Every human being is born with an instinct to turn back to Allah. So, it was only natural that even as a young child, my mind fled towards Him. I recall being a child of merely four years, lingering alone on the second floor of my grandfather’s house, and reciting His name. I vaguely remember my step-grandmother emerging from her bedroom and smiling at me. Though we could not speak the same language, she understood my calls to Him.
What I was keeping to myself, however, was that I found myself wanting to escape.
The world keeps going round
While you retreat within yourself
Voices fall upon deaf ears
Death is certainly near
I had somewhat thought about death when I was younger, but it wasn’t something I dwelt on. As I grew older however, I developed a growing fear of dying that began to encompass and influence the way I looked at the world around me. I was terrified of leaving this world, of being buried in the ground, and of my experiences thereafter. As a result, I began to experience on and off panic attacks that were often brief but intense episodes. In the midst of an attack, I would begin sweating profusely, develop a rapid heartbeat, and have trouble breathing. I basically felt like I was going to die.
I didn’t know when or where an attack might strike. I noticed they tended to occur when I felt trapped, such as when I’d be in a car. However, even when I was in my comfort zone, a panic attack could still invade. Once when I was at home, I felt a panic attack build up in me right after dinner. My father noticed this incident was particularly intense, and began getting dressed to escort me to the hospital. He saw soon after though, that I was recovering, and the next thing I remember is that I was sitting in the kitchen drinking a cup of water as my mother attempted to calm me down further. Both my parents were always there for me. My mother reminded me of our upcoming overseas trip to see family in Malaysia, and told me about how she had heard soon after my birth that I had a strong heart.
It’s getting harder to breathe
Your heart is racing
Will it soon beat its last
What if you fall down right there
Thinking about your flawed past
You realize you aren’t ready
You need another chance
Not yet, not yet!
As time passed and my attacks persisted, I had to find ways of managing my situation. A major coping mechanism was escape, both literally and figuratively. If we were on the road, I would find myself regaining my composure at a rest stop. At times, I would simply try to allow my mind to escape by occupying it with something else, such as with the bright screen of my cell phone. I had to be innovative and use whatever was at my disposal. Few people were even aware of my condition as I appeared ‘normal’ for the most part. At times, I have suffered in silence without anyone else even being aware, except of course Allah (glory be to Him).
You scream, but they don’t hear
Nor do they know your plight
Bursting at the seams
Hands clutching your chest
Emergency lights illuminate a sign
‘EXIT’ in red letters pulsating across your mind
It seemed as though I had an anxiety disorder, even though the cause was yet unknown. I was not yet praying when I first started suffering my panic attacks, but I felt myself being drawn to salah. I felt maybe it would give me the comfort that I so desperately longed for. A few more years would pass before I would actually take that step and perform my five daily prayers. They slowly but surely changed my life and led me down the path of knowing my Creator. I still do feel afraid of death and cannot say that I am panic free, but I honestly believe that prayer has helped me to overcome some of my feelings of anxiousness.
And suddenly, it’s over
You feel once again at peace
Passes through your lips is a sigh of sweet relief
Anxiety is a serious issue which is sometimes misunderstood by those who have never experienced it in its most aggressive form. When an anxious person is having a panic attack, death feels very real to them. They feel as though they are on the verge of impending doom and as such, you cannot simply tell them to ‘just get over it’. Even to this day, potential “emergencies” instill worry in me. Questions like, “Will I get a panic attack while somebody is depending on me to keep it together?” or “Will my anxiety deter me from considering having children?” come to mind. But, now that I am aware of Allah the Most Merciful in my life, I sense that even anxiety is a blessing and a mercy from Him. Yes, even anxiety. It truly depends on how you look at it.
For me, it serves as a reminder of the transient nature of this life and of myself, a reminder that death is a reality I cannot ultimately escape. I could be brought back to my Lord at any moment and so I must try to be ready. If I fear death and what will happen to me afterwards, then I would be a fool not to try to prepare myself for it and to pray for the best ending and hereafter possible. Sometimes it can be difficult to think clearly while being within the grip of panic, but I want to try to calm down with Allah’s remembrance, for I know that it is the best means of escape. I now understand why my four-year-old self began those calls to Him when I thought of escape. I believe that my struggles with anxiety have helped to strengthen my faith and to guide me back to Allah, alhamdullilah (all praise and thanks be to God).
But will you want to remember
Will you care to recall
When you’re living it up and forgetting it all?