Have you ever wondered how it would feel like to hit rock bottom? So hard and so fast, but not fast enough that you didn’t realize you had gone beyond the proverbial ‘rock bottom’? Have you ever felt like you were on a downward spiral, spinning faster and faster into depths so dark and scary?
If you have, you may feel angry at how loosely people use the word ‘depression’. Like a synonym for sadness or misery or just feeling low. They don’t understand that it feels like a wet blanket thrown over you preventing you from breathing, like trying to swim in an ocean with a weight tied around your ankles. It feels like you just can’t rise, just can’t lift yourself out of it. Actually, the truth is that you would not want to. You feel so helpless and so hopeless that you do not see beyond the tears and the pain. ‘I must be broken beyond repair’ you think to yourself.
You smile and laugh, and when people meet long after you are gone, all they can muster is ‘But he was so happy. I talked and laughed with him just earlier today.’
Because right now it is almost midnight and you are sitting on your toilet seat, fiddling with a bunch of pills you have decided to shove down your throat. There’s a suicide note that is burning a hole in your pocket. A week before that you had sat calmly, reflectively, at a bus window on your way home from work, asking Dr. Google ‘The most painless and quickest way to kill myself’. Because who wants to die painfully, even at his own hand?
The week before that one, you had been lying in bed curled into a ball, holding your head like a weight you cannot bear. Your phone had gone unanswered for days. You had been watching the screen light up with incoming calls, looked at the caller IDs and made no effort to reach out for your phone. Your mum had called and you had thought ‘Oh! How she will cry and mourn her lost son. But can’t protect you from that pain mama, the pain itself is killing me. In fact, it actually will, or rather, it will use me to kill me’.
When your dad called on the third day, you thought about how you indeed were your father’s son. He had the tendency to hide deep within himself, as if he took an oath to never show emotion. He had been a man in uniform, after all. Tough as nails. You will imagine his silence after receiving news about how his son ‘offed’ himself. You will wonder about what he would think. Perhaps as a full-blooded African man, he would think about how he had no time to be depressed, how this young generation is attaching such heavy words to their inability to cope in a fast-paced world. Him and his generation had coped just fine, even by the standards of their time. He will think that you were spoiled, arrogant and a weak mama’s boy. After all, your mum had always held him back in the middle of a good thrashing, yelling about how he would not kill her son. Your father will clench his teeth and take a resolute stand at your grave. He is a man. Your little sister will wail and thrash her body about, she will refuse to be comforted. Your brothers will have lost a comrade, a partner in crime. Their hearts will be breaking on the inside but they will take a firm stand beside the man in uniform.
People will think that they knew you, but you will prove them wrong. Like your peers who thought that you had made it in life and actually envied you. Like that girl who eyed you and fantasized that you were the man she would take home to her papa, to tell him that she found herself a strong African man. Like your mates with whom you had many happy hours, and with whom you shared nothing about your personal lives. Your friends? They will regret ‘not having seen it’. But what was there to see? What does depression look like?
I wish it wore a tag, so that we could snatch people on the precipice, before they could sit down to write goodbye notes. Before they could look up to Mr. Google to help them find the best and easiest way out. Before they could question whether some people were just born sad. Before families and friends could question what they could have said or done, or perhaps what they did not say or do, that could have caused the pain. Before we could be left with ‘maybes’ and ‘what ifs’ and ‘I should have known’. Before it’s a little too late for that call that went unanswered, those words that went unsaid, that love that went undeclared, that apology that was never offered.
What does depression look like? Like a hurting adult with a troubled childhood? Like a smile that works magic to mask tragedy and pain and worthlessness? Like the guy who serves your meals at your favorite food joint, with a smile? Like the uncle who has it all and whom you call arrogant because he is never available? Like a family that is dysfunctional, disintegrating and distant, or that is religious, close-knit and happy? Does depression look like standing before a mirror and deciding you could never love whoever is staring back? Like wondering who would ever have that person, because heck, you would not want to be stuck with the man in the mirror?
People often wonder why depressed persons resort to self-harm. Well, here is why: Because emotional pain has no exact location, but physical pain does. You can name it, feel it, others can see it, and therefore it is much more manageable. But emotional pain is such a lonely affair, it has to rear its ugly head through physical manifestation to be seen and heard. Problem is, it is often seen and heard a little bit too late!