Sound mental (and physical) health according to Muslim physicians is related to having a balanced temperament and proportionate humours which represents the constituents of the human body. When these are imbalanced, illnesses can occur and one of the means of medical cure is by taking measures to rectify the imbalances.
In Western Medicine, diseases of the mind have been given names according to clusters of symptoms and patterns. Amongst one of those labels is what is called schizoaffective disorder which is characterised by abnormal thought processes and an unstable mood and is estimated to affect almost 1-2 in every 200 people. The risk of completed suicides is particularly high in this group, and aside from this group of individuals, overall it is said that one million people die by suicide every year and the recorded figures are increasing annually.
In support of World Mental Health Day, an initiative started by the World Federation for Mental Health (WFMH) over 25 years ago, promoted by the World Health Organisation (WHO) and in collaboration with efforts from over 150 different countries, we have yet another heartfelt account of the suffering and journey of an individual who was affected severely by mental health issues and battled with suicidal thoughts.
The theme the WFMH have identified for this year is “Mental Health Promotion and Suicide Prevention”. These are very real issues that Muslim scholars and doctors have addressed over the centuries. This piece is a very personal account of somebody who went through an ordeal that they found terrifying when they became mentally unwell. The author acknowledges that at one stage they were no longer of sound mind, and it is from the Mercy of Allah that when somebody loses their sanity they are not held accountable for what they do. As a reminder, as Muslims we show mercy and compassion to our brothers and sisters in their times of need.
I was sectioned… which means I was detained by force and made to comply with treatment on a psychiatric ward against my will.
Most people actually are voluntarily there but my situation was different. There are many types of sectioning powers and to be sectioned means that the legislation in the UK under the mental health act has been applied and its intention is not just enforcing assessment and treatment but also to protect the patient and other people. It was a scary time.
During 2015, I was diagnosed initially with bipolar disorder but that changed to a diagnosis of schizoaffective disorder. The changing labels shows how dynamic my symptoms became and also how ambiguous the symptoms were. This was a horrible and scary time for me as a young adolescent.
At first, I was in denial of what was happening to me and this led to matters escalating even further. It started off in school: I would attend my classes with either a really high mood where I would be overly excited and act as if I’m ready to take on almost any challenge at all costs, or I would end up entering school substantially depressed where I would sit in one spot quietly and ignore what was going on. During this stage, my mind would go blank and my thought process would become dysfunctional. It doesn’t just switch between instants but there would be several days and sometimes weeks between the two extremes.
Some people might think what’s wrong with being in a manic high mood, but it isn’t the same as being in a good mood.
It’s a mindset that can make you do dangerous things without thinking and without taking risks into account. When I was like that, I couldn’t even structure my sentences properly.
My mind was full of ideas and I would have a strong desire to share them, but they would merge into one another and wouldn’t make sense. It was something as follows “Hello… Do you remember when the… Umm… Car… No… Beach towel…. Do you remember when… Umm… This happened… Then that happened.”
During the lows my work rate became poor, in fact it was poor in both mood states. But during the depressive phase I became a lot less focused in class to the point where I would doze off and leave a blank desktop screen open when I should be doing work, and so much of that was because of a lack of energy, enjoyment and motivation for so many things. After getting to a bad low, somehow, I would switch to tragic manic episodes. I remember at the time I didn’t accept that there was anything wrong with my mood at all. Alhamdulillaah, I am glad that I still have my friends and family there for me. This shows that if you surround yourself with the right people, good comes out of it. There are many people who lose their family and friends, without meaning to, because of how a person with bipolar or schizoaffective disorder becomes.
These manic episodes would lead to me doing things which are hard to explain now when I look back. I would verbally lash out at my friends and family and it didn’t make sense. Also, I would have thoughts or ideas and irrational plans about how to make money by selling food and drinks in schools. There were also many little things adding up that would occur during manic episodes and I can hardly remember so much of it.
The way that I was able to recognise how to differentiate between manic episodes and normality and depression was by noticing that my mind would travel dysfunctionally at 100 miles per hour when manic, and when depressed it could become the complete opposite.
I also had suicidal thoughts and acted on some of those thoughts. This was the hardest part for my family, and it is sad to think that anyone, but especially someone as young as I was, would have suicidal thoughts. As a young Muslim who was also trying to learn more about Islam, many would not understand how to make sense of that and would only notice the contradictions in my behaviours and thoughts.
I missed school in order to attempt suicide and I made two attempts in one day.
I took some kitchen knives and went to a river to actually end my life. This is how fragmented the illness made my mind. When I went to reach for the knives from my pocket, I bent over to see if this was the desired spot to end my life. And before I knew it, by the will of Allah, all of the knives fell out into the water and travelled with the current. On the second attempt later in the day, I went into town and collected a bungee cord from a DIY shop and returned back to my area to the nearest park. I managed to tie the rope to the tree and AGAIN, by the will of Allah, I was stopped. Just as I was tying the cord around my neck, I received a phone call from my sibling which went something like as follows:
“I heard you’re not in school, is everything okay?”
“I wasn’t feeling well. I’m on the way home now”.
I left the rope where it was and returned home, as if nothing had happened.
It shows sometimes how what might be seen as a minor contact from someone can have a major impact on a fellow Muslim.
The monstrosity of my symptoms caused so much damage. It might be said it hits you in a way that doesn’t give you a choice, because as I was making those suicide attempts, the thoughts in my head kept on going on and on, and telling me things like I am worthless and there is no need to live anymore.
My manic episodes were at their peak during my sibling’s wedding preparations, leading me to miss the entire wedding. I was isolated in my mother’s bedroom, away from the busy household, and only a few family members would enter, as I was really manic, to the point that I was not recognised as a sane human and they were also getting tired, frightened and stressed too.
I had weird delusions and bizarre ideas, hallucinations where I was experiencing things that I couldn’t see, like hearing voices, and I had abnormal thoughts, like my thoughts were not in my control.
My older cousin was the first in my family to consider this as being a mental health issue and persuaded my family to take me to the hospital. He came to this conclusion by visiting my friends and asked them questions about my behaviour over the past couple of months, since my friends were the ones who experienced my behaviour firsthand and they knew something wasn’t right.
In my family the perception of this being a mental illness was something that carried a lot of stigma and was not accepted. I was sent for ruqyah first (so that someone qualified could recite things to protect me and supplicate for me), which is a good and necessary thing to be done. Immediately, my family was advised by the one who did the ruqyah that it was a mental illness and I should seek medical attention.
Finally, I went to the hospital. I was put into a room which had a fan and everything seemed as if it was in high definition, as my senses were very sensitive. It was almost as if I was sitting in a 4D cinema room because every little sound ticked me off and made me scream, to the point where I screamed all day until I fell asleep.
When I was going to get sectioned, a doctor from the home treatment team came to my house to assess me and I was taken out of the house. Two police officers had to assist as I was resisting. They then let my cousin take over, leading me to the police van. I thought I was in a video game because that’s what hallucinations do to you. So I put on my hood and tried to lash out at the police. When I reached the hospital, I was getting dragged in by my arms because I was resisting so much. This is because my thoughts and hallucinations made me distrust what was going on. It was terrifying. I was put in a room with a thin mattress on the floor and suddenly four nurses came and held me down and injected me with something that knocked me out for 24 hours. I spent a month in that hospital.
My illness escalated, and the medications they were giving were not working and they decided I needed a placement in what is called maximum security. I stayed in this maximum security for four months. A lot occurred in that time. I was also treated in a way that is hard for me to put into words. My illness had gone on a long time. There were also some uplifting experiences that I remember too. The nurses told me that they liked taking care of me, because although I had plenty of manic episodes, I was always one of the friendliest ones to the doctors, nurses, and other patients. I was told that even when someone is ill, most of the time their underlying personality remains, so a friendly person stays friendly and an aggressive person is aggressive.
A section is not the nicest way of receiving treatment. When I was having a manic episode that they couldn’t contain, they threw me into a seclusion box which had bulletproof windows and a mat to lie on.
On reflection I think it actually helped, though I often felt like I was being treated like a prisoner.
I was allowed to have visitors after the first couple of weeks, but these visits were not every day because it was costly for my family to travel so far away to come and see me.
I would say if you ever feel like you are not yourself, just speak up. It may not be easy, but if you know there is someone whom you can trust and express your feelings to them, then let them know. Alhamdulilllaah, I am now on daily medication and am stable. I feel like I am living a normal life again and I am not letting my past take over my life. I feel motivated to help others, even if it means sharing these very personal experiences.
This piece was really hard for me to write and it took a lot of courage, but I hope I managed to make you understand some of what my experience was like.
I hope that you are able to take something from this, and that you are able to understand what it is like going through this, so that more people become aware and realise that they don’t need to wait until things become severe in order for them to finally seek help.
Please note: If you have been affected by any of the issues mentioned here, please do speak to loved ones or seek professional help.