For Next Time.

For Next Time: A list dedicated to Akotowaa, from The Spider Kid. 

  1. You will not conflate your desire to be loved by a person, with any actual love for the person. You will not project your desire to be wanted onto any human being.
  2. If a person decides they want you, you will let them show it. If they don’t show it, you will let it go. You will remember that you are wanted, regardless, by a God who will never stop wanting you.
  3. You will not entertain indifference to the point of trauma. You will see signs of disinterest for what they are, and you will leave when you are repeatedly told, in words or otherwise, that you must go.
  4. You will not try to convince yourself that love is present when it will not be confessed at any opportunity.
  5. You will remember that you must only allow yourself to fall in love with a person, and not the version of the person you wish they were or would become.
  6. You will not mistake scientific intrigue regarding your most unusual qualities, for love.
  7. You will not mistake someone’s love for your works, talents, or performance, for love of your person.
  8. You will not mistake admiration for your personal virtues, for love.
  9. You will not mistake someone’s interest in fulfilling their sexual desires through you, for love.
  10. You will not believe that your sexuality deems you incapable of developing and thriving in the kinds of relationships that may bring you fulfillment.
  11. You will not allow yourself to believe that your psychological conditions prevent you either from being loved or loving well.
  12. You will not mistake somebody’s unwillingness to let you kill yourself, for love.
  13. You will not decide to owe your life, love, presence or ultimate allegiance to whoever stops you from killing yourself.
  14. You will refuse to hold onto guilt, self-deprecation, or feelings of unworthiness when anyone presents you with the fruits of kindness or love. You will throw “worthy” out the window and remove “deserve” from your lexicon. If you were saved by grace, you can live by it. If you can accept and give thanks for what the son of God did for you, you can accept and give thanks for what a human chooses to do for you. You will not allow bad feelings towards yourself to corrupt or define your relationships.
  15. You will not consider it your responsibility to heal a person, fix their situations, be their unpaid therapist, do their emotional work, or try to do anything that is God’s responsibility alone, or theirs. You will do only the labor that God tells you to. You will be instrument, but never instrumentalist.
  16. You will not regard the end of any relationship as the end of your life as you believe it ought to be.
  17. You will not walk away from any failed relationship with the feeling that you are unlovable. (Because it is not true.)
  18. You will not walk away from any failed relationship feeling that you can never be understood. (Because you know that this is not true.)
  19. You will not assume that the person someone is with you is the same person they would be without you. People are always evolving, when they give themselves permission.
  20. You will not assume that the person you are with someone is the same person you will be without them. You are always evolving, if you give yourself permission.

With all my love,

The Spider Kid. 🕸

Saturday Night Formula One: A Nonfiction Saga

You are sitting in your best friend’s car, in your house’s compound, listening to music from his stereo speakers. Without warning, next to you, the headlights of your father’s car flash on and off. There is no-one in the car. There is no-one around the car. You debate this strange occurrence with your best friend for a moment before you simply let it go.

A few minutes later, you have gone inside at last with him and you are explaining the exciting events of the day prior to his arrival, including how a kettle started melting itself so that one could smell the burning from any part of the house, how your parents argued over the positions of some new fire extinguishers, and a gentleman known as Tony the Carpenter kept interrupting it all either by phone-calls announced by your brother or by his physical presence at the front door. Your best friend remarks that the amount of strange chaos in your family is movie worthy.

Before you are done telling your stories, your brother bursts into the room. While he hastily searches shelves and couch cushions, he announces, “Daddy has lost his car keys.”

You rush out to aid the search for the missing keys, but only a minute later, your father yells that he has found them—in his dressing room—as he shoots downstairs and outside.

This is the beginning of the evening’s madness, and you don’t even know.

 

You are outside again, around 7:30 p.m., bidding your best friend goodnight, next to his car. Your father appears suddenly, looking harried.

“I’m going to Cape Town,” he says, dashing from his car to the front door.

“When?” you ask, in utter surprise.

“Tonight,” he responds. You are even more amazed. Your best friend is amused.

A small argument ensues about whether or not your father told you about this trip in advance. You both remember things so differently that the argument amounts to nothing. In any case, well… the flight is tonight and there’s much to do before then.

 

 

Earlier in the day, your mother sat in her room, waiting for your father, though she knew she had a party to attend. She was expecting him back this afternoon and had only waited this long so she could help him pack for his trip. Your father did not return. Your mother finally became perplexed enough to call him on the phone.

“Ah, is it not tonight that you are going?” she asked.

He responded that yes, it was. She enquired as to his whereabouts and he responded to the effect of: I’m with my friends at the sports club where I usually play golf and I can’t leave yet because there’s some frightfully important casual social gathering going on and it wouldn’t please me greatly if I had to forfeit all the enjoyment too early.

Your extremely wise mother knew then that whatever ensued upon your father’s belated arrival would be something she had no desire to become ensnared in. She dressed for her party and got into her car, looking gorgeous. You and your best friend were outside, and you both watched her leave.

If only she had taken you along, maybe you could have side-stepped all the stress that was to come.

 

The real madness starts only after your best friend is gone.

You are trying to treat it like an ordinary night. You sit down at your desk downstairs, switch on your computer, and try to get some work done. But there is so much yelling.

Your father is escalating from mildly harried to hurricane. You can hear him shouting instructions to your brother about where to put what—which items are going to hand luggage and which into checked bags. You can hear your brother yelling back at your father to confirm instructions, sometimes from upstairs, sometimes from downstairs and outside.

Soon, your father—not yet done packing—decides to request the Uber that will take him to the airport. Your brother advises him against it, for good reason. Your house is in a very popular, accessible urban area, where requested rides are liable to arrive in under a minute. Your brother thus advises your father to finish packing entirely, then go outside with his bags, before hitting the request button. Your father disregards the advice, he knows he’s carrying enough to cover extra waiting charges, so why not risk it?

Your father dashes quickly downstairs and then upstairs again, yelling for your brother. Outside, the security man starts yelling for your father, who doesn’t hear him at all, given how preoccupied he is with yelling at your brother. You yell for your father from downstairs on the security man’s behalf, and the security man chooses that moment to explain in Twi that he’s yelling because the Uber has arrived. Anyway, your father doesn’t hear you either, but your brother does, so you yell to your brother about the Uber’s arrival, and he kindly yells it back to your father, who then yells loudly enough in English for you to hear, “Tell him to wait, eh! I’ll pay him extra for waiting time.” This, you faithfully convey back to the security guard in Twi, who then conveys it to the Uber driver outside.

The shouting and rushing about continue right up until you bid your father goodbye and he leaves the house. If this was all you’d have to go through tonight, you’d have gotten off easy. Unfortunately, life in your household doesn’t work that way.

 

A few minutes after your father’s departure, you are still at your desk, when you are interrupted by a phone call. It’s from your father.

“Akotz, hi… Check on my bed, see if there are some sets of padlock keys…”

Your father sounds extra calm—uncharacteristically so—but you are already sprinting up the stairs, and into his room, where the lights are still on and the fan is still spinning. It looks like your father left for a quick, three-minute trip to the kitchen, as opposed to a whole other country.

“I’ve found the keys,” you tell him immediately.

“Two sets, right?”

“Yeah.”

“I might want you to bring them to me at the airport,” he says. You wonder briefly why he is speaking conditionally when you know his timer for you has already started ticking down. The calm in his voice does not delude you. The frenzy in your head began long ago.

After you grab the keys, he asks you to check if there’s a blue-and-white tie hanging on a hook behind his bedroom door. There is, and he wants you to bring that too.

The call ends, you grab a bag and stuff the required items in it. You dash downstairs and are on the verge of heading for the front door, when you receive another call from him.

“If you can,” he tries to say gently, but there is more of an edge in his voice than there was before, “Look into my wardrobe and see if you can find a purple tie… If you can’t, it’s okay…” But in your mind, it will absolutely not be okay if you can’t find it.

You run upstairs again and only then do you remember that your parents have several wardrobes and you don’t have a clue where they keep what, and how they organize shelves between themselves. Frantically, you open and slam drawers and doors, but you can’t seem to find ties anywhere! Finally, you go into the dressing room, where you know your mother keeps most of her shoes and handbags (and where your father earlier lost and found his keys).

At last! You see a purple tie hanging on the back of the chair and breathe a sigh of relief. No sooner do you cast your eyes a little to the left and discover another purple tie lying crumpled on a shelf. You move closer to the second to pick it up and that’s when you discover, immediately behind it, a brand-new purple tie, still within the transparent rubber in which it was packaged. Each tie has a completely different design, and your father used no descriptors other than “purple.”

You dial his number again—now more acutely aware of that damning timer ticking against you— wanting to clarify which tie you ought to pack. The call does not go through; your father’s line is busy. You put away your phone, sigh in exasperation, and stuff all three ties into your bag.

 

Somewhere on a court, your mother attends a tennis-themed party. Given that she missed your father at home, she decides now to call him and see how his travel plans are progressing. She calls him, he answers, and they have a civil conversation. Your father tells your mother that he is fine; all is well; he is getting ready to board and will soon be on the plane. She wishes him a safe journey.

Now entirely free of anxiety, your mother puts her phone in her bag and leaves it on silent so she can enjoy the party without further distraction. Music plays, guests sing and dance. The phone lies neglected in the bag.

 

With four ties and two padlock key sets in your bag, you run to your car and hurriedly ask the security guard to open the gate. As he’s doing so, you spark the car and discover… that there’s no fuel. Lord Jesus—of all the moments! The meter reads absolutely zero. You know you’re on reserve now, and you pray it can get you to the closest filling station. You can’t risk trying to get to the airport at these levels. It is inevitable; you need to make a fuel stop.

You experience a flash of anger at your mother, who was the last person to use this car. As to how she could spend Saturday morning driving around the city without replenishing the tank, then go off comfortably to a party, you really have no idea.

The nearest filling station is in the opposite direction from the airport. Excellent. You are on your way.

A Saturday night is an inopportune time to head towards Oxford Street. The traffic at Danquah Circle is heavy enough to frustrate you, and you keep fearing the fuel will halt your car in the middle of the street, or you’ll run out of seconds on the damning timer.

While inching forward in the go-slow, your phone rings. Your father, calling back. You explain the purple tie dilemma and its temporary resolution. He’s hardly concerned about all that; he just wants to know where you are. With trepidation, you tell him, “Mummy used the car and finished the fuel. It’s on zero. So I’m buying fuel and then I’ll come straight to the airport.”

A dramatic pause, where you can almost hear your father’s hope and forced composure whooshing out of him like a deflating balloon.

“Oh,” he finally says, dismay undisguised. “Wow.”

You assure him that you’re almost at the filling station, and that you will very soon be at the airport. He tells you to try and make it quick. You tell him you will do your best.

 

At the tennis-themed party, your mother enjoys herself as her phone rings and rings unheard in her bag. As far as she’s concerned, her husband is set and ready to board—as per his last phone call—and there’s no reason he should be frantically calling her at this time.

 

You finally turn into the filling station—empty except for your car, and it looks like only one man is on duty. He waves you towards him where you turn off the engine, open your tank door, and confidently ask for “60 Super”. You take a moment to catch your breath as he’s filling the tank, before you reach for your wallet. Once you do, you look into it and freeze. You do not have ₵60 on you.

Impossible. This can’t be right! You distinctly remember having replenished your wallet that very day. Where could your money have gone? Only then does your brain decide to remind you how, earlier in the evening, you had an ice cream craving and got your best friend to drive you out for some. You bought him ice cream, too. That’s what happened to your money.

You have ₵40 on you. You look to the fuel meter, hoping you can make him stop earlier than you asked. But your thinking wasted time, and the meter hits 60.00 before your eyes.

Big sigh. Bigger stress.

In a small, tight voice, you ask the fuel attendant if they take card payments over here and instead of answering the question, he says, quite lackadaisically, “Oh… You don’t have enough, eh?”

You want to scream so badly that you can’t even remember what you say next. But then he tells you that the card machine is currently offline and charging. Your heart sinks. The fuel is already in your car, for goodness’ sake! Your father is waiting in palpable agitation. There is nothing to do, and you would like the ground to swallow you and your car up right this moment.

In his annoyingly casual, relaxed manner, he tells you to wait, then disappears, leaving you to despair. Some moments later, he returns with a working, online card reader from goodness-knows-where, and announces to you that today is your lucky day. You feel anything but lucky, but you release a very relieved, “Hallelujah!”

You pay, you exit. Once again, you are on your way—in the right direction, this time.

As soon as you get to the roundabout that will take you from your neighborhood towards Airport Bypass, you get another call from your father. You sigh as you wrestle to answer the call on loudspeaker without disrupting your driving.

“Any luck?” he asks.

“Yeah.” You sound breathless. “I’ve bought the fuel. I’m on my way to the airport now.”

“Make it quick,” he says again.

“Okay.” Cut call. You would like to focus on your driving now. You are even more apprehensive, since you got into a minor car accident only two days earlier.

Once out of the roundabout, you zoom off to a T-junction, where one car—a taxi—is casually waiting for its turn to make its turn. Its driver seems extremely chill, quite the antithesis of how you have gotten used to perceiving Accra’s impatient, relentlessly reckless taxi drivers. It’s likely because he has no passengers and is looking forward to picking one up. It seems mildly unfortunate that his indicator is flashing on the same side as yours. That is, until you both turn, and now it seems a tad more than mildly unfortunate—in fact, more like you really just want to smash your already damaged bumper into the back of his car, just to propel him forward.

The road you are on is narrow, a school road, and one lane in either direction. There is a steady trickle of cars travelling in the opposite direction to you. It’s not heavy, but it’s substantial enough to stop you from being able to overtake the indolent taxi driver. Sigh. You want to blow your horn, yet you’re afraid it’s too rude. Besides, you give him the benefit of the doubt: maybe he’s being careful because of the speed ramps.

After what feels like months, you finally see the end of the school road, where it splits into one with multiple lanes. As much as possible, you try to push forward and skirt around the taxi because only a few meters from where the road splits is a traffic light. It’s green, but if this taxi doesn’t get out of your damn way—Hell, amber!

You finally manage to veer off into the next lane and race towards the light as the amber flashes at half your heart rate and you’re almost there and—red.

You bang your hands on the wheel, utter many curses, and hiss.

You’d swear the light stays on red for years, and sometime in 2023, it turns green again and you waste no time in leaving that evil taxi driver in your dust as you fly onto the Airport Bypass.

You’re going really fast, and your phone starts ringing—Jesus Christ! You simply do not have any patience left, so—

“Yeah, hi, Daddy, I’m at Aviation, I’ll be at the airport soon, I promise.” Cut.

 

Perhaps your father just needs to let off steam to someone, and your curtness caused him to consider that you just might not be the one. But he knows who’s never curt: your mother.

Back at the party, which must be winding to a close by now, your mother finally hears her phone ringing. She answers, as surprised as ever to realize how many calls she has already missed. She probably doesn’t have a moment to even express more than an astonished “Hello?” before she is subjected to blastings. Your father has never been one to express himself as honestly as, for instance, “Hey, my plane is about to leave and I’m under a lot of pressure, stressed out of my mind, and I really need to let off some steam.” He tends to go for more indirect routes of self-expression. And so, likely without being eased into the context, your mother receives an earful about her usage of this car and total depletion of the fuel, and her subsequent neglect to replenish it. Because, of course, it’s entirely because of your car’s fuel depletion that his night is going so badly.

 

At long last, you take the turn into the airport, and get sick all over again at the confusing Terminal 3 redesign, with its million maze roads and confusing direction signs and way too many forks and roundabouts. You try to move by memory, since you have experience in picking people up from Terminal 3. When you reach a fork, then, you automatically choose the turn you always choose. What you know over what you don’t, right?

Nope. Not today.

A few meters in front of you are the automated barriers and ticket machines that will get you safely into the car park. Only then do you realize you have made a mistake. Your heart sinks into your gut as your emotional, adrenaline-riddled brain struggles to come up with a solution.

A little to your right is a group of security guys who work for the airport, wearing reflective jackets and standing around a bunch of red and yellow movable plastic barriers. You stop beside them, roll down your window, and yell out, “Hello, good evening. Please, how do I get to Departures?”

One of the men gets up calmly from his seat and echoes to you, “Departures?”

You don’t have time for this. “Yes, Departures.”

He is right at your window now. He tells you sadly, “You should have gone up at the junction. Right now, unless you go and park at the car park.”

It would be so nice to be able to break down and cry right now. “Can’t I just turn around?” you ask, though you know it’s a one-way. “Or reverse all the way back?” And hope that a car coming forward doesn’t collide with you in the process…

The security guy shakes his head. “Why, is it the parking fees you don’t want to pay or…?”

­You impatiently and maybe somewhat incoherently explain that this has nothing to do with parking fees and the whole situation about your father’s plane getting ready to take off, and that this is an e-mer-gen-cy!

Still way too calmly, the man nicely offers to let you through if he can collect the parking money on the airport’s behalf. Though nothing about this sounds right and you know it, he certainly says it in a way that sounds less criminal than how your mind translates it. Either way, time no dey.

“What’s the minimum parking fee?” you ask in exasperation. “Five cedis?”

“Ten,” he replies, shaking his head and smiling sympathetically.

You peruse the wallet that shocked you only a few minutes ago. “My smallest note is twenty,” you tell him. He starts mumbling something about not being able to procure change, and you interrupt with, “Just take the twenty, please, I have to go now.”

He takes the twenty and gives you directions on how to get back to a location where you can take the right road to Departures, though you know you’ll likely just get lost again. The man then shifts the bright plastic barriers enough to allow you space to drive. You thank him and shoot off. The road you are using is a prohibited road, meant solely for airport vehicles or buses or something. It takes you right to the front of Arrivals, where you ask some more staff how to get to Departures. They echo the first man’s words about getting to the roundabout and just taking the exit that will send you back the way you came.

Eventually, you get back to the roundabout, but it’s dark and it feels like there are too many exits, and you’re terrified you’re just going to take the one that leads you straight out of the airport completely. So you start turning towards an exit that seems least likely to do just that, even though you can tell instinctively that it’s not the one you should be taking. It’s so narrow and deserted, it doesn’t look like it was designed to be one of the exits at all.

You start turning into it, when you see a formally dressed gentleman in a green reflector jacket emerge from this very road. You stick your head out of the window and frantically ask him how to get to Departures. He’s the most quick-witted and sensible man you’ve met all night, and he responds briskly, “I’m on my way there right now. I could show you.”

Hallelujah. You throw your stuff to the backseat and allow the airport official to ride shotgun. You know you sound harried and look like a mess, so you apologize to the official and explain that your father is stressing you out.

Speak of the devil. As if on cue, your phone starts ringing. “Departures!” your father yells immediately. “I said I’m at Departures! Where have you gone to? I’m at Departures!”

And now the airport official knows first-hand what you meant, as he surely heard those yells from where he sits, though the phone is not even on loudspeaker.

You tell your father you’re going to Departures right now and hang up the phone.

With the official directing you, you finally make all the right turns. Once on the ramp leading up to Departures, you start accelerating harder and harder and you’re going faster and faster and you don’t see it until—the car goes careening!

Over the ramp you now realize was there. Only after it has loudly scraped against the underside of your car.

Your car thumps back to the ground, fully jolting you and the official, and the roadside guard who watched it all happen winces. You see the latter from the side mirror of the driver’s seat.

All that’s in your head is: “Oh Lord. I’ve spoilt the car. I’ve spoilt it, haven’t I?” over and over. You’re sure some of it is said aloud.

The official in your car gently asks, “Oh, why? You didn’t see the ramp or…?”

You shake your head and respond, “I don’t even know. I’m so stressed right now, I don’t even know anything.”

And now you have something else to be stressed about: the damage to the car. After your accident on Thursday, a good portion of your front bumper is gone, exposing the foam and intestines of the vehicle. Luckily enough, the license plate was more easily restored after being torn off. But now, you can hear something rattling on the underside of the car. God, you’ve broken it.

With fear and paranoia sitting at the forefront of your brain, you repeatedly ask the official if he can hear the rattling, not really expecting an answer. You can’t remember if he gives one.

All this time, you are still driving frantically and fast, as if on autopilot. When you get to Departures, you don’t even realize it. You’d have driven right past your hysterically waving father if the official hadn’t pointed him out. You screech to a halt a few feet in front of your father and exhale.

You thank the official for his assistance, then get out and search for all the things you threw into the backseat when he got in. In a small corner of your mind, you register how deserted Departures is. Everyone who might have a plane to board has boarded it already—except your father. Never in your life have you seen the outside of Kotoka this empty.

While quickly explaining the purple tie dilemma to your father, you hand him all the stuff you picked up for him, and he slips you some money for fuel. Then he runs off back into the airport building. You bid farewell to the airport official and get back into your car. For a while, all you do is breathe.

You drive back home, filled with dread. You were too late, he missed his flight, he’ll call you any minute to tell you to return, pick him up, and take him home. You’ve failed him yet again. The entire drive home, you’re paranoid, looking at your phone.

Finally, you arrive at home, and you park your car. You’ve hardly turned off the ignition when your phone rings.

It’s your father.

You pick it up, expecting the worst. But he tells you he’s on the plane and it’s about to take off. He was the dead last passenger to board, having stalled the entire plane’s takeoff. Having had his name being called multiple times on the airport PA system. Having received the threat of his bags being removed from cargo.

But he’s on board now. You succeeded. And if not for the residual adrenaline, you’d be more than ready to go straight to bed.

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

#DearSpiderKid: My Dilemma as A Neurotic Christian

Dear Spider Kid,

I am writing to you almost as a last resort because I have a problem that seems unsolvable, and I’ve all but given up on it. The problem pertains to my personality. In summary, here is my dilemma: I have come to believe that neuroticism is a fundamental and permanent part of me, which I will have to live with for the rest of my life. The prospect makes me feel absolutely, tragically awful.

In my third year of high school, I took a class that gave me my first major exposure to psychology, and with it, a cursory lesson in personality types. It was then that I learned about the “Big 5” OCEAN categories: Openness, Conscientiousness, Extraversion, Agreeableness, and Neuroticism. In the classroom, our teacher showed us sample questions with which to quiz ourselves. At the end of the test, I was the only person in the classroom whose results determined predominantly neurotic, besides which, my Neuroticism score was much higher than everybody else’s.

I still consider that moment one of the most profound among all my teenage years. I was terrified at that result. I knew I was suffering from some form of depression. But it was one thing to call myself momentarily depressed, and quite another to discover that I had a personality that practically guaranteed emotional instability for life and that made me more prone than everyone else to sadness, anger and anxiety. I left the classroom that day thinking, “Oh my God. Oh my God. There’s something wrong with me!”

That sense of feeling like a creature of bad design and an oddball lasted far longer than my dwelling on the subject of OCEAN personality types. Without ever forgetting that I was different in a bad way from others, I forgot about OCEAN almost entirely… until this year. This year, various events have revealed to me the necessity of recognizing how deeply influential people’s personalities are in determining their ideal lifestyles.

As far as I know, every other Big 5 category in OCEAN has advantages. I feel I need not explain how the following qualities can serve excellent purposes: daringness, organization, sociability, friendliness. Now, Neuroticism—increased tendencies to get anxious, angered or depressed—where are the strengths in that?

I tried looking it up online, trying to figure out if there were at all any advantages of scoring high on the Neuroticism scale. I found exactly one, and it is so far of a reach that I can’t even take it seriously: a couple of sites told me that people who score high in Neuroticism tend to live longer because their anxiety prohibits them from taking many risks, and thus increases their chances of long life purely through the conscious avoidance of dangerous circumstances. They are telling me that the only thing useful about my predominant personality trait is that I’m afraid of everything, and that my reward for being afraid of everything is long life. Especially ironic, considering how much time I have spent in my life wanting to not be alive.

The night of the Google search that led me here, I got so discouraged and felt so useless that I could only cry myself to sleep. Every attempt to ask the internet for tips on how to live one’s best life as a Neurotic person met me with a result regarding how to live one’s best life while facing the unfortunate problem of living or working with a Neurotic. (Translation: Being Neurotic itself is an unsolvable problem. The best you can do is hope that everybody else can figure out how to tolerate you.)

Given that I identify as a Christian, my theology is usually involved in the way I think about identity. Because of my faith, I believe in intentional design. From a Christian perspective, it is normal for me to believe that God forms human beings with specific personalities for His glory—that people are given different strengths to fulfill their individual purposes. It’s also not a foreign idea that people are given weaknesses—thorns in their flesh—for God-serving purposes. But what happens when your “weaknesses” constitute the very bedrock of your personality? In what way could this possibly be designed to serve one’s Creator?

I will willingly admit that outside of my personality, I am blessed with many good qualities, including but not limited to boldness, intelligence, and creativity. Yet it is near impossible to put such things to good use when I am almost always preoccupied with anger, depression or anxiety, even outside of clinical diagnosis.

At the end of all my restless thinking, these are the ultimately discouraging points I am left with:

  • The secular world cannot find advantages to being predominantly Neurotic.
  • I am a burden to those who love me enough to tolerate me and a blemish to those who would rather not have to deal with a personality like mine.

My concluding question to you, Spider Kid, is as follows: As a Neurotic Christian, what in heaven’s name am I supposed to do with myself?

Yours Exhaustedly,

Akotz.

 

 

Dear Akotz,

I was immensely pleased to receive your letter the other day, regarding personality and Christianity because it is a topic I have been burning to address for a while. Since you have given me the privilege of having outlined your practical and theological worries on this matter, I hope to return the favor by addressing both in my reply.

Let me begin, as you have done, with the practical—which, though not explicitly so, is far from mutually exclusive from the theological.

In your message, you assert that, according to OCEAN analysis, there is nothing advantageous about having a Neurotic personality. However, I want to make it clear from the very beginning, that even if that claim were true—even if there wasn’t anything particularly useful about highly Neurotic personalities, it does not mean in the least that there is nothing particularly useful about highly Neurotic people. And this is the first point I want you to grasp: Your personality is not the entirety of your personhood. While a personality may influence the way one responds to stimuli, and/or our unconscious patterns, nobody ought to be enslaved by it. I suspect you may be feeling enslaved by yours.

Recently, I too have been doing some research into personalities, in order to better understand myself. I’ve found that a personality categorization system that at last seems sufficiently complex and comprehensive to gain my trust is the Enneagram. I would recommend you doing some research into it. You may find it enlightening, and much less rigid or damning than OCEAN. While learning about how the Enneagram system works, I came across the concept of Levels of Development. Within any single personality type, there are levels of healthiness and unhealthiness. It turns out that it is when we are unhealthy that our personalities tend to govern us; but when we are healthy, we can govern them. Check out this quote from the Enneagram Institute’s page:

One of the most profound ways of understanding the Levels is as a measure of our capacity to be present. The more we move down the Levels, the more identified we are with our ego and its increasingly negative and restrictive patterns. Our personality becomes more defensive, reactive, and automatic— and we consequently have less and less real freedom and less real consciousness. As we move down the Levels, we become caught in more compulsive, destructive actions which are ultimately self-defeating.

By contrast, the movement toward health, up the Levels, is simultaneous with being more present and awake in our minds, hearts, and bodies. As we become more present, we become less fixated in the defensive structures of our personality and are more attuned and open to ourselves and our environment. We see our personality objectively in action rather than “falling asleep” to our automatic personality patterns. There is therefore the possibility of “not doing” our personality and of gaining some real distance from the negative consequences of getting caught in it.

This, for me, is even more proof than I needed that our personalities do not encompass the entirety of our personhood. We are, as humans designed by an Intelligent Creator, far more complex than that.

I haven’t heard this topic spoken of much from a Christian perspective, but I happen to have the privilege of seeing a therapist who shares my Christian faith, and there is something she has made clear to me which I would like to make clear to you, in my own words. Given that we live in a fallen world—a word plagued by sin due to man’s fallen nature—there is more than enough cause to be anxious, depressed and angry. High neuroticism consists of an above-average tendency to respond to stimuli in those very ways. What I’m trying to say is this: Neuroticism is not completely baseless. On the contrary, in fact, I would say that in a fallen world, it is the most appropriate personality type one could have.

Or at least it would be—if not for Jesus. Even before his human birth, the fallen world already had hope, in the promises of God. Take, for instance, the prophet’s words in Habakkuk 3:17-19.

Though the fig tree does not bud

and there are no grapes on the vines,

though the olive crop fails

and the fields produce no food,

though there are no sheep in the pen

and no cattle in the stalls,

yet I will rejoice in the LORD,

I will be joyful in God my Savior.

The Sovereign LORD is my strength;

he makes my feet like the feet of a deer,

he enables me to tread on the heights.

From everything the prophet is describing, it doesn’t seem like he has any occasion to be joyful. From his circumstances, I think anxiety, depression and anger would be far more appropriate. Yet, he reacts in an entirely inappropriate way because neither his joy, strength, nor assurance is dependent on the circumstances of the fallen world. Admittedly, we can’t be sure if Habakkuk was born Neurotic or not, but I daresay it doesn’t matter. Whether he was excessively predisposed to negative emotions or only normally predisposed to them doesn’t change the relative irrationality of his reaction to stimuli around him.

And if a man could think like that in the Old Testament, how much more now, when the work of Jesus in conquering the world is actually finished? How much more for a person who may call herself saved? In the words of Jesus Christ, “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world (John 16:33).” Bear in mind that Jesus said this to his disciples right after informing them that they were all about to be separated and isolated from each other—and prior to that, that the world was about to hate and brutally persecute them. Cheerful guy, this Jesus.

The point is that, while there are several factors that would make anxiety, depression and anger appropriate, the salvation of Jesus allows us to maintain contrary stances such as those rooted in love, hope and faith, no matter how inappropriate the context.

Furthermore, allow me to posit that, as a Christian person, the greatest advantage of presumably having few to no inherent personality advantages is precisely this lack of advantages. Neuroticism may be one of the greatest opportunities for God and his Spirit to work through and within a person. When you’re Neurotic, your moods threaten to govern your life. The fruits of the spirit (Galatians 5:22), love, joy, peace, kindness, patience, goodness, faithfulness and self-control are rather difficult to feel or exhibit when we’re being erratic or being pulled down anyhow by our blasted natural inclinations. and if the fruits of the Spirit are at work in a naturally neurotic person, think how striking it would be. The glory of the Lord is so much more evident when the glory can’t be attributed to the vessel through which it is displayed. This may be a rather unfavorable analogy but humor me and kindly consider it anyway: If a detergent company wants to show off the power of its stain-removal abilities, the detergent’s power is going to be most evident if they test it out not on an already clean piece of fabric, but on one with a particularly difficult-looking stain. If said stain disappears, well—glory to the manufacturers. The detergent is no less powerful if it is applied on clean fabric; the difference is in the evidence of its power to onlookers. Contrast just so happens to have a large impact on the human mind. It is no wonder, then, that our Creator is fond of using miracles to catch people’s attention. And what is more miraculous or contradictory than an astonishingly stable Neurotic?

Now, to combine the practical and theological in order to answer your brilliantly blunt question on what in heaven’s name you are to do with yourself: You might be surprised how often—especially in non-clinical cases—depression, anger and anxiety have to do with the mere thoughts inside your head. While it may be extremely difficult or near impossible to spontaneously change how you feel, I believe it is not nearly as hard to play around with the primary thoughts taking up space in your head at any given moment. As much as personality might be much too permanent to shed, habits can be almost as stubbornly difficult to break—and it is a very learnable habit to reorganize one’s thoughts. I speak from experience, since I have been frequently using a new trick I developed with my therapist’s help. The trick is based on Philippians 4:8:

“Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.”

When I am threatened by my own feelings, I counteract them with my thoughts. I create lists of everything that happens to be both contextually relevant and true, or noble, or right, or pure, lovely, admirable, excellent or praiseworthy, and I dwell on them until my emotions realize they can’t win. I’m not saying it works like magic and my emotions instantly switch. I’m saying that however valiantly my emotions may fight, it is my thoughts that are on the winning side, and that’s often sufficient to keep me moving. I have used this trick often enough for it to become my default. Reorganizing my thoughts is a new habit I never before thought I could form.

This is what I’m trying to tell you: that you can govern over your personality once you develop a strategy that works for you and make it a habit. As a habit, it ought to become so automatic that you begin to stop noticing when it’s happening; when it might start to feel like the way you have trained yourself to live is the way you have lived all along.

Like any other kind of habit, a psychological habit may turn out to be just as hard to form as it is eventually difficult to break. And if you’re a similar kind of Christian to me, you might want to base your new habits upon scripture and faith.

Regarding the points to which your restless thinking led you: I’d suggest you scrap them and put these in their place:

  • A person predisposed to neuroticism need not define themselves by their neuroticism, and that includes you.
  • Whether or not the secular world can find advantages to neurotic personalities has nothing to do with you and the value of your personhood.
  • Our theology has many useful responses to the things that aggravate you, not least of which are that:
  • Your salvation permits you to respond irrationally.
  • The Holy Spirit works within you to produce fruit that stand in stark contrast to the fruits produced by neurotic predisposition.

The healthier you get, the more you can triumph over your personality—especially if you choose to adopt psychological, spiritual habits that antagonize your predisposition.

To conclude, I would like to sincerely thank you for your letter once again, and hope that mine will be of use to you, even in the smallest way possible. I’ll remember to keep you in my prayers.

Yours faithfully,

The Spider Kid.