Underground: A Memoir from May 2018

It is approximately the middle of May 2018 and probably Wednesday or something. I wish I could be sure, but all the days have melded together lately, and I have no desire to pick up my phone to check; that machine gives me more anxiety than I can tolerate lately.

I have awoken shrouded in an invisible mist that I’m sure is real and that only I am conscious of. The sunlight forms an aggressively glowing yellow line close to the ceiling, along the top lining of the heavy, blue curtains. I want the sun to go away. Everything about my world is dark, and it’s extremely irritating how the universe consistently refuses to reflect this.

One of the few friends I have made in college lies next to me, still asleep. She sleeps peacefully in her own bed, and I feel like an invader, as I have felt every single day that I have woken up here. I wish I had been able to sleep a little longer so that I could have postponed the sentiment—assuming, probably erroneously, that I would feel less awkward if she had risen before me. But I have always been an early riser, even in phases of darkness like this one. The past few days, I’ve been able to send myself back to sleep shortly after waking, but I’m having no luck today. Thus, wakefulness it is.

As much as I hate to think when I am in this state, there isn’t much else to do. (I don’t feel like moving; besides, if I do, I might wake her up, and I’ve caused her enough inconvenience already by my mere presence.) All I can think about is death, though, and the only thing that provides temporary distraction from these thoughts is the itch on my left shoulder where my tattoo is still in the process of healing.

My tattoo, which is almost two weeks old now, is of my personally claimed Adinkra symbol, Ananse Ntontan (Spider Web). Its symbolism is obvious, I think, because I’ve been wearing the identity of “The Spider Kid” for about a year now. And yes, although getting a tattoo had been on my mind for ages, the sense of emergency that pushed me to finally get it, in the closest parlor I could find in the shortest time, is temporally specific.

I don’t think I have ever wanted to die more than I have wanted to die these past few weeks. Given that intense desire often translates into occasionally irrational action, I was convinced that someway, somehow, I would die very soon, even if I had to see to it myself. My incentive to get the tattoo was an overwhelming sense of emergency to prepare for my death, and I refused to die without a permanent symbol of my self-claimed identity visible on my corpse. I considered it to be one of my final acts of rebellion, assertiveness, agency. People always seem to assume they know why I got inked, but there is no reason more truthful than this: I wanted to have some control over the appearance of my corpse, some power over my death, to make up for the agency that keeps being denied me as I live.

Taking actions of potential permanence is always significant, whether getting dreadlocks, inking your skin, or committing suicide. I like to share significant moments with my best friend, but I suppose this only works when I am significant to my best friend. He didn’t respond to the messages I sent prior to my tattoo appointment. He didn’t respond to my messages afterwards. I remember how deflated I felt when, several days after the procedure, my tattoo selfies still floated unreplied in his WhatsApp, and I had to conclude to myself that my moment of significance probably hadn’t really been that significant after all. It made logical sense to me that my death wouldn’t be, either. If nothing, not even taking actions of permanence would be enough to provoke a response from the most significant person in my life; the indifference from the rest of the world would surely only be louder.

I do not scratch the itch on my shoulder.


Impulse and habit simultaneously urge my muscles to reach for my phone, which lies on the desk beside the bed. But I have no business to attend to on my phone, for two reasons: first, my best friend is still not speaking to me, so there is no chance messages from him would suddenly have appeared overnight, and I have neither energy nor desire to speak to anyone else on the planet. Secondly, I have, for the millionth time, deactivated all my social media accounts.

This is the beginning of the third week my best friend is refusing to speak to me. I wonder what precise magic informed him that this was the perfect period of my life to desert me, how effective his absence would be if it coincided with me sinking into the deepest level of mental faeces my soul has ever known. This is so far the longest period since we became best friends that I’ve been the victim of his characteristic radio silence. He wasn’t with me as I panicked about all my finals (which I got through, but only barely); or about my passport and visa (which I still don’t have); or my impending homelessness (even though I’m being generously hosted now); dwindling funds; desperation to go home; uncertainty about whether or when it would be possible (I still don’t know); anger with my parents; all-round depression and disillusionment with life (as usual, but also worse than usual); exhaustion; still-growing desire to eliminate myself from the living world. Sometimes, he’s the only thing that seems capable of making anything significantly better. He’s always my last straw when I can’t find a reason to stay. But now he’s gone. I don’t know how to do life without him. He’s never been away this long, and I think he’s never going to come back this time. That wouldn’t be uncharacteristic at all. I don’t know how to accept that I’m alone. Every time I think about rebuilding this kind of relationship, exposing the ugliest parts of myself all over again to anyone else, when I think about the energy that would require (which I certainly don’t have), my breath halts for too long. I hate life all the time, but I hate it with several times more intensity when he’s not in it with me. There will be no messages from him on my phone.

A few days ago, as I sat on the edge of this very bed, I deactivated all my social media accounts. My online presence has no purpose if I am not engaging with art, and I have nothing to put out in the world, thanks to my best friend’s silence and inactivity regarding my (/our) next major project. Besides, social media is, for me, nearly nothing but triggers. It is full of excessive bad news and toxicity, and people are angry all the time. They also have this strange habit of talking about the same topic at once, creating a huge echo chamber about a topic I really wish wouldn’t attract so much attention. Even the positives of social media irritate me, because my life is stagnated. Why are my own feet mired in quicksand while one of my favorite poets gives another TED talk? When someone barely three years older than me has finished with her Masters’ and has just been accepted into a PhD program? Why does everyone have a publishing deal these days? Why is everyone suddenly releasing albums and EPs? All I ever did online was complain and articulate my depression over and over again like I’ve been doing since twenty-bloody-twelve, and I am frankly exhausted of interacting with humans, in and outside of DMs. My presence online is at least as irrelevant as my existence. It all had to go.

I still haven’t moved from my position on the bed, and I don’t know how many minutes (or hours) have passed since I first woke up. I feel like crying, but it might wake my sleeping friend up. I want to disappear, but no matter how hard I will it, my body remains as physical and as visible as it has ever been. Flesh is the devil, and being trapped in it is torture. Self-extermination is on my mind every second of my waking hours, and I feel guilty because I keep thinking about how woefully impolite it would be to die in the home of the generous family that is hosting me. I am annoyed at the idea of having to postpone my death, and this, in turn, makes me feel more like the horrible person I am.

I am grateful for being hosted for free in my time of homelessness, but I am also deeply saddened that this beautiful family has to suffer me. I am not a visitor; I am a burden. I am worse than a burden; I am a dead woman walking, poisoning the air with depression everywhere I go. I am a joy-sucking vortex in every room, burying happiness further underground than my own spirit. I wonder if anyone in this family has yet recognized that I am not fully within my body, that the most essential parts of me are buried where only dead things lie. I wonder if they can tell that I have trouble perceiving their words when they speak to me, that I am only receiving muffled sounds that have managed to penetrate through several feet and layers of dirt.

It is the middle of the week, so my stay is only half-complete. I ache with a dull-but-wide pity for my friend lying beside me, for having to suffer my presence this long in the name of kindness and hospitality. I can’t help but wonder how her experience of having a week-long sleepover would differ if it had been anyone but me. I wish, for her sake, that it had been anyone but me. I imagine things would have been much more eventful, comforting, exciting, far less shallow and awkward than my presence makes them. I wish I didn’t exist. I wouldn’t have had to be here if I didn’t exist.

I am still awake, and I am tired. I am tired all the time, no matter how much I sleep. The first few days she and I spent at home, neither of us officially got out of bed until well into the afternoons. We would eventually sit up and joke to ourselves about how badly the past semester had drained our energy. I don’t think it would be appropriate for me to explain that there is so much more than the tedium of academia that makes me never want to wake up again each time I fall asleep. In contrast, the “school was a lot” excuse is friendly and much, much easier to hide behind.

I sigh. I can’t just keep lying here.

Before she wakes up and finds me staring into space, I decide to go downstairs and find breakfast. As I descend the steps, I think about how I will be twenty next week. Or would. If I either live or survive that long. Either way, by then, I’ll be gone from this house.

Note: I thought for a while about including the circumstances that led up to this point, but a lot of it is logistical, personal, and hella complicated. I can never give a fully accurate description of the chaotic state all facets of my life were in, around May 2018, and I feel like no volume of words or explanations can ever do justice to the effects life has on my anxious/depressed brain, anyway. So, suffice it to say that there were ample real-life factors leading up to everything described here, and that this is only but a vignette of that season, a mere slice, not the whole, of my mental state at this time.



“Do You Want To Talk About It?”

“Do you want to talk about it?”

No, person number five hundred and sixty-four, we do not. You know why? Because we are oversharers already. It feels like we have spent all our lives ranting and ranting and ranting to people physically and virtually, in private and in public, spilling all our thoughts and emotions into cyberspace and air particles…and all for what?

What can we tell you that we haven’t told the whole world already? What can you tell us back that the five hundred and sixty-three people before you have not? I tell you, we have spent ridiculous amounts of time “talking about it,” and guess what: we are the same. Why? First of all, because all talking does is burn our already rapidly-dissipating energy, and secondly, because we have remained in the same state ever since about person number ten. Stupid us, that it’s taken over five hundred people after that to realize that our speech is only draining us of everything we are made of, and that if we keep it up, we may not survive. So no, we do not “want to talk about it.”

For all the energy we lose, what do you gain? The opportunity to rant back to us about your own struggles? Did you only ask us to release because you wanted to? Do you gain the comfort of knowing that someone’s life or mind is in a worse state than yours? Is there pride, do you feel special because someone opened up to you? After we unlock our soul’s doors and give you a tour of our most intimate parts, will you walk away with a souvenir that says, “I was here, I expended your energy, and I went”? And what do we walk away with? Another signature in our mental guest book, and the parting thought, “Thanks for visiting. I remain a mess.”

We know some of you love us. We know some of you care about us. But do you know, for instance, that some of you care about us in the wrong ways, and that some of you can’t care about us enough? Understand. We have had five hundred and sixty-three visitors into our damage already, and we got over the “Wow, someone is actually here to listen” type of gratitude ages ago, yet it seems no one quite understands how far gone we are, how exhausted we are, how replying messages feels more tiring than a decathlon, how we are absolutely done with people taking and taking and taking from us while we ourselves have neither capacity nor strength to take a damn thing back from the world or even from you.

May no soul ask why our responses to “How are you?” are blasé and impersonal statements like “I’m alive.”

May no soul ask us for further expansion when we answer their questions with a smiley face emoji.

May each soul disabuse itself of entitlement to be opened up to about any intimate matter.

Our energy is not anyone else’s to decide how it should be managed. We will protect our energy and we will shut down if that is the only way we can stop ourselves from dying. So no, dear person number five hundred and sixty-four, we do not “want to talk about it.”


P.S. I struggled a lot to decide to post it, because I keep fighting the urge to apologize for my emotion. But apologizing or toning down more than I already have feels like dishonesty. I still feel bad though. That’s why I dey explain kraa.

How We Forget Pain

I have always wondered how mothers, after having gone through the trials of labor once, would venture to give birth a second, third or however many times. It baffled me for a while until I remembered something difficult to forget about being female: menstruation.

There seems to be a lot of hereditary pain in my family. I inherited incapacitating, irregular migraines from my father’s side of the family, and crippling menstrual cramps from my mother’s. When I am under the bondage of one or both of these things, it is as if the world is ending. I feel like I’m dying, like if it goes on any longer, I’ll just faint from the pain and never wake up again. And then it stops. And in no time, I forget, and I think I was just overreacting a couple of days ago, being a drama queen.

When I am painless, I feel like a superhero who can take absolutely anything the world decides to throw my way; like I can deflect life’s painful crap as easily as bullets ricochet off Wonder Woman’s armor. And then the next month arrives, or the next migraine, and I completely forget what comfort feels like. The cycle repeats.

Human beings forget pain. I don’t know how we manage it, but we do.

I look back at myself from as recently as May 2017, and I have to actively fight the urge to scoff at myself. What were you complaining about, kraa? De-what-pressed? How could you have been so unmotivated? How could you have hated life that much? Can you believe that it was all pain you were imagining in your head that stopped you from getting off your bed for several days straight? Drama queen paa nie. What’s wrong with you?

I am shocked by my own thoughts – because, of course, if anyone should know that my pain was real, it should be me. It was me, I experienced it, I wrote through it, as I have done several times before. But these thoughts showed up because there are some kinds of pain that are astonishingly easy to forget. And it’s not because “they weren’t that painful after all.” No. I don’t know what it is that makes them that way, or what it is that makes them different from traumatic pain.

I do fear, though, that just like the cramps and the migraines, once school reopens, after a few weeks, it might return, and I will once again see that I was never overreacting. I am still shadowed by the fear of having to keep repeating the depressive episodes like cycles. I don’t want it. I want another way.

I wonder if this forgetfulness is the reason for our changes as we grow. Is it because our parents can’t go back to the adolescent pain that they end up turning into the things they hated about their parents? I wonder of my generation, currently “the youth”: will we forget our pain and become our parents? How do we keep what our pain taught us, without masochistically clinging to the experiences themselves like we’re embracing cacti? I don’t know.

I do, however, assume that if there were ever any ways of recording the present in an emotive enough way that it can be revisited, writing in the moment, from present, painful experience, would be one of them.


She Still Wants To Live

I sat in the psychiatrist’s office for maybe the fourth or fifth time, as mad at myself as I ever was for letting myself get this deep into the darkness all over again. This was a weekly appointment, and I had been coning for a month or longer – and so it had been six or seven weeks since my last major breakdown. Although I was acting better, and had accomplished a few more of the things expected of me since our first meeting and since our last, I did not feel better, especially not on this day. This day was one of the worst I’d had the entire semester.

I had been in better moods the last couple of meetings, which gave the illusion of improvement, but on this day, the world was bleak grayscale to me. Perhaps a day or two before, I had been writing half-finished, half-poems, half-letters to Jesus, asking when the [heaven] he was planning to come back, and could he please hurry up and show up now, just for me, because I was tired of the present, tired of repeating the past, and tired of all the tomorrows I hadn’t even seen yet. It was especially hard, that day, as I sat in the small, intimate office that promised me confidentiality, for me to see a point to doing anything at all.

In the moment, more than usual, I felt the weight of responsibilities I believed were too big for me. It was a wonder I had even made it to the meeting. I hadn’t wanted to this week, and had been contemplating, a few minutes before, just returning to my room after class and sleeping my life away again, but my abhorrence of being rude just happened, this one time, to win over my absence of desire.

Let me tell you something you might not know: if you have a moral conscience, tweets do have the power to keep you captive. Not just because the tweets exist, but because of how much you committed into composing and posting them sincerely. I realized it when my therapist asked me why I was still alive even though I didn’t think I wanted to be anymore. I told her the truth: I kept myself going because I had asked all my friends to keep themselves going, and now I was bound by the same law. At that time, I hadn’t realized how difficult this commitment would soon become.

The conversation soon shifted, as my therapist tried to figure out what was identifiably wrong with me and my life, at least today. As I listed my tangible, practical problems to the her uninterrupted – most of which had solutions that involved me somehow taking action – my despair grew, and before I knew it, my throat was choked and my eyes were cloudy. Until this point, I had not cried in a single therapy session.

She asked me, with regards to my problems, like any pragmatic adult with a functional mind would, “What do you want to do?”

That question sounded like the most idiotic thing in the world to me. Hadn’t she been listening to my rants for the past half-hour? Had she heard anything I’d said? I barely had any desire to wake up in the morning, and she was asking me what I wanted to do about my problems? It should have been clear, from my rants, that I knew what I had to do, but as for what I wanted? How about wanting a fairy godmother to wave her wand and then have my problems spontaneously vanish?

Exasperated and damn near cracking, I wailed, “I don’t want to do anything!”

She looked directly at me from the armchair that was opposite me and said, almost without skipping a beat, “You still want to write.”

It seems silly, but for a moment, I was far too shocked to speak. Ah? I still wanted to write? Why…yes. Hmm, interesting. I still wanted to write. Slightly amusing. When she said it, something that was constricting my chest freed up just a tiny bit, and although by that time, I think tears were already flowing down my face, I did crack a smile’ I couldn’t hold it back.

Despite my brief, positive reaction, I hadn’t realized the sentence’s full power then. The smile had faded quickly enough, and right after my therapy session, I dissolved into a miserable puddle of private tears lying on the ground on the second floor of the library. I was in the part of the library that was the most vibrantly decorated, and there was still no joy to be found in anything in that moment. The only person I wanted to talk to (my best friend) did not have access to the internet and/or was asleep. The only person I did talk to (my mother), I ended up unfairly yelling at, and feeling even more like crap for it afterwards.

However, several hours after therapy, and way into the next day, I could barely stop thinking about that moment.

“I don’t want to do anything!”

“You still want to write.”

Because it meant something profound; it confirmed something that, at the time, I was not sure about: that I still wanted to live. I knew, surely, that there was no other sentence that psychiatrist could have said that would have been as effective as that one in that moment.

It felt like God’s answer for all the times I asked Him why I was still here, what at all there was for me to do, why I hadn’t been terminated yet. Because “You still want to write.” And if, even in the midst of the bleakest, most discouraged state I had ever existed in, I could still locate that singular desire, that alone was a miracle.