Disclaimer: This article is in no way meant to subsitite for medical or mental health advice from a trained and educated mental health professional. Muslim Girl encourages those who need help to seek it, and encourages the use of resources such as therapists, social workers, psychologists, psychiatrists, and trained mental health professionals. You should never try to manage your mental health alone. You are not alone, and there is no shame in seeking professional help. Muslim Girl also does not recommend self-diagnosis; again, please seek the help of a professional. The following are the views and experiences of the author only.
So, I have been suffering from anxiety since I was about 11 years old. I have never gone to a doctor to get my anxiety diagnosed. It somehow never occurred to me, as I am so used simply coping with my anxiety. However, I have had a few sessions of therapy, here and there, through different mental health organisations that I sought out, and they were definitely helpful.
Before the age of 16, I used to think they my anxiety was because there was something wrong with me — I blamed myself. I didn’t feel good enough to share my pain with anyone, and I didn’t even allow myself to ponder upon what was going on with me because my self-esteem was so low. I felt so ashamed of my invisible struggle.
Anxiety does not look or feel the same for all sufferers, and trying to express the way I experience my anxiety has always been difficult. Taking about it, or writing about it is triggering at times, and there is just so much to say.
It started as a feeling of fear and unease that was always present, and became more intense in times of difficulty. I had had a complicated childhood, and the time that these feelings surfaced, those complications were at a peak. To give you a gist of the struggles my mother and I have endured, I came to the U.K. as a 10-year-old child, raised by a single parent and no siblings. Life was not easy. Additionally, the racial bullying that came with being at the school I was at was one of the worst triggers, or causes, of my anxiety.
My anxiety felt like suppressed anger, frustration, and a lot of struggle with past challenges. The edginess and unease used to come and go. At the same time, I was the queen of keeping it all hidden. I was always bubbly, positive, and appeared endlessly “happy”. I now know that I kept all this to myself for so long because I felt ashamed of my struggle, and I didn’t feel worthy or have the courage to open up to anyone, even the one person I trusted. I hadn’t even acknowledged or admitted the problem to myself.
The truth was, around those who made me feel at ease, I was able to block out those thoughts and feelings, and therefore simply be myself and enjoy the moment.
Moreover, I actually enjoyed the company of people on the rare occasions that I allowed myself to be social. I didn’t always feel socially anxious. I was more anxious about the aftermath of my social outings — I would occasionally replay my conversations in my head and question how I came across, which would put me in an anxious state of mind.
As I became a teenager, however, I began to have panic attacks. I didn’t know that they were panic attacks at the time, of course. I just thought I was one serious loser.
For example, if I put my hand into my bag or pocket to retrieve my bus pass and didn’t find it, I would immediately struggle to breathe. My heart would race, and I would feel physical pain from thoughts of utter uselessness. In severe panic attacks, would sweat and feel somewhat disoriented.
This would happen over and over again when I started to work as a part-time interpreter from the age of 18, because it meant working in different locations every week. Because of my anxiety, finding new locations felt like climbing a steep, dangerous mountain in flip-flops.
However, it eventually dawned on me that all the signs pointed to anxiety. Alhamdulilah, over the last 5 to 7 years the panic attacks have become very rare, and although anxiety visits me still, recognising it for what it is has helped a lot. Moreover, I have learnt numerous ways to manage the condition for myself, such as more worship, writing, and practicing self-love.
To those of you who find my story relatable, I hope that you find the courage to seek out the help you need. May Allah ease our suffering, whatever form it may take, and make it a means of purification for us. Ameen.
In the meantime, I have shared some of the ways I cope with anxiety along with getting professional help, and I hope these tips help you, as they have helped me.
Show Your Anxiety Who’s Boss:
There are numerous things that have helped me cope, and continue to help me cope with my anxiety. Now, these aren’t a one-size-fits-all cure, and what worked for me may not work for you. But these are the things that helped me. I’ve shared my most effective solutions here, and I implore you to seek professional help if you feel like you need it:
One of the first and foremost things is writing. I naturally gravitated towards writing in my personal time, as soon as I learnt how to write. I didn’t attend school until I was 10 years old and by the time I learnt how to read and write, I was 11 years old. That was when my anxiety started and when I started the habit of keeping a diary.
I wrote practically everyday, as I had plenty of time on my hands as an only child with a mother very busy with doing everything that needed to be done.
The thing was, however, I never used to REALLY write about how I felt and the difficulties I was going through. I would just write about my day and what I did, what I ate, kids at school, and so on. Sometimes I would copy down jokes from joke books — I became an avid reader as well — and crack myself up.
I still have this diary.
Even though I really wanted to write about my struggles, I was afraid to, perhaps due to anxious feelings. Nonetheless, my diary was still my friend, and I found interacting with it therapeutic.
I kept up the habit of writing and reading over the years as much as I could, although there were phases where I had some sort of block that prevented me from picking up a pen or finishing a book for months, or years.
I found that in the last few years, writing poetry became an absolute necessity; something that I did involuntarily whenever I felt that I was struggling with my mental health.
These days, on difficult days, I will still sit down and write about exactly how I am feeling, and why I am feeling this way — it is such a cathartic experience, and I highly recommend it!
2. Acknowledge Your Pain
Another way I deal with my anxiety is through simple acknowledgement. I have learnt to be ultra-aware of days when I am struggling, and I try to be as patient as I can with myself. Knowing that I have been here many, many times before and that this too shall pass, by the will of Allah, helps ground me immensely.
I notice that I may be more emotional, more short-tempered, and less relaxed. I try to control these reactions/emotions to the best of my ability, and do my best to focus on the tasks on my list for that day. I also ensure that I avoid any type of argument by clarifying: “I feel anxious today, and so it would be better if we talk about this when I feel better.” This definitely helps in relationships where there is mutual understanding and respect.
3. Solace in the Quran
To cope, I also listen to, or read more Qur’an, make more dua, and just speak to Allah about any difficulty. Obviously, I do this in general to the best of my ability, but I definitely find that I feel more conscious of my relationship with Allah when I am experiencing my personal mental health test. I do believe that as humans, we naturally seek our creator more when are struggling, and it’s always an important challenge to remember to find the balance, and always be mindful of our Lord.
Now, I’m not saying that you can pray your anxiety away. I’m just saying that personally, I find peace and solace in the quiet moments that I’m communing with my Lord, and if you do too, then this is a powerful tool to provide those peaceful moments.
Finally, my last tip is about self-love. I have been trying to educate myself on things such as mindfulness, human psychology, and self-love over the last few years through the help of YouTube videos.
I found that this has helped manage my anxiety and generally stressful life events because I was exposed to a safe space; a community where those suffering from mental health issues are not looked down upon. When one is suffering from a mental health illness, the world can feel like the loneliest place. This is because there is a lot of stigma around mental health, and most people are ignorant or misinformed about what it actually means to go through such difficulties.
I am very sad to say that some of the things our Muslim community believes about people who suffer from these challenges add to the misconception, and can worsen the symptoms of those suffering.
Things such as claiming a mental health issue means one is “not Muslim enough,” is a blatant way to blame someone for their affliction. Nobody says such things about people going through other illnesses, like high blood pressure, or a broken limb. So why say it to those suffering from a mental health illness?
Reminding myself that whatever I go through does NOT take away from my worth as a human being helps me cope a lot. Knowing that this challenge does not define me, or deduct from my uniqueness as a person, allows me to not take upon anyone else’s judgement of me because of what I go through.
This is what self-love means to me. It shows me that the only person that can give me self-worth, is me. Loved ones can and do support me the best way they can, but in reality, no one is coming to save me. So I HAVE to be there for me, and believe in myself, and trust my soul no matter how hard life gets.