No one else witnesses
It’s 10.24am according to my phone. Though exhausted, I’m wide awake but every part of me is telling me to pull the bed cover over my head and not to go out.
Breathe in and out, in and out. I try to pace my breathing.
Let me introduce you to my old friend, anxiety. Its visits are usually unannounced & unexpected, though it finds its way into my body with such ease. Usually sits within my chest, causing my heart to race and restricts the air from flowing into my lungs. The wake-up call is a reminder to take my medication, and usually followed by a cup of hot mint tea to calm my body. But today is a little different, it’s the first day of Ramadan. As well as being the month of fasting, it’s also a time of spiritual growth, reflection and healing. This holy month is a true test of faith, a true test of willpower.
I close my eyes for a second to take it all in – my mind is overwhelmed, spinning with hundreds of thoughts at once.
I don’t really want to go to the mosque tonight for iftar and taraweh, the crowds and noise don’t really go well with my anxiety, to say the least. Does this make me a bad Muslim? The pressure to perform to the best of my ability is frightening, the constant reminders in the form of WhatsApp reminders, in person or on Facebook telling me how I’m losing out on thousands upon thousands of blessings. Unprepared. Why can’t I just push myself a little more for this blessed month? Why can’t the overburdening feeling of being drained and sadness just go away already? Please, don’t ruin this month for me.
Suddenly the thought of burying myself within my duvet with the curtains closed and let life pass me by, are ever more tempting.
Echoing my fears as my friends express their excitement for the holy month will always hold a weight of guilt within me beyond anyone’s imagination. Generally, I tend not to really talk about my fear, I worry that they’ll get fed up with me. So instead I talk a little too much, smile a little extra and fill every silence, no matter how small, to avoid my thoughts consuming me and my tendency to wallow in my blues.
It’s moments like the calmness of the walks home after tawareh or the extra 2 minutes of silence on the prayer mat after you’ve finished your prayer that keeps me grounded. That reminds me that the only pace I need to keep up with is my own.
That reminds me that my Lord is understanding, forgiving, all merciful.
I have developed a different sort of consciousness with Allah swt. It’s something of a divine dialogue that happens at any time. Sometimes it takes place at anxiety-filled sleepless nights. Sometimes it takes place in the midst of crowds when I’m struggling to breathe. Really, it’s whenever I need reassurance, whenever I can turn and say “You see this, you’re seeing me. I’m not going crazy, am I? Please don’t let me go.”
Ramadan is one of the few acts of worship that are completely solitary. No one knows. No one sees. But you and your Lord. It’s such a divine intimacy that feels so personal when no one understands the everyday battle you’re fighting. It’s why my goal this Ramadan, is quite simple. To learn to be me again. To be okay with myself and to be kind to myself so that I can be kinder to others. I want to learn to be my own cheerleader. To see the emptiness within me as ways for Allah swt to see. To witness what I feel. No one else knows. No one sees. No one else witnesses.
This Ramadan, I ask that you keep your brothers & sisters battling mental health issues in your duaas. To see them. To be aware of them. To be present for them. Of those suffering from eating disorders, such as anorexia and bulimia, who may be triggered by the fasting & feasts that follow. Of those taking anti-depressants/anti-psychotics who are unable to fast. Of those struggling to complete prayers because they have difficulty even getting out of bed in the morning. Of those with social anxiety who spend Ramadan in isolation to avoid the iftar parties and community gatherings. Of the reverts to Islam who suffer from depression due to increased feelings of isolation. Of those who are dealing with or recovering from addiction and may find Ramadan difficult. Extend your sallam to them. Tell them they are loved, are worthy, are heard.
To my dear brothers and sisters that are feeling guilty for not meeting the expectations they had for themselves. This is your Ramadan. It may not be how you expected or want it to be going. It may be different from your previous Ramadans. You are making it through the best you can in this difficult world. The simple, yet crucial act of taking care of yourself is so profound. I pray that your, and my, soul find ease, rest, and light throughout this month and beyond.
اللّهُـمَّ رَحْمَتَـكَ أَرْجـوفَلا تَكِلـني إِلى نَفْـسي طَـرْفَةَ عَـيْن، وَأَصْلِـحْ لي شَأْنـي كُلَّـه لَا إِلَهَ إِلَّا أنْـت
‘O Allah, it is your mercy that I hope for, so do not leave me in charge of my affairs even for a blink of an eye and rectify for me all of my affairs. None has the right to be worshiped except you.’
The writer of this piece has chosen to stay anonymous