AT 4.12 AM on November 8, I cried. I know the exact time because I looked at the clock after watching one of those uplifting videos that people post on Facebook. I vaguely felt pleased that I was able to cry. I thought this showed a deep appreciation for something, but my feelings didn’t seem to really be about the video. Then, I realised I was crying because I had felt sad for some time, and I was not able to face my feelings.
But the biggest revelation on that morning was that I had been carrying around an enormous sense of guilt about my sadness. I began to wonder if guilt is the reason that many people commit suicide. We all feel bouts of sadness and some people live with depression for weeks or months at a time, but it suddenly seemed to me that those who can’t cope and eventually choose suicide could be those who feel guilty about being depressed.
Would that account for the suicides of people like fashion designer Kate Spade and Anthony Bordeaux – all of those famous people whom we think about and wonder why in the world would that person commit suicide? He or she is rich and successful, what could possibly be so wrong? How could they feel they have nothing to live for?
Of course I am no psychologist, and I want to make it clear that I am not trying to psychoanalyse here. I am just trying to explain what I felt in a particular moment, and when I look back at my patterns of depression, I realise that they were always defined by some feeling of guilt. This bout with depression was no different. I was merely going through the motions, hoping to feel better. I didn’t want to feel guilty about being sad.
I had been sad about the murders of Maximum Security Prison’s Supt Wayne Jackson and Rise Radio’s Darren Francis, and I felt selfish and guilty because part of my grief could be attributed to their support of my prison projects.
Supt Jackson wholeheartedly supported my prison debate project and he was enthusiastic about the African Prison Project, in which we were trying to get law degrees for inmates and officers in prison. Francis recorded all of my functions in prisons.
I know first and foremost I felt sad because they were murdered, but what stood out in my mind was that I missed their support. That brought a tremendous feeling of guilt.
Then I felt constant pangs of guilt for missing my daughter, Ijanaya, who had taken a job in Sudan. I want her to be out there exploring the world, so if I feel sad, am I not being selfish?
On top of that, my car was in Warrenville during the flood so I had to go through all of those problems of reclaiming my car. I felt sad, lonely and isolated without a car because I have no one in this country, but I also felt guilt more than anything else because there are people who lost everything in their homes. What’s a car compared to that?
All of this seemed strange and confusing to me because I am not normally a person who compares myself to others, so why would I compare my sadness or depression to others? Why did I feel like I am not entitled to my own feelings? Maybe guilt is depression’s trick to control us.
It seemed important for me to share these feelings with you at this time of year because Christmas is coming, and that can be a very guilt-ridden holiday. Every year the Internet is filled with articles about depression leading up to the holiday. No one likes to admit feeling depressed at this time of year because it would be selfish to spoil others’ fun. So instead we disguise the sadness and guilt as Christmas approaches by pretending our generosity has no limits. We buy gifts, and then feel guilty for overspending. We carry that sadness and guilt into the new year, along with the sadness and guilt we amass on Old Year’s Night because we are alone or don’t feel to party.
In the end, the big revelation that I worked myself through on that morning was simply this: We are all entitled to our own feelings. Your sadness and my sadness have nothing to do with anyone else’s sadness. It should never bring shame or guilt. Most importantly, talk about your feelings with someone. There’s always someone willing to listen.