Yesterday I underwent the first of two evaluations to see if I suffer from bipolar disorder. During Ramadan I began to suspect that my depression may be something more serious. For months my mental state has been deteriorating at a frightening pace. The mood swings are becoming more frequent as are episodes where I experience breakdowns or when I am almost completely catatonic. It was during this blessed month that I expected to have an escape from this but unfortunately that was not the case. In fact my depression became worse. My therapist, who is administering the evaluations, had expressed that she saw signs of bipolar disorder. So I thought it would be something worth exploring.
It goes without saying that this is a distressing time for me. I am not sure if I have a more serious mental health issue or if the depression that I have had for twelve years is just becoming worse. Right now what I need is support, compassion, and a bit of understanding. However, that is not what I am getting. Lately I have seen many Muslims on social media making threads and posts about depression. All of which state that depression and other mental illnesses are caused by a lack of imam and that anyone who cannot “cure” these ailments through reading quran, prayer, or dhikir must not be trying hard enough. On the more extreme sides of this argument there are some Muslims who confidently state that these illnesses just don’t exist and they have been concocted by the medical industry. It is clear that many Muslims lack a fundamental understanding in the difference between sadness and depression. As well as an understanding between depression and other mental illnesses. In this post I would like to dispel some of these misunderstandings.
The Huge Difference Between Sadness & Depression
Sadness is a normal emotion that all of us feel at some point and it happens as a result of an event. That event could be a divorce, failing a class, the death of a loved one, or even a disagreement with a friend. Sadness eventually fades. Usually as our circumstances change or we adjust to whatever we are experiencing. However, depression is a state of being. In most cases it never completely goes away and if it does it usually returns. It does not have to be triggered by any particular event. Which means that a person could have a normal life devoid of major stresses and still experience depression.
Depression can manifests itself in a multitude of ways. A person suffering from depression may be constantly angry or irritated. They could under perform in work or at school. A person with depression may be constantly sad or they could have a difficult time feeling any emotion. For someone who does not have depression it can be hard to spot as many people with depression find ways to hide the illness from the outside world. Perhaps this is the reason why so many people are ignorant of it.
The Difference Between Depression & Other Mental Illnesses
Another thing I have noticed is that many Muslims lack the ability to differentiate depression and other mental illnesses. In many cases they view mental illness as either sadness or insanity. When in reality it falls on a spectrum and each illness varies in degrees. Depression is just one of many mental illnesses. There is also bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, OCD, PTSD, CPTSD, anxiety, various eating disorders, dissociative disorders, sexual/gender disorders-just to name a few. Each has their own set of symptoms and effects. The problem with this misconception is that people either see the person as not wanting to fix what is making them sad (which ties into confusing sadness and depression). Or they view the person as insane and therefore dangerous. Even if the person has not displayed any dangerous behaviors.
What Happens When Muslims Lack An Understanding Of These Issues
All too often I have to explain to Muslims that depression is not the same as sadness and that a person who is depressed (or suffering from another mental health issue) is not a bad Muslim. Usually I am told that I must read a certain surah. Or that I trust therapists and doctors more than Allah. I am told that I must not be praying. That I am ungrateful to Allah. Just today someone emphatically stated that “Quran is the cure” as if my depression is a result of me not reading it.
Muslims assume that I am not praying, reading quran, doing dhikir, making dua, and trusting in Allah. They have absolutely no way of knowing if I am guilty in what they accuse me of but they figure that in order for me to have depression it must be a result of not practicing my religion. This is a very black and white outlook to this subject. They think that a person either relies on Allah to cure their depression or they deviate and look to medical treatment. The idea that mental illness can be managed with a combination of faith and medicine is never considered.
My Illness Is Not Caused By A Lack Of Faith
When I start to think that suicide is a better option the only thing that has stopped me is knowing that it would incur the displeasure of Allah. It is not love for this dunya, my life, or even my mother. It is only for my love of Allah. When I have sat alone in my bedroom, tears pouring down my face, I have made dua to Allah. Knowing that only he could bring an end to my episode. When I feel that myself and my life are worthless I seek refuge in Allah through his revelations. I am constantly worried that there is something I must not be doing correctly. That I could always achieve more taqwa.
My life is a mess. There are times when I skip showering. My apartment piles up due to uncleanliness because I have stopped caring about how it looks. I have not been able to complete a successful semester of college in two years. When I do emerge from episodes of depression I notice that my friends are progressing in their lives. They are completing college, studying abroad, making new friends. I realize how long it has been that we have talked or had lunch. Then I realize how unreliable I am as a friend since I tend to close myself off from the world. I have given up on the prospect of marriage because I feel like I would be a burden to any man that marries me. I have found that I cannot complete any of the things that I want to in life because I am incapable of following through with small tasks. Through all of this I have held on to Allah. I have held on to his quran and sunnah. To have fellow Muslims doubt my faith is perplexing. It is only my faith in Allah that makes this life worth enduring.
Only Allah Knows My Burdens
Lately I have considered just deleting all of my social media accounts as I am weary of being told that my mental health issues are a result of my lack of faith. I no longer use facebook and I have plans of deleting it altogether. It would probably be best if I were to do the same for twitter. The problem with this is that I get the same response in real life. I have had friends tell me that I have a choice in being depressed. I have been told that I am cursed with a jinn or Shaitaan (but no one can explain my episode during Ramadan). I have even been told that I don’t want to be happy.
As a result I don’t talk to many people in my life about my depression. Even when a person says that they can be there to talk I don’t take them up on the offer. I know that unless they have experienced depression themselves they won’t understand. If I am diagnosed with bipolar disorder I don’t know who I would tell besides my mother. If I tell anyone else I run the risk of being accused of lacking faith. Or that looking for treatment is doubting Allah’s ability to heal me (they never consider how Allah can use other platforms to cure a person). Many times I think separating myself from Muslims would bring the most solace. It is times like this that I realize compassion, understanding, and patience can only be found in Allah. When I search for it in his creation I find very little of it.