Five of us got together to discuss the book The Weight of our Sky by Hanna Alkaf. It describes a teen with obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) who is trying to find her way back to her mother during the race riots in Malaysia in 1969. She believes she harbors a djinn inside her which compels her to complete an elaborate ritual of counting and tapping or else be threatened with horrific images of her mother’s death.
**Content warnings: Racism, graphic violence, on-page death, OCD and anxiety triggers.**
We started with a discussion about the geography of southeast Asia and the political and racial climate in Malaysia during the 1960s. The book is set in Kuala Lumpur, a very densely populated city in Malaysia which shares a border with Indonesia. The racial conflict stemmed from differences between the Malay and Chinese people and resulted in the devastating killings of hundreds of people.
We also discussed our own understanding of OCD: a mental illness characterized by obsessive thoughts and/or compulsive behaviors. OCD often occurs in conjunction with, or exacerbations by other mental illnesses like depression or anxiety. In this month’s book, the main character’s compulsive behaviors are tightly linked with her spiritual and cultural beliefs evidenced by their connection with her djinn. A djinn is a supernatural being in Islamic mythology and theology.
Each participant shared their thoughts about how cultural and spiritual beliefs can affect an individual’s understanding of mental illness and their ability to seek mental health services. We agreed that spiritual beliefs, while important, may stigmatize mental illness or wrongly attribute symptoms to spiritual occurrences or wrongdoings. This may also influence how those around people with a lived experience of mental illness view their symptoms, further adding to the stigma.
Join us on July 15 for another rousing discussion. It will be on the book, Miss Hazel and the Rosa Parks League by Jonathan Odell. Click here for the discussion questions. We hope to see you there!
Author: Kayla murphy
Kayla, a volunteer with NAMI Ramsey, is a fourth year medical student at the University of Minnesota planning to apply to psychiatry residency.