I’m a Porsche with no breaks
I win every single game.
I’m so powerful
Don’t need batteries to play
I’m so confident
Yeah, I’m unstoppable today.”
Listen to Unstoppable: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cxjvTXo9WWM
Just look at those lyrics. This song is phenomenal. And the first time I listened to it, two days ago, I was not entirely aware that I was only scratching the surface; superficially listening. I didn’t really understand it. But something about it hooked me strongly enough that over the next few days, that would be the ONE SONG I kept coming back to. It’s hypnotic. I don’t know whether it’s production, trademark (the kind of song you can TELL is Sia’s because it’s so classically Sia), or whatever. As of today, it’s the only song I can listen to. (A week ago, it was Rihanna’s Consideration.)
The lyrics of the chorus are misleading, and I love it for that. From just this extract, it looks like the perfect motivational get-your-buttocks-out-of-bed-and-achieve-ish kind of song. The kind that I considered putting on the same playlist as Andy Mineo’s You Can’t Stop Me – another hopelessly abused track in my music library. Mineo’s refrain goes like this:
“They try to shut us down but it ain’t gon’ slide
Only thing I fear is God, and He on my side
That’s the confidence of God, cause He got me
That’s why I really feel like YOU CAN’T STOP ME!”
Watch You Can’t Stop Me: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WopyrETP-CU
Now, upon first glance, you might confuse the two songs to have similar themes, albeit Mineo’s having a faith twist to his. Upon further inspection, however, the songs couldn’t be more different.
Sia’s Unstoppable is self-elevating, and laced through entirely with denial. You can nearly see how these lines are being repeated as a mantra, for the persona to convince herself as much as anyone else that all these lies are true. And this is me every single morning. I tell myself I am invincible. Earthquakes can’t shake me. Like, for goodness’ sake, if you were going to break me, you’d have broken me by now, or?
But the thing is…I am already broken. I’m not living; I’m just…functioning. On autopilot. And it is strange because, at the same time as everything Sia (or her persona) is saying (singing?) is false, it is true as well. Every day, we are on a wrecking ball, headed for disaster, smashing into walls without mercy. We are not okay. And yet, every day, we have made it to the next day. Somehow, miraculously, we are winning every single game, even as we fail.
To understand the full irony, we must look at the content of the verses themselves.
I know what it takes to fool this town
I’ll do it till the sun goes down,
And all through the night time”
Do you understand? This is acting! (This is the name of the album, and I cannot even stress to you how brilliant the name is.) Of course, we know how to act. Of course we know how to hide our demons, swallow our tongues and blend into the crowd. You are the town. And we know exactly how to fool you! It is merely second nature.
“I’ll tell you what you want to hear
Leave my sunglasses on while I shed a tear
It’s never the right time.”
People aren’t hard to please. When you ask me how I am, you want to hear “fine”. When you ask me how school is, you want to hear “great”. When you ask how my friends are, you want to hear “we’re cool”. It is horrendous, do you see? Especially when none of it is true, but lying is too easy. Let me show you.
Sundays are visiting days in my school. Sundays have also classically been the days that Depression hits me hardest. My hypothesis is that everything that I have suppressed during the week gets up and says, “Can’t run forever, can you?” In 2015, when the episodes were particularly bad, I used to call it Deprimé Dimanche. But that is beside the point. The point is that my parents see me smile when they come to visit me. Just yesterday, my father sent me a Skype message saying how impressive it was that on Sunday, when they visited, though I was under pressure, I was smiling. Do they need to know about the breakdowns I suffered before and after their visits? This is acting!
When I was sick at home with “typhoid fever” – and to find out why this is in quotes, read The Sickness Lives Here – last week, I experienced one of the most severe, random depression waves I had had in 5 months. There didn’t seem to be an identifiable trigger, as usual. Just as it was coming on, my father came home from work. I quickly made myself busy trying to fix myself ampesi for supper, while suppressing the storm. He came in, I wasn’t looking 100% fine, but I told him it was heartburn that was distressing me. (This wasn’t entirely a lie; I was experiencing heartburn, a month other things. But goodness knows nobody was ready to deal with the “other things” at that time. After all, what could they offer that the 5 mental health professionals that I saw during 2015 couldn’t?)
“Break down, only alone
I will cry out now
You’ll never see what’s hiding out
Hiding out deep down”
I kept it up all night, you know. The wave lasted from about 6pm to 2am. Somehow, every single time my parents came in to check up on my health, I appeared okay, with a carefully dried and smiling face. How are you? Oh, the headache’s better. The heartburn’s gone. Yes, I have more energy now. I’m fine. LOL. “Fine”. Fine is why I’m crying for hours into my pillow so you won’t hear me. Indeed, there is never an appropriate time to break down. All day, all night, you must be Unstoppable. Wait for the right time to break, and it shall never come. This is acting.
“I know, I’ve heard that to let your feelings show
Is the only way to make friendships grow
But I’m too afraid now”
This is amateur psychotherapy Lesson 1, n’est-ce pas? Oh, talk to a friend. You need someone to share your feelings to. LOL. Excuse the pun but…’sia! Do you know how much my distresses and mental illness scares people away? They just cannot handle it! They cannot handle me. People don’t want to talk about depression for goodness’ sake; they want to talk about Snapchat and Kylie Jenner. (Speaking of having a mental illness, it is difficult to tell how much of what I feel is valid response to my life’s circumstances, and how much of it is the inexplicable randomosity of a diagnosed, recognized mental illness.)
http://www.depressioncomix.com is pretty good, BTW. Brilliant stuff on there.
Afraid? Of course I am afraid. That is why I am alone. I witnessed the disastrous effects of sharing my depression with the person I liked to call my best friend. In fact, I’ve witnessed this way, way more than once.
My social media and blogs are blowing up with my depression, dissatisfaction and outrage. Do you know why? It is because my reality is not. If there is no one to share with in my actual tangible life, what else shall I do but post outraged statuses, blog rants and upset tweet threads? I do this because I can do nothing else. Anyone I can talk to is merely connected to me through a screen. (Maybe it’s my way of compensating for staying silent so long in the middle of my Everydays. I just come and offload to prevent myself from going mad, and perhaps test futilely if anyone will care…Sometimes, it doesn’t even matter if they don’t, because at least I know someone’s read it. They’ve heard me out, even if they won’t respond, I guess…)
“I’ll put my armour on, show you all how strong I am
I’ll put my armour on, I’ll show you that I AM!”
And yet, to everyone else, this armour that we wear is just skin. Acting.
I must continue to walk around like I have an idea of whatever the hell is going on with my life, and go to class, and smile, and say hi to people, and fool the whole town. Fake it in an attempt to believe it. This song is so encompassing. I can’t get it out of my head or ears. Why? Because I’m so confident; I’m unstoppable today. Of course I don’t need batteries to (press) play. I AM the game. I AM the actress in this play. THIS IS ACTING.
The sickness lives here. I feel it every time I enter what is officially considered the school’s premises. It is not that I am recurrently falling into ill health by chance; it is that the sickness is sitting here, in this bedroom, in these classrooms, waiting for me to show up so it can infuse itself into my system. I lie down on my bed and back pains appear from the moon, non-existent just a few hours ago, and suddenly, I am finding it difficult to breathe. Whether or not I have eaten in the past few hours, I will inexplicably be experiencing heartburn. It is as if my entire biological system decides to malfunction the second it is introduced to this place.
Yes, I went to the hospital. No, I do not trust the results of the blood and urine tests, no matter how professional and efficient the procedures were. The doctors are wrong. I am not sick of typhoid. I am, quite literally, sick of HGIC. That is my affliction. But medicine simply has not progressed far enough to detect this fact. So, typhoid is the only thing they can understand it as.
Definitely, I am known for being a melodramatic person. But I express myself in the only way I can. So I will insist that to me, this place feels like a Dementor. It feels like if I stay here much longer, my soul will be irretrievable. I am being sucked dry and do not know how to do a thing about it. I do not know how to explain this. And try as I might, I am unable to convince myself that I am not the only person who feels this way with such intensity.
Listen. The medicine won’t work. I’m not sick because I’m sick. I’m sick because I’m here. The antibiotics don’t freaking understand that. Three weeks of symptoms that seem so mixed that it is difficult to understand what exactly I have, if even what I have is just one thing, and how to treat it, and why new, fresh waves of sickness and pain seem to be hitting me every two or three days.
My mind is as affected as my body. Sick in the flesh, sick in the spirit.
You are welcome to test my hypothesis. I am certain that once I am permanently (or even temporarily) removed from these premises, these symptoms will vanish like they were never even there. Me remaining here is the reason I never seem to be getting healthy. It is me being here, that is the reason why I am dying.
I’m always complaining about something/someone I know. And this is the second time in a very short period that I am making a character sketch I probably have no right to make. The good news is that I think I’m past caring.
There is a particular type of person I am more than tired of: the kind that always has to be in charge. I can only describe this kind of person based on the ones I am exposed to daily. (Goodness knows HGIC has an overdose of them. The school might as well be their factory.) These are the types of people who have been given positions of power already, more often than not. They could also be the ones who expect to be given positions of power sooner or later. Because, of course, they’re shoo-ins. (We can talk about the idea of this “intellectual community” entirely confusing the ability to conduct an activity well with the ability to lead people in how to conduct an activity well, but that’s for another time.)
These people, the ones who have what I call the Be-In-Charge Syndrome, have two states. The first is “loud”. The second is “silent”. The former is slipped into when there is a desperate attempt to showcase their positions of power, which may or may not be necessary at that time. The necessity isn’t even the problem, though. The problem is the desperation. It comes with that cock-sureness of “You Cannot Oppose Me”, and a flaunting of the idea that they know more about a particular subject than everyone else. Sometimes, they actually do. The knowledge isn’t even the problem. The drowning everyone else out is.
These people, resting in their entitlement, make attempts to steer and control situations to a degree that tires me out more than nearly everything (except perhaps some of the teachers I know). You can read their entitlement in their gaze when you look into their eyes. They walk with a magnitude of forced confidence so high that I wonder if they return to their rooms at night to wallow in self-loathing, exhausted from the fronting.
They wear fluster and frustration like fashion. These are the only clothes in which they feel comfortable. They must look busy, or they will feel as insignificant as the rest of us. They must give themselves a million things to do at once, or they will feel on the same level as the rest of us peasants, and that simply will not do. We have never been worthy.
Crease lines on the forehead, according to them, are the latest trend. They must be making schedules, or arranging the logistics stuff at all times. They must either be ordering people about, or being ordered about (poskaya or however you spell that word) so much that they feel that whatever project they are working on will burn to an unrecognizable rubble if they were to function at anything less than 200% of their capacity. Oh, how these people tire me! It is as if their whole existence hinges upon the appearance of importance. Maybe it is their heart-breaking attempt to convince themselves that they are relevant.
What is the most annoying aspect of these personalities, in my opinion, is when they slip into their “silent” phases. It is not so much the fact that they are silent that irks me, but rather, the reason for it. This is a result of the all-or-nothing mentality that they possess. If they are not in charge, they short-circuit, and must detach completely. When they cannot dominate a conversation, they would rather not take part in it. After all, what’s the point? If you can’t be Numero Uno all the time, why play the game, right?
Sometimes, I feel like the only corrective measure for these people is for everything to be taken away from them. For them to be straight-up displaced from their comfort zones. Maybe then, maybe finally, they will learn how to recognize themselves, when their existence is not mentally tied to how everyone else sees them. Maybe one day they will stop running away from their own personalities, away from the personalities they believe they are expected to have.
…But I doubt it.
It’s funny. In reality, they’re not in charge. They’re puppets.
Of course, now I’m going to ask you to download my novella, Puppets, because I am legitimately ALWAYS talking about this. But I’ve condensed it into 48 pages, so like, wharrayou waiting forrr?
Author’s note: I would have liked to put a preamble on this story (if you can call a persona’s plot-less thoughts a story) but I could not come up with anything.
TITLE: DEPRESSION IN EGO II
I sleep and I sleep. And the first thing I think of when I wake up is how much I want to go back to sleep. I don’t like injecting my body with chemicals whose consequences I don’t understand. If that weren’t the case, I would probably be knocking myself out with drugs every day. I wish I had sufficient willpower to just be immediately asleep whenever I want; a comatose sleep that no one can wake me up from, unless my unconscious mind decides to comply.
The issue is not that I am physically tired. I cannot possibly be, not with all the sleep I’m getting. The issue is that I’m tired of being conscious. Consciousness takes work, when every morning, you wake up thinking, “Not again”; when you cannot understand a bit of why you are doing what you are doing; when you think that your way of life is equivalent to what you would consider living death; when your inspiration level as you go through your daily processes is zero, reaching the negatives. Even if I would rather not be dead, which I haven’t made my mind up about yet, I would also rather not be conscious.
So I sleep and sleep and sleep. And the first thing I think of when I wake up is how much I want to go back to sleep.
There is something psychologically wrong with me, and I do not know what it is.
The world is far too big for me to continue being unhappy. It makes no sense in a world where there is space for everyone.
On days like this, I have enough of a sliver of positivity in me to daydream. So I daydream about the other end of the world. I daydream about getting out of here.
The other end of the world is not as far away as it was a century ago. This is why I fail to understand how we think it is so impossible to change our directions when we start moving, or to make decisions that will take us off course. It’s an irrational phobia. We are afraid to step onto roads we would like to step onto, because we don’t know where our destination lies. At the same time, we cannot see the direction of the path that we’re on. The only thing we know is that we’re not going where we want. But, perhaps, the real phobia lies within the knowledge that we are at least going to end up somewhere, whereas on our alternate paths, we don’t know if we might simply end up nowhere at all.
I feel like I am going nowhere at all.
Behind all the extended boredom is the thought that I should probably shake off the feeling of helplessness altogether – get out of that zone of self-pitying and DO SOMETHING.
But I can’t.
I do not know how to explain to anyone that I can’t do anything. It is as if there is a blockage in my heart that prevents me from functioning. My mind does not cooperate. I just stare at nothing for hours at a time.
Beneath everything that I can and cannot describe lurks fear.
I want to leave.
They won’t let me leave.
They say my future will crumble to pieces if I leave.
But do I want a future?
I am afraid of consequences. Deathly afraid. I am afraid of the consequences of doing things. I am also afraid of the consequences of not doing things. I am afraid of the consequences of remaining alive with either decision I make. I am also afraid of the consequence of dying as a result of either decision I make. And I am afraid of death. And if I don’t want to make decisions, and I don’t want to not make decisions; if I am afraid of life and I am afraid of death, the last option is unconsciousness. And that is why I sleep and I sleep. And the first thing I think of when I wake up is how much I want to go back to sleep.
I am lying with my back down on my bed, staring up at the white ceiling. My room is illuminated by a miserable bulb that is so dim that I have no anxieties about imminent blindness as I stare up at a spot that would otherwise have been dangerous for my eyesight.
I am watching two or three mosquitoes zap around the room in a frenzied search. I do not know what they are looking for. On an ordinary day, this would really bother me – the zapping – and I’d be trying more actively to kill them. Right now, however, I cannot be bothered to do more than half-heartedly clap my palms together when I see they are getting too close.
My mind, at the moment, is blank enough to leave room for aimlessly watching and contemplating the frantic search of the mosquitoes. I do not understand why this triviality has taken up so much space in my mind. I never thought I would get to the point at which I am speculating about the activities of the very same creatures who will probably cause me to wake up with irritations all over my skin in the morning.
Why do they constantly move? Do they have ADHD? If it’s food they want, I’m right here. And aside from my breathing, I’m not even moving. Why don’t they just all flock to me and enjoy the feast? It makes them seem a bit demented, to me. When your goal is right in front of you, with no obstacles in the way, why are you still zapping in all sorts of wayward directions?
Passively, I wish that at least one of the mosquitoes is a female anopheles, carrying a plasmodium parasite. Hopefully, it will inflict me with malaria. I give up on this thought when I remember who I am and where I live. I’m Ghanaian. My childhood was filled with sporadic cases of the disease. I may even be immune to it by now, I realise with disappointment. It is not so much that I am masochistically overjoyed with at the thought of being diagnosed with an unpleasant disease; it is merely that such an opportunity might afford me a ticket out of this hell-hole they call a boarding school, for at least a little while.
In this mental state, I am incapable of feeling sharp, distinct emotions. Resultantly, a faint amusement arises in the back of my mind about the ludicrousness of my situation. Is this what I have come to? Wishing for a potentially deadly sickness just so I can get out of here? I don’t know whether it is this, or the fruitless plight of the mosquitoes which amuses me more. I am not even sure whether I am actually amused or not.
I am not doing anything productive tonight. Welcoming the mosquitoes to commence their festival, I induce sleep. Again.
I sigh. I have woken up. Again. I have to move through another “today”. Again.
Every morning’s the same, really; large numbers of people being stirred from sleep by various alarms set on all the quarter-hours imaginable and then some; their reluctant owners acknowledging them most of the time, then snoozing, waiting in trepidation for the next quarter-hour alarm, which, they insist on deceiving themselves, will be the one to truly rouse them from slumber.
I hate them.
I hate the alarms.
Now I’m starting to hate the quarter-hours. 4:00am. 4:15am. 4:30am. 4:45am. 5:00am. 5:15am. Why can’t you wake up, you morons?
I am on my way to school. I do not know why I am on my way to school.
Everyone is talking about irrelevant things. Their lives must be absurdly uneventful if this is their morning’s subject matter. And they are walking too slowly. On normal days, this would annoy me, because I can barely stand being impeded in my ambulatory progress. But right now, I feel numb. They are just like the mosquitoes that I do not currently have enough energy or interest to properly clap at. Except that the mosquitoes were far more interesting.
I realize that I walk slower when I am depressed. I think it is because I fail to see a particular point in going wherever it is that the world says I am supposed to be going.
I used to think that when you feel enough don’t-care, you can’t feel much of anything else. Of course, now I know that this is false. At the moment, I am filled with absurd levels of dread. It is bordering on a phobia. I have a phobia of entering classrooms now. And it isn’t a phobia that is in spite of, but it is a phobia that is because of all the don’t-care inside of me.
I hate these teachers and their self-absorption. I do not know who told them that their subjects were the geneses and Armageddon of the world, all in one. A few unfavourable results in a very arbitrarily marked test, and they would react by attempting to summon pillars of fire from the sky, and all of our ancestors from the grave. Such uselessness.
I will not speak in class today.
I will not look at anyone in class today.
I will be mentally absent in class today.
Otherwise, I will kill something.
I walk slowly – very slowly – to the classroom. And I keep my mouth shut.
She begins the blasting. The insults. The threats of failure. Of losing our diplomas. Of being moved to the certificate program. A raging fire begins to burn within me.
I do not give a shit.
I wonder if she can tell that I do not give a shit. Not about her stupid test, not about her stupid subject, not about anything within these incarcerating walls. She is still talking. I calm the fire. She will not get an emotional response from me. I do not give a shit. She calls my name. She cannot make me feel shame. She asks me a question. I do not answer verbally. I meet her eyes, full-on. I hope she can see that my soul is empty, and that her inconsequential, scripted, futile, role-playing-to-the-point-of-belief, over-shit-giving anger cannot change that. In my eyes is a daring, challenging, unashamed question: “Can’t you tell that I do not give a fucking shit?”
Sometimes, I find myself caught in long spells of unproductivity, because my mind is utterly unwilling to engage in any activity other than merely dwelling inside itself. Then I start to stare. So I am staring again. At nothing. I can’t take it anymore. I can’t handle living inside my head.
I walk outside as if I could take my mind to air it out as easily as I can carry my body for a little fresh air. I rest my hands on the balcony and look down, in wildly fascinated contemplation. How far up am I? 18ft? 20ft? I spend the next 10 minutes wondering if I would immediately die if I were to “fall off” this balcony – or if I would be severely injured, but salvageable. I shudder when I realise how comfortable I am with the thought that either option would get me out of here.
What is wrong with me? When did I turn so masochistic? Someone needs to rescue me from my own mind. Please. Someone save me from myself. Anyone? Who is there? Anyone…?
I am alone.
I am always alone.
Jesus? Where are you? Are you there? Would you mind so terribly, coming down now? No, not for a visit. I mean for the end. The final. Kick off the Revelation prophecies. Destroy the world and make all things right, et cetera.
With all due respect, Jesus, some people, namely me, have been waiting for you for quite a while. You see, we can’t take it anymore. There are too many irrelevances over here to deal with all at once. It’s the fact that they’re irrelevant that’s cheesing me. Why do people act like they are relevant when it is so obvious that they aren’t?
I, for one, know that once you show up, my diploma suddenly won’t matter anymore. Neither will my prospects of employment. Or how my family reacts to…well, anything. Because the world will be over. You understand, I know you do. You can end all the unnecessary anxiety, right now, if you just show up, right now.
Please. Just come. Or just take me away. I’m sorry. I’m sorry I’ve failed you. I can’t take it anymore. I can’t take it. I’m sorry.
It is happening again. I am crying. I cannot move. It happens every time I thought I had conquered all the emotion within me. I need to stop convincing myself that I can grow numb. I no longer believe that I can grow out of this depression.
Why am I crying? What am I going to tell someone if they hear me crying? I cannot even explain it to myself. Explanations – those things that humans are always looking for, and are never satisfied until they receive. Even if they receive a lie. They will accept it to feel appeased. They refuse to understand that sometimes, there is none. It is blasphemy for an answer to their “Why?” questions to be “I don’t know.” If they themselves are not omniscient, how do they expect me to be? I am not ready to explain. God, please let no one hear me crying. God, why am I crying? God, please. It’s too loud, God, please. Someone will hear, God, please.
I know what some of them will think. They will think that depression has hit me again. For the umpteenth time in five years. They will be wrong, of course – as usual. Depression has not hit me again; it never left after its first arrival. I wear it constantly on my person, like a thin, invisible layer over my skin. And I have no power over when or how it seeps through my pores and finds my heart, time and time again. Somehow, Depression is always there, even when I appear to be fine. But people only notice when it finally breaks thorough and overwhelms me. They only notice when I start crying. And sometimes, not even then.
I am blowing my nose. Two tissues – three – four tissues gone now. Can I pass it off as an allergy if my roommate walks in? Has Depression forced all of today’s quota of tears out of me, yet? Yes? Good…
No. The crying recommences. I cannot breathe. But I must – I need – to be quiet. BE QUIET!
I cannot do this again. I cannot break down again.
I need to leave.
I cannot leave. I do not want to see another psychologist again. The first five have not helped me. I hate this country. I hate myself. I need to leave.
I cannot leave. People will get worried. Who am I to worry people and interrupt their busy lives?
Why are their lives so busy? What are they doing? Do they not know that everything done under the sun is irrelevant? Why don’t they know?
I need to leave.
Why do I need to live?
I need to live. I need to leave. I need to live.
I will live. I will shut up. I will stop crying. I will not cause anyone any more stress. I will be fine. I will be fine.
I will be fine…
I…have broken down. Again.
This time, I know why I am crying. I am crying because I am lonely. I am crying because I have no friends and no confidant. I have no available family members who will not fear that the last likely option for a solution is an exorcism. There is no one I know to whom I can explain anything that is going on. I am crying because there is no one that will give me a hug and not require an explanation, not ask me questions, not try to send me to a shrink whose psychoanalysis will end up either inconclusive, or lacking in a solution, or both. There is no one who will look at me in this state without balking and running off, spiritually terrified. There is no one who will simply hug me and not ask irrelevant questions.
I realise I have been crying on and off for the past two hours. I have the energy to do nothing else. Again, I sleep. And I know that the first thing I will want to do when I wake up is go back to sleep.
– Ivana Akotowaa Ofori