Stories of Solace: Post-Natal Depression- When Something Inside Feels Dead

By Romina Afghan
Something was wrong. Badly wrong. I knew it, felt it, but couldn’t bring myself to speak it and give it a life beyond my mind where I had hastily stashed it behind a layer of normality.

I didn’t feel like myself. I felt like an outsider looking at my life, looking at the world as if I was standing on the edge of a cliff, on a parallel universe where I was stuck, alone, visible yet invisible in my misery.

I looked on at life as though others were engaging in something meaningful and happy and I was relegated to an island of isolation and meaninglessness. A ghost who watched life around me but was lifeless inside myself. The cloud that covered me, silently suffocating me and squeezing the joy and hope from my heart seemed permanent. Relentless in its energy and resistant to any of my efforts to escape it.

I speak of it now because I know this is something that others are going through. I speak of it now to dispel its hold over the hearts of any more sisters. I speak of it now to rob it of its power. To let others know they are not alone in their feelings, to let them know that we all have our weaknesses and that we can still make it to the other side, inshaaAllaah.

Post natal depression. It is ugly. It robs you of the joy of motherhood. It casts a dark shadow over what should be a wonderful time in any family’s life- the entry of a believing soul into this world- and replaces it with darkness, shame and loneliness. The loneliness of living in your pain without telling anyone. The shame of not being able to just “shake it off”, the darkness of the thought that perhaps your emaan just wasn’t strong enough to carry you through..

I don’t know what caused it: Hormones, a baby after 9 years, a difficult baby that cried all the time, moving house at the same time, a difficult pregnancy…I guess there were a lot of things going on, but I certainly never expected it. Who, Me ? No, I could never suffer from depression! I was “too practising” for that, wasn’t I? I read Quran. I tried to memorize. I went to circles, subhanAllaah I even gave circles sometimes. So how could I suffer from depression?

What was I doing wrong? Maybe I wasn’t reading enough Quraan. So I upped my reading and reciting- while breastfeeding, while cooking, before bed, in bed…and the darkness eased but it was still there, encroaching on every moment where I wasn’t engaged in trying to drown myself in the Words of Allaah.

No, there was still something missing...perhaps  I wasn’t making enough thikr. I came across Allaah’s instruction to Musa ( peace be upon him ), “and do not slacken in My remembrance” ( The Qur’aan 20:42). If a Prophet of Allaah was being given this advice, so how much more did I need it?

So I upped my thikr. I made sure I knew the meanings of the various athkaar of the Prophet sallAllaahu alayhi wa sallaam, the remembrances of the morning and evening. I increased in my mindfulness and presence of heart as I said them again and again. I researched different athkaar. Which would help me the most? Which one would lift this darkness off from my heart? There was a desperation and hunger to find the cure for this affliction that was crippling me. Was I a hypocrite? Did I have a defect in my belief? Did I doubt the truth of Allaah’s words? Of His cure? Of His ability to ease my silent suffering ?

The questions that I asked myself at that time were painful in and of themselves, and no doubt there were some painful answers to them too – yes, I did need to increase in my level of Yaqeen ( certain belief) in the truth of Allaah’s words and His Cure, and yes emaan does need renewing for all of us, but in that state of vulnerability, and in the scathing voice of my own mind, they felt like salt in my raw wounds. If only I could have spoken to myself in the way I spoke to my children or sisters who came to me for help or advice, I might have saved myself the added pain of dealing with the shame I was heaping unnecessarily on myself. I remember crying, sobbing as I continuously whispered, “laa ilaaha illa anta, subhaanaka, innee kuntu minath-Thaalimeen,”- The duaa which caused the Prophet Jonah, Yunus ( alyhis-salaam) to be rescued from the double darkness of the whale in the depths of the ocean- and silently pleading to Allaah to remove me from the darkness I found myself in and to not remove my emaan or allow me to die in this state.

I intensified my dua. Perhaps I wasn’t being sincere enough in my duaa. That was it. I wasn’t truly placing my trust in Him. I asked Allaah to free me from this beast, to make me grateful and save me from being ungrateful as I feared I would be recorded as such for harbouring these feelings, I asked Allaah to forgive me if I had been ungrateful, I asked Him to bring me closer to Him and to be amongst those He loves and not those He is displeased with, because that’s where I feared I was sitting. I felt ungrateful because I knew I had no “real” problems- I had food, a home, a loving husband alhamdulillaah. What could I complain to Allaah about except my own inability and weakness?

The truth was I was ashamed of myself for feeling this way. I had helped other sisters going through this kind of thing, by Allaah’s Mercy. I thought I had this down, this “being a strong and hopeful muslimah” thing. I knew the words to say to others. I knew some of the hadeeth that would give hope. I was familiar with some of the ayaat. But I struggled. I was drowning and doing an award winning job of hiding it too.

I felt to not hide it would be a disservice to any da’wah I had done. That sounds crazy now I’ve written it. Just shows how messed up a rational person’s thinking can become! Taking the pressure of being a perfect “daeeah” in all circumstances even when you’re struggling is quite unnecessary and unrealistic. I felt I couldn’t tell the midwife or health visitor, because it might undermine their thoughts about Islam. I couldn’t tell other sisters…actually I didn’t even know who I would tell. I knew lots of people but wasn’t sure any of them would understand, or needed the extra hassle of my problem- plus I wasn’t even sure what my problem really was.

Because I don’t know what I was depressed about. I was just depressed. The problem is, in casual speak, being depressed is usually spoken of in the context of being depressed about something. And sometimes the word is bandied about lightly- “I’m so depressed- my phone died!” And sometimes it is bandied about as an excuse for other things, in a victim narrative. I didn’t want to fall into either of those categories, and didn’t know if there was a category for me -I don’t think my depression was about anything in particular. I was just depressed. Full stop. Sad about everything and nothing. Sad that my baby cried all the time. Sad that I couldn’t get anywhere on time. Sad that I was sad. Sad that I couldn’t give my other kids time, sad that they didn’t seem to need my time, sad that I felt like a burden, sad that I had no goals or aims that felt worthwhile or true, sad that I was wasting my life and sad that I felt at a loss as to how to stop doing it…I couldn’t tell anyone all of these things because to speak them would somehow make them more real than if they just stayed locked up inside me…
And I didn’t want to open the floodgates that I had put a lot of energy into trying to keep shut tightly closed. If they opened, I wasn’t sure if everything that came out would ever all go back in again. It was as if I could hide from the reality that I was facing by myself, as long as I didn’t let anyone else in on  this hidden dungeon that I was living in.
But that was no way to live, and no way to survive depression. To shield yourself in this way, I realise now, is a way of prolonging the pain. Of intensifying the isolation. Speaking the forbidden can lessen its power, and expose the irrational thoughts to open scrutiny- How are you a burden on anyone when Allaah is Ar – Razzaaq ( The Provider and giver of  every Sustenance)? How are you worthless when Allaah created Jannah that no eye has ever seen anything like, and no ear has ever heard anything of it’s like, FOR YOU? How is your life meaningless when it is a gift from Allah that every breath can earn you a hasanah ( good deed)?
Know that even if you feel like you’re dying inside, that your pain, your depression and your trial is a lifting of your soul in it’s true life – that of coming closer to Allaah in the hereafter,
 “Whenever a Muslim is afflicted by harm from sickness or other matters, Allah will drop his sins because of that, like a tree drops its leaves” (Al-Bukhari and Muslim) and ” Hardships continue to befall a believing man and woman in their body, family, and property, until they meet Allah (S) burdened with no sins. ” [ Tirmithee ].
Know that when you feel like you must be a despised person because of the darkness that follows you everywhere, that your test can be a sign of Allaah’s love, because
 ” Whenever Allah wills good for a person, He subjects him to adversity” (Bukharee and others).
Know that you can and need to seek help: speak to a professional, get medication from your GP if you have a hormonal imbalance – you have an illness, and for every illness, there is a cure, by Allaah’s permission. It is part of taking care of the amaanah ( the trust ) that is your health, that you should seek out what benefits and helps you-  I didn’t, and I think this may have prolonged the agony of my PND as I suffered for around 18 long months. I sought to cure myself through Ruqyah ( reciting Qur’aan over myself), thikr and duaa- and no doubt these helped me in my relationship with Allaah, and in teaching me humility before Him due to my utter powerlesness in that situation to help myself- and yet all of these are things you can do, and lessons you can learn, in addition to getting external help. It doesn’t have to be “either , or”!
Know my dear sister, that relief will come. It will come from Allaah when you have built the resilience He wants you to build, when you have completed the course of perseverance and shown that you can have sabr ( patience) with what you like and with what you don’t; when you have learnt that to rely on Him is the strongest handhold you need in your life; when you have learnt that your need of Him surpasses your need for anything else. Your depression is a test, it is a course in the lessons of the heart that you need to deeply ingrain in yourself so you can fly to Him and gain the highest goal- His acceptance and love:

Anas (radiallaahu anhu) reported that the Prophet (sallallaahu alaihi wasallam) said:

” The amount of reward is in accordance with the amount of suffering. When Allah (SWT) loves some people, He tries them (with affliction). He who then is content (with Allah’s decree) has achieved the acceptance (of Allah), and he who is dissatisfied (with Allah’s decree) will attain the anger (of allah).” [ Tirmithee ]

Know that the diver who sinks to the bottom of the ocean will rise to the surface with the most beautiful pearl. You may be at the bottom now, but when Allaah gifts you with your pearls, they will be more precious to you than the freedom from your affliction that you desire now. The pearls are there, they are coming to patient just a little longer..
Know that shaitaan wants to isolate you, because the “lone sheep” is easier for the wolf to attack than the whole flock. Seek out company, sit in the masjid, pray there, even when you feel like its safer and better for you to hide. Be seen, and see others. Lurking on the sidelines will feed the faulty narrative running in your mind that you are a burden and worthless. Please don’t worry if your baby doesn’t look they’ve changed their clothes today. Please don’t worry if they make a little noise. Focus on getting the sakeenah ( tranquility ) of being in a blessed place:
 “When a group of people assemble for the remembrance of Allah, the angels surround them (with their wings), (Allah’s) mercy envelops them, Sakinah, or tranquillity descends upon them and Allah makes a mention of them before those who are near Him.”(Muslim).
If you know a sister who has had a baby recently, or who seems low, ask about her, visit her. Don’t run away from her depression or tell her to ask if  if she needs help, because it’s often the people who need help the most who are the most shy in coming forward. Keep asking her, keep calling her, keep inviting her out. Tell her she’s doing a great job, tell her how much you love her, tell her it’s ok to find it hard- because it is hard!
And if one day, there’s a dishevelled looking sister in the masjid with a crying baby, offer her a moment’s peace by playing with her baby while she prays. Offer her a smile because you have no idea what internal battle she has just fought to get here today, offer her the seed of hope because when something inside feels like it’s dying, even the smallest gesture can be magnified in her heart.
About the author:
Romina is a happy mother to four children, a Master NLP-practitioner in training, part-time teacher and passionate believer in unlocking the wonderful potential of each and every soul by connecting them to Allaah and His Book. She has been blessed to be a  part of Solace for some years now, and loves connecting with sisters everywhere, so if you happen to come to a Solace event where she is, come on over and introduce yourself!

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