When Ramadan Begins but Depression Doesn’t End AKA How to Fast While Depressed


“…and now we know one of those murdered was a Reedie. Taliesin Myrddin Namkai-Meche had just graduated last year with a degree in Economics from Reed College. We’ve had a lot of loss lately. This barbaric act is no more brutal because it took a brave young kid at the start of his life, no more brutal, but certainly a reminder to many who may not be paying attention that this problem — the disease of white supremacy and racism — it’s not just SOME of our problem. It’s not trivial. It takes us out. It takes you out. It doesn’t care about any of us, so every moment any one of us stands up for it or gets out of its way we all pay.”

Samiya Bashir

Poet and Professor at Reed College

I had written nothing. No, not true. I had two paragraphs describing where I think I am in life. It would be a pretty brutal read. I mean literally it started like this:

Ramadan Mubarak!

Then went straight into this:

Last year I didn’t keep my Ramadan journal. I didn’t fast. I actively hated God, and even reading that line hurts. Leading up to this year’s fast, the emotions that consumed me were doubt and aloneness and rage. Right before Ramadan last year, my partner left me footsteps away from what I thought was a move to California and to a new family – children of our own. She broke up with me a month after I’d returned from MacDowell – so close to a completed draft of a novel I’d been working on for nearly seven years. It was so easy. The summer came, the ground disappeared, and so did I.

Our whole relationship we talked about wanting to have kids together, and then one night after I went to yoni ki raat, I came back to our cozy apartment, and she told me about the birthday party she’d just attended, how much fun it was to see her friends, two happily married gay men who were planning to have kids, and by the way, she’d been talking to Jason at the party about how she was feeling, and she wanted me to know she wasn’t ready to have kids. A week and a half later, she was gone.

And I’m not proud of much, but if I’m going to be kind to myself, I’d like to say that I managed to learn one lesson from a lifetime of heartaches. After she broke up with me, I let her go. I didn’t beg for her back. I didn’t call. E-mail. Text.

I lived the lesson the Sufis taught me: if the sword comes, give up your wrists and let the cut be clean.

One of the hardest decisions I ever made was the one I made to get back up, to move from Brooklyn to the Bay Area, and to try and get pregnant with my family’s help, to be okay with a life as a single mother. It’s a decision that makes me cry because it’s so oddly heart-breaking and poignant to me. I can hardly believe I made it. Sometimes I can’t believe that somebody who’s lost their confidence can make a decision this bold.

That’s when I learned one of my favorite (or least favorite) lessons from the Doctor – just because you feel terrible, and on the outside things look grim, doesn’t mean you’re not handling things exceptionally well.

So yeah I’m the same person who sat in my sister’s house for the summer of 2016 crying when I wasn’t working, and one afternoon, after hearing one of my dear friends who was 40 that she was pregnant, I started to convulse and sob. She and her husband were so excited.

My sister held me as we waited for her kids and her husband to come home.

“My life isn’t worth living,” I said, “because I lost my dreams, and they’re never coming true.”

“You didn’t lose your dreams,” she said. “They just have to come true in a different order.”

“You didn’t lose your dreams,” she said. “They just have to come true in a different order.”

How to Fast While Depressed

I had written nothing, just jealousy with a side of fear. I wanted to shout happy things about peace and love to everybody, but why should I lie? Depression steals your decency.

When Pele called today to tell me her happy news about their much-deserved success – a new publication, all I could think was well I can’t get out of bed, and I got nothing going for me. I’m struggling with allergies that are preventing me from settling down into my mom’s house, with alienation, with an inability to write. I can’t even get a desk or clean out a closet or finish a book or get a goddamn sperm bank to call me back. I felt alone and pathetic.

Why should I fast? I thought. All my friends are happy and enjoying success and new relationships and writing and performing and even my beloved queer NYC community, full of angst, is all together fasting for Ramadan and giving each other love and solidarity, and I’m alone in the suburbs with a headache. All my straight friends have got babies and partners. And everybody who isn’t in any of the above categories is amazing, a survivor, tough, and has their act together and is on their way to finding everlasting love and happiness despite their obstacles. Everybody and everything in everyone’s world is fine. Except me.

Of course, if you’re reading this, and you call me a friend, I hope some of you are at least vaguely appalled that I would lump you into the category of people for whom everything is even remotely resembling fine.

But bear with me because this is my blog, and my internal monologue is hardly reality.

That’s the problem with depression, you know. It talks really loud. It fills a room. You ask it to leave, and it doesn’t give a shit about your awesome consent politics. It plays the same song over and over again. On repeat.

How to Fast While Depressed

I finally made it out of the house because Pele who I was so jealous of for being an awesome writer and having a girlfriend and living in NYC and being younger and hotter than me, and had more friends and who was a better friend and who even dealt better with their allergies than I had dealt with mine also told me that they were buying avocadoes and foods they wanted to eat so that they would wake up for Suhoor.

Naturally, I developed a terrifying ache for avocados after that conversation so I asked my sister to drive me to Trader Joe’s. On our way back, I confessed to my sister that I basically was a terrible jealous petty person who viewed my friend’s good news as basically a sign that I wasn’t any good or worthy.

a terrifying ache for avocados

I told her that I would never finish my book, and that I’m too old to have a kid, and that I’m alone in this world and I wasn’t even sure what I was doing fasting. There was a time when I was helping Pele along, but she never actually needed my help because it’s not like I was further along than her. I was just older. I feel like such a fraud that she used to come to me for advice, and I feel rotten because she’s a better writer than I am, and she’s way more successful now than I ever have been or will be.

Now I can’t even write my blog because then Pele will see it and she’ll know it’s her, and she’ll feel bad because it took her a lot to even share her success with me. She’s embarrassed, and I don’t want her to feel bad because this is on me.

Well, my sister asked, is anything making you feel better?

Yeah, one of my friends Zelda is depressed, so at least I’m not alone. But no seriously I texted her and I was trying to cheer myself up and I couldn’t write my blog post because it was so depressing and so I randomly asked for a prompt.

What did she say?

She said to write about being depressed.

My sister laughed. Maybe Pele will like seeing what you write, I said.

Probably not, I said.

Wait a second, my sister said – what about Bruno Mars? Or Sia? I mean they were always helping other artists and they like worked for ten or twenty years or something before they became famous for their own work.

I felt instantly relieved. Yeah, I said. I’m like Bruno Mars or Sia. I reached for my phone. Let’s listen to their music it’ll be inspiration.

I flipped the screen until I got to spotify, and then I kept typing in the password before smacking my head, realizing that I’d changed the password to something complicated and forgotten to copy it down.

I can’t even get spotify to work, I yelled. I am wretched.

We couldn’t stop laughing.

I can’t even get spotify to work, I yelled. I am wretched.

How to Write While Depressed

I texted Zelda today who was fasting in NYC. She wanted to know how I was doing, but I was mostly not wanting to share with people. I told her that I was trying to write my blog while she walked me through her various Iftar options. At least she has options, I grumpily told myself.

S: I need a prompt or topic for my blog.

Z: I been thinking a lot about depression during Ramadan.

S: I don’t want to post this shit bc it’s so depressing.

Z: LOL but if it’s real it’ll be relateable

S: Do you have depression right now?

Z: I have had depression most of my life lol

I’ve been kind of depressed and stressed out with the maze of the sperm industrial complex, I said.

Have you heard the story of the Persian King? my friend DJ Taxi asked me from NYC while we spoke on the phone.

Well there’s a great King of Constantinople or Alexandria or somewhere in the Middle East or maybe Turkey, and I can’t remember exactly where he was because this is a story that was told to me. He’s very rich and he owns all these amazing lands and treasures, and one day he says to his people, I want you to build for me a great library, and in it I want you to house all the knowledge and all the greatness and all the beauty of my kingdom.

So his people go and they begin to build the library, and every time they present a version of it to him, he tells them make it grander, greater, and more amazing, and so it takes them years and years and years and years…

And they finish it, and they unveil it to him in a magnificent ceremony. He takes one look and says, I’m older now and I can’t possibly get through all of this, and I don’t have time because I have to conquer some more lands — so I want you to take everything, all of it this entire library that you’ve spent so long building, and I want you to take it and make one room that represents everything that is the library.

And so his people are in shock, and they’ve worked so hard, and they can’t believe it. But they go and they begin to build the room, and even though they often think to themselves we can’t possibly do this – they continue to work, and finally they present him with this one grand room full of the kingdom’s books and treasures.

But by now the King has aged and so he turns to them and says, Actually this room is still too big, too much, and I can’t get through this whole room, so what I need now is a shelf, can you build me a shelf, and just condense all of this room into one shelf?

And so the people are like, how are we supposed to make all of this a shelf? That’s really hard. They still go and they manage to take only the most important books and things and to put them all on one shelf.

And after some years, they proudly present to him the shelf, and they explain that this one shelf contains all the important knowledge and priceless matters of his kingdom.

But the King is old and weak and has fallen ill, and he says, I don’t have time for a shelf. Look, can you make me one book, and just put what I truly need to know in the book.

So the people do that, and they give him the book.

But now the king knows he’s dying, and so he says, I don’t have time to read this book. Look, take this book and write me the one sentence that I need to know before I die.

And the people write down one sentence on a piece of paper, and they hand it to the King.

The King opens the piece of paper and on it is written:

This too shall pass.

“That’s Your Depression Talking. You don’t know what’s going to happen.” – The Doctor

won’t you celebrate with me

Lucille Clifton

won’t you celebrate with me

what i have shaped into

a kind of life? i had no model.

born in babylon

both nonwhite and woman

what did i see to be except myself?

i made it up

here on this bridge between

starshine and clay,

my one hand holding tight

my other hand; come celebrate

with me that everyday

something has tried to kill me

and has failed.


1 Comment (+add yours?)

  1. alishec
    May 29, 2017 @ 11:35:35

    Serena thank you for posting though it must have been hard. I remember you so clearly from Sewanee. So many times I have recognized your brilliance, your ability to write truth and sometimes pain and often joy; have recognized that brilliance and courage and, I admit, envied them. Carry on, carry on. Alice



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