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.
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.
Yes, I know it’s not a word. But the beauty of being a writer – at least for me – is I get to invent shit and tell stories. Also, yes, all words have meaning – even clichés. But I can invent words with special meaning to me. And as a content writer, I feel it’s meant to be (pun intended). Plus, as a person who doesn’t believe in the random, this all makes sense to me. Let me explain …
A lot of times, I write for me. Well, most of the time I write for me. At least when I’m not writing for money. And even when I’m writing for money, I slip in some triple-entendre that I know the client will reject. But I sneak it in there anyway – because it makes me happy. And sometimes, my cheeky bits make it to the big screen, yay! But I digress. I was talking about contentment.
I’m a December Baby, and mid-year is always big for me career-wise. I’ve quit a lot of jobs in June and started many new ones in July. My last one was in 2017 when I left agency. I recently rejoined agency … in March … and recently re-quit agency … last week. I wanted the money, but I didn’t need the drama.
I guess I’ve outgrown the BS, since I hadn’t intended to resign so soon. It just sort of … happened. I had explained all the reasons to my boss. Several times. In person. In writing. On text. But he’s an ad guy. A lifer. So he didn’t see my concerns as a big deal. But here’s the thing. In retrospect, I don’t regret going back. I needed to rejoin the agency. Because I had started to doubt myself.
Ten years ago, I moved to Nai after a 4-year stint in Dar. I had worked as a textbook editor and just wanted to be back home. I freelanced online for a year while part-timing at Kwani Trust. But I couldn’t make it work. I missed deadlines, fell into depression, got suicidal (though a lot of that was due to my Jadelle Implants. Story for another day). So I joined the ad industry til’ 2017.
When I finally quit advertising, I went back to content writing. And for a while, it was amazing. But then life happened. My main client got promoted and I didn’t get along with her replacement so I quit. Twice. I fell behind on deadlines. Drowned in debt. Fell into depression. (Unintentionally) lost weight.
But I also started to heal from old traumas and develop new ones. A lot of this has to do with my best friend, and I want to believe it’s why he came into my life. See, I have anxious depression. I’ve had it as long as I can remember. And I’ve handled it in different ways. Religion. Landmark. Yoga. Meditation. Pranic healing. Traditional medicine. Antidepressants. CBT. Projects. Cats.
I told my shrink I wanted her to fix me. I told her I want my default to be happy. Because people describe me as bubbly and outgoing, but I see myself as lost and dark. I don’t see myself like they do. I don’t see me as they see me.
My shrink said there are different types of depression. Some are caused by head injuries. Or illness. Or emotional trauma. Or extended grief. Or ‘bad’ brain chemistry. Some come and go. Some stay forever. My shrink felt mine was a life-long depression. MDD, with anxiety and dysthmia. This type of depression never goes away. It can’t be cured, but it can be managed.
So I manage it as best I can. Some days I forget to actively stay balanced. Then I lose myself for weeks. Months. Years? Years. But then I find myself again. Often with a lot of help from the people that I love. When I started therapy in 2015, I told my shrink I want to be happy. I told her I’m sad all the time, it feels like I’ve always been sad, and I don’t want to be broken anymore.
She said the way my mind is wired, she doesn’t know if I can be happy, but she believes I can learn to be content. And after three years with her, I made it. I achieved content-ment. We used to assess my mood on a scale of 1 to 10, where 0 was suicidal and 10 was the dream. I wanted an 8. My shrink aimed for a 6. Most days I’m a 4. Twice a day I’m -73. But right now, I’m good.
I don’t know what made the shift. A few weeks ago, I almost lost my best friend. A few months ago, I almost walked out of his life, and he didn’t even know it. A few days ago, I was barely speaking to my daughter after a huge fight. And now, here I am, at 3.00 a.m. on Hump Day feeling content.
It’s not any one thing, but last night, for the first time ever, I looked at myself and I loved it. I saw me. I liked me. I loved me. I still love me. And for the first time, I said it aloud. And I meant it. That was a big thing for me. That is a big thing for me. Because while I come off as a don’t-care rebel who lives on my own terms, I’ve never loved the person I am. I liked the person I am, sure.
But I had never – before last night – fully loved and accepted myself. There are lots reasons for this. Mummy issues mostly. And few daddy ones. Chronically comparing myself to others, but only in the ways I fall short. Setting impossible goals, just for the unconscious twisted pleasure of failing.
In a way, I seek scenarios to purposely hurt myself. I put myself in situations where I’ll fail so I can see myself as the loser I think I am. I was so ready to give others the intimacy, validation, and regard I felt unworthy of.
I spread out the affection I was so unwilling to give myself because I didn’t feel I deserved my own love. I struggled to make others feel seen because in my own mind and heart, I was invisible. I couldn’t see me. So I figured if I just loved them hard enough and got them to love me back, then maybe I could see myself the way they saw me. Maybe they could convince me I’m worth it.
I especially had an issue pitting myself against other women. Women I thought were prettier, more popular, better at ‘playing the game’. I felt I was superior because ‘I don’t play games’ … but I secretly(?) resented the success of (men and) women who do play games. It gets them so far in life!
But yesterday I realised I don’t have to compare. I’ve heard it said in the past, obviously. I’ve even said it myself, so the futility of comparison is nothing new. But yesterday, it properly sank in. We don’t have to be the same.
And we don’t have to change. I can be loved for who I am and she can be loved for who she is. I don’t have to intrinsically paint people ‘bad’ for me to see myself as ‘good’. And even if they think I’m bad, I can still see myself as good.
That’s the adage – love yourself before expecting others to love you. Some people see this as healthy advice, because it’s where most of us go wrong. We don’t feel worthy of our own love, but we’re sure if someone else can love us, then we have value. So when that person leaves us, we become destroyed.
Them leaving proves what we knew all along – that we’re un-love-able. And even while they’re with us, we constantly nitpick, taking the slightest disagreement as criticism, obsessing on that unworthy feeling, struggling to ‘win back’ their regard. It becomes a self-fulfilling prophesy.
Thing is … even before they left, we probably weighed heavier on them than we realised, because we made them the source of all the love and happiness in our lives. And that’s a lot to carry. It’s why we’re told to love ourselves first before seeking love outside. We’re not to use others to fill the self-shaped hole.
But self-love is hard. A lot of people who claim to love themselves are simply using it as an excuse to hurt others. They tout self-acceptance to a point of arrogance and narcissism, but it’s a shield for self-loathing. Genuine self-love, that’s hard to spot and tough to find. It’s something you lost in your childhood, your troubled teens, your puzzled twenties. You have to re-learn.
When I walked out of my therapist’s office in 2016, I had achieved contentment. I went back for two more rounds to deal with a broken engagement and general anxiety, but my shrink said I already have the tools to manage my mental health. She told me I’d be fine. And I was. I will be. I am. But it’s been a while since I achieved Level 6 Contentment.
I’m no saint. I know there are discussions happening today. Yesterday. Last week. Last year. Conversations where I’m the villain. I’m so invested in other people’s feelings that I often bend over backwards to keep them comfy. But in their eyes, I’m still the bad guy because we (don’t?) want the same thing.
And I’m finally okay with that. I’m finally in a space where I don’t need to find their faults and make them ‘bad’. I’ve always done that subconsciously to convince myself I’m ‘good’. But now I see that misplaced flaw-seeking for what it is – petty jealousy. And I’m finally at a place where I don’t need it anymore.
I forgive myself for being such a spiter (yes, I know that’s bad grammar). And while I don’t expect them to believe me, I no longer need them to forgive me. I’m happy …. no … content to let them be and to focus on me.
When I left agency in 2017, I was tired of the drama. I had just taken my second pay cut and had resumed online content work to recover the lost income. Within a few months, the side gig was paying more than the main gig, so I quit. But in 2018 and 2019, things slowed and life happened, so I started doubting myself. I wondered why I had left a ‘good job’ for an iffy one. It hit especially hard when my income dipped and I fell into debt.
So when my former agency boss called me back to ‘help out for a month’, it made sense. And the timing was awesome! Still, it’s agency. And agency is, well, agency. But because I don’t believe in life being random, I think there’s a reason I went back. Three reasons, actually, and they worked out pretty well.
One, it got me into a new house where no matter how shitty everything is, I wake up, see hummingbirds, and smile. Two, it showed me things have changed, and that ‘going back to agency’ wouldn’t guarantee the income I was beating myself up about. This is key, because in my lowest freelancing moments, I would really flagellate myself over the income factor.
I would constantly remind myself that I left a relatively steady salary for more money. So now that my income was negative – largely due to my own unwise decisions – I could no longer justify leaving agency. And I was sorely tempted to go grovelling back. Which brings me to Reason Three.
I got lucky. I wasn’t forced to go beg for my old job. Instead, the universe (Thank you Amma) sent my old boss to find me. I agreed to work ‘for one month only’ at like half my prior pay. I ended up staying three months.
Then I got my 4th pay-cut and by the time I walked out, I remembered all the reasons I’d left agency in the first place. My writing confidence was so shaken I could barely hold a pen – there’s something about writing the same headline thirteen times and suggesting seventy-eleven rejected product names that makes you wonder why you call yourself a wordsmith. And lemme tell you Maina, I was ready to trash my computer and grab a hoe. Any hoe. Human or otherwise. So I figured it’s time to quit, because I was starting to hate the thing I love most. I was losing my passion for words, and it was breaking me.
But it made me take a closer look at me, and to actively seek new things in there to love. Today, as I type this, I can honestly say I love me, and I’m saying it for the first time. I love my gifts and accept my flaws. I see where I need to improve, and where to cut myself some slack. And I realise – maybe for the first time ever – that I don’t have to demonise someone just to feel good about myself. I don’t have to spot the bad in them so I can see the good in me. I’m free. For now. So I’m going to enjoy it. And I’ll do my best to hold on to it.
We all have to find out for ourselves. Maybe because happiness – like wealth – is different for everyone. There are days when I have 50K in my account, but I feel broke because my debts are five times that. And there are days I find a random 50 bob in my jeans pocket and feel like a billionaire.
The year has just started, and I’ve found a new definition of happiness. For me, happiness is ‘feeling enough’. Because from a practical perspective, my life is awesome. I’ve ticked off a lot of my boxes and I’m doing good. I’ve even shed weight. It wasn’t on purpose, and the circumstances sucked, but shed weight is shed weight so yay! Now to keep it off … or maybe shift it around?
(I typed *lost* weight, then heard a random voice from my dalliance with Buddhism. A voice that said, “When you lose something you’ll find it again, so maybe don’t use that word for something … unless you want it back.”)
I think I’m a happy person. Because the silliest things make me giggle, I’m easily amused, and my brightness bubbles up like a child. But I’ve had lifelong cycles of anxiety/depression, which doesn’t quite fit with me being happy.
The past few days have been especially harsh. Lots of tears, lots of reflection, and finally, a realisation that all my dark days arise from feeling not-enough. I get into the space of fear and despair. I look at those around me and start to measure myself against them. And because the view is skewed, I fall short.
Result? I scramble to catch up, making dumb decisions out of fear. Or worse, I sink into a hole, feeling I’ll never catch up – why even try? I’m not good enough to be in the same lane, or even the same race. I’m just not worth the effort, or the time. It’s a scary place to be, and a life-defeating one. Literally.
Not-enough-ness frequently dumps me in a spiral and leaves me there. So I figure if I can keep my happiness self-contained, if I can convince myself I’m enough for me, then I’m good. And if the forces around me try to put me down, I’ll know I’m enough for *me* even if I’m not enough for them.
It’s easy to drown out unwanted voices. Alcohol. Drugs. Sex. Fiction. But when the unwanted voices come from the inside … and they know how to swim … things get a little tricky. So my task for the year is to shush that voice in my head, to talk back when it says I’m not enough. To look it in the eye, smile, and say, ‘Yes, I am. I’m enough for me. Even if I’m not enough for you.’
I don’t want to get angry though. Or mean. Or unkind. I don’t want my self-sourced happiness to be a weapon against the world. I don’t want to get so militant in my *happiness* that it turns into bile I readily splash at others. I want my happiness to be mine, and I want it to be all about me.
And when the darkness tempts me to take off the blind-fold and see what ‘others’ are doing, lures me into exploring the pantone of their grass, I can say nah, I’m good right here. It seems like such a simple thing in theory. I just don’t know how to make it … real. Luckily, I have this year to find out.