous exclusive book giveaways partnered with immigrant authors and the ability to participate in subscriber-only comments.

  • Become a Sustaining Member: Give beyond our standard rate and become a Foreign Bodies Sustaining Member, which gives you the full paid subscriber experience, a surprise gift and special mention on our website and newsletters. Just choose your price.

Become a Sustaining Member

  • Another way to give more: send in one-time donations. If your gift exceeds any of the annual subscriber rates, we’ll automatically add you to our paying subscribers list so you never miss a beat.

Donate via PayPal

Donate via Cash App

  • Discount memberships available for:*

    • Carter Fellows (past and present)

    • Students (currently enrolled)

    • Clinicians, advocates, reporters and academics either working with immigrant communities or researching immigrant or refugee health

    *If you fall under any of the above groups, or if you find the membership cost in any way prohibitive, please email 4nbodies@gmail.com

Email for discount

For groups:

Groups (minimum of four) can sign up here at the same above discount rate of $33 per year per person if you join before 2021.

What’s in the free monthly issue?

The monthly newsletter issue is topped off with a personal essay on a particular immigrant experience, followed by research on its connection to mental health and well-being. You’ll get resources and insights, a compilation of additional #relatable stories, plus fun lil add-ons, such as expert Q&As and dog pics of Fiza’s sassy pointer bulldog rescue, Lady. Our weekly roundups, giveaways and selected community discussions are exclusive to subscribers or gift recipients.

Read past issues

So, like, do I have to be an immigrant to read this?

Lol, what! No. Foreign Bodies may be geared toward immigrant experiences, but we’re sure non-immigrants will connect to the diverse subject matter, too. Check out the archive first if you’re still on the fence! ;-)

What’s in a name?

This is a great question. Dictionary.com defines a “foreign body” as an object or entity in the physical body that’s been introduced from outside. The medical dictionary defines it as a mass of material that is not normal to the place where it is found. Our name considers this physical capsule or place in a much more figurative sense.

We are entities (never objects!) And the physical capsules we’re being introduced to, willingly or not, might represent a variety of masses of matter distinct from other masses: a different country or region, a new colonizing culture, a new socioeconomic standard, a new industry.

At the core of migration and assimilation is a desire to belong, to feel at home again. This loose definition of “foreign bodies” allows us to include anyone from any background—migrant, indigenous or not—who may be struggling to feel acknowledged and understood.

As we iterated in the previous point, Foreign Bodies was certainly created to address the unique experiences of immigrants or refugees living with mental illness, but if you’ve ever felt like an outsider within your community, we hope this newsletter will connect with you, too.

We also want to address the potentially offensive nature of being called a “foreigner” or “alien,” both terms we tend to use often here. Considering context, being called a foreigner or alien by natives in everyday life would probably rub some of us the wrong way—especially if you’re, um, a native yourself! This is (obviously) not our intention. In a sense, we’re reclaiming the labels as a sense of pride. Yeah, we might look different from you. Or we might sound different, wear different clothing and eat different cuisines. So what?

Who’s behind all this?

Hey there! I’m Fiza Pirani, founder of Foreign Bodies.

This all started out as a way for me to try and make sense of my own sh*t. I was diagnosed with clinical depression in 2017 after months of lingering too long in a darkness I convinced myself would go away on its own.

Since then, I've realized there's a lot to say, share, learn and unlearn about my relationship with mental health and how my foggy identity as a South Asian Muslim immigrant living in the American South might play a role.

My fellowship with The Carter Center (more on that here) + talking to fellow immigrant friends made me highly aware of our shared experiences.

There's something unique about growing physically and emotionally disconnected from your homeland. And having to prove to a new country that you're worth keeping around. Something about wanting to assimilate enough to seem relatable, but not so much as to alienate your parents and their plight. 

I've been craving a digital space to dig into it all.

In this newsletter, I hope to share stories about how foreign bodies cope or struggle to cope with their mental health, whether that's related to a diagnosed illness, stigmas or larger issues of sexuality, globalization, identity, colorism, discrimination, faith and so on.

Depression really amplified my underlying issues with identity and belonging. I struggled to find stories I could relate to. And there's nothing more painful than feeling alone or misunderstood while fighting a war with your own brain.

Maybe this'll help someone like me out, make them feel less alone and better understood. Maybe it'll just become another newsletter to lose in your inbox.

Want to get in touch with me directly? I’m @fizapirani on Twitter. And if you’re into doodles and thoughts about the act/art/mess of writing, check out my other Substack letter, word vomit.

Hanaa' Tameez is one of our two lovely copy editors and fact-checkers! She’s a multimedia journalist from New Jersey and holds an M.A. from CUNY Graduate School of Journalism with a concentration in bilingual journalism. Give her a follow on Twitter: @HTameez!

New to our team in December 2019, Farahnaz Mohammed is a traveling journalist and editor who happens to be a mega mental health advocate, too. She’s our second copy editor and fact-checking guru <3 Find her on Twitter @FarahColette or at farahmohammed.com. (Also, you can call her Farah).

Marissa Evans is a freelance illustrator and social issues reporter for the Star Tribune in Minneapolis. She joined us in February 2020 after creating art for Issues 13 and 14. Want to work with her? Shoot her an email and check out her portfolio at themarissastudio.com.

See that fun, animated logo on our site? That’s the work of Carter Fellow and friend, Rory Linnane! She doesn’t work with us on a monthly capacity, but is totally deserving of a shout. Rory’s a gem of a human and talented journalist for USA Today. Find her on Twitter as @RoryLinnane <3

I really like this. Can I donate a little more?

We’re blushing, omg. YES! We’re always open to donations. Any amount exceeding a minimal annual subscription of $33 will automatically grant you a year of subscriber status. Just shoot us an email and let us know you’ve sent us a gift.

Donate via PayPal

Donate via Cash App

How can I contribute my story and get featured?

For anyone interested in sharing their own personal story for a future issue, fill out the share form on our website!

I want my story to be featured!

How soon will I hear back?

Remember, Fiza is the only one handling any Foreign Bodies communication, so responding to every request just isn’t feasible. Instead, we’ll respond to you once we have finalized plans for a Foreign Bodies issue that addresses the personal experiences you mentioned in your form submission.

What happens next?

Once we connect and you’ve confirmed you’re still interested, we’ll give you a better understanding of the timeline and what to expect from your issue. We’ll also send along a long list of personal questions that allow us to really get to know you and your story.

So we don’t answer questions over the phone?

It’s actually quite rare for us to call you unless there’s an urgent issue. As media professionals, not holding phone or in-person interviews does feel a little…problematic. But this is a decision Fiza’s made after noticing a few patterns as a writer who’s published both reported features and personal essays.

While both mediums are powerful in their own ways, this newsletter is dedicated to personal storytelling. The questions we send you are incredibly intimate, and for many of you, this is likely your first time revealing parts of your truth. In order to help you tell your story effectively, we want it to come from your own voice.

More importantly, we want you to make the time to sit in your quiet and really reflect on your experiences without distractions or the fear of being or sounding vulnerable.

Do I have to send you an essay?

Nope! We actually prefer that you spend your time answering our written questions as honestly as you can without worrying about what the final product will look like.

  • Two ways to answer the questions:

    • 💻 You can type up your answers and send them to us via email or Google doc by the given deadline. There’s absolutely no word limit on any of the questions—but there is a word limit on our issues! Not everything you send us will make it to the final product.

    • 🔊 If you’re not as comfortable writing or just don’t feel like typing things out, record your answers on your phone or computer and just send us the audio files! You might feel awkward in the beginning, but think of the process as a conversation with yourself. As you do this kind of introspective reflection, you open yourself up to vulnerability and may hear your voice crack or feel a lump in your throat; this is totally normal and you should not be embarrassed. Know that Fiza will be listening or reading your answers from a place of sincere empathy and zero judgment.

What do you do with my answers?

After reading, listening to and annotating your answers, Fiza will morph your words into a personal essay that remains true to your voice (example). Sometimes, if you’re speaking about and from professional experience, we’ll create a Q&A instead (example). Farah will then edit and fact-check the work. Both Fiza and Farah have extensive backgrounds in writing and editing.

Do I get to see the issue before it’s live?

We don’t send you the full issue, but we do send you a draft of your featured portion a few days before the publish date in case you need to address any glaring issues.

What if I want to send you my own personal essay?

The main reason we don’t recommend you send us a prewritten essay in hopes of it being published is because we, as writers, know how volatile the market is right now. We believe you should be paid for the work you do, and we just don’t feel comfortable taking something you’ve crafted without the means to pay you.

That being said, if you feel a desire to craft your own essay using the questions we provide, you are absolutely welcome to send it to us knowing it will be edited with care.

Do I get paid to share my story?

No, you do not. This is, again, why we prefer not to take fully crafted essays. Your role is to be true to yourself as you reflect on your experiences; let us do the word work.

How can I get involved with Foreign Bodies?

Eee! We’re so glad you asked. To find out how you can help us grow, just send an email to 4nbodies@gmail.com with some information about you, why you’re interested in being a part of this and what kinds of skills (personal or professional) you think you could bring to the team. We’d love to hear from you.

I want to get involved!

Are you on social media?

Yes! Give us a follow on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram! ;-)

Can I forward the emails?

Occasionally forwarding emails is just fine, but we do want you to encourage your friends and family to subscribe themselves!

What’s Substack?

To find out more about the company that provides the tech for this newsletter, visit Substack.com.


If you're thinking about suicide or worried about someone who might be, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or text 741741 to connect to a crisis counselor. You can also find a wealth of culture- or language-specific recommended resources on our site, foreignbodies.net.