In my teenage years I, and a number of people around me, were diagnosed with clinical depression. Predictably, we were uniformly prescribed antidepressant medication, regular visits with the local counsellor and a vague suggestion that incorporating some physical activity into our lives would probably do us some good. The outcome of this approach was not impressive. I continued to struggle with a perpetual feeling of numbness, broken only by bouts of depression so deep I often felt I couldn’t continue. One day, as I set upon starting yet another brand of antidepressants, my doctor told me that some people simply never recover. When the medication proved once again ineffective, I quit it for good and resigned myself to the fact that I was one of them.
Years later, I prepared to start a new life in Saudi Arabia. Without outside employment to get me out of the home each day, I knew I would likely get very little exercise and, let’s face it, probably feast on chocolate all day. The logical result of weight gain was not an option – after all, I had a husband and a large family of in-laws to impress. So in the spirit of pre-emptive action, I set about reading everything I could about health and fitness, from how to establish a weightlifting programme to the dangers posed by genetically modified foods. At times, the sheer mass of (often contradictory) information was overwhelming. Yet, with time, I sifted through it, trialling concepts that appealed to me and, depending on the results, either incorporating them into my own practice or casting them aside. Through this approach I slowly began to build a lifestyle that worked for me.
My new-found health consciousness also brought a greater awareness of what I was putting into my body and how it affected me. I began to realise that, despite being a strict vegetarian, almost my entire diet consisted of carbohydrates like pasta, rice and bread. Even more disturbing was my discovery that wheat products in fact made me bloated and severely lethargic – both problems I had struggled with for years, unable to identify their cause.
With this new knowledge in hand, I quit wheat, sugar and dairy and decreased my carbohydrate intake while dramatically increasing my consumption of water, vegetables, fruits, nuts and seeds. I even began to exercise regularly, something I had never done before. Positive results quickly followed; I lost excess weight I didn’t even know I had and the previously omnipresent scattering of acne began to clear. However, the real surprise was the dramatic effect my new lifestyle had on my mental health.
For so long, I had felt as if I had been living in a world where the lights were constantly dimmed – if they were on at all. But slowly that light brightened, revealing the beauty of Allah’s creation which I always knew existed but had never been able to see for myself. I discovered some of the countless blessings in nature, taking comfort in afternoons spent reading in the botanic gardens after work, allowing the fresh air to reinvigorate me and the stunning natural surroundings to remind me of Allah (SWT) and the life to come. I dug up my many old dreams and ambitions and for once allowed myself to believe that they could become reality. With new-found strength, I fought the cruel whispers that had always taken such great pleasure in telling me I could never achieve anything because, obviously, I wasn’t good enough. I set myself firmly on the path I always wished to follow, not without fear but with enough strength to face it.
When I remember back to what my doctor told me, I think of the countless people who continue to live trapped under an oppressive weight, believing it is immovable and I remember the hadith of the Prophet (SAW) – “there is no disease that Allah has sent down except that He also has sent down its treatment” (Sahih Bukhari). The treatment may not be the same for everyone, but it exists and it is for each person to find for themselves.
The UltraMind Solution: Fix Your Broken Brain by Healing Your Body First by Dr Mark Hyman
Integrative Nutrition: Feed Your Hunger for Health and Happiness by Joshua Rosenthal
Danyah Von Helms is a freelance writer with a passion for more things than will fit on one page. More of her writing can be found at www.thecamelandthekangaroo.com.