I am paralyzed in the middle of the subway station. I see trains left and right, people on and off and children throwing tantrums. I sit down, breathing heavily, and trying to control my sudden anxious surge. My therapist has taught me to breath in counts, so I start… one…two…three… It takes me several attempts to be able to stand again, and to have enough strength to board the subway. In fact, it takes me hours.
I get home and the rage hits. How is it possible that after two years I am still at this? With the sudden anxiety attacks, the blurry memories and the intermittent sense of loss. Will life ever be what it used to be?
Life is full of darkness. There are those physical things that just evoke agony and pain, and there are also those that are inside us, invisible and untouchable. Sometimes the realm of the physical lives in the juxtapositions of the images, feelings and numbness of what our minds produce… Sometimes it is hard to say what is real and what is not.
There is no way for me to know, what it is like to have everything covered by a thick curtain of darkness all the time, or to know how it feels to want to disappear into smoke every other day; but I know what it is to feel things differently. I know what it is to have a wave of feelings so intense to produce violent emotions, or to be so numb as to lose memories along the way. At the end of the day, this darkness… this numbness… these feelings and this pain made us friends and accomplices.
There are days the anxiety consumes me with a desire to pull myself out of a never-ending cycle of uncertainty and a sense of loss. It leaves me exhausted and useless. Sometimes, when we are together, I am eager to pull both of us out of the darkness that befall our lives and experiences day to day and week to week. But then, I remember that there are things that I have no power over, and that no amount of prayer, therapy and Google searches will change that.
Instead, I quietly sit on my balcony besides you, inhaling darkness, and trying to suppress my very desire to “do something” about your pain and your numbness. Occasionally, I misleadingly convince myself that my healing will be your healing and vice versa. I pretend that if I am okay, you will be okay, and that if I bury the brokenness deep down, yours will get erased. But I cannot “cure” your darkness any more than you can “cure” death, loss and rage.
Ramadan has been tainted with memories of my past life. However, last year, I was told that Ramadan would bring me healing. I woke up for suhur, fasted, prayed five times a day, broke the fast and prayed taraweeh almost daily. I gave zakat, and read Qur’an. I did things by the book. My heart was set on a “time of renewal,” that new-edgy thing that Muslims these days like to associate with Ramadan.
Thus, every day, I committed myself to getting out of this eternal cycle of darkness and yearning. I prayed hard for healing, direction and fulfillment, as if I was the only Muslim standing in front of Allah. I sought to make my intentions “genuine” because, apparently, that is a must. And I upheld my part of the deal throughout the month.
It was a transactional matter. It was business. And just in case you are wondering, I am not ashamed of that… It is part of the process. I think we all do it once in a while. We all get so desperate sometimes that we condition Allah to fulfill our desires and lessen our pain…
But of course things went back to my new normal. The deep breathing, the paralysis, the anger… all of it. It never really went away. It just got suppressed.
I debated the point of me being Muslim several times. I also wondered if I am just a bad religious person… perhaps even a hypocrite. And in the midst of all the turmoil, I met you. You were just as broken, troubled and dark…
Meeting you did not fix me because there is no fix. It did not make things easier either since the pure thought of feeling things so intensely or so numbly, triggered a lot of anxiety. How could I be with you, while being so anxious, so scared and so deeply wounded? What could I offer you? How could I minimize the risk of hurting you?
These thoughts kept me awake at night… But if there is something that prevented my taqwa and iman from slipping through my fingers was the fact that you had survived through years of your own darkness. Your process gave me an unknown sense of hope.
And despite the policing, all those things telling us that broken people cannot love and do not deserve relationships, I discovered that it is exactly because of the brokenness that we can see through each other and that we can be, above all, true friends.
So I start Ramadan not with the fasting, the praying and the common rituals. I am avoiding all of those feel-good, wishy-washy articles on “best Ramadan practices,” because they completely forget about us, the less than perfect Muslims. Instead, I am focusing on the darkness, since it is not going anywhere. It will likely always be part of your life and mine, and our life as a couple for as long as we are together. Hence, we need to make room it, for it will always be our uncomfortable third-wheel.
There will be days that will be hard. Sometimes I will be stuck in subway stations, sometimes you will just want to be alone. There will be times when we will be worried for and about each other. There will be situations that will add to the stress, including the economic pressures of adulthood, complicated families and the uncertainty of the future. There will also be moments when neither of us will feel good enough for each other…
Yet, that is what making room is all about… the trust, the patience, the space, the communication (including the silence), the evenings on the balcony inhaling black smoke… and perhaps even a prayer or two during Ramadan.
Eren’s bio: Eren Cervantes-Altamirano is aBinnizá-Mexican convert to Islam. She is trying really hard to finish the MA dissertation focusing on policies addressing sexual violence in development programming in the Third World. Eren’s blogIdentity Crisis focuses on her multiple identities and her attempts to reconcile them when they are at odds with each other. She currently also blogs atMuslimah Media Watch and Love InshAllah. When she is not writing, Eren can be found baking, traveling, chilling with her cat, Sugar, and trying to figure out dating, love and relationships. Follow her at @ErenArruna.