Disclaimer: This article is in no way meant to substitute 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.
Depression. Anxiety. Postpartum depression. Rage. These are all my mental battles that I have been struggling with my entire life; from girl who could expertly bottle up every negative emotion inside of her, to a woman who could not contain herself in a fit of rage. This year has been its own kind of monster; 2020 has been a year that people have struggled with. The deaths of all different kinds of people has taught us that no one is spared. A worldwide pandemic that had us all terrified to venture out into the world even for necessities. An election in a divided country that is more and more dangerous every day under the current administration. These were the big things that we faced together as a country. Suicide, child abuse, and domestic violence are all on the rise. People are struggling to make ends meet. Who among us doesn’t need help coping with the current events?
I started therapy in September 2020. It was something that I had to force myself to do. Personally, I never thought that mental health should be stigmatized, as I have friends and family who go through it. However, I kept thinking I could talk myself through the issues that I was going through. With gentle nudges from my husband, and some not so subtle moves of leaving the number for the therapist right where I could see it, I finally took the plunge and made my first appointment. I was convinced that I would have to “shop” around for a therapist until I found the right fit for me. Someone who understood my culture, where I come from, my life in the past compared to the life I have now. But to my pleasant surprise, I did not have to search for another one at all.
She started out reviewing the paperwork I had submitted, reading about my background and ethnicity. She asked the usual probing questions, and that started the outpouring of everything I could possibly think of. She was so receptive, so understanding, and the best thing was that nothing seemed to shock her. The things that I went through in the past that were negatively amplified due to my Pakistani culture did not phase her at all. In fact, she nodded her head and looked me in the eyes while saying that this was not surprising. She listened to my regrets about not being able to further my education, she listened to how I was ashamed of all the things I did in the past, and how I still carry that shame with me. And then she sat up, leaned forward, and while staring at me with a hard gaze said, “It is not your shame or your burden to carry around. We are going to work on you letting go of this shame.”
To anyone else, they could be words they have already heard from friends and family. But to me, in that instant, it was pure validation. And I could actually physically feel some of the burden lift from my shoulders.
To anyone else, they could be words they have already heard from friends and family. But to me, in that instant, it was pure validation. And I could actually physically feel some of the burden lift from my shoulders. It was what I needed to hear, and it gave me permission to be vulnerable. We continued to talk about my need for control. Not surprisingly, this year I had body image and food issues. I exercised like a fanatic, and instead of just counting my calories, I cut them as much as I could, and essentially starved myself. As obvious as it was, it wasn’t so obvious to me. It was the only thing that I felt I could control in a world that was so out of control.
The therapist — again, not surprised at all — told me that I was going down a dangerous road. She told me to give myself grace, to not look at working out as punishment and food as a reward. That I needed calories, food, and nutrition to not just survive, but to thrive. Again, it would have been something that could have repeatedly been said by family and friends. But coming from her, it was validation without judgement. It was permission for me to feel okay about eating normally again, and cutting back on the exercise. And when I saw my body slowly filling out again, the way it was supposed to look, I accepted it.
Therapy is something that I believe everyone can benefit from. This year especially has been a trying time in all of our lives. I feel that it is the first time that the entire world has faced a problem together in my lifetime. And yet here we are, as divided as ever. But with the results of this U.S. election more clear — that the country voted against hate — I have more hope. Hope that perhaps we can band together and get through this time. Fight back against the oppression, the injustices in the world, and the demons in our minds. Fight back with grace, with kindness, and without judgement, and with the mentality that first and foremost, we are all human.
My therapist, essentially a stranger who knew nothing about me, dove headfirst into my issues with me and took them on. I feel as though I have a chance now. To feel like I have the tools I need to battle my own issues before I take on those of the world. She gave me validation and permission to work on myself.
If that’s what you need to hear, then here it is: It is okay to work on YOUR issues. Yes, the world is going through turmoil. Yes, we all need to do our part and make sure life gets better for everyone. But we can only do that if WE ourselves are okay. And you know what? It’s going to be okay.