“Not waving, but drowning”- The battle against depression

I first came across the poem ‘Not Waving but Drowning’ by Stevie Smith in high school and I remember even then, it hit me in the gut, and over the years I have returned to it time and again because it so aptly describes how I feel a lot of the times.
Nobody heard him, the dead man,
But still he lay moaning:
I was much further out than you thought
And not waving but drowning.
If you want to know what depression feels like, the gaping chasm that sometimes feels like it’s eating your heart, a chasm in which you can scream as much as you like but no one ever hears you, then read this poem. It says the dead man lay moaning and nobody heard him. That’s what depression is like. It’s like death whispering at you even in your happiest moment, when you should be rejoicing it whispers ‘this won’t last, you know it won’t’ or even worse yet, ‘this is a dream, it’s not real, enjoy the adrenaline while it lasts, because soon it will be gone…you know I’m right.’
And even worse, it feels like it is your condition alone to carry – only the dead man lay moaning; no one else heard him but they heard each other…
Poor chap, he always loved larking
And now he’s dead
It must have been too cold for him his heart gave way, They said.
‘He always loved larking…’ That is what they think…people wonder how someone who seems so strong, seems so capable and gifted and beautiful and whatever it is could take their own life…
There was a song I heard years ago and I remember I could never get the one line out of my head… ‘I was always on the outside looking in’.
A dis-associative feeling, like somehow you consciously know you are in the world but you feel far apart from it and all those around you. Many people have felt it but it is hard to describe and worse yet explain to someone else.
Oh, no no no, it was too cold always (Still the dead one lay moaning)
I was much too far out all my life
And not waving but drowning.
I really find the final stanza fascinating: It is poignant sad and for once quite clear in meaning… ‘it was too cold always’, and because he is dead, he is truly beyond help – ‘I was much too far out all my life and not waving but drowning.’
Are you drowning and everyone else thinks you are waving? Putting on that winning smile, clapping your hands so you stay in beat with the rhythm of this life – people’s expectations that you are struggling to live up to? Your own expectations for yourself? Your own limitations? Feeling trapped in the shadow of other people’s successes and afraid to say how you really feel – frail, unaccomplished, unwanted, unheard and misheard, like an outsider? Is that you too saying, ‘Im not waving I’m drowning!’ and no one hears your screams or sees your frantic flailing in the deep deep waters of life against a never-ending onslaught of waves, each new one bigger than the last and threatening to overwhelm and sink you to depths where no one else can reach you?
Well you are not alone. I have been drowning not waving and for a long time unable to articulate it. To speak it out loud. That life is too hard. The world is too big and sometimes, many times we will be standing in the middle of a crowded street screaming our lungs out and not a soul will stop or see or hear us.
Never has that scripture been more profound to me that we are strangers in this land –
For I am a stranger with You,
A sojourner, as all my fathers were.’
And sadder still – everyone is screaming. They may not tell you, but they are screaming too. But if you are reading this you are still alive. Unlike the man in the poem who is now an afterthought, gone like vapour in the wind – you are still breathing. You are not alone. You are not forsaken. You are not forgotten.
“But Zion said, “The Lord has forsaken me, And my Lord has forgotten me.
Can a woman forget her nursing child, And not have compassion on the son of her womb? Surely they may forget, Yet I will not forget you.
See, I have inscribed you on the palms of My hands;
Your walls are continually before Me.
Your sons shall make haste;
Your destroyers and those who laid you waste
Shall go away from you.”
(Isaiah 49:14-17)
“Hear my cry, O God, listen to my prayer; from the end of the earth I call to you when my heart is faint. Lead me to the rock that is higher than I, for you have been my refuge, a strong tower against the enemy.”
(Psalm 61:1-3)
You are not alone and I am not alone, and while we yet breathe there is hope for a better day.
Quintessentially Yours,
QF Chiratidzo

She called me crying…

By the time I got to her apartment, she was already soaked. Soaked in a bottle of vodka and vomiting violently over the toilet seat. Her weave felt moist and her face was tear-drenched. I was thrown off. I wasn’t sure of what I walked into so I proceeded to grab a t-shirt and pair of sweats from her messy closet as I threw my purse and car keys on her dining room table.

“What’s wrong?”  I choked up, as I had never seen her in such a state.

Saru was the one who had her stuff all the way together. The good job, the swank apartment with expensive furniture that didn’t come in a box for self-assembly, the one that got all the hot guys staring at her on the dancefloor when it was girls’ night out. She was the life of the party, the chick you loved to hate because of the copious amounts of swag she possessed. Saru was that chick who wasn’t supposed to cry. I mean come on why would she? Zvinhu zvake zvose zvaifaya zve! (All her stuff was all the way together!). What on earth was going on?

After a quick shower – which came supervised because to be honest – we couldn’t at this point afford a fall in the bathtub scenario – with her sweats and tee on, she sat down with her legs curled under her. I handed her a cup of water and some Panadol. For a hot second I felt like I was part of the cast in some movie.

Ko chii?” (What’s wrong?)I asked for what felt like the hundredth time.

“Chick you need to eat! Heck how much did you drink?” as I stared at the quarter-full bottle of Barcardi Limon on the kitchen counter.

The house was clean but the kitchen and bedroom were a mess. These two rooms must have been her sanctuary for a bit as I hadn’t seen or heard from her for close to a month.

“I had no choice Chie? I had to go through with it coz mom and dad weren’t having it. Trey was happy to have the baby. He said we would figure it out. But to be honest, the idea of having a baby now, apa Trey doesn’t have his life together either….I couldn’t do it.”

I sat on the couch…numb to what I was hearing. Saru narrated her ordeal about how she had driven herself to the abortion clinic 2 weeks before – and driven herself home after the procedure was done. What I was now witnessing was the afterbirth; the afterbirth of guilt, the questions “why” and “what if I had kept the baby.”

What Saru was going through was deep regret and the earth shattering loneliness that comes with realizing that there was possibly no one around her that could understand what she had done or why she had done it. The light about her life had grown dim. How things change! A month ago we had gone out partying. What was this? Did she know she was pregnant when we were at the club? Questions. I had many. But this was hardly the time to pacify my curiosity. My girl was in a state and…

You see, I had just gotten out of a chaotic set of “friendships” so was doing well to purge myself of the drama at this point. I rubbed Saru’s back as she cried in between the narration of how she thought she was feeling. Once or twice I had to run after her to the bathroom only to watch her dry heave over the toilet. I didn’t know what to do so I just showed up when she needed me. I didn’t know what to say so just listened when she needed to talk.

This went on for months…the listening…the showing up…for months…many many months…

It was a long year after the abortion. Saru battled many dark thoughts and her boyfriend – who had supposedly promised her that they would get through it – well…he stopped picking up her calls two months after the abortion. I never liked him anyway. I thought he was a good looking guy that took advantage of her needy state and bank account well before they even got here. Saru however was the life of the party, so she couldn’t imagine her life without him. He was her party. He doted on her, made like he was all in…but we all knew he was leeching. He was her party and the guy that was going to marry her. So she thought. So she said.

So she gave him everything. Heart, soul and paycheck, she gave him all of it and he took it to his bank. He was the guy that was going to be her husband. All this was her truth until she fell pregnant.

He moved out when the test showed two pink lines. He played sick the day she had to go to the clinic. That’s why she drove herself to and from the place. She didn’t call me. She didn’t call anyone. She called him, but he hadn’t answered at the time she needed him the most. Not on that day. Many times not on the days that followed. So the vodka answered when she came knocking. Somewhere somehow she remembered my number…and called me crying.

Saru became grossly disillusioned about life, its meaning and more so, on the subject of GOD never leaving her. She experienced severe depression to where many of the people she called friends grew distant for lack of knowing what to do to help combat her issues.

Have you ever tried to preach hope to someone who hasn’t quite reached the bottom of the pit but was fast on their way there? I tried. Twas weird though because I wasn’t sure of what I was saying a lot of the time. I didn’t know GOD then like I do now. I was trying to get myself out of my depressed state so it took a lot to just be there for her. I had times when I wanted her to just get over the pain and carry on with life. Everything else in her life seemed to be staying afloat so in my head she needed to just get over guy and bounce back. It wasn’t that easy though. There was a battle that raged within for many a year after that.

Fast forward to now, where Saru is happily married with 3 children. I moved back home and got caught up in my own healing – but we kept in touch. What I love about the woman she is now, is how openly she proclaims her faith in GOD. This to me further illustrates GOD’s ability to heal and restore – ANYBODY.

Back then she seemingly had everything going for her, but loss brought her to true faith. Loss made her a believer. She lost a child through abortion and lost the guy she invested her all in shortly after that. She experienced a hectic downward spiral that few could help with. The pain she experienced as she tried to reclaim her wellbeing took her to JESUS.

I read a WhatsApp message from QF Tendayi Ndoro wherein she said:

“Your battle or struggle is your training ground and it sure isn’t fun when you are in it but when you come out….”

To be honest, I cannot say who Saru would be today had she not gone through what she did, but I do know what it is to experience a season of darkness to the point of drunkenness. She drank to numb the pain and then had to stand under a cold shower just to wake herself up from yet another episode. This was my story for a season in my early twenties. I got it then and I get it now.

JESUS has the power to heal. Many women find themselves struggling with depression on account of loss, rejection, physical and emotional pain, trauma – the list is endless. Depression for Saru became a way of life for over 2 years. She speaks about it now like a disease. She says she cannot relate to the person she was then because of the transformation she has experienced since experiencing Christ’s love. To this I can relate as well. What we must understand though it that the effects of depression and subsequent behaviors can be just as detrimental as any other life threatening disease. Alcoholism, acceptance of abuse, intolerance, suicidal thinking, anxiety disorder and more, are all as a result of particular triggers. Whatever the root cause, no medication can cure more than understanding who you are in Christ.

Saru only found her peace after she committed her life to Christ. It was not an overnight process. The cleansing process took many years as it did for me as we had different reasons surrounding how we found ourselves combatting depression anyway. BUT GOD. GOD heals. I wish there were more public service announcements that emphasize this crucial fact – that GOD HEALS.

If you are struggling with depression, loss, pain or anything that causes you a sadness that you find hard to explain, please reach out to somebody. There are people around you – some you may not even know – that are willing to answer your sms or call. Reach out. They may carry the word you need to start your journey to restoration

Quintessentially yours

QF Yvonne