When I was 11, I remember coming up to my mother one day and telling her that something was wrong with me. To this day, I can still recall the exact words I said: “I think I’m missing a few wires in my brain.”
Growing up, I was a very eccentric child. I did and said things that parents and kids alike would find incredibly strange. In fact, many people have asked my mother why she allowed me to behave the way I did. My mother was a firm believer of letting a child grow into their own person and honestly, because of the way I was brought up I am very comfortable with all my quirks and peculiarities. However, that isn’t to say that I didn’t have moments where I didn’t struggle as a kid. Due to my eccentricity, I was more often than not outcasted, bullied, or teased, and that definitely took a toll on my self-confidence.
Later on, I discovered that I was naturally-gifted. I excelled in practically everything I did academically. It was in that moment when I realised I had something going and I could actually use it as the foundation for something more concrete. So that’s what I did, I spent the majority of my childhood constructing a persona for myself. It was more of a calculated dance, really, because everything depended on the situation I was in and the people I was surrounded with. I would then play up different parts of my personality to garner the attention of those around me. It sounds really weird now, but back then my self-worth came from the praises of grown-ups and jealousy of friends. I thrived off of that.
For a while, everything was fine up until I turned 11 when I began to experience bouts of extreme sadness for no reason whatsoever. As any reasonable 11 year old did, I turned to the ever reliable Google for the answer to my woes. However, I was met with nothing but pages and pages of articles claiming that the only logical explanation for that kind of extreme sadness is God’s wrath and displeasure. Mind you, these weren’t just Islamic articles but rather something common across all faiths.
To be very honest with you, my heart instantly shattered into a million pieces when my eyes scanned the screen. Almost overnight, I made hijrah and tried to become a completely different person. I stopped listening to music, only ever consumed Islamic media and wore longer, loose clothing in the hopes that God would somehow forgive me for my sins. Of course this didn’t work, and as time went by the sadness got worse; it was beginning to engulf me in its eternal darkness and it felt like no matter how hard I screamed or cried in prayer, God just didn’t hear me.
When I turned 13, that was when everything changed. By this point of time, I had given up on the whole ‘pray the sad away’ thing. I was fully aware, thanks to a different corner of the internet, that I probably had depression which explained the agony that plagued me daily. However, a new person was going to enter the picture and this person would be the catalyst to what I now call a friend: bipolar disorder. I’m not going to go into details but I will tell you this–the amount of pain I have suffered under that person is indescribable. I remember praying for death every single day before I left for school because I couldn’t bear the thought of seeing them again. Anyway, their interference in my life set off an unforgettable chain of events.
In total, I have attempted suicide about 4 times now. The first time I did so was in the month of Ramadhan when I was 13. I remember being on my period then and it was around 8 or 9 pm when I decided I wanted to die. My entire family had gone out for Tarawih prayers at the mosque as we live nearby one but because I was on my period I was left behind. I remember clearly having the debate in my head of “do I really want to die or do I just want to make the pain end?” I even tried calling the suicide hotline as well as some friends to try and talk me out of it.
My best friend (bless her heart) picked up the phone and listened to me through my tears. At the end of it all she apologised because she wasn’t well-equipped to deal with a situation like this and told me to please ask for help from the proper channels. Instead of listening to her like I should have, I chose to follow through with my plan because I felt like I had nothing to live for. My period, to me represented my relationship with God being severed; like God didn’t want anything more to do with me and when my best friend “turned me away” I took that as a sign that I was not wanted anymore. When I woke up the next morning nauseous but very much alive, I was devastated. I had one job and I still couldn’t do it right. I felt like the most pathetic person alive.
Not too long after that incident, I developed severe social anxiety. It was almost impossible for me to leave the house without having a panic attack because I was afraid people would find out about the depression I had been hiding all this while. At this point, my family was sure something was wrong with me but I wouldn’t say a word regarding the matter. In fact, during this period I only communicated by shaking or nodding my head. I did not make eye contact at all for 2 whole months. It was only after confiding to a close family friend that I finally got the help I so desperately needed.
Navigating Singapore’s healthcare system is not easy and neither is it cheap, believe me I have seen the bills. It took me a year to finally see a psychiatrist and even then, it was because my mother begged the head nurse at the polyclinic to cut corners for us because my condition was worsening by the day. I consider myself incredibly lucky to be able to afford and have access to medication and therapy because without them, I absolutely wouldn’t be able to function like the person I am today. I am aware that medication and therapy may not be everybody’s cup of tea but if you are given the opportunity, give them a try; it may actually work. If it doesn’t there are lots of other therapies that you can try, try to find what suits you.
For me personally, religion has played an incredibly huge role in my recovery. Religion is what gives me hope, it’s what motivates me to get out of bed every day and I think the main reason for that is because I grew up in a madrasah environment surrounded by Quranic verses and various Prophetic sayings. Ever since I was young, I’ve always found comfort and refuge in the Quran. Instead of singing us lullabies to get us to sleep, my mother would put in a Quran CD into our radio and let us listen to that all night long. As a result, I’ve grown attached to the Quran and see it as an inanimate companion. Now that I am much older, my desire to know and understand the Quran as well as its contents have served to show me that there is more to life than my illness.
When I was 16, I remember that Ramadhan was the most torturous of all the months because it served to remind me of my first suicide attempt. Contrary to popular belief, suicidal people aren’t proud of their actions. What they do is purely to make the pain stop plain and simple. They don’t do it for attention nor do they do it to garner the sympathy of others, because let’s be honest–our society is anything but sympathetic towards us. On top of that, I was also facing the stress of O levels and all of this did nothing but turn me into an emotional wreck. Throughout the entire month, I was crying constantly.
When I wasn’t crying I was having panic attacks. You can ask my family if you don’t believe me. I would try my hardest to fast because I still wanted to carry out my duties as a servant of God, but there were days where I just couldn’t get out of bed for Sahur. I would follow my family to the mosque every night for Tarawih prayers and without fail, I would always cry my little heart out in prostration. Even reading the Quran which I loved to do so dearly became a challenge for me as I would just burst into tears randomly. Despite all of this, I was the most suicidal I’ve ever been, which explained why my family made me follow them every night to the mosque for they didn’t want another repeat attempt. I fought tooth and nail just to hang onto my religion and ibadah because they were the only things I had left.
Something I discovered during that treacherous time was this gem in Surah Maryam verse 23: (And the pains of childbirth drove her to the trunk of a palm tree. She said, “Oh, I wish I had died before this and was in oblivion, forgotten.”) This is the first time in the entire Quran where suicide is mentioned in a positive light. Now, if you can’t see the positive light yet hang on, let me now point you to the verse following it: (But he called her from below her, “Do not grieve; your Lord has provided beneath you a stream”). Take a moment to think about the fact that one of the greatest women to walk the Earth—Maryam—felt suicidal after giving birth to her son. A prophet at that. When I first read that verse, I sobbed like there was no tomorrow because it felt like God was talking to me directly and that He validated my pain, anger and sorrow. My illness is real and I am not a bad Muslim for being mentally ill. Then the verse following it, was a reminder that at the end there was a reward for those who are patient with the adversities they are afflicted with.
I know that I’m still young and I have a long way to go before I can go around telling people that I’ve tamed the beast within me, but I hope that my experience can help other people especially those who are younger and still trying to come to terms with their diagnosis. In fact, I actually have a lot of hopes with this piece but at the very least I hope your takeaway is that mental illness is a very complex issue and cannot be pin-pointed to just one factor but rather, is a result of multiple factors.
Much love to all the readers and my well-wishes to the dreamers.
A is an ever curious 17 year old student living with rapid cycling bipolar disorder. Her zealousness in life and love for all things pink are the first things people see; but peel that back and you will find creativity and empathy hidden inside. Her only wish is to better the world, one way or another.
Illustration by Ishibashi Chiharu