I was going through the phone Bolaji got me and that was when I saw it. I saw the headline first, it reads thus: “I am surrounded by family yet I feel so alone.” I just knew I had to read it, but it was saying something foreign and at the same time familiar. The author called his predicament ‘depression’. I had the same symptoms but I’m an African – an African man to be exact. We don’t suffer depression. I am not mad. Madness does not run in my family.
It’s been months since it started. At first, I just wanted to be left alone. I would walk around the village whistling nonchalantly and not caring what I looked like. I had been wearing the same dansiki and sokoto for the past three days; Bimpe, my wife of 8 years has tried talking me out of these clothes but I refused. I know she feels ignored, I feel it in her long stares and her heavy silence. She believes I don’t love her anymore but that is so far from the truth. I wish I could tell her but she would never understand. Depression is suffered only by the white man. My wife would label me mad. I saw her grand-aunt leaving the house just the other day. She must have told her about my new behaviour.
My life is perfect on the outside. I’ve got a successful cocoa farm, a doting wife and four beautiful children – two girls and two boys. They say life can’t get any better. But they are wrong, you see, and I don’t want to bother anyone with my seemingly irrelevant problems. The only person I told about my depressed state – my very good friend Akande – told me to go home and return when I have real problems. Ever since, I have not been able to open up to anyone about being sad for no reason. I don’t even know how to explain this heavy feeling in my chest to my wife. I whistle to drown out the voices in my head. I don’t understand myself anymore and I feel like I’m carrying the weight of the world on my shoulders. To avoid everyone and everything around me, I escape to my farm. Nowadays I spend more time on the farm than in my home. The peace and tranquillity I crave can only be found there on the farm. At home I am forced to listen to Bimpe’s incessant chatter and the children’s noisy games.
My uncle Larry came to the farm to see me this morning. He said Bimpe complained to him about my lack of affection, but he hushed her by saying: “If your husband can provide you with food, a roof over your head, clothes for you and your children, then what else do you want? Some women I know do not have husbands. Others who do, don’t have children. Some others have habitual philanderers as mates. Here you are, complaining about what I cannot comprehend. Please go home and take care of your family.” He concluded. “Uncle, she’s right.” I replied. “I am no longer a happy man. Nothing gives me joy; neither my wife nor my children, not even my farm, and I feel like a shell. I used to enjoy listening to my wife every evening, sharing tales with the children, but not anymore. I do not have the patience to talk with my family. I am depressed, Uncle; I have been for a while.” “What madness is this?” He bellowed! “We do not have history of a mad person in our family, Isheri. What have you done??? What are you not telling me?”
In my head, I knew I shouldn’t have told him. I had made a mistake pouring out my anguish to him. I didn’t even know when he left the farm; he did not say his usually extravagant goodbye. He had only succeeded in making me feel worse about my plight. Now, four people – my wife, her grand-aunt, my friend, and now my uncle – think I have some loose screw in my head. I wish I could better explain this problem but even I don’t understand it. How can a man who evidently has it all suddenly find himself unhappy? This defies all logic and makes absolutely no sense.
That evening I was sitting outside the house brooding in silence when Bimpe came to me. She brought a seat along with her so I knew she wasn’t leaving soon. “Olowoori mi”, she started, “Uncle Larry said you have gone mad, is this true?” I was tempted to shout at her and send her into the house but I realized that if my wife doesn’t understand me, who else will? We have always been open about everything, I might as well open up to her. “Adebimpe mi, I am depressed and I have been for a while. I did not tell you because I didn’t want you to think me mad.” “God forbid, my husband, you are not mad. I know what depression is. Mother suffered from it until her death. Thank you for taking me into your confidence.” Immediately, I felt like a boulder had been lifted off my chest. All along, all I needed was simply someone who would objectively listen to me. I was glad I told her about it. And I knew, together, we would get through this. “Thank you Adebimpe for listening. That was all I needed.” “We will get through this together.” She replied.
That night we lay together in bed, cuddled in each other’s arms. I listened to her wholeheartedly as she related everything that had been happening in her life for the past days to me while Bobby Benson’s Taxi driver played in the background. I slept like a new groom that night, content and happy for the first time in a long time. Who ever said Africans never get depressed? To think I believed I was going insane. O ma se o.