If it weren’t for Truth, and for the knowledge and belief that I would regret not searching for it, I would have killed myself a long time ago.
Words cannot adequately capture what depression feels like, but I will try. It’s hell. Your mind is like a room filled with a thick, opaque darkness. You can’t move forward. You can’t think positively. You can’t smile. The only thing you can do is hold onto something and hope it”s strong enough to pull you through.
I know what it’s like to feel humiliated and stigmatized for an illness that is not my fault. I have struggled with depression for all of my adult life, and I still do, despite medication and therapy. On a bad day, I lock my door, close the curtains, curl into a ball and hide beneath a blanket. I cannot look anyone in the eye, not even those closest to me. I get extremely anxious at the thought of leaving my room. I don’t eat, drink or sleep. Sometimes I hurt myself so that I can literally feel something other than numbness. I separate myself from family and friends. The last thing I feel I deserve is love. When I’m depressed, I hate myself. Suicide is not an option; instead, I pray for death. At such times, I feel nothing but intense loneliness. I feel like Allah is watching me, but ignoring my suffering. It feels like it’s my fault, that I must be burning in hell before Judgement Day because I deserve it. Still, it could be worse.
I can’t imagine what it’s like to be a depressed atheist. Think about it. Imagine believing you’re alive for no specific reason, that the only thing you live for is the reason you give yourself to live – a relatively meaningful, absolutely meaningless reason. Imagine knowing that you suffer from an illness that routinely locks you up in hell and surrounds you with voices, insisting that the only way to escape is to die. Imagine that despite the knowledge that it’s all in your mind, the bottom line is that even though you have given yourself a purpose to be alive, in the grand scheme of things that purpose’s only function is to keep you tethered to a finite, unjust, ultimately meaningless world. I feel for such a person.
I feel for the person who has grown up in a society that tells him that there is nothing beyond this life, that this is all there is. I feel for the person who is told that right and wrong are concepts arbitrarily defined by imperfect, ambitious, flawed, selfish human beings, that truth is relative, and that he must create his own truths. I feel for the person who is brought up with the belief that knowing the difference between truth and untruth serves no purpose if he does not use them to get as far as he can in this life. I feel for the person who is told that he is not going anywhere, that tyrants like Saddam and Hitler will not be held accountable for their crimes. I feel for the person who is raised with the belief that an individual who commits acts of great evil can escape justice simply by biting into a cyanide pill or dying in prison without having to face every man, woman, and child whose lives he destroyed on a whim. I feel for the person who is taught to believe that his actions are insignificant. I would be surprised if he wasn’t depressed.
Someone who suffers from depression cannot be blamed for his illness, regardless of his background and circumstances. However, it’s important to acknowledge that beliefs are important. A society that is nurtured on the idea that there is no accountability or justice beyond what is received in this life will fail. A person who grows up in such an environment will believe that his actions mean nothing if they are not noticed and rewarded by fellow human beings. Depression will be an unavoidable problem in that society. Not only that, the root causes of the society’s mental health problem will be ignored because it will conflict with the prevailing, atheist philosophy. Its people will be set up for failure. Does it make any sense?
It’s hard enough living in this world, even if one is blessed with belief in Allah, Prophets, Imams, and a Day of Judgement. Imagine not having those beliefs.
Living in one of the most underdeveloped and corrupt countries in the world, I see injustice and poverty every day. Sometimes I like to go for drives. When I stop at a red light, a ten year old orphan in rags knocks on my window, begging for money. I’ve seen the same boy sniff glue and rip off mirrors. What do I do? Eventually, it becomes impossible to ignore the fact that no matter how many people I make an effort to help, it’s not enough. I can always do more. Despite knowing that Allah will give every individual their just dues, it’s upsetting to see others starve while I eat. It’s depressing. It feels like their suffering is my fault. I ask myself, why should I even try, what’s the point? I convince myself that I’m fighting a losing battle, that I’m destined to fail. I lose hope. I give up. I stop living. I get angry at the Almighty. I lock my door and go to bed. Eventually, however, I will remind myself that Allah has a plan. It will give me hope, and I will be able to move forward.
Now, imagine I didn’t believe in Allah. Imagine I didn’t believe in divine justice. Imagine that despite my best efforts, I could not save the vast majority of street kids from living a life of destitution. Imagine I didn’t believe that these kids would one day be paid their dues by Allah Himself. Considering my depression, I don’t think anyone would be able to convince me that I was not a failure. Bottom line: I would believe that the kids I couldn’t save were deprived and would probably die deprived. Not only that, I wouldn’t be able to forget that they would be completely forgotten after they died, and that their bodies would become dust in unnamed graves. My guilt would consume me. Depression would fool me into believing that my good deeds, in the grand scheme of things, would probably mean nothing.
Whenever I experience a depressive episode, I remember the Ahlul Bayt, particularly Imam Hussain (as). He has been my companion during the worst moments of my life. If he didn’t believe in Allah, he would have chosen not to rise up against Yazid, I would not have been a lover of the Ahlul Bayt. I would have killed myself. But by the grace and mercy of the Lord of Hussain, I am still here, alhamdulillah. I have an ideal to strive towards, and I tell myself that no good deed is small. Hussain ibn Ali (as), only a few days before his massacre, gave all his water away so the enemy’s horses wouldn’t die of thirst. Husayn ibn Ali (as) did not hesitate to do a good deed, even if it was at his material expense, even if it seemed small and insignificant. He didn’t care if he wasn’t rewarded by other people; his reward was with Allah. His act of generosity convinced Hurr to switch sides. His conviction in divine justice motivated him to rise up against injustice. It inspired him to perform an act of unmatched selflessness, and it caused a wave of change throughout history that continues to gain momentum. His sacrifice literally saved my life on more than one occasion.
Dear reader, I want to tell you that depression is real. I want to tell you that it is not a sign of weakness. If you know someone who suffers from it, help them by being a good listener; don’t judge. If you suffer from depression as I do, I want you to know that I understand. I want you to know I am with you, that I feel for you, and that whoever you are, I always pray for you, and always will. Most of all, I want to tell you, with every ounce of strength I can muster, with all of my heart: remember Allah. Talk to Him even if you’re angry at Him. Remember the Prophet and his family. Remember Imam Hussain (as). Remember the tears of his son, Imam Sajjad (as). I want you to know, dear reader, that had it not been for them, I would not have had a chance to write this article; I would have been dead a long time ago. I’m not kidding. I want you to know that in my moments of self-loathing, I tried to abandon Allah and the Ahlul Bayt, but they never abandoned me. I want you to know that in a way, I’m thankful for depression because through it, Allah gave me the opportunity to cry for the Ahlul Bayt as I never had when I wasn’t afflicted with this illness. During moments of hopelessness, when I felt I had little to be thankful for, they were my most steadfast companions.