Mental Illness Is Not A Personal Failure

As part of our Mind Your Mind Mental Health Campaign we will be submitting stories that you send in to us about your experiences with mental health. We hope that this will help to destigmatise mental health and increase conversation.

If you would like to submit a story you can do so anonymously by following the link below:

https://goo.gl/forms/KaV1jtQtMB0oLHfq2

For now, have a read of this week’s story:

If you were to ask me this time one year ago to write about my mental health, I would have denied that I had depression. Today, I write this having suffered depression for almost two years now, but feel brave enough to talk about it (anonymously, anyway).

People with mental health issues often complain about the stigma that surrounds the illness. Truth be told, it is substantially worse amongst the Muslim community. You would think that some of their ways and traditions would have changed upon moving to the Western world, but the views on mental health illnesses are still very much the same.

“Stop crying, get over yourself. Where’s your Imaan? We’re Muslims – we don’t get depressed. Fear Allah – what are you going to say on the Day of Judgement for being so ungrateful?”

Ask anyone to describe me in one phrase and they will reply – “infectious positivity!”. Although this is true of the picture I’ve created myself on the surface, I’ve done it to avoid the questions. There is the automatic assumption that your Imaan is weak. That if you prayed more, read the Quran more, then you wouldn’t be ‘depressed’. This made me question myself. Am I not religious enough? Do I need to increase my faith? Is God angry with me? Am I being punished?

It is true that Allah has created us in the perfect form, but like everything else that could go physically wrong in the human body – a mental illness is just as likely. When someone comes out of a surgery, they are showered with flowers & “Get Well Soon!” cards. But if they are admitted onto a psychiatric ward, they are called ‘crazy’, weak, and doomed to hell. Why is this?

Although you can’t see the emotional pain and agony behind depression – I am here to tell you, it is real. It is trying to stay afloat, only with an anchor tied around your ankles that continuously pull you down. Your strengths become your weaknesses. You see, depression lies to you. It tells you that you’re worthless and that there is no future. That you’re not smart enough, not religious enough, or worse yet – a burden to your family and friends.

I am not ungrateful. I am thankful for all the blessings Allah has bestowed upon me. But depression is more than gratitude. It is an ever-lingering constant sadness, even when everything in your life is going well. It is a real illness; a chemical imbalance in the brain. An illness that can’t be resolved by solely strengthening your Imaan. The solution isn’t clear cut & straightforward. It is a battle that tests you to the limit, and even the most pious will struggle. Just because you have a strong relationship with Allah doesn’t mean that you will be immune to life obstacles and heartache that comes along your way.  

I don’t pity myself, and I don’t want you to pity me either. It’s difficult to explain my dark, twisty thoughts to people – so I keep it between myself and Allah. The pain and sadness I cannot put down in words, I pray for salvation from it. I express my guilt to Him at feeling this way. I seek refuge from the disappointment of people’s responses to my depression, because I know that He is there for me when others can’t be. A safe space, where I can be completely vulnerable and shatter down in tears at the end of the day. Because in His eyes, I pray that He still sees me worthy despite my insecurities.

I was surprised to learn that there were many tales of sadness depicted in our Quran. This has been specifically sent down from Allah to provide us with solace when we are struggling. Maryam (as) gave birth all alone, lacking parental support and feeling judged by her entire community, wishing Allah had taken her life instead & spared her from despair. Prophet Yaqub (as) cried so much at the pain of separation from his son Yusuf (as), that he lost his eyesight. Even our beloved Prophet Muhammad (PBUH), who had the strongest relationship with Allah, there was a ‘Year of Sorrow’ in his Seerah. He grieved the loss of his loved ones, such as his wife Khadija, and uncle Abu Talib (as both). He also became depressed during the time he was a target of physical attacks from the people of Mecca, who refused to accept his message of Islam, and when he hadn’t heard from Allah for a while after the first revelation. Despite this, Allah provided a way out for all them, and there was Hikmah behind everything. He didn’t belittle their challenges, but encouraged them to have hope in His plans, and not their pain.

But sometimes –the stories from the Quran, rushing to Salah and being a virtuous Muslim isn’t enough. For whatever reason that it is –there is no shame in seeking professional help. Whether it’s counselling, therapy, or – wait for it – being prescribed a course of antidepressants, why is it any different from taking antibiotics? We have a right and duty as Muslims, but also as human beings, to take care of our bodies and put our health (physical and mental) first. And if the treatment is available, we have been asked to make use of it.

“There is no disease that Allah has created, except that He has also created its treatment”.

For so long, I thought that asking for help makes you weak (and most of the time I still feel that way), but I now realise that pretending that you don’t need help is the real weakness. Having said that, I think that as Muslims we have the best of both worlds. Not only can we seek help externally, but we can also utilise our faith as a life vest to keep us from drowning. Hence why therapy/treatment is only one aspect of the solution. Maybe the reason why Allah allows us to feel the heaviness in our hearts is because He wants to remind us that He can also give rest. Maybe He is allowing to experience days where we feel empty to make us realise that He alone can make us feel whole. Maybe it is about Sabr (patience) –when you dream about roses, but walk on thorns.

Never a believer is stricken with a discomfort, illness, anxiety, grief, or mental worry, or even the pricking of a thorn; but Allah will expiate his sins account of his patience”.

I ask you to take notice of the person who isn’t as cheerful as they usually are. Behavioural changes aren’t drastic –they take place over time. Don’t let our “Yeah, I’m just tired” or fake smile distract you. Help someone, Brother or Sister, who is suffering, even if it’s for reasons that don’t make sense to you. Understand that the fog of depression causes us to make bad decisions and say things we wish we never had. Continue to be there for us, even if we’ve been emotionally unstable for weeks on end –this is the noblest thing that you can do, as “Allah will not forget the eye which was about to cry but you made it laugh”.

Most importantly, if you feel like any of this has resonated with you –please take it as a cue to speak to someone. Don’t keep your feelings bottled up. The first step is always the hardest, but it is so worth it. It doesn’t take a day to transition into a mental illness, so don’t expect yourself to recover overnight. What matters is that you remain determined to keep ploughing on, and that “Verily, in the remembrance of Allah, do hearts find rest” (13:28)

‘I Didn’t Realise I Had Mental Health Issues Until This Year’

As part of our Mind Your Mind Mental Health Campaign we will be submitting stories that you send in to us about your experiences with mental health. We hope that this will help to destigmatise mental health and increase conversation.

If you would like to submit a story you can do so anonymously by following the link below:

https://goo.gl/forms/KaV1jtQtMB0oLHfq2

For now, have a read of this week’s story:

I didn’t realize I had mental health issues until this year.

1st of Jan rolls around and I’m a mess. I can’t stop crying in the bathroom, whilst holding a good face as soon as I open my bedroom door. I remember one whole night where my emotions felt like a sea of ebbing and flowing emotions. I would sit and cry, whilst the negative thoughts, tears and pain just. Wouldnt. Stop.  I kept blaming it on my hormones – but no. This was actually a panic attack.

Only after reflection do I realise that this has been happening for some years. I lock myself in the bathroom and do not want to look in the mirror, for fear of hating myself more. I’ll cry from anger, wondering what’s wrong with me when I find myself in social situations, clenching my fists to abate the anxiety, or not being able to force a smile when I can’t think straight; I’ll beat myself up and say, why am I like this? Why am i different – why can’t I be like everyone else?

We aren’t taught from a young age to spot the signs. And if we do see them – it’s branded as ‘abnormal’ or ‘a phase’. That’s the first pitfall (which I hope, In Sha Allah, we can start to overcome with the next generation). Up until now, there had been a distinctive barrier between my personal, and professional life. Work was work – life was life. It was only when the holidays were over and work re-started, that the barrier began to melt and one thing snowballed into another until I’d be coming home past midnight because I didn’t want to  cry into a towel at 1am, even though that’s what I would end up doing nonetheless. And it’s funny, because at the time, there was no one at home to see me cry, yet I’d lock myself in the bathroom anyway. It’s some kind of delusional self-contempt  that has built up over the years that makes me so ashamed to even look in the mirror.

Stigma comes from the outside but we don’t realise that it also plants a seed within our self,  spawning off of negative feelings and growing self hatred inside. It took me a few weeks of  recognising the perpetually negative cycle I was torturing myself with – I wanted to talk to someone, but I just couldn’t – not because there was no one there for me, but because I was just so ashamed of myself, for having failed at having something that, culturally speaking, does not exist.

I’m learning to deal with it, and the first step was to tell myself that stigma is just a cultural ignorance which has to be pushed aside. Your health always comes first. For those of you struggling like I am – know that you have support. Even if it’s not from the people you’d want, or the people you’d think – there’s always someone there. Just bite the bullet and go tell someone, whether that’s night-line, Samaritans, Uni counsellors, chaplains or someone you know.

Know that your problems are valid.

Know that crying is cathartic and exists for a reason.

Know that your health is more important than anything, mental and physical.

“Allah does not burden a soul more than it can bear.”

As a dear friend reminded me; to get you through the times when you have lost self confidence – know that Allah hasn’t. Support won’t fix your problems, or make them go away – but it will, eventually, help you to cope so that you can peacefully live with yourself, In Sha Allah. You just have to take the first step.

Share Your Story: Story 1

As part of our ‘Mind Your Mind’ Mental Health Campaign we asked you to share your stories. Our aim is to create a space to discuss mental health so that people can share their experiences to help raise awareness and support others struggling with their mental health. We hope that others will benefit from this exchange of stories; be it by allowing them to draw parallels to their own experiences, or by creating an understanding of how people can suffer – often behind closed doors.

If you would like to submit a story you can do so anonymously by following the link below:

https://goo.gl/forms/KaV1jtQtMB0oLHfq2

For now, here’s our first story!

I didn’t realise the extent to which she was suffering until I sought her advice on how to help someone going through anxiety and depression since I knew she had battled it before.

“I think with depression, you feel very isolated and that you’ve got no-one to talk to and if people do try and reach out to you, I feel like when you’re in that headspace, you just sort of, I don’t know, ignore them, but it’s very comforting to know someone’s there if you need them, so I’d just say let them know that you’re there if they want to talk, even if they don’t talk to you, just knowing that you’re there to talk is so much help.”

Her words were a reminder that something which may seem so simple to us, could mean everything to someone else so it’s always important not to overlook the small things. I continued listening as she spoke about the importance of asking questions wholeheartedly. How often do we use “How are you?” as a conversation starter as opposed to a way to genuinely show interest in someone’s well being?

“Keep asking them how they are, that’s the most important. That’s the biggest thing honestly. Because I know I felt like I was bothering people, so I never said anything. So it’s important to ask someone how they are.”

“Also I think if they’ve openly told you themselves, they know that you know and I think it’s important they know you’re there for them. I’d say ask them openly “What can I do for you? How can I be there for you? What is best for you?” because obviously, when someone’s feeling like that, they don’t want to bother you, they’re not going to tell you how’s best to approach them, it’s best if you ask them that kind of thing because it will be so different for everyone.”

Our conversation was a reiteration of the importance of being a source of strength and support to one another. A reminder of the fact that every single one of us are struggling with something and often, it’s so easy to get consumed in our own struggles that we forget others are also struggling.

Mental health affects all of us directly or indirectly and it’s important to understand that first and foremost. So pay attention to every little detail. Listen attentively to each conversation, every word, every expression and don’t trivialise anything. Make people feel loved, valued, appreciated and respected – we’re all capable. And don’t underestimate the power of a listening ear. You don’t always need to know exactly what to say, sometimes people just want to be heard. And that’s more than enough. And finally, be genuine. Always. And don’t let the day someone tells you “I honestly think you are the reason I am alive” be the day you wake up to the reality of the impact your actions can have on another.

Al-Kitab Club: The Autobiography of Malcolm X

Malcom X is such a well-known figure across the world, but how much do we really know about his life?

“I’ve had enough of someone else’s propaganda… I’m for truth, no matter who tells it. I’m for justice, no matter who it is for or against. I’m a human being first and foremost, and as such I’m for whoever and whatever benefits humanity as a whole.”
― Malcolm XThe Autobiography of Malcolm X

This month’s book selection is ‘The Autobiography of Malcom X’, written by Malcom X and the journalist Alex Haley.

In our troubled times, we often look to others for inspiration. Malcom X is one such inspirational individual and has been hailed as one of the most influential figures of the 20th century. From his tragic and troubled youth, to his role as one of the leaders of the Nation of Islam, and finally to his reversion to Sunni Islam and his striving for equality and peace, his life carries a multitude of lessons within it for us all to learn from. Join Al Kitab Club in our reading of ‘The Autobiography of Malcom X’ and don’t forget to share your thoughts with us at the end of the month!

Happy reading!

Oh the Places You’ll Pray!

Most of us often find ourselves praying between the masjid, university prayers rooms or in our homes but on occasion, when we can’t find anywhere to pray, we find ourselves having to improvise and offer salah in places you often wouldn’t think to!

The Prophet (pbuh) said:

“The entire earth has been made a masjid except for the graveyard and the bathroom.” [Jami At-Tirmidhi 317]

Prayer can be performed almost anywhere so we wanted to find out the most interesting places you have prayed! Here’s what you had to say:

  1. On the Grand Canyon Alhamdulillah

“It is a ‘wonder of the world’ as labelled by mankind. Despite this being a popular attraction for tourists, there are some immensely tranquil areas to be at one with your Lord and nature itself. It reminds you once again of the beauty Allah has surrounded us with, Subhanallah. It’s amazing how the closer you are to the ground, i.e. during prostration, the closer you are to Allah (in that moment at least).

  1. Golden Gate Bridge
  2. Baitull Mukarram

“A huge mosque in Dhaka, Bangladesh. It seemed like such a plain and simple mosque and in it’s simplicity was it’s beauty.”

  1. Outside the Harry Potter Studio Tour Centre in London

“It was very a spontaneous decision after we realised there were no prayer rooms inside, so we did Jamaat on the grass directly outside. It was interesting because it was the first time I learned not to care so much about others observing our worship.”

  1. On Barcelona beach

“[It was interesting] because EVERYONE there was in bikinis and sunbathing etc as you tend to expect on a beach.”

  1. On the beach in Tobago
  2. In Trafford Centre outside Selfridges

“It was Maghreb time so we just put our coats on the floor, outside the entrance, and prayed.”

  1. In a Hollister changing room

“Not legit though because of the huge gap, so people see you making sajdah.”

  1. The changing rooms in Superdry

“Luckily they don’t light them very well, so strange shadows when moving didn’t draw any attention.”

  1. 30,000ft up in the air on an aeroplane next to the emergency exit door…
  2. On an 8 hour plane journey to Dubai

“Me and my mum usually go to the back of the plane where there’s space to stand up and put out a prayer mat and pray together. The air stewardess and stewards are always polite and considerate making sure everyone stays quiet and nobody interferes. But the feeling is just amazing to be so high up in the sky praying, especially because flying itself is scary and you want to pray and make dua until you land, but it feels like you’re closer to Allah up in the sky as you put your head down in sujood.”

  1. In the airport!!

“It was strange and interesting, because it was a wide open space, everyone walking by saw us! It made me proud to be a Muslim and represent my faith so openly Alhamdulillah. Although, I’m not going to lie, it was a bit nerve racking, but may God accept it. Ameen.”

  1. Alderley Edge

“Top of a sandstone cliff with the skyline of the city way down below, surrounded by super tall trees. Really windy but such a freeing experience to be praying to Him whilst being surrounded by His creation.”

  1. Manchester ISoc Mount Snowdon Challenge around 7 years ago

  1. Mount Snowdon

 

“We were on our way down from the summit and we needed to pray so we lay down a scarf to pray in Jammat. That was the first time I’d had to perform Tayammum (wudu using the earth when there isn’t any water). It was so quiet when we prayed Subhanallah. When we went into sujood and placed our foreheads in the snow, it was literally pin drop silence, it felt like it was just you and Allah. I wanted to stay in sujood for so much longer.”

  1. On holiday in France

“I was on holiday in France in 2013 with my mum and we visited the palace of Versailles for a day. It was around lunchtime and we had decided to grab a jacket potato from this little French stand in a square that was opposite the château du Petit Trianon. We needed to pray first but couldn’t find anywhere indoors, so we chose a patch of grass not far from the potato stand. The funny thing is, when we returned for a visit two years later, we prayed in that exact same spot! It holds sentimental value for me now.”

  1. During a sponsored silence

“I once found myself trying to find a place to pray whilst doing my sponsored silence. To cut the long story short, I ended up in the University Staff Room and that was an interesting experience to say the least.”

  1. On an assembly stage

“In secondary school we used to pray on the assembly stage behind the curtains during lunch time. We used a back entrance directly onto the stage and it was hard to tell if there was an assembly/speech going on at the time, so sometimes we’d awkwardly walk into and back out of the stage in the middle of something.”

  1. Hyde park

“Luckily it’s full of Arabs so if anyone had a problem with it during the prayer, they’d probably step in.”

  1. A random alleyway in London 

“It was very dodgy, but there was nowhere else and time was running out so my friend and I just laid down our jackets and prayed there.”

21. On a volcano 

“I prayed Maghrib on a volcano- near the top where the lava was. The view was breathtaking Subhanllah.”

 

Thank you for all your submissions! Do you have an interesting place you’ve prayed? Share it in the comments!