One of the most powerful medicinal properties we can find down the corridors of introspection is clarity of purpose. As you would know I haven’t written any thought piece for a while now, well, I decided to take a spontaneous break. It was certainly not part of my first quarter plans but I had to. I had fallen ill again.
After much fighting for everything around me like any men should, I had to stop and fight for myself against myself. I am writing this whilst going through professional treatment for depression and anxiety.
I write confidently about this because this pen is my power. It’s my mouthpiece and the voice in my heart. Devon Franklin once said,
“Anything we suppress we empower to destroy us.”
So this is me exhaling my power.
I see depression as God’s opportunity for me to write that chapter in my life, about how I got over a seemingly impossible barrier. How I rose to my feet in spite of the feelings of defeat. This chapter is me making sickness wish it had taken its medicine.
I think I sound like Ali.
The champ is here!
Pardon the dry humour.
Anyway, on my next post, I will share with you some of the small but meaningful habits that keep me going on a positive frame of mind.
I spent my December holidays alone but not lonely – I was in a much-needed state of solace and reflection. During this time, I discovered that the amount of life I had taken on me was abnormal; it caused me to fall back into a state of depression. During the course of last year, I was struggling with suicidal thoughts, almost daily, even this year. Inwardly, I was in bad shape. So this moment of solace was part of my recovery, call it recalibration if you will.
I know that in some conservative Christian circles suicide is regarded as murder and therefore the mere talk of having suicidal thoughts is just a shameful act against God. So telling people that you had/have suicidal thoughts is like telling them you have leprosy – they shun you so fast you won’t believe. But whatever position you may have on the matter, the point is, there is no clinical way or Christlike way of expressing any form of human suffering and misery. Pain is pain. Trauma is trauma. Depression is depression. And each of us expresses those experiences differently.
For those who don’t know depression is like poverty, it’s a condition a person finds himself/herself in for whatever reasons but depression says nothing about the strength and quality of one’s character, it is not a speck on their competencies. To those who have experienced depression or are going through it, depression is not you and you are not the face of it. It is not a part of your identity. It’s a phase. A cycle and it will pass like anything else you give the correct treatment.
There were days I felt like a public success and a private failure at the same time. I felt like I was functioning out of alignment, almost as if my whole life was a joint out of place. I had broken sleep patterns, I took too long to complete menial tasks, I suffered from aggressive fatigue, I had erratic bursts of energy followed by long and terrible declines in enthusiasm which would leave me wanting to retreat from humanity – and ultimately from life itself. I try to keep regular notes of my thoughts when in depressive states, I remember in one of my slumps, I wrote;
“I wish God had a house here on earth. I would spend the night there, and possibly never come back.”
I just wanted to retreat from humanity.
And all-the-more problems of my own and those of others kept piling in front of me to solve. I had to be Superman to everyone’s everything every time they called except to myself. I was just Clark Kent refusing to leave a telephone booth and let down his cape for his own rescue. But more so, I myself was in need of a hero. I wondered if anybody can see that I needed them the way I can see when they need me.
I felt like nobody sees me for who I am, they just see what I can give, what I can be and how well I portray them in public. I felt like my humanity was veiled. I felt like a gardening tool and a trophy all at the same time. I felt like the people around me aren’t capable of handling my humanity decorated in all its inglorious flaws. I felt empty and alone.
In conversation, I said to a friend,
“Society says men don’t speak. But funny enough everyone understands a man’s words when they are on a suicide note. Why? The problem is not with the speaking but with listening. Society does not listen to the language of ailing men; the vocabulary of a wounded man is unpalatable to the world. Even men don’t listen to men. It’s just uncommon, unpopular and frankly sounds emasculated.”
Men live to die. Our death and honour are intertwined. That is the substratum of our inherent bravado and masculine identity. We are wired for honour and death. That’s why we go to war knowing that we might die. That’s why we jump into burning buildings, confront armed intruders in our homes and work hundreds of kilometres underground. However, suicidal depression in a man is a sign that he has decided/deciding to surrender his life without honour. In fact, in some warped way, depressed men may find death by suicide as an honourable thing for their family’s preservation.
You can read the extracts of Gareth Cliff’s interview with HHP to help you better understand my point.
HHP said to Gareth;
“I still had my policies all in check, like every month I’d get that big gig and I’d be set for like two months. While I still had my policies in check I phoned my financial guy ‘Do you cover suicide?’, he’s like ‘Yeah but you not going to be the one getting the money right’. I was yeah it’s cool because he told me there was another client of his who committed suicide, sorted. Like, my son is still going to school till he’s 28, even if he fails or he gets on drugs because his dad is dead, he’d still go to school till he’s 28, he’d get his R5 million.”
That’s why I always argue that Life cover policies who cover against suicide have to include at least 10 counselling sessions with a registered professional a year, for the main member as part of the policy package. It should be compulsory that the main member attends at least five of those sessions. This preventive measure is cheaper than the cost of suicide – to the insurer and the family. Especially in our current economic climate with scarce employment.
But the main point is this, when a man retreats in depressive isolation it’s not a mark of defeat or weakness. It’s a call to the world around him to come help pull him out. It’s a red flag. Men die disgraceful deaths all the time but none compare to death without honour.
Now, about what I meant at the beginning about our clarity of purpose.
Making time to introspect, self-evaluate and just listen to myself breathe led me to understand that our identities in crisis have two sides, like a coin. The first side is knowing who we are. Being self-ascertain empowers us in the face of adversity. The other side is knowing who we are not, this is equally important because it protects the former from operating out of purpose. I am powerful but I am not untouchable. I am gifted but I am not indispensable. I am Superman-like but I am not immune to kryptonite-like environments. I am a man but I am not always strong.
DISCLAIMER: I am in a very good space right now. I wrote this to help better articulate what a lot of men feel like no one understands about them when it comes to this topic. So, I hope you don’t stress about me. But more so, I wanted others to know that there is no shame about being depressed, you are not mentally ill. You are just depressed qha!