No shame in seeking help for depression

When my car was new, I drove it like it was a pram with a baby in it. I was very careful not to bounce it around too hard. I avoided potholes, and planned ahead to avoid bad roads. If I got so much as a scratch, I was at the body shop having it cleaned up. If I nicked my bumper while turning a tight corner, I’d be on the internet looking for a product to smooth it away. Oil was checked regularly and service was done on schedule. I treated that car like a king. But then I got used to having it around. I became accustomed to my new baby. I wasn’t as careful with it as I had been in the beginning.

Don’t get me wrong. I still loved it with all my heart, but I knew that it could handle a lot more than I gave it credit for. So, I stopped cringing every time I hit a hole in the road. I stopped hugging the kerb to avoid coming too close to other vehicles. I learned to live with the scratches and nicks that every car eventually collects.

I began to see the dents and bruises as part of the overall character of the thing. Where I used to inch over rumble strips, I began to fly over them without a care in the world. After years of holding my breath, I began to breathe easier, to let go of the unreasonable expectation that my car would be in new condition forever. I let go of the stress I was holding onto around the fear of aging. And honestly, I can’t tell you what a relief that was.

The moulding

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Which is not to say that I stopped caring for the car altogether. Not at all. I still kept up with all the service appointments and made sure that it was treated for every major injury. I’d do all the things that mechanics recommend to keep a car in good running order.

And then one morning somewhere near Wangige, a rock – or something of equal density - made contact with the rear window, back left of the car. That triangular window at the corner as you move towards the boot. The window itself stayed in place but the moulding was dislodged and it dropped off. I didn’t stop to see what happened at the point of impact so it was only when I got to my destination that I realised I was minus a moulding. As I stood there looking at my ugly, mould-less window, something fell like a shelf in my spirit. I suddenly felt defeated. There was no energy to even think about fixing the damn thing, so I left it alone.

Taken aback

Pretty soon, I was ignoring many other things. One day, my horn went silent and I left it alone. Then my fog lights went out. I left them alone. Next, those nozzles that spray water on the windscreen wouldn’t spray anymore, and I left them alone too. And then the power window switch malfunctioned. Guess what I did? I left it alone. My wheels were also hopelessly imbalanced, but I left them alone too. And oh yeah, I was well beyond 10,000km when I remembered that I used to do a thing called service. Basically, I was driving the car into the ground.

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I shared this state of disrepair with my sister, rattling off all the things that had gone wrong with my car and she was taken aback because she knew how finnicky I used to be about it. “I think you need to see where you’re at with your mental health … that’s not like you at all,” she said.

And that is how it finally dawned that I was depressed. I’ve been depressed before – I have even been medicated for it – so I know what it feels like. I know how it can manifest, and I recognised my don’t-care attitude about something I used to cherish so deeply about as a sign. Until my sister mentioned my mental health, I had chalked the whole car situation up to stress. This year has been stressful, but I had to acknowledge that the tree of stress had borne fruits of depression. Once I accepted that, my first stop was the garage to fix my poor car. You have to start somewhere. The next steps have been internal, where some housekeeping has been long overdue. Will I need therapy or medication? I’m not sure yet. Either way, there is no shame in being mentally unwell, and no shame in seeking help for it.

Ms Masiga is Peace and Security Editor, The Conversation Africa

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