“Take benefit of five before five: Your youth before your old age, your health before your sickness, your wealth before your poverty, your free time before you are preoccupied, and your life before your death” (Prophet Muhammad (SAW), narrated by Ibn Abbas and reported by Al Hakim)
A shock diagnosis really left me pondering over these things, particularly embracing good health. After experiencing nine months of some strange symptoms, I was finally given a life changing diagnosis of Multiple Sclerosis (MS) in October 2012.
In August, 2011, I got a cold. The same kind that we all get at some point in the year. I was a bit off balance as it was affecting my ears a bit, but this was nothing unusual. One morning however, I suddenly became overwhelmed with an extreme sense of dizziness and became so off balance that I had to sit down. I could not even stand up and every time I tried, I fell down. This was the beginning of months experiencing a whole bunch of strange symptoms; wobbly legs, poor balance, numbness, loss of taste, tremors in my arms, slurred speech and extreme fatigue.
I found that whole year very stressful – I was silently suffering with these symptoms, feeling like I was losing my mind, and with no diagnosis there was no way to manage them. When these things happen, it can either drive you closer to Allah (SWT) or can lead you to stray from the path out of hopelessness. With me, at this point, it certainly didn’t drive me any closer to Allah (SWT). I don’t think that my link with Allah (SWT) was strong enough. I still continued to perform my obligatory duties, but I also spent a lot of my time feeling frustrated about what I was silently going through. I was so caught up in my own bubble that I didn’t really stop to look at the wider picture and respond to my situation in the way that a good Muslim should, forgetting all the important things that Allah (SWT) teaches us about life’s trials. What was to happen next would change this however…
After a year on the waiting list for an MRI, I finally received a diagnosis of MS. At first, I felt sorry for myself, angry and asking ‘why me?’ Angry with the whole process, with the doctors and with the health care system. I told myself that if I had received a diagnosis sooner, then I could have been treated sooner and wouldn’t have had to experience months of bizarre symptoms.
Upon later, more rational reflection, I told myself it was all part of Allah’s (SWT) plan. The Prophet Muhammad (SAW) warns of the dangers of saying ‘what if… then..?’. I looked at it from another more helpful angle. I was incredibly lucky to receive such a quick diagnosis. One year since my first noticeable symptoms may not seem ‘quick’, but with average diagnosis times taking as long as four years, this really was a quick diagnosis. This is one of the many Mercies of Allah (SWT), that he had saved me from the burden of going through more years of symptoms before receiving a diagnosis and being able to start treatment. So, despite the initial frustrations, I was glad that everything happened the way it did and thanked Allah I that everything went the way it did, and I pray that He will give strength to those going through the same situation and ease their burden.
Many lessons learned…
Allah (SWT) teaches us so much, and these are some of the most important lessons I have learned over the last three years:
Always look to those with less
The Prophet Muhammad (SAW) said “Look at those people who have less than you and never look at those who have more grants than you, this will ensure that you will not depreciate Allah’s favours” (Muslim)
MS is one of many diagnoses that can have a life changing effect on people. People die in excruciating pain every day. People lose limbs. People lose their sight. Who am I to complain? What’s a bit of tiredness now and again? What’s a little tingle in my fingers and toes on some days? There are plenty of people suffering from far worse conditions. I’m one of the lucky ones that lives a relatively symptom-free life. How can I complain when I have been blessed with so much?
Trial as a hidden blessing
“No fatigue, nor disease, nor sorrow, nor sadness, nor hurt, nor distress befalls a Muslim, even if it were the prick he receives from a thorn, but that Allah expiates some of his sins for that.” (Bukhari)
After all the tears and anger, feeling sorry for myself and losing my focus, I came to realise the blessings in my experience and diagnosis. Most importantly, the whole experience ultimately brought me closer to Allah (SWT). For that alone I am thankful for my experience and diagnosis. I realise that there is a blessing in everything, even the most adverse of trials and despite my initial response, far more good has come from this than bad.
Patience as the key to a stress-free life
“And certainly, We shall test you with something of fear, hunger, loss of wealth, lives and fruits, but give glad tidings to as-Sabireen (the patient ones).
Who, when afflicted with calamity, say: “Inna lillaahi wa Inna Ilaihi Raaji’un (Verily to Allah we belong and verily, to Him we shall return).”
They are those on whom are the Salawaat (i.e. who are blessed and will be forgiven) from their Lord, and (they are
those who) receive His Mercy, and it is they who are the guided-ones.” (Al-Baqarah:155-157)
Many people believe that stress can trigger an MS relapse. There is a strong emphasis in Islam on the importance of remaining patient. This can be a hard quality to master, but the Qur’an and Sunnah hold many solutions for developing patience. Not only does this potentially help keep any further relapses at bay, but it has also helped me to better myself as a person too. My diagnosis has pushed me to seek such guidance from the Qur’an and Sunnah in ways I didn’t before.
Allah is the One in control
Uncertainty is the most difficult aspect of MS to come to terms with. In some ways it could be said that this alone is worse than the symptoms themselves, knowing that things can change any time, but that’s much like life. Only Allah (SWT) knows when our time on this earth is to come to an end, and this is why we should always live like each day is our last, pray like each prayer is our last. When you don’t feel like praying that Nafl prayer, or you’ll read the Qur’an later, who said there will be a later? Living with this constantly in mind is actually a great way to obtain the khushu in prayer that I struggled with greatly in the past. My diagnosis is quite a blessing, as it’s something that brings this to mind more frequently and ultimately closer to Allah (SWT).
Embrace every opportunity, do not procrastinate
I now take time to embrace every opportunity that comes my way and in fact the difficulty now is to learn when to stop and when to say no! But that’s for another article! I want to achieve as much as I can while I can as I never know if or when my health might deteriorate. Presently, I try to engage in as much sadaqah as possible. I’ve never been as charitable as I should be, and now I really like to use the skills I have been blessed with by Allah (SWT) to ensure that I change this and start making some positive differences in people’s lives.
Hannah Morris is originally from the UK but is currently living in Ireland. She converted to Islam in January 2007, is married with four children. She has a Bachelor’s degree in Psychology, a Masters in Health Psychology and is currently completing her diploma in Islamic studies at the IOU. She has over 10 years of experience working in health and social care settings in the UK, USA and Ireland. She has primarily worked in secure psychiatric hospitals housing adults with enduring mental health problems and forensic histories and in residential settings for children and adolescents with behavioural and emotional difficulties.