Reading after Recovery from Post Natal Depression

My reading intentions went stale during Post Natal Depression (PND). It took me a long time to recover a healthy reading lifestyle after returning to good mental health.

A few months ago, when Red Kufi Books kindly invited me to share what it means to me to #bewellread, I was still recovering my lost habits. I could not express my feelings about reading because I was not yet actively, consistently, passionately striving to read well. For three years, I had been reading too much or too little each day, rather than intentionally and consistently making  reading a positive part of my life.

Alhamdulillah, I am now reading healthily again, mostly daily.

But it is a different relationship with reading to the one I had before my mental illness. Having taken a long break from living as a reader, I can easily identify a shift in my book selection approach, and in my attitude to reading.

As a child, I was an avid reader of fiction; I looked forward to bedtime for my half hour of quiet reading. I chose my books on impulse, through recommendation, or because I recognised the name of the author.

As a teen, I maintained my love for reading fiction, but I lost my daily habit because I left my school work until late in the evenings. By the time I was fifteen, however, I consistently chose extra reading for two subjects: History and English Literature. Thereby, I unconsciously reclaimed some routine. But I didn’t maintain it in a healthy way. Increasingly, I was late to complete my homework because I felt compelled to read and re-read copiously before being ready to write my essays.

In my young adult years, I burdened my reader-self almost to paralysis with notions that there were lists of classics that I had to read in order to be qualified to write, qualified to think – qualified to be a proper adult. I sought out recommendations that someone wiser than me had complied.

Alhamdulillah, it was during this time that embraced reading scripture as a daily activity: first the Bible, later the Qur’an.

Now I am in my thirties, and alhamdulillah I have recovered my ability to maintain daily routines after PND. I turn within. I ask myself what I want to read and why. I allow myself to be both intentional and impulsive. I give myself permission revise my decisions – to continue, repeat, or stop reading specific material. I take the good and leave the bad.

So, why do I keep reading the Qur’an, fiction, and non-fiction, and aspire to do so every day?


{“Proclaim! (or read!) in the name of thy Lord and Cherisher, Who

Created man, out of a clot of congealed blood: Proclaim! And thy Lord is Most Bountiful,–Who taught by the pen–Taught man that which he knew not.”} 96:1

I trust that every letter in the Qur’an is beneficial to me. That it can change my heart.

Up until my post-natal illness, I preferred to approach the Qur’an through the English translation. This preference had begun with an intention to understand the meaning of the Qur’an and so I could apply it to my life. Alhamdulillah, there was a lot of good in my aspirations, but I slipped into my old mindset: I told myself I had to read and reflect upon it all before I was qualified to be a proper Muslim. Before I could memorise chapters in Arabic. Worse, I gave myself expectations of failure – and lived up to them. I paralysed myself from memorising any new chapters in Arabic for years.

Abdullah ibn Umar, the companion of the Prophet Muhammad (Peace and blessings be upon him) took fourteen years to memorise Surat al-Baqarah (the Chapter of the Cow). Not because of self-paralysis. But because he completed the memorisation slowly as he simultaneously changed his heart and habits slowly to live by meaning of the chapter. His memorisation process was about remembering the words, understanding their meaning, and acting upon them: changing the rhythm of his life in accordance with the oscillations of the Qur’an.

I want this from my relationship with the Qur’an insha’Allah. And, alhamdulillah, in addition to reading its English translations to access the meaning, I have begun to prioritise reading and memorising new chapters in Arabic – truly by heart, insha’Allah.

For me, this does not mean abandonment of other reading. On the contrary. I am am mortal of the earth, impacted by tests to endure, and offered abundant sources of ease, learning, and support to help me. I can and I want to gain knowledge from Heaven and earth insha’Allah. I want balance. SubhanAllah, I have experienced a loss of balance with PND — wherein I tasted Hell, not bliss.

In everything I’ve read – be it scripture, non-fiction, or fiction – I have learned something which I can utilise immediately to improve my relationship with Allah SWT. I have been able to take a reminder, a warning, something good. I have been able to learn from stories of success and failure and have grown wiser in my choices.

Leila Daniju 2aI choose to say yes to ease, learning, and support. Yes to taking the good. Yes to understanding the awesome wisdom in the Qur’an which is timeless and specific. Yes to developing empathy and compassion through reading various materials. Morning and evening.

It doesn’t matter how slowly I read the Qur’an. How slowly I read a novel, a history book, a self-help guide, or news article. What matters is that I keep renewing and improving my intentions, my behaviour, and my love for Allah SWT. Reading provides a safe space for me to do this while I interact with penned words: the language that teaches my contemporary heart.

I don’t expect to ever feel qualified as a Muslim or as a well-read person, in the sense of being in a position of expertise. But I expect to keep striving for excellence – to keep learning, keep strengthening and deepening my intentions to serve Allah SWT, to keep improving everything I do insha’Allah. As a human living after the revelation of the Qur’an, I choose the process of reading. Insha’Allah I will succeed in not giving up.

It is through my activated and continually refreshed intentions to read and self-improve simultaneously –through commitment to the process of learning from words – that I feel gratefully blessed to be on a path of striving towards Heaven for the sake of Allah SWT.

You can read my succinct thoughts on what it means to me to #bewellread on the Instagram campaign by Red Kufi Books alhamdulillah.

reading glassesElizabeth Lymer is author and rhymer of picture books for Muslims, Christians, Jews, and Global Citizens.

The images in this article are illustrated by Azra Momin and are from Hector Hectricity and the Missing Socks, which Elizabeth wrote while enduring Post Natal Depression.

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