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themuslimhippie

At the intersection of race, culture and mental illness

What I Mean When I Say I’m Lonely

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Here’s the thing. I’m not mad at anybody for not understanding what I go through on a daily basis. Everybody has their own struggles and their own issues. I understand that. What hurts is when I say I’m lonely and isolated, and I want to explain what this feels like, people always rush to commiserate. And for a moment I think, maybe I’m not the only one living in a black hole, in this box of nothingness. People say, ‘reach out’, ‘tell someone when you’re hurting’ and I think ok, that sounds easy enough. The lonely ones will get my language. They’ll know what to look for when I’m being swallowed up by the echoes of my walls. My townhouse has a lot of them. The hardwood floors and cascading ceilings make the sounds of nothingness worse. Especially at night. You see, not having a family and no one to talk to day after day makes the walls and ceilings absorb silence in a way you can only imagine if you live alone. If you’ve lived alone for years as I have. I have 3 kids and I was married for 11 years. The loneliness you feel when surrounded by people, particularly children and a spouse is nothing like the loneliness you feel when you are utterly alone. When you are the only one in the house. I’ve lived it; it’s worlds apart. And I’m starting to resent when people try to compare their loneliness to mine. It’s not the same at all. If it were, people would have known I was in trouble last night when I was suicidal and hurting. They would have reached out instead of ignoring me and shutting me down. I felt completely abandoned by the universe and it really hurt. But then I realized that if I were going to survive this bout with loneliness, I had to talk to myself the way I always talk to my friends when they need me. So that’s what I did all night. It wasn’t easy. I tweeted and stayed online. I didn’t let myself sleep. I knew if I went to sleep, I wouldn’t wake up. I just kept telling myself affirming messages as if I were encouraging a friend who was in trouble. I cried a lot, because I was hurt that no one was there. But I kept telling myself I could do it. And soon enough the rain ended and the morning came. I had made it through the night alhamdulillah. I took my medicine and slept most of the day. In the evening I started to feel better. It’s night now and I’m still not out of the woods. But I’m recovering. I never want to have to do that again. But I know now that I can if I need to. But also I want people to stop telling me they understand loneliness because they really don’t. I’m still waiting to find someone who does.

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What Life is Like on Disability

The reality is it isn’t easy. By the time you’re actually approved for disability you’re usually destitute. There’s no other way to put it. Even if you get a large sum of back pay, you’ve exhausted your savings and built up so many medical bills and other expenses that by the time you see your check, it’s all but spent. Don’t get me wrong, I’m extremely grateful to be able to sustain myself with what I receive from social security. And to know that I can also write on the side and teach students in my spare time to keep myself busy when I’m feeling up to it makes me happy. But none of these things create a windfall for me. I’m scraping by every month and barely surviving. If it weren’t for my mosque supporting me with zakat (charity), and help from my ex-husband occasionally, I wouldn’t make it. The thing is I used to have money. When I was married, things were fine. Better than fine, actually. But getting sick ruined my finances. And I haven’t been able to get myself together ever since. It’s like I’m treading water every month. I’ve often mentioned my issues with eating and my disordered patterns, but frankly, sometimes I just don’t have the money for groceries. So I don’t eat, simple as that. Everybody I know on disability is in a similar position. No matter how much they receive. They all tell me that their initial savings went quickly and they have trouble managing on what they receive each month. It’s really challenging. But nevertheless, I am still grateful for the fact that I have health insurance and some semblance of a paycheck. Things will get better. They always do. And my writing has already been helping me so much lately. So I can’t complain. I just wish more people were understanding of my situation. It’s hard struggling in silence. I feel like I’m alone in what I’m going through, until I remember those dealing with the same situation. That helps me not dwell on my problems and feel so sad. I’m eagerly awaiting the day when I don’t have to decide between paying a bill and buying a meal for the day. Then I’ll be able to focus solely on my emotional and mental well-being, and spending more time with my kids. It’s coming, I can feel it… 🙂

Disability and Mental Illness

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I began thinking about applying for disability in 2012. I had lost my job after a bad manic episode. At that time my mom was battling inflammatory breast cancer as well, and my children had just returned from a four year stay in Senegal with their father’s family. Stressed out doesn’t even come close to my mental state at the time. I simply couldn’t work under those conditions. I couldn’t even get off my couch or take care of myself in any capacity. I had no concept of functional self-care in any sense and I was barely lucid. After my mom passed away in early 2013, I became completely unstable. I went into a psychotic depression, sleeping off and on for several months. I was paranoid and delusional. I lashed out at those around me, accusing them of the worst things imaginable. My behavior was almost unrecognizable, and yet no one suggested I go to the hospital or even to my psychiatrist to get evaluated. They just lectured me to get myself together and stop acting out. Days merged into nights and I never knew what time it was or even the month. I developed bronchitis and then pneumonia but I still never left my house. I was too psychologically unwell. My primary care doctor was able to get antibiotics to my house as she knew I’d never make it to the emergency room for treatment.

At some point that winter, I finally decided to contact an attorney to help me file the paperwork for my disability claim because I knew I couldn’t complete it on my own. I remember telling the clerk I felt so poorly that if someone offered me a salary to simply staple papers all day, I’d have to decline because I didn’t have the energy to operate the stapler. I just couldn’t do anything productive. Even breathing was painful. I wanted to die. It took me 2 long years before I was able to get a hearing with a disability judge. My case was denied twice before that time. It was decided that I was sick, but not sick enough for disability. So I wanted to plead my case in front of a judge to see what would happen. On the day of my hearing, I was extremely nervous. Someone offered me a ride to the courthouse, because by this time I had stopped driving. I didn’t live on my own anymore either; I was staying with a family friend until I got back on my feet. Losing my mom took everything out of me. I was a shell of a person. Going to the courthouse was scarier than I thought it would be. My social anxiety was raging that day.

When it was my turn to go into the courtroom, my knees turned to jelly. I thought I was going to be sick. My attorney escorted me into the large room and showed me to the table where I would sit for the next hour. There were several people in the room already: The judge, the court reporter, a spectator/another disability lawyer, someone reviewing my case, and then my attorney. It was overwhelming and frightening. I felt like I was on display and I immediately wanted to run from the room screaming. But I couldn’t. I felt trapped. I sat at the table and shakily poured myself a glass of water. But I was too nervous to drink it. My attorney sat at an adjacent table. The judge introduced herself and explained why we were all there. She tried to put me at ease but it only made my anxiety worse. She asked me to begin telling my story and explain how I had come to be hampered by my mental illness. She wanted me to recount what had gone on for the last two years. But what scared me was that she had my medical records in front of her. How could I possibly remember all of that? I started talking and began stuttering right away. I do that when I’m nervous. Everybody in the room looked at me, puzzled. That made me more anxious and I continued stammering. I couldn’t stop. It was hard for me to put together a coherent sentence. My attorney looked so confused. Just a few minutes ago I was speaking clearly and without stuttering. I could tell she didn’t know what had happened and if I was faking my stutter. I was so embarrassed, but I had to keep talking. It was excruciating. My face was so hot, I thought it would explode. It felt like I was talking for hours.  When I was done, the judge asked me a bunch of questions. I felt defensive and angry. If my medical history was right there, why was I being cross examined? It made me feel like a criminal. I was sad and humiliated. Everybody in the room could hear my most personal medical details; the worst parts of my disorder and what it had done to me. I’ve never been so ashamed in my life. I knew the judge wasn’t trying to hurt me and yet I felt demoralized by her pointed questions. All this in order to determine if my mental illness was in fact debilitating and disabling. This wasn’t fun at all. When it was finally over, she concluded that my medical records supported what I had testified to and that she would make a ruling in about 6 weeks. My attorney said that was a positive sign that things had gone in our favor.

In the end, I was declared fully disabled and entitled to benefits. But the point of my story is that when I hear people speak disparagingly about those receiving help from the state, it traumatizes me all over again. That was one of the worst experiences of my life. It was bad enough to have to live like that for those years. In a fog of complete mental instability and confusion. But then to have to recount it in a room full of people as though I was on trial was something that hurt in a way I can’t explain. I don’t mind being disabled by my mental illness. But when I think about that day, I hate my disorder and what it’s done to my life. I hate that I had to tell a group of people about my illness in that way because it isn’t readily visible and obvious. That’s what hurts and shames me. And that’s what I resent about the disability process.

Vulnerability

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I was feeling vulnerable. I was feeling less than pretty. I was feeling old and worn, discarded by society somehow. I needed validation in that moment. I needed acceptance and maybe a bit of ego stroking. I’m human too, after all. But I was rebuffed. I was brushed aside like my feelings don’t even matter. That really hurt. I didn’t say anything though. I never do in those situations. I don’t feel comfortable expressing when I’m feeling like I need more from people. I’m embarrassed to be so complicated. And it hurts that being ignored makes me feel so deeply wounded and unaccepted. I hate this about myself. It makes me feel so exposed and raw. So easily able to be dragged over the coals of indifference at a moments notice. So I just sat there, in the dark, in my house. And pretended everything was fine. I laughed and joked like I wasn’t dying inside. As if I didn’t want to retreat to my inner most feelings cave and never come out. I willed myself not to simply disappear. I’m still fighting the urge. Part of me wants to write and get my feelings out, and part of me wants to run and hide in a dark corner where no one can ever find me. I want to hide in shame because I hate that I need validation from others at times. I desperately want this to change. And quickly so I never have to feel this way again. So I’m never having to force myself not to walk away from the world when I don’t get what I need. Being vulnerable like this feels like a curse.

What My Life Was Like When My Kids Were Overseas

Slay Girl Society

Today’s guest blog post from The Muslim Hippie focuses on a difficult period in her life. For other blog posts from the same author, click here to read her article on being a Muslim parent with a mental illness and here to read about parenting with a mental disability.

I’ve often written about the fact that my children went to live in Senegal when I had my first mental health breakdown in 2008. It was a psychotic depression to be exact. My husband at the time and I decided it would be best to send our 3 children to his family because I was so sick, and because of his busy work schedule. We just didn’t want the kids to suffer because of what we were going through. It wasn’t an easy decision but it had to be done. I’ll never forget the day they left. My children were 4…

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Loneliness, Addiction and Lack of connection

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People say the opposite of addiction is connection. I struggle with loneliness and a feeling of not being connected a lot of the time. I also have what is known as an addictive personality. So it doesn’t come as a surprise to me that I would have developed addiction issues and alcohol dependence at a point during my life. I talk about my mental health issues every day both online and in real life. But my emotional issues I don’t address as often. I believe those issues are at the root of why I struggled with addiction when I did. And why I have an addictive personality in general. It’s why I have such a deep feeling of loneliness even when I’m in a crowded room, and why even though I have such a tight-knit, loving family, I often feel starved for attention.

I remember times back when I was deeply entrenched in my alcohol dependence or stimulant addiction. I used because I was so very lonely and sad. I reached for the bottle and/or pills back then to stave off those feelings of soul crushing loneliness. I often drank or used when I was alone. That’s the thing about my addiction. I wasn’t as much a social user as I was a lonely user. That makes me sad when I think about it; even though I’m better now. I’m sad for that person and for who she was. And even when I partied with other people, I used to excess. I drank to a point of alcohol poisoning many times in my life. I’m not proud of that. And I used pills to a point where I was scared my heart would stop or I’d have a stroke. Repeatedly. But that didn’t stop me from using. I kept doing it over and over again, for many years. I needed to numb my pain. I still do in fact. I always will, I just have found healthy outlets for my needs. And I have learned how to control my appetite for those feelings. But it hasn’t been easy.

I spend time with my friends when I can, and I talk about my feelings with those who understand. Though that is a slippery slope in and of itself. Talking about addiction too much can make me want to use again, so I have to be careful. Being around people who use or used to is hard. Because I never know how well they are and if they will backslide. And I’m always one slip away from falling into addiction again. Alcohol was easy for me to overcome. I could fall back on my religion for help with my drinking habits. There was simply no justification for me to drink anymore and I really didn’t need it; even when I was manic. So I quit cold turkey. But the pills were much harder. I absolutely needed them for my medical condition of excessive daytime sleepiness and adhd. If I don’t take them I fall into an almost narcoleptic like sleep. It happens in the spring mostly but also it’s a function of my bipolar and depression issues. So I almost can’t escape using stimulants. My neurologist practically insists on me taking them, even though he knows I have bipolar disorder. So I have had to muscle through my addiction with them. Thankfully, I overcame it, mostly on my own. I’m proud and grateful for the work I’ve done, knowing that it came easier to me than for a lot of people. For that, I give thanks to Allah and I say many prayers of gratitude.

My loneliness comes and goes. But as I make more friends, I notice I feel more connected and less alone in the world. I think a part of me will always be lonely. That’s the little girl in me that just feels sad no matter what. I accept that. It’s just a part of who I am. Writing this has helped. And meeting new people online everyday has also been a blessing. I do believe that the opposite of addiction is connection. I am working hard at staying connected and staying addiction-free for the rest of my life. As I said the other day, I love my life now. I intend to keep it that way.

Love, Unanswered

*I wrote this short paragraph one night when I was feeling particularly vulnerable. I was involved in an unconventional friendship with a person who at the time didn’t see me the way in which I saw him. It made our friendship very challenging to say the least. 

I want him to take me seriously. To see me; all of me, no matter how wild and uncontrolled that ‘me’ is. As a person, I mean. Not as a group of symptoms to be managed. Or a challenge to overcome. I wonder if he could ever love me. I don’t care about his situation and if he’s available. That’s not what I’m talking about. I just want to know if someone like him could ever love someone like me. Is it even possible? I wonder and I hope… 

Loneliness and Isolation

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Nobody really understands loneliness. At least that’s how I feel. And it’s probably different for each person. For me loneliness is like a sudden vacuum of feelings and emotions. Like the wind has been knocked out of me and I can’t breathe. It’s as if the world is spinning without me and I’m watching from inside my little bubble. I can see people going about their daily lives and routines, but I can’t join in. And that hurts more than anyone can imagine. I feel all alone in this world. Like if I were to die today, that no one would notice or miss a beat. And the pain of that realization is so crushing that sometimes I can’t stand it. People say to reach out when I’m feeling like this and to let others know I’m struggling. But that’s just it. I can’t. I can’t tell anyone how badly I’m hurting inside. I feel like I’m stuck behind a glass wall. I’m pounding on that wall with my fists, screaming to be let out, begging to be noticed. But nobody notices. Everyone just keeps walking right on by.

Everything makes my loneliness worse. Not having a family of my own, being single, living with roommates who are never home, having friends who are always busy, etc. I feel like I live on this planet alone sometimes. It’s one of the reasons I spend a lot of time on social media these days. In addition to receiving many jobs through my media outlets, I try to stave off feelings of loneliness by talking with online friends during the day. Anything to forget I don’t have what I want or need in real life to keep me occupied or engaged. Even when I do interact with people in real life, I feel this soul crushing loneliness. It is so painful. I could be in a room full of people and suddenly feel like bursting into tears. Even when I’m engaging in a conversation, in the back of my mind I’m thinking, “None of these people really understands me”. I hate that feeling. I know it may not be true. But I can’t help feeling that way. And I don’t know how to overcome it. I was thinking to join a group in my area for people who suffer from being isolated. Maybe that will help me get out of my shell and help me interact with others who are in a similar situation. I do know that people truly understand. But anxiety tells me I’m the only one feeling this way, which forces me to stay closed off.

I don’t want to wallow in my loneliness. I’ve listened to therapists who explain how to overcome this and how to feel better. And I know I’m not the only one. So I will put my best foot forward and try to reach out when I’m feeling lonely and isolated. It’s going to take so much work, but I don’t want to feel like this forever. Loneliness is the monster that has been seeking to destroy me for so long. I am determined not to let him win. It’ll be the fight of my life, but hopefully I’m up for the challenge.

Getting help for suicidal thoughts online

Let me try to explain why I had a knee jerk negative reaction to the news that Facebook is launching suicide prevention tools on its site the other day. First off I think it’s praiseworthy that the company is trying to help people who are suicidal, of course. That goes without saying. But I had a trigger response to the idea that someone like me might one day feel suicidal and post something there that would be policed, and I felt scared all of a sudden. Really scared. Though I’ve often been truly suicidal, I don’t actually want to die. And when I’m suicidal, I’m not thinking rationally at all. I got scared that I might see or read something that though it’s intended to help, might scare me into doing the very thing I shouldn’t. That’s how suicidality is for me. Sometimes when people try to help, I run the other way out of fear. That’s why I often end up hospitalized for suicidal thoughts and ideation. For me, suicidality is it’s own mental illness, if you will. If I were able to think clearly, I wouldn’t want to take my own life in the first place and I wouldn’t need psychiatric help.

But that’s just me. I know everyone doesn’t have my experience. However this is why I reacted so poorly when I read the news and why I got so frightened. It’s why I’d still be scared to post anything on Facebook if I were ever suicidal again. I can’t be sure how I’d react to any type of help that didn’t come from a person talking to me face to face, in a safe environment. For me, it’s too precarious and I may make a permanent mistake that I don’t intend. So though I thoroughly support Facebook in their mental health efforts, I know I can’t utilize the services if I’m feeling suicidal. I just can’t take the risk.

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