Depression is real and like all other illnesses, should not be kept under wraps but treated.
– By Chisom Martin Ojukwu
110km/h. That’s was the speed I was on that night, on Eko Bridge. Time was somewhere between 23:30 HRS and midnight, and I was going from Victoria Island to Surulere – a daily ritual. You know what else was a ritual? The lateness of the hour, the tiredness in my bones slowly seeping into my eyelids, and the heaviness in my heart. I was fatigued, in body and soul. I worked so hard, every day, at a job I didn’t like. I knew the things I wanted to do – to write, to speak, to act, to sing, to dance…to be free. But I couldn’t do those because they weren’t as financially secure as the 9 to 5. They were not ‘stable’.
Somewhere on that stretch, between the CMS by-pass and the Apongbon tar valley, the twinkling of an oil vessel moored on the water caught my eye. It was lit up from bow to stern, top to bottom. The water all around it was serene; a calm liquid darkness that blended strangely with the ship’s lights. The whole picture was warm and beautiful, seductive, different from how I felt on the inside.
That was when it happened. When the thought crossed my mind: “what if I drive over?”
Suddenly the railings didn’t seem like much of a barrier, the vastness of the water drew closer and if I reached out, I might have touched it. I could almost feel the splashes on my face, cool and soothing. What if…?
Then I snapped out of it. It was a fleeting thought, gone just as fast as it came. But it had happened.
Maybe it wasn’t a bridge and an alluring expanse of water. For you, it might have been a glittering knife, a bottle of swirling otapiapia, or the floor from a balcony 8 floors up. According to the US News & World Report, there are 9.3 million young people, like you and I, who have been depressed and entertained suicidal thoughts in the past year. In a research that spanned across all age groups, one common denominator was found in all affected people – stress. While I agree that this is nowhere near exhaustive, it’s good enough to pass, so we can focus, in this article, on what to do when you find yourself at such a bridge.
What do you do when you’re depressed and having suicidal thoughts?
First of all…go down low. No seriously, go down low…duck out of the way of all the stereotypes about depression. Depression is a curse? Duck. Suicide, even the most fleeting contemplation of it, is not an African thing? Duck. Strong (wo)men don’t choose to be depressed?Duck! Let them all fly above your head and land in the nearest pile of biodegradables. Because they’re balderdash, that’s why.
“It is a common and serious mood disorder that alters how individuals think, feel, and behave.The symptoms can include feelings of hopelessness, rejection, poor concentration, lack of energy, sleep problems, and sometimes suicidal thoughts. Depression is not a choice; it is an illness.”
– Psychology Today (2017).
And last time I checked, it was perfectly normal to be ill.
Second thing you could do, having accepted that those thoughts are merely symptoms of an illness, is do something. Of course, first choice for me would be to seek professional help. That is, speak to a psychologist, schedule counselling appointments, and attend them. Unfortunately many of us would balk at this option. Because ‘psychia’ is for mad people, and God forbid we be spotted there; the damage it would do to our reputation! *shudder*
So there are other options, and they range from the mild – e.g. go out in the sun, call up friends, do something fun, join an online support group, attend masterclasses, pray – to the extreme – e.g. quit that job you hate, leave that abusive spouse. My personal favorite however, is making someone else happy. There are tons of researched data explaining how acts of kindness release hormones that alleviate depression but perhaps the most convincing proof is not on any of those sites or study papers. It’s in your heart. The warm rush you feel when you do something that cracks a smile on a hitherto hurting or sad face. The feeling makes you wonder if your kindness is sincere. Because sometimes you’re even happier than the recipient of the kind acts.
So, try it.
The third, at the risk of sounding cliché, is practicing gratitude. Let’s forget spiritual and moral theories around this for a minute. My GPS can’t direct me to my preferred destination if I have inserted a wrong current location, or no current location.
It’s the same thing with gratitude; it’s difficult to win more without acknowledging your current haul. So one way to shake off those voices whispering, “You’re never good enough, just end it”, is to think about the things you’re grateful for. And express thanks for them.
Of course there are many other paths available for whenever you find yourself at this bridge, but these three, I personally recommend. Pick one, combine two or take all three, you choose.
For me, I made a cocktail of all three. And let’s just say that the next time I drove 110km/h on Eko Bridge in the middle of the night, I had the windows wound all the way down. The sea breeze danced on my face. I drank in the beautiful picture of water, dark sky and twinkling lights. And I didn’t think of driving off.
Editor’s note: This article was originally published in the Spark magazine. Find the magazine here to read other articles.