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The melting iceberg!

Updated: Jun 17, 2020




“Have you ever heard of PPD?” Kenn inquired as he leaned forward.

“What! Postpartum depression?” I retorted back.

“Noooo.” He rolled his eyes in defiance.

We were seated at Java Mbagathi Way on a windy Tuesday evening at 8pm. He had called me up earlier saying he was ready to ‘come out’ to the world and asked if I could be his microphone. I accepted.

“PPD is post performance depression.” He quipped.

I was close. Yet, I had never heard of such a thing. Must have been mentioned during one of those psychiatry lectures where I inevitably found myself looking at my eyelids. He went on to explain, “Most performers world over suffer from PPD. I don’t think it’s a medical thing, but it’s real. It can be debilitating. You spend weeks, even months preparing for a performance, then in one show you pour it all out on stage. You leave no stone unturned. You literally empty your soul. Then it’s done. You go back home with remnants of applause in your ears. That’s when it happens. The dip. You can literally go into the pit of hell.”

I sat across from him wondering what that had to do with anything. He paused, as if to measure his words then without batting an eyelid he said, “On the morning of January 15th 2018, I drove out of my house to go and kill myself.”

He caught me off guard. I was unprepared. I didn’t know whether to take off my writer’s hat and put on my doctor hat. Or just squeeze both atop my head. He then introduced me to his world. The world of a drummer in a renowned jazz band. Ladies, think blackstreet without the lyrics but with the looks and instruments to boot.

He didn’t start off as a performer. In fact he is your quintessential boy scout. Grew up in a stable, christian, middle class home, studied at The Alliance High School (Not Alliance boys. I am told there is a difference). Went to Uni and walked out with not one, but two certificate degrees. One in Telecommunication and Information engineering and the other in Electrical and Electronics engineering.

On the surface this guy was raking it in. He had his best life ahead of him — and then the darkness began to descend. It started off subtly. The first time, was when he found himself jobless after working for a few months as an intern, planning to wed. He had tried to look for work and nothing was forthcoming. Suddenly, he went into a state of apathy and couldn’t mount a response to anything. He would find himself sitting in darkness for days on end; wallowing in a pit of despair he couldn’t climb out of. He lost all desire to interact with the outside world. Sleeping was an uphill task. Food had no taste. He was in this state for three months and when he came round, he thought of it as sadness. He was just sad.

Only he didn’t really come out of it. He just found a way to go around it. Like a branch that’s blocking your way on the road. He didn’t deal with it. He just jumped over it but left it there. He eventually found work; something he enjoyed, but he didn’t last long — the pull for music too strong. So one day he took a leap, left employment and that is how he got into the world of Jazz. He was incorporated into a band — that had been formed by his friends — initially as their manager, then later as their drummer; a craft he had learned when he was 18. Maybe he felt he could chase away the demons by pounding on leather.

It is in this new world that he started to get more ‘sad’ episodes. He would get very anxious when planning a gig. He would have sleepless nights trying to fit the pieces in his mind. Then when he went on stage and got hold of his drumsticks, the adrenaline would consume him. The wave of music would carry him and he would allow himself to be vulnerable on stage. At the end of the show however, he would dip.

“Sue, so much happens behind the curtain. It’s crazy. You might look at successful artists and think they have it put together, but in reality they are crumbling under pressure. In short, never play poker with me.”

I chuckled.

In this period, he got married with little to his name. Love and a determination to make it work, sufficed. But unknown to him and his wife, their titanic was headed straight for the iceberg. Their first child came and she had a rare condition; and the iceberg grew. He would still manage to go for band practice, plan a gig, hype up a crowd and then retreat to his pit. All the while, he thought this is how life was. This must be what folks meant when they said, “ Life is hard. Be a man.” So he didn’t talk about it. Not even to his wife. Because who doesn’t get sad? Who doesn’t feel bad or low from time to time?

Then the fights began. His wife began to wonder why he would sometimes just mope around the house like a guest in a five star hotel. Initially he would mutter things under his breath then grudges became his shadow — they would follow him everywhere. Then the suicidal thoughts started. He can’t pinpoint when. They were like those relatives from shags who just appear in your house and refuse to leave. Beseeching him. Voices. Telling him everyone would be better off if he were gone. He tried to lose himself in his drums. Beat them harder to stave away the thoughts. To silence the voices. But it did not work. The branch he left lying on the road all those years ago, was now a giant sequoia. ( Google it)

So on that morning, the day the voices won, the ship hit the iceberg and cracked. He wasn’t sure what tipped him off. He couldn’t point to one event. It was everything. Everything was wrong with everything. He felt like a bad husband, a bad father, a bad musician who left his job for passion. And he didn’t feel he had anything to show for it. The pot boiled over. The curtain fell. There was nowhere to go. In a fit of rage, he banged a door so hard it came off at the hinges. The voices had finally managed to convince him that it was time to end it. He drove off leaving a shocked wife and crying child at home. A few metres away he penned his suicide note, sent it to her and her sister and put off his phone.

He went in search of a cliff. He drove around but the cliffs in Nairobi are so disappointing. Not high enough and the water below — not deep enough. He was in the right frame of mind to calculate distances and probabilities. He wanted to make sure there was no chance of failure. After much thought he figured the escarpment would be his best bet. So he put pedal to the metal and hit the highway.

He hadn’t gotten far when he had a distinct gnawing feeling in his gut — hunger. The feeling was so intense, he imagined his intestines coiling in frustration. No matter how hard he tried to ignore it, he felt a sudden urge to have something to eat. A last supper of sorts. “Sue. Java home fries saved my life. Ok God saved my life but he used home fries to do it.” While he ate, he did what anyone would do when they are having a meal alone — he switched on his phone.

It wasn’t long before his phone was ringing off the hook. One of the callers — his sister in law — seemed to be dialling him on a loop. He doesn’t know why but he chose to eventually pick her call. She was distraught. She cajoled, prayed, cried and begged him not to go through with whatever he was up to. And at first he was adamant. He was a man on a mission; at peace with his decision. But after some back and forth his hardened heart softened. He agreed to meet her and seek help.

The therapist he started to see, played a huge role in saving his life. After uncovering and unpacking his issues, she gave his “sadness” a name — chronic dysthymic disorder. All along he had been suffering from some form of depression and he didn’t know it. He was now able to objectively look back at his life and understand why he had been the way he had been. It was truly a light bulb moment. The therapist mentioned that he was susceptible to depressive episodes when subjected to intense stress or strain. She was able to help him identify the episodes that tipped him over and the iceberg began to melt.

“Doc. It’s sad mental health is still associated with so much stigma yet it is an illness like any other. I honestly didn’t know I was depressed. I am so glad I got help before it was too late. I look back at how I hurt the people closest to me. Yet I didn’t know any better. Hurt people, hurt people.”

“Do you still get suicidal ideations?”

“No. I now know what the triggers are and I avoid them. I know what to look out for and I am learning about the power of positive thinking. Also — God. Being an African, christian, male doesn’t help matters much either. You are afraid of being labelled as weak or demon possessed as someone once told me. So we don’t seek help until it is too late.”

“So you say, you are ready to tell the world?”

“I am. I want to tell anybody who will hear, that the same way hurt people, hurt people, healed people, heal people.”



 

Chronic dysthymic disorder or persistent depressive disorder is a mild but long term form of depression. It is defined as a low mood occurring for a prolonged period but is not as severe as major depression. Examples of symptoms include: lost interest in normal activities, hopelessness, low self-esteem, low appetite, low energy, sleep changes and poor concentration. Treatment includes medication and various forms of therapy. While depressive disorders cannot be “cured”, people living with dysthymia can live happy and fulfilling lives.

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