Identity, Life

“Pray your anxiety away,” they told me

My depression makes it hard to get out of bed, let alone pray.

I always thought it was normal to struggle with everyday tasks and have anxiety attacks amidst typical social settings. After finding a group of friends who I could openly talk to and as well beginning to see a therapist, I realized that wasn’t the case. I began realizing how debilitating my anxiety was and how much depression clouded my thoughts.

I started discussing this with my parents, who were skeptical. My mother’s only response? Pray the anxiety and depression away.

Looking to my faith and God for solace from the constant anxiety and sadness running through my body and mind presented a new struggle. As a Muslim, praying the mandatory five times a day has always been hard for me. This Ramadan, I had been determined to finally make that a reality.

But my depression makes it hard to even get up and get out of bed to even attempt this anxiety inducing process. Standing still during prayer and keeping my focus is a challenge. Anxiety overwhelms my thoughts as I struggle to give my undivided attention to my prayer. I also struggle with the fear of disassociation that makes completing prayer near impossible. Going to the mosque for the intense taraweeh prayers is not feasible. The large number of people clustered so close to each other, standing in one position for long periods of time – it’s triggering just to think about.

The Muslim community overwhelming stresses the importance of Iman, or faith, and attaches the true manifestation and existence of that through regular prayers. In my family, my parents always especially emphasized how the act of praying or fasting is not merely enough, and that the spiritual process is what makes these acts count.

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Growing up with that type of understanding of my religion and relationship with God, I began questioning if I could ever possibly be a good Muslim.

My anxiety, depression and disassociation have been a part of who I am for as long as I can remember and before I could really even understand what was happening. I never was able to clear my mind and solely focus on faith and God when I prayed. In many ways it made me distance myself from my faith and believe that I was not cut out to be loved by God.

It’s unthinkable that I could ever have an honest discussion in Muslim spaces about my experiences without being met with judgement or lack of understanding. In the past few years, there have been many resources created for young Muslims struggling with mental illness. But many of these resources include testaments and accounts of people who “overcame” their mental illnesses by turning to their faith and connecting with God, characterizing it as a temporary issue that was a part of being a college student or being young. These resources are great for those who find solace in their guidance, but it is still filled with the trappings of all the ablest points that have kept me from speaking up about my own experiences and feeling a deep connection with my faith.

It’s time to challenge our community to do better. It is unacceptable to guilt us into silence, invalidate our experiences, and ostracize us when we find the strength to speak our truths. Our religion challenges each of us to be supportive and unconditionally embracing of everyone. Challenging ableism in the Muslim community is complex and the intersections of cultural background, class and access to care and resources are all relevant to beginning this process. We must realize that no one person has the exact same experience or struggles as another.

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Neuro-atypical Muslims exist, and are not just an anomaly. We are creations of Allah and we are rightfully a part of the community.

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Shabana Shaheen

Shabana Shaheen

Shabana Shaheen is a South Asian Muslim from the DC area. They are a recent graduate of Virginia Commonwealth University and will be returning this fall to pursue a masters degree in sociology. When not overwhelmed by academia, Shabana is cultivating their cat lady skills, watching old Bollywood classics, and fangirling over Zayn Malik.

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