A dark cloud hanging over me.
A heavy cloak sloping the angles of my shoulder.
A weight I can’t lift regardless of my hours in the mental gym.
That’s how depression feels to me and it’s a dark a place to be in. I think everyone suffers from a bout of depression at some point in life. How long and intense the bout is will differ for each person. I think my first memory of something akin to depression was at the monthly visit from nasty Aunty Flo and her mumbling child cousin red. I never had any major physical pain at that time of the month, but I experienced huge emotional upsets. One minute I was happy, the next I was quite irritable and very sensitive to tactile sensation.
I craved my own personal space. I became a lot more solemn and for a young person who was already drawn into herself that was not a good place to be. It made me uncomfortable to be around and left me feeling guilt over how I snapped at people during those times. At first the guilt made me apologetic to the point of self-depreciation but with time it emboldened me to shut people out of my life who couldn’t be patient or demanded too much to be around. I guess because I didn’t have any physical pain it took me a while to come to terms with these monthly mood swings who’s side effects lingered almost to the start of another cycle.
Regardless of my several short-term encounters with mood swings and depression nothing prepared me for the descent into the black hole when I moved to the UK. I have always thought of myself as an adventurous person; a -jump-into the pond head first kind of girl. I guess in the past it had always paid off such that I never really sat back to think of the ways I could have done better or eliminated more risk and stress factors. And it was such reassurance that emboldened and perhaps exaggerated my expectations beyond realistic limits.
First there was the drastic change in weather, I felt like someone had moved the walls of the sauna and fitted a freezer in without telling me. So there’s me sitting all comfy and relaxed in my towel, but when I try to move I find my butt frozen stiff on the chair. For some people the weather change was a welcome reprieve but for a girl who rarely, if ever had the air-condition on a hot sunny day in Nigeria it was hell literally. I know right why bother moving, didn’t I know about the weather? Well yes I did, but that’s were my unrealistic expectation streaks start to show in my perfect armour of confidence.
The situation only got worse with the increasing expectations of marriage, motherhood, an unclear career path and a poor support system. I couldn’t think straight or clearly. I just wanted ‘to be’, a state of existence that allows you hold your breath until the storm ebbs. Life however rarely gives you the space to just ‘be’, it goes on. Through all this I have learnt certain things:
- Depression isn’t anyone’s identity; how it makes you feel or act isn’t you. In the same way you aren’t the flu, you are not depression.
- Acknowledging that you’re depressed won’t make you less black, less stronger than your ancestors who got traded as slaves or more selfish than your neighbour who lays her life down daily for everyone.
- Battling daily or occasionally with depression doesn’t disappoint God, just as praying and working everyday for a better future doesn’t make Him think of us as ingrates.
- Depression puts a sad twist to normal life occurrences, it blows normal conflicts and everyday mishaps out of proportion. Making us run away from dealing with them, procrastinating and hoping it goes away.
- It drains us of physical and mental energy. You literally feel drab. Feeling tired and stressed are open pathways for depression. Rest when you need it.
Certain things helped me through those days, I went back to the things I simply loved doing and things that brought me comfort. I needed to grow my confidence, to find my inner strength and trust there was a future out there for me. One were I could trust my judgement again and my inner voice. It’s a daily task to keep the black dog away, but slowly I know it can be done. Never be afraid of criticism or negative words, will they hurt? Most definitely, but make sure you have a support network that helps you sieve through things objectively. Ask questions and be willing to move ahead. More than anything else stay true to your inner self and never wish anyone ill as it only spirals inwards eventually.