Eat, Sleep, Cry – On Depression and Ways to Overcome it

A few days ago I received a message on my new, underdeveloped Tumblr account. I clicked on the username and was immediately led to a series of updates along the lines of “I’m so fat/ugly, I hate myself,” “I have so much pain, I don’t know how to make it stop,” “Bye, if I don’t reblog or like anything for some days, I’m probably dead,” thankfully followed by a more recent one that simply read “I’m back”. Now these updates appeared to belong to a perfectly normal, sweet young Muslim girl. I got back to her message privately but she never responded, and given my Tumblr Illiteracy (almost as severe as my Instagram one) I do not know how to find her blog again. I really hope she is doing fine.

So yes; depression. It is a quite sad topic but I think it deserves some attention in our community. And given that I know first-hand what depression means and how it feels on the body, being asked by several friends how I managed to get over it myself, I will share my own experience and insights.

Where do we start? With positivity; I’ve been completely depression-free for a good 7 years or so. Naturally, I have my ups and downs just like any normal person out there, but the ups are big, long lasting boosts, and the downs are few and far between. They also only last for some hours at a time, so I really can’t complain. I like to say I’m cured of the illness.

Indeed, depression is the loneliest of illnesses. It doesn’t leave a mark, it just fills the carrier with intangible emptiness that no one but oneself can detect. Perhaps that is why so many share dramatic updates on social media and/or cut themselves; they just want to be seen and heard, to have their pain acknowledged; it is a call for help before it is too late. Yet many dismiss them as attention hungry or not really serious – seriously though, are they serious only when they proceed to actually kill themselves?

Back to me. I was 17-18-19, waking up every day to go to work at a makeup store. To me, that was depressing in itself. I worked with something I detested, I had no defined goal in life, I was stuck in a marriage without a future, and I was not utilizing a single talent I had. These things may very well seem like mere first-world problems to you, but I’m recounting only the latter, lighter stage of depression. Things had indeed been much worse.. So I’d wake up in the weekends (those that I had off of work, anyway) and just stay in bed wondering whether there’d ever been more to life. My existence felt so meaningless; so empty. There were some trips abroad that made me feel temporarily alive and happy, but once wrapped up and back to the real world, I was truly miserable and unhappy.

I made a change one day. Well, it was gradual, but it started with a simple mind exercise. I considered the possibility of living a whole life in the position I was currently in. I deemed it unfeasible; I had to make a move. So I picked up the little I had of self-confidence and independence and decided to follow my dreams to the place that had made me the happiest up to that particular point in time. I decided to escape to Cairo. To a place where I did not feel so different, despite not having fluency in Arabic. To a spot where I could start anew. I went partly for a reason that seems rather crazy in hindsight; I wanted to become an actress cause acting was what I loved doing (more on that later; my “career” only resulted in a tea commercial, before putting on the hijab unexpectedly some weeks later after Ramadan). It wasn’t all a head-over-heels kind of follow-your-dream moment, however. I did have a back-up. Alongside scrambling to get a divorce in the very days before I left, I also signed up to take 4-5 high school exams that December. I had a secret dream of becoming a professor of political science as well at one point in my life.

Life in Cairo was really something else. I did not have the right contacts to pursue acting immediately, and I did not even have a high school diploma to base any kind of resume on. Fortunately, as indicated in the previous sentence, Egypt is all about contacts, and someone I knew fixed an interview with the “boss” of a small recruitment company the Cairo suburb I resided in. I use boss rather than any other word, just because the man was what you would call a true boss in the old fashioned sense of the word. I’ll keep it at that, but I got the job. Which meant a six-day work week and 12+ working hours a day. On an Egyptian salary, yo!

This new situation was possibly even more stressful than the one I had previously found myself in, but at least I had a sense of agency; of accomplishment. I could take major life decisions, and I had the guts to carry it through! Despite slaving at the office and sleeping till one on my only day off, I slowly started healing myself. After half a year I returned to do my exams. I had not gotten the books shipped down, and so I started the readings a couple of days before the first appointment. These were oral exams, where you speak about the given topic and then get asked questions by the two teachers administrating the session. It was quite daunting, especially without the right amount of preparation. My first subject was history, and I was unlucky enough to draw the topic that concerned me the least; the American civil war. I rushed through the 20 minute preparation period, presented with the confidence only a good actress can pretend to have, and left the room. A few minutes later, I was called back to the room. “So Imaan….. What are you planning to do with your life,” inquired the oldest of the two male high school teachers in a rather intimidating tone. Of course, it was very much out of the question to respond with actress or anything along those lines, so I answered with my unfinished, underdeveloped alternative dream. “Professor… I want to become a professor. I want to read, write, and talk about stuff I love,” I said with the same fake confidence utilized for all it was worth earlier on. “Very well,” the man retorted, somewhat more promisingly. “I hope you go ahead and do that. This is the best exam I’ve seen in my 30 retorted years of doing this”.

Although that incident naturally gave me a confidence boost, I won’t lie and say all the rest of the exams were just as great. I did not prepare for most, but managed to pass sometimes with top grades, sometimes with a little less. Most importantly, however, I had started to believe I could. I can. I can really do this. I went back to Egypt for some more months, before quitting my job on the spot in a daring move after having had enough of being pushed around. I left Egypt again to finish up my exams and make money for my studies. I had decided; I was to become a professor. This is my grand goal, and that is the path to getting there. Those are the less enjoyable things I have to undertake to get there. And at this point, ladies; my depression was history.

What useful things can we take out of this individual experience of mine? There are quite a few. Number one; leave the things that make you miserable. I know it is easier said than done; for once, my ex-husband made me think I could never get married again after having a divorce. However, it is a most necessary step. Chances may be daunting to grab, but they are also truly liberating. Yes, you may fail, but the old trite about at least trying still holds true. There was a point where I really had no idea about how to pay the rent and deposit for an apartment, but in the end it solved itself, hard work and some desperation included.  So quit that job, get out of that place. Create your own happiness.

Second, and this ties into the first one; follow your dream, no matter how unattainable it seems. I wanted to become an actress in Cairo and that is pretty crazy itself, considering my lack of wasta and questionable language skills. Yet it brought me there; it fully served its purpose. Following my dream – even if I failed or the dream itself changed – empowered me. A second point and a half is to have a backup, however. Mine was finishing up exams in order to one day attend AUC. As a side note, the AUC thing did not work out either, but that was only because I found a better option.

Another crucial thing is perspective. When one is depressed, it is day in and day out of the same gray reality. Change the way you view the world, and the world will be a truly different place. Have a goal in life; a direction or long-term perspective that helps you tolerate the many less interesting or stressful moments in life. My overreaching goal became the professorship. It seemed so far away when signing up for my first high school exams (and it still is), but if one incorporates milestones of smaller goals along the road, it will make everything much more attainable. I first hoped to get through one exam, then the whole round of exam, then all the high school exams in order to get a diploma. Then it was college. Getting through the first semester was one thing, after which I cruised through the two years in no time. I knew where I was headed for. Grad school is the same thing, albeit far more challenging. Have a goal.

A thing which didn’t shine through in this story but that nevertheless is important is surrounding yourself with positivity. Ditch your frenemy, the one that will never offer a nod of approval or an even veiled compliment. The one who, if you were in trouble, would be nowhere to be found. The one who give you bad vibes; the one who talks about you behind your back. You don’t need her. You need a sole focus on yourself to get through a depression and so even if this friendship goes back to early childhood, you must root out the negativity from your life. Surround yourself with positive people, who, even if a little superficially at times, are generous with compliments. Wallah, that IS just what you need. Of course, having friends who tell you the truth rather than just what you want to hear is a true gift, but you need to avoid negative, sad people.

Build yourself. There’s no one successful method of doing this; it varies greatly from person to person. No matter how you choose to deal with it, you need to take actions that lead to you loving yourself. Really, self-love is that crucial. I’m not suggesting egoism, I’m simply saying that apart from for the obvious providers of unconditional love (i.e. your mother, siblings), it is really difficult to love a person who doesn’t love herself. Get a hobby – something you know you’re good at – which can give you a sense of accomplishment. Scribble five great things about yourself in a notebook in the morning, or note down one good thing you accomplished or did the previous day in the same book at night. Team up with a friend and share between you empowering words about each other’s qualities.

Talk to God. Some of you may not be believers, but having someone listen to your complaints, hopes, and dreams can be really effective. Know that some higher power is out there watching over you, and that you are never alone. Make a lot of dua’, and similarly, when things are better, remember to be thankful for it.

Lastly – and this is a point my roomie added as the good social worker she is – seek professional help. You may need someone to talk to outside of your community who is more tangible than God. I did not take this route because I tend to be more of a DIY-person, but I recognize its potential for people in different situations. It is not a shame; it just shows that you’re taking control of your own destiny by not letting yourself dwell in the gutter. For some people, this may even be the very first step to take.

I realize there are so many things I’ve missed here, but I’d be happy if this reaches and is helpful for just one other girl out there who may be struggling. Please do share your thoughts and add points in the comment field if you have any. Below is the outfit of the day.



Scarf: Urban Outfitters, faux fur: Boohoo, boho army jacket: River Island, oversized shirt: Gina Tricot (Norway), pleated maxi skirt: Urban Outfitters, bag: mom’s closet, shoes: Club Aldo (Egypt), accessories: Norway, New Look, Forever21

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11 thoughts on “Eat, Sleep, Cry – On Depression and Ways to Overcome it

  1. zineb says:

    Assalamu Alaykom sister 🙂 this post made me think about my life. I am having bad moments currently, such as low self-Steem and realizing that my supposed best friends aren’t “that” friends with me. I cant stand having this feelings. You may have had harder problems than mine, but you made me think about changing this no matter what the consequences will be. I hope now everything is going well for you sis and we should never forget to say Alhamdulillah 🙂

  2. Assalamu Alaikum. I have definitely suffered from depression and anxiety at various times in my life. I fully agree with your points about taking some action no matter how small or challenging. As you say it is not a magic cure, it takes time. And I have at various times sought counselling – just for short periods of time to help provide me with some extra tools and tips for moving forward. In addition I find nutrition and exercise to be of enormous help.

    To be honest, it does creep up on me from time to time in life – longer periods of time where I just can’t seem to feel good. But knowing that it is not forever and that I have the toolkit to move myself out of it is key.

    I don’t expect to always be happy and I don’t expect that if this or that happens, life will be perfect. I have learned to embrace this and be grateful for the good times and trust that the downs are leading me to something better than I could have imagined. Faith and trust in Allah (swt) helps with that. (As well as a good run in the park.)

    Thank you for posting.

  3. Phd too :) says:

    I think I can relate a little. But my depression-ish-ness (I still have issues calling it that, because I’m not on Prozac or anything like that and I don’t want to sound dramatic to people) started after I graduated from my masters degree. I didn’t feel like I had achieved anything. I didn’t even go to my graduation even though my family were wondering why I didn’t go. And my friends missed me at graduation. And hit an even deeper low.
    Looked for a job for a while, no joy. Then decided a phd would be good. I started it and my colleagues were very odd, not your normal office dynamics at all. Then I came to know my supervisor. Push came to shove and I ended up doing a phd…wait for it…for free! I have no stipend, so I’m more broke than most postgrad students. Obviously hit me to an even lower low. Then came the behavioural changes: overtly happy, overtly sad and sobbing intermittently/crying, anger really bad at the point of outcasting myself from people who love me, not eating, eating too much, no social interaction! It was bad and my parents were noticing my weird ups and downs.
    I am better now, I’m writing my thesis now, only have til September! I cannot wait to finish! So my phd stemmed my depression-ish-ness. I’m glad to be finishing it and I’ve been offered two jobs at once, I’m wanted I’m in demand! And that’s what’s keeping me going.
    I’ve stopped comparing myself to others achievements now too, which makes it worse. I’m awesome in my own way. Thanks for your post…
    Phd student from UK 🙂

  4. Anonymous says:

    I am currently suffering from my own depression, and I’d like some help but it’s easier said than done considering the environment I’m in. I am quiet young and most people brush past my depression because of my age, 16, they say it’s just a phase which I’ll get over well its been a couple of months now and I haven’t gotten over as of yet. Whatever I touch seems to break and I put my hopes in something and it just dies out. I don’t know what to do, ive been trapped in my own mind for, we’ll since I was 7. I’ve rarely ever seemed for help but when I do, it doesn’t work. I’ve tried everything. I don’t know what to do anymore. This is the first I’ve publicly announced my life.

    • Phd too :) says:

      Hi…hope you don’t mind me replying to you. I think the best option for you is to go to see your GP. Having been there (and still recovering) depression is very real and I think that professional help can lead you in the right direction for you. Recovery is a very personal process as everybody is very different I, thankfully, had my sister and parents who understood what was happening. And I think part of what made it better was that I had people there for me who did not deny what was happening to me. I know it’s probably no consolation, but I believe you. But all I can urge you to do is please go and seek professional advice. The first step (and you’re already there) is admitting there is something wrong. That is a most positive step in the healing direction. But please, please go and see your GP. Hope you get to see this 🙂

  5. Thank you for bringing something like this to your blog. So many Muslim women have issues they don’t feel like they can talk about with others. And sometimes when you’re going through something, you think you’re the only one who feels a certain way. It really helps to know that whatever you feel, there is likely someone who has been through something similar and is willing to help out. I appreciate your candor and loved this post.

  6. mizdeeza says:

    I absolutely love this post. At some time, almost every young woman goes through a season of depression and sometimes it is just so annoying because it feels like no one understands and you really don’t know how to get your life back. Congratulations, you just helped one more girl. :*

  7. Mahdia says:

    That was a wonderful post! An insightfulness I haven’t read in a long time.

  8. Salam Imaan,
    I’m thrilled by your honest words, I’m sute that you will make a good professor Inchaalah.
    I also had a similar experience with depression, in relation with my studies. Thanks to God, with a little help of my family and a big conviction I moved on, trying to accomplish my dreams without giving up.
    Thanks for talking about this common, nevertheless censurable topic.

  9. Smile Sadaqa says:

    Asalamu alaikum,

    Thanks for writing this. Sometimes as Muslim we think we shouldn’t ask for professional help when we’re seriously depressed, as if we’re failing in our trials, but we have to realise that clinical depression is an illness which can be treated. Most of us don’t feel bad about going to the doctor when we have a physical illness, but mental illness remains a taboo (proof: I had double-thoughts about using that term here).

  10. Leila says:

    Salam Alykom Iman
    I just want to thank you so much for this post. It boosts me up and gives me hope for the future. I don’t usually talk about my problems but i’m going through a depression myself and I got married and moved to michigan 5 months ago. Going through a divorce now..well kinda struggling to get it, Hamdulillah parents are very supportive because of the circumstances that brought me to this point. I have been thinking that nobody would want to marry me again because of our culture’s mentality and all the people talking behind my back, thinking I’m the wrong and crazy to get a divorce after 5 month. But it reached a level I couldn’t handle it anymore. Anyway, i’m seeing the bright side now and Inshallah time will heal and things will go back to normal again. May Allah bless u and wishing you all the best.

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