For the last 10 years (or probably more), I have suffered from some sort of mental illness. In late 2009, I was diagnosed with depression and anxiety, triggered by seeing someone very close to me die in front of my eyes.
I was grieving for many months, and there was not a single day that I didn’t cry. The following year, 2010, was much of the same; however, I finally started seeing some relief from 2011, onwards. I was pretty stable, but still had a hard time dealing with my anxiety, especially with exams, as I was finishing high school and trying to obtain high grades so I could study in almost any program.
Here’s Some Context.
Fast forward to university, and my anxiety was getting really bad. I would perform well on quizzes and class assignments or labs, but when it came to final exams, I was a mess and could not focus; my grades truly suffered. It wasn’t until the Fall of 2015, when I had a very serious panic attack which a faculty member witnessed, that I received the help I needed. I went to my doctor and psychiatrist within the week and sought out having accommodations with my exams so I could relax more and improve my grades.
…I was taken off all medications except one, and my life completely changed. I was back to being the energetic, joyful Mariam I usually am.
It truly helped me focus, and do well. I was doing well until early 2017, when I was going through a very tough, manic episode. One day, in late February, I had lost control of my feelings, and was screaming and crying beyond control. I truly needed help, so with the help of my mom, I sought out treatment at a local hospital where I stayed for almost 3 weeks.
Upon discharge, I was very subdued. They pumped me up with so many medications that I was sleepy for 16-18 hours a day, and I truly don’t remember half of the stuff that happened from March 2017 to June 2017. I was to start an intensive outpatient program meant for folks with Bipolar Disorder and/or Borderline Personality Disorder (my diagnosis is one of these). This happens to be the same program I am currently doing, but I was so out of it at the time, that there was no way I could commit to 3-5 days per week to that time-intensive treatment.
As it happens, once I started seeing a new psychiatrist, I was taken off all medications except one, and my life completely changed. I was back to being the energetic, joyful Mariam I usually am. The rest of 2017, and almost all of 2018 were pretty stable for me, save for a depressive episode in Autumn 2018.
So, What Happened Next?
Now, with some context laid down, I’ll tell you how my relationship with the Almighty strengthened over these years.
I have always been a religious person. I lived in a predominately Muslim area for the first 9 years of my life, attending Quran recitation and Fiqh classes on weekday evenings from the age of 4. When I moved to another area of the city, I somewhat lost my Muslim identity for a short while as I tried to make friends and fit into my new school and neighborhood.
I would stay up all night by myself, crying and speaking to Allah; asking him to ease my heart and those around me.
What really changed my relationship with Allah was when I went to Egypt the summer after my grandmother died in front of my eyes. I was praying my 5 daily prayers, but I never felt the impact as I was always so distracted. Those 9 weeks in Egypt, however, really changed me. I would stay up all night by myself, crying and speaking to Allah; asking him to ease my heart and those around me.
I would pray throughout the night, and remain in sujood (the position that has us bow down on the floor), and just talk to Him, and take the time to thank God. After doing that for most of my trip, I started feeling great relief for the first time in a year. I continued praying even when I was doing okay emotionally, and decided to reteach myself Arabic again as I had forgotten it when I moved away. I thought that if I learned the language of our Holy Book, and my father’s mother-tongue, it would not only make me understand my family back in Egypt, but also help me understand the beauty that is the Quran a bit more. To this day, I am still trying to perfect my Arabic, but I must say it has definitely improved since I was a teenager.
My Turning Points.
The first turning point in my relationship with Allah was when I started university. I was deeply struggling with my anxiety, and I would research different duas to ease my thoughts, especially during exam time. To me, starting my academic career at a brand new place was very daunting, and while I made friends very quickly, I had to make sure I was making the right ones; friends who would understand my, identity and only push me to be greater.
To me, our relationships with Allah are not monolithic.
The second, and most recent turning point was when I was hospitalized in March 2017. While I don’t remember much due to being heavily-medicated, I do remember sitting in my room sometimes, and trying to memorize some duas and surahs (chapters) in the Quran; trying to ask forgiveness for all my wrongdoings and ease my heart. I couldn’t do much in the hospital, and the orderlies were very strict on what I could have on me, but I am glad they let me have my book of duas, and my Quran.
To me, our relationships with Allah are not monolithic. Wherever we are in our journey as Muslims, it is ours alone and we must own it. Practice your spirituality as you wish, as long as it doesn’t interfere with others and their journey. I know that my spirituality has been my guide, and for that, I am endlessly grateful.