“Depression and Loneliness track me down after about ten days in Italy. I am walking through the Villa Borghese one evening after a happy day spent in school, and the sun is setting gold over St. Peter’s Basilica. I am feeling contented in this romantic scene, even if I am all by myself, while everyone else in the park is either fondling a lover or playing with a laughing child. But I stop to lean against a balustrade and watch the sunset, and I get to thinking a little too much, and then my thinking turns to brooding, and that’s when they catch up with me. They come upon me all silent and menacing like Pinkerton Detectives, and they flank me—Depression on my left, Loneliness on my right. They don’t need to show me their badges. I know these guys very well. We’ve been playing a cat-and-mouse game for years now. Though I admit that I am surprised to meet them in this elegant Italian garden at dusk. This is no place they belong.
I say to them, “How did you find me here? Who told you I had come to Rome?”
Depression, always the wise guy, says, “What—you’re not happy to see us?”
“Go away,” I tell him. Loneliness, the more sensitive cop, says, “I’m sorry, ma’am. But I might have to tail you the whole time you’re traveling. It’s my assignment.”
“I’d really rather you didn’t,” I tell him, and he shrugs almost apologetically, but only moves closer.
Then they frisk me. They empty my pockets of any joy I had been carrying there.
Depression even confiscates my identity; but he always does that. Then Loneliness starts interrogating me, which I dread because it always goes on for hours. He’s polite but relentless, and he always trips me up eventually. He asks if I have any reason to be happy that I know of. He asks why I am all by myself tonight, yet again. He asks (though we’ve been through this line of questioning hundreds of times already) why I can’t keep a relationship going, why I ruined my marriage, why I messed things up with David, why I messed things up with every man I’ve ever been with. He asks me where I was the night I turned thirty, and why things have gone so sour since then. He asks why I can’t get my act together, and why I’m not at home living in a nice house and raising nice children like any respectable woman my age should be. He asks why, exactly, I think I deserve a vacation in Rome when I’ve made such a rubble of my life. He asks me why I think that running away to Italy like a college kid will make me happy.
He asks where I think I’ll end up in my old age, if I keep living this way. I walk back home, hoping to shake them, but they keep following me, these two goons.
Depression has a firm hand on my shoulder and Loneliness harangues me with his interrogation. I don’t even bother eating dinner; I don’t want them watching me. I don’t want to let them up the stairs to my apartment, either, but I know Depression, and he’s got a Billy club, so there’s no stopping him from coming in if he decides that he wants to.
“It’s not fair for you to come here,” I tell Depression. “I paid you off already. I served my time back in New York.”
But he just gives me that dark smile, settles into my favorite chair, puts his feet on my table and lights a cigar, filling the place with his awful smoke. Loneliness watches and sighs, then climbs into my bed and pulls the covers over himself, fully dressed, shoes and all. He’s going to make me sleep with him again tonight, I just know it.
Eat, Pray, Love”
Above is an excerpt from Eat Pray Love , the world bestseller memoir by Elizabeth Gilbert. Liz speaks openly about her experience with depression in her book. Yet in the society we live in today, people who have mental illnesses are stigmatized and blamed for what they are going through. It is time we understood that mental illnesses like depression are as serious as or worse than cancer. But honestly, no disease is better.
It saddens my soul when I hear people joke about mental illness. Telling each other that they are ex-convicts of “Mathare”, the mental prison. With the versions of friendly insults ranging from “You are crazy/you are nuts, we wi muguruki(kikuyu), Wewe ni chizi(Swahili)”. What people don’t understand is that when it comes to mental illness, the reality is much harder to face. Everyone, from janitors to movie stars, the good, the bad, the fat, the skinny, the pretty, and the ugly, can be struck down by the black cloud of mental illness. Money and influence have no bearing here; a good heart won’t save you.
The true path to healing is long, hard, and sometimes boring. Waiting a month and a half just to discover that your umpteenth medication isn’t going to help, either, feels like a load of bullshit. Picking through your every thought pattern with a therapist (after, of course, trying and failing to bond with multiple other therapists) can be embarrassing. Practicing tiny things like mindfulness while doing the dishes feels so small and discouraging in the face of such darkness.
Shout out to Ledet Muleta, Ethiopian nurse turned entrepreneur and founder of Medixaa Health Services, an organization that fights to reduce the stigma of mental illness and advocates better treatment for those affected.
Ledet is launching a full featured film, Chula with the goal of using the power of storytelling to reduce the stigma of mental illness in Africa and the diaspora. Chula is a drama about a young African woman living with bipolar disorder in the Washington D.C. area, played by Ethiopian-American actress Selamawit Worku. The film touches upon her upbringing and subsequent rise to fame which is tainted by her mental illness and a strict father; One whose incapability to distinguish between discipline and emotional abuse leaves scars that follow Chula into adulthood. To handle the stress of her illness and rising fame, Chula begins to abuse drugs and alcohol. Chula’s relationships, including her relationship with her boyfriend (played by Nigerian actor Obum Ezekwem) suffers, culminating in Chula losing all that she values most; yet in the end, a glimmer of hope is found.”
Check out for the film, soon to be released. Here is a glimpse of it.