The year is 2011. I, 20 years of age – a few exam papers from leaving the confines of my university, graduation so close I could feel each letter of my Arabic name etched on my degree. Like a meaningful tattoo; permanent – education that could never be taken from me.
I’d trade my books for suit, I thought; already having bagged a business analysis internship at one of South Africa’s largest financial service companies (with a Bachelor of Arts degree, yes).
A piece of paper that would allow me to help bring in the bread and butter. Allow me to add my two cents in the strategic conversations between innovative minds.
But being temperamental as I am, I couldn’t foresee what would happen next.
My light had gone out. Kinda like Eskom’s power cuts, I shut down abruptly. No explanation.
I had the blues, out of the blue. No wait, I was depressed – like proper depressed, you know. I had made sense of enough of the DSM to know that, or so I had thought.
Zero energy. Insomnia. Anxiety. Suicidal thoughts. I felt highly stressed. I couldn’t concentrate and I didn’t care.
The telltale signs of depression, they say.
I skipped lectures. Tutorials. Campus for days on end. Not being able to concentrate, I neither completed nor submitted all of my coursework to obtain my degree.
I was drowning in anxiety and feelings of indecisiveness.
Back home, I lie awake on my bedroom floor, cold, looking up – staring blankly at the ceiling. Eating, eating and eating. Then, not eating at all. Not speaking. Lying awake, thinking. Overthinking. Not thinking (what’s happening to me?)
Sometime long before, I read this book – I forget its title – in which the protagonist tries a hand at astral projection where the soul leaves the body. An old friend Warren once told me that I too can do it. Ensure that no light enters the room, lie on your back, clear your thoughts – relax your mind completely and stare at the ceiling, he explained (or something like that). Next thing I look up at this black silhouette exiting my body, ascending toward the ceiling. An out-of-body experience.
I swear I lost my soul that night. It’s an illusion. But don’t try this at home!
Was I just a young man who didn’t know what he wanted to do with his life?
Worst of all I couldn’t figure out what had triggered it (no thanks to those “abnormal” psychology lectures, or had I skipped the most important one?)
Then something came up: the NGO for which I had volunteered had two invites to a conference hosted by a Muslim NGO who sees Islam in a new light. A light that I needed. I ended up at some out-of-this-world resort for a few days in Grabouw with my friend Naz who happens to be a psychologist.
The experience was spiritual. Something I wasn’t expecting and certainly wasn’t ready for. Long story short: it was beautiful, but it made things worse.
The few days away left me even more confused, but I mustered up enough courage to head back to campus on my return. It was time to face reality again.
As time grew closer to my final exams, my indecisiveness escalated. That’s when I started making rash decisions that could’ve changed my life forever. Like…
Deciding to drop out of campus…
I told Meg, my creative writing lecturer and English tutor at the time (who by the way wrote a powerful novel called Zebra Crossing). Her and Micki, another amazing woman who taught me theatre.
Micki was motherly and warm and encouraged me by showing me how far I had already come and how much further I could go. Meg, she – as sweet as she is, took no bullshit. You’re not dropping out my boy. Whatever spiritual dilemma you’re in, put that aside and focus on what’s important now, she said.
In that moment I realised that strangers, well not complete strangers – they were my teachers – but people with whom I had no personal relationship, actually gave a shit. And if they did, if they put in all that effort, took time out to encourage me, how could I not?
After all, it’s my destiny. My future at stake.
I also went for counselling and stuff, but it was too predictable for me and it lasted but a few sessions. The bright side: I wrote my exams. Passed. Surprisingly well, actually.
Had I poured all my emotion into my work? Had it been boiling down to those final moments of expression, of understanding African and Postmodern literature?
Had pain been pleasure? Pleasure, pain?
I’m no psychologist (although it was my second major), so take my advice lightly:
Misery LOVES company!
‘Tis true: my bestie, whom I always confide in, I did not consult during this time. Don’t seek out friends or family who are likely to encourage your bullshit (not saying that depression is bullshit). I’m saying that no change will come from two depro people encouraging each other that there’s no point in life.
Have your butt kicked!
Like in my case, you need someone understanding, but who is not scared to kick your arse at the same time (just not literally). Being in a bewildered state, we may think irrationally – so seek out someone who will set you straight.
Speak to your doc
If you’re too scared anyone will see you Googling psychologists at work, go speak to your family doc. He or she will be able to refer you to a specialist.
Black Box, one of my new favourite series to which I owe the title of this blog, is also a metaphor for the brain – too complicated to fully understand.
Words like “abnormal” carry a stigma. We’re conditioned to think that there’s something wrong with us or others that don’t fall under the category of “normality”. Depression, like a physical accident, can hit you or anyone around you.
One thing’s for certain: there’s method in madness. But don’t let it throw you off your path!