In The Silences
Assalaamu’alaikum, dear readers.
My journey has been long, and standing where I stand now, I wasn’t quite sure which side of the story to tell here. In the past 7 years, I’ve told and retold it, adding things as the years went on, always a new detail, always a new angle. In the end, here I am, my soul a little tired, a little bittersweet. I’ve not had mental illness like the worst of them, not stood on the edges of cliffs, not been lost in darkness from which there was no way out. I always used this to invalidate myself, convince everyone I was never really sick, just a little troubled. I suffered years of anxiety and panic attacks whilst in school, began counselling and started to cut myself. In college, I stopped eating and started abusing laxatives, as I smiled courageously and told everyone I was “so much better” because I no longer cut myself. I talked about it until I had nothing left to say, about my childhood and the confusion of emotional distance, about school and the weight of not belonging, about anger and not knowing where to put it, and through it all, about me and my need to disappear. In the silences left after I trailed off, I found the unexplainable – the hollowness that felt like it clawed at my soul, the weight of it that I could not describe. The answer to the question – why do you need to destroy yourself? – I never did find, until I finally settled on knowing there would never be an answer.
I spent years vaguely nodding to advice and comments I received from many. “Pray more”. “Stop being childish, what do you have to be depressed about?” “Why are you so ungrateful to the body God gave you, why do you want to be thinner anyway?”, “Build up your imaan and you’ll be fine…”, it goes on. All well intentioned, I know, but all somehow missing the mark. I prayed, I fasted, I kept up a series of lectures that strengthened my imaan, I was what many would call practising. So when I heard this advice, it only served to make my own thoughts worse. What was so lacking in me? Why couldn’t I pray these feelings away? Why wasn’t my abaya enough to protect me from insecurity about my figure? Why wasn’t my connection with Allah enough to protect me from the hollowness I couldn’t fill? Why did I sit through many lectures and hadith and fixate on all the things I was doing wrong. All the things that proved I was inherently *bad*, that I shouldn’t eat because the stomach was the worst vessel man could fill, that I had to be punished if I dared to sleep through fajr, didn’t get the best grade, had a fight with my mother… I still don’t have the answers. All I know is, one day I had to face up to the fact that my fears were in every aspect of my life. My friendships, my family, my deen. And by twisting everything I heard to fit in with my own personal narrative of how awful I was, all I was doing was creating a shield, creating my own little world that I stayed trapped in, because I was too afraid to face the real world with its real pain and its real struggles. It was easier to punish myself instead of apologising to my parents. It was easier to fixate on the number on the scales than the possibility I might fail my exams. It was easier to swallow laxatives than face the emptiness in my soul. It was easier to run away than accept the thing I was most afraid of – that like I had disappointed those in my life, I would ultimately disappoint Allah.
So one day, when I realised that hurting myself was not just hurting me, I used my regret to give myself the strength to hold the hands of those who cared enough about me to pull me out of my hell. One day, I decided it was more important to me to heal for the sake of the worth they saw in me, even though the fear that I was worthless was so great. One day, I took a leap of faith. That was a year ago. I spent this year navigating this new land, where I had nothing to run to, and sometime in this year, I settled. I get through most days without wishing for my safety nets to cocoon me again. I pray, and if I happen to miss a prayer, I pray for forgiveness and carry on. I make mistakes, but I’ve learnt to apologise, to do what I can to fix it, and to let it go. I failed a year at uni, and learnt that my world did not come crashing down. In the quiet left behind when I stopped viciously hating myself, I knew a new kind of peace. I realised that when I get angry I won’t always know what to do. I realised that I still had a sadness in me that nothing could soothe, and instead of hurting myself to make it easier, I accepted that anti-depressants were an option. It’s been a long journey, and I don’t doubt it isn’t over yet. But my mind is quiet now, and though my emptiness hasn’t gone, I’ve stopped running. I wouldn’t go back for anything, even if there’s days I miss it. There’s questions I don’t have answers to, but maybe that’s okay. I hope those who suffer will also find their reason the way I eventually did. The biggest lesson that I will say I learnt is that Allah put people – whether it’s friends, family, or therapists – in our lives for a reason – don’t be afraid to use them. And balance. Balance in every aspect of our lives, and realising you were made to make mistakes. But you were also made to rise back up again, no matter how far you fall. Never lose hope in the mercy of Allah, in His love for His creation, and remember, you, too, are of His creation.