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Saba Malik

Where bipolar all started...


I remember that day as clear as the screen you see.


I walk on the sidewalk, on my way to the chemistry building at my university. It's my first year and for the first time in months, I feel full of hope. For the past six months, all I did was sleep and skip classes. I just didn't have the energy to make it to the lectures. My mind was all foggy and listening to the professor go on and on about chemical formulas hurt my head.


But now, all is gone. I have my chemistry midterm and I know I'm going to ace it. I enter the building and take the elevator up to my class. I sit in my chair and start the exam. It's too easy. The answers are just flying in my head. I finish early before anyone else and leave the classroom.


Everything seems bright and fresh. Even the gloomy subway is full of life and color.


How the bipolar mania episode started...


The excerpt above might just seem almost normal but it was the beginning of my journey on the road of bipolar. I came home that day and for the next week, I didn't sleep or eat for seven days straight. I had the energy of a horse. Nobody could hold me as I ran up and down the stairs. My dad couldn't even hold me because I would break free. I was having delusions like thinking that my mom was trying to poison me by putting lice in my rice. It was cumin. Cumin I tell you but all my mind saw was lice. I was both hypersexually and hyper-religious at the same time. Yeah, try wrapping your head around that one! I thought I was pregnant and that Allah sent me to rid the world of evil.



The shaykh comes


So after a week, my parents, like many innocent Muslim parents ignorantly, thought I was possessed by jinns. So they called the shaykh to perform ruqayah to rid me of the evil spirits. Surprise: nothing happened.


That's when they took me to the hospital and I was injected with a whole bunch of sedatives. Later, I found out that I was in isolation and I slept for 2-3 days straight. I finally came out of the episode and I remember sitting in a boardroom with a bunch of doctors. nurses and other professionals.


When I asked them what happened to me, they were very reluctant to diagnose me with any illness. Instead, they just said I had a nervous breakdown because of stress. I did have many stressors from the pressures of trying to get into a prestigious program and relationship troubles. They handed a bottle of some medication (I forget what it was) to me and sent me home.


Poof, the bipolar is gone


Like any good patient, I followed the doctor's orders and took the medicine. Once it was finished, I thought that was the end of it. I went back to life as I knew it. Little did I know, that the bipolar would come back to not just haunt me but attack me, torment me, and destroy every fiber of my being. I am not exagerating.


The Bipolar Beast Attacks


I am dumbfounded now as I try to tell you my story. This part is difficult to narrate and in hindsight, it is the most profound and life-altering part of my life. It's the juice behind why I continue to advocate for Muslims with mental health despite not seeing any worldly benefit.


After two years of being "clean," if I can say that, the bipolar came back. There was a huge trigger in my life. Pro tip: bipolar episodes or getting sick mentally always have a trigger. Identify your triggers and you overpower the beast and black dog.


When the bipolar came back, it was the same spiel. The hyperreligiosity, the hypersexuality, the delusions, sleepless nights, no eating for days, all the classic bipolar symptoms, only I didn't know it.


Words matter because they give you a vocabulary to move things and concepts from the unknown to the known realm. Being able to express your mental illness through words gives you power over them.



Breaking the bipolar barrier and writing my story


I didn't have such words. It was only during this second mania episode that I saw bipolar in my doctor's notes. It was only when I saw those letters B-I-P-O-L-A-R on that paper that it hit me.


I have no recollection of a doctor or any medical professional telling me that I had bipolar. Why do I stress this point? Because it's important to speak up for yourself and advocate for yourself to know what is going on with your health.


You are not always going to be handed a paper with all the information you need to succeed in life. You need to dig for it yourself. This unwilling ignorance cost me my health, relationships, school, and eventually my job. Sadly, when I'm not on my toes, bipolar strikes at night and stabs me in the back.


Thankfully, the barrier was broken. I knew the beast I was dealing with: bipolar. Little did I know that it would also become a beauty.


When the vultures feast


I'm sorry but I don't have a better word for those people. Vulture is a compliment actually because vultures come, do their damage, and leave. But the people who backbite and spread rumors cause irreparable damage that is impossible to fix. It can have a lasting impact. And for someone with a mental health challenge like me, the repercussions can be even worse.


Those people or vultures were some people in my community. I made the mistake, during my episode, of exposing myself and telling people I had bipolar. SubhanAllah, was I hit with the stigma brick!


I didn't know I was facing stigma. I didn't even know about my own misconceptions and ignorance so how could I expect the aunties to know better? I don't blame them. I forgive them and I thank them. I pray for them.


Thank your enemies


I do call the backbiting aunties my enemies because you don't let the same snake bite you twice so I steered clear of them. Interestingly, our social circle dwindled to a few kind souls. I don't call them my enemies out of spite. Far from it. I call them that because when you want to improve yourself, look no further than what your enemies say about you. Analyze what they say (rumors) and select the things they are saying that you need to improve upon. This helps you write your bipolar (or insert any other mental health condition) story.


Be honest about your bipolar


The biggest lesson the vultures taught me was, to be honest with myself. What a profound lesson for mental health success. People fail with their mental illness because they won't accept their diagnosis. I've seen the harm and damage this denial does.


Once I accepted the bipolar in my life after this second mania episode, little did I know the depression dungeon I was headed toward. Mania kills as swiftly as a sword but depression keeps digging painfully and slowly with a butter knife.


Bipolar Rise to Bipolar Fall


After the mania, come not 3 weeks or 3 months but 3 years of long depression. Without questioning or researching, I took any and every drug my doctor gave me. Like 90% of psychiatric drugs, I put on a whopping 60lbs in less than two months. Not only was my mental health deteriorating but so was my physical health. That also included my social life, my studies, my work, and my spiritual life. Those three years were personified by this. I would be locked in the psychiatric ward and then discharged. Without having showered for days, my mom would pick me up from the hospital and drive me to my class on campus because if I missed one more class, I would fail my course, again.



Importance of a support system for Muslims with bipolar


I'm blessed to have a great supportive family. It's not just my siblings and parents who support me but my uncles, aunts, grandparents, and even cousins. Some of the biggest donors to my nonprofit are my family members. I got spiritual, physical, mental, social, financial, and even medical support from my family. Hey, every desi family has doctors so I'm no different. My aunt, who is a doctor, kept me out of the hospital for ages and fixed my medication regimen, and helped me have a baby.


My mom made sure I finished university so I would feel accomplished and a contributing part of society. My siblings made sure I had my mental health services set up. They even supported me financially. I call one of my siblings "Apple tree" because they have bought me Macbooks, iPhones, AirPods, and an Apple watch.


My whole family supports my work. Support is important. It's crucial. That's why I have my membership set up. But how did I learn this?





Release Yourself from Depression


After my three years of depression, my sister took me to a seminar about "Releasing Yourself from Depression." It was life-changing! It was shortly after this that I got a life coach. I had a therapist and a psychiatrist but I was making little or no progress with them.


Once I got this life coach, I felt supercharged and there started my mental health advocacy work. I later became a life coach myself and continue to coach Muslims with mental health challenges to this day.


Bipolar still plagues me


I still get sick and end up in the hospital to this day. Recovering and mastering bipolar doesn't mean you never get sick. It means you learn from each downfall and become better with each turn. I'm constantly learning my new triggers (yes they change!) and adapting to them.


One big trigger for any mental health patient is stress and changes in life. These two are sure to cause upsets in health. For that reason, marriage, getting pregnant, moving, changes in my social circle, and changes in my financial health have all made me get sick and go to the hospital.


With each visit, I make a new friend, hand out another copy of my memoir, learn about a new drug, meet a new mental health professional with fresh insights, and repair the damage that bipolar caused.


Allah breaks you down to build you back up


I truly believe that I'm blessed with bipolar brought so many great things in my life. No doubt, it's a voracious beast. But I see it as a beast that chases you and you have no choice but to run for your life. And once you become fast and strong enough, you jump on the damn thing, grab it by the reins and you become its master.


Allah gifted me with this beast to test me and make me thrive. I wouldn't have it any other way.


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That's a valid question and this came up when I was watching a really good video on the Yaqeen Institute Youtube channel titled "Prophet Muhammad's Approach to Mental Health | Holistic Healing with Dr. Rania Awaad (Part 1). However the question that the Prophet (may Allah's peace and blessings be upon him) never saw a therapist is simply not true*.


Some Muslims might think this and it might actually hinder them from getting the help they need when it comes to mental health challenges. Even when it comes to seeking peer-to-peer support, Muslims might be hesitant because they might think it simply isn't part of our Islamic culture.


Prophet (PBUH) Pioneered the Treatment for Psychological Issues


Our beloved Prophet (may Allah's peace and blessings be upon him) actually laid the foundation for psychological matters and issues. He showed grief and sadness at various occasions. In fact, there is a whole year in his life time termed as the year of sadness where the Muslims were boycotted, he lost his beloved wife Khadija (may peace be upon her) and his uncle and protector Abu Talib.

Moreover, the prophet's weren't immune to mental health challenges. For example, Prophet Yaqub (may peace be upon him) eyes turned grey over his endless crying over the loss of his son Yusuf (may peace be upon him). Some scholars say, he even lost his eye sight.


Thus, the prophet Muhammad first pioneered the treatment for psychological issues by acknowledging their mere existence.


Islam Teaches Therapeutic Tools: Cognitive Reframing


Islam teaches that suffering is actually a blessing. When you see someone who is in deep pain, they are actually deeply beloved by Allah. When you have that mind frame, the stigma around the mental health issues actually decreases. You are no longer an outcast or someone who is shunned because you are someone Allah loves.


You are no longer an outcast or someone who is shunned because you are someone Allah loves.

"How wonderful the affair of the believer is! Indeed, all of his affairs are good for him. This is for no one but the believer. If something good happens to him, he is grateful to Allah, which is good for him. And if something bad happens to him, he has patience, which is good for him."


This hadith shows cognitive reframing. No matter your situation, as long as you see it as an opportunity to get you closer to Allah, it is good for you. It is all about how you frame the picture and put it on the wall in your mind. The more Allah-focused cognitive reframes, the better.


Validation and Choosing Your Narrative is Part of Therapy


An important part of seeking therapy is to first acknowledge emotions you have. Validate them instead of dismissing their existence by saying things like "it's okay" Control the story you tell yourself in your head.


Verily, the eyes shed tears and the heart is grieved, but we will not say anything except what is pleasing to our Lord. We are saddened by your departure, O Ibrahim.”(Sahih al-Bukhari 1241)


The Prophet (may Allah's peace and blessings be upon him) said this when he was buring his son Ibrahim. These words show that he validated the sadness he felt and verbalized it. At the same time, he was vigilant of what he said therefore controlling his narrative.


Using Physical Posture as Therapy for Anger


The Prophet (may Allah's peace and blessings be upon him) also gave practical solutions for emotions like anger. He taught us to change our position when we feel angry. I personally have tried this and it definitely works. He (may Allah's peace and blessings be upon him) that when you are angry and you are standing, then sit down and if you are sitting then lie down.


Seeking Therapy Through Healthy Diet and Sleep Habits


The prophet (may Allah's peace and blessings be upon him) also taught us about healthy diet and sleeping habits.


Abu Dhardha decided to dedicate his entire life to worship. The shahaba Salman said “Your Lord has a right upon you, your self has a right upon you and your family has a right upon you. Fulfill your rights towards each one.”


The prophet (may Allah's peace and blessings be upon him) also taught us to find cures for psychological illness and to not suffer in silence.


"Seek out cures for God has placed a cure for every illness except old age."

Using Physical Remedies as a Mental Therapy


Ayesha diagnosed psychological illness and made talbinah to treat depression, bereavement induced psychosis and anxiety.


"Talbinah (barley syrup cooked with milk and sweetened by honey) has the potential to reduce depression and enhance mood among the subjects. Ingestion of functional foods such as talbinah may provide a mental health benefit to elderly people."

Source: National Library of Medicine


Talbinah is an example of how the prophet (may Allah's peace and blessings be upon him) used physical remedies for psychological illnesses.


Using Quran as a Therapy


The prophet SAW used dhikr and Quran as healing. He would tell Bilal {RA) to call the prayer and say, "Oh Bilal, call the adhan to allow us to find comfort in it."


The Prophet SAW would stand at night in prayer. He would recite the ayat and pause after each one to reflect on it's meaning.



ٱلَّذِينَ ءَامَنُوا۟ وَتَطْمَئِنُّ قُلُوبُهُم بِذِكْرِ ٱللَّهِ ۗ أَلَا بِذِكْرِ ٱللَّهِ تَطْمَئِنُّ ٱلْقُلُوبُ


Those who believe and whose hearts find comfort in the remembrance of Allah. Surely in the remembrance of Allah do hearts find comfort.



- Ar Rad, Ayah 28


Prophet (may Allah's peace and blessings be upon him) also had a morning and evening dhikr routine. He would say this dua:



اللَّهُمَّ إِنِّي أَعُوذُ بِكَ مِنَ الْهَمِّ وَالْحَزَنِ، وَالْعَجْزِ وَالْكَسَلِ، وَالْبُخْلِ

وَالْجُبْنِ، وَضَلَعِ الدَّيْنِ، وَغَلَبَةِ الرِّجَالِ


O Allah, I seek refuge in You from grief and sadness, from weakness and from laziness, from miserliness and from cowardice, from being overcome by debt and overpowered by men (i.e. others).


When you see all this, you can't say that Islam doesn't acknowledge mental health. Prophet Muhammad's teaching came as a package and he showed how seeking therapy in various forms could be used to treat mental disorders.


*Note: I didn't provide any references for the material in this article because everything in this piece is drawn from the videos by Dr. Rania Awad of Yaqeen Institute. She is a psychiatrist and an Islamic scholar and as such her sources are authoritative. This article is based on her video series Prophet Muhammad's Approach to Mental Health | Holistic Healing with Dr. Rania Awaad (Part 1).

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Dominoes on a table

The Implications of Bipolar Medication Weight Gain


Body image, gaining weight with bipolar medication, physical appearance, the cosmetics of our body, even how our houses, cars, kids and clothes look; these are all external aspects of our life. When it comes to bipolar medication side effects such as weight gain and acne, the physical cosmetic nature of these effects can have huge ramifications for our self-esteem and how we deal with them.


Bipolar Medication


When you have a mental illness, and especially if it's severe, diagnosed, clinical, and an official label, then chances are you're taking medications. There are many different medications. They have many different side effects. They can also work very well in managing bipolar. Unfortunately, many of these medications cause weight gain such as Lithium and Seroquel.


Obsession with the Number on the Scale as a Result of Bipolar Medication Weight Gain


Medication.

Body image.

Acne.


Let's start with body image. There are dangerous thoughts about our body image and weight related issues that can take us away from Allah. At the same time, the whispers of Shaytan are real and we as Muslims believe that.


One of the thoughts we can get plagued with is an obsession with outer appearances. Form over function, style over substance etc. It's a constant focus on the outside and on "numbers." For example, the amount of money in your bank account, the number of pounds on the scale, amount of views, follows and likes on social media, even grades on a test can become a number obsession. The number game can also be the value of your house, how expensive your car is, how many kids you have etc. This obsession with numbers can be applied in many different external parts of your life.


Number on the Scale, Weight Gain and Your Soul


This number game has important ramifications when it comes to dealing with the weight gain side effect related to bipolar medications. Shaytan makes you focus on the external, and then you lose focus of the internal, which is actually what matters.


Moreover, your internal state is what is linked to your soul because your soul is everlasting. It is infinite. It existed before you were born and came in this world. Your soul is housed in this vessel. When you die, you leave this shell behind. Your soul is the one that's going back to Allah. Will the shape of your body matter then? Will the weight gain around your hips matter then?




Popping a Pill, a Medciation for Weight Loss is Easy


No doubt, gaining weight is a dangerous health risk. It also makes you feel like crap! We need to do everything we can to manage it using important and often neglected tools such as diet and exercise. At the same time, when you obsess over the look of your body and not it's function, your self-esteem can suffer. As a result you might think that getting rid of that bipolar medication will cause you to lose the weight.


It might. Changing diet and improving it might also cause you to be at a healthier weight for the long term. You choose what you focus on. Popping a pill for weight loss is easy. Not popping in a bipolar medication because it causes weight gain is also easy. But what are the consequences of these actions?


Working out and watching what you eat is a lot harder because it shifts the responsibility towards you. You have to do the work. And remember, the number on the scale is just one form of measurement of how good your health is. There are many others. Learn about them and use those factors to measure your level of health.


Your Worth is Not Defined by How Much Weight You Gain


Many of you have emailed me and I have friends who are dealing with psychiatric medication related weight gain. No doubt, medications have a lot of benefits. They are keeping us healthy. They're keeping us out of the hospital. They're preventing suicidal thoughts, panic disorders, mania episodes.


At the same time, the weight gain can make us focus on this dunya and the external and forget about what really matters: our soul. This is one of the best ways to deal with bipolar medication weight gain becuase it goes to the root of your beliefs around body image.


The shape of your body is one thing. The number on the scale is another thing. The way you interpret these two is a whole another beast or beauty depending on how you perceive it, interpret it, think about it and how you talk to yourself about any side effects form bipolar medications.


YOU ARE NOT YOUR WEIGHT OR THE SHAPE OF YOUR BODY. YOU ARE YOU. ALHUMDULILLAH!

Unwanted Weight Gain from Bipolar Medication


At the same time, there are unwanted negative side effects. And sometimes the side effects are so severe that a person who is on a great medication regiment will go off the medications because they cannot deal with the side effects. And that's okay, some of the side effects are really harmful such as rashes, tremors, nausea that make it difficult to function in everyday life.




How to Deal with Unwanted Weight Gain froM Bipolar Meds

  1. Deep breathing

  2. Accept your diagnosis and take your meds as prescribed by your doctor

  3. Stop playing around and tinkering with your meds and take them as prescribed

  4. Get a dispel when that makes medication adherence easier

  5. Focus on eating healthier (more food from the ground and trees and less from boxes)

  6. Focus on moving more (even a thirty minute walk daily works)

  7. Accept my body the way Allah designed it

  8. See the number on the scale as just a number and not a reflection of my worth

  9. Believe that your worth is determined by how well you worship Allah with your intentions and actions

Deep Breathing to Deal with the Frustration Brought on by Weight Gain from Bipolar Medications


Breathing is a great form of not just dealing with bipolar symptoms but also the side effects that bipolar medication cause. How does that work? Well, for one thing, if the side effects are unwanted and even harmful in some sense, that can cause anxiety and frustration. And here is where deep breathing comes in to help you deal with the side effects of a particular bipolar medication. It's an action you can take to calm yourself down when an unwanted side effect causes you frustration and makes your mood drop. As you breathe better and calm down, the frustration starts to dissapate and you can accept that yes, I gain weight because of this medicsation. It's not in my control. What is in my control? Diet and exercise. Ok. What can I do to control this aspect beacause what I put in my mouth and how much I move is in my circle of influence. How can I stay there and improve. Then the "dealing with the side effect" goes from causing frustration to an oppurtun ity to implement long term positive changes in your life.


To that I say Alhumdulillah! The above paragraph shows you how you can implement the first way to deal with the weight gain from bipolar medication.


To learn how to implement the others, book a one-on-one support session with me now!




For more help in managing and mastering bipolar, join my Bipolar Membership HERE.







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