“I seem to have fallen out of time.”
It’s my final year at high school. We’re watching part of The Hours, a film adaptation of Woolf’s Mrs Dalloway.
Like Richard, I’m walking through some fractured timeline, where my long days and blurs of my past have all blurred into one. Once the girl who would dance and sing and speak poetry, I am a ghost cowering in a corner. I am in limbo, stagnating and lost — and I can’t place why. It’s frustrating and disappointing and hopeless.
I am always praying. Even as I’m praying, I’m feeling an emptiness that nothing can fill.
I am a dead girl, falling into a bottomless pit.
It’s my penultimate year at university, and I start up a conversation with a student on campus. When she turns to ask about my endeavors, she seems enthralled by them: pursuing two passion project start-ups, opting out of my program to move toward my “real” purpose, applying to exciting jobs and master’s programs interstate.
In my rambles, I mention that I’m torn apart despite experiencing what others would find exciting. This eventually turns into a confession to a kind stranger on campus:
“I just want someone to tell me that something’s wrong.”
Why aren’t I centered when all these beautiful things are happening for me?
Stepping forward with newfound courage to share my burden, I meet with a best friend and mention my bad dreams about suicide. I’m flustered and looking down at my feet. Calmly, she says,
“What’s so bad that’s happened to you that you want to kill yourself?”
It is horrible to say, but it’s much simpler to place depression on the repercussions of childhood trauma. When I think nothing particularly bad has happened to me, I feel even less worthy of labeling my sadness as depression or feeling at all worthy of that title.
Being told to “cheer up,” to “not make contact until you feel better,” shows me that I am sick in some way.
It’s the beginning of my master’s year. I receive a pamphlet about counseling to one of my alias email addresses. I walk into the clinic to a hijab-wearing Bengali Muslim woman smiling back at me. A version of myself, only older.
“I don’t care what happens to me,” I stutter.
It’s a feeling that permeates sad times, self-sabotage and experiences when I would put myself at risk. When I’d make elaborate plans to run away from home and leave behind everything I know. When I’d plan to do things that could harm my well-being. When I would reject sincere expressions of love to me because I couldn’t imagine myself deserving of love and attention.
We perform a body scan and I start crying in the first moments of the exercise. I’m ravaged by guilt. I’m a burden on my family who once saw so much promise in me. I don’t deserve their prayers for me. Whatever I’ve achieved is not my own. When she asks me to meditate on my shoulders, they hurt. When she asks me to meditate on my chest, it aches.
She asks why I had such an extreme immediate reaction, but I feel like a broken heart without knowing a cause. How did this happen to me?
It’s still close to a year that I see a psychiatrist, after a GP ticks beside “crisis situation” on my referral form. I wait a few months for an appointment with a renowned psychiatrist at the Black Dog Institute, one of the most prominent mental health institutes in the country.
I describe my persistent melancholy like a “veil of sadness washing over my life,” feeling guilt and shame while struggling with hopeful experiences in my personal and professional lives. I feel “volatile.” I feel a conflict, a “resistance” within that I can’t place.
The psychiatrist is nodding and jotting quickly on his notepad. I can see myself being measured and like a game, I wonder what score I’ll get. Just how screwed up am I?
He confirms that my counselor was right in wanting to treat depression; I exhibit obvious symptoms like “brain fog,” poor memory, lack of concentration and, at my lowest, suicidal thoughts. From feelings of being “torn apart,” he probes my sudden bouts of hope with characteristics like creative excitement and reduced need for sleep, contrasted with my usual fatigue and comatose.
He then starts elaborating on bipolar II disorder.
As if to convince me, he pulls out fact sheets detailing its common emergence in mid to late teens, when I’d felt my moods and personality had drastically started to change.
I’m told that most people with bipolar II reach out when they are in tough depressive episodes — that their bouts of elevated mood and activity can go unsaid, unrecorded and untreated. To me, experiences of hopefulness and confidence, increased goal-directed activity and excitement are not things you complain about; rather, they are hopes for healing and becoming better.
As our conversation grows deeper, I start to understand that my “highs” are more grandiose or destructive than I’ve led myself to believe. These “hypomanic episodes” are recognized in hindsight: a million rummaging ideas; spending dusk till dawn working on projects that would never fully manifest, come into being; planning to jeopardize my life when I only felt I was “newly enlightened” and meant for better things.
In hindsight, I feel like such a conflicted, “neurotic” person because I have these “up” moods when I feel immensely frustrated or enlightened — often both — then back down to my “lows.”
Oftentimes, these moods of hope and despair will happen all at once and manifest in a frustrated, conflicted endeavor that crushes my heart.
Even after relating to the fact sheets I’ve been given, I struggle to accept my diagnosis. I still feel like I’m making things up. My mind is fighting a frustration that I might have needlessly suffered for all these years.
The reality is: now in my early twenties, I feel like I’ve already reached rock bottom. I can’t steep any lower. There’s no reason for me to resist medication, despite a quiet fear that side effects will sabotage what I have left of my mind.
It must be by the grace of God that from the first night of taking medication, I feel brighter. I feel this is too soon and wonder if I’ve placebo-ed my way to feeling better. I get up for Fajr with no complaints, when I’ve been unintentionally missing prayers from being stuck in my comatose. I’m being beckoned to hold on and have faith in my healing. I’m being shown that there is hope.
Bipolar II is still not very well understood; at this moment, there is no conclusive cause or cure. Through genetic links, I may be able to identify my experiences with those of relatives, but that’s all.
It’s early days, but I can feel my memory improving. I can feel that it takes less effort to focus my attention and feel productive — no longer hopelessly dysfunctional.
After having described myself as a “dead girl walking” with fractured memories time and time again, I feel like I’m finally a living thing.
At last, my mind is my own.
Some of our best lessons are learned through pain and suffering. These are a few things I’ve come to know:
1: You can be a grateful person and a suicidal person at the same time.
I consider myself a grateful person by “Islamic standards”: prayer, dhikr, duas for myself and others. I have been suicidal as this grateful person, to the point where my dreams and daily thoughts are infested by it.
Mental state can in part be remedied or confirmed by improvement in iman, but it can also be completely separate from it. For me, no amount of praying and talk therapy will keep my health at bay. I am being medicated, and that’s what helps me.
Now, my prayer and practice feel better than they have ever been. Now that I’ve confronted my health and been active in dealing with it, I feel even more devoted and at one with my Creator.
2: Remember what you’re here for.
We all have a void within us that can only be filled by our Creator. We are here to do our best, both in our practice and worship and in our efforts to leave the world better than we found it. This requires mental strength and willpower. This means you need to feel well to help someone who is not feeling well. Help yourself and then help your neighbor.
If you are praying as best you can and your mind still isn’t settled, go to the root and treat it. Your practice and daily efforts will improve, and you will be better for it — in this dunya and the akhirah.
Subpoint: You are here for a reason.
Your Creator put you here for a reason. If you are still here, there is a reason for you. You are good at things. Maybe a lot of things, or maybe a few. You can do great work to help others with these things. You can feel like a fulfilled human with these things. You can be grateful for these things and ask to become better.
What matters about us are our character and doing. It goes through all scriptures; I’ve heard a priest say, “We are love and good deeds.” It’s a universal craving and what keeps us going. Find purpose not in others, not in entertainment, not in fleeting things — but in yourself and your actions, both worldly and spiritual.
Remember that your voice matters. What you are going through right now can become part of the story you tell that saves someone else.
3: We’re better together.
The best things happen when societies and humanity as a whole are united for a cause and in action. The sooner we stop fighting about the legitimacy of mental health issues, the sooner we can heal as a community and help people understand their health as separate from their faith.
It also needs to become much more widespread that imams are trained in counseling and know what to maturely advise depending on the circumstances of those who go to them seeking help.
4: Things will get better.
Things will get better: that thing that people always tell you. Open your heart to turning the page.
Even if you don’t trust the advice of flawed people, turn the pages of your Creator’s words to find comfort.
Ash-Sharh (The Soothing)
94:5 With hardship comes ease.
94:6 With hardship comes ease.
With every difficulty there is relief. So important that He tells us twice. Believe in your better days. May Allah ease your heart.
Ad-Duhaa (Morning Light)
93:1 By the morning light.
93:2 And the night as it settles.
93:3 Your Lord did not abandon you, nor did He forget.
Just as the dusk turns to dawn, your life is in phases of dark and light. You have not been abandoned. This chapter will end and a new chapter will begin.
93:4 The Hereafter is better for you than the first [life].
93:5 And your Lord will give you, and you will be satisfied.
It’s okay to find peace in the final resting place. Remember the beautiful life that awaits beyond this one.
Al-Baqarah (The Heifer)
2:186 And when My servants ask you about Me, I Am near; I answer the call of the caller when he calls on Me. So let them answer Me, and have faith in Me, that they may be rightly guided.
He said: “Do not fear — I am with you.” You are calling Him, and He is near.
When you feel a tension within, remember that He has not abandoned you. Take care of your health and you will become closer. Take care of yourself, for your self and your Creator.
39:53 Say, “O My servants who have transgressed against themselves: do not despair of God’s mercy, for God forgives all sins. He is indeed the Forgiver, the Clement.”
For the innocent bystanders to your self-sabotage. For the soft targets to your moods and sadness. To the people who have hurt and neglected others from the ways that they have acted or treated themselves.
If you are haunted by a past, there is always a light. Remember your Creator’s compassion.
Whatever mental state you are in, for whatever reason, remember that you are worthy of forgiveness. You are worthy of mercy.
Turn the page. This is the beginning of the rest of your life.
Written by Numa