It’s only when you ask me, “What’s wrong?” When you look through me, gazing straight into my soul and ask, that I realise all the words I have won’t be enough to make you see. I want to tell you I am in pain. But I know that you won’t understand. Because you’ll never see any bruises, you’ll ask to see the scars.
“I’m depressed,” I finally say. And I successfully predict your next question.
“But why?” you ask. Real concern glows through your eyes. It’s this genuineness that keeps me patient. Keeps me from abandoning this conversation like I have done to so many like it before. “Tell me what happened,” you insist.
I draw a deep breath. What happened? It’s always the same question, isn’t it? It used to haunt me until I realised that finding an answer to it wasn’t as important as accepting where I was. The truth is that nothing happened. No one event caused me to feel this way. Not even a culmination of several occurrences can be blamed for this pain. But I know you won’t understand this and I don’t blame you. I don’t understand it either. It would be easier if I could point to something and scapegoat it. A lost love, a dead-end job, a deflated dream… anything. But that is not my reality. On the surface my life seems fine. Just peachy.
But beneath the surface, thick clouds surround me, blocking rays of happiness from seeping into my days. I feel a deep numbness. It took me a long time to recognise this numbness as pain, but yes this too is pain. It has not just robbed me of feelings but it seems to have also stripped away my memories of them. I can’t remember the last time I felt joy or anything close to it. I don’t remember a period where my cynicism didn’t undermine any glimmer of hope that I might have had and push it just outside of my grasp. I can’t remember ever feeling giddy with anticipation of something, or looking forward to a big day with excitement. I’m left with only an academic knowledge of such feelings, without any recollection of actually feeling them, though I know at some point I must have.
And perhaps worst of all, I can’t remember the last time I had a full night’s sleep. I can’t imagine the bliss of having my overactive mind take a pause for eight hours as I put my head to my pillow. Instead as night falls and I settle into bed, I find I’m more awake than ever. My mind runs free like a dog unleashed in a large field. I stare at the ceiling and analyze every aspect of my day, reliving each moment agitatedly. I revisit past conversations in my head and anticipate future ones, planning out exactly what I will say in scenarios that will probably never take place because I am increasingly isolating myself, pushing people away and causing my friendships and relationships to suffer and sometimes die.
This is my pain.
“I don’t know,” I manage. “I’m seeing a therapist, trying to figure things out.” It was the first time I admitted this out loud. I can’t say what reaction I expected from you. But it wasn’t the one I got.
In your eyes now I see confusion but also disappointment.
“A therapist? But is that really necessary?” is what you say. It’s what you leave unsaid that sucks the air out of the room. I now see that your disappointment is complex. It’s layered like an onion, bringing tears to my eyes. Your eyes, still showing genuine concern, speak to me and I understand what they would say if eyes could speak.
But African men don’t need to deal with this! Therapy? That’s some white people shit. Feeling down? Snap out of it. Can’t sleep? Grab a bottle and drink yourself to sleep.
“…. Is that really necessary?” I can’t think of what to say. I’m not even upset because I knew that you wouldn’t understand. But I feel the patience I had slowly drain from me and I’m not motivated enough to try to help you understand. So I let the conversation end there, silence soaks up the tension in the room as I get up and walk away.
Later at night, as I lie in bed, I think of all the things I could have said. I worry that I missed an opportunity to educate you, that I should have at least tried to make you understand that there is nothing more ‘necessary’ than seeking out help when overwhelmed or that depression is not something that Africans are immune to. But I catch myself spiraling into a needless conversation with myself that I know isn’t helping anybody. So I try to clear my mind and let it go.
As I wait for sleep to come, I find comfort in the fact that I’m on a path to change a hopeless situation. And though no one else might know it, I acknowledge the courage it took to take this first step. And I feel the contours of something I know I haven’t felt in a while. Pride.
Itunu Kuku is a Nigerian writer, musician and photographer. Born in Lagos in 1989, he later spent several of his formative years in Zambia and the Philippines. In 2013 Kuku moved to Dakar, Senegal and now calls the city home.
Kuku’s first short story, “Saliou’s Dream,” was published in 2016 and is available on Amazon. His thought-provoking writing has previously been published on various online platforms including Elephant Journal, Thought Catalog and True Africa