Editors Note: In this era of social media, we tend to be exposed to the highs and less so the lows. Besides providing an imbalanced story about human living and lives, it makes being in those depths (of fear, sadness, insufficiency, doubt, etc) lonely and isolating. Here at Circumspecte, we seek to portray not just the positive stories of Africans, but also real accounts of personal struggle, the overcoming it, and the lessons and insights from our real life experiences – we believe that each can be empowering.
Last week we featured Christabel Steel-Dadzie’s story on assault. This week, we present Freda Obeng-Ampofo’s candid account on being depressed – a health issue that many Africans remain skeptical about. Initially published on her blog, Freda’s honest account of being depressed includes tidbits on how to identify and overcome depression. We hope this feature helps you understand depression – and especially for those who identify – inspires courage to rebuild and live.
Not many people know but I was once depressed. Although, I didn’t initially think I was depressed. I’d always tell myself I’m just sadder (is that a word?) than normal and that it will be okay over time. My “over time” lasted 2-3 years give or take. I am happy to report that I now see life differently. So, today, I share my story with those who are grappling with depression. I understand your struggle and hope my story will be of inspiration to you.
How It Started
I can’t really pinpoint when it actually began; however, I was in a serious long distance relationship. It’s safe to say the distance began to have a toll, among other things, on the relationship. Because I was truly in love, I fought for the relationship. I could not imagine being with anyone else. Things finally gave in, which really intensified everything for me.
“Being a strong woman (or so I thought), I thought I was okay. “I can deal with this, I’m a big girl,” I told myself. Yet, it affected me more than I could have ever have imagined.”
What truly sent me to ground zero, more than the breakup, were the series of events that led to the end of the relationship which left me feeling paralyzed and sometimes continue to devastate me. It is also safe to say my faith in the spiritual everyday reality and good plan of God for my life was slowly deteriorating due to the intensity of my academic program at the time, and just the sheer agony of being away from my love, family and friends, and struggling to keep my relationship afloat.
In those years I was feeling so low, moody, easily irritated, always angry, scared, panicky, anxious and very unstable. Whenever the depression kicked in, I’d just sleep, even when I didn’t want to; because I had no desire to do anything. I’d always snap at people. If you know me, I’m so not a snapper so I’d actually feel worse afterwards which normally exacerbated my condition. I almost always felt like a teenager going through puberty.
I tried to stay away from people as much as possible. I felt excessively guilty and worthless all the time. My behavior affected my friends, family and anyone who happened to be around me. Being depressed is not fun and I wouldn’t wish it on my worst enemy – ask anyone who has been in that situation before and they’ll be able to relate. Depression changed who I was from the happy-go-lucky, free-spirited Freda I knew, to someone who just seemed moody and angry all the time.
Every person or thing that crossed me was vulnerable to my attacks regardless of what they did or didn’t do…. and at some point even made it impossible for people to be around me. Being depressed also subjected me to extreme high and low mood swings that sometimes changed in seconds… coloring my days with snarky thoughts, impatience, and anger towards others. The worse is I hated this attribute especially when dealing with people I loved… yet it had been difficult to change because I didn’t even realize it was happening until it was over. I cried a lot and had many dark nights. For a while, I didn’t know what to do and had thoughts of suicide.
Sometimes it was just the burden of having so much on my mind and not knowing how to deal with it. It sucked because I tried to do all the things that were supposed to make me feel better a) pray; b) eat well; c) work out; d) have a hobby of sorts e) try and meet up with people, etc. It seemed like I was doing everything I should be, yet this grief, gloom, melancholy, kept getting worse. I was constantly broken.
I remember the only answer I had to every question was “I don’t know.” And I really didn’t know and I’m not sure if it was the lack of desire to even think about it or that my mind just froze. Whatever it was, it definitely frustrated friends and family as I typically love turning up to events and being a social butterfly, but during my depression years, I felt completely empty. Every minute felt like forever.
The Turning Point for Me
I am Treasured, Needed & Vital: While I was engaging in activities (eating healthy, etc.) I thought would help me combat sadness, it all seemed futile and just not enough. Suicide would cross my mind from time to time. Fortunately suicide was not an option because even in my darkness, I just could not justify ending my life. I knew how much my friends and family loved me, knew how much my absence would affect them and knew some people (seemed few and sometimes insignificant) relied on me… the homeless guy on the street I sometimes give a dollar or cedi to, or that school girl I was mentoring. I thought dying would be very selfish, and really unfair to my family and friends. It wasn’t an option. So that was the first breakthrough for me.
I am Endowed; I had LIFE: Once I realized death wasn’t an option, I started looking around and acknowledging all I have been fortunate with, which led to my second discovery… I had life! At the time, a neighbor saw how broken I was and recommended I seek help from a professional. So I did. I remember crying so much through the conversations that the counselor could barely hear me. It was enough tears to drown in. I had never cried that much in my life. Needless to say, the conversations went really really well and helped me think through all the resources I am blessed with; my councilors, through stories and their experiences in life, made it clear to me that I am indeed important, vital and treasured, and that being severely sad was only temporary, that things will fall back into place.
“I had always known that I was endowed, that my life was important, but the facts never really materialized for me during my time of depression.
I had LIFE!”
Honestly, this was a huge realization. I also began to recognize I had so much even during the times when I felt I was poor: I had a place to live, food to eat, an excellent education…etc.
Another realization was how beautiful I was as a person. I’m usually very shy when people compliment me, but it was different this time in a good way. I actually saw myself as a strikingly lovely person, with a good heart and saw that as an asset. I am so glad I rediscovered my own virtue because it has had a lasting impact on me through this process. If you are struggling with depression, consider writing down all the positive things about you; include attributes you normally will not consider. No point is too small. A scripture that was particularly helpful to me during this particular stage is Psalms 139:11: “I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well.”
Stronger Than You Credit Yourself For
While depressed, I felt hollow and sometimes very weak (powerless). I hadn’t considered getting medication because I didn’t even know or wanted to know how to go about it. I had considered seeing a psychiatrist/counselor but didn’t have the budget for it (I am thankful to the neighbor that managed to get me free counseling). I sat down to figure out what I had at my disposal and how to use it. In the process, I discovered how strong a person I am. So strong, I am now comfortable, able, and empowered enough to share this publicly.
Sometimes it takes going through something very difficult to realize how resilient you are. If you are feeling how I felt, I challenge you to take that extra step today. Go out and meet a random person who can counsel you, pick up the phone and talk to someone. Find your strengths and allow them to work for you and in your favor.
Find Good, Honest & Positive People, Not Those Who Think They Have It Figured Out
I use the words “good” and “honestly positive” people because those that are not, are often critical. You are sad and don’t want to be talking to someone who is judgmental, or feel and act as though they have it all together that they don’t understand why you are sad, or even worse, someone who does not care. For me, I couldn’t define what “friends” meant. I make friends very easily and at any point in time, I have too many “friends.” When I was depressed, I didn’t feel a real connection to any of the people I called friends, at least not enough to call and talk to them. People were either far away, not interested, judgmental, or I felt at the time just didn’t care. Those whom I knew cared were going through their own challenges and were far away. Why should I be an added burden?
This was a mistake. I now think I should have approached them anyway, because it would have also helped them know that someone, a friend, was going through the same thing and maybe we could have worked on it together. I couldn’t ascertain, at the time, if it was appropriate to add my burden to theirs. The point I am trying to make is, find people who are honest, positive, loving and are willing to listen. For me it was really random pockets of people that helped me during critical times in this process. They weren’t necessarily people I knew or were friends with.
“Every situation is of course different, but don’t give up on people who have loved you and cared for your throughout times in your life, even if they are busy; still reach out.”
Saving the Best For Last
For me, the overarching, mother and father of all things that sustained me was God. It has been and continues to be key for me. I must confess, prior to my depression, I was heavily involved in church, but during the years I was depressed, church was usually a one-off thing. Deep inside I knew God was the only being who could sustain me but just didn’t have the desire or bandwidth to draw closer to God. Frankly, I prayed but I always felt the more I prayed, the worse things got and nothing was getting better. And I was extremely upset at God when my relationship ended because at the time, that was all I was holding on to. Its safe to say I was bitter towards God.
But I was raised to believe in God. I had had practical encounters with God and had seen him do miracles in my life. I had seen Him turn things around for me through prayer and so as much as I felt he wasn’t there, that things weren’t getting any better, I knew deep down he’s the only one I had and the only reason I was still alive. I knew he loved me and wanted me to live and prosper. So deep down, secretly, I was trusting and anticipating God’s intervention, even in my despair and paralyzed state. You see, I had reached rock bottom; was so drowned in my sorrow and grief that nothing was going to get me back out except God’s interference. From where I stand right now, I have no doubt it is God who has brought me where I am, because I don’t know how else I could have made it. Think back to a time when you were happy, and write down some of the things that sustained you. Was it medication? Relying on a higher being? What was it?
I share below some scriptures that were particularly helpful during during these times:
– And even the hairs of your head are all numbered. (Mathew 10:30)
– For I know the plans I have for you…Plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. (Jeremiah 29:11)
– See I have engraved you on the palms of my hands; your walls are ever before me. (Isaiah 49:16)
– Day and night I cry out to you. May my prayer come before you; Turn your ear to my cry. (Psalm 88:1-2)
– Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you (1 Peter 5:7)
– I remain confident of this: I will see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living. (Psalm 27:13)
– God is my refuge and strength…Therefore I will not fear. (Psalm 46:1-2)
– Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. (Romans 12: 12)
I have also included some of the songs that kept me a bit sane.They are not particularly my favourites but they really spoke to me during my dark times: Praise You In The Storm and Does Anybody Hear Her – both on the “LifeSong” album by Casting Crown.
I am still quite amazed at God because it all doesn’t make sense to me. Even the fact that I am writing about it is a miracle. Most people don’t talk or write about this because it can be embarrassing or they feel they’ll be stereotyped. Instead, I feel hopeful, proud, encouraged and sustained. I feel stable, aware and alive! I hope this is helpful to you and that one day you too can feel the same.
If you are reading this and depressed, I want to let you know that this feeling is temporary and you will overcome it. It won’t be quick or instant like the mood swings, but it is possible. Try and breathe.
Living everyday feeling like you are drowning is obviously not the best way to live. You mean so much to the people in your life and sacrificing yourself due to depression is the saddest thing you could leave them with. You have so much to live for. Tell/talk to someone and if you have no one to talk to or need someone, email me at email@example.com or send me a message via whatapp on +233507011213 and lets chat and pray together (only if you are comfortable with it).
I would like to clarify that depression is different for everyone and I’m not prescribing anything but hoping my story will empower someone with depression to know there is light at the end of the tunnel. May this piece allow them to feel less lonely and a bit happier even if it is only for today.
“For being strong has less to do with gleaming muscles that remain sore,
than it has with the resolution to persevere and once again open another door.”
– Being Strong
Did Freda’s story resonate with or inspire you? Send her a note.
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Somewhere at the end of last year I lost two important people in my life. One I lost to death and the other just left.
I didn’t see either coming and I couldn’t deal with it.
I’m very obsessive about planning my life and making multiple back up plans for things but I had no back up for these losses.
The only outward emotios I’m used to showing is humor. I tried to keep my sense of humor but kept spiraling and making erratic and bad decisions.
My best friend would come visit sit by me and not say a word. Him being there was more than enough. Somehow his silence pulled me from a really dark place.
I think you point to an important thing – sometimes just knowing there are people who support you is enough, sometimes words are not necessary. I think we can do more in our country and across Africa to help people build their emotional and mental health, especially when they go through situations like you did. Thank you for sharing.
You listen to others and you know life is a shared struggle. To get a trusted person to talk to is rare especially when everyone sees you as someone in control. May we all be someone’s trusted place of solitude and peace.
Very well put. Thanks for sharing Affi!
Thank you for this Freda. You were an angel to me during my time of struggle.