Muslim Girl in America

I'm an American girl, born and raised, and a Muslim.

The Thing Is …

on November 17, 2013

Depression can hit at the oddest times. Growing up, I was mostly alone. I don’t have a sister, and I didn’t have any other family nearby. There weren’t that many (or any for the most part) Muslim girls my age (or really Muslims in general) where I grew up. All that’s changed now, of course, as there is a great Muslim community in my hometown, but growing up, for me, was quite lonely.

High school was the worst. I was teased, taunted, and made fun of at times, but (and I think this was worse) I was mostly avoided. I played music (mostly the clarinet in high school band), so I found some people I could hang out with through there and became part of group. But they didn’t really care about me or my background. Writing helped me through those four years. I started writing poetry in high school and let my imagination run away with me when things got tough. Like when angry, hurtful notes slipped into my locker. I was very depressed through a lot of high school. Looking back, I wonder that no one ever said anything to me, considering how broken and sad I looked most of the time. I remember at one point my dad, who was saying goodbye when leaving for a business trip, ended by saying, “Be happy.” Even my parents knew I was sad and depressed, but they didn’t do anything about it. And they thought the solution might be as simple as telling me to ‘be happy’.

College was better. I learned a great deal (and I LOVE to learn) and met some great people. I became a little more independent and confident (maybe they’re related?) and I charted a path for my career and life. I worked three jobs through much of it, but I supported myself and gained more independence.  Then 9/11 happened, and all the world changed. I was tormented once again but on a whole new level. I worked and wrote my way through the hard times.

After my undergrad, I took a year off and saved my money. I then spent the summer backpacking around Europe with a friend of mine (she had not been to Europe before either). It was an incredibly eye-opening and joyful experience. I realized a great many things about myself and about how others perceive me. I realized that no one ever bothers to really look at me and see what’s underneath. They never see the pain or, if they do, they ignore it.

Grad school (my first grad degree) was great. I met the friends that I am still the closest to, who I really consider my sisters in life. I had to stick close to home again (my parents, alternatively, fell ill and needed help) and I worked three jobs again, but I made do. I remember one day, at my job at a coffee shop, I overheard two of my co-workers talking about people who were unhappy or depressed. One of them said she simply didn’t understand how people could choose to be unhappy. I wanted to shout out that sometimes it’s not a choice! That sometimes you’ve just been sad for so long that you don’t know anything else. You can’t be anything else.

Eventually, I moved to my current locale when I couldn’t get a good job in my hometown. I had a roommate, and the experience was eye-opening. Again, I realized that no one ever bothered to see the pain I hid underneath. This was a dark, depressive year for me. I just wanted help, even the simplest help with cleaning and cooking and grocery shopping. I was working multiple jobs again (until I could find a decent one), working from 4am-11pm some days, and I was incredibly exhausted. Even a stranger on the subway asked me if I was okay one day, and I could see the empathy in his eyes; after a quick glance at my reflection, I could see the weariness plastered across my face. My roommate never had to pay for much (as her parents were very blessed and could cover her expenses), but I was not as blessed and always had to pay for everything. I wish I had been blessed in such a way as she, but that’s not the life I was given. And God doesn’t give you more than you can handle, I’ve heard, so I toughed it out.

The next year, I moved into my own place. I now had a full-time job, but still needed to work multiple jobs to get the bills paid. So many bills. Coming all the time. My boss at the FT job turned out to be an asshole who treated me … poorly … shall we say. I just wanted someone to care enough to help me.  I would ask for help, but each person I turned to, turned me away.

One day, I had an epiphany. My eyes full of tears, my heart full of sorrow, I was sick and tired of being treated like shit. And I realized, I was alone. Sure, I had some great friends but they couldn’t stop the pull others had on me. I had to pull myself out, and push myself forward despite how the others dragged me down. People would always pull and push me down I realized, but who said they had to win that tug-of-war? I can’t control their behavior, but I can control mine. A simple, common-sense statement, to be sure, but awfully hard to achieve at times.

It was a turning point for me, emotionally. No, I didn’t just ‘become happy’ all at once. But I did my best to focus on the positive instead of the negative. And that’s what I try to do each day. I try to focus on what I am, not on what others want me to be, or what they may say to me. I focus on the good things I have going.

And this blog is one way I do that. So THANK YOU to those who read about my joys and struggles as a Muslim woman, and as a human being. Thank you to those who leave comments, from all over the world. Thank you for sending others to come visit me, too. And thank you to the other writers out there (Kristen Lamb and Wil Wheaton, to name a few) who share their dark times, or just provide support by talking about it.

Depression is not an easy thing to live with. I not only live with it, but I have lived with those who have it, too. If you know of someone who’s depressed or just unhappy, just ask ‘What’s wrong?’ over coffee one day, and mean it. Don’t walk away, don’t turn your back. When someone wants help, they don’t always need help with all of it. They may just be feeling overwhelmed and you can help with a project at work or school. It is sometimes the little actions that make the most difference, not the big ones.

There is such a stigma against mental illness in the world, and in my culture as well. People equate mental illness with violence, and people are described as ‘disturbed’ or ‘crazy’, which is such a dismissive adjective. Think about it – the last time you heard someone described as ‘crazy’, what happened? People used to think that women who had PMS or were undergoing menopause were mentally ill. But we redefined what mentally ill meant, and we need to do that again.  We will do that again.

YOU ARE NOT ALONE. To learn more, you can visit the National Alliance on Mental Illness, or countless other sites on the Internet or facilities in your town. If you need help, you can also call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline (1-800-273-8255).

Thanks for reading -M


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