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Bipolar, Muslim and Fasting in Ramadan. This is My Experience

Last year, on the first day of Ramadan, I pulled up to a coffee shop to get some breakfast. The cashier said, “Good morning, what can I get for you?” Then she stopped and with a puzzled look asked, “Hey aren’t you fasting today?” You’re kidding me right?!? Crap, I forgot I represent the 1.8 billions Muslims in the world because of the scarf on my head.

There are times when wearing my faith on my head is tough and this was definitely one of them. More than challenging, it was embarrassing. I felt I had to explain why I couldn’t fast…again and this time to a non-Muslim. I gave the regular spiel with a smile, “I take meds so I can’t fast and that is allowed in Islam.” There. Filled my dawah quote of the day.

As I drove home, I couldn’t enjoy my egg sandwich, which I normally devour, because I started asking myself the same question:

“Aren’t You Supposed to be Fasting?”

I’m one of the few, one in five to be exact, people blessed with bipolar disorder. I didn’t always feel fortunate to have this illness yet I’m learning to give thanks for things I don’t like rather than easy things I like.

Alhumudillah my main test is of health. I got bipolar almost two decades ago. Before that, I fasted without any problem. However, when the moods swings and episodes started kicking in, I just couldn’t do it. I blamed myself for not completing this obligatory pillar of my faith.

Not fasting became a personal failing…

In hindsight, it’s easy to see that I wasn’t required to fast. Since my marriage with bipolar, I asked Muslim psychiatrists, therapists, life coaches, CBT and Imams about my fasting. I shopped around hoping that one professional would give me some hope, some tools to do this beloved act of Allah. I even went as far as trying intermittent fasting this year hoping that I could transition into this Ramadan.

But, nope. Same story: I got sick. You might be wondering what it means for someone with bipolar to get “sick” in a fasted state. Well, you know the term “hangry?” If you don’t, it is a combo of hungry and angry illustrating that when you don’t eat, you get angry. This colloquial term wittingly illustrates the connection between food and mood. Thus, when you actually have a mood disorder and you don’t eat from sunrise to sunset, you don’t just get hangry.

It’s infinitely more complicated than just being hungry and mad. Different people with bipolar display the effect of not eating in various ways. No food for days on end is a big sign of mania, roughly known as the “up” side of bipolar. A severe manic episode entails not needing nourishment but still bursting with huge, uncontrollable amounts of energy. This leads to grandiose thoughts, delusions and hallucinations.

Irregular meals make me irritable at first but if continued, they have the capacity to induce a manic episode. And that my friend is not pretty. Now you can see why fasting does not fit so well with bipolar disorder. People with this mental illness also need regular sleep and often have medication with specific dose times that are often during the fasting time.

Good health is a crown on the head of a well person that only a sick person can see.”

I can’t fast and when I see Muslims complaining about fasting or worse, not taking it seriously, it makes me mad, sad and shakes me to the core. I remember watching an interview once that went viral before “viral” was even a term. It was about a handicapped man in a wheelchair. The interviewer asked him what he missed most about walking. The man started to tear up and cry. He replied, “doing sajdah to my Lord.” That was one of the most touching things I ever saw. I understood his pain and I thought I felt it too. I thought I was empathic towards him but it’s only now I fully feel his spiritual ache.

Every Ramadan, when the gates of heaven are opened, my fasting dream still stays closed. I feel like that man, in a wheelchair, unable to give up my desires for my Beloved Lord. It aches my heart, even now just thinking about it.

“I miss the late-night taraweeh prayers. I miss the thirst and hunger. I miss the increased khusu. I miss that feeling of growing closer to Allah each starving second of the day. I miss it all.”

Yet, all is not doomed. I learned to adjust my spiritual expectations over the years. Not being able to fast is not a personal failing to me anymore. That man could not do sajdah but he still offered salah. I learned to fast through other things in Ramadan. In no way is this a religious ruling. It’s my personal adjustment I made after consulting many professionals in the religious and non-religious domains.

What about you? If you have bipolar, what adjustments do you make? If you have a loved one with bipolar, does this article shed some insight in to their struggle? If yes, please consider sharing.

#anxiety #fasting #islam #ramadan

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