Episode 3 - Asqarini Hasbi's Battle with Bipolar

A Look Inside Asqarini Hasbi’s Battle with Bipolar Disorder

Jul 31, 2020

Saba Malik 0:00
Salam Alaikum I’m Saba Malik, and welcome to episode number three of the Mentally Fit Muslims podcast.

Asqarini Hasbi 0:14
I hope you’re feeling awesome. On today’s show, I’m going to be chatting with a great friend of mine. Her name is Asqarini Hasbi or Asqa for short. Now remember, stay tuned till the end of the episode to hear her special message to those of you who are suffering from a mental illness. Alright, let’s get started.

Saba Malik 0:37
Assalamu alaikum Asqa,

Asqarini Hasbi 0:39
Walaikum asalaam wa barakatuhu. So what time is it there in the US?

Saba Malik 0:46
It’s 9:20pm. For you it’s 8:20am?

Asqarini Hasbi 0:54
8:20am. That’s where I am. That’s correct. Okay. Thanks for having me Saba.

It’s an honor. It’s my pleasure. This is my first interview that I’m conducting. And I’m so happy that you agreed to this. We met a while ago. And we’ve just been talking online and sharing each other’s work. And you appeared on my blog as well. So tell us about you.

Saba Malik 1:17
Yes, my name is Asqarini. People call me Asqa. My friends and family call me Asqa and at the present, I work at the non-state owned company in my hometown in Jakarta, Indonesia. And I have plenty of hobbies. I like to read, I like to write, doing some cooking and baking and also doing painting at the present. I work in Department of Human Capital in my office, and I’m so happy because I’m able to help a lot of employees to develop themselves. Whether it is in hard skills and soft skills. Yeah I’m happy and I feel so blessed to be able to work.

That’s nice.

Asqarini Hasbi 2:19
Yeah, yeah.

Saba Malik 2:20
You mentioned that you love to write and I’ve read some of your work and your poetry. Tell us how you got into that. Like, what what made you start writing and sharing online?

Asqarini Hasbi 2:32
Well, actually, my first experiences of writing, was actually it was back four years ago, when I was in my elementary school. I actually loved writing indiaries. The reason is because I feel that writing in diaries is such a relieving activity for me. It was back then when I was in my elementary and I really liked expressing things. But my first interest was actually poetry. Poetry is actually the thing that forced me to write a lot. It was my first encounter with the writing world and everything related to poetry.

Saba Malik 3:37
That’s cool that you talk about writing early on, because when I was in elementary, and especially in high school, that’s when I started writing as well. I always had a journal with me. And whatever I felt, I would always write it down. It made me feel so good. So I can totally relate, when you’re talking about the writing. So do you want to tell us a bit about what happened. I know that you have bipolar? Do you want to talk a bit about that?

Asqarini Hasbi 4:04
Yeah, the first time I felt that I had something with my mental health, it was in my second year of high school. It was the year of 1998. I think why did I get bipolar was actually because I think I have this physical and mental fatigue. Fatigue means you feel very, very tired because all years when I was in my elementary and then my junior and senior high school, I can say that I’m proud of myself that I was always the top three students in class. I always achieved that. It was like, okay, I push myself very hard. I studied a lot. I really love studying. I really love going to school. I really love doing homework and stuff like that and then I’ve always achieved more than I expected.

So what struck me in my second year of high school, it was actually like, physical fatigue, and then mental fatigued, because I always put 110% in the things that I’ve done, all the things that I’ve worked on. But I think, that kind of mental breakdown was actually accumulating stress in my body and soul. So I just realized that I didn’t really have this kind of balanced life of an average teenage kid, or any other kids who do really fun activities with their friends.

But I just put too much focus on studying and then doing my best to be the best school in junior high school, and then at the senior high school. It was quite horrible. It was the darkest moment of my life, one of the darkest moment of my life. And then yeah, it was, it was really hard. And I just remember it was the first time I was completely out of control. I was actually preparing everything and then it was just […] a major breakdown. It was really, really horrible.

Saba Malik 7:12
You know Asqa, we’re halfway around the world because I’m in the States and you’re in Jakarta right right now, in Indonesia.

Asqarini Hasbi 7:20
Yeah.

Saba Malik 7:20
And it’s so funny, because the story you’re telling is basically a mirror image of mine. Around the same time in 1999, I was in high school, and I was always trying to be a high achiever and wanting to just excel, excel and that led to slowly my mental breakdown as well.

So when you’re talking about your breakdown, did that start with depression? Or did you have mania symptoms? And then what happened? How did you find out that you had bipolar?

Asqarini Hasbi 7:53
Oh, yeah, It was actually a combination of the two. I was so driven in doing my studies. All of my classmates were actually very competitive and I’ve always wanted to be the best. I don’t accept that I’m the third best student or the second best. I want to be the best. I want to be the first.

The breakdown was actually a combination between mania and depression. I think it was the manic phase first, because I eventually got overwhelmed with everything. And then it went from being too, too excited to doing things and I was like, “Oh my God, I’m so tired.”

And then the depression came but I think the manic manic phase was not really long but I went into the depressive state where I don’t want to wake up in the morning. Then I have problems focusing in class. The teachers were teaching me and I couldn’t understand what they are teaching.

Then I started having difficulties in communicating with my classmates. I was in a place where I felt that I was really emotionally and physically disconnected with everyone. The manic phase was where I stay awake for a long time. I was unable to go to sleep at a regular time. Then I don’t want to eat anything. Then I keep having these thoughts in my mind. I could not stop. I’m thinking of this and that and everything. It just won’t stop. And then I got overwhelmed with everything. I was physically tired and then I get sick. So yeah, it was a combination between manic and depressive phase, I think.

Saba Malik 10:26
So it was kind of mixed. You are going through a depressive phase, no energy, and then you would go up into the manic phase, and you wouldn’t eat and sleep. Okay then, what did you do to deal with it? How did your family react or the people around you know when this was happening with you? What was going on? How did you deal with it?

Asqarini Hasbi 10:49
It was in my second year and I think it was almost off and on, on and off for almost a year. In my secondary years at high school, it was a phase where everything went numb. Actually, my family was just like, “What is wrong with you? You know, suddenly you don’t want to go to sleep and then at night when everybody’s sleeping, you’re knocking through their doors and asking why don’t we have a chat?”

Saba Malik 11:34
That sounds very familiar.

Asqarini Hasbi 11:36
Yeah. 11pm at night and everybody’s tired and they want to go to sleep but I just ask why don’t you tell me something and I’m disturbing their bed time. And they were just like, “It’s 1am or 3am in the morning, and you’re still awake? Why don’t you go to sleep? You have to go to school tomorrow. I was just like, nevermind, I’m not sleeping.

With my friends at school there was absolutely some kind of a change in my behavior. I did my homework but when I go to school I was just like, “Oh my God, what day is this?” I was asking is it Monday?! And we have this assignment that we have for homework that we have to give to the teachers and then I completely didn’t do it. Then in class, I have my books in front of me, but I didn’t write anything or I didn’t do any activities that were related to the homework.

Saba Malik 13:02
So everything just felt out of place and things are not how they are supposed to be. Stuff doesn’t make sense. What happened after high school when you went to college or university? Did this continue? What did you do after that?

Asqarini Hasbi 13:22
It [bipolar] was actually affecting my last year at the high school […]. Long story short, in my last year, I had to enroll for university. I had to take several tests to enter. I enrolled for this and for that and actually, I failed. So in my first attempt, I failed.

I didn’t get accepted in any university and it was just like, Oh my God. I felt that I failed. Everybody’s going to college and I did not make it so what should I do next?

Saba Malik 14:24
So what did you do next?

Asqarini Hasbi 14:26
It was heartbreaking. I forgot to mention that in my first year at high school, I met a friend of mine. We adored one another. She was so smart and she said that thing she adores me as well because of the things that I achieved at school. She actually inspire me to write more. She writes stories and I read some of her work and it was wow… you can make stories. She said that was one of her ways to express myself.

It was one of those moments where I felt inspired by her activities. I thought that it will be fun. So after I got bipolar, in my third year, it was just horrible as well. But during the phase where I did not make it to any university, I tried to do some stuff like, maybe I can write something, maybe I can just share my thoughts and my feelings in my journal. Maybe I can start journaling, again to fill the year that I did not make it.

But during that time, I was entering some course, a six month short course, to prepare for the next year for enrolling into university. In this course, I met lots of smart students who actually failed as well, when they first attempted to go to university, so I didn’t feel so alone.

And in the class, it was 30 to 40 students and they were so smart, talented. […] In that course, it was really religious, Islamic and I started to wear hijab […]

Saba Malik 19:41
So would you say bipolar ruined your life? Or do you think it made it better? What would you say looking back and what program you wanted to get in and what you actually got? What would you say? Do you think it has made your life better or worse or a bit of both?

Asqarini Hasbi 20:02
I have to say that it was a blessing in disguise. While I have those horrible moments, I was cursing everyone. I just hate everyone. I hate myself but looking back and then how I got to the present. It’s a blessing in disguise. It was a bitter experiences but Allah has given me this. It was not beautifully wrapped but it gave me lots of lessons. So I have to say it was a blessing in disguise […].

It felt like Allah is directing me to a very beautiful scenario that He already planned for me. I’m still struggling as well as in the present. Sometimes I feel, did I make the right decision? Did I take the right path? Did I serve other people? Did I prioritize myself? What makes me feel content? […]

But for real if I didn’t have bipolar, I wouldn’t be able to know Saba Malik from the U.S.

Saba Malik 21:51
Same here.

Asqarini Hasbi 21:56
[…] Then it was a blessing in disguise.

I wanted to know, did you face any backlash from the community or your family or friends? Like when some people found out you had bipolar or they saw you acting this was, Like differently? Did you find there was any negative reaction or some tough things you had to face because of that from other people?

Absolutely.

Saba Malik 22:25
Ok lol I’m not alone.

Asqarini Hasbi 22:28
Yeah, I think it was, maybe people are not well educated enough to know about bipolar, right? People don’t say those kinds of symptoms. “Oh, you have bipolar?” No. People said, “Oh, you have manic depression. Right?”

The term of bipolar is not really well known back then. “Oh, she went crazy.” I got a lot of stigma. I feel grateful to Allah because at that time, I knew which one is my true friend? Which one? So, yeah, well, maybe because I have

Back then everybody’s like, “Can I be your friend? Can I learn from you? You are the center of the universe and everybody is circling around you. Then, I just realized that I onlyhave got several friends. I can count them 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 friends from out of those 100 friends.

It turns out, I only have five real friends. That kind of judgment, that kind of stigma, the labels were quite, quite horrible. But I realized that family is the one with you. Family is the one who has the real sense of support system. And maybe they don’t understand what kind of things I’m faceing, what I’m dealing with so they will just just try to make sure that I feel safe.

Then when I get depressed, they just want to give some advice or cheer me up. It was horrible. I felt I was a burden on the family. So it was really heartbreaking to know that what happened to me really affected the whole family.

My uncle and my aunt and their family worried a lot about me. I felt horrible because of it. At the same time, I didn’t really understand what is going on with me. I felt that everybody’s worrying about me a lot. And I felt that I brought them into the same depressive phase with me […]. I think the stigma, the judgments from my classmates, and then from all of my friends at my high school, but there were several friends that did try to understand. They don’t give any judgment. There was just this kind of filter that I noticed. She’s just wants something from me […].

Saba Malik 25:59
I don’t even know how to describe it because I’ve used that same word when I got bipolar. The bipolar became a filter between who was my true friend, who was going to see me at my worst, in mania, depression and all the “crazy” stuff and still be with me.

Yeah and all those other people that you’re talking about, that this circle around you, because you have really good notes, or you can give them something but then when the storm comes, they run way. That is exactly what I went through.

And then when you talk about family… oh my God, that’s insane! Without family support, I felt I couldn’t have done it without them. And whatever I felt like depression or anything, they felt it. We were on the same journey. If I felt in pain, they were in pain. If I was in mania, they would see all of it.

Asqarini Hasbi 26:52
Yeah.

Saba Malik 26:53
I feel we have the same story, even though we’re halfway around the world, and we’ve never physically met. Subhan Allah, it was meant to be. You know, that’s the reason I want to talk with you and share your story because I think there’s so many people who just got bipolar, or they’re in the middle of it. Or even if they’re older than us, and more experienced, this illness can make you feel so alone.

So what would you say to someone who is maybe listening to this podcast, and maybe they think they have bipolar? Or they know someone who may bipolar? And they’re just going “crazy” in the sense that they don’t know what’s going on? What would you say to them? What do you think would help a person in that situation?

Maybe I want to say that you are not alone. Those crazy things in your head, those crazy things that happened in your life. You’re not the only one who feels that way. So you’re not alone. Even when you feel that “No, I am alone and nobody cares about me,” if you have faith, if you’re a Muslim, you still have Allah. You still have Allah and I think it took years for me to understand that.

Asqarini Hasbi 28:16
Yes, I am not alone. Yes, I have Allah because you have a tendency of hating everybody and blaming everybody. Maybe I suffered a lot, maybe I’m blaming Allah. “Why did you give me this kind of “punishment?” So it was hard when I talked about depression with other people. They will keep giving you advice, like you’re not grateful enough. You’re just a sinner. It’s your fault.

I want to ask for motivation and say that don’t judge me like this. They say you have to pray and there comes a point where people are just like, “We’re done with you. We’re not giving you any advice because you’re not listening. You’re not doing the things that we told you to do. You’re wasting my time because you keep complaining and then there is no solution.”

It felt everybody’s just leaving you and then you totally want to quit because of those kinds of thoughts in your head. IOh my God, I cannot tell you what kind of horrible things I had in my head at that time. Maybe time will heal but it has a different experience for each person. Maybe I already understand the message of having bipolar because I had it for 10 years. Then there are several people who perhaps only have it for three months […].

The one thing that I want to tell people who are struggling with bipolar disorder is just you’re not alone. These kinds of things don’t define me like “You are the crazy one and then everybody is the normal one.” It took a lot of years for me to understand that. I actually got a bipolar caregiver around 2013 or 2014. I entered this community of bipolar disorder and I got support but eventually you have to deal with it. You have to deal with it yourself.

I think those kind of activities like writing poetry and journaling, it was an escape for me, to make myself sober and to get back on track. Writing helps a lot. Writing heals me. That’s the thing I want to tell everyone.

You’re not alone and I like that you use writing to heal. I think each person has to discover what makes you heal, whether that’s through a hobby, or working out or joining a community. You just have to find your own thing and just make it work. And you’re not alone. Allah is always with you.

Saba Malik 32:07
We’re gonna wrap up soon. Asqa, is there anything else you want to share? Do you want to tell us about your work? Where can the audience find your poetry or your short stories? Where can they go to find your beautiful work?

Asqarini Hasbi 32:22
I wanted to tell you that during 2017 and up until now, we’re collaborating with one of our mental health coaches. He recites in the U.S. His name is Ed McShane. He has a website called “A Coach for Your Heart.” I was actually hoping that after I do this recording, I will send this link to him.

For people who are dealing with mental health problems, I suggest they seek and search for help. Go to a psychiatrist or you can go to your psychologists or any hospital, consultant or anything that can help you to get through this. Find someone. Search for help. Don’t burden yourself with things that you are dealing with by yourself. Please search for help.

Alhamdulillah doing service for people with bipolar is for the Ummah and it is one of the methods that I use to heal myself. You will feel happiness and contentment when you serve people. So I’m working with several sisters in the United Kingdom, showing my works of art, paintings, writing and poetry to them. Maybework you can share the work that I’ve done.

Saba Malik 34:34
I’ll have links in the show notes inshaAllah so that people can find it.

Go search for help. Make sure that know yourself by doing journaling and activities that make you happy. And please whenever people give you judgments, labels and stigma, understand that they don’t have the experience that you have at the present. They don’t know anything about you so when they say something bad about you, it’s because they don’t understand. When you deal with someone struggling with bipolar or any other mental health illness, try to be compassionate. Try to have more empathy with people and stop judging people.

Asqarini Hasbi 35:31
I easily judge people like, “Oh, she’s so lazy. She doesn’t like studying.” But having this kind of struggle in my life helps me to be more compassionate and more empathic with other people. That’s the thing I want people to know.

That’s amazing. I learned so much from you. You’re like an older sister and what you said is true in my life as well. I want to thank you so much. You’re the first guest on my podcast and it feels so good.

Thank you so much for having me, mashaAllah. This is beyond my expectations. I never thought that I will be able to share my experiences in your program. I’m so grateful. Thank you so much.

Saba Malik 36:31
Okay, take care. Thank you for coming. Thank you very much. Asalaamu alaikum.

Asqarini Hasbi 36:36
Take care. Wa alaikum asalaam wa rahmatullahi wa barakatuhu.

Saba Malik 36:36
Alright guys, that’s it for today’s show. I hope you enjoyed it and I hope you felt supported and inspired. To find out more about Asqa’s work, you can check out the show notes below this episode. And if you like this episode, please leave a review on Apple podcasts and rate my show. Take care.

See you in my next episode.

As salaamu alaikum.

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