I am one of six million Americans that suffer from bipolar disorder in the United States. Worldwide, it is the sixth leading cause of disability. According to the Depression Bipolar Alliance, people with bipolar disorder have their lives shortened by nine years. It is a genetic disease; two out of every three people that have bipolar disorder have had at least one relative that has had the illness. In my case, my father and my uncle both have the illness.
I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder in 2014. When the psychiatrist first gave me the diagnosis I had mixed feelings about it. It was a good thing because it helps me understand what was going on with the mood swings. One minute, I could be everyone’s best friend, hyper happy and feeling no one could stop me. The next minute, I would literally have to fight myself to get out of bed because I would be so severely depressed. But deep down. I was afraid that this illness would take me into the great unknown and would test my limits both mentally, physically, and spiritually.
I struggled the first two years. I went through trial and error with many medications. I moved back home with my mom. A lot of times my medicines would make me drowsy. One time the medicine knocked me out so bad that I fell into deep sleep while my daughter was awake. She tore up the house scattering powered sauce packets and cracked eggs everywhere. The shout of my mother woke me up. I had a fun time vacuuming and cleaning up while my mother was chewing me out and my grandmother was taking photos. Part of me was so upset at myself but another part of me was struggling to make a way. It was then that my mother decided to administer my medications.
It was during this time that I was away from the Muslim community for a year. I missed the Eid prayers, fasting for Ramadan and was either combining my prayers or not making them at all. I would read Quran, but I felt like something was missing, like a piece of me was dying. Not being around the Muslim community left me vulnerable both spiritually and mentally. The side effects of the medications were not helping. They made me sleepy and I would struggle to stay awake during the day. I didn’t have a period for three straight months. I drastically lost 30 lbs in three months. The heavy medicine would cause me to lose my appetite.
I left my mother’s house in March 2016 because I could not find a job in a month. I went to a Muslim shelter and was forthcoming about my bipolar disorder. The first thing they asked was if I was going to be violent. I reassured them that as long as I was taking the meds, I should be okay. I was taking the shots and it seemed that I was on the road to recovery. I lost my insurance in April 2016. I took precautionary measures. I tried to get insurance under Obamacare and applied for ABD (Aged, Blind, and Disabled) Medicare. I got denied Medicare twice and was told to get on Social Security. As for Obamacare, it required money and it only covered catastrophic health injuries, not mental health.
I stopped getting mental health services because I didn’t have the money to pay for the doctor’s visits and the medicine. The danger with living with an illness like bipolar disorder is the lack of money. When you have the money you can get the best medication, the best therapy and you can manage and be successful. But when you do not have the money, the odds of you having good mental health is pretty bad. Without proper care and treatment, many face serious problems ranging from homelessness to committing suicide.
The stigma around mental health
One of the hardest things in dealing with a mental illness is the stigma coming from both Muslims and non-Muslims alike. Some Muslims that know about my mental illness have often compared it to being a punishment for a lack of faith or committing sin. This often hurt because I was daily struggling to not fall into the side effects of being bipolar like overspending or flying into rages. There is a serious lack of education about mental illness within muslim societies and when people are either taking medicine or seeking treatment, it is always met with hostility and backlash. One time, I told a sister that I was depressed and she told me that depression was from the devil.
However, despite those challenges, being around the muslim community has helped me deal with the illness. There is always a check and balance system where others are held accountable for their actions. I truly think about my actions when at other times I would give in to the impulse and make stupid choices.
For Muslims that are suffering from a mental illness, I would strongly encourage them to go seek treatment and get help. Do not suffer in silence. Build a support group around you and find imams, mosques and an environment that will treat you with dignity and respect.