[Content Warning: Mentions of depression, anxiety, eating disorders (ED), post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and suicide]
For our Mental Health Series Part 1 of 2, we’re going to talk about ‘Ramadan Culture & our Mental Health’!
Disclaimer: Penawar is a peer-led support group for Muslim-raised women and non-men to give each other community care. We are not mental health professionals nor are we trained in crisis care. If you need to speak to someone, we have included a list of helplines and resources at the end of this post. It’s not an exhaustive list, thus we are open to suggestions in the comments below. We reserve the right to not publish your comments if found to be inappropriate, disrespectful, or abusive.
We would like to thank everyone for attending our support session last month, and that all of you are having a safe and festive Eid/Hari Raya!
We had our second support session on 19 May, during the month of Ramadan. It was timely for us to share our experiences and struggles during Ramadan, which comes with its own set of baggage, and for many of us, burdens of expectations. We at Penawar saw that it was necessary to create a safe space to discuss our deep struggles about Ramadan and the culture surrounding it.
Drawing Yourself Out
We started off with a trigger activity by getting our participants to share about what Ramadan meant to them, by drawing an image or sharing a word. It was a sharing that was filled with contradictions and internal turmoil felt by our participants.
We discussed the various challenges posed by a toxic religious environment which are heightened in Ramadan. These include religious pressures, judgment and unrealistic expectations for us to perform our sense of religious piety, which often trigger our existing mental health conditions. Our participants shared their experiences of religious shaming and moral policing, such as being shamed into fasting or praying in ways which affect our health.
What’s Your Story?
Our participants came with a range of varying mental health issues, which included eating disorders, depression, anxiety, suicidal behaviour and tendencies, as well as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Some of our participants gave very insightful sharing into their respective conditions. For example, we learnt a bit about the experiences of someone who struggles with eating disorders. Sometimes, the pressure or compulsion to fast may trigger symptoms of disordered eating, which is not healthy for someone who is working on a recovery plan.
Others also shared how religious guilt triggered deep anxiety, because they are told that they are not good enough and that their worship will not be accepted by God. Others then spoke about feeling like they do not belong in the community, where spiritual activities such as praying in the mosque can trigger anxiety because they feel like they are being judged by others. It is thus important that we have a space that is safe enough for our participants to share about these struggles.
Deconstruct & Reclaim
Many of us saw Ramadan as a time of contemplation and reflection, and the support session provided the avenue to do just that. One of our participants saw it as a time to deconstruct and reclaim. This means creating new meanings, communities and traditions, regardless of whether we choose to still observe some of the practices and traditions.
Many of our participants agreed that they cannot find such spaces elsewhere – where their doubts and struggles are affirmed and not belittled. The mood in the room felt intense, but with an air of lightness. We also ended the session with lightness and warmth.
We agreed that despite our religious or cultural traumas, Ramadan was a time of community with our chosen family. This affirms the role of Penawar and the importance of community building, by validating every individual’s experience. Even though some of our new participants came into the space feeling nervous and did not know what to expect, they gradually warmed up, started to slowly open up about their painful experiences even though they were difficult.
We really appreciated that our participants spoke about choosing to get better and holding ourselves accountable in our day-to-day lives, even in completing small tasks. Every small task achieved should be seen as an accomplishment and be seen as a step towards getting better.
Laughing in the Face of Adversity
We definitely appreciated everyone coming in to give support, affirmation and laughter. Everyone stepped up to affirm one another. It was very healing and therapeutic especially when discussing such heavy and painful stories. We also believe that it is important to laugh in the face of adversity and to laugh at ourselves, despite how hard things have been for us.
Healing is a Journey
We ended the session by thinking of strategies and commitment to do 1 thing for themselves and for a person whom they are close to. It was important for us to end off with a positive and uplifting note. This gave all of us something to look forward to and to focus on. Quite a few of our participants wanted to commit to being kinder onto themselves and to draw boundaries with people. It was very heartening for us to see our participants leaving the session with a sense of warmth and affirmation. We acknowledge that this is only the start, and that the continued work of affirmation and healing goes on after the session. ❤️
10 Participant Quotes
8 Tips for Self-Care & Community Care
Set Boundaries With Yourself & Others. Make it a habit to ask if someone is in the headspace to listen to you. We need to respect that people have lives. Likewise, it’s okay to say no when you’re not in the headspace to listen to someone. It’s totally okay to set boundaries.
Be Wary of the Content You Consume. Bad news and tragedies travel fast, and consuming information without processing them can desensitise us. Also, we think we have a responsibility to react immediately. For example, regulate your screen time. Wait 24-hours to respond to an issue, after emotions have mellowed down and you can think more clearly.
Grounding Yourself. It’s okay to take time off from your online spaces, meet people IRL, and do hands-on activities to ground yourself. For example, taking a walk is a mundane activity. But this helps calm our participant down when she feels overwhelmed.
5-4-3-2-1 Grounding Technique. Our participant uses this 5-Senses grounding technique to calm her students down when they start to panic. Follow these steps:
Take a deep breath.
Say 5 things you can see.
Say 4 things you can feel.
Say 3 things you can hear.
Say 2 things you can smell.
Say 1 thing you can taste.
Finally, take another deep breath.
Reclaiming Your Islam. “I wanna learn about Islam, and not my parents’ Islam.” Sometimes we may not always agree with the way we were brought up, or that now we are exposed to alternative understandings. Our participant shares her commitment to learn Islam that aligns with her ethics and values as a way to reclaim her Islam.
Creating New Traditions For Yourself. For those who no longer identify as Muslims or who are non-practising, Ramadan may feel isolating. For our participant, it’s an opportunity to reclaim Ramadan which for them has changed to become more communal. For example, gathering and “breaking fast” with their chosen family in spite of not fasting.
Taking It Easy With Doing Ibadah. We support you taking the opportunities to do ibadah, and not punishing yourself when it is taking a toll on you.
Being Kinder With Yourself. At times we may feel like our healing process is slow. Understand that while you may be crawling, you’re still moving forward. Be gentle with yourself.
The following helplines and resources are mainly based in Singapore, updated to our best knowledge.
If you would like a mental health check, and are between the ages 16 and 30, book an appointment with Community Health Assessment Team (CHAT) on their website.
If you would like to see a queer-affirming mental health professional, book a face-to-face appointment with Oogachaga on their website.
If you or someone you know have an eating disorder (ED), here's a list of information on ED and where to get help.
If you or someone you know is a caregiver to a loved one with mental health issues, call Caregivers’ Association of the Mentally Ill (CAMI) at 6782 9371 (24-hours). Alternatively, Club HEAL holds support groups for caregivers every first 3 Fridays of the month, learn more here. Here’s a list of other helplines for caregivers.