A Muslim sister sent this letter out to a group of sisters, in response to one of them who asked for help in starting over. Names and any identifying information was removed or changed. If the letter looks familiar to you, please leave me a comment. I have her permission and chose to share this because it was such a personal portrayal of the realities of depression. You won’t find this in a Counseling textbook. This is what it really felt like for one sister. One of the things that I hope we take away from this is to always have a positive presence and to show genuine concern for others. You don’t know what battles one is fighting. May Allah swt protect us all. Ameen
Firstly, I want to say that I apologize for the very late response. Your email has been on my mind for a very long time and I’ve been planning my response since. This is the 2nd time I wasn’t able to sleep thinking about it so, I got out of bed to write it out. SubhanAllah, just been very busy lately.
Secondly, this is a personal response however, I chose to send it to the whole group as I felt that this can be beneficial for other sisters, too. I do not know you all personally in this group but, I do ask that you respect my honesty in my answers and keep my personal experiences confidential.
Sr. Fatima, I do not know if this e-mail is pertaining to you or to someone else so please don’t be offended by my saying “you” as I mean in a general form.
I have been through depression before and I think I can help insha’Allah with what helped me. There was a time in my life where two events occurred back to back and before I knew it, I didn’t know myself anymore. I hadn’t heard my laugh, all I wanted to do was sleep because I didn’t want to deal with the reality, I cried myself to sleep almost always, I took myself away from friends and family, my imaan was just at a ultimate low and I was failing in every other aspect of my life including work and school.
The thing with depression is it doesn’t give you a warning sign of when it’s going to occur like the light in your car going off when you’re running low on gas. It doesn’t creep up on you. It doesn’t knock on the door and wait for you to open. It’s like you’re walking normally, maybe your pace is getting a little slower but, before you know it, before you are able to comprehend or understand or know how- you find yourself falling down a very steep, dark hole in the ground with nobody with you and nobody around to help and when you get to the very bottom you realize you didn’t bring with you a flashlight, a rope or anything to get back up. That I can say is from my own experience however, I do know from Psych that there are 5 stages that occur before depression (maybe Aisha can help) and I’m sure for every individual, the time it takes to go from stage to stage is different. So, you don’t really know when it’s going to happen even if you have some Psych background- you just know it will/might. But, what if you didn’t prepare? The thing is, is it’s probably the most difficult thing to prepare while you’re going through the first 4 stages. You’re not in the right mental stage and you don’t have the capacity to plan it out and prepare. Even so, depression affects every individual differently.
However, I thought about a few general things that I think would work for anyone who is going through depression.
So, you fell and you want to get back up. (Let me just add that masha’Allah the fact that you’re reaching out to people and asking is a very positive thing- whether it be for yourself or on behalf of someone else).
1) Make duaa– this is something we always forget and it’s something that is very “cliche” and we hear all the time but, it’s something we sometimes lack in. If you’re already doing this- then good, excellent- keep it going. I remember once someone said something that stuck with me (I cannot remember who but advice was very beneficial for me). They said- something along the lines of- if you want something so much and you’re not praying at least 2 rakah tahajjud to ask for it, then you really don’t want it all that bad. If you’re making sincere dua already and you wanna turn it up a notch- make 2 rakaah tahajjud and ask Allah to ease your heart and to grant you happiness and success in this life and the next. Praying tahajjud (even for those who don’t do it regularly) is such a cleanse. You’ll find yourself feeling like you are being washed. Key here is BEG. Beg for it. Keep yourself in sujood longer. If your tongue can’t find the words to say, your heart is speaking and Allah can hear even that. :)
2) Talk to Allah- “what is she talking about? she just said make dua! i get it” lol no, this is actually something I personally do and I consider it to be different than duaa. Sometimes when you’re just laying in bed, or you’re sitting on a train, or you’re in a situation where you’re too tired or you just can’t raise your hands up. Or even when you’re feeling alone and have nobody to talk to. I talk to Allah. I have a one-way conversation with Him and I just spill my heart out to Him. Even if I know, obviously, that he knows all I’m telling him already- that’s not the point for me- the point is gathering my thoughts, explaining them and knowing that He’s listening and not only that but He can help. More often than not, this leads its way to the sincerest of dua’s. Even if I’m sitting on a train and everyone is watching me cover my face with my hands lol. Another thing I started doing (to be honest- I only did it once but, it was a start) was writing my thoughts out to Allah in a journal. Do whatever works for you. But I find this to be very therapeutic.
3) Make time for yourself– sometimes we get so jumbled up in all our crazy schedules and it doesn’t give us enough time to think clearly. You know, like you’re taking an exam and then shaytaan comes to you and whispers something that reminds you of what is making you unhappy and you’re trying to focus on your test so you can’t really think clearly about what he said so you’re taking this test and now you’re all upset and angry inside and it stays with you the whole day. Make time to think about all those whispers- in a positive way of course.
4) Look for the wisdom behind Allah’s decree. Sometimes it’s hard to believe that even with the worst things that happen to us, there is good behind it. I believe there always is. Always. So, if youre’ feeling blue and shaytaan comes to you and asks “why did Allah let this happen to you” take out a pen and paper and write down even the smallest good things that came from the events. Even something as small as being grateful, or realizing this or that is good. You’ll realize though, that as time passes, your list of what good things came from it- will get longer and longer. And sometimes it takes years to realize something just because you don’t know what the future holds. So fast forward 3 years, when something happens you’re gonna be like “subhanAllah, so that’s why Allah let that and that happen”. The truth is- if you’re looking for good you’ll find it and if you’re looking for bad, you’ll find it. And this goes with anything- from a pair of shoes to going to a specific college. Look for the good. Leave the bad. I always like to think that Allah doesn’t take something away unless he replaces it with something better. :) Be optimistic. (If you look through the stories from the Quran- Maryam, Yunus, Yusuf, Ibraheem, Moses, surat al kahf, the list goes on- you’ll realize that this is in fact true).
5) Find a healthy venue to let out all the negativity. Maybe you like to bake or cook or maybe you’re good with art or poetry. Use your skills to help you.
5b) (You can do this alone or do it along with #5 but, do this!) Exercise- make time in your day or set a schedule (3 times a week) to do some form of exercise you enjoy. If you don’t already have a routine. Watch videos on youtube to figure out your style. Maybe its pilates, maybe its yoga or maybe you’ll like strength training or cardio. But choose something you enjoy so it’s something you look forward to and not something you dread. The thing with exercise is it scientifically has benefits that will make you feel better- it releases endorphins (for more information- use google- I forget the sciences behind it). Not only that but when you sweat you release toxins and other things that work as a natural moisturizer for your skin. So not only do you feel better but you look better to which will help you feel better about yourself. The time in my life where I felt my best and was most confident was when I had a daily exercise schedule. It works. You’ll feel it almost immediately. Give it 2 days. ;)
6) Before bed, take shower, get in clean pajamas, brush your hair, put kohl if you wish, make yourself a hot cup of relaxing tea and just relax. For those 20 mins, relax. Read/listen to Quran. Read a book. Anything that doesn’t stress you out.
7) Stay away from things that make you feel worse. For example, for me- I love shows like law & order svu and criminal minds however, the time during my depression, I realized I had to detach myself because even though I loved the suspense it was a very easy venue shaytaan was using to worsen my depression and made me have worse thoughts. Find what it is that is making you have worse thoughts or in general worsening your depression- and detach yourself from it. If you love it too much, just detach yourself for the time being and allow yourself to get back to it when you’re feeling better. Although, you probably shouldn’t. But sometimes this includes people in our life that we can’t get away from and we love but are hurting us. So, you decide- temporary or not.
8) Listen to lectures about good things– like Jannah or from the seerah or love or anything you can say “this will make me feel better”. (Stick with lecturers who you know are good but also that have a sense of humor or will lighten your mood). It’s good to do listen during times you know you are most vulnerable for shaytaan. Maybe while you’re cooking or cleaning or on the train doing nothing.
9) Dhikr- oh boy, is this a good one. You want an increase in imaan? You want that boost? You want to feel like you’re being encompassed by Allah’s love. Do this. Download “keys of paradise” for ipod/iphone if you have. Fortress of the Muslim is also, ofcourse a go-to.
10) Surround yourself with people who have high imaan and who are generally happy. People who are on the deen but can also laugh and have a sense of humor. You don’t wanna surround yourself with low imaan because this is the time you need a boost. You don’t need to be surrounded by gloominess either.
Okay, I think I’ll stop here. If I remember more points I wanted to say I’ll send them along. But in conclusion- love yourself and if you feel like you can’t, if you feel like you hate yourself – which a lot of people who go through depression feel- I remember I used to always feel like I wanted to punch myself- so know that you’re not alone. But, find reasons to love yourself. Go through the list and definitely ask Allah to help you feel love towards yourself. It sounds silly but, even when I stopped doing my eyebrows I made duaa that Allah would allow me to view myself differently than how I did and it worked.
Another piece of advice I have is those around you might not understand what you’re going through and they might not understand why you’re acting the way you are. They might tell you the dislike how you’ve become. But, seriously, try to just forgive them. Don’t sever relationships with others during this time. Put them on pause and then decide at a later time- if you want to continue your relationship or end it. Also, find someone you trust and talk to them. Tell them what’s going on and ask for help and advice.
So, for everyone who is going through depression- these are some points that I found helped me and I think will help you.
For everyone else, who read through all this but isn’t feeling depressed- one thing I hope is that you’ve learned to never ever judge a person. We all have a past and we all have a story. Just because others are being tested differently than you are doesn’t give you an excuse to judge them. If you see someone happy all the time- don’t envy them- they just might appreciate their little taste of happiness much more than you do because of what they went through. And if you see someone depressed don’t judge them and allow yourself they are low in imaan. Because the truth is, we all think we have the right foundation set for ourselves when the times of test comes. However, almost always we’ll realize that the opposite is true. Having high imaan in times of happiness is much easier than in times of grief and sadness. Even if you’ve been through grief and sadness and have found it easier to cope, don’t judge those who are finding it hard because each and every one of us experiences differently.
I’ll leave you all with that