What Happens When Depression Comes for Your “Ramadan Feeling”?

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.

On the darkest days, depression keeps me away from the shower, nevertheless a prayer mat.

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.

Ramadan may never be a time of blissful peace for me the way it is for others, but my diagnosis is not a defect.

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.