The Islamic faith is not unfamiliar with tests and tribulations. This is the first in a series of articles on depression according to Islam. It is from the On Demand Course: Mental Health Workshop – An Islamic Guide to Dealing with Depression.
Nobody is immune from feelings of mental distress, upset, dismay, anxiety and so forth. Depression is a particularly Western term. It is a very modern term. It is a psychiatric term or a psychological term. However, the concept has been around as long as humanity has been around.
Depression is something that we are all familiar with. It is sadness dialed up to maximum. Anxiety is also a universal human experience that can reach paralyzing and pathological levels.
Depression and Stigma
There are a lot of misconceptions about these topics in the Muslim community. There is often a lot of stigma attached to talking about them. We must try to get past this. It is important for our sake. It is important for the sake of the people around us.
We as a community need to stop feeling hindered or feeling reluctant to talk about the problems of the mind. These are real things. They affect people and they build up when no one talks about them.
When done right, talking solves a lot of problems. We need to be able to talk about these issues in our community because they are so often kept under wraps which worsens the issues. Something that is easily resolvable could become a real problem.
The human being at a base level, exists in a state of peacefulness. That peacefulness can be intruded upon resulting in a sense of disquiet. That sense is completely normal.
Contemplate the womb state. The state where you as a fetus, wrapped in the womb. You are in such a state of peacefulness that you do not even know that you have any need. The fetus is provided for by the mother’s womb. When the baby is born, that state of peacefulness is intruded upon by a sense that something is not right.
The thing that is not right is that the baby is no longer receiving oxygen through the placenta and the umbilical cord. The baby has never taken a breath before. There is a realization that something is wrong and the body takes over and the baby goes, “Ahhhhhh”, and takes its first breath.
As it takes that first breath, that sense of peacefulness returns. Then the baby lets us all know that he or she has arrived by letting out a yell. The first cry of the baby. This is the nature of the human being, as exemplified in something as simple as breathing.
Breathe in. Feel. Breathe out. However, if you do not take another breath in, you start to feel there is something wrong.
One of the simplest ways of dealing with anxiety and sadness is breathing in deep and slowly and then breathing out slowly. Let it go.
Cycles of Need
There are cycles of human need, fulfilment, need, fulfilment, need fulfilment, peace, disquiet, peace, disquiet, good, and evil. These are cycles that exist in all of us.
We cycle through emotional states as well. Our master Ali reportedly said:
“This world is two days, a day for you and a day against you.”
A day when everything is going right and a day when nothing seems to be going right.
The first thing to try to understand is when that sense of disquiet (the sense that something is not right) is not leaving you. You feel trapped. That sense does not leave and it starts to build. You start to wonder if it will ever go away.
Signs of Disquiet
Things that normally make you happy, no longer make you happy. When you are having trouble sleeping, when you do not feel like eating, when you are finding it difficult to concentrate on things, finding it difficult to motivate yourself to do things.
Now you know that something is up. There can be a sense of dread or a sense of fear that is not leaving you. Perhaps you cannot place it. Your body is reacting to something like there is a danger around you, like there is a lion for you to either fight or flee from. But, you do not see any danger around you. Yet, because your body is telling you something is wrong, you are on the lookout for it.
That sense of building-up anxiety, that you cannot latch onto anything, is how you know that something is up.