Depression: The ghosts inhabiting your mind

Tshepo Leonard Thipe

I am a person living with a form of depression. It came into the forefront when my mother passed away on 29th December 2020 due to covid 19 complications. She had been my number one fan, supporter, uplifter and sometimes punching bag for my whole life.As an independent, strong-willed and stubborn personality,  I never realized or fully appreciated her value and place in my life. I was because she were; I am because she was. I just didn’t realise the fullness or extent of the strong walls of unconditional love she had built for me and around me throughout my life. Now that she is gone, I am exposed and vulnerable to the elements. Life without her has been a journey full of obstacles, thorns, dungeons,darkness, loneliness etc.

I was diagnosed the first time soon after her passing. Two weeks after burying her,I had to bury two close cousins on the same day, covid 19. They were sibling sisters, my aunt’s children. They were tbe mainstays of the family as well, and they left behind young children still in school. I was put on antidepressants and other feelgood drugs, which was exceedingly magical for the four days I took them. At the time, I believe the trigger was work related stress, studying part time and of course against the backdrop of emotional upheaval arising from grieving. After the four days, I had to return to work and immediately decided I would not be able to function under the ‘magical’ influence of these drugs. They made me feel high, detached from life and airy fairy; feelings not required in my line of work. I stopped the treatment and chucked the drugs down th drain. I faced life head-on in my personal capacity and through sheer willpower. Then my father-in-law passed away three months later, following a short period of illness, which was a complete shock to all of us. I was not thinking straight, my family was in disaray and I was not in a position to be strong for all of us. He was a true father ro me, he called me son and introduced me as such. My burdens were his, he stopped at nothing to help me. I stopped my MBA for four months to lighten the load and give myself time to mend. I had almost deserted the previous module because I was not coping…I abdicated my studies and disappeared from all student activity. Then had to ask for grace with two weeks to the exam, which the professor granted me. I worked my finger ro the bone for that 51% pass mark! I was ok, I thought….one more module and I would graduate. So I registered for my dissertation module. I finished my MBA later on by the skin of my teeth, barely getting through and completely uncommitted. In retrospect, I think my sanity was highly compromised at that point in my life. I was at a point when I had decided I did not need the MBA after all, it had lost meaning to me when two of my biggest fans would not be around to celebrate with me. It was hell studying during that period; pure, convoluted and highly concentrated hell from the pits of Hades. I am still trying to process if the MBA means anything I thought it would when I started that journey? I hope to at least get the benefit of better career prospects.

It is now November 2022. Last month I went to see the doctor again for fatigue, stress and low energy and lack of interest in daily activities. My work bores me to tears, yet induces severe panic attacks routinely. A lot of my tasks I find mundane, yet operations may come to a standstill if I neglect them. Menial but critical…definitely not challenging and diverse enough to excite or engage me mentally. So I am feeling overworked by menial, mundane and uninspired work. I get panic attacks because the sheer volume of these activities leaves me on the backfoot all the time, with lots of possibilities to drop one of the balls and get fired. I sleep badly and irregularly, I consume a lot of alcohol. So the doctor has prescribed the same script that I flushed down the drain two years ago…this time on a chronic basis. Problem is, I still think I don’t need such a severe solution. I believe I have absorbed multiple shocking blows in quick, unrelenting succesion and that was a lot. Does this mean I am chronically depressed? I do not think so.

Here is what I have learned about my journey thus far. There has been a series of blows that caused a lot of pain, shock and pure emotional breakdown. I went through a long period of walking in the valley, surrounded by darkness and still having to carry on with life as though it were uninterrupted. Raise three children, be a good husband, be a good uncle, brother, son and friend. I had to work at optimal levels while getting through an MBA program I no longer cared about. I moved houses in the process, kids changed schools and friends vanished along the way. I had to just keep going as though I was prepared for the dark valley I found myself in for a lengthy period. I even believed I am the problem, the curse. Two years later, another script of antidepressants and I think: no, this valley is behind me, the morning light is around the corner.

So, I took the non-chronic part of the script to help me now. I still feel down and sorry for myself when life gets tough…like right now. I still get the severe hot flushes when the panic attacks occur because work is getting to me. I am still feeling like my life is not serving the purpose it should, that I am not good enough. I am worried about the future of my family. But can I get through this without chronic depression drugs? I believe so…my triggers are clear, they are beyond my control and most can disappear in a less stressful environment that is stimulating and positive. I can succeed if I surround myself with the right people and energy. I know with God on my side, faith that move mountains and a return to my first LOVE, I can do this.

I trust my journey is relatable, stimulates discussion and that it is thought provoking for those who are familiar with mental illness.

Mirriam Webster, Hillsong Church sang: I am my Father’s child, I will not die but live to tell what He has done.

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