We don’t ask for the test. But still it comes. And when it does, it is like the rain – fierce, cleansing – stripping us of all our complacency, our self-satisfaction, our forgetfulness. And, like the rain, our tears flow, taking us back to the prayer mat, back to the open hands, back to The One who sent the test, the only One who can release us and make us whole again. Alhamdulillah ala kulli haal. Alhamdulillah for it all.Na’ima B. Robert, Catch Me, “Cleansed”
This year has been full of tests—massive ones like the pandemic, lockdowns, and civil unrest. And smaller daily ones like finding time for yourself amongst the chaos. Our mental health, particularly depression, took a huge hit, and we have to prepare ourselves that it’s not going to get better anytime soon.
For me, this year’s tests lead to one of my darkest periods of iman and mental health. As Muslims, we tend to struggle with talking openly about these two areas, even though experiencing these tests is very typical. Just writing this introduction is making me feel very uncomfortable! But if there’s one thing I learned through doing the Tech Sisters interviews, it’s how important it is to share our stories, especially the ones about our struggles.
My history with depression
I’ve been dealing with depression since I was a teenager. My depression is the kind that doesn’t usually interfere with my daily life. But I can never seem to shake it off entirely. Some days, I don’t have any symptoms and feel free of negative thoughts. Sometimes those thoughts are a little more persistent but still manageable. And sometimes…they’re a lot less manageable.
From talking to other people with depression, I’ve noticed that we can find some pretty creative ways to describe what we’re feeling. The analogy that usually comes to my mind is being buried by rocks. I’m just carrying one small rock, and everything is easy. My arms are full of rocks; it’s more of a struggle, but I can still go on. The rocks keep coming, and I stagger and collapse under the weight. The pile of rocks keeps growing on top of me, feeling more and more suffocating. Eventually, I find my way out again by calling out for help, using my tools, and working hard to crawl out from the bottom of the pile.
I have a pretty good understanding of the ebbs and flows of my depression. I know what my triggers are. I know how to recognize the signs that I’m starting to spiral. And I know how to use my tool kit, which includes therapy, to get back on track. But because of the lockdown, I found myself in a situation where I could see my mental health starting to decline. I could see the typical triggers and signs. But my tool kit stopped working. The strategies that I usually use to get healthy weren’t accessible anymore or just weren’t effective.
And the consequences of that meant that I had a really tough time.
Piecing Life Back Together
Usually, when my depression hits the hardest, it only stays at that level for a few weeks. So this year, as those weeks stretched into months and months, it felt scary. I only had enough energy to get through the bare minimum of my day, which meant I had to cut out lots of projects and activities that are special to me.
I’m not sure when this happened, but eventually, I got to a point where I recognized I needed to have compassion for myself. Just like I would feel compassion for someone else who is suffering. I wouldn’t force someone in pain to fix themselves and blame them for not trying hard enough when it does work, so I shouldn’t do that to myself. It’s enough to just get to a point where I feel OK about me.
Finding Peace In My Deen
When I felt ready, I started easing myself into routines again. And this is where I am immensely grateful for the structure Islam gives us. Doing our ibadah gives us so many chances throughout the day to come close to Allah SWT. When we do our ibadah with the intention of opening our hearts to our Creator, to let Him turn our hearts towards Him and fill us with peace and love, everything else falls into place.
So I worked on tightening up my fardh prayers. I started waking up before fajr again to get the blessings of praying while everyone else sleeps. I reestablished my habits of doing dhikr and making tadabbur on the Quran. And slowly, slowly, I started feeling more like myself again.
Side note: This Islamic Soul model by Abdallah Rothman has massively helped me understand how the nafs affect my heart and mind. It’s far too detailed for me to include in this post. Still, I definitely recommend learning more about this if you’re interested at all in Islamic psychology.
It’s OK To Not Be OK
I’m still not anywhere close to where I was before this latest bout with depression – and that’s OK. I’m still finding it really hard to make time for special projects like Tech Sisters, and my Github history still isn’t a perfect green block. And I know that just because I’m feeling better now doesn’t mean that I’m totally happy and depression free. Recovery isn’t a binary switch. I can’t just suddenly “stop” being depressed.
Recovery is more like a wibbly-wobbly line. I’m on an upward trend, but I accept that I’ll still have bad days, and I’ll probably go through a period or two of sliding back. That’s all fine. The important thing for me, and anyone else reading with this who shares this struggle, is to remember nothing is permanent. Nothing except Allah, the One who sends the tests and the One who sends the relief. No matter how bad it gets, He will always be there to catch us and offer us solace.
أَلَا بِذِكْرِ ذ ك ر ذ ك ر ٱللَّهِ تَطْمَئِنُّ ٱلْقُلُوبُ
Truly, it is in the remembrance of Allah that the hearts find peace.Surah Ar-Ra’d 13:28