Every year, I, along with millions of Muslims around the world, rejoice at the return of our old friend, Ramadan. For many of us, this month is a time of spiritual renewal, spending time with family and friends, and re-centering ourselves in our deen. Going into Ramadan this year, I was determined to prepare myself to receive maximum benefits. I texted friends and family for their dua requests, spoke with my best friends to secure a date for our annual girls’ iftaar, and bought a beautiful prayer rug while traveling. I (to my mother’s joy) removed my beloved acrylic nails and began weaning myself off of my daily coffee. Then, I called my psychiatrist to consult with her about a plan surrounding my medication.
When I was thirteen, I was diagnosed with depression and anxiety. I have lived with my mental health diagnosis for almost a decade. My treatment plans have ranged from narrative writing to EMDR. Currently, I am in weekly therapy and take prescribed medication. I am blessed to have a family that validates my diagnosis and supports me getting treatment. Despite this, however, I am not always okay. I still battle panic attacks, depressive episodes, and harmful thoughts everyday.
The first year after my diagnosis, I begged Allah SWT to take my illness away with every fiber of my being. I read Quran with more fervor than ever. I wept in sujood. I refused to take my prescribed medication because I felt that as a Muslim I shouldn’t rely on worldly cures for my mental state. After all, if Islam couldn’t heal me, what could? This mentality sent me on a downward spiral I barely made it out of. I felt helpless and ashamed to share my struggle with anyone around me.
For many years, I have struggled with feeling a connection to Allah SWT. On the darkest days, depression keeps me away from the shower, nevertheless a prayer mat. I love Ramadan, but my excitement is never without heightened anxiety about fasting while neuro-atypical. Last year, rather than trying to form a medication plan, I opted to go without for the entire month. My sleep and mental state greatly suffered and I ended the month feeling like a failure.
My mental illness has made me no stranger to negative self-thoughts. In the Holiest month of the year, however, these thoughts manifest themselves in ways that leave me reeling with guilt. Am I doing Ramadan right if I am not extending myself to charitable endeavors? How am I supposed to pray for a third of the night if my sleeping pills are so strong I can barely make it up for Fajr? Fasting while atypical has broken my spirit at times because it feels like I am reaching for a feeling that will never belong to me.
I have had to learn to have mercy on myself, an act far from easy for anyone battling anxiety. Above all, the lesson I have learned is that I must face the ugly reality of depression: you simply can not pray it away. There is no amount of even the most sincere duas and prayers that will change my diagnosis. Ramadan or not, I have to do the work.
The very first therapist I ever had taught me that the best way to fight catastrophizing is by grounding myself in reality and making the best of the things I can control. This year, I chose to make a medical treatment plan with the help of my psychiatrist even though I had to push for her support. During therapy, I have written down concrete Ramadan goals that I can use to combat feeling like I haven’t done enough. These small, intentional actions have made me feel more confident about fasting this year.
The fact is that I will struggle with mental illness for the rest of my life. Ramadan may never be a time of blissful peace for me the way it is for others, but my diagnosis is not a defect. I have a treatable illness. This is my jihad, and all I can do is show up and fight every day in hopes of a better tomorrow. For all my fellow atypical Muslims out there, I pray that you know that you are valid, your Islam is valid, and Allah SWT loves and created you with care. Ramadan Mubarak.