How I Learned To Accept That I Have a Mental IllnessWritten by Muslim in Ottawa
May 2 to 8th is Mental Health Week in Canada. In recognition of this week, Muslim Link is publishing a Letter to the Editor from one of our readers, a Muslim woman in Ottawa who was recently diagnosed with depression. She shares her journey in the hopes that it helps other Muslims inshallah.
Realizing I Had Depression
I was diagnosed with depression in January 2016.
My work environment was a trigger in my mental health challenges. I went through lots of abuse being the only hijabi (woman who wears hijab) and jilbabi (woman who wears a jilbab-long Middle Eastern style dress) sister at work. Last November, an event happened where I was yelled at by a co-worker coaching me in front of my co-workers and that was the drop of water that overflowed my vase.
I started getting physically ill. I was getting cold after cold and sleep and appetite problems. I found it difficult to focus. It was hard to do simple things that I used to enjoy. I felt distant, even with my husband and children. I was just staying alone in my room. I preferred to lie in bed doing nothing. One day, I was in such bad shape that I was in bed the whole day, I didn’t eat any food or drink and I even didn't pray, may Allah swt forgive me ameen. When I couldn't wake up for work, I knew something was wrong.
I went to see the doctor. I have a great doctor who is a Muslim woman. I have been with her for the last eight years. She saw me growing as a mother and as a professional. She diagnosed me with depression and prescribed medication. It was a shock.
Accepting That I Needed To Take Medication
I was reluctant to take medication in the beginning.
An aunty who I have known since I moved to Canada and we took Islamic classes together was so helpful in changing my perspective on medication. She has 25 years of experience of nursing and worked at the Royal Ottawa Hospital which specializes in treating people with mental illness. She made me understand how not to blame myself for the illness. She used the example of having a broken leg. She asked me “If you have a broken leg would you be able to cook, clean, exercise and take care of the family?” I told her “No”. She then told me “Your mind is ' broken' and it needs to be fixed by taking medication and resting”.
I made salaah istikarah (special prayer Muslims do when making an important decision) to ask guidance from Allah swt. My doctor asked me if I would blame myself for taking medication if I have diabetes or cancer? Of course not! So why was I being so hard on myself about taking medication for depression? Alhamdoulillah (Thank God), I listened to my doctor and aunty and started to take medication.
How I Found The Support I Needed
I am grateful for the support and duas (prayers) of my parents. My husband’s support was really amazing. Having a supportive and caring spouse has played a huge part in my healing process.
A close friend to me was there for me on the phone even though her plate was full. May Allah swt reward her and her husband for being there for me and my family.
I contacted friends who suffered from depression. I used the NISA Muslim Women’s Helpline. May Allah swt reward all the volunteers of NISA Helpline ameen!
I was able to get assistance to go to therapy from my workplace. I have a psychologist I regularly see. Slowly, I'm opening up to very close friends and families. One of my friends helped me with reading Quran twice a week. Since last month, I got a personal life coach, sister Suad Hashi, because with depression, I lost track of myself, what I love and my goals. Alhamdoulillah having sister Suad Hashi as a coach is amazing. She is helping me to work on three personal projects. One of them is writing my book about personal healing.
Acceptance was the key in my healing. I'm a proud professional Muslimah living with her depression and who will inshallah empower other sisters through her writing, talks and books. Let's lock arms together to help our brothers, sisters and our kids inshallah!
To all family members, friends and our dear Muslim community, when someone is going through mental illness, don't tell them Allah swt is punishing them, or that they have weak iman (faith) or that they are to be blamed for having this illness. Show empathy and love. It is their test and your test too as Allah swt will ask you “What have you done to help that person who is looking for help and shifa (healing)?” Please know that depression is a real illness. For someone who is going through depression, simple things like brushing teeth is a difficult task. Taking showers and other personal hygiene are extremely difficult. Depression can hit anyone at any point in their life. Parents please get educated about mental illness. Our youth are going through a lot especially at this time when all eyes are on us as Muslims.
Work can be a serious trigger for depression. When it comes to dealing with difficult work situations, communication is the key. I preferred to stay quiet as I don't like conflict. One book that helped me was “Daring Greatly” by Brenee Brown (Listen to her TED Talk here). Do your best to express your feelings. Through therapy I'm learning that emotions must be expressed not numbed.
For Muslims living with a mental illness, from my heart to your heart, I sincerely advise you to trust your doctors, take your medication, make duas that the medication works and you don't have side effects, love yourself more, do lots of self-care. Don’t feel shy about asking for help. Asking help is not a sign of weakness but à sign of strength.Reach out for support from others even though you will find that some people whom you think will help you will not be there for you. Don’t compare yourself with others. You are unique and yourjourney with your mental illness is unique.
Remember it is Allah swt who are taking them away from you. Allah swt wants you to be alone so you can know yourself!! By knowing attributes from Allah swt you will love Allah swt more and know yourself.
Depression is not an end, it is a new journey.
You are all in my duas.
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