Notes from Nigerians

That Downward Spiral

In Notes by Nigerians, we are looking at how life has changed; perhaps forever.

The first time I was depressed was in 2014 was when a friend​ committed suicide. I might be wrong and I only call it the first time because it was the first time I called it that name – depression. I wasn’t clinically diagnosed but in hindsight I see it for what it was. My friend committed suicide and I carried it. Even now, I put the word friend in italics because I cannot own it — if I had been his friend, a better one, perhaps I’d be writing something different about him today. Years before this, I suffered from dark mood swings and simmering rage. By the time I was clinically diagnosed with yet another depressive episode and a panic disorder in 2019, I had learnt most of the ropes. 

I cannot explain the things that go on in my head for many reasons. I do not have language for it. I’m Christian and the joy of the Lord is supposed to overflow on my insides and fix that darkness. Yet,I can always recognize the contours of depression, panic disorder, claustrophobia and insomnia packed in my small body bursting at its seams. It is tiring for the people that love me. I fear that I would be tagged as attention-needy. My phone wallpaper is a drowning man. I have never swam a day in my life. But I swear, I know what it is to have your lungs painfully full, to struggle with something bigger than you that has no form, to be hopelessly helpless. Why can’t I easily get back in the ring and fight back when life comes along with its punches like everyone else seems to be doing. I punish myself for feeling so intensely.

The whole world is on pause for me. Before the lockdown, every time I passed the reception at the office I saw the numbers growing on T.V. and felt something sharp kick in my belly. I begged the front desk madam to change the channel. We eventually settled on putting it on mute. When we were told to work from home, I went panic shopping with two friends. The supermarket was clogged with tense bodies in haste. After roaming for about an hour buying things we needed and then some, we met a loud woman on our checkout queue. Some people are attracted to bad news like ants to sugar. They revel in it. They share it very quickly. They tear it apart and put it together again, even worse than it was before. She made about four phone calls on our very long queue, each one starting with “have you heard?” She reminded me of an early episode of Grey’s Anatomy where this woman had an accident with her friend. They were rushed to the hospital but she wasn’t visibly hurt. A doctor asked to check to make sure she was okay but she refused, and made numerous phone calls detailing the accident always starting with “you wouldn’t believe what happened!” while her friend was being attended to. She suddenly slumped and an autopsy revealed she died of internal bleeding. The woman’s loud voice became a drill in my head and the world around me began to tilt and suffocate me so I gave my friend my debit card to make payment and went to sit in the car. I turned the A.C on full blast to help me breathe as I have learnt to do when I feel like that. 

The world has changed in many ways she is yet to find out. My world has definitely changed. I have spent the last few weeks losing track of time. Everyone has. We now realise that the days of the week are just a construct. I went home to quarantine with the parents at first, but loving from afar is now ideal for me and I returned to my apartment. I tried to sleep it away, taking turns in each empty room. A situationship turned sour. An opportunity was shelved for the next 16 months. I have less work as the bulk of what I do requires my physical presence and I’m alone in my apartment. My screen time is up by 103%. Then I tried to cook it away. I have always wanted more weight so maybe this is the time to work for it. I found my forgotten three-litre tub of ice cream in the freezer when I was cleaning it out. Anxiety takes my appetite. And why was I cleaning the freezer out? There’s electricity only at night. I reached back into the past and there is now an open tab in my head. I tried to be productive. I tried to write. But that always leaves me afraid. I tried to read. I brought out my painting supplies. Painted for about 8 hours at a go and did not touch them again. I want to take photographs, but of what? Someone suggested self portraits, but I am not that fascinating. Street and documentary? I’m too afraid to go out. I started an online course on Pluralsight but I’m worried about data consumption. I have spent N10,000 on internet subscription in less than 3 weeks. Did I mention that I’m worried about money and earning? I pace around the house every now and then. Some days the house is too big and silent and other times, it is too small and I can’t breathe. 

Every time I retweet good news of recovered cases or posts of beauty and little kindness, I am opening a shutter of my window to the world to say — there is still normal, it is all going to go away and go back to normal.But I know I’m lying. And the ground under becomes quicksand. 

I must admit, I have it better than most. I feel guilty even thinking that Ms. Rona, as some call it, is affecting me in any way. My physical health isn’t a bother and I don’t know anyone personally who has suffered or died from it. Over a million people have been infected in all. Many did not get to say goodbye to the people they love. Many have lost jobs. Many are facing pay cuts. Businesses have taken a hit. Many can’t afford food, rent or fuel. And there are people on the frontline, fighting everyday, risking their lives. I try to ignore how our government is posturing with the numbers. I try to ignore how these politicians are still looting in such a time. 

The world has changed in many ways she does not know yet. I don’t either. Will a vaccine ever be found? When? Anytime I remember Boris talking about herd immunity and I go cold. When can I get back to my life? Is there a life to get back to? What is the future of work? What is the future of human connection? What is the future? It makes all my problems small in my eyes. It makes me want to ignore the things I’m feeling, the voices in my head. But I can’t. I should be thankful that I know my triggers and I am. Most times I know what I need. I know who to call when I’m feeling this or that. I know what to block out. I know how to find joy in small ways. Like binging on One Tree Hill. Group video calls. Rereading Daring Greatly by Brene Brown and reminding myself that I am worthy. Checking in with my Instagram therapists – Mari Andrew, Lisa Olivera and Yrsa Daley Ward.  I even danced and put the videos on the internet. I’m okay but I’m not okay. There are good, short days. But everything else is long. I don’t know how to explain it. And I’m afraid of that downward spiral. 

Ayotola Tehingbola

Ayotola Tehingbola is a writer and brand storyteller in Lagos, Nigeria. She made a career transition from Law and Administration to a full time creative journey of writing, creating audio-visual content and curating.

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