On depression and why I can’t be a hustler

I’ve dealt with depression for as long as I can remember. I probably dealt with it long before that, but back then, I didn’t have a name for it. I’m not sure when I learnt what this sensation was called. I just know that some people around me interpret it as tantrums and laziness. In the African setting, we don’t see it as a real disease. But then again, not many Africans acknowledged PMS either. They just made the girl sit in a hole and went to amuse themselves with other daughters and wives. Moodiness, ADD, obesity, and hormonal conditions are considered as ‘western problems.’

I don’t know how women in the past dealt with PMS and menopause and stuff like that. It doesn’t exactly show up in folk tales and bedtime stories. It’s possible indigenous diets had supplements that made the problems easier to deal with, I don’t know. But speaking for myself, I deal with mood swings a lot, and it’s always really scary for me.

Whenever I tell my friend about it, he suggests I distract myself and find something active to do. That response always bugs me. I don’t want to ignore the problem. It’s not like that will make it go away. I want to sit and talk and analyse and find out what caused the depression. That way, I can find a way to fix it.

But depression doesn’t work like that. It’s a sickness just like headaches or stomachaches or cancer. Finding out the source of cancer is work for researchers and scientists. The work of a patient is to take medicine and get better. So as a depressive person, I should focus on simply finding ways to get better.

Depression is mental, so it helps to change the way I think – or better yet – to just stop thinking. That sounds really silly to me, but it works. Sometimes when I’m terribly down, I distract myself with housework. I tell myself it will keep my mind occupied, and that I’ll be able to think clearer once the dishes are done. Instead, what happens is that two hours pass, I have no clue what I was thinking, and my house looks better. It’s like for the duration of the housework, my brain switched off!

Clean dishes
Of course once I’m self aware again, the depression comes back, so meh.

I tried to think about my life is TZ. I tried to recall whether I was ever as depressed while I was there. My conclusion was that I didn’t have time to be depressed. I was like a robot on autopilot. Wake up, office, get home, black out. I was always so exhausted after work that if I found my little girl awake, all I could do was give her a hug and a kiss then black out until the next morning – literally. I think that’s why manual workers don’t seem to get depressed. They simply don’t have the time or energy for it.

So I suppose that instead of trying to decipher why I feel this way, I should just fill my days with so much action and trivia that I simply don’t have time to feel sad. It feels like a cop out to me, but maybe that’s exactly what I need – to cop out and shift focus. Plus, as a freelancer, being down means not working, which means not eating.

It’s hard for most people to understand depression. To them life is a fun, exciting adventure. They’re always looking out for something new and interesting to do, or for someone funky to hang out with. me, I don’t want innovation. I want to sit here and live life and do my thing. It’s hard for me to do that when I can’t see what my purpose is.

I’m a writer, and I feel most fulfilled when I do that. I’m a mother, and most of what I do is for her. I’m a daughter, and I know that someday, I’ll have to look after my parents. I’m a sister, and I try to set a good example. I’m a woman, and I try to be happy for my man.

But for the most part, I can’t see my overall function in life. There are days when I wake up and wonder what the point is. I wonder what good I’m doing in the world. I ask myself why I should get out of bed, and what I can possibly achieve this new day. I wish I had just died in my sleep.

While I was in TZ, my driving force was to get back home. Now that I’m home, there’s lot of stuff I want to do. I want to raise my baby right, to buy the penthouse next door, to write my next great novel, to provide for my family. But lately, I see no way to do that, and I wonder if there’s any point in trying. I feel lost, and I feel stuck.

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I feel you bro

 

In June 2011, I was setting the clock on my computer and I realized that half the year was gone and I had nothing to show for it. I felt like I had wasted the past six months, and I saw no signs that I wouldn’t waste the next six. It’s thoughts like that which end with people hanging from a tree. In the past, I’d have dwelt on those thoughts  to find the cause and fix it. Instead, I chose to shift focus. I didn’t want to go back down that road. I’d been there before, and it didn’t go anywhere good.

Religious people are lucky. Their purpose in life is to please their God and build a good afterlife. They have directions and goals. Me, well, I guess my life is made up of moments. There are lots of little things that I do every day. I helped a friend write a report that landed them a big client. I made a watchman smile by being nice to him. I cracked a joke that cheered up the victim of a stroke. I made a salesman’s day by simply hearing him out.

Maybe my purpose in life isn’t to save the world or cure HIV or become a president. Maybe my purpose is to keep doing these little things. Maybe every smile that I produce creates a ripple effect, and maybe that’s all that’s required of me. Maybe all I need to convince myself to get out of bed is to make one person smile.

Of course there’s a risk in that. It means I end up living for other people, and that’s never a good idea. But I do need to feel like I’m doing something big and worthwhile with my life, and at the time, I didn’t feel like I was. Still, I read a tweet that said forever is about millions of moments, so if I can just live for the moments and enjoy them, then it’s never a waste. I wish I  knew how. It’s so easy for me to come up with these theories and proclamations, but I never know how to do just do them.

In 2010 and part of 2011, I was running my own freelance outfit, but I wasn’t doing it well, and I didn’t think I’d ever get better at it. So I went back into employment. It was cool, because the salary came in more or less every month, even though it was sometimes partial or late. I made my way up the ladder and had my starting salary quadrupled in as many years. Right now, I’m in a good space financially. I’m making long term plans and sensible investments. My baby girl is healthy and happy, if tumultuous. I’ve found a boy that likes me, and I like him back. A lot.

I still long to be chilling in a penthouse, surrounded by pretty things, cradling a Mac on my laps, typing out my next great novel. Instead, I’m sitting at my desk on a Friday afternoon, headphones on, nibbling some baileys-flavoured ice cream, typing the last words of this post. And I have to admit, it’s not a terrible place to be.

♫ Thank you ♫ Alanis Morissette ♫

A different kind of depression

Chimamanda wrote an article about depression. It was a beautiful piece, an intensely personal one that rang true on so many levels. But she didn’t want it published, and so it got pulled off the internet. I wish she’d reconsider, though I get where she’s coming from. Depression is a very private battle, and fighting it in front of the world makes it so much harder.

I’ve been feeling rather strange the past few weeks. Well, it actually started last November, but I’ve kept it undercover – even from myself – until now. Of course anyone that knows me knows there’s something wrong when my blog goes quiet. I need to write as much as I need to breathe, so when I’m not writing, it’s usually because something is seriously wrong.

I can usually spot my depressive episodes. Not this time. This time the depression had a make-over. It didn’t creep up like it usually does, shrouded in silence and nothingness. This time, it was dressed in red. It zoomed towards me clothed in rage and hunger, and inexplicable whirlwind of emotion and not-enough-ness. I felt inadequate, and that made me angry.

For weeks I’ve been storming around with a scowl on my face, slamming doors inside my head and not quite knowing why. I’ve noticed that in a lot of this year’s photos, I have this ugly frown on my face, which either means I’m growling more … or taking more photos. I’m always tired, and my feet hurt all the time, which made me think I was getting fatter, even though my workmates say I’m actually losing weight. I feel overwhelmed, overstimulated, and unsatisfied, yet there’s nothing on my to-do list to warrant it.

nami_verymad

 

Then today I met someone I used to care about … and felt nothing. The encounter lasted minutes. I used to spend hours talking to him, suddenly he had nothing to say to me, and I had nothing to say to him. I hugged him, because it felt silly to shake his hand. I smiled at him, because it seemed appropriate. He smiled back. I tried to see whether the smile had reached his eyes, but the sun was too bright for me to tell. He talked about my hoodie and my hair. Then he walked away.

I wanted to look back, to see if he was alone, to see if he was rushing towards another girl. Luckily, my pride wouldn’t let me. Instead, I went and stood in line for the matatu. And instead of doing the smart thing and playing Candy Crush, I asked myself why I felt nothing. Which – naturally – unleashed all the feelings I’d suppressed during that one-minute-meeting. And the clearest one was loud, raw, unfounded bile.

Once I got to work, locked myself in the bathroom, had a good cry, washed my face, and came back to my desk, I thought about Chimamanda’s piece and realised this was a new phase of depression. The exhaustion I feel despite 8 hours of sleep, the lack of interest in anything, the unfocussed buzzing in my head, the vague desperation for something new – anything new, the conviction that nothing I do is enough and so there’s no need to try.

I wondered what the issue was, because there’s nothing specific to be furious about, and yet I am. I blamed it on my hormonal cycle, yet three cycles have come and gone and the rage goes unabated. I’ve quantified it, telling myself I just turned 33 but have no house and no car and am therefore unsuccessful, but I count my blessings – a well-paying job, a loving family,  awesome friends, my happy pre-teen child … and I realise that can’t be it.

I’ve even tried to blame it on a man, looked around, found none, then blamed my anger on the absence of a man. But that’s never really bothered me before, at least not on this scale. A couple I know has been arguing for a year, having one little spat after another. I advised them to find out what they were REALLY arguing about, and they did.

Chimamanda 1

Chimamanda

So in my case, I needed to find out what I was really angry about. And the answer is … nothing. So when I read Chimamanda’s article and identified with her anger, I realised that maybe my anger was just the latest weapon in my depression arsenal. Maybe my deep dark space had realised I’ve learned to ignore the void, so it came back dressed in something else, just to get my attention. And maybe now that I recognise it for what it is, this baseless anger will go away.

I write about depression a lot, so I did a quick search on my blog and noticed something interesting. Most my depression posts are between November and February. The statistic rings true from 2008 to date. I didn’t have a blog before that, so I can’t be sure, but I suspect the pattern goes back much farther. I read about a condition called SAD – Seasonal Affective Disorder. Yes, I see the irony, and yes, it made me smile.

SAD generally attacks during the western winter. But … our winter is in July, and we don’t have snow during Christmas in this part of the world. So much as I’ve been called the blackest white girl, I doubt that’s what my SAD-ness is about. Maybe my end-year depressive episodes are more triggered by birthdays and reflection, that annual session of counting down what I have (and haven’t achieved – I’m a December baby). Either way, Njaanuary is over, so it’s possible my blues are too. Maybe I just haven’t noticed it yet. I wonder if chocolate and red flowers will help. I’m more than open to finding out…

♫ Mirrors ♫ Justin Timberlake ♫

Death and depression

I haven’t written in a while. Sometimes when that happens, it’s because I’m distracted with the princess and the day job. Other times, it’s because I’m lost in the darkness that resides inside my head.

I’ve been depressed for a while now. It was a soft, subtle shadow at the edges of my brain. But this week, my princess went on a school trip, and all that free time and silent space made my feelings really loud. Usually, when I have a session with depression, I can watch my baby sleep and retain my grip on reality. But this time, she’s far away from home, and there isn’t that much to hold on to.

The depression was triggered by lots of things. Problems at work, end-year reflections, the silence of one friend, the disappearance of another, the death of a third, money matters, and the sudden absence of my purple hair. Yeah, I had an impulsive attack of … something or other … and ended up shedding my dreads.

Ever since my baby left for her trip, I’ve found it harder to wake up. Usually, I struggle for half an hour or more. Then I remind myself that if I don’t get out of bed, my baby can’t eat (or get to school on time). I amble over to her bed and watch her for a few minutes, and that gives me the push I need to throw off my own blanket. But this week, she’s not here, and I’ve been late for work a lot.

My princess motivates me in other ways as well. Everything I do is for her, and that hasn’t changed, but it’s harder to remember when she’s not right here to remind me – and when she’s in teenage mode whenever I call to see how she’s doing. I suppose there’s nothing more lame than your mum calling you in the middle of a fun teen-filled camp, so I totally understand where she’s coming from, but it still stings. A lot. Sigh.

Grim_reaper

Yesterday, I attended a friend’s memorial, and that sunk my depression to far darker levels. Pat was an awesome guy. We heard stories about the places he went, the things he did, and how he wooed his wife. He was at a point where he seemed happy, alive, accomplished. He had a beautiful wife, two beloved dogs, a job he loved, a house in Runda. And then these people walked into his house and shot him, took him away.

Most people respond to death by recognizing the fragility of life, and choosing to live each moment to the fullest. My response is to wonder why I should bother at all. Why even try when someone can take everything you value in an instant, simply because he can? It’s not that I’m [currently] suicidal or anything. I’m just finding it hard to … well … live. I’m hiding in sugar, lactose, fiction, and reality TV, and my work load is suffering. I’m trying to ride it out, and it’s a pretty awful place to be.

I’ve lost a lot of loved ones and attended many funerals, so I don’t know why this one affected me so much. Maybe it was the randomness of his death. It was so completely unnecessary. I was watching Star Trek this weekend, and Spock tells the doctor, ‘You humans find it easier to accept the death of one than the death of millions.’ In my case, Spock was wrong.

I find myself wondering what the point is. Why work, strive, love, live, just for someone to come and take it all away? Why do we even try? I always tell myself I do it for my daughter, to give her the kind of life she wants to have. But now she’s far away and this form of motivation seems remote and theoretical.

I was talking to … well … God, I suppose, asking him what the point is. People who have religion can hold on to the promise of eternity, the idea that everything here is just a journey, a rehearsal, a preparation for the afterlife. I don’t have that kind of faith, and maybe I never did. So I sit here and I ask God why I should bother coming to work, buying a car, locking my door, just for someone to come and take my life away.

I ask him why we sit here and pretend we’re safe, when we can die in a vault surrounded by bodyguards and electric fencing. I ask him why we bother eating healthy, going on diets, looking both ways before crossing the road, when there are people out there just waiting to shoot you down at the earliest chance.

A quiet voice gave me a simple answer. ‘Because we’re still here.’ We can be miserable, we can be afraid, we can be sad, we can be cautious. We can wonder about the afterlife, or desperately hold on to a promise of paradise with no proof but faith. We can storm around clouded in justified anger spewing hate wherever we go. But for now, we’re still here, so we might as well enjoy it. Hearing that didn’t resolve my sadness, my fear, my sense of hopelessness and loss. But it was answer, and sometimes an answer – any answer – is all you need.

Stay safe Pat. Wherever you are.
Stay safe Pat. Wherever you are.

Of cats and stuff

One of my favourite songs at the moment is Say something by JT and Chris Stapleton. Another is Nowhere Fast by Eminem and Kehlani. I looked up the lyrics and noticed Google is kind of shortchanging sites like Az lyrics. I like it coz it’s purple and well laid out, used it for years. It was almost always at the top of search rankings.

But nowadays Google puts lyrics on its own home page, so you don’t have to click on the lyrics sites. I get that it’s about monopoly easy access, but I feel bad for all the sites that are losing traffic over this. My entire income model is based on helping businesses get more web traffic, so I feel kinda sad when the machine turns against them. It’s kind of like the twinge I feel when I search for mpesa rates and the first five hits are from a website that isn’t Safaricom.

#BiacharaNeBiachara

♫ But if at times my heart it seems like it’s in the wrong place ♫
♫ It’s probably ’cause it’s on my sleeve ♫

I’ve dated a lot of younger guys who were mama’s boys. It’s probably a Freudian thing, but that’s not really the point. I told one of them that I like Eminem. He said: ‘You like a guy who insults his mum?!?’ I said: ‘I don’t like that he does it … I just like how he does it.’

Because Marshall talks a lot of shit about a lot of stuff. Stuff he really shouldn’t be talking shit about. But the way he does it, Lord! I love a word-smart man, that’s all. And Marshall can play with my words anytime.

Sometimes I think I’d like to meet him. I think a man that plays with words like that must have a beautiful mind, and I’d like to get inside that head. It’s what draws me to a lot of the guys I end up with – their ability to turn a phrase. It shows a very specific kind of intelligence, and those smarts turn me way up. Of course they also tend to be mean-spirited and aloof, that’s the downside of their genius. That’s probably a Freudian thing as well.

I’m listening to music again. That’s good, I’m excited about that. I’m not all there yet, but music is a good sign. Also, I’m buying a freezer. For my cats. Because they eat a lot, and I don’t have a car yet, so I have to go to Gigiri every two weeks to get them frozen meat. With a freezer, I can go once a month and save 1K on uber. Yes, I’m bougie like that, and yes, I’m a cat lady.

Meet Tux, Arya, and Remi

I usually jav to Gigiri and uber back, because it’s hard carrying 20kg of cat mince in two matatus on opposite ends of the CBD. I recently discovered I can have the cat mince delivered by nduthi, but it still costs about a K, so either way, cutting down the trip to once a month saves me a lot. It also gives me extra space in my fridge, which is almost always full of cat food.

So I’m buying them a separate freezer. Because I can. And because I want to. It’s a lesson I’m learning of late. That I don’t always have to second-guess or justify my actions. Sometimes, I can just do shit because I can, and because I want to. It feels kinda nice. A form of self love I suppose.

When you have cyclic anxiety and depression, sometimes, life doesn’t seem like it’s worth living. And that sense of hopelessness is triggered by the tiniest things. A missed call that wasn’t returned. A bounced date that wasn’t rescheduled. A sharp look from the teenager. It’s scary how fast you go from, ‘Well, that wasn’t very nice,’ to ‘Maybe I should jump in front of that bus.’

It’s not a conscious mental progression. It’s reflex, automatic. It’s how the depressive brain is wired, and it’s something you have to live with, forever. Getting better isn’t about stopping the reflex, coz that never stops. Recovery is about spotting the thought, noticing it’s there … and choosing not to act on it. It’s a part of you. It’s a part of me, But it’s not a part we have to act out.

♫ Rumour has it ♫ Adele ♫