♫ All fall down ♫ The script ♫
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!
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.
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 ♫
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.
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.
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 ♫