I know some of you are just waiting for one of my edgier or “NSFW” posts, and I’ve been keeping ideas that come to me written down, but timing and proximity are important so you’ll have to stay tuned a bit longer.
Ramadan this year was a whole different animal… specifically a nocturnal one. It’s a bit ironic that during the longest days of the year possible (we crossed the summer solstice) my schedule took place primarily at night. Prior to Ramadan beginning this year I was discussing it with a friend of mine and she suggested I swap day and night (Fast at night instead.) Though I gave it consideration, I decided that it undermined the definition of Ramadan if I wasn’t doing it in unison with the billions of participants worldwide – meaning if I took it upon myself to swap the time-frames, I was no longer practicing anything that resembled “Ramadan” fasting and was instead simply observing a personal fast with similar rules. It did occur to me that my original purpose – to support one of my best friends in her fast – might be better served if I swapped my fast because we’re in opposite time zones, but in the end I decided I should stick to the structure that everyone else followed regardless of advantageous personal circumstances.
Though it was almost definitely much easier than those with a day job, this year provided some unique challenges and taught me a few things. The days were right about sixteen hours long, meaning I was only really sleeping through between one-third and half of the fast. The first part (just after a hyper hydrating and face-stuffing breakfast) was the easy part, but I noticed that as time went on I would get hungrier, faster. It got to the point that ninety minutes after stuffing myself I would be hungry again and over fourteen hours would remain before I had the chance to address that. For whatever reason that hadn’t happened as much for me in previous years, so I can only theorize that my body schedule had something to do with it.
The one downside to sleeping the latter third of the fast, is how you feel when you wake up at hour sixteen. If you think getting out of bed in the morning is rough now, try doing that when your body is in emergency conservation mode due to lack of food or water. The first issue is that actually regaining consciousness is harder… I slept past my “end fast” alarm on several occasions, causing me to continue fasting even longer, which then continues to amply the effects of the fast (as specified in my previous post when I went nearly twenty hours. It did not go well.) The second issue is that even when you wake up, you pretty much feel like you’ve been run over by a truck. It’s actually pretty similar to moderate hangover as both of these states are caused by your brain being dehydrated. Waking up is hard, staying awake is harder. Fighting that desire to fall back over and not feel like crap any more is tough, especially when even sitting up takes a monumental amount of effort. You’re weak, you have no energy and you’re trying to tell your body to wake up when all it wants to do is shut down to conserve your energy. But eventually the promise of cool, refreshing water will give you the strength to fight the amplified gravity and draw you out to the kitchen where you can chug your bodyweight in the clear, clean nectar of the clouds. Except you can’t, because if you do you’ll be sick. You have to go slow, very slow, and work your way up to food, coffee or whatever else you need. But once you get past that barrier, you’re newly-nourished body will feel great, right? Well…
This is another part that was new to me this year. You see, normally you go to work just after beginning your fast. This means you start strong and deteriorate throughout the day. Then you break your fast at night, and usually go to bed pretty early to recover and wake up early to eat before you resume your fast. But this year my opposite schedule meant I went to work after breaking my fast. In theory this would work well since I can eat/drink while I’m at work (the fact I’m driving actually kinda made it essential.) But in reality I encountered a new issue: post-fast lethargy. You see, after sixteen or more hours without food or water, your body doesn’t simply wake up and return to peak condition because you finally gave in to it’s demands. It needs time to recover and rebuild with the resources you provided. Normally you break your fast and head to bed so it can make you ready for the next day, but now I broke my fast and tried to work while my body was trying to rebuild. The result was a constant battle to escape weariness, sluggishness and a mental fog. Only a considerable amount of coffee allowed me to eventually pull free of it, but my prep time before work increased dramatically and sometimes included additional short naps (voluntary or otherwise.)
This is by no means harder than dealing with your slowly-deteriorating condition throughout a normal workday, but it is an interesting byproduct that I’d never encountered before (bedtimes had to be pretty structured to wake up in time for the brutally early breakfast.)
Finally, this year moreso than any previous years I was alone in my fasting. Though it’s nobody’s fault, I did not make it to my Muslim friend’s house for Iftar (he invited me several times, just didn’t work out.) My best friend is on another continent and there were no curious supporters trying it out this round. This year I even lacked a workplace full of curious people to relate my experience to. However, with all that said, where last year I questioned the process, positivity and relevance of my fasting, this year there were no questions. I did it and when it was done, I was a little sad to let the routine go. If anything, perhaps because of the ease of my schedule, it didn’t seem like quite enough. I even found it easier than normal to find some local homeless folk to feed in order to make up my time at MAU. This year, everything happened in stride on my terms, so it was much simpler to work around it. The result was that it seemed it was over as quickly as it started. All the normal symptoms were there, but because it was all on my terms, the invasiveness was minimal.
Perhaps on some level my convenient situation was “cheating”, and perhaps my experience wasn’t as profound as a result. But I am reminded of what Leslie would tell me about how in the middle-east, shops change hours, employers grant earlier shifts and mid-day time off and the entire culture shifts to accommodate Ramadan… or rather the shift is built-in to their predominantly Muslim culture. So from a certain point of view, you could say that my experience this year was closer to that sort of experience (situational support as opposed to community support but similar result.) On the other hand, I’ve also heard of Muslim folk who place little importance on Ramadan and simply go through the motions because they feel they have to. They cheat the fast and take the situation very lightly. I don’t participate because I have to, but I still want to be mindful of the experience as opposed to simply fasting because I have for the past few years. But then again, if that were the case I probably wouldn’t be writing about it.
It is safe to say that this year was highly unique. I don’t believe next year will be anything like this one was. There will be new situations, new challenges and I might even look back and wish the subsequent years were as simple as this one has been. If nothing else I’m glad I did it and glad I understand as much as I do about it.