There was something humbling about watching a coffin being lowered into a grave. It was a solemn reminder of a destiny no one would ever escape, the promise of death. For the most part, people tried to live their lives in denial of this truth, but deep down it was an existential reality no one could ever escape. When death waited till a ripe old age to claim its victim, consolation was easy to find. Sadly, this was not one of those occasions.
‘I cannot believe she is gone. Just like that. I spoke to her only a week ago.’ Nneka said.
It didn’t matter where you were in the world, people talking about when last they had contact with the dead was a standard conversation opener at funerals.
‘I can imagine how you feel, she seemed so happy. Like, why would she kill herself? I don’t understand. We weren’t really close but I used to follow her on Instagram. She was one of those babes I wanted to be like. Smiling and having fun in every picture. She was so pretty as well.’ Uju said.
As far as people were concerned there were only two main causes of death, preventable, and unpreventable. Suicide was generally regarded to be strong in the preventable category. Even in more developed countries where mental illnesses were considered to be real and serious, suicide could easily be considered as weak and selfish. In Nigeria where depression was synonymous to pettiness and weakness, suicide was more or less seen to be outright stupidity. When the victim in question was someone from a wealthy family that seemingly had all life had to offer or at least a better chance at living a full life, pity was out of the question. Most people would not voice it at the funeral but they thought Temi to be a spoilt brat that probably couldn’t cope with a relatively easy existence. What could she have been possibly depressed about at twenty-two?
‘She was probably depressed and didn’t know who to talk to. I wished she had talked to me now. We were close, I don’t know why I couldn’t even sense it.’ Nneka said.
‘Hmm, I don’t know about this depression thing. I thought all this mental wahala was an oyibo thing oh.’ Uju said.
‘It is very real, believe it. And it affects Africans as much as it affects Europenas, rich or poor. A lot of people think if you are rich or young it can’t happen to you, but it happens. I’ve witnessed it in my own family. Trust me, so many Nigerians are depressed and don’t even know it. You see these people drinking like fish and smoking like chimneys in the club. You don’t know they are dying inside.’ Nneka said.
Uju paused for a second to think about it. She thought of depression very much like she thought of anorexia. In her opinion, it was not a ‘real’ illness. It was a social condition and could be overcome with enough willpower and understanding.
‘I don’t get it. You don’t see women suffering from anorexia in countries where they can’t even find food to eat, or where skinny is not a good look. To me, depression is like that. I can understand if she had an issue. The girl was fine, her father rich, and boys were all over her. I just don’t get it.’
‘I can’t tell you I know what her problem was or if you even need to have a problem to be depressed. Look at Chimamanda Adichie. She is like my idol and she is depressed. Robin Williams, the comedian that killed himself. These things are not so simple, but they are real. Very real.’ Nneka said. ‘I can’t even imagine how powerless they must feel before resorting to this.’
‘Hmm, I think it comes from over thinking things. That’s why all these clever people get it. Or people that don’t believe in God or maybe they believe but their faith is weak.’ Uju said.
Nneka was getting angry but this was no place to display her rage. It was one thing that Uju didn’t understand the condition that was depression, but that wasn’t what enraged Nneka. The stupid girl couldn’t even let go of her perception to give their friend the respect she deserved at her funeral.
‘You don’t know what she was going through. And quite frankly it is people like you that don’t understand that people’s problems don’t have to be a problem to you to make it valid. We all have our issues and none is bigger than the other. It’s all relative.’
With that said Nneka moved away from Uju. She had always thought the girl to be somewhat lacking in empathy but this was just a step too far in the wrong direction. What was the point of trying to convince someone that didn’t even care to listen? She already had her opinions and nothing was going to change it if the death of a mutual friend didn’t as much as shake it. Perhaps that was the real problem with depression and related mental illnesses. Victims were forced to suffer in silence because the stigma of being tagged crazy, weak or a bratty was almost as bad as the condition itself and would certainly compound it. What a shame, what a damn shame.
by William Ifeanyi Moore
Feature image from @ashish_pradhan on instagram