Imagine you’re going through your life’s greatest storm. Overwhelmed, you’ve reached an emotional precipice fueled by exhaustion and the realization that nothing in this world is more fleeting than happiness. Imagine your cries for help fell on deaf ears, and every expression of hopelessness you made was met with generic, empty responses: “I’ts all going to be okay”, “Pray about it”, “Other people have been through worse”, and so on. You are in a chasm that even your faith can’t get you out of. Cowering in that dark, musty place where your beaten soul and broken spirit has taken refuge, you realize you’ve never felt more alone.
On January 22, 2006, I lost my mother to cancer. As a child, you grow up thinking that your mother and father are going to live forever. As you mature, you begin to understand they will one day die, but in your mind, you still see them living long enough to watch you graduate college, long enough to watch you get married, and long enough to watch your kids grow while lecturing you on how you should be raising them. When my mom passed away, the future I’d envisioned changed instantly. All the moments that I had looked forward to now had an important person missing, one of two people most influential in making me who I am today.
Some moments in life make you feel a pain you’re convinced no one else will ever relate to. It’s an agonizing experience, one that never goes away—you just learn how to cope with it. But you soon realize that even though you feel you can’t, your life has to continue. Like my father said to me a week after her passing, “You have to keep on living and pushing forward. That’s what she wanted.”
It was at this point that I spiraled into clinical depression. Not only had I lost my mother, but because of the economic and social disintegration of my beloved Zimbabwe, I was unable to go to her funeral or be with my family. Nothing is more painful than losing your parent and not having any family to hug you and hold you; no family to sit around a table with and reminisce; no family to siphon strength from. I sunk into a hole that took years to dig myself out of, a hole I sometimes still fall back into.
I will spare you the details of all the other things I had to deal with and simply say this: when life decides to hit you, it hits you hard, and from all sides. Bombarded by these many circumstances, my depression took its toll, and I developed insomnia and social anxiety as well. These are the demons that continue to manifest in my life at inconvenient moments to this very day.
So how did I dig myself out of it? While mourning the loss of my mother and battling depression, I learned four valuable things— lessons I hope will benefit someone else as I share my experiences.
The first lesson is that some people who are clinically depressed retreat into solitude because they feel no one else can relate, their struggles are theirs alone, or are simply ashamed to express that they are struggling. We do this to ourselves, never stopping to realize that the people who love us—the people who care even when they can’t relate to our pain—are always there waiting with a loving smile and a caring embrace. The worst thing I did during my depression was cut myself off from the world when I should have been doing the opposite. Wallowing in my sorrow and not allowing the people that cared to distract me and show me that there is a life out there to be lived only prolonged my fight with depression.
The second lesson has to do with my opinion on anti-depressants and anti-anxiety. Long story short, I’m all for them. I say this as someone who was once on Paroxetine, Trazodone, and Clonazepam—meds I took for over a year but have been off of for more than five years now. After going through that experience, my observation is this: medications are not there to heal you, they are there to help you help yourself. I liken them to a life jacket; it’s meant to keep you afloat and your head above the water, but it can’t swim you to the shore, you have to do that yourself.
The third lesson is to find a constructive hobby or indulgence that will help you find some sort of balance, release, or happiness. Some people go to a negative place in search of distractions from their depression. They develop an over-dependence on alcohol and drugs, gambling and reckless living, or whatever other vices that begin to control them.
The fourth lesson was knowing my triggers: those events and situations that usually bring on your depression. It can be anything from a break up to the weather, losing your job or just dealing with the stress that comes with it. Regardless, its important to know those things that make you most susceptible to episodes of depression. If you can avoid them, or at least take control of what you have control of and not overthink or overwhelm yourself with worrying about what you don’t have control of, it can be easier to steer clear, or at least cope, with bouts of depression.
We all have to find our way to swim to shore. I found my way to shore through writing. In fact, every poem and essay I’ve written, every online post and this book, are a product of my depression and my swim to shore. Some people think I write because I love the sound of my own voice, but in actuality, this is a cathartic experience for me. To be able to express what’s in your head, to share with people and realize you’re not the only person that feels that way lets you breathe a little easier, because in that moment you realize, “I’m not alone in my thoughts and feelings, hopes and fears!” You find community.
Overcoming my darkest hour was one of the most difficult, but defining moments in my life. You find a strength in yourself you never thought you had. When you become aware of your strengths and weaknesses, aware of your abilities and limitations, your perspective on life changes. The way you perceive others changes. The way you perceive the world changes. And the way you approach your struggles changes. You realize you’re not alone. You realize there are people who care. And most importantly, you realize that even though your life will have some dark moments or chapters, you should never stop looking forward to and celebrating the good ones. You may never avoid falling into depression again, the episodes come and go, but at least you’re now better prepared for the fight and your next encounter.
Sincerely, Kwapi Vengesayi
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I love people who are bold enough to talk about mental illness. It’s not only helpful to them, but also those who get to hear their stories. Below is a song by my good friend ZERO which delves into the depression conversation.