Friday, 8 June 2018

Thought Picnic: I did not know I was clinically depressed

The foundations of woe
The so many ways I have been blessed and fortunate sometimes escapes my recollection and the constant need for expressing gratitude.
Having been brought up in an environment where everything was seen in terms of the supernatural, the spiritual, the paranormal and fates over which we had little control than to be in fearful supplication to deities that hardly be bothered with our pleadings because we had not flagellated ourselves enough to be worthy of a hearing. The psychological damage had the strongest foundations to build upon.
The result was fear, foreboding and premonitions, visions and apparitions of things that defy logical explanation, yet, were as real as they could be to one as the principal agent and victim of that circumstance.
Between critique and criticism
A constant questioning of one’s sanity not helped by the reasoning that was projected on my person as being slow, sometimes unsighted, probably dishonest and hardly reflective. None of this was helped by those who found opportunity and latitude to take sexual favours off me from childhood and the absence of someone in whom to confide in about my fears.
My fears as I would learn were signs of weakness, a feeblemindedness that needed a stricter and harder way of life from the simplicity of ease in my home. A boarding school beckoned and away I was from that presumed safety and left at the whim of tortuous cruelty to which I needed to adapt lest I be bullied more than I had the capacity to endure.
Beyond that, I was a bed-wetter, at a time when it was not considered a psychological issue, but one in which I lack self-control or discipline. The antidote it was to shame and to ridicule me, all of which I absorbed because I was the problem. For the first two years of boarding school, my mattress was given a daily airing in the sun, just as was the case for two other classmates.
The things I saw that none believed
It all came to a head, first at home when I thought the monstrous thing I saw twice in one night was the devil, having been primed earlier in the day with tales of horror. My experience was dismissed as excited exuberance and my life became the recitation of Psalms in a language I could hardly speak over cups of water to drink or buckets of water to take a bath.
From prophets to shamans, I found myself in hovels and grottoes, prognosticators, seers, mediums and sages, saw evils and perils ahead for which we needed to appease gods and God, none of which helped my psychological wellbeing.
I did not know I was depressed
It is only recently that I have been able to reflect on the fact that my late childhood into my teenage years' presented classic symptoms of untreated clinical depression. Irrational fears, sinking feelings and waves of terror that greeted my sighting our house from the beginning of the street that led to it. I could not explain it, but it was there, a burden, a weight, an unease and utter discomfort that I just pressed up against as other unhealthy habits and acts began to characterise my personality.
The times I attended lectures and could not for the life of me appreciate why or what I was in class for. The culmination of which was five wasted years of tertiary education, for what I had in mental capacity was nowhere near able to overcome the psychological stresses I was under, conveniently dismissed as lazy on the one hand and me not pulling my weight.
I just muddled through day after day until a sudden decision by my father to work the demons out of me at his flailing farm led to my running away from home. It probably was my saving grace, because the pressure in my chest lifted, but I could see no future yet.
A new lease of freedom
Then, in my darkest hour, my aunt invited me to stay with them, then, rather than press me into their way of life and belief systems, I was given the latitude to explore, to breathe, to grow, to assert and to thrive. That led to the rebuilding of everything that I had lost, the full force of facing my failures and having at the back of my mind that opportunities once lost can be regained, albeit after a temporary setback.
I have not even touched on the compounding issue of addressing, understanding and accepting my sexuality. That, I have borne as a refrain and undercurrent of my life since as early as seven.
I just coped and not out of ability
Depression presented itself too many ways that maybe the Psalms, the prayers, the rituals and much else helped me survive, even if I doubt I was ever free from its effects. The coping mechanisms were a kind of stiff upper lip stoicism, reserves of resilience I never could account for, or a sense of independence or even inviolability or invulnerability left me exposed to situations where I had a false sense of security.
Schooled on the idea that only the weak needed therapy, it was not until a few months before I was struck down with cancer, I had just survived a bout of shingles that discussing all the feelings and apprehensions I had with a neighbour with a career in medical sciences posited that these were signs of depression.
Things I left undone
I gave it no further thought as I ended up in the hospital and traversed a course of five days from denial that my life was in grave danger to the acceptance that whatever danger was presented, there was a possibility of a future beyond this. It meant that when a prognosis was given that I probably only had five weeks to live if I did not tolerate the treatment, I was more in hope than despair that I would see it through.
The fact that I had left this existential threat almost too late to be attended to might have in another setting drawn excoriation and rebuke, I was fortunate to have sympathetic and determined medical personnel supporting me through the ordeal.
How my personality attacked me
As I began the course of treatment, the way I presented gave the false impression that all I needed for the medical intervention, it took demanding a psychological attention to my situation before I was recommended for therapy and psychiatric counselling. My case was, having suffered a catastrophic loss in health, wealth, well-being, status, comforts and on the verge of losing my house, there was no other indicator needed to describe my need for urgent psychiatric help.
My medication presented other issues and side effects, diarrhoea, insomnia and occasional claustrophobia acute in vivid dreams and once experience that had I not resisted stepping out of my apartment, I would never have returned to that safety and enclosure ever again.
I did not present the classic signs or the way the questions were asked of me suggested I needed no help, yet, I felt just the opportunity to talk to a professional was more than necessary before I lost my mind. The bills were mounting, creditors were threatening and there were no easy solutions in the midst of undergoing chemotherapy, the loss of two close friends and no clear future prospects beyond surviving cancer.
The terror of suicidal thoughts
Then I was terrorised with a crazy thought, I lived on the 7th floor of an apartment block, my windows were tall and apart from a single bar at the lower end, I could step out. I had visions of stepping out and flying, then knowing I could not fly, a playback recurred of my body splayed out dead on the tarmac below. It haunted me many times, but something kept me from carrying it through.
I had a story and I did not want it to end in that way, there were enough tragedies and misfortunes swirling around than for my life to culminate in that, I never talked about it to anyone. I am just glad that the thoughts never got to the point that they overwhelmed my reasoning. I found times to cry, probably not to regret, I embraced my humanity and vulnerability and comforted myself with thoughts that things will eventually turn for the better.
I found the support that pulled me through
None of this would have been possible without help; medical, psychological, in friends, in neighbours, in lovers, in my faith, in hope, in God. I was not invincible, I never was, I just by fortune beyond what I probably deserve found peace with myself, an acceptance of who I am and an accommodation for the frailties and failures that have become part of the story of the successes and victories in life that I also celebrate.
As I think of life and also think of death; I hope that as long as I live, I continue to love life whilst not living in the fear of death.


Wednesday, 30 May 2018

Chris: Nine birthdays gone without you

Preparing for something
Today, I would have been so excited for the evening ahead. My best laid out plans for a sumptuous dinner at a swanky restaurant, celebrating another wonderful year.
Whilst, I do not consider myself a dancer, I would have loved to dance, caught in that embrace that always made me feel safe and happy. Infatuated and lovesick I would have been, my heart beating faster than I could gasp the breath to keep me standing. I would have swooned and fallen into those protective arms, those arms long and lanky.
I held back
As tall as he stood and indeed taller, my head never had the chance of getting in the way of my heart, I was silly, stupid and senseless in the elixir of love. I could never understand how in my sense of independence and individuality, I fell head over heels, tumbling down a hill of the most beautiful feeling I could not find the words to describe.
Then, there were times when I could have decided, but I hesitated, I was ready to take the plunge, but I faltered, I could have made a difference, but I left it different. If I had the luxury of a parallel universe, I would have moved out there to find out about what could have been, that never became it here.
Follow your heart
The hardest lesson I learnt in all this was I failed to follow my heart to the oasis of love, come what may. My fears overwhelmed my hopes and in that, I lost what might well have remained in my grip for the celebration tonight.
Chris would have been 45 today and we would have wined and dined just for the joy and fun of it. The story really is, Chris died at 36 and this is the ninth birthday without him. I cannot turn back time, I can only remember the good times, the fond memories and the rest that comes with smiles and sadness – that was the love I lost.


Tuesday, 29 May 2018

Thought Picnic: On the sudden passing of friends

On the cycle of life
It happens every time, first, you’re overcome with shock and then a numbness when you hear the news. Your mind then races into the recesses of your memory, opening closets and pulling out drawers, looking under tables and dusting off tops seeking the snatches of moments that defined relationships that signified friendship and more.
An emptiness descends upon yon the midst of the depressing circumstances, as realisation dawns on you that what you heard is true even if you have no other means to verify the story. As you reflect, you begin to compose yourself in ascertaining the right order, form and delivery of words of comfort and sympathy to express, none of which is easy.
On searching and yearning
Questions come and go, many of which would never be answered, for there is none in the extended surviving ones to relate to on the matters personal as one would have easily been able to do with the principal. Too many instances of unanswered questions like these that plague the curiosity makes one wonder if friendship is ever complete without having a friend of the friend in that circle of friends.
Beyond this is the need of someone close you can just chat to, unburden yourself of the suddenness of the sad tidings rather than have it churn within you. In our mortal vulnerability, we all need a touch of humanity with which to absorb the issues of life and death that makes up experience.
On realisation and fortune
Then part of the reflection you have especially when circumstances are revealed in the shortest delivery of missives pertains to self, the thought of similar bouts and different outcomes. For one, it is that we survived, for another, it is that they did not.
That they did not, does not mean they could not, cancer, as much as it is understood is also misunderstood. For each, and there are many different kinds from benign to aggressive, from treatable through palliative to completely untreatable.
In that mix, as I learn in my own experience is the ability of one’s physiology to withstand the poisonous and gruesome onslaught of medication, beyond hope, if there is any, we can only watch and wait, hoping for the best or accepting the worst.
On mortality and memory
For every time I am told a friend died of cancer, I sense within me a vulnerability like I die a little, saddened and grieved by the news that the encounter once again took away a soul too soon.
Then, too many times the news comes completely out of the blue, and all we are left with are flashes of the last time we met, when the goodbyes were meant to mean, till we meet again, not a final salute to a friendship and life that in many ways was well lived.
He was a colleague, a gentleman, typically with old English reserve, very affable and amiable, I liked him a lot. A year into our working relationship, he retired, but much of the work and documentation he left with us, proved useful, long after he had departed.
The team found times to meet up, we met at one of the pubs in town for a drink where he regaled us with lots of extracurricular activities he was engaged in with his wife in the community. For all intents and purposes, he seemed an active healthy man. Yet, he passed on last week after a short battle with cancer.
Adieu Nick, may you travel well and rest in peace.


Friday, 18 May 2018

Thought Picnic: Watching a blog have a life

When I do, it is still fun
In the fifteenth year of my blogging, I realise that I have not blogged as much as I used to. It is not for the want for what to write about, there is much from the mundane to the serious, but a kind of lethargy sets in beyond the feeling that there seems to be a monotony to covering the things that have been covered before, or so I think.
Yet, again, each event and day is different as reference points can be viewed from another perspective as products of both the imagination and introspection.
The life in a blog
Then, I remember writing a blog, five years ago today, it is just one of those topics about how people could sensationalise an issue based on false premises and quotes. There was nothing much to it until comments came rushing in and the readership climbed into the thousands. It is now just a few hundred reads below 30,000.
It goes without saying that a blog once written has a life of its own, some that I have expected to garner much readership have hardly budged and others that I may not have thought would be understood or interesting have just increased in readership much beyond my expectations.
What I would love is to rekindle that joy and fun in blogging, writing and opining about issues, in seriousness and levity, maybe with humour or disgust, finding expression for the many thoughts, observations and events that I find myself involved in.
Thank you!

Thursday, 17 May 2018

#IDAHOT 2018: Of allies and acceptance



At Cologne Central Station on my way to work.
A workplace joy
I have come to see the 17th of May each year as a day to celebrate and remember in my own little way. It is the day that has been designated the International Day against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia (IDAHOT). [IDAHOT Website]
I became aware of this day when I was working at Barclays Bank, the organisation unfurled a big rainbow flag from the tower in the campus and with that were a number of events in branches all around the world to commemorate the day.
As an institution, Barclays Bank has been amazingly supportive of the LGBTI community, sponsoring and hosting functions within and outside the company on matters of inclusiveness and expression that I have not seen paralleled in any other place where I have worked. You had both a sense of belonging and safety in the work environment, that was just right.
Out and proud at work
Personally, I think I have always been out in the workplace since the early 1990s. I have been fortunate to have friends and allies who have not only been understanding and supporting who and what I am. They have in many ways been part of the network of confidence in expression and identity that has allowed me to thrive.
Whilst, I have never worn my sexuality on my sleeve, a direct question has always elicited an honest answer. I have had managers who have sought to learn and understand how and why we are wired so differently. Where homophobia has appeared to emerge overtly or covertly, I have seen managers call out such infractions and demand that profuse apologise with undertakings to be better behaved to be made to me.
To those as fortunate
In that, I have been blessed and fortunate, then I have to appreciate many others who have never had the opportunity to be themselves at work or at play, out of fear of persecution and prosecution, it is the reason we have an International Day against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia. To remind people of the inequalities and the dehumanisation of diversity and difference that still pervades in many societies and communities.
For that reason, the struggle continues, the recognition is needed, and the stories need to be told of those of us who have had it good and of those of us who suffer under laws and states that make them insignificant non-persons because of their sexuality. The violence must end, the persecution must end, and we must come to realise that difference is part of our humanity deserving of equality, respect and dignity.
It is for that reason that I celebrate the International Day against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia, where the colours of the day, shades of purple, for the freedom to be who you are, what you are, wherever you are without fear, loathing or hate to contend with.
Happy IDAHOT!!!
Postscript: When I wrote this, I did not realise that the theme for 2018 was “Alliances for Solidarity”, but that is the truth, I have had alliances and allies for solidarity through most of my working life and I am thankful and grateful for the many friends and colleagues who have accepted me for who I am without reservation or question.