I remember being with a friend who talked about how she used pain to suppress pain. She gave me an example where she had had a stomach ache and had pinched herself, saying that the latter brought a certain kind of pain that was sharp enough to distract her from the former; the pain from pinching herself giving a relieving effect from the stomach ache. She called this “sweet pain”. I didn’t really get her analogy at the time; why would you use pain to cure pain? It’s like using darkness to remove darkness, right? Nonetheless, a part of me was curious to put her ideology into practice.
The opportunity to use that ideology came faster than I thought, but in a deeper way. This was some years back, and the duration was far longer than that of stomach ache, although it was caused by a sickness of its own: depression. For a long time, I felt a level of despair stronger than what I felt I was capable of handling. Sometimes, depression would transform to self hate, so inflicting pain on myself was like killing two birds with one stone. It started with as little as pinching myself on the most sensitive parts of my arms when I was in school, and holding a lit match until the fire touched my skin when I was at home, to cutting myself lightly with razor blades and stencil knives.
While others dealt with pain through drinking to stupor or getting high, my sadistic side had grown a large appetite for my new method of dealing with pain. I had grown my own addiction; the number of times I needed to cause pain on myself increased and so did the level of pain I wanted, so I took it a step further and played around with my ulcer. I took all the wrong meals on purpose and starved myself often to stimulate my ulcer. The burning sensation in my stomach and chest had so much therapeutic effect on the increasing depth of depression that seized me. Each burn distracted me from the life I hated.
Sadly, my dear friend’s hypothesis could not be made a theory. The more I hurt from depression, the more urge I felt to hurt myself – I continued to starve myself and complicate my health issues, and hence, got myself more attention from school nurses. Even sadder still, the attention I craved was not the attention I received. The news broke out, and I was called more disturbing names than I had already been called, from “anorexic”, “attention seeker”, “weakling”, to “drama queen”.
I learned that there was something worse than not being heard when you scream – being ignored when you scream. Never did it ring in their ears that I could be “the girl who needed help”. I cried in frustration, but with time, numbness took over me. It was as though I was incapable of feeling anything. I could neither be happy when supposed good news came nor shocked enough to be heartbroken by the regular soul ripping moments. It was like the ocean of potential tears stored within me had dried up, or like I had lost my soul in the process of letting out my emotions. It was either I had gone from emotionally injured to emotionally unconscious, or I had indirectly come to learn that tears did not remove my sorrow but were strong reminders of it.
What I wanted — what we all want — was a distraction, or a solution, to the problems. Since distraction was clearly a futile attempt, I took to the next approach. What’s the solution to a disheartening life? It’s an end to it. Either you get rid of the disheartening part or you get rid of the life, and normally, we try the easier option or both. No one felt the urge to support me, neither did I see a way of helping myself. My future was bleak, and my present was hellish. My past haunted me wildly while my memories were unhealed injuries with no cure. Each day brought sun, but it felt as if I had woken up to a new level of darkness. The sun brought sight to some, but all I felt in the Nigerian weather was heat that made me think of the hell I believed I was already in, which often led my mind to the question “What was the point of not committing suicide?” No level of pain could distract me from the heat that burnt my heart to ashes that could not be gummed back together. In fact, the pain I inflicted on myself no longer felt like pain to suppress pain, but felt like a desperate attempt to feel something, anything at all; for nothing is more depressing than numbness.
The life I lived did not feel like life anymore; I was like the walking dead, waiting for my soul to rest and leave the world. I could not get rid of the pressure and “pain” I felt from life itself. I could not do away with my repulsive body, neither could I change my face. I could not get the grades, no matter how much work I put in. I could not fill the hollow in me left for friends and love. I could not please anyone, not even myself, and slowly, my significance in the world faded to nothing. I was imperfect, my dreams seemed unrealistic, my life had already been in shambles at the early age of 14. Each attempt to bring an end to my misery was futile, and the people in my life did not make it any better. So I started looking at the stencil knife in a different way. I craved my ulcer pains for a different reason. I did not wish for pain, but death. If I stabbed myself a little harder, I would have bled out, and not only would the pain be extreme enough to quench my depression, but my painful life would have come to an end. If my stomach hurt a little more, it would have bled out, which would have led to sweet suffering and a quick death.
Time went on, and my depression got the better of me. My dreams crashed to the ground and destroyed my hopes on the way down, while everyone watched and stared, scratch that, while the unworthy watched and stared. I fell in love with people who did not appreciate me, making me feel not worth appreciation. My priorities were based on things I could not change, hence the frustration built up all for nothing. I took drugs that were horrible for my stomach, hoping I could be in such immense pain that could cost me my life, but nothing ever happened. “Unfortunately”, I lived. In as much as I had wanted to end my life, it was a bit obvious that God had a better say.
Nonetheless, my self hate fueled many suicidal thoughts, and even my creativity found a way to work against me. Each moment brought about heart break and so much despair. I can remember when the heat in my chest seized my breath as I fought tears in public, until I got to a toilet where I could let my tears spring out as I gasped for air to fill my lungs and cool my burning chest. I recall how I punched the toilet walls out of anger and frustration coming from within. I remember banging my head against the wall each time I thought of how one “friend” or the other betrayed me deeply, and me cursing at their imperfections. Worst of all, I remember how much I hated opening the door to the toilet to find my reflection giving back to me a bruised and burnt soul with red eyes and puffy cheeks while my faults danced around to mock me.
You see, depression is likeable to cancer; you can suppress it with the right drugs, but most times, you’re really at its mercy. If you’re lucky, it could go, but chances are that it will come back and haunt you when you least expect it. Depression, like cancer, can seize and cease your joy and happiness together with your love for life, and intoxicate your mood until suicide seems like the best option available; life no longer feels worth living. Still, like cancer, it really can be managed, but even better than cancer, it has a cure, and it doesn’t get to take your life until you want it to. Lastly, just like cancer, you need to check on your health and stay good at all times, and when you notice it, you should not delay in seeking help. Once you talk about it, you already start feeling better. There are so many facilities built to help you recover and so many people ready to get you there. Give them a chance, and never think accepting help is a sign of weakness; it’s a sign of growth.
I took a deep breath one fateful day, and walked to a dreaded mirror. I stood close to it, watching my breath form warm vapour against the glass. I watched it form completely then used my finger to wipe it off. I gazed at the effect I made on the mirror, a non living thing, and I wondered about the effect I could make or have already made in people’s lives. I walked away from the mirror and motioned to my room thinking about the sound my feet made when I placed them against the earth. Once I stopped walking, the sounds were no more, and I thought about the difference I would have made if I stopped walking on the face of the earth. I walked towards my bed and then lay down on it, and I felt massive relief from my back and my neck as I rested against the mattress. I felt my weight being lifted. I felt my stress relieved. If as much as a bed could take away my stress, only if I lean on it, how much more could other people do if I leaned on them. It’s hard for a little thought to take away your depression, but every healing starts with something small. Maybe, just maybe, I could give the world a chance, and I was ready to do that because you get so many opportunities to kill yourself, but you only get redemption when you’re alive. A little bit of optimism suppresses depression just enough.
My future was unpredictable, but at least, I could give it a try. My escape from depression was by writing and dancing. The amount of times I was depressed amounted to the time I spent on my new hobbies. The ease that came from writing away my sorrows was all the drugs I needed to get me high. I could write about beautiful lives and beautiful stories, and mix it up with fantasy or romance. At that point, I was no longer in this world; I was in any universe I wanted to be. As practice makes perfect, my writings became spectacular and appreciated, so I moved deeper into writing.
As for dancing, I didn’t even know I had such a skill. I watched dance videos and let my imagination run wild, and while by myself, I danced just a bit. It was exhilarating! I always hear how jogging and running (exercise) are good confidence and self love boosters, as well as great ways of relieving yourself of mental stress and illness, but I’d never heard such about dancing. Dancing did so much to me; just the knowledge that I could dance so well was a great confidence booster, plus the amount of fun you have from learning a catchy choreography or doing freestyles to your favourite song without anybody watching.
I laughed pure and true laughter I had never known after writing a masterpiece, or learning new dance moves and choreography. If you feel too scared to let your parents know that you’re depressed, there are other ways than taking drugs, but antidepressants are still very effective and recommended. Not only were my talents distractions, but enough healing and escape. With time, I met the people I could really call friends, who helped me love myself and my life more. I had gained so much self confidence, and my mind was no longer idle enough to welcome bad thoughts. I saw a bright future and amazing memories, as well as things to look forward to. I felt strong purpose and importance within myself.By expression of all sorts, I was able to break free from chains of self hate, bleakness and depression. I was where I wanted to be socially and mentally for the first time in my life and that reflected on my face and grades.
Sadly, we are all different people, so what works for me will most likely not work for you. In fact, what caused my depression may not have caused yours. My mental illness may even differ from yours. Some of us are struggling so hard to make money for ourselves and family but still can not provide food for the next day. Some of us have full pockets but still feel empty within. Some are in despair for not having fallen in love, some are dark for falling in love but without mutuality, some are in pain from falling in love with the wrong person, some are heartbroken from being left by who they thought was Mr/Mrs Right, while some are mourning loved ones that have passed away. Some are depressed because of their bodies, while some are in agony from not having anybody. Some again just have it genetically passed on to them to suffer clinical depression, while some fell into the sickness all by themselves. Some try to use writing to chase out depression, while some may have even gotten depressed from writing!
So yes, as my story has hammered the nail on the head for some of you, some have seen zero relativity to it, but the message stays the same. If I — if you — could make such a difference to a mirror, imagine the lives that will be hurt deeply when you go! Imagine the great future in store for you that would be in vain. If the ground feels your presence so much, imagine the lives you have changed or could change if you give life an extra try. If as little as a mattress could lift you up and absorb your pains when you lie on it, imagine the people ready to help you once you actually do ask for the help that you deserve.
Having faults doesn’t make you less human, it makes you more human. Everyone has their faults, dark days, failures, tears, agony, unhappy and devilish days. All you need to do is find those who will help fight your wars, as you stay open minded enough to fight theirs. So many hands are stretched out to help you; all you need to do is grab one, and if it seems that hand is stretched out for someone else, there will always be many more stretched out for you, so keep looking!
Like a rollercoaster, there’s a point in life where you get so low, the next step is to go up, so why leave now? I believe God made bigger weapons for those fighting bigger wars, so when you lose a battle, it doesn’t mean you have lost the war, but that you have amazing weapons or skills undiscovered and waiting to be tapped. The harder levels are only unlocked to the masters of the game. The trampoline that is life signifies that the harder to hit the surface, the higher you’re about to go. The trees are more important creations of God than the seasons. Yet, the seasons change regardless of the effects it would have on the trees. Hence, there will always be a season that is not favourable for the trees; the leaves dry up and fall and there is so little rain to help them. Yet, the trees stay strong and persevere until the right season, where the sun shines bright, the branches beget beautiful flowers that beget fruits, the leaves grow back in better shape, and everyone is a witness to all of this.
You are a tree, and the seasons will keep changing. Never let one bad season ruin the chances of you seeing a lovely one. Your fallen leaves are not losses to be mourned, but manure to augment you. Winter or Harmattan will come and go, all you have to do is wait for Spring and the Rainy Season. And yes, you’re not the only one; we all stand together, never forget that.