The writer of this piece expressly demanded to remain anonymous.
I think a major impact of this lockdown and social distancing situation is being overlooked – people’s mental health.
For those of us battling severe depression, who have found a way to survive constant suicidal thoughts by simply “going out and engaging in some activity”, I’d say this lockdown is affecting us differently than others.
The “stay home” order is to help reduce the spread of the COVID-19 virus and keep us safe but how safe can one really be in the midst of cohabiting inner demons? The best way I deal with my depression is to never be alone for too long. It is my own personal remedy that I have found to be very effective – get busy and pay less attention to the horrid thoughts.
I have spoken to a few friends with my kind of condition who tell me they also adopt a similar strategy and it works for them. I call it the “Distraction Strategy”. It helps me minimize the screen time I give to the empty thoughts. In actually doing something worth doing, the feeling of emptiness becomes less severe.
But with the recent lockdown situation, there is now no way out. There is nothing to do except face these thoughts in the most devastating way known – ALONE. I’ve been by myself since the lockdown. I can’t go to work because my office is closed. I can’t even go out because, well, there is really no way to go. The roads are blocked, I hear, and there is the risk of catching the virus too.
Knowing how serious this situation can be for me, my sister and a few of my friends who know about my condition regularly check on me. They call and text every few hours and frequently send me funny videos and picture memes.
I am grateful to them, but the situation can be counterproductive. One of the major demons people with depression battle has to do with the feeling of dependency. Thoughts of how much of a burden you have become to others – to others who may have their own problems they are dealing with as well.
My sister was forced to terminate a pregnancy last year for medical reasons. She cried for days. Yet she is still the one trying to make sure I am okay. I look selfish.
Last night I started playing with a rope – the same twisted tawny rope I used to skip during my morning workouts. I learnt how to make a noose. Of course, I’ve done that before – I just relearned. Still looking like play, I hung the rope above me and set it right. I left it there waiting for night to come. I wanted to use the time-space to tidy up things. When I die, I want the only messy thing to be my body alone. For someone who has always believed life is meaningless, this coronavirus crisis looks like the perfect evidence of that.
Before it was time to get to the rope, my sister called. It was probably the longest we ever stayed talking, and calls with her are usually long. I finally had to tell her to cut the call. She didn’t. Not immediately. And then she asked that one question: “Is everything okay?”
I told her the truth. I decided to. All is not okay. This whole coronavirus thing is driving me insane. I talked to my sister, not just because I love her, but because I know she would understand me. I know how much she wants me to beat this. I can’t count the number of times she has begged me, sometimes in flowing tears, to stay alive for them (her and my mom).
“You are the only sibling I have – if you die, we die,” she often says.
She called Bugo immediately to come and check on me. I took the rope away before that one arrived. Uncle Bugo doesn’t really understand depression. He doesn’t understand why “a fine boy like me” could be suffering from depression. He once told me, with an amused face, “Life is sweet, oga. If you kill yourself, it is your loss.”
Not the best thing to tell someone feeling suicidal, I guess. Surprisingly, he looked understanding this time when he came. He insisted I follow him. I asked him how he passed the officers on the road.
“I told them I’m heading to check on a sick relative,” he said.
“And they let you pass?”
That’s easy, I thought, and then I realized that it’s not just that we are not allowed to go out. There is actually nowhere to go. Everywhere is closed.
I write this now from one of the comfy couches in Bugo’s sitting room. His wife is making okra soup. I feel better, not planning on dying. But I won’t be here for long. I wish my sister and her husband still lived in Lagos.
People like us need to be constantly distracted – with work, and healthy doses of social life.
But it is not just us who are already familiar with this part of life that is at risk – the stress and anxiety that comes with this pandemic can send anyone to a dangerous depth.
Anyone – from those who feel slightly unwell but have no access to a confirmatory test, to those who recovered but not sure what’s next for them and those who’ve lost a loved one or two from the virus. The little ones who don’t understand it all, who constantly ask their parents why school has remained closed. And then the healthcare workers who have seen horror face to face.
Coronavirus will not leave us all the same.