Depression will be the death of us

Awareness: Depression wolfybytes.deviantart.com

I was a freelance props guy in television commercials. Not a very good one. A hardworking one. I was a nice guy. A very good one. One film director once quipped on set,”Chris you work really hard. You are stupid but you work really hard.” Obviously, that left me really confused. Should I relish the compliment as I processed the seeming insult?

We had parted ways with my then boss and I independently sought work from some of the companies with whom we’d previously worked.  This was in early recovery – in 1999 -a truly fascinating time. So fascinating that when I think about it now, how I survived that era of navigating early recovery baffles me. Life felt like a  rudderlessness ship in the unchartered territory of a sober adult life.

This one time Ginger Ink called me to work on a commercial; a beer TV commercial. I was dreading the experience. I needed the money. But the last commercial my crew and I had worked on was such a terrible experience. We had kept on second guessing ourselves through every scene, working with a seriously underestimated unrealistic props budget, and we had consistently  pulled in 20 hour days over two weeks.

I could see this next shoot going the same way. Or worse. And that would kill me. Worse, I could drink again. And then die. It was a beer commercial after all and my department was in charge of the entire product. I woke early one morning, wrote a letter to Ginger, indicating I why I couldn’t work on the production. I was too scared to have a face to face meeting with her so I left the letter with the security guard at the gate and left.

She called me in to talk about what was going on. In a conversation in the kitchen, I  told Ginger I was having it rough. I was not going to work on the production.

“Why? Are you working on something else?”

“No,”

“Do we pay too low?”

I was letting her do the work. I didn’t know how to say what I didn’t know how to say yet I needed to say.

“Chris, what is really, really, going on over there with you?”

I eventually did communicate that I was petrified at working on the upcoming television commercial.

I think Ginger figured out that I was not in a good place, so she made the weirdest of offers: she asked me to come into the office every day of the production and sit in the garden and do nothing else but show up. She would ensure I got something to eat and some bus fare.

I ended up working on the production. And got me some money to pay off some of my debts, rent arrears and have me some regular meals.

A year later, I was admitted at Chiromo Lane Medical Centre with severe depression and deeply suicidal. During my stay there, I got medication and the obligatory counselling sessions. I also underwent electroconvulsive therapy; a procedure, done under general anaesthesia, in which small electric currents are passed through the brain, intentionally triggering a brief seizure. After 10 days in hospital, with a severe memory loss as a side effect of the ECT,  I was discharged and put on medical treatment that lasted another 6 years or so. In that time, I also sought counseling from various therapists and read up on anything that I could find about depression.

I realised that what Ginger did in that kitchen was a huge gesture that possibly saved my life.

Let’s face it, listening to a depressed person can be draining and exhausting. It is potentially depressing; the self-pity, the excuses, the rationalization, the victimhood, the negativity about everything.  If you do not know how depression manifests itself, it is difficult, nay impossible, to believe that depression is NOT a self-inflicted choice one makes. All the signs of bad choices are there. What with the procrastination and broken promises? Or the underwhelming attempts to get out of it? The poor me, poor me attitude? Or the binges in alcohol, sex and unhealthy relationships? Or just silence, prolonged silence? Or, finally, with finality, suicide?

This past week, I lost someone to suicide. I am grieving because it seems so, so needless. A man, an artist and very possibly depressed. We’ll never know. When I hear how his body was found, I understand the possible why of it. There are several possible whys that are playing in my head right now as I think about what triggered the carbon monoxide poison route that he chose to go. Few belongings; sparse furnishings with no food in the house. All signs of a struggling artist who depended on his art for a living. And could not, resulting in his death. Oh, the irony!

I am saddened because of the inevitable hush that now abounds and other theories of the cause of his death that are now prevailing amongst the relatives. There is even one theory that he taped up all the windows and door spaces, lit the jiko in the bedroom because he was feeling cold. We will believe anything except that it was suicide. And we will not talk ill of the dead. We are Africans.

Thing is, I understand that reconciling oneself to any loss is often awkward, difficult and personal.  With suicide, it is worse.

A few years ago, I asked a student at a local university who was doing a class project on alcoholism and recovery, to let me share my story as the class project. During the Q & A session, one student wondered why there was laughter in what was a rather tragic story. My host, it being her class project, responded that it was the individual’s honourable way of dealing with the impact of my story. They were not laughing at me, or at themselves. They were laughing in place of crying; in place of losing hope.

Similarly, I understand the current reactions to all who are dealing with this close person’s death.

”He should have said. Perhaps we would have helped.”

“We all have problems. We are still here, aren’t we?”

“Why couldn’t he just man up?”

“Suicide is cowardly.”

In the meantime, I will not blame you for not understanding depression or the depressive. Depression is complicated, it is complex. All I ask is that you own the pain you feel. Own it! Then you will be confronted with the real choice, to blame the man in the coffin or stop the next one from getting there before their due date.

Me, I am tired of the needlessness of truly avoidable deaths.

RIP buddy!

Author: Chris

Thriving in The Love Edition

22 thoughts on “Depression will be the death of us”

  1. Wow, Chris this is deep at so many levels. The most powerful statement is for me that those who commit suicide are not seeking to end their lives but their pain. Usually, people never get to empathize with the pain, they pretend to understand the life. The key thing is to find ways of communicating this pain; to be strong to open up.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Safe spaces Oby. Safe spaces. Without judgement, prescriptions, advice, just safe spaces. And, for the men, exclusively men spaces.

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  2. I so agree with you. I too am weary of the needless deaths. One reason we fail to acknowledge suicide and depression in our close ones is failure. Our own failure, Was I not enough for them? How could I not reach her? Am I so self absorbed that i did not notice my own family slipping away? So to help us sleep better at night we choose the other option, must be the December cold. Lord have mercy.

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    1. And the Lord will have mercy. He is a merciful one. Ask for strength for self and for another. As for provision for self and for another. It will cost. Taking it on will be worthy of the cost. And God will be with you. Because. He. Is. Merciful.

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  3. Chris – thank you for sharing this. It is so profound for me at this moment. My friend is in deep depression at the moment and I am not sure what to do/say whenever I reach out to find out how she is doing/faring. I will be there and be present and be real to what she is saying/feeling/thinking…………..

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    1. At times, just holding her hand and listening even in the silence works wonders. Helping clean up her space coz there’s just no energy or motivation to do the right thing. Taking her out for a walk and a cup of tea. Simple things. Deep things. Life saving things.

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  4. Thank you for this article Chris. It’s as if we both had the same friend. I would like to share your story on my blog @www.thetruenorth.co.ke The bodies keep piling up. It has to stop. I bought and read your book. Thank you for sharing your story in such an open and raw fashion.

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    1. Thanks Mukuria. Yes, do share it. We must keep talking, writing, helping, healing. Freedom, once we recognize it as such, is always always a good thing to pass around.

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  5. This has spoken right to my heart as someone who almost lost a dear friend to suicide because she felt alone, had had it and was tired! It broke my heart, I thought we were friends, I have always offered her an ear.. why this? Why now? She is still not talking. Maybe she will. I pray she will, she just needs to know that I am there and I am always ready to listen!

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  6. One powerful piece of writing, Chris. Thank you for sharing these eye-opening experiences, Chris.

    The extract below from Chris’ writing describes, so well, someone I know.
    I now see that we have to make deliberate and helpful choices on how to relate with him.

    “If you do not know how depression manifests itself, it is difficult, nay impossible, to believe that depression is NOT a self-inflicted choice one makes. All the signs of bad choices are there. What with the procrastination and broken promises? Or the underwhelming attempts to get out of it? The poor me, poor me attitude? Or the binges in alcohol, sex and unhealthy relationships? Or just silence, prolonged silence? Or, finally, with finality, suicide?”

    Like

  7. One powerful piece of writing, Chris. Thank you for sharing these eye-opening experiences.

    The extract below from Chris’ writing describes, so well, someone I know.
    I now see that we have to make deliberate and helpful choices on how to relate with him.

    “If you do not know how depression manifests itself, it is difficult, nay impossible, to believe that depression is NOT a self-inflicted choice one makes. All the signs of bad choices are there. What with the procrastination and broken promises? Or the underwhelming attempts to get out of it? The poor me, poor me attitude? Or the binges in alcohol, sex and unhealthy relationships? Or just silence, prolonged silence? Or, finally, with finality, suicide?”

    Like

  8. Thank you for sharing Chris. I suffer Major Depressive Disorder and severe Anxiety and Panic Disorder. I have attempted suicide a few times and have been in admission several times. I am in recovery now. I can completely relate to your story. We have a support group called Users and Survivors of Psychiatry in Kenya (USPK) on Facebook and whatsapp. We have been able to assist each other and help in the prevention of suicide. We are also fighting stigma, like you, I write openly about my experiences and share with the world. I got tired of being judged and decided to open my mind to the world so that they can see what goes on in it and possibly understand. It is through my open posts that a friend tagged me to read this story. We live and learn. We’re soldiers in battle. Battle of our minds. An illness we never chose and would never wish upon even our enemies.

    Kudos for sharing and may your friend find his peace that he so badly sought. May you find strength to cope with this loss and continue educating the world.

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  9. wow! chris i love the authenticity in here. it’s either we rescue the hurting or they do all they can to end their pain. thanks for such a piece. God bless!

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  10. So true, I can identify with the pain of affective disorder ‘depression’ freaks me out up to now, I also cannot talk about it and fear sharing my blog URL, not wanting people to associate me with these illnesses. cheers, really awesome😺

    Like

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