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2020: The year we were forced to face ourselves

Wadzanai Garwe Social Activist

Children born in 2020 will be told you were born in the year the whole world came to a standstill — Gore ratakamira zvedu tisingade tisingazvifungire.

It is 2020 when we faced every single fear that we had not addressed. We saw world leaders stripped to their bare selves and we marvelled. The issues that we did not want to face stepped up and made us deal with them. Covid-19 forced us to confront our deepest secretive self.

As a person who has lived with and through the HIV pandemic — the slimming disease as we called it back in the 1980s — Covid-19 was like reliving HIV. I was older and I was more prepared so I could look at the pandemic objectively.

I marvelled at how the pandemic played out in a mirror image of HIV. It struck me when Donald Trump, 45th President of the United States, encouraged people to use bleach. The beauty of social media is that we now have memes so we had memes of 45th drinking bleach — Javel as I call it. It hit me then and I began to draw the parallels with HIV.

During my pandemic as I call it, given that I have lived with the virus in my body since 1992, Dettol, an antiseptic, became the equivalent to bleach. People were bathing in Dettol and drinking Dettol. It became even more real last week when we were told there was a more virulent strain of Covid-19 coming from Africa, South Africa to be exact and suddenly Europe, Asia and the United Kingdom were banning flights from South Africa. They told us that the HIV pandemic came from monkey glands in Uganda.

The desire to paint every global pandemic with the “Dark Continent” brush never ceases to amaze me. We always have the most virulent, the “killer bees” and killer diseases. It made me feel some kind of way because every time Africa is in its ascendency it seems we must be portrayed negatively. This is not our virus. We did not start it and there is absolutely no need to include us in the narrative but we must have relevance somewhere. I digress.

As the year begins I wanted to reflect on our mental health in the time of a pandemic. I suffer from major depressive disorder (MDD) or clinical depression, seasonal affective disorder (SAD) and suicidal ideation.

Mayo Clinic defines depression as a mood disorder that causes a persistent feeling of sadness and loss of interest … it affects how you feel, think and behave and can lead to a variety of emotional and physical problems.

You may have trouble doing normal day-to-day activities, and sometimes you may feel as if life isn’t worth living. More than just a bout of the blues, depression isn’t a weakness and you can’t simply “snap out” of it. Depression may require long-term treatment.

SAD is a type of depression that is related to changes in seasons — it begins and ends at about the same times every year. If you are like most people with SAD, your symptoms start in the fall (autumn) and continue into the winter months, sapping your energy and making you feel moody. Less often, SAD causes depression in the spring or early summer.

Suicidal ideation means wanting to take your own life or thinking about suicide. However, there are two kinds of suicidal ideation: passive and active. Passive suicidal ideation occurs when you wish you were dead or that you could die, but you don’t actually have any plans to commit suicide.

Active suicidal ideation, on the other hand, is not only thinking about it but having the intent to commit suicide, including planning how to do it. Suicidal ideation is one of the symptoms of both major depression and the depression found in bipolar disorder, but it may also occur in people with other mental illnesses or no mental illness at all (https://www.verywellmind.com/suicidal-ideation-380609).

Depression may occur once in a lifetime or several times. As I suffer from SAD I tend to have depression as part of my life now. It does not have to cripple you or stop you living. I am 54 years old and I am living my best life.

One may ask how I do it? I have props/tools. I listen to my body and my feelings. There are days when I cannot get out of bed. I do not berate myself or force myself. I cancel any major meetings and I listen to what my body needs. I do this now because I found that forcing myself to do things meant I paid with a major depression which became MDD. I exercise. I walk. I have dogs, so I walk my dogs. I have a specific routine developed in my time with MDD that includes yoga, meditation, and physiotherapy.

I eat a nutritionally balanced diet trying to include a lot of the foods we grew up eating — sweet potato, meal from millet or sorghum (sadza rezviyo nesadza remapfunde) and lots of water. I switch off my social media and don’t answer calls at night. If it’s an emergency it will have to wait until the morning.

I guard my soul jealously. I block and delete toxic people, even if they are related to me. I do not need toxicity in my life. I attend to my spirituality and my inner self. That means I do not allow negative self-talk in my life.

Our thoughts are our biggest hurdle to overcome, we are so hard on ourselves. I can imagine that because of Covid-19 a lot of people are experiencing depressive thoughts. It is normal to feel confused, angry and melancholic. If, however, the feeling persists speak to someone.

In Zimbabwe, the Friendship Bench and Connect Zimbabwe (The Institute of Systemic Therapy) have been created to specifically provide counselling services, as well as Nani — Mental and Emotional Health Services #talk2me.

Seek help if you feel you are spiralling out of control or descending into a deep hole which you cannot get out of.

Attend to your basic needs with compassion!

Please e-mail africanconversationswithself@gmail.com with the headline Dear Wadzi and I will respond.

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