Reaffirming identity after a poor mental health episode.
After suffering a poor mental health episode, we can often begin to experience feelings of helplessness and the loss of a positive self-concept. This refers to the way one sees themselves. Abraham Maslow, a humanist psychologist, suggests that if one’s self concept does not match their ideal self, they lack harmony. As a result of this, people will struggle to establish a sense of peace. This tends to happen during a poor mental health episode as people are unable to match the qualities they usually can or perceive to be important. Our sense of identity can sometimes begin to slip, and people can begin to question whether they are still themselves after experiencing a whirlwind of intense emotions.
Although this is the case, it is always possible to reaffirm one’s identity after experiencing this, and this can occur during or after recovery. There are a range of different things that can be done in order to do so. An initial factor to consider is the importance of acceptance and the expectations that we set ourselves. By ensuring that we set realistic expectations for ourselves we prevent ourselves from feeling worse when we cannot maintain impractical ones. By doing this we can focus on recovery from the incident rather than damaging thoughts about oneself. It is important to accept that we are not going to have the same effectiveness in our behaviour across all situations, and as humans our mood is likely to fluctuate. Allah (SWT) did not create humans to be perfect which is shown in the way that we are taught to aspire to the level of Prophet Muhammad ﷺ. His standard being the closest we can get to perfection.
“Indeed, in the Messenger of Allah ﷺ you have an excellent example.”
We must also accept that the best version of ourselves cannot be maintained all of the time. We can do this by learning to accept ourselves for who we are – both the good and the not so desirable aspects. In order to accept all versions of us we can learn to be more sympathetic with ourselves. In order to do this, we can treat ourselves the same way that we would treat a friend. After facing a poor mental health episode, we wouldn’t be overly firm and harsh with a friend, with your own confusion and anxiety give yourself the same leniency. If we feel that we cannot reaffirm our identities, an important step would be to speak to yourself kindly. The thoughts that we let in and the way that we talk to ourselves can manifest in the way we feel and think about ourselves. If we think positively and use kind discourse, this can help shape a positive identity for us.
Finally, it is equally as important that we are patient with ourselves. Although, the episode may have passed, alhamdulillah (all praise is due to Allah) this does not necessarily mean that we are going to revert straight back to the same levels of productivity/ happiness, as we may have been at before the episode, straight away. We must remember this, and not be too harsh on ourselves. Remember, we must have sabr (patience)!
After a poor mental health episode has passed it is also beneficial for one to reflect on and process the emotions that they feel. Some examples of emotions that one may feel are confusion, anger, helplessness and sadness. There are some steps that may be effective in working through these. The first step would be acceptance. This would mean accepting the episode that you have just been through, without judgement, and accepting how one feels in the moment. You can also accept that these things happen, and it does not define who you are.
The next step would include reflecting upon the fact that you are not alone, others have felt similarly, and it does not mean you are a bad person. You can also reflect on the possible causes of the episode and how to possibly avoid it next time.
Another step which may be useful in processing these emotions involves communication. It is beneficial to let out those feelings in whatever way works for you. It is always so much better to let it out healthily rather than allowing it to fester by keeping it in. Communicating feelings doesn’t always mean in the way of speaking to someone, it can also be by writing down feelings, prayer, art- or whatever else works for you. Through doing so we are telling our brains that we are doing something about these feelings and this sense of productivity can reduce worry and anxiety. The important part is that we allow those feelings to be expressed rather than letting them build up and become worse than they truly are.
When we are attempting to reaffirm our identity, we can help ourselves by remembering to seek the help of Allah SWT. He will provide peace after difficulty because it is He who has prescribed it for us.
So, verily, with every difficulty there is relief: Verily, with every difficulty there is relief.”
[Qur’an 94: 5-6]
He will never let us suffer alone, and it is important to rely upon Him for help because He will never deny us – remember that everything has already been prewritten for you. So, seek His help because He is Al-Hakeem (The One who has perfect wisdom).
When we are attempting to reaffirm our identity remember the feature that binds us all- we are Muslims. So, if you are struggling to grasp who you are, remember that being Muslim forms your identity. By that remembrance you can reaffirm that you are submissive to your Lord, and you are patient and you are loved. Nothing can ever take that away from you.
“And whosoever fears Allah and keeps his duty to Him, He will make a way for him to get out (from every difficulty).
And He will provide him from (sources) he never could imagine. And whosoever puts his trust in Allah, then He will suffice him. Verily, Allah will accomplish his purpose. Indeed Allah has set a measure for all things.”
[Qur’an 65: 2-3]
You are still you – who you are is not dependent on the emotions you currently feel, nor the episode you have just experienced. The inside of you matters too and this can be explored through healing and recovery.
What things could you do to communicate your feelings?