May 1, 2023

Overcoming the Challenges of Observing Ramadan - with Fahad and Zarin Raza

Overcoming the Challenges of Observing Ramadan - with Fahad and Zarin Raza
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three siblings

Trigger warning: this show discusses sensitive mental health topics.

In this podcast episode, we delve into the topics of the challenges of observing Ramadan and mental health in traditional Asian households with our guests, Fahad and Zarin Raza. As we explore the challenges of observing Ramadan and the impact it can have on mental and physical health, Fahad and Zarin share their personal experiences and insights.

Growing up in traditional Asian households, Fahad and Zarin discuss how mental health was often a taboo topic and not something that was openly discussed. However, they also share how their relationship with mental health has evolved over time and how they have come to understand its importance.

As we focus on the significance of Ramadan, Fahad and Zarin talk about the physical and mental toll that fasting can have. Sunny fasted for three days with Fahad in order to better understand the experience and be able to relate more with Fahad and Zarin. Sunny and Fahad share a fun story about them breaking fast. They ordered way too much food and barely ate any of it. We also discuss the challenges and rewards of abstaining from vices, and compare the experience to other challenging tasks, like the workout regimen, 75 Hard.

Throughout the conversation, we highlight the impact of cultural and generational differences on mental health discussions, particularly within the Asian community. The guests emphasize the value of learning from and celebrating diversity, while also encouraging listeners to find what works for them as individuals.

Don't miss this insightful and thought-provoking discussion on mental health, cultural differences, and the challenges of Ramadan.

Fahad's bio: “Fahad Raza is a second generation immigrant whose parents settled in the US from Pakistan. Fahad was born and raised in Houston, Texas before moving to Austin to pursue his education in Economics and Finance at the University of Texas. He currently works for a tech startup focusing on decarbonizing heavy freight transport. Fahad enjoys traveling the world along with experiencing different cultures and culinary arts with his wife Zarin.”

Zarin's bio: "Zarin Raza is a data integrations manager at a pharmaceutical digital advertising company. Aside from that, she’s an Austin based lifestyle blogger who dedicates promoting local businesses. She was brought up in a first gen Bangladeshi family and is the oldest and first woman in her family to pursue a full undergraduate and masters degree in the U.S. Zarin loves to discuss and understand the differences between different cultures and upbringings with people that she meets which she uses as inspiration in her day to day life with her work and content creation. "


(0:00:10) - Overcoming Challenges of Observing Ramadan

(0:09:23) - Breaking the Stigma

(0:17:05) - Understanding Ramadan Fasting

(0:30:50) - Feasting After Fasting, With a Twist

(0:34:35) - Observing Ramadan and Its Impact

(0:48:05) - The Struggle and Gratitude of Fasting

(0:59:03) - Learning From Ramadan

Chapter Summaries:

(0:00:10) - Overcoming Challenges of Observing Ramadan (9 Minutes)

Mental health was not commonly discussed in traditional Asian households, but has become more comfortable to address as adults. A memorable bonding experience in New York City contributed to a strong friendship. Key takeaways and hopes for continued learning on mental health are discussed.

(0:09:23) - Breaking the Stigma (8 Minutes)

Normalizing conversations around mental health within families is important, as well as avoiding comparisons of one's own grief or mental health to others. Empathy and not judging too quickly are crucial aspects. Cultural and generational differences impact mental health discussions, particularly in the Asian community. Personal experiences reveal the need for more Asian voices to create dialogue and normalize mental health discussions within their communities.

(0:17:05) - Understanding Ramadan Fasting (14 Minutes)

Ramadan challenges and significance involve fasting from food and water, abstaining from bad deeds, and committing to prayer and reflection. Personal experiences with observing the fast reveal its mental and physical toll, comparing it to the 75 Hard workout regimen. Navigating fasting in Western society requires empathy and understanding from non-Muslims, promoting awareness and appreciation for Ramadan's importance.

(0:30:50) - Feasting After Fasting, With a Twist (4 Minutes)

Breaking fast during Ramadan with barbecue, facing challenges of fasting, and testing mental and physical discipline are discussed. A funny moment arises when asking about using a nicotine pouch during fasting. Abstaining from all vices during Ramadan is emphasized as a rewarding experience.

(0:34:35) - Observing Ramadan and Its Impact (14 Minutes)

Observing Ramadan impacts mental health, with personal challenges and shifting perspectives on fasting and spirituality. The female experience during Ramadan and the stigma surrounding menstruation in certain cultures are also discussed. Despite difficulties, there is value in pushing limits and gaining discipline through the experience.

(0:48:05) - The Struggle and Gratitude of Fasting (11 Minutes)

Fasting during Ramadan presents challenges, including effects on sleep and emotions, and requires meal planning and mental fortitude. Mental health is important and individuals should find what works for them, similar to physical fitness. Having a support system and open conversations about mental health can reduce stigma.

(0:59:03) - Learning From Ramadan (1 Minutes)

Learning about fasting and Ramadan helps understand and relate to different cultures and religions. Sharing meals with loved ones deepens connections, and celebrating diversity is valuable.

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[00:00] Sunny: Welcome to Three Siblings, a podcast about life after loss and grief. We're the three siblings. Your hosts, Sonny, Tina and Michelle. On this show, we retell our stories to shine a light on tough family situations to help our listeners with issues they may be facing. Let's get into it. Our you all right. Welcome to Three siblings. Thanks for tuning in. This episode is called Overcoming the Challenges of Observing Ramadan. First, I just wanted to thank everyone for all the love and support. It's been so touching, all the positive feedback we've gotten and this past month has been especially special. We were on the local Austin news doing an interview, and we recently had a medium review written about us. And then we actually got featured on Apple podcast homepage a few days ago. So thank you so much for all the support, and the best way to continue to support us is to follow us and leave a written review on Apple podcasts. And so now we'll get into the episode. So I'm so happy to have Fahad and Zarin Raza, two of my really good friends. We actually live in the same building, which made recording this really convenient and really excited to talk about this topic. And so a brief outline. I'll let them introduce themselves. We'll talk a little bit about their relationship with mental health. Then we'll dive into the main subject of the episode, which is Overcoming the Challenges of Observing Ramadan. And then last we'll finish with how they continue to work and grow their mental health. So now let Fahad and Zareen introduce themselves.

[01:42] Zarin: Hey, everyone. I'm Zareen. I'm currently living in Austin, but my family is in McAllen, Texas, so I grew up there for the majority of my life. Currently, I'm a data integrations manager for a digital advertising agency, so I work more so in the tech space.

[02:00] Fahad: Hey, everyone. My name is Bahad Raza. I'm originally from Houston, Texas, went to UT and moved to Austin when I was 18. That's when I met my wife, Serene. We've been together and married several years now. I'm now in the tech space. I work with electric and autonomous freight vehicles. Super excited work. Yeah. And excited to be here with Sunny to discuss mental health and Ramadan.

[02:27] Sunny: So while it's still a little bit light hearted, I'd like to start with, I guess, how we met. I know how Fahad and I met, and it's a pretty funny story, but I guess I'll let Fahad explain. Okay, wait.

[02:39] Fahad: Well, what's your thinking of when we first met? Because it could be different than what.

[02:43] Sunny: I remember when we went on the cruise together.

[02:46] Fahad: Okay, well, so I think you and I had probably met previously. Sonny and I had a lot of mutual friends. A lot of my really good friends were in the same fraternity Sonny was in. So I think we had some form of cordial relationship, just kind of like a hey, there. What's up? Probably saw each other at bars, but yeah, it was on Bibo Cruise when we first really hung out. And I guess for the audience. Do you want to explain what Bibo Cruise kind of is?

[03:16] Sunny: It's basically where this older alumni puts together a large group of our fraternity brothers and had basically 70 of us on one cruise. And as you can imagine, 70 college guys on one cruise. It's a good time is what I'll put it at that. And we had a lot of fun. Vaughn and I really bonded and got to know each other and have been good friends ever since.

[03:44] Fahad: Yeah, I think it's really interesting because we met on that boat, essentially, and it was a Carnival cruise going to Mexico and Belize or somewhere, I don't know. And yeah, we were just pretty much degenerates over the weekend and it was a great bonding experience. And for the next several years, I think you and I had kind of like in college, you have hundreds of friends and it's like, you like people, you like hanging out with them, but I don't think we really got that close until after we graduated. I think at some point, once you're an adult, you start kind of really selecting what your friend group is right outside of just like, hey, I think this person is cool. I like hanging out with them. For you specifically, I think you always kind of gave off this really sincere and genuine energy. There were multiple times where Sonny would do things or help his friends out and I would notice and I would even tell Zareen about it. So I think for that reason, we really got close, especially once you moved to Austin. But I think our real bonding moment where all three of us, including Zerin, got really close was last summer, where we went to New York for a show at Brooklyn Mirage. Highly recommend if you all have never gone to a show there. But Sonny, I think we were visiting Michelle at the time and we had run into each other before the show, decided to just kind of, on a whim, go to the show together. And, I mean, it ended up being one of the most coolest nights of my life. And I'll never forget after the show, the show probably ended at like 05:00 A.m.. We walked on, it was either the Manhattan or the Williamsburg Bridge, and we took like a group photo together and we just sat there on the bridge and watched the sunrise. And I remember one of us even saying, this is going to be a core memory.

[05:39] Sunny: It was probably me.

[05:41] Fahad: And I remember at that time thinking like, new York City is such a hustle and bustle type of city, it should be always awake. And at that moment, nobody was around. The city was like dead quiet and we was watching the sunrise and I was like, man, this is, like, such a cool group of people, and I think that was really what solidified us kind of all being friends together. And then soon after, you moved into the building, and the rest was history.

[06:07] Sunny: Yeah, well, I'm blushing right now. Thank you. I reciprocate what you said for both of you all. I think you two are some of the most genuine people I know, and that's why I love hanging out with you two. And you both compliment each other, like you always say. You two are basically the same person. I mean, obviously not, but I just love hanging out with both of you are great people.

[06:31] Fahad: Well, yeah, I'm glad you like one of us, because you kind of have to deal with both of us.

[06:36] Zarin: I think we come in a pair at this point. All of our friends are the same.

[06:41] Sunny: All right, so next we'll talk about I mean, this podcast is about mental health mainly. So now we'll talk about your relationship with mental health and how you manage yours and what your current relationship is with it.

[06:55] Zarin: Well, growing up, I kind of share the same sentiment with you. I was kind of brought up in a traditional Asian household where you don't really talk about mental health. It's something that I struggled with growing up since I am the oldest and the first of the newest generation to be in America. So kind of navigating that world in Western society. Growing up, traditional Islamic Bengali household, it was kind of difficult to balance the two together. I kind of had to live a double life with my parents, keep some secrets, and I didn't have siblings growing up until I was 13, so I kind of have to deal with that all by myself. And I think now that I'm older, I can kind of reflect on that, look back at it, and honestly, I'm glad I went through that because it's made me so much stronger as an adult, and I feel very comfortable where I am now with my mental health.

[07:53] Fahad: Yeah, for me, I think it's a little similar in how we were brought up. Same kind of statements echoed there on growing up in an Asian household. It just never really was an issue that was brought up. So I wouldn't even consider mental health if I felt sad. That was just kind of going through the motions. To be honest, to this day, I still don't necessarily feel like I'm fully equipped to talk about mental health. And that's why I'm so glad to have people like you in my life that not only talking about it, but creating a passion project out of it and really impacting others around you, where it makes it a lot easier for me to navigate understanding what's good for my mental health. What's the best way to discuss it, what's the best way to navigate it? In our own relationship with me and Zareen, so yeah, I just want to say thank you for doing this. It's been an absolute pleasure already just listening to the few episodes and I'm excited to kind of chime in on my experiences so far.

[09:09] Sunny: Yeah, no, appreciate it. And I think, yeah, that's what it's all about is just opening that door for everyone, just trying to normalize it and hope you can impact someone or make someone more comfortable with being able to share that. So I really appreciate that comment. Assuming you are great friends, I know you have listened to the podcast. Are there any key takeaways that you've gotten or anything that you continue to hope to learn from the podcast?

[09:38] Zarin: Yeah, I think one thing that I remember you specifically said is that a lot of times people compare their grief or their mental health with others and it kind of put into perspective for me, especially since I'm pretty active on social media, I often forget people are struggling with their own thing. And sometimes if I share that or if I want to share that, I kind of struggle because I don't want to compare. Let's say I'm going through something, I'm afraid of other people's opinions saying like, well, she's going through this, I'm going through that. I think it's made me open my mind more to being more empathetic with others, just not judging too quickly.

[10:30] Fahad: I think for me personally, like I said, mental health has never been on the forefront of my mind. I think one for one reason, outside of a little phase in high school where I think I went through a little bit of a depressive phase for the most part, I've been able to process a lot of downtimes, I think, pretty well for the most part. However, I think what this podcast is really helping me with is understanding or kind of being able to think about ways to maybe help others in my life with their mental health, specifically my family. So I think you three siblings discussing your relationship with your mother when she was going through her bouts and then also how you three came together after the fact as well. I think it's really impactful and it gives me ways to think about how I should approach my relationship with my own siblings, with my own parents, to not only one think about my mental health, but kind of keep it in the conversation for them. Right. I think us being kind of the younger generation, right. Gen Z younger millennials are much more willing to talk about mental health. It's our parents that struggle with it quite a bit. And I think just having that dialogue and creating that and just normalizing it is so important. And that's something that I'm working with a lot now with my family, with my siblings and parents, to just say like, hey, it's normal to not feel like yourself and it's good to talk about it and it's good to be able to kind of tackle it ahead on, hopefully, as a unit, as a family unit. So that's something I've taken away. Your dynamic as a family, your two sisters that we've both met, they're wonderful people. I think their presence and their impact that they've had on you shines quite a lot, always. So being able to kind of do the same with mine right. Is something that I strive to do.

[12:38] Sunny: Yeah. That's amazing. I'm glad you're able to start having these conversations more with your family. I think that's really important. And I've talked about it in the past that the lack of those conversations with my family and my mom was probably a huge contributor to her depression just because we didn't know how to talk about it. Plus, I mean, we were kids, like you were saying growing up, we had never talked about it didn't make sense to us, or we just didn't have that knowledge. But we were doing what we were capable of, and that's the mindset shift that everyone should try to make. You're doing what you're capable of regarding it. So never say you're not doing enough.

[13:19] Fahad: Do you feel like because your parents were Asian, it was tougher to have that conversation? Like you growing up in that household. Did you know of any of your friends that were, I guess, quote unquote, more american? Do you know if their households were having conversations like that? Or do you think that it's just because there's a generational gap? Right. I don't really know if it's a cultural thing or if a generational thing.

[13:46] Sunny: I knew of parents that were going to therapy, caucasian American parents that were going to therapy, but never had I heard about that in the Asian community and the Chinese community. Yeah, it was all foreign to me, and it sort of got introduced when my parents were going through their divorce. They wanted us to go to family therapy and things like that. And I was being so young. I was like, there's no way I'm going to that. I sat in the waiting room while whoever went into the therapist room when I was a kid, I was like, I'm not doing that.

[14:22] Zarin: My dad's a doctor, and he refuses any sort of psychiatry or anything, even though I think my parents could could use a little bit of therapy just because they've gone through so much, coming overseas and being the first one in their family to actually build a life in a new country and support their entire family. My dad has six brothers and two sisters back home. He was supporting all of them. With his early salary as a doctor, it's really not much. While supporting me and my mother and she wasn't working. His friends will bring it up sometimes like, hey, you might have a little too much anxiety. Compared to most people, he'll just refuse. But I think as we're getting older and I'm getting older. I think they realize they see me less as a child and more of a woman. I feel like we're getting a lot closer. I'm opening those conversations saying, what were you like when you were 28? And I think now that they can relate to me as an adult, they're starting to open up a little bit more. And I see this change in my family dynamic where we used to kind of butt heads when I was at home, like a teenager until my mid 20s. But now there's a shift and I think Fahad can see it too. My relationship with my parents are a lot stronger now that we're talking about these things.

[15:54] Fahad: Yeah, I think another reason I ask is because I know you touched on this a little bit in your pilot episode about your mom's kind of perspective on what maybe the rest of the Asian American community might have thought about her divorce. And I think that's just such a prevalent theme in Asian households about people caring too much about their specific community. Right. So like Pakistani or Bengali or Indian Americans are the same way, where they're like anything we do, any way we operate, even if it's in our best interest to get a divorce, I'm not going to do it just because I don't want people to judge me. Right. And it's obviously such a negative thing and a harmful thing to do to yourself. And I think things like this, where you have Asian voices that can kind of speak and create that dialogue and make it known that it should be normal in communities like ours as well to have that conversation and normalize it for us, for our parents. And it shouldn't be something that is seen as a negative or judged on.

[17:14] Sunny: Yeah, I agree. Definitely. And I think that's a good segue into the main subject. I thought of doing this because one of my best friends, he went to college with a lot of Middle Eastern people and where they're from. He said it just operated so differently during Ramadan, where restaurants just were open late. Everyone just sort of started later just to be more accommodative. And I was like, it must be really difficult to have to be observing and no one is no one's accommodating or doing anything to help you. So I just thought, that can definitely weigh a lot on you. And so I just thought it would be a great topic to touch on because I know Ramadan just passed, so I know it's on a lot of people's minds and I can bet and I know it can be a tough time for some people.

[18:07] Fahad: Yeah, absolutely. So I guess before we jump into it, right. I can give a very quick high level on what Ramadan is for the listeners that might not know. So at a very high level, it's a holy month that us Muslims celebrate. It's based off the lunar calendar, so roughly 29 or 30 days. And since it's based off the lunar calendar, it actually doesn't abide by a set calendar date as we would normally think of it. So, for example, every year it kind of bumps up ten days earlier, which comes with its own problems, but it's a holy month for us where we take time to really connect with our spiritual side and really fully commit to our religion. And so what that really means is when you're fasting and abstaining from food from sunrise to sunset, from all drinking from sunrise to sunset, and that includes water, that's probably the number one question a Muslim gets in their lifetime, is even water. Yes. No water at all as well. And overall, just really abstaining from committing any kind of bad deeds. Right. So I think it just means overall, the big theme is you want to be the best person you can be in this 30 days and really take this time to kind of reflect on who you are, kind of reflect on your relationships and think about how you can kind of improve. So, yeah, that's kind of the basis of the month. Curious to hear your perspective on what you thought Ramadan was before you did your research and got a little bit more involved than normal.

[19:54] Sunny: Yeah, I think this was really interesting because I love the opportunity to learn more about something and just better understand it. And before kind of like what you just said, but to a lesser extent from my, I guess, outside looking in, I knew it was 30 days of fasting, and I saw that as a sort of, I would say almost like trying to cleanse yourself, I'd say for 30 days. And yeah, just get your body and mind right. And I guess it's like a token or sign of appreciation to sorry. And this is where I sound dumb to God. Yeah. Okay.

[20:38] Fahad: Well, I think you have a much more knowledgeable perspective than most people, which is why I asked, because I think the question of even water just shows that maybe there's, like, a surface level understanding, but not quite right. And to your point of growing up in the west right. People are obviously super empathetic when they're like, oh, you're fasting, but they don't quite understand the extent of that. Right. And just doing that bit of research to really understand, like, hey, what all goes into it is super helpful. And I will say I think nine out of ten people that I talk to think that it's, like, more so something like intermittent fasting would be so it's like, hey, I kind of gauge in the morning to kind of in the afternoon, I'll fast. But it's obviously much more than that. So no, I think applaud to you, first of all, for wanting to do a segment on this. I think it's super important. And then also on your idea that you wanted to kind of involve yourself and fast for multiple days and really commit. And I've had multiple friends throughout my lifetime that have said, like, hey, I'll fast with you. I don't know what the word? Like, to be kind of like a brother in arms or something, right? To be like, hey, I want to feel what you're feeling, but it's always been kind of cheating.

[22:02] Zarin: I'll just be sober for 30 days with you and not do anything bad. That's, like, the extent of it. But meanwhile, they're just, like, pounding cheeseburgers left and right.

[22:11] Fahad: Yeah. I had one buddy who tried for a day, and he essentially said, okay, I won't eat anything. And so he was just making smoothies throughout the day, and it was like, that doesn't really count. I want to hear what your experience was like, I guess. What kind of led you to wanting to do this in the first place?

[22:31] Sunny: Yeah, well, first when you said people always ask even water, I didn't know that you couldn't drink water. And now after I did my research, quote, unquote, I know water is not included, and that is very important.

[22:50] Zarin: It should be a tagline ramadan water not included.

[22:53] Sunny: Well, I just think that Ramadan impacts so many people and that I think people hearing this could learn something and change their perspective. And when someone says they're observing next year or something, they're more open minded or more willing to listen and talk to them about it. So I thought it'd be a great topic to talk about. And I did my research not only reading online, but I also observed for a few days of fasting. And, well, let's just say I don't know if I could do it for 30 days. It's difficult. It was draining, to say the least. I suck down water all the time, every day, and not being able to drink water, just something feels off. And I didn't tell you fahad, but I actually had to end the third day early.

[23:57] Fahad: I was scared to ask. Sonny and I pretty much fasted together. Day one, which we can talk about in a little bit, but day two or three, I was hanging out with my family, so I didn't want to check in with Sonny. One, I think it would be better to just talk about it now, but also, I was like I didn't want to pressure him or be like, hey, are you fasting today? And you kind of felt like he would need to. So I wanted to see how far you could get before you're like, all right, I can't. And the fact that you did more than one day, again, I've had multiple several people in my life try and not make it. And I think just even doing a real 24 hours trial of saying, like, hey, I'm committing to no food, no water. And I think I put certain rules that I made you follow, which was no food, no water, no drinking, waking up in the morning. And then one of our other very important kind of pillars of Islam is that you have to pray five times a day, right? And Ramadan being the holy month, it's even much more meaningful. Right? So I wanted you to take kind of that time that normally would be our prayer times, which can range anywhere from like 06:00 A.m. To 10:00 p.m. And not necessarily do a Muslim prayer, but take time to either reflect or just meditate. So day one, day two, day three, kind of what was the progression like for you?

[25:33] Sunny: So I fasted before, but obviously I've drank water. I did enjoy the times in the day where I had my alarm set and just have a moment to step away and reflect or meditate. That was really nice. Day one was fine, I think, in terms of the fasting and my mental energy and my spirit, because one, I don't think I did any physical activity. Two was fine. I actually did a lot of physical activity. I went to the driving range, hit a large bucket of golf balls. Then I went and got fitted for a driver for golf, where you have to basically swing your driver 100 times to find the right fit. And then I went and walked. I was supposed to walk nine holes of golf, but I ended up only walking seven. I was like, I'm so tired, I need to finish. But then that was at 730. I went straight to the gas station, got like three gatorades and three waters and just had them sitting, waiting for the countdown. And day three, what was tough is I went and golfed, but it was 85 degrees and humid, and I went and golfed at like from 02:00 p.m. To 05:00 p.m.. And when I finished, I was in my car about a faint, and I was like, I just need some water. So not a cop out answer, but if I hadn't done any physical activity, I would have been able to finish day three. But I did do 2.75 ish days. And yeah, it was difficult.

[27:09] Zarin: That's more than most. So that's great.

[27:12] Sunny: I could definitely tell. At the end of the day, I remember day two when I was golfing walking, I was playing with one of my good friends and then a couple of people I didn't know that well. And I was just irritated and cranky and just not laughing at jokes and stuff. I was just like, whatever, I just want to get through this.

[27:30] Fahad: So obviously this is a really kind of mini sample of the experience, but I know you'd also participated in 75 hard to some extent earlier this year. Which one did you feel was more difficult between the two? And if you want to give some context as to what that program is.

[27:49] Sunny: Yeah, so 75 hard is this workout regimen where 75 it's 75 days, no drinking. You pick a diet that you stick by for 75 days, and then you have to do one outside workout and one inside workout. And then I believe you have to read at least ten pages, ten pages a day. And I'd say observing and fasting was more taxing mentally than doing 75 hard. 75 hard was just a big test on discipline. And I feel like for me, I'm saying I'm pretty disciplined by them and actually complete 75 hard. It ended up turning into just 50 days and no alcohol, just because my sisters came in town and now I seem like a cough out. I give you all these excuses for why I didn't finish, but I don't know, it's hard to explain. But yeah, I think in terms of affecting me mentally and making me like I said, I was cranky and easily irritated. I think it definitely affected my mental health more than 75 hard did. And I felt like I got especially knowing how important it is to people that are important in my life, it felt more impactful, even if it was only for two to three days that I did it. Just being able to walk in your two shoes for a little bit and see what that was like was really touching for me.

[29:29] Fahad: Yeah, we can get into this a bit more about obviously the struggles of it, which, as we mentioned, one of the big ones is people not really understanding what you're going through. And so that makes it a little bit tougher to navigate in Western society. So to all my friends that have attempted to do it, to some degree, I appreciate them and I definitely appreciate you. It really is really meaningful. I would say out of the entire month of Ramadan, the one that was by far the easiest was the one that you did that first day with me. Because it just felt like I had someone just, like, new to kind of bring along and really kind of guide through. And it made it such a rewarding experience in itself, more so than I already do feel when I do the holy month every year. So I very much appreciate you doing it, and it means a lot as someone who does it every year. So no props to you on that.

[30:34] Sunny: Thanks.

[30:35] Fahad: And I guess before we move forward on day one, I do want to tell just a kind of quick story on when you did finally break fast. So I was obviously checking in on you throughout the day to see how you're feeling. You're like, I'm okay for the most part. Sonny's also kind of like, snorlax. Like, when he sleeps, it's like, game over. So Sonny says he woke up at 10:00 a.m.. I think from other accounts I've heard it was like noon or so. We don't know how long he was really awake for the fast day one, but I told. Him like, hey, let's go to dinner and break fast. And it's so funny because my cravings when I'm fasting are just so particular, and I love very meat heavy foods. And I was, like, craving brisket and barbecue and Zurink can attest to this pretty much all month. And I really want to go to Blacks, but the lines, I was out the door. So I was like, all right, you let me know where you want to go, Sonny, and we'll go. And you're like barbecue? I was, like, perfect. And we're waiting in line, and we're, like, about to order the food. There's probably, like, 10 minutes left, and Sonny's like, I'm about to grub down. And I was like, Same. But let me give you a little bit of insight. When you fast, your stomach shrinks throughout the day. So even though you think you're about to just feast, your body will physically not be capable of eating as much as you want. And I knew this going in, and we start looking at the menu, and there's all these amazing sides and all this food, and there's literally, like, a special on their menu, which is, like, $150 family pack for six people. And we were like, okay, that's obviously insane. We'll just get enough people food for two of us. And by the time we were done ordering, I think we got $220 worth of food between two of us. The family pack is normally, like, £3 of meat. We got, like, three and a half pounds. And I've been in the situation I've done this for 1520 years of my life now. And even though just getting to that finish line of having to break my fast, I was like, oh, this sounds so good. But, yeah, we got all that food, and I think we probably ate, like, 25% of it. If that was just I think it's a great show of somebody fasting for the first time, but I will say that food was incredibly rewarding after you first try it.

[33:08] Sunny: Yeah, first time having, I think, barbecue beef rib, and that was unreal. I just thought of another funny story. I knew that if I asked that I probably shouldn't do it, but I asked Fahad. I was like, It's okay if I zinn is basically a nicotine pouch. And obviously, I know if you have to ask, you probably shouldn't do it. But I was like, it doesn't hurt.

[33:36] Fahad: Honestly, it's a fair question to ask. And I think it's funny. I've had debates about this several times with even some of my friends that are Muslim about, can you technically smoke, like, a cigarette? Because it's not really ingesting anything. It's like, obviously no, it's not okay. Right? You're supposed to be essentially abstaining from everything.

[33:59] Zarin: All vices.

[34:00] Fahad: Yeah, all vices. But, yeah, I thought it was hilarious that you asked that. But also, it's tough, right? People have cravings throughout the day. That's not just food or drink right. And it's tough and people do it for over 30 days. It's a great test for your mental and physical discipline.

[34:24] Sunny: Yeah, I think for me, I do enjoy trying to put my, I guess, body and mind to physical tests. Like, I've ran the marathon, I fought in a boxing match, so I thought not only to experience it, it would be a good opportunity to sort of I don't know if it's the right way to put it, just see what I'm capable of, I guess. And clearly I wasn't able to do it for three days. Not too capable. Now we're going to talk a little bit about what it was like for you to observing growing up as children and what was that like for you?

[35:01] Zarin: Yeah, so Fahad and I, even though we kind of come from similar backgrounds, I think the way that we were raised when it comes to religion is a little different. I definitely think my family was a little bit more lenient when it came to religion. So whenever it was Ramadan, there's extra prayers that you do every day at the mosque. You stay for like another 30 minutes extra after you're doing the night prayer. And I never grew up doing that. And it's actually something that I learned when I started dating Fahad and getting to know his family a little bit more. So that's something that was new to me. I really didn't feel a lot of pressure to fast growing up. My parents were just doing it and honestly, it was a fun thing for me just because it brought my family closer together. It also, whenever I go to the mosque, there's a lot more people that were like me that I could relate to. Whereas where I grew up, South Texas, there's really not like a big Bengali community or South Asian community. So it gave me a sense of community. And I think the religious part of it, I think got stronger as I got older, the spirituality of it, because before it was just something that you had to do and it was fun to do. But I think getting to know Fahad and his relationship with Islam and his family's relationship has really rekindled that again as an adult.

[36:48] Fahad: Yeah. I think for me, growing up, I also didn't really understand or feel the benefits of going through this process of fasting and kind of really trying to spiritually connect. I mean, I did it because my family did it and you were supposed to do it. Right. I think some of the struggles growing up right is that, as I mentioned, every year, the timing of Ramadan is a bit different because it's kind of based off the lunar calendar. So when I was growing up, especially, I think I started fasting, really in middle school onwards. Then I think Ramadan used to be towards like September, October, and I think it was like right around when football season started and you would have to wake up super early in the morning. And I was involved in cross country track and field football. I was not a good football player, but I was still involved and I mean, I had to fast through it, right? And it was tough because it was kind of that age where nobody really knew why I was fasting or what that concept was. And even the Muslim kids in my school, maybe their parents didn't really care or they did, but some of the other kids were like, I'm just going to eat anyways. And I kind of always had that fortitude like, no, I'm not going to go behind my parents back and not do it. So that was just tough, right? Kind of feeling isolated, growing up, doing that for an entire month and sticking through it. And then as you keep growing up, the month of Ramadan kind of keeps going up the calendar as well. For example, we did Ramadan one year during the hurricane season in Houston. I think it was Ike where we lost our power. We had no AC and with no power means like no electronics, no TV, nothing to really distract yourself. You're like just sitting there sweating, just waiting for the time to eat non perishable foods because we didn't even have a fridge that operated because of the hurricane. That was probably one of the toughest bouts that I had. And so just going through that experience, we would come back to school the next week and people are like, oh yeah, we didn't really get to do anything fun for the past week. And I was like, I was like literally dying again. Not having that experience of being able to really share and feeling like people are understanding. The struggle was tough and I never got the benefit of it, right? I never understood why am I doing this? And I only did it because my parents were doing it and I didn't want to go behind their back and not do it, right. I think my perspective shifted once I got into college, right? I was my own person, I was independent. It got to the point where I asked myself, why am I doing this? Right? It's tough, it's challenging. And I think it's at that point I understood what religion meant for me and what it meant for my mental health. It's a super struggle, of course, going through the food, the lack of it, the lack of water and all the impacts that we can get into outside of just like, oh, I crave it. But being able to kind of really disconnect from all of these worldly things and connect with my spiritual side. Which is why I wanted you to also meditate every 5 minutes, like carve it out of your day, do it at different times around the day. There's nothing more peaceful than just kind of sitting and reflecting in your thoughts. And it's always a little bit challenging the first couple of days when you start, but there's like this peak moment, especially, I would say, like, dates five to 27. It's kind of in the middle where you're kind of used to it at this point, but you're also not waiting for it to be over, where you're really just like, hey, I've gotten used to being hungry, being thirsty. It's fine. Now I'm just really focused on just really connecting with my spiritual side. And it's like a wonderful thing for your kind of mental fortitude. So that's why I essentially decided, like, hey, I'm going to keep going. And every year I do mental checkup with myself. I'm like, hey, is this for me? And every year I'm like, I could never live without it. I think the benefits that I gain because of the challenges that I face are just so, so valuable that now, I mean, you know, Zareen and I both do it together along with our family. It's it's super, like, valuable to do every year.

[41:48] Sunny: Yeah, that's great that you two are able to have each other and your families. You talked a lot about the challenges. How has that impacted your mental health?

[42:02] Zarin: Yeah, I kind of struggled with Ramadan this year, especially more than other years. I think just because maybe I'm getting older and I recently got a new job that requires a lot of me. I have to wake up really early and talk during all these client meetings with no water. It kind of takes a toll on you when you're waking up before sunrise and eating. But it got to a point where I think there was three straight weeks where I did not step afoot outside during the day because I was straight, just working. I work from home, so I was just doing the same routine every single day. Wake up at five, make food for me and Fahad, then go back to sleep. Try to sleep as much as you can until you have meetings at like, 738. You run through all these meetings till the end of the day and you don't want to do anything after that. You just want to kind of lay down and relax until it's time to break your fast. So this was going on for three weeks straight, and I think during that last week, I was actually about to go on a trip to Hawaii for one of my friends bachelorette parties. That was planned just during it happened to be during Ramadan. And I remember going to Walgreens to pick up a few things before I went to travel. And it was the first time in three weeks where I was out and about with the sun still out, and I was like, almost brought to tears. I turned to Fahadi, who was driving the car. I was like, I miss normalcy so much. I can't believe it's been this long just driving past all these restaurants and seeing people just live the normal life that we did the past whole year. It's only three weeks, but it is definitely a huge challenge. But kind of to what Fahad said. I know that pushing myself to these limits, it brings so much perspective for me and I think just helps me gain that discipline in the long run. But it is definitely tough. This year was tough, but definitely having Fahad go through that with me, having his family in Austin to kind of go through the whole Ramadan community together.

[44:42] Fahad: It'S a lot nicer and also just interesting. You said three weeks and not a month, which for women it's usually a three week experience. You want to touch on that a little bit.

[44:54] Zarin: Yeah. So I don't know, sunny, if you did any research on how the female experience was a little different, but basically during Ramadan, when women are on their period, they don't fast and it's mostly due to obviously you're losing a lot of blood and if you're fasting, you're probably going to pass out. You also don't pray if you're menstruating. So there's a lot of stigma that comes with that in the community. So I know growing up, once you're at that age, after you've hit puberty and you're around aunts and uncles that come over and break fast with you, they ask you, why are you not fasting? Why are you eating already? And we're pressured to just be embarrassed about the fact that we're on our period and just not talk about it. So even sometimes when I'm menstruating and Fahad's at home and he's fasting and I'm not, I feel guilty for like, drinking water, like eating in front of him. Like I'll literally take my water bottle and turn around or go to the other room and drink. And he's like, you know, I'm not a little kid, it's okay to drink water. But there's like a funny story. A friend of a friend said that her aunt didn't want anybody to know that she was on her period during Ramadan. Since it's such like a taboo thing to talk about in the community, I guess, during Ramadan that she would secretly go to the bathroom and drink bidet water. And let me kind of explain to you what that means. So in the South Asian community, we have basically almost like a watering can that you use after you go to the bathroom. I know I'm getting really TMI here, but yeah, you stay clean. So this woman would go into her bathroom and take this watering can that's used to basically clean all that down there and then just drink out of it because she was so afraid to show other people that she was on her period during Ramadan. But that was my two cent.

[47:15] Fahad: Yeah, I think that's one of the I would say, few points where it's almost better to observe Ramadan in the Western culture, though, because I think the stigma or the taboo around a normal bodily function of the female experience every month is a little bit more open in the West, I think. In Asian households especially, it's like something you don't really talk about or mention or acknowledge. So I think that is one good thing where I think in our family or people that I know specifically that follow pretty open about like, oh yeah, she's not fasting this week, so it's not weird. None of the women in our house have to feel like, oh, they have to fake fast in front of people, so they're not potentially speculating that, oh my God, you're menstruating. It's a very natural thing. So that's at least, I think, one good side to it. But from my experience on kind of some of the struggle with fasting and going through the month is you really don't understand, or at least I didn't understand the relationship of food and sleep with how I felt throughout the day. Because it's like a boot camp of just like, hey, putting your body through you like the absolute most day in and day out. Right. Which is why I think I was really adamant with you too, is like, hey, if you're going to fast, I want you to at least try to wake up super early one morning. So for a little bit of background there. Right. When you're fasting from sunrise to sunset, and if we take this most recent month of Ramadan, you're looking at 06:00 A.m. In the morning to about 08:00 p.m. In the evening. You're not eating or drinking anything, right. So realistically you probably have till about 08:00 p.m. To about 11:00 p.m.. Or midnight if you're going to work or whatnot. And then if you want to grab breakfast, you're going to have to do it before 06:00 a.m.. Right. So what that means for us is that we're normally waking up at five in the morning and that's after we probably slept at like twelve or 01:00 the night before because we had so many limited hours to get our food in. And as you can imagine, doing that every single day messes with your sleep schedule. I have a hard time falling asleep already. So if I go to bed at midnight, I'm actually falling asleep at like, 230 or three, and then I'm waking up at five, and then I'm trying to either fall back asleep or I'm just staying awake until I have to go to work. And there's no way I can be like, the best version of myself. Right, yeah.

[50:12] Zarin: I feel like during Ramadan we are a little bit more argumentative with each other just because our patience is being tested and we're just not our best selves.

[50:26] Fahad: Yeah, I think we're definitely much more irritable. I think that if you speak to anybody who's around me during these months, not as much anymore, but that was definitely something that I've struggled with. Right? It's like I would react too quickly to comments, or I would be a little bit more emotionally unstable just because I don't have food in me, I don't have enough sleep in me. Right. And it accumulates over time. And I think the other struggle is, for us focusing on our physical health as well. That relationship with food always also becomes a little bit more like a task. So for me, this past month, I was really focusing on, hey, trying to get as much protein as I can. That way, any of the goals that I made in the gym, for example, didn't get lost. My meals for the most of the month weren't like huge feasts or anything, right. I would break my fast with a protein protein shake. My stomach was shrunk, so I didn't really have enough appetite to eat much else. I would have maybe a meal, wake up the next morning, have a protein yogurt or protein shake, and then call it. Right? And that was my meal for practically, I would say, like, 22 out of the 30 days that I fasted. So it almost makes it more of a task than a pleasurable moment. And then the other struggle, I think, now that we're growing up and deal with health issues, is not getting enough sleep. Not getting enough food also leads to potential illnesses. Right. And my mindset and for the most part, it's like you can break your fast if you're severely sick. In your case, on day three, if you'd seriously thought you were going to faint, yeah, it makes sense to drink water, right. You're not going to go to the hospital for fast. But, like, the minor things, like a headache, a migraine, congestion, you can't take medicine throughout the day, so you just have to kind of power through. So that's quite a bit of a struggle. It's hard to tell people or like, in my case, I never want to feel like I'm a victim, right? Like, I choose to do this right. And I don't want others to also feel like I'm not putting my best foot forward so I don't go into the office and give a disclaimer like, hey, guys, I'm fasting, so I might not be as sharp today. I just have to just power through. Right. So that's a struggle. When I know that maybe I have brain fog, I'm not processing things as quickly. The people on the other end can't know that. I just have to kind of power through it. So it's a challenge, but being able to overcome it. Right. Being strategic about how I operate is also super important. So I think this year, Serena and I having kind of a little bit of a game plan was helpful, which we can talk about a little bit on meal planning, I think, was one.

[53:37] Zarin: Did we do that? Oh, yeah, I guess I prepped egg bites for breakfast. It's all a blur at this point.

[53:43] Fahad: Yeah, I think that the meal planning was super helpful because normally you're waking up in the morning, you're preparing breakfast then, which is a huge hassle. So being able to do that in advance, and then I think being able to shift the mindset as well, where, again, like I said, I don't want to feel like I'm a victim, right? I don't want to feel like, oh, woe is me, I'm so hungry, I'm so thirsty. That's obviously going to affect your mental health, right? But being able to say, take it for what it is, which is I'm giving myself an opportunity. First of all, so grateful that I've made it to this holy month, where I'm able to kind of put myself to this challenge. And then the real benefit is, like, feeling that gratefulness of all that you have in your life. Right. So losing some of these worldly materials and items throughout the day and being able to eat in the evening, even though it felt like a task at times, you still appreciate it. I mean, like you said, it was probably one of the best barbecue bites you ever had when you first got into it. It's a really rewarding feeling. And I think from a mental health perspective this year, especially when I would sit down, reflect, pray, being able to kind of just sit with myself and say, like, hey, I'm here. I live in a beautiful city with an amazing wife, and I pray out, have a nice view to look out my window, it makes me really appreciative. And Zareen talked about sunlight, right? I think of it as like, man, I get sunlight every single day. I see the sun, I step out, but you forget how amazing it is to just go outside. So now that the month is over, being able to really enjoy the small things, man, I don't know if you had a day out of your three days where you woke up and your mouth was dry already and you're like, ****, I got to do this for twelve or 15 hours. Waking up and just being like, man, I can have a sip of water whenever I want. Makes you grateful for such those little details where you're like, man, those 30 days, or for Zareen, those like 22, 23 days, that challenge makes it so worth it for your perspective on your daily life. So from that reason, building up that mental fortitude is so important to me.

[56:29] Sunny: Yeah, no, I think that is really important. You guys have talked about it a little bit, so my next sort of segment would be how you work on your mental health. And I think you guys have touched on it throughout this whole episode. First, you have each other as a support system, you have your family. And I was going to ask, what do you do to reduce the stigma around your mental health? I think you already even touched on that by saying just trying to have more conversations with your family, your siblings, your parents. I think those are some great things to be doing. And I'm happy that you have each other to swear each other through difficult times or whatever you're going through.

[57:12] Fahad: Yeah. And I would just also touch on kind of my perspective on mental health, which is there's no one size fits all. I think now that we're having this conversation about mental health, some people might think that means we're pushing therapy, right? Or we're pushing this has to be a forefront discussion. I think what positive mental health means is different for everyone, and I think that definitely spans even in this room. The way I see it is it's like, similar to your physical health, right? It's probably a blend of dieting, lifting cardio, but the last thing you want to do is do nothing, right? Just sit on your couch all day, 24 hours. I think the same thing with the mental health. Maybe it's therapy, maybe it's just talking through it, sharing your thoughts with friends, family. For me, sometimes it's just like taking a bath, just being able to kind of sit by myself, process things and figure out, okay, how am I going to logically move forward? And if that doesn't work for me, I talk to Zarine. If that doesn't work for me, I'll talk to friends. So, yeah, I think finding what works for you will be different, but just don't do yourself the disservice of completely ignoring it and not doing anything at all.

[58:43] Sunny: Yeah, I think that's a great way to put it. And I like to say, like, you were relating it to physical fitness for one year. You're really into running or something like that. Your way of managing your mental health is forever changing as well. The next year you get into boxing, but the way that you manage or work on your mental health will also be changing as well, and you need to be open to that and understanding and trying to understand what your body and mind needs. Well, this is a great conversation. Like I said, I've learned so much fasting reading up on Ramadan and understanding more about it, and it was a pleasure. Like I said, just being able to better relate to you two, who are two of my really good friends, is important to me. And I'm really happy that I got to have Terry Blacks with Fahad and absolutely feast. So it was a great experience. And thank you so much for coming on and having this conversation and being vulnerable. I really appreciate it.

[59:50] Fahad: Yeah, it was a pleasure.

[59:51] Zarin: Yeah, awesome.

[59:52] Sunny: Well, yeah. Thank you again and thanks, everyone for tuning in. This is three siblings. We'll see you on the next one.

[59:59] Zarin: You.

[01:00:11] Michele: Thank you for tuning in to the three siblings. We know we discuss some really tough topics on the show, so we want to make sure you've got the resources you need. If you're going through a tough time, dialing nine eight eight will bring you to a suicide and crisis phone line. If you want to support the work we're doing on the show, the best thing to do is to leave a review on Apple podcasts. It might help someone else who needs to hear this and find this show. You can also follow us on social media at Three Siblings podcasts on Instagram and at Siblings podcasts on Twitter. We are so excited to share more stories with you in our next episode.