I read this statement the other day and it truly resonated with me: “Forgiveness is letting go of the hope that the past can be any different.” It sounds kind of harsh and even negative, however I believe it could not be more true.
“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
The past few months have been trying for me. The past few months have indeed been trying, but alhamdulillah for it all. I kind of took a pause on writing simply due to the fact that I felt like I just didn’t have it in me. I’ve been feeling overwhelmed and defeated. I started a new job the first day of Ramadan. On the second day of Ramadan, my family and I lost someone very dear to us (may Allah SWT forgive her and bring her family peace, ameen). Throughout everything, I’ve also been going through an immense amount of heartache for various other personal reasons. The feeling of being so overwhelmed by grief, sadness, confusion, and anxiety has really, truly been such a challenge for me. However, I’m still here, alhamdulillah. If you’re going through tough times and you’re reading this, I wish I could help make them better. There are two pivotal mental/spiritual actions that have really been helping me cope and find my balance again, and they are: #1 – remembering that Allah (SWT) is with me and #2 – truly thinking about every single blessing (big and small) that I have.
We all have fluctuations in our iman (faith), and that is perfectly normal and okay. The key is to keep pushing through the phases where you feel the most distant from your faith and Allah (SWT) – keep pushing yourself to pray salah or to read an ayah from the Qur’an or to make a simple dua’a even. By doing this, you will never go too astray. During my times of stress and difficulty, I’ve been reflecting on one particular ayah from Surah Ash-Shu’ara. The ayah actually is a record of Prophet Musa (AS) saying, “Indeed, with me is my Lord; He will guide me” (26:62). This statement is abrupt, short, simple, but very powerful and reassuring. When I think about this ayah, I truly remember Allah (SWT) and feel His assurance, peace, and might. I feel so lost and alone at times, but this ayah is a strong reminder that Allah (SWT) really does have me; He is quite literally with me and will guide me so long as I seek Him out, even during my lows. He is the best protector and friend there is. This ayah also reminds me that this dunya (worldly life) and all of its worshippers are just not the ones to be losing my mind over. People are guaranteed to bring inconsistencies and disappointment.
I’ve never experienced someone close to me passing away. I had never been to a janazah or a burial until this past Ramadan. The burial process absolutely shook me to the core. It has been almost three months now and I am still in complete awe. From everyone reciting Surah Al-Fatiha, and continuous recitations of “La Ilaha Illallah,” over the grave and then finally the complete closure of the body deep into the ground. SubhanAllah. This was such a stark reminder for me. It was a reminder for me to step up my game with my Creator, the One, Ar Rahman, Ar Rahim, Allah (SWT).
Inna lillahi wa inna ilayhi raji’un. To Him we belong and to Him we shall return. He is our one and only return. These worldly pleasures and stresses aren’t the ones to be worshipped or to waste our time over. Our hearts and souls are with Allah (SWT) and He is forever with us. We must constantly seek Him out in our times of peace and in our times of need. It’s absolutely easier said than done, especially when we have so many accessible distractions surrounding us. However, this is the ultimate test. Honestly, no matter what, Allah (SWT) is the only source that can bring true contentment and peace of mind. He is constant, while this world and everyone that is in it, are not at all.
In times of sadness, anger, and impatience with certain situations in my personal life, I’ve recently learned to look at all that Allah (SWT) has given me in my life, all that His boundless mercy encompasses. Actively seeing the beauty and love that He has surrounded me with, automatically removes that frustration that often grows within me. I never realized how easily and how often I really overlook such blessings in my life. It’s only when I lose it, that I remember how great I had it – whatever ‘it’ is. I am ungrateful and forgetful, but I am trying to work on this. I find myself to be in much more of a pleasant state when I step back and see what I am blessed with, whether it be something such as the flowers I see outside or a restful night’s sleep, remembering these “little” aspects of life really puts everything into perspective and forces you to see that these are the blessings that truly do end up being the “big things.” Our mind just becomes too enveloped within the demands of this dunya that we so quickly are able to forget the reality that is around us and that Allah (SWT) has destined for us.
If you’re going through difficult circumstances right now, know that you are blessed and that Allah (SWT) is with you, closer to you than your jugular vein.
“And We have already created man and know what his soul whispers to him, and We are closer to him than [his] jugular vein.” Surah Al-Qaf (50:16)
Even though it’s hard to remember and sometimes to even fathom, keep in mind that having good thoughts of Allah (SWT) is an act of worship and an obligation of tawheed. You are never truly alone in your hardships.
I woke up one recent Sunday morning feeling strangely anxious and overwhelmed. This feeling is kind of foreign to me or at least has been foreign to me ever since I’ve become closer with Islam and Allah (SWT). I’m usually always able to pinpoint and trouble shoot these feelings by reflecting upon my current relationship with my daily prayers and the Qur’an. I always try my best to stay on top of these things in order to keep my imaan (faith) at bay while working in the cold, heartless “heart” of New York City and corporate America – but let me just say, it is tough out here for people like us. Striving for the deen, maintaining a level-headedness and mindfulness while working in corporate America, where people only care about making their sales and pleasing business partners. It’s exhausting in all aspects, to say the very least. You almost begin to adopt this false, unrealistic mindset that everything in life is a business deal – even your relationship with your family and Allah (SWT). We have to take a step back and truly realign ourselves and our motives when we begin to develop this type of outlook.
I often think about just quitting work altogether. It’s not an entirely bad idea, but this is also a test that Allah has placed me in. I’ve always been a very strong believer that we need more Muslims permeating different industries. It’s great to have Muslims in the medical field and in social activism, but we need to be visible elsewhere. I’ve always been the only Muslim working in my office. I feel like it’s a responsibility of mine to clear misconceptions of Islam and the Muslim community to the people I work around. It’s a nice feeling to explain the simplistic teachings of Islam to people who don’t really know anything about it aside from what the media teaches them. This is always a weirdly rewarding aspect of being able to work in corporate America, but its definitely not all peaches and cream. People are nasty, horrible, and soul sucking in very creative ways.
Sometimes (most times), corporate life just takes a toll on you. It makes you feel inevitably trapped, hopeless, and completely consumed within a monotonous lifestyle. Whenever I’m feeling down about work, the best action I feel I can take is mentally step back and remember my purpose – our purpose here on Earth. Our purpose on Earth is not to slave and work and kill ourselves over corporate America – no matter how practical/popular that might seem. Our purpose and our worth are far greater. Our potential is greater and our existence is so much more than getting stressed daily at a 9-5 office job surrounded by white people whose values are so far from your own.
What is our purpose then? I mean I’m just a twenty-something year old girl, how am I supposed to answer this existential question that we all ponder about? I do know one thing for sure: our purpose is to follow Allah (SWT). Seek out knowledge actively, build bonds, be kind, explore this planet, and to love. I’m really not trying to sound all hippy here – but we must re-examine and reflect upon ourselves and our Creator in order to heal from the anxieties created by our jobs or anything for that matter. It’s so easy to feel lost and paralyzed in fear due to harsh and stressful work environments. Just remember to protect your heart at all costs. Don’t let them take ownership of who you are. It’s not worth it.
“Our purpose and our worth are far greater. Our potential is greater and our existence is so much more than getting stressed daily at a 9-5 office job…”
Whatever job you have, I beg you, please do not take what people say to or about you (whether it be your manager, co-workers, clients, etc) so personally to the point where you feel as though you are not worthy or good enough. Do not take their mannerisms and words so heavily to your precious heart and soul. Do not allow them to burden your spirit or change your character for the worse. If you are not a negative person, do not become one. Do not become them. Resist the common behaviors that enslave you to this worldly life. Do not beat yourself up about all of your “flaws,” that you forget all of your immense blessings. Do not hold on to their negativity so strongly. Do not bring it into your home. Do not let their words and their perception of who they think you are, alter who you really are. You can do it. Allah (SWT) created you for a far superior and more significant reason. Do not worship these people or the workplace. It’s not that deep. This life ain’t the one.
Make your own path. Who cares if it’s not conventional and what people expect of you? All your life people will give you advice, sometimes advice that doesn’t apply to you at all. Continue reading “An Open Letter to My Twenty-Something Girls”