Thoughts on Friendship, Crisis, Trauma, and Need

Note #1: No matter how many times I have tried to rewrite this piece, it always comes out sounding theoretical and abstract, and I think I have to accept that I may not have enough skill to express my thoughts on this topic in any simpler form.

Note #2: I’ve found myself unable to speak on this theme without heavy reference to The Four Loves, by C.S. Lewis. It’s one of the best books I have ever read and what I’ve found inside it, I’ve never found anywhere else. I quote and reference it so much not because it gave me my ideas, but because I was the first time I found my ideas on this theme reflected back at me in extraordinarily coherent form.


There’s a popular narrative about Friendship that is centred on the idea of “being there for” someone/each other. Often, the connotation is that one’s availability during someone else’s crisis is not only the ultimate test of their friendship, but the essential reason for that friendship in the first place. It makes me uncomfortable. It’s like we’ve reduced the concept of a friend to “the person I can go to when (something in) my world is falling apart,” and if any other benefits come with that fundamental service, that’s just a happy accident. A logical conclusion from this would be that the fundamental pillars of friendship are directly related to crisis, or trauma, or usefulness. (Here, I mean “usefulness” in the sense that is closest to “utilitarian”— the idea that you must be able to provide some practical service to someone for your friendship to be valuable.)

I can definitely see how the “friend = someone who’s there for you” narrative is useful—but more often lately, I have been preoccupied with the ways it is not. It’s not that I see no truth in it. My issue is that this should not be considered the fundamental aspect of Friendship.

I think the key tenet of a healthy friendship is something I’ve chosen to call “That Which is Shared,” a thing I find even harder to properly define than C.S. Lewis did. It’s that thing (or several things) that friends share which makes them “kindred.” A thing that is largely external to the personhood of those friends, but which, nevertheless, becomes the bonding factor between them. I don’t think friendship should fundamentally be about service, or need to/for each other, but instead, about that connection. And I think, at least based on personal experience, that the over-emphasis on service/need is what makes many friendships fail.

There is a whole host of Friendship-adjacent phenomena that are often confused for Friendship itself. Among them are Affection, Companionship, and Alliance. Every single one of these either can or ought to be part of the “matrix of Friendship,” but if a friendship is to be built or maintained on a healthy foundation, I believe that none of them must overshadow That Which is Shared.

Take Affection. Loosely speaking, Affection is a feeling of fondness towards another. Emphasis on the word “feeling.” Another type of love that is reliant on feeling is Eros (erotic love). Loosely speaking, Eros is a feeling of intense romantic/sexual attraction towards another. Friendship, however, is not a type of love that is defined by one’s feelings for a person. Certainly, friends may naturally feel affection for each other, but this is not the same thing as Friendship itself. And while friends can love each other erotically and erotic partners can be friends, Eros, Affection and Friendship are still different types of love. For anyone who wants to better understand why I say so, even while I acknowledge that it’s rare for the individual types of love to exist in isolation, I strongly suggest reading The Four Loves. For now, though, here’s my clarification: A feeling of affection towards a person does not automatically make them your friend. Conversely, in the absence of any particular feeling of affection, a friend does not suddenly cease to be a friend. The reason: Friendship is based on That Which is Shared, not on feelings. (And That Which is Shared is generally external to the individuals’ own personhood.)

Deep down, we know this. We know that friendship requires something more than, or other than, “I like you.” That is how come we know to put emphasis on the importance of finding things to “bond” over. Affection, Eros, and other types of personal attractions operate on the basis of “I like you” or “We like each other.” Friendship, however, operates on the basis of “We both like this thing.”

Say, for instance, that someone is kind. That quality is integral to who they are—part of their person—and may attract you towards them. It may make you like them. But it’s not a bonding factor. It’s great as an attracting factor, but attracting factors are not necessarily the things that make one think, “My God. This person and I are kindred spirits.”

An illustration of “I like you” love vs. “We both like this thing” love.

For Companionship, think along the lines of people whom you share space with, usually because you engage in the same activity. For instance, imagine I keep meeting a certain person in a particular dining hall at 7:30 a.m. because we both have 8 a.m. classes. We see each other so much that it becomes established routine that we eat breakfast together at 7:30 a.m. We keep each other company, maybe even walk to our respective classes together afterwards, until the point where our routes diverge. We are companions, which does not necessarily make us friends. Here’s what my man Lewis has to say about Companionship and Friendship:

“Friendship arises out of mere Companionship when two or more of the companions discover that they have in common some insight or interest or even taste which the others do not share and which, till that moment, each believed to be his own unique treasure (or burden).”

(Lewis, 1960, p. 83)

So imagine, one day during breakfast, that Doctor Who comes up in conversation, and it turns out that, not only are we both fans of the show, but we like it for the same reasons, are biased towards the same incarnation of the Doctor, and are superficially confused as to why our favorite Doctor isn’t everyone’s favorite Doctor. You see, the more we have in common (i.e., That Which is Shared), the more material there is on which to base our friendship.

The Doctor Who example is fairly shallow, which I think makes the illustration a bit easier to understand. But That Which is Shared can also be several layers more abstract than one’s disposition towards a TV show. The thing that makes people feel like kindred spirits may be the fact that they have common ideas of what justice entails; or who/what God is; or their specific interests in the ways race intersects with class. That Which is Shared is fundamentally a question about how the Friends relate to “truths” that are individually important to them. To reference Lewis again, the thing that binds is more internal, more intangible, than outwardly obvious. It’s not even a “Do you see the same truth?” as much as a “Do you care about the same truth?” And that interest in the same questions is a binding factor, regardless of whether the friends in question agree about the answers (Lewis, 1960, p. 84).

Now, on to Alliance, the most important for me to disentangle, because my frustration at the conflation between this and Friendship is what motivated me to write this in the first place. “Alliance,” here, is the word I am using to refer to the type of service we might expect from those who are important to us in times of trauma, crisis, or times of need. For this one, I’m going straight to quotation:

“A Friend will, to be sure, prove himself to be also an ally when alliance becomes necessary; will lend or give when we are in need, nurse us in sickness, stand up for us among our enemies, do what he can for our widows and orphans. But such good offices are not the stuff of Friendship. The occasions for them are almost interruptions. They are in one way relevant to it, in another not. Relevant, because you would be a false friend if you would not do them when the need arose; irrelevant, because the role of benefactor always remains accidental, even a little alien, to that of Friend. It is almost embarrassing. For Friendship is utterly free from Affection’s need to be needed. We are sorry that any gift or loan or night-watching should have been necessary — and now, for heaven’s sake, let us forget all about it and go back to the things we really want to do or talk of together. Even gratitude is no enrichment to this love. The stereotyped ‘Don’t mention it’ here expresses what we really feel. The mark of perfect Friendship is not that help will be given when the pinch comes (of course it will), but that, having been given, it makes no difference at all. It was a distraction, an anomaly. It was a horrible waste of the time, always too short, that we had together. Perhaps we had only a couple of hours in which to talk and, God bless us, twenty minutes of it has had to be devoted to affairs!”

(Lewis, 1960, p. 89)

I think it could change a lot about how we relate to each other if popular discourse chose to emphasize That Which is Shared as the definition of Friendship, as opposed to “who is there for whom.”

I’ve been worried lately that I’ve accidentally developed some sort of saviour complex. For nearly a decade now, nearly all of my relationships with individuals I have referred to as my best friends have felt like rescue missions, where, more often than not, I feel like I’ve been placed in the role of the rescuer. (Don’t get me wrong—sometimes, my primary expectations of my friends have put them in inappropriate rescuer roles as well.)

The thing that defined these relationships is, I think, what happens when the function of Alliance is allowed to overshadow everything else—the kinship, the shared things, the regular old joy of platonic connection. The result is often a type of co-dependency. In these relationships, I was not playing—or feeling—the role of a friend often enough. Instead, closer role descriptions would fall in the park range of therapist, parent, babysitter, medical professional, or Christ himself. In retrospect, it’s no wonder at all that these “friendships” failed.

This year, I have been forced, by circumstances in my life, to consider that maybe my consecutive rescue mission friendships have created a pattern that I had started to follow without thinking, like muscle memory. That maybe I had begun to unconsciously gravitate towards people I felt “needed” me, for reasons beyond the basic, yet beautiful, tenet of Friendship. I have been forced to ask myself why I feel such a strong sense of responsibility to solve problems that are not mine to solve, but rather those of a professional, a guardian, or the troubled individuals themselves. And then, even when I act on this sense of responsibility, I have had to ask myself why it leaves me feeling so exhausted, so unbalanced, and so unfulfilled in the thing I am calling a friendship.

But this—the point of this whole essay—is why: Because when it comes to my idea of Friendship, I have been focused on the wrong fundamental things, attached to a misconception.

When a friendship becomes centred on crisis, need and trauma, what happens to the friendship in the absence of those things? If the friendship is based on That Which is Shared, the friendship ought to get healthier in the absence of crisis and trauma. If the relationship was, in fact, based on those dependencies, however, in the absence of them, the relationship fizzles out and disappears, perhaps forever, or perhaps until the next dependency arises. And that, my dears, is not Friendship. It is something else entirely. (And this, by the way, is not a value judgement. I’m not saying that being someone’s helper is either better or worse than being their friend; I’m just saying that being someone’s helper is a different sort of relationship from friendship.)

To be very clear, at the expense of repetitiveness: It’s not like friends have no responsibility whatsoever to each other in times of trauma, crisis, and need. However, this ought not to be their primary function as friends.

The process of realizing this, even cognitively, has been like therapy for myself. But, thanks to the power of habit, it feels like it’s going to take a little longer for me to deep it enough that it transforms my very actions, and helps me to gravitate towards healthy friendships, rather than co-dependent ones. Learning real-life lessons can be painful, and applying them can be extremely difficult—but we move, regardless.

Conclusion: Human beings are flawed, and moments of dependency will always arise. But they ought to be regarded, to paraphrase Lewis, as “interruptions” to Friendship, not the definition of it. May he who has a mental health diagnosis gain access to mental health resources, and may they spare those who ought to be their Friends from taking on the role of therapist. May she who requires financial assistance find gainful means of income so that her status as a debtor to her friends does not overshadow her importance as a friend to them. May they who have attachment issues be granted the means and resources to work through that trauma and not subject those who would be their friends to unhealthy demands borne of their own insecurity.

Selah. 🕸

My Thoughts on Relationships

Over the past couple of years, I’ve broken, repaired, and been broken by a handful of relationships. To say that it’s been painful and dramatic for most parties involved would be an understatement. In any case, one consequence of all my personal relationship drama is that I’ve been thinking more deeply about how relationships function. I’ve come to a few conclusions, which might very well change again in the future. Regardless, here they are.

The first is the one I came to the quickest and perhaps the one I believe the most: Attraction is very much illogical.

I think, for most of my life, that I have unconsciously believed the opposite. Now that I think about it, this might have come from conflating the concepts of liking and attraction. They’re related, but not synonymous, as far as I can tell.

To like someone means that there is an inherently positive feeling within you regarding the person that you like. One usually begins to like someone else for some reason (a personality characteristic, for example), after they have gotten to know them to some degree. Liking is logical in the sense that, if you genuinely like somebody, you will be able to come up with reasons why.

Attraction, however, is another matter. It’s that factor, often primal and unexplained, that draws one person to another. One does not need to know nearly anything about a person before they can experience attraction towards them. Attraction may initially draw people together; once they are together, they might subsequently start finding logical reasons to actually like each other. Liking can lead to attraction, of course, especially of the sexual kind, but it is not a prerequisite to attraction. You can be attracted to someone you’ve never spoken a word to, and who may not even align with what you consider your “type.” Hence my belief that attraction is mostly illogical.

It is probably clear by now, but just in case: I am speaking of attraction in the broadest interpersonal sense, not just the sexual one.

As a gray-ace person, I experience a lot of strong attractions that are far from sexual. For me, this means that it often manifests in the form of almost absurdly intense friendships. My attraction to someone provokes me to start a friendship, then it proceeds to color that friendship with something close to obsession, on my part. This has happened to me with most of my best friends, and my most recent ex-best friend, Joshua, was no exception.

It was during my relationship with Joshua (we were best friends for four years) that I really began to understand how illogical attraction is. I liked him, of course, and I could provide several reasons why: he was gentle, extremely kind, a fantastic listener, had good taste in art, phenomenal musical talent and singing voice even if he refused to believe it, and most importantly for me, he understood me better than anyone ever had before. Creatively and intellectually, we were good with each other. Emotionally, however, we were not.

There was a near-perpetual friction in our relationship. It got to a point where I felt like I was constantly angry at him about something, whether it was his general inertia, his noncommunicative tendencies, his chronic forgetfulness, or just indifference to my mood and emotional needs. Besides, I was almost always giving more than I was getting.

Hindsight is 2020, isn’t it? I loved him more than anyone else in the world, but it was obvious from at least two years into the friendship, even to both of us, that we should not have been best friends. The latter two years of our friendship was punctuated with Joshua frequently telling me that I needed to leave him, and me thinking I needed to leave him but refusing to. I refused to because I was desperately, illogically, attracted to him.

Despite how unhealthy and unbalanced our friendship was, I wanted him—specifically him—as my best friend. There were at least two other people in my life that would probabaly have been much healthier besties for me—one of whom is my current bestie (love you, sis!)—but I wanted him. And there is no logical reason why. All the reasons that I liked him did not make up for the fact that our friendship made me stressed out and miserable. I was attracted to him to the full extent that an ace person can be attracted to somebody: you want to get as close to them as possible (and leave sex completely out of it).

Why do people stay with people that are bad for them? With people that frustrate them out of their minds? Why do people keep going back to other people despite warning signs that are impossible to ignore? Whatever it is that draws people to others in the absence of reasonable explanation is what I understand as attraction. It’s value-neutral, automatic, unintentional. Who we are attracted to doesn’t have to make sense.

Of course, the other side of the coin is that who we aren’t attracted to doesn’t have to make sense, either. I have met a lot of people that seem, on surface level, like they should be compatible with me—similar interests, talented, generally quite nice—but I have no interest in being intentionally friends with them. And it’s really not their fault, nor is it mine. (I don’t experience sexual attraction the way allosexual people do, but I imagine that sexual attraction functions quite similarly.)

This is almost too obvious to even spell out, but most people don’t want to sleep with everysingle person of the gender(s) they’re attracted to. You may have people in your life of those genders that you love dearly with all your heart, but it wouldn’t even cross your mind to consider having sex with them. And “catching feelings” doesn’t always work like it does on Disney Channel, where the besties-for-years almost always end up being romantically attracted to each other. It’s assumed (I know this from experience) that when allosexual people who are generally attracted to each other’s genders spend enough time together, they will inevitably end up catching feelings. But the simple truth is: People are just not attracted to who they are not attracted to.

I was never sexually attracted to Joshua, and, as far as I know, he was never sexually attracted to me. (I have no idea how things would have turned out between us if that had been the case. My guess is either catastrophic decimation or transcendental devotion, no in-between.) If you asked me why not, I couldn’t tell you. I liked him more than enough to make the gray in my gray-aceness pop all the way out, but it did not. If you asked him why not (and I have), he wouldn’t be able to tell you either. We are currently not speaking, but when we were, I found out that he couldn’t explain why he wasn’t romantically (or even generally, really) attracted to me, nor why he was attracted to his girlfriend.

I’m talking a lot, and I’ve only used one relationship in my life as an illustration, but I think I’ve made my point to satisfaction.

Another thing I now believe strongly about relationships is this: We are different people with different people. C.S. Lewis explained it briefly but eloquently in The Four Loves, one of my favorite nonfiction books:

“Lamb says somewhere that if, of three friends (A, B, and C), A should die, then B loses not only A but ‘A’s part in C’, while C loses not only A but ‘A’s part in B’. In each of my friends there is something that only some other friend can fully bring out. By myself I am not large enough to call the whole man into activity; I want other lights than my own to show all his facets.”

-C.S. Lewis, “The Four Loves”

I believe this strong influence of friends on each other is true for at least most people. As a highly suggestible person, I probably experience it to exaggerated degrees, which has helped me notice it more. I may discover, for example, that if I spend much time with a particularly funny friend, it becomes part of my personality to not only make more jokes (especially around them), but the jokes I make would fit well into their brand of humor.

Of course, the friendship influence can be a lot subtler and more general. A friend may unconsciously influence another to be kinder, or crueler; more creative, or more logistical; more spiritual, or less—and so on.

I want to modify my central statement a bit, because “We are different people with different people” strikes me, even now, as an exaggeration. It would be more truthful to say that each person we are in relationship with might magnify a different part of our character. It is not that we change and literally become different people; it is more like something that is already inside us grows big enough to temporarily obscure other things within us. Some of my friends/acquaintances may know me predominantly as a cynic, others predominantly as a creative person, others as predominantly Africanist, or predominantly Christian, etc.

I am intense, I am obsessive, and I am prone to addiction (and I believe one can be addicted to a person). So imagine me in an intense friendship for several years, how my understanding of myself may become so tied to the other person, influenced by them, to some extent constructed around them. And then, almost suddenly, I am ungraciously extricated from the relationship. “Unmoored” would be an understatement! The consequence of such a breakup is that, for a long time, I cannot figure out who the hell I am even though I’ve known myself all my life, and neither can I figure out why this is the case. (Clarity is often delayed in the presence of overwhelming emotions, as I suspect you know.)

A small but important part of what I’m trying to say is that losing someone is pretty literally like losing a part of yourself.

Yet another thing I believe is that it is so much easier to accept someone with all their sins when you are not the one whom they sinned against in the past.

I have a friend whom I have sinned against and who has sinned against me. Our sins against each other have had repercussions that may linger still, even though we have since reconciled.

Before we reconciled, in a season when I harbored tons of anger and bitterness towards them, they were still making new friends. At least one of those new friends had heard my version of the story of how my friend had grieved me. But if I thought that would dissuade this person from making friends with my old friend, I was mercifully wrong. Their friendship grew, even though this person and I had been on good terms; even though they knew that the friend they were making was on bad terms with me.

I don’t think it hit me until very recently, just how personal emotions are. The intellect can grasp facts and fact-like statements without provoking visceral reactions. If I tell somebody my story of how someone hurt me, they might think, “OMG, that’s awful! I’m so sorry that happened to you.” But my story will likely not make them automatically as homicidal as I am towards the bad guy in my narrative. (Just as a caveat, though, I personally have no tolerance for rapists, and so if someone has sexually violated a person I know, I will feel homicidal towards that person even though I was not the one sinned against. Pray for me if you want.)

When my friendship with Joshua ended, I told some of my friends, perhaps a bit too briefly or incoherently, how he had hurt me. And after I did that, to go on the TL, for instance, and see all my friends—whom I thought loved me—interacting with Joshua on the TL like my heart wasn’t in the worst shape it had ever been, almost drove me mad. My expectation was that, if those who loved me found out that someone had grieved me, they would henceforth behave towards that person as though they were the ones personally grieved.

LMAO. I got jokes, innit.

Even speaking for myself, I would probably have very little issue making friends with someone whom I know has a history of broken relationships (whether of familial, platonic or romantic natures) behind them. It is especially easy when I don’t personally know whoever it is they have a broken relationship with. And, as illustrated earlier, it also seems easy for people who do personally know the person who was sinned against. Writing this, I can think of several people who have gone ahead and built friendships with people I have temporarily severed from my life.

I’m having to learn to accept this as one of the things I cannot control, no matter how it hurts.

Last one for this post: It is very difficult to maintain meaningful friendships with people whom you don’t feel like you can be your full self around.

If you think about this, this is related to the point about us being different people around different people.

It is most often unintentional, when we make people feel like they can’t be their full selves around us. What happens is, we make assumptions of our friends based on what we know about them—sometimes accurate, sometimes false. A friend might have an active sex life, for example, but feel like they can’t express their sensual side around me because I am celibate. Or perhaps someone who is accustomed to casual swearing may find themselves stilting their own words around a friend who is personally committed to Christian-like purity in their language. These things are not exclusively from fear of judgment, I think; sometimes, it’s just vague discomfort or self-consciousness.

I suspect this is why people compartmentalize friendships: they are comfortable with certain friends about certain things, and not about the rest. So you have your cinema-buddy friends, which may be different from your book club friends, who may be different in turn from your party squad, your study buddies, your church friends, etc. I don’t think I have ever gotten used to the idea of compartmentalizing friendships, though—for better or worse, I don’t even know.

I have had to ask myself why I am able to maintain close friendships with very select people at any given time, while being around other friends for too long tends to exhaust me. This phenomenon is one of the answers I’ve come up with: I might like a certain person immensely, hut if I don’t feel like I can be my full self around them, we are probably not going to have a very intimate relationship. Besides, I feel like I can sense when someone doesn’t feel fully comfortable around me. Such feelings have an energy that pervade the air.

This, I think, is why being around certain people energizes me. It takes a lot of energy to hold back various parts of yourself at a time, hence the exhaustion. Conversely, the freedom of releasing all those restrained parts in the presence of someone else is immensely relieving. A lifted weight you might not even have been aware that you were carrying.

Kindred spirits are hard to come by. And besties—true besties—are downright blessings.

-Akotz the Spider Kid

Trends That Terrify Me Among [Redacted] Men

It’s time to admit that I’m terrified of [redacted] men, even through second-hand contact. Sometimes, I feel like if I have to encounter another woman’s story of suffering at the hands of a [redacted] man, I will scream my way into a cave and shatter the rocks with the sound of my voice. Because the stories are far, far too similar, and even worse, they seem to be everywhere I turn. It has become one of my deepest fears that I will end up in the same situation.

(more…)

Things About Which I’ve Changed My Mind

This year has been so rife with changes, it’s knocked the wind out of me multiple times. Although my mind is not the only place changes have occurred, I did think some of it is worth documenting. It would be fun to look back on what I’m writing sometime in the future and see how much these too may change.

Intimacy.

For a good portion of the past few years, my definition of intimacy would probably have been linked primarily to depth or seriousness. Things like tragedy, triumph, anxiety and breakdowns, love and broken hearts, abuse and mental health, familial and romantic relationships are kind of serious issues. It’s highly unlikely that one would have a long, in-depth conversation about suffering their third miscarriage to the random stranger sitting next to them on the troski. These are matters to be shared with people you have intimate relationships with. Smaller, more insignificant issues are easier to share with anyone.

Before this year, I might have considered myself intimate with most of my friends because they are people I could easily communicate with about my serious struggles. Because anxiety, depression and physical ill health have played such a heavy role in my life for the past 8 years, it felt for a while like there was hardly any more to my life than these. Whenever I needed to talk to my “intimate” friends, it was because of almost objectively serious matters.

This year, however, with the help of therapy and psychiatric medication, I have been able to make significant progress with my mental health. With this has come an expansion of the range of my thoughts. I am no longer only occupied solely by melancholic things or constantly on the verge of harming myself. I have enough mental freedom to occupy myself with less serious things—like TV shows, jokes, memes, trends, and the like. As the scope of my thoughts and feelings have been expanding beyond the narrow focus caused by depression, I’ve begun to feel lonelier, because now I feel like there is only one person I am truly intimate with. Not multiple. Just one.

What changed, you wonder? How has my improvement in mental health affected my definition of intimacy? Like this: I now value the shallow “unserious” stuff as much as the deep “serious” stuff in life. That means that as much as I might want somebody to talk to when my brain goes into panic mode for no reason, I also want to be able to scream to somebody about how stupid a certain character in a TV series I’m engrossed in is being. Who can I talk to frequently about frivolous things that won’t think too much about how to engage me in response? Whose time can I waste with a voice note telling them how a random man I didn’t know from Adam had a conversation with me in French, in the heart of Anglophone Accra? Who will DM me memes so I can laugh with them about something they found funny, which has next to nothing to do with me?

In my opinion, I have ignored for too long a good half of what intimacy is. Intimacy now looks like a wonderful combination of the frivolous and the serious. I also feel like everyone has known this for a long time except for me, because I’ve been too deep in ill health to recognize it. So, now, I’m in a season of trying to slowly reorganize my friendships so they can finally look the way I presume healthy, two-sided, intimate relationships should look.

Accurate portrayal of complexity.

I’ve spent a lot of time being angry that certain issues aren’t expressed or spoken of to the full extent of their complexity. Among such issues are suicidality, mental illness, teen angst, financial stress, and the incredible struggle of balancing all aspects of an individual’s life at once. When I read Tweets, watch series/movies, read blog posts and even books about some of these issues, I often feel like they treat most matters in too shallow a manner. I fear that this fuels a culture of misunderstanding and misinformation, which in turn throws a wrench in the works of building of empathy.

When I’m mad, it’s usually because I wanted the writers/creators to have gotten every detail about any complex matter exactly right. Why have I stopped being so mad? Mostly because I’ve realized how impossible that is to achieve. And also because the lack of heaviness can be immensely beneficial for easy consumption.

From my own experience, I know how much words can fail. How much stories can fall short. How performance can fly over anyone’s head, including the head of the performer. I know that no matter how long I talk or which words or language I use, nobody can understand my experiences to the extent that I do—because they haven’t lived them. So if I literally, legitimately cannot express myself to the fullness of my own complexity, what business do I have demanding that others do same for experiences that aren’t even their own? And this is without even considering how much individuals, their experiences and the ways they react to such experiences differ.

Some issues are truly beyond words. I don’t believe anyone alive can ever really understand the mind of a person who died by suicide. Those who died by suicide also aren’t around to tell us. But here’s the catch: even if they did come back to tell us, we wouldn’t get it. Not fully. Depending on who we are, we can have varying degrees of comprehension or empathy—but it will never be one hundred percent, because words never capture the entirety of experiences, and experiences are non-transferable things. For better or worse.

Regarding my second reason for having let go of my anger: well, life is complex enough as it is, without demanding that every expression or work of art carry the full extent of its gravity. Simply put, our lives are heavy enough on their own; sometimes, we need reprieve from the complexity.

The usefulness of neuroticism.

I wrote more extensively on this topic recently, in a blog post called #DearSpiderKid: My Dilemma as A Neurotic Christian. Since interested persons can check that out, I won’t spend too long talking about this point. I just want to say that finding use in neuroticism has really helped me make headway in not hating myself as much as I used to because of how my personality is set up. Instead of seeing my default tendencies as obstacles, I’ve started viewing them more as opportunities to practice mastery of self and dependence on the Holy Spirit.

Suicide as a decision.

This one is difficult to express. The way I think about suicide has changed, in the context of mental illness. I’ve generally considered the decision to take one’s own life as a logical decision of a healthy mind, regardless of whether the suicidal person has been diagnosed with a mental illness. There’s a paradox in the previous sentence, and recognizing that is the reason I’ve changed my mind.

A mentally ill mind is, by definition, not healthy. When a mentally ill person is suicidal, it is very possible that this is a symptom of illness. In other words, I think suicidality can be a symptom of depression in a similar way as a fever can be a symptom of malaria. So when mental illness in particular makes a person suicidal, then suicide isn’t the person’s real choice; it’s how an illness chooses to manifest itself within the person’s brain. Thoughts, chemicals, neurons. Mental counterparts of physical sensations, organs, bacteria. All can be affected by levels of health.

The change in my mind has also resulted in a change in my language. Recently, I watched a video featuring a woman who had lost her husband, a pastor, to mental illness. She made a really good point about why she prefers to say her husband “died by suicide” rather than “killed himself” or “committed suicide”. The latter two imply that suicide was that person’s decision. But her argument was that he didn’t kill himself; mental illness killed him. We don’t say that people committed organ failure or cardiac arrested themselves to death. When your ill body kills you, you didn’t kill yourself. Similarly, when your ill mind kills you, you didn’t kill yourself.

All this I have said in the specific context of mental illness. If a person without a mental illness kills themselves, then that’s what they did, or chose to do. I’m not psychic to know who has committed suicide and who died by suicide. Yet I no longer consider all suicide to be strictly the former type.

Working with the minimum amount of resources (when there are more at your disposal)

Until recently, I was very into the idea of punishing myself while trying to work. I did this by attempting to maximize my discomfort through minimizing the use of available resources. I refused to request equipment that would better serve my physical needs, struggled on Ghanaian networks’ 3G when there were places with free wi-fi available to me, and stuck to environments that were not quite beneficial to my mental health because it was monetarily cheaper. (Or so it seemed in the immediate context.) Always operating through the philosophy that if I can do things with the bare minimum, I should. I won’t go into the toxic views of self that led me here; instead, I want to focus on objective.

The philosophy described above works only if the objective is to conserve as many resources as possible. This comes at the expense of other factors like time, mental stability, physical health and quality of the work. When using minimal resources is the most important thing, all other factors come secondary. The cheapest way is seldom the most efficient, in my experience. And as for the self-inflicted suffering this philosophy causes, I don’t think I can find any reasonable justification.

I have changed my mind about using that philosophy not only because I have decided to shed toxic self-image, but also because my objective has now officially changed to producing the best possible work I can. Now that my objective is making good work, it comes at the expense of other things, like money and resources. And since I’ve noticed I can’t make good work when I’m unhealthy, my physical and mental needs take foreground as well. But, thanks to my shifted objectives, these seem like reasonable burdens to bear in order to achieve my goals. (Within reason, of course; the new philosophy applies when there are resources within my means at my disposal.) When producing good work is the most important thing, all other factors come secondary.

Value being directly dependent on usefulness/functionality.

In my worst depression phases, I have considered myself and my life as lacking any worth in the world—but probably not for the reasons you’d initially assumed.

In the past, I have measured value specifically according to usefulness. What am I doing, what am I contributing to the world around me, etc.? Value, to me, was completely dependent on performance. But guess who doesn’t perform at all? The depressed version of myself.

When I’m lying in bed all day, all week, unable to rouse myself to do schoolwork, or even to write or talk to the people who are important to me, I am not doing life. I am not performing. I am not achieving. Therefore, I am useless, and furthermore, without value.

But, now that I’ve changed my mind, only the first part of the above sentence is true. When I am not putting myself to any use, I am certainly useless in that particular moment. Usefulness waxes and wanes and is dependent on so many factors both within and outside of our control: your mental health; your discipline; what your society demands of you; your physical ability; chances of random misfortune befalling you; whether your potential to contribute is accepted or rejected by another human or system; how much sleep you got last night. The list goes on. The point is that usefulness in this world is too flimsy and wavering a thing to base one’s value upon.

I’ve changed my mind on this topic because I’ve finally chosen to accept a view that is consistent with my Christian theology. According to those, human value is a fixed and inherent thing, independent of worldly circumstances and/or what usefulness we possess. Human value is dependent on one thing alone: who created humans. If all human people are image-bearers of the Almighty God, then there is absolutely nothing that can take our value away. Whether you’re quadriplegic, an able-bodied Olympic athlete, surviving on a catheter, haven’t had a disease for a decade, bipolar, Albert Einstein, or brain-dead, you are no less valuable than any other human of different worldly circumstances. I am valuable simply because my Creator deemed me so. I am just as valuable when depressed as when not; when in bed as when active. No worldly circumstance can affect that.

Wasting time on “frivolous” things.

Once upon a time, I wondered why people invested so much time and energy into things that I didn’t consider to be essential to survival. Things I might have considered essential include taking care of one’s family, doing one’s job well, being a good student, working on one’s aspiration. Things I considered not essential could include: being a fanatic of any sport which one does not play, being a die-hard fan of any TV show, engaging in every bloody argument on Twitter, spending hours on end on any videogame. These days, the things I once thought of as not essential, I now consider crucial and might actually encourage a person to pursue these “frivolous” things.

Why did I change my mind? Because I feel I’ve come to a deeper understanding of how stupid, crazy, bloody, effing hard life is. Sometimes, these “frivolous” things we engage in are legitimately the only things that spark our desire to live—that keep us just inches away from the edge of the cliff. I suppose you could say that I now understand why unimportant things are so important. Where one can find respite from this tragedy called life, where one can find a reason to remain when there are so many reasons to leave, one might as well hold on to that straw. (Within reason, I suppose… I suppose.)

Focus & Scatterbrain.

Not too long ago, I was raging against myself because of my attention span. Why are some people able to sit at desks from 9 to 5 and do consistent work, whereas I can get bored after 20 minutes, and working on one thing beyond 1 hour at a time is nearly impossible? I was convinced my lack of focus proved there was something defective in me… Until I decided to embrace my scatterbrain instead.

I changed the kinds of questions I asked myself. Instead of asking “How can I work all day on a project I get bored of after half an hour?” I ask, instead, “What is my boredom trying to tell my brain?” And the answer to the latter question is, “Switch tasks.”

I know that my scatterbrain and bursts of focus can certainly be assets if I know how to use them right. It’s funny because I used to get so upset that I was not permitted to spend “enough time” on anything in college enough to really appreciate it, because of how fast-paced my system is. But my conception of “enough time” came in large blocks of uninterrupted dedication to one task—and now I know from experience during time away from college, that if I got that, I wouldn’t be able to do anything much with it anyway, because of the way my brain works. My brain doesn’t need huge blocks of time to complete tasks. It needs scattered pockets of substantial time. And I have many of those.

Now that I’m learning to work with myself through task-switching (which maximizes my productivity if done in reasonable limits—for example, half an hour before switching is good; two minutes switching between tasks is dumb), I’ve changed my mind about my scatterbrain being a weakness. It might be just the kind of brain I need to survive in a fast-paced environment that likes to pull people in multiple directions at once.

-Akotz