We are delighted to announce the next Rep for our KindaProud Pocket Book series; Ayan Hussein, who is spearheading our 6th book;
Muslims #Emerging Proud through Mental Distress
Like anyone who has been through a challenging journey and found their more authentic Self as a result, Ayan learned that speaking openly about her distress in a safe space, where she could feel heard and validated enough to make sense of her emotions, was the key to her transformation. Ayan has found her purpose through her pain to support others to speak out and have their distress normalised. Here Ayan describes her journey…
During the first few months of being a mother, I remember feeling different within myself. I was often feeling sad for long periods of time.
I looked in the mirror and realised that I didn’t know who I was anymore.
I let myself go physically, emotionally and mentally.
I was on autopilot, going through the motions and doing what I had to do as a mother.
Despite this, I would always force a smile in front of others. After all I didn’t want anyone to judge me on my parenting and see me as a ‘weak’ person. I would constantly feel tearful and hopeless despite having this “happy mask” on display for others. I was often feeling suicidal, not really to end my life but rather to end my pain.
I recall a day when a family member was talking about mothers that experience symptoms of postnatal depression and the baby blues. I remember thinking that’s exactly how I was feeling. No sooner had I convinced myself I was depressed, than another family member declared; “We are Muslims and we shouldn’t feel depressed, it is not in our culture or religion”.
The day after my eldest was born, a lump appeared in my throat. After a year of many medical tests, the doctors confirmed the lump was a benign tumor, but shortly after I began to experience breathing difficulties. After several hospital visits and further tests it was becoming increasingly clear that the doctors were no further forward in understanding my symptoms.
At that moment my family decided that Ruqya treatment, a form of exorcism in Islam practiced by a Raqi (spiritual healer), might be the answer. Ruqya in Islam is the recitation of the Quran, remembrance and supplications, all used as a means of treating sickness.
My first experience of Ruqya was not a true representation of Islam. Unfortunately, the Raqi abused his power. Spiritual leaders/healers are in a position of trust. It was during this time I was feeling extremely vulnerable and my family turned to this person for support. It was clear he was exerting control over my family, for personal aims and financial gains. This raqi willfully electrocuted my hands while he recited the Quranic verses, under the false pretense of destroying the bad entity that was inside me.
Things took a turn for the worse; I was not able to eat or sleep for two weeks and I began to feel extremely tormented inside. During this period, I experienced several moments involving the apparent perception of something not present to others, which included seeing visions of strange looking people and hearing voices. These moments became worse at night, which made it almost impossible for me to sleep. I also became extremely paranoid of everyone around me, including my own family. I was taken to the nearest Accident & Emergency Centre and my symptoms intensified. During this period, I was in a complete state of shock to the point where I was muted for a few days.
It didn’t end there, I suffered from a major breakdown in my mental wellbeing again after the birth of my second daughter, two years after my first experience of severe mental distress. Yet again my family got worried when I started to get the same symptoms and decided to call a raqi.
Once again I became extremely ill straight after the session with the raqi and my family again took me straight to A&E. My symptoms were so intense to the degree that I believed the hospital staff were sent to capture me. Therefore I became suspicious of their actions.
This led me to become both physically and verbally violent and I was sectioned under the Mental Health Act.
I was taken to the Goodmayes psychiatric hospital. I can recall at one-point staff members were trying to restrain me down. An extreme feeling of fear took over me and I was desperate to get away. There are no words to describe what this experience was like. For some, this matter may seem unimaginable, however only someone who has had this experience might relate. I was eventually given an injection and it knocked me out.
Approximately 2 days later, I had a better awareness of my surroundings and I couldn’t comprehend why I was in hospital amongst people that seemed very unwell.
Eventually, I was moved to a mother and baby unit and this admission marked the beginning of my recovery journey.
Little did I know, when I began this journey, how difficult it was going to be.
Throughout the years, I faced struggles and inner feelings of anger, bitterness, confusion, rejection, and denial. I guess this was due to stigma, which includes self-stigma, lack of acceptance, and lack of knowledge and understanding of mental and emotional distress. I found myself constantly dwelling on the past and projecting it into the future. I frequently experienced flashbacks of the spiritual abuse I suffered.
The turning point was when the urge I had to take responsibility for my life was becoming increasingly irresistible.
I have been on a journey of discovery searching and exploring for different approaches that could aid me in becoming a more emotionally healthy individual. As part of this journey, I have completed a Diploma in counselling skills, emotional health mentoring course and volunteered for various mental health organisations that focus on improving people’s lives. This marked the beginning of my journey of self-research and personal development.
I was part of a research project called ENRICH as a peer worker, which was conducted within the East London Foundation Trust. The 3 years working as a Peer worker for ENRICH, where everyone from the project manager, peer coordinators, researchers and the peer workers all had lived experience. This was the most incredible life changing experience. During this time, I was fortunate to be able to articulate my lived experience and make sense of it.
The most rewarding lesson I learned from ENRICH was the concept of boundaries, both professionally and personally. Setting boundaries based on values that are important to me helps me live a truer life to my authentic self.
For the first time I felt validated, I felt heard, I found clarification to my distress. Healing happens in restoring our lives, sharing our stories in a safe space, without feeling judged or being labeled as our symptoms.
I’ve managed to work through some of my painful traumatic events and incidents from childhood that I had suppressed for many years. I learned not to ignore these feelings and emotions, which makes me feel empowered and strong. I also learned how to help someone else go through it.
I have turned my pain into purpose.
The biggest thing that I’ve realised is that my childhood, my life journey so far and my diverse good and bad experiences, all of these things that I used to think defined me actually don’t define me. Living in the here-and-now defines me. I can only thank Allah (God) for this journey of inner peace and contentment.
“Allah is the best of planners.” (Quran 3:54)
However that does not mean I do not sometimes struggle with my emotions or get overwhelmed. I have now gained the tools and techniques that help me bounce back to reality and support me in being emotionally healthier.
Other methods that have assisted me include CBT therapy, Ruqya from a qualified raqi, and a variety of workshops that cover personal and spiritual development. I undertook counselling with a Muslim counsellor who enabled me to understand what I was going through. I feel that understanding is the key to recovery, the more I learned about my situation the less I feared it.
Taking a holistic approach rather than focusing on one type of method, for example, religious practices have supported me hugely.
Having a great support network also aids one’s recovery journey.
When emotional distress enters a family, the emotional cost can be high and family members can be deeply affected. My family are incredibly supportive, I wouldn’t be writing my story if it weren’t for their continuous support. I believe they have embarked on this journey with me and therefore individually changed for the better.
The recovery journey is unique and a continuous one of learning and growing and I’m still on that journey. My lived experience of emotional distress has been extremely hard and bitter, but I am the closest to being my authentic self than I ever have been, which is rewarding!
I love the woman I’m becoming, full of empathy, compassion, hopes and dreams.
Everything happens for a reason. There’s a hidden blessing behind every complication.
I can accept everything even more because my lived experience has led me to where I am now.
The Islamic concepts of Qadr (Divine decree), tawakkul (trust in Allah) and sabr (patience and forbearance) are finally falling into my body, mind and soul.
I can now accept that life is perfectly imperfect.
I have found my greater sense of purpose, which is helping an individual no matter what background they come from that may be struggling with any type of emotional distress. As well as my spiritual purpose, which my Lord has explained in His book
“And I did not create the Jinn and Mankind except to worship Me” (Quran 51:56).
I suffered. I learned. I changed.
Do you identify as a Muslim having been through emotional distress which has made you stronger? Would you like to join Ayan and the other brave voices aiming to end this silent stigma and #Emerge Proud for your own community and humanity united?
CONTACT US HERE to find out how to share your story for our 6th Pocket Book of Hope;
Muslims #Emerging Proud through Mental Distress