I love Regina Spektor.
I love her because her music is a mixture of proverbs and stories and nuggets of truth that remain hidden for years, revealing themselves only when you need them. I can honestly say that Regina Spektor has saved my life. Ode to Divorce and The Flowers helped me make sense of my worst break up. Eet is like listening to yourself have an existential crisis. Laughing with God helped me when I struggled with the line between religion and morality. Everytime I listen to Chemo Limo I learn just a little more about empathy. Oedipus helped me see my parents in a different light. And Open, my God, Open sounds like bleeding yourself to get carthasis.
I thought I had taken I could out of Regina Spektor’s music, drawn water from stone. And then, Regina surprised me. My iTunes was on shuffle at work and a song came on, one I vaguely recognized. The first few lines came on and I froze.
Some days aren’t yours at all, they come and go like someone else’s days,
They come and go like someone else’s days,
They go and leave you with someone else’s face,
And it’s harsher than yours, and colder than yours
They come in, all quiet,
Sweep up and then they leave
You don’t hear a single floorboard creak
They’re so much stronger than the friends you keep by your side
These eight lines perfectly describe how I experience depression.
For me depression isn’t a raging storm, or lightning and thunder, or a violent breakdown. For me depression feels like waking up and feeling like during the night someone took away your body and replaced it with a bad facsimile. The biggest marker, is that I am suddenly unable to dredge up the appropriate feelings for situations. I can feel things for other people but not for myself. I can’t get angry or sad or happy. I become a walking mass of dead nerve endings.
As I listened to the song (on repeat) for hours, I realized I was feeling something, for the first time in weeks, maybe even months. An internally generated emotion.
By evening, I felt enough like myself to go on twitter and talk about the thing that had most likely triggered this episode. I am not someone who normally talks about my mental health. I advocate a lot for other people, but I rarely talk about mine, other than the general ‘I struggle with depression’. I was surprised to see that someone on my TL, who I rarely talked to had had a near identical experience to mine. We talked a bit, trading stories, and I wondered, if Regina knew, twelve years after she released the album ‘Soviet Kitsch’ it would help two young writers make sense of their struggles with mental health.
My episode was triggered by my life as a writer.
Very few of us (especially) in Nigeria speak about how easily being or trying to become a writer can mess with your head.
A few weeks ago, one of my fave Nigerian non-fiction writers Timehin (@TheLoulette on twitter) talked about how she had to take a break from Twitter because as a writer who deals a lot with feminism and gender related issues, she began to become bombarded with information about rapes and mutilations and murders and other crimes and injustices perpetrated on women. No matter removed she was from the story, or whether the story happened to an Aboriginal woman in rural Australia, people would tag her on links, and camp in her mentions, their figurative microphones thrust at her, waiting for a statement or a tweet storm or blog post. She said after a while it all became too much. People expected her to care, or pretend to, even when she didn’t have all the facts, or was focused on something else. Their expectations of her began to affect her sense of self.
For me, it was a lot simpler. I finished a book draft, and fell into a depression. A depression I refused to admit to myself. I didn’t feel like I could talk about it, even to me it sounded so bougie.
“Hey guys, I wrote a book and finishing it has made me depressed.”
Even now I sort of cringe when I say it.
So I subconsciously tried to self medicate. I sent drafts out to people and waited for great responses, hoping, I realize now, that them liking it would somehow restore me back to myself. I became obsessed with Empress Of‘s Me, an album that deals with introspection and privilege. I had writer’s block that lasted months. I listened to Regina Spektor’s Someday, and everything made sense. I am lucky in that regard, not many people never get that kind of understanding.
I guess what I am trying to say, for many of us a consequence of creating is mental health issues. And we need more spaces where we can talk about how writing and mental health intersect, a place where you can ask advice about whether your mental block is depression in disguise, or whether your exceedingly dark stories are just that or if they suggest something more. A place where writers and other creatives can talk things like this and not feel like no one understands them.
After all, not everyone has Regina Spektor.
Send in your questions and worries, send in your experiences, send in your fears. You can write in as yourself or anonymously.
We will try to answer your questions to best of our individual and collective abilities.
We will learn from your stories.
We will identify with your fears.
And just maybe, we can help take the taboo out of talking about creativity and mental health.