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.
“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 ].
” Whenever Allah wills good for a person, He subjects him to adversity” (Bukharee and others).
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 ]
“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).