How I Fell Off the Wagon (And How I Intend to Get Back On)

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The last 2 weeks of my life I’ve been a miserable mess.  My days and nights have been preoccupied by high fevers, headaches, body aches, coughing, congestion and all the rest of it.  When I finally succumbed and went to the doctor she ordered me to observe strict bed rest.  I’m not used to that so I ignored her advice. A few days later, I hit a brick wall and basically collapsed into bed.  A subsequent visit to the Emergency Department at Tan Tock Seng revealed mononucleosis and a severe sinus infection caused by weeks and weeks of ignoring my steadily mounting symptoms. Now I have no choice but to be on bed rest. I’m too tired (and too drugged up) to do anything else.

In retrospect I wish I’d listened to the doctor the first time. I just missed the very Yasmin Mogahed talks that I was probably the most excited for in all of Singapore. I was probably first or second in line to purchase the tickets (Islamicevents admin: please don’t confirm that). In addition, I was looking forward to and prepared for a very important Saturday morning meeting and a lovely Sunday night dinner with friends.  On Monday I was supposed to take my kids to the beach after school. On Tuesday, I was supposed to attend a book club meeting. I missed it all.

That’s what happens when you ignore your body and keep going and going when you know shouldn’t.
But one thing this illness has given me is a lot of time alone. And as any person of faith will attest, alone time is a gift from God. It makes you think. It makes you more aware and present. It forces you to make dhikr and sincere dua. It forces you to re-evaluate your life.

Illness is itself an indication that something is out of balance. Alone time compounds that by speaking to not only the body, mind or heart but also the spiritual self, the self that draws the others together into one cohesive unit.

What did March and early April look like for me? I started taking on more and more commitments; community commitments, career commitments, social commitments. Every inch of our calendar started filling up. I stopped exercising regularly. I was too rushed to plan my meals; I consumed more and more junk food so I could keep up with my busy schedule. Ironically, with what little down time I had, I didn’t want to engage in anything uplifting or thought-provoking. I wanted to turn off my brain. So I started reading less and watching more TV. I started spending more time connected (read: addicted) to social media. I started spending less time in nature. I started staying up late, sometimes for no reason.  I started using TV and video games as a substitute for real, meaningful interaction with my husband and kids. I started rushing through Salah. That last one hurts the most to admit, but unfortunately it is true.

The illness forced me to stop and notice all that. And of course it’s not a coincidence. If you don’t make time for exercise, if you don’t eat right, if you don’t sleep early, you will get sick. Guaranteed.

Likewise, if you don’t make room for the things that nourish you mentally, emotionally and spiritually, you’ll feel depleted and depressed.

As a woman of faith, I look for signs in everything. This whole thing happened to bring me back to God and back to striving for balance. Alhamdulillah for that.

So what needs to happen next?

1. Long, drawn -out, humble, beautiful Salah will full concentration. This, I believe, is the key to everything.

2. Daily Qur’anic recitation, with the meaning, even if just for a minute.

3.  TV time limited to half an hour a day. Social media limited to 1-2 times a day. No one needs such an urgent reply. If they do, they’ll call you. There’s a reason we set TV and internet limits for our kids: we know it’s harmful for them. Well the same goes for us.

4. Exercise on Mondays (once I recover). Studies show if you exercise on Mondays, you’re more likely to exercise the rest of the week. Most of us are mentally trained to think of Monday as the beginning of the week. Whatever happens on Monday sets the tone for the rest of the week.  If we don’t do well on Monday, we succumb to what scientists call the “what the hell” affect (yes, they actually call it that!)  So make Monday meaningful! That’s my slogan.

5.  No more junk food–Except a small piece of chocolate at the end of the day. Come on, I’m not some kind of nut! Interestingly, the same month I started slipping in my usually healthy eating habits, my good friend started a clean-eating/detox group on Facebook and made me a member. Signs are abundant for those who reflect.

6. Less of a social life. This one is going to be difficult as my friends in Singapore have slowly but surely turned into family and expat life can be very very lonely without them. (Local readers have no idea!) But it must be done.

7. More quality time with my husband and kids, fully present, fully engaged.

8. More books! My first love, I’m so sorry for abandoning you.

9. Time in nature.

10. Lights out by 11pm.

11. No more worrying/bitterness about things that are out of my control.

12. Dua…lots and lots and lots of dua.

If I lose motivation, there is no better place to turn to than the wise words of the Prophet (sas) himself: “Verily Allah loves Ihsan (proficiency and excellence) in all things.” (Muslim)

What about you? Did you ever fall off the wagon? What specific things did you implement to get back on track?

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