There is a Dua, according to Saheeh Bukhari, that the Prophet, peace be upon him, used to make:
“O Allah, I take refuge in You from anxiety and sorrow, weakness and laziness, miserliness and cowardice, the burden of debts and from being overpowered by men.”
These words are but a loose translation of the profound Arabic words used, especially Al-Hamm, which is a type of distress that affects the mind, heart, and body; leaving a person drained, and Al-Ajaz which means to lack strength and become incapable(1).
I suffer from depression
It is only now that I have come to appreciate the beauty in this Dua. I had suffered from severe depression for months. Yet it is today, almost a year after my recovery, having been faced with my triggers again, that I understand what it is people mean when they say ‘I do what I need to do for myself when depression hits.’
Why would something as seemingly obvious not strike me when I was in the throes of it myself? When I was fighting such demons that left me so drained and helpless that all I could do was stare numbly, even to the good things people said to me? Because when depression hits us for the first time and makes us fall all the way to rock bottom, we don’t always instantly realize what our triggers are.
It’s even harder when the triggers aren’t obvious things. In fact, they may turn out to be opposite. They may be your friends, they may be people you would normally look forward to seeing when you were well, they may be even things you once loved doing.
I have been well for over a year, alhamdulillah. Through the support of my beloved family, therapy, and a job that was a distraction from my mind, I have felt the joy I never thought I could feel again. I pray that if you are suffering, that you too get to witness the miracle that I have witnessed; for it is nothing short of a miracle. In the Quran, Allah tells us that He is the Giver of life, even to the dead. Coming back from depression is exactly how that feels. As if your heart was dead and suddenly life was breathed into it once more.
However, I underestimated the force of my triggers, as they have been haunting me for the past few days. As I write this, I am currently still waging a war in my mind, a war I cannot afford to lose for I cannot go back to the same thing I was saved from.
Understanding your trigger
I am writing this to reach out to those who are doing the same and are feeling guilty for turning their backs. You see, that’s the complicated thing about triggers. They can be good things. Unfortunately, when depression rears its ugly head, it tells you that you are a coward, that this is what you always do.
It’s nighttime here as I write. My country is gripped in the throes of political uncertainty. The elections are a month away. A few days ago, I got pulled into the election fever. I knew it was a distraction that I couldn’t afford. I have been studying for a very important exam but I thought, ‘let me just look up some stuff on Facebook.’
Here is the thing: being passionate about something is great. It can help give meaning to your life. It’s like having this fire within you that helps you move ahead, but sometimes, if you are not careful, the fire can burn you.
I could feel the same fire coursing through my body — engulfing me. I stood up feverishly. There was so much I wanted to do. So many people I knew were taking part in what is being termed ‘a historical moment’. Why was I stuck trying to prepare for an exam that was so hard that no amount of preparation helped? Shouldn’t I do my part too?
I should have known; that is when depression reared its ugly head. My mind got overwhelmed. Anxiety rose up and finding me weak and defenseless, it hit me with full force… and that’s when the voices started. The ones that would tell me I was a worthless coward and that I would turn my back because that’s what I always did.
I sought the one refuge I would seek before: sleep. I slept the whole day. The day after that. I lost so much time. That was when I made a decision.
This had happened before. Years before as a student, I would get overexcited about contributing to something so much so that I would overlook the priorities immediately in front of me. I also had concurrent anxiety, so I would end up with nothing done. Little by little, this began to gnaw at me and finally threw me deep into rock bottom.
I don’t know if my example resonates with you, but I am using it to illustrate that sometimes your triggers can be good things, noble things, things you can do and perhaps ought to do when you are well enough to give back to yourself and to others. When you are not, the best thing you can do is to turn away and look after yourself. Do the things you need to do that you know will help you move forward even if they are as mundane as doing your chores, finishing your homework, and even, taking an exam.
Know this, there are two kinds of battles: one is the visible one out there on the battlefield, in which everyone has a designated role and unified positions. You are either leading with an army behind you or being led by someone. The attacks that come are timed and coordinated. Then there is the other battle: the invisible one. The one which you may be fighting every day. There is no glory here, no warnings, no unity. The attacks come without warning. You are never ‘in position’. You are not being led and there is no one to urge you on. If you are stuck in the latter, know you are no less worthy in the eyes of God if you are fighting one of the invisible battles in which there are no defined roles, in which the attacks come without warning.
There is a reason the Prophet asked Allah for refuge from the very thing you are suffering from; the kind of paralyzing and intense emotions that render you incapable of action.
Your fears are not invalid. Your emotions are not imagined. You are not a coward for taking care of yourself. You are not selfish for turning your back on the world.
It takes courage to move forward but sometimes it takes more courage to stand still and walk away.