Imam Khalid Latif is blogging his reflections during the month of Ramadan for the third year in a row, featured daily on HuffPost Religion. For a complete record of his previous posts, click over to the Islamic Center at New York University or visit his author page, and to follow along with the rest of his reflections, sign up for an author email alert above, visit his Facebook page or follow him on Twitter.
Being sad is one of the hardest things to deal with. Since Ramadan I've felt sad at various times. I've had community members and students who have lost loved ones and I've felt a different kind of sadness seeing them in grief. The father of one of my students, Wally Omar, passed away last week, and when I got his message late in the evening I teared a bit and said a little prayer for him and his family. Yesterday, a friend reached out telling me that he was planning on moving away soon and I felt a different sadness at the idea of his moving away. Immediately after a friend that I hadn't heard from in quite some time told me she had made a life decision that I didn't expect she would have, and I felt sad as I thought to myself I could have been a better friend to her and hadn't been around as much. A culmination of all of these feelings led to me spending yesterday in somewhat of a funk. But that's okay because I am a person. And people get sad sometimes.
I don't think being sad is necessarily an indication of one's faith, especially not a weakness of it. We tend to beat ourselves and each other up over simple expressions of our emotions. Our attempts then at overcoming the emotion become that much more difficult as we start out with a frame of understanding that says we are doing something wrong by acting human.
Anas bin Malik, may God be pleased with him, narrates:
We went with the Messenger of God, peace be upon him, to the blacksmith Abu Saif, and he was the husband of the wet-nurse of Ibrahim (the son of the Prophet). The Prophet took Ibrahim and kissed him and smelled him and later we entered Abu Saif's house and at that time Ibrahim was in his last breaths, and the eyes of The Prophet started shedding tears. 'Abdur Rahman bin 'Awf said, "O Messenger of God, even you are weeping!" He said, "O Ibn 'Awf, this is mercy." Then he wept more and said, "The eyes are shedding tears and the heart is grieved, and we will not say except what pleases our Lord, O Ibrahim ! Indeed we are grieved by your separation."
An important step in dealing with our sadness is being able to identify where it comes from.
- Sadness is sometimes the result of certain experiences that we have gone through. My friend is moving away or someone I care about passed away. Both, understandably so, yield a certain type of grief. By being able to understand where the sadness is coming from, I can come up with a solution for it, or enable myself to understand that perhaps it's completely normal for me to respond with sadness. Who wouldn't get sad at the passing of a loved one?
- Sometimes we're more susceptible to sadness because of our physical state of being. I am prone to feeling certain emotions when I'm not sleeping properly or enough, or I'm not eating well. This is important to remember, especially during Ramadan where many of us aren't sleeping so well or are eating differently. Note that eating less is not necessarily the issue as eating more and overeating in a short period of time can have adverse effects as well.
- Sometimes we're sad just because we're sad. The day is grey, there isn't too much going on, stress has built itself up, we haven't socialized in a while, etc.
- Sadness can also be more severe and move into a realm of depression. If it gets to this point, it would be important to recognize the need for trained, professional help to ensure a solution that makes the most sense.
Once you figure out where it's coming from, you want to figure out what you're going to do about it. Outlets that you build have to make sense for you. Having a process by which you recenter yourself after being thrown off your routine is so important. For some this can be having someone to talk to, for others exercise or cooking. I know people who will write, find solace in prayer, or clean their whole house. Coping mechanisms and solutions will vary from person to person just as the causes for the sadness will vary from person to person. Ask yourself what your outlets are? If they are not healthy and make no sense or are non-existent, take the time to re-evaluate and figure it out. If need be, solicit the help of someone who makes sense to think it out.
When we find someone that we care about going through one of these phases, our initial reaction is to try to help in whatever way we can. Some things to be mindful of:
- Let them go at their own pace, not yours. People need time to process emotions and your presence and support is helpful, but can become counterproductive if you get upset that they are still upset after you've tried to make them feel better.
- Asking "How do I make you feel better?" can be helpful sometimes and at others times not. Emotions are subjective to a person and necessitate specific treatment. Some people will appreciate you asking, others will be more bothered that you don't already know. It really will depend on their state and you want to remind yourself that it's about them, not you.
- Don't take it personally if a change in mood doesn't happen right away. It doesn't mean you're not helping and it's important to remember that you're a support and not get down on yourself when someone needs you.
- Re-evaluate your response and see if you need to try something different in case what you are trying isn't working. Sometimes a person just needs a hug, sometimes they need to laugh, sometimes they need to cry, sometimes they need all of that and more, and sometimes they need none of it.
- In more severe situations, be ready to encourage and refer the person to someone professional who can help them deal better with what they are experiencing.
You and I aren't robots. We don't have a button that we can push that suddenly makes us happy and stops us from being sad. We can't control our emotions in that sense but we can control the decisions and actions that yield certain emotions, as well as our responses to certain emotions once they transpire. I will get sad sometimes. I just need to figure out ways of dealing with that, the first step of which is realizing there's nothing wrong with it so that I can then do what I need to do to deal with it.