Dealing with severe depression and thoughts of suicide is a harsh enough reality by itself. But when you’re a Muslim, things tend to get even more complicated. My name is Kamil Idris, and I still suffer from severe anxiety and depression to this day. I don’t know when exactly it started, but what I do know is that it’s still continuing. It’s very rare for a moment to go by where I don’t feel a crushing feeling against my chest. I think about killing myself at least three times an hour. In addition to that, I didn’t even have anyone I could talk to about my feelings. The darkness kept building and building inside of me; inside of my body, inside my mind, inside of my heart and inside my soul.
Does this sound at all familiar?
I didn’t want to talk about it to the few followers I had on Twitter. I was too embarrassed. So I just buried it all inside, which of course made the situation much worse, and I definitely couldn’t go to my family about it. Muslims households aren’t like American households. Even though my family and I have been living in the States for over a decade, we’re still very much Pakistanis at heart. Our ways and traditions are a creature of their own. In my culture, men, in particular, are often discouraged from outwardly showing any signs of weakness. That means never crying, and pretty much never opening up. So with that standard held to my head, my condition just got worse and worse.
Until I couldn’t take it anymore. I had two options: tell my closest loved ones about what was happening to me, or following through the dark thoughts in my head and actually killing myself.
Thankfully, I chose the former option. I waited until my siblings left the house, and then I went and told my mother exactly what was going on. It wasn’t easy. It wasn’t pleasant. There were a lot of tears involved from both of us, but that was a day that had to happen. To my shock, I actually felt better afterwards. I felt almost relieved. Did my mother handle all that information perfectly? No. When you’re a Muslim, you’re taught that committing suicide is a straight one-way ticket to hell. No exceptions. So you can imagine what the context of our next conversation was. But in the end, she hugged me. The kind of warm hug only a mother can deliver. We talked it out and, in a joint moment, we understood that what was happening to me was a form of mental illness. We both understood and agreed that I needed help.
Of course, my mother wanted to know why I believed I was depressed. She didn’t know what was s wrong with my life. What could I tell her? It’s not like talking to a sibling. If I had followed through and killed myself, my siblings would have been devastated, but they would eventually get over it and move on with their lives. Not my mother. I’m the centre of her world. She wouldn’t have been able to handle my death, especially if she found out I had taken my own life. The agony would finish her, but not before breaking her heart into a million little pieces. So I chose not to tell my mother why I was the way I was. In fact, even if I had wanted to, I couldn’t have told her the exact truth. That’s because I didn’t know what the exact truth was myself. My life was far from great, but I wasn’t homeless or hungry and I had all the basic life necessities I needed.
That further confirmed that I was suffering from a true mental illness. An imbalance within me that had been plaguing my life for a long time. So we went to see a therapist and he helped me greatly. My problems aren’t completely gone. Far from it. But I like to think I’m on a path to healing. I have since started talking openly on social media about my issues and to my surprise, it’s been resonating. There are so many others out there going through the same things I’m going through. They’re in pain, just like I was and several of them are Muslims. They too are trying to find a way to get over the stigma in our culture that comes with mental illness and depression. I want them to know the same thing I want everyone with mental illness to know: it’s not your fault. We all make bad choices. We all have bad moments, but our decisions have nothing to do with us having to go through the struggles that come with mental illness. It’s just something that happened to us and if you need help, please seek it.
That goes for everyone. Muslims and people of all religions, people of all genders and colours. Admitting that you need help doesn’t make you weak. It doesn’t make you less. It makes you human. It makes you alive.
For anyone out there feeling the same way I did, and the same way I often still feel, seek help. It can start with just talking to a beloved family member about it. Don’t be embarrassed. Don’t be ashamed. If you know in your heart that that person truly loves you the way I know my mother loves me, trust them with your pain. Open up. Let it all come out, and together, you can start the journey to understanding what’s happening inside of you. No shame. Repeat that over and over again. No shame.
Take it one step at a time. One breath at a time. Take my word for it, keeping everything bottled up won’t be good for you or for anyone in your life. It’ll make things significantly worse. All it takes is starting with one person. The person you love most in this world. Tell them what’s going on. Then take it from there. That’s what I did. That’s what you should do. Good luck. Stay strong. Keep up the fight, and my best wishes go out to you. I’ll think of you in my prayers.
by Kamil Idris