Nada Atwa: A Path With Many Obstacles

Strong; able to withstand hardship, strain, or exposure (Merriam-Webster.com)

Mental illness was something I never thought could affect a Muslim. I mean, how can that be? We have Allah by our sides. How could one be depressed when all they have to do is pray for happiness? It’s so simple, right? Just pray and you’ll be fine! These are the thoughts that wander in my head as I get older and more aware of what mental illness is. Never would I have thought that it would later enter my household. Almost 1 year ago, my life completely changed. My family will never be the same; I will never be the same.

It was just another day in February of 2018, or so I thought. The sun is down as the stars shine throughout the sky. The tick of the clock sounds above my head as I sit on my phone scrolling through social media. It’s nighttime and everything is quiet. The only people in the house are my brother, Omar, and I. My mother is at her friend’s house and my oldest brother, along with my father, is at the mosque for Isha prayer. Everything was going fine until it suddenly wasn’t. Out of nowhere, Omar storms in my room and begins yelling at me, later hitting me. I’m sitting in complete utter shock wondering what it is that I did, but I’m frozen. I can’t think. I can’t even speak. All my emotions have escaped my body, I forgot how to feel. I forgot how to function as a person. It was like my body was there, but my mind wasn’t. He’s yelling at me over and over: “What’s the matter with you?!”

But I don’t know, I don’t what the matter with me is. I don’t know what I did to make him mad at me. I begin thinking back trying to find something that I had to have done, but I can’t. I’m stuck. I had no choice but to leave the house for my own safety due to him hitting and screaming at me. As I step out the house I begin to fall into pieces. I start crying, crying knowing that I’ve lost a loved one. I’ve lost my brother mentally and emotionally. I’m scared, I’m lost, and I don’t know what to do. I call my mother and try to explain what happened, but all that’s coming out of my mouth are mumbles.

My mind felt like it was on a roller coaster and it just won’t stop. I finally calm myself down enough to explain what happened to my mother. Luckily, she was only across the street from where we lived, therefore she got here in no time. As soon as I saw her, I broke down again. “Mama, I don’t know what’s wrong with him but we need to help him,” I say as I’m crying profusely. That was when my mother knew that is was time to take him to the hospital.

They say Omar had an episode of one who’s extremely depressed. But that can’t be? If someone is depressed, why would they lash out on another person? Because we are Muslim, we doubted that answer. “Us Muslims can’t be depressed, there has to be something else to it,” I thought to myself. My parents decided to go to many doctors and try to figure out what really is wrong. We specifically tried looking for Muslim doctors because after all, the non-Muslim doctors don’t know what they’re talking about- to us at least.

Till this day we have not been able to diagnose Omar. Till this day I fear that he might end up hurting himself and no longer hold it inside. Till this day we are witnessing his life fall apart in front of our own eyes. My mother has cried so much that she began running out of tears. My oldest brother asked Imams for help multiple times that he can’t find an answer anymore. My father has prayed to help guide Omar so much that he’s starting to believe there’s no hope. And me, I’m trying to hold my family’s heads up and not have them weigh down from sadness.


Throughout this experience, I’ve learned to accept the challenges that Allah gives us and not fight them. I no longer choose to define myself, I let choices define who I am. I have now switched to being a psychology major due to how much this experience impacted me. I hope to help kids/teens with mental illnesses in the future. I hope one day to be that one Muslim doctor that can help other Muslim families. It’s hard to watch your loved ones go through an obstacle they mentally can’t control. It not only has affected my brother, but it has affected us all.

However, Alhamdulillah, my family is doing better because we are sticking together. If it weren’t for the strength we all have, we would have all fallen apart and for that I am thankful. Inshallah, we’ll find all the answers and be guided in a righteous way.