So, for the past couple of weeks I’ve been having a bit of a personal crisis. It seems my health is hitting a bit of a rough patch, and that has a way of bringing all of your fears into focus. Waiting for the test results, the endless visits to specialists who never seem to give you a definitive answer, the cornucopia of aches and pains that do wonders for your anxiety level by hiking it to 1000%, all great fun as you can imagine. It is a bit like being trapped in a Stephen King novel, except it never seems to end.
In the midst of it all, I’ve also been going through that time honoured tradition called “job interview”. Now, this position was a perfect fit for me. Education background, check. Relevant work experience, check. Volunteer work in the field, check. Honestly, when I was reading the job description, I knew in my heart that I was the person for it. There was a long process involving tests and a succession of interviews. During my last interview, I was asked if I had a valid driver’s license, and my heart sank. How do I explain that I do not have one, without revealing my condition? Anyone who has any chronic condition or disability will tell you that revealing the truth about yourself in the workplace is a double-edge sword. While laws rendering this type of discrimination are in place, the reality is people have a way of finding excuses for not hiring people with disabilities. I knew the moment that question came up, that no matter what they thought of me previously, chances were they would see me as “not quite the right person.” I proceeded to explain that because of my condition, driving is an impossibility for me. Retinitis Pigmentosa is affecting my peripheral vision quite a bit in one of my eyes and also causing me to have night blindness. I know however that all they heard was “I have a problem.” This is essentially a desk job that requires you from time to time to go to other locations. So, I passionately explained that this doesn’t stop me from being active in any shape or form, or doing what is required of me. I can take a taxi, a bus, get a friend to give me a ride. Basically, I’ve found ways of compensating.
I jokingly say that these days I embody everything that could be seen as problematic: I’m Muslim, a woman of colour, and have a condition that is causing me to lose some of my vision. It came as no great surprise, when I received a call a few days ago thanking me for my participation and informing me that I will unfortunately not be asked to go forward in the process. I politely thanked the kind lady for her call, and hung up the phone. I went directly to my laptop and proceeded to binge watch Star Trek for the rest of the day. I needed to escape, I just couldn’t deal with any of it anymore.
All I kept thinking was “what the hell is wrong with me?” All of my close friends (whom I absolutely adore and cherish) are married, have children, and thriving careers. I, on the other hand, am still toiling in academia desperately trying to finish a PhD that doesn’t seem to be going anywhere. I’m in my late 30’s and still jobless, single, and childless. And as if that wasn’t enough, I also now have to deal with health problems I could seriously do without. There is nothing worse than having people ask you “why you don’t seem to be successful at life when you are so brilliant?”. What stings the most though is when they refer to your life as a “cautionary tale”. I’m like wait, what? I’m right here folks, literally right here. Not dead, or comatose. I’m right here and you are casually referring to my entire existence as a failure to avoid. I was done, just utterly, and completely done. So, I went to my happy place in the Star Trek universe where humans are no longer jerks, and being cerebral is all the rage.
I was more than willing to stay in my little cocoon of warmth, comfort, and science fiction, but then it suddenly hit me. I was so anxious that even my beloved Star Trek couldn’t help me escape anymore. I was trapped in my own head with an endless list of all the things that could go wrong with my health. I kept imagining the worst possible scenarios and it was driving me crazy. Depression and anxiety are extremely high amongst people suffering from vision loss. The loss, the uncertainty, the fears, it all piles on. I’ve already come to terms with having Retinitis Pigmentosa, but the idea that I could have yet another possibly debilitating condition was just too much. For the first time in my life, I cried out of fear and despair.
But then something rather weird happened. In the midst of my meltdown I had a terrifying moment of complete self-awareness and clarity. I realized how hard it is to truly submit to Allah (swt) in all matters. It is so easy to think we do when we are not being tested, when things are going our way, when we are not afraid. True submission is free of doubt, fear, sadness, and anger. Yet, I was—and continue to be— riddled with all of it. I realized that my own Iman is not nearly as strong as I thought it was. Our destinies are not of our own choosing, since everything is prescribed long before we are born. Think about it. Who in their right mind would choose to live with illness, poverty, disability, or war?
But, as humans we live under the illusion that we control our lives. That it is all a matter of making the right choices and executing the right plans. We pay lip service to concepts such as faith, submission to Allah, and humility, because lets be honest they sound great but are hard to live by. So, it seems that for me the moment has come to truly submit in humility to Allah ‘aza wajal. I’m not going to pretend I’m not afraid, overwhelmed, or even slightly angry. These are the very signs that I need to work on my Iman and truly mean it when I say:
Alhamdulillah ‘ala kulli haal (All praise and thanks are only for Allah in all circumstances)