Michigan in Color: Finding Peace in My Pieces

“So verily, with the hardship, there is relief,” (Quran 94:5)

“So verily, with the hardship, there is relief,” (Quran 94:5) Buy this photo
Illustration by Gaby Vasquez

 

Wednesday, November 4, 2015 - 2:54pm

فَإِنَّ مَعَ الْعُسْرِ يُسْرًا   

“So verily, with the hardship, there is relief,” (Quran 94:5). 

I repeat this small quote from the Quran often — it has become my own little mantra, my own pep talk, as I try to take one more step forward. I have depression. I knew since I was 11 years old that something wasn’t right. That the emptiness I felt inside wasn’t felt by my family and friends. It was a strange realization for me as an 11 year old, to acknowledge that sometimes I felt sad for no reason, and sometimes I didn’t want to see anyone, and sometimes I thought about what it would be like if I didn’t exist.

It’s one thing to realize you have depression. It’s another to realize you have depression in a community that barely talks about mental health and where depression and anxiety aren’t seen as real illnesses. Those who suffer must do so alone.

Ten years later, I still struggle with my depression, and many people in my life are unaware of the fact. I spend a lot of time actively hating myself, my body, the way I talk, the decisions I make, my own emotions and my faith. My greatest fear is losing control, and with depression, I never feel in control.

Having depression means 

I have trouble saying “no,” as I’ve established my self-worth with how much I can offer others.

Having depression means

Guilt. So much guilt. For feeling pain when my parents gave up their families, lifestyles and homes and crossed oceans and borders for me to be able to be here. For feeling my pain is superficial to theirs.

Having depression means

Sometimes hating my religion, because religion hasn’t fixed me. And sometimes hating my religion because I can’t hide it. Hating my scarf, something that feels like a second skin to me, because I’ve been harassed countless time for it. I’m so overburdened with the responsibility of speaking for Muslims at work, in class and on the street that I can barely focus on my own spirituality.

Having depression means

Losing people, who can’t understand why I act the way I act, and can’t understand when I need to step back.

Having depression means

Feeling so goddamn tired. Not being able to get out of bed, and not being able to work, study or see people. And sometimes being so tired that I wish I hadn’t been born brown or raised Muslim so that I could hide in the background and have a minute of peace.

Having depression means

My heart, lungs and limbs all constrict as I’m struggling to breathe with ease.

Having depression means

Fearing that I will always be alone.

I’m exhausted by all the fear and burdens and trials. And those feelings are real manifestations of depression. I’m over hearing solutions such as “learn to be grateful,” as if depression is a superficial problem stemming from a lack of gratuity. I am grateful for the undeniable luck of having a loving family and community. But the fact remains that I shouldn’t have to hide my depression to feel accepted or safe. I shouldn’t have to convince you that my depression has nothing to do with my lack of gratitude or willpower. Depression is real, and its treatment looks like very different things to different people. My time here at this University is comprised of my most difficult years, and I often struggle with doing anything beyond surviving.

We talk about self-care and its ability to heal. But we don’t talk about how hard it is to recondition ourselves to learn that putting ourselves first when we’re suffering is not selfish. We come from communities that consistently give, because we’re all forced to simultaneously prove our worth and attempt to survive, that it becomes second nature to put others before ourselves. To say that self-care cures depression would be a false embellishment and an over-simplification of a complicated process. It hasn’t cured my depression. However, it has given me the agency to find moments of peace in spite of the depression. 

And it began. Attempting to stitch and piece myself back together again. To not only understand that I needed to take care of myself, but to get over my guilt of focusing on just myself and finally to put the time and resources into caring for myself. I had to acknowledge that I was burned out. And come to the understanding that being burned out is not synonymous with being weak. After years of consistently sacrificing my mental health, body and spirituality for things of little consequence, I learned to take care of myself. Whether it meant taking a break from meetings, reading outside, actively choosing to spend time with my friends instead of studying or taking a trip back home during the middle of the week, I learned to begin to prioritize myself, my needs and my wants. For someone who valued themselves by other’s estimations, to come to the realization that my existence is not exclusively for the benefit of others was profound. So I move forward, and try to mend and rebuild myself in a way that values my own being.

I have been told by strangers, family and friends that I am “too angry,” “too vocal,” “too intense," “too emotional” and “too sensitive.” And at times, I believe them to be true. But I have to remind myself that I am angry. I am vocal. I am intense. I am emotional. And these are things that I value about myself, and I will not be apologetic for them. These are traits that have shaped my being and beliefs. These do not limit me, as I am also capable of compassion, love and kindness. I will not be limited by single adjectives that are used to dictate and shame my behavior.

Trying to heal means changing my environment. It means removing people from my life who aren’t good for me. This has been perhaps one of the most difficult things I’ve had to do: actively cutting people from my life. This step causes me a lot of pain, a lot of what-ifs and a lot of second-guessing. This doesn’t mean I don’t care for them. It also doesn’t mean that I have to engage with them if it is harmful to my person. It just means that I have been exhausted with being the collateral damage and I can’t let it continue. My body, my mind, my friendship and my love have no obligation to you or your desires.

Lastly, I began to let myself be fully loved by the support system I have. I began to believe that I was worthy of that love when I came to terms that it was OK to ask for help — that the alienating feeling of depression doesn’t have to be as lonely as I thought. This small shift has helped me heal in healthier ways, and because of that I will forever thankful for my ami, dad, sisters and friends who have consistently been there for me.

And so here I am, a brown Muslim woman trying to figure out how to survive in a world not built for my existence and trying to fix myself piece by piece. I still struggle and relapse, and it is still incredibly hard to fully accept myself for who I am. And maybe, one day, I won’t be scared to publish this piece under my full name. Until then, I continue to wrap my hijab around my head, and try to lean into my next step, for verily, with every hardship, comes ease.

Editor's Note: The author of this piece requested to remove her name from it due to sensitive subject matter.

 

Michigan in Color is the Daily’s opinion section designated as a space for and by students of color at the University of Michigan. To contribute your voice or find out more about MiC, e-mail michiganincolor@umich.edu.