Tales of a maladjusted adult pt 6

Second quarter.

Sally has graduated (essentially). Sally is employed (conditionally). Sally is still deeply unsatisfied with life.

This whole year I have lived off the kindness of others (being housed and fed by them) and I’ve been confronted with  my own sense of pride, the shame I feel when asking for help and the relief and eternal gratitude that comes once I have accepted it. I’ve been lucky to  be surrounded by friends and family who make it clear that it’s ok to need to depend on others every once in a while. I’m the only one who seems to have a problem with it. I hate having plans that only seem to be coming into fruition in some nebulous future. I hate believing that I am more than what I manifest now. I have faith that everything good I am weaving for myself and others will come to pass (bar madness, severe illness or death), but I want to shine as blindingly as that imagined future me in the present.

Oh well, for now Sally has graduated (essentially), Sally is employed (conditionally), and Sally will be working on her deep dissatisfaction with life.

Tales of a maladjusted adult pt 5

I haven’t been able to put anything down on paper for a good minute. Some people suffer from writer’s block – I wish that was my issue. I have acute writer’s schizophrenia. Spare sentences and loose thoughts have been running amok in the mind. I’m permanently tuned in to every station and quite frankly it’s been overwhelming. 

I’ve spent the last few months in the throws of deep self restructuring. Neither the first or last time this has or will happen, but the nature of this crisis was particular. It wasn’t the standard “you can do better” affair. I spend so much time criticizing myself I forget that there are things I’m good at. I focus on one flaw with such intensity the rest of me melts away. I have isolated myself, forbidden myself any close ties and all for what? To stay safe, to not have to deal with the reflections of the parts of me I think are ugly.

Alone.

I don’t fear my own company, I quite like it actually but in the midst of life and all it entails I had forgotten how to live with me. I didn’t take care of me. I’ve finally forced myself to look at all of it. To admit that I secretly resent my abilities, my thoughts, constantly preoccupy myself with how what I am will be received. My own success terrifies me. I’m afraid of responsibility even though I keep finding myself in positions that require just that, afraid that someone will actually listen to me, think I have “the answers” and turn to me for direction – I don’t know where the hell I’m going. This is all unchartered territory.

I was unable to fully open up to those closest to me as if I was impossible to love, unworthy of it really. I was too ashamed to ask for help from those I fully knew would draw blood for me. I refused to admit that I was in pain. I might get to a point where I am as strong as I want to be but I’ve let myself ebb and flow so aimlessly through the currents of life that I’m grabbing on to this raft for dear life. It’s like shedding old skin, cleansed through fire and baptized by water. I have accepted what I refused to look at and turns out I’m in love with it, with what it isn’t, with what it can be. I welcome the struggle, the occasion existential loneliness, but I will not dwell on the downsides of truly allowing myself to live, feeling like I have a right to exist in my entirety, a right to take up space, to shine. Because why not me?

I love not lying about who I am, what I love, the weight I shoulder. I can’t pretend not to be who I am whether I think I deserve to be or not. I can only accept all that will inevitably come from developing this self. If there is something to be said why not through my mouth? If there is something to be done why not by my hands? I’ve finally re-allowed myself to be in the company of others, reconnected myself with the intensity of feeling I once feared. I do want to give but people take too much. I had to insulate myself and find me, recenter my own desires, my own wants, my own goals, completely separate from any expectation. Let my cup overflow.

It’s frustrating to wear a mask. I wore it for so long I never bothered to find out who was behind it. As long as everything looked fine on the outside I just kept on moving. Sporadic achievements, loving friends and family, all of whom I kept at arm’s length selectively revealing parts of myself under duress. Never too much, always enough to keep up appearances. I lost myself in years of ‘I’m OK’ and ‘everything is alright’. It wasn’t. I wasn’t. I was always afraid. Of saying the wrong thing, of pushing the wrong buttons, of being rejected. I’m not as carefree as I would love to pretend I am. I can hide from the world but I can’t hide from me. I broke the mask and I can’t put it back together and frankly I don’t care to. For better or for worse I’m stuck in this meat suit and I do love it, all that it entails. I’m a mess and I’m proud. I take risks, I push myself to the extreme, I fall on my ass, but I do good.

I do good.

Tales of a maladjusted adult pt 4

Hello Parentals,

This letter has been a long time coming.
It’s me, progeny one, your oldest daughter. The one you carried from the hospital weighing just about 3 kgs. The happy child who talked and danced before she could walk, who spoke of herself in the third person incessantly, who joined every after-school club she could, loved school and questioned everything.

It’s still me now, a bit different but still me. I think the child I was colours your image of the woman I am, blinds you to how far I am retreating within myself. I say the word – depression – and I can see it doesn’t mean much to you, that you push it aside, think it’s something I’ll just wake up from one day. Because why should I be? I have a family who loves and provides for me, I am relatively intelligent, moderately attractive with a nice financial safety net. I shouldn’t want for anything. And I don’t.

I also don’t feel much – often.

Why do I have to crash before you listen to me? I had to get suspended because I couldn’t wake up to go to class for months (I didn’t tell you why just that I had been) before you even took notice that something could be amiss.

I ask for time OUT, to be able to breathe a bit, you tell me “well not everyone can.” Quite frankly I couldn’t care less, I can! Maybe it’s because you don’t understand (and I don’t tell you) what a day in my life is like. And how can I sometimes, when I hear the mocking tone that colours your voice when you tell me your annoying coworker has “mental” problems, when somehow you who know me most don’t notice that I’m barely ever awake when I come home, how you let yourself believe that my drastic weight loss is simply because I’m “working so hard in school”, how you keep telling your friends “my daughter is this” and “my daughter is that” unwilling to confront the broken individual that stands before you. Do you think it’s normal that I burst into tears every time we have the “so what are your plans” talk? Does it never occur to you to ask me how I’m feeling? Why are you pretending like I’ve never mentioned this or do you think I’m just doing it for attention? I don’t blame you though, I’ve perfected my human suit over the years, so much so that I don’t even know if I feel or simply react to my surroundings.

Well this is me. Your golden child. I set 4 alarms, 2 hours before I need to wake – on the days I’ve managed to sleep. Once I open my eyes, I scream myself awake, will myself to be. If I have energy I shower, limp scrubs under running water. I don’t go out, not because I’m studying but because other people just drain me. I look forward to Fridays because it means I don’t have to leave my bed till Monday. If I do go out I numb myself so hard I forget I am me. I care for nothing. I am invulnerable.

I can’t love. If to love is to share, this I can’t. How to start opening myself to someone to show them this nonsense? I can’t even think clear. I shake someone’s hand limply, say something by mistake and for weeks I am haunted by it, repeating it over and over and over again till I’ve scrubbed my soul raw and convinced my self that I am worthless, stupid and good for nothing. I know this is not the truth but why do I feel like this? How do I explain the tug I feel on balconies, how terrified I am of some of my thoughts because I know I can be impulsive and reckless. I am confronted with who I am everyday, where I fit, if I belong, if I have anything to offer.

All I want to do is sleep and I’m scared that the only reason I’m still alive is because there are people who know me and who have significant emotional investments in me . It feels weird to live because of some mutated sense of duty. My life is no longer my own. I shouldn’t feel obliged to be alive.

You said we had to be financially independent after our first degree and I had no problem with that. Finding a job was challenging but not impossible. I’m bilingual with a good work history in this country (the blue passport doesn’t hurt) but I can’t keep a schedule. I wake up late for everything, I’m in a haze as I mechanically perform whatever task is asked of me, I beat myself up for not being a good employee, break down in tears in bathrooms during breaks, call in sick when I can.

Sometimes I wish I had something physical so you’d take me seriously, so I would fade faster and alarm you. My irreverence is deceiving, my smiles painted to make you feel comfortable. I don’t want to keep lying to you, to tell you I’m OK and never better. I don’t want to keep calling you to tell you all of this at odd hours of the night only to end up saying “I just wanted to hear your voice.” Why can’t I be honest with you? Why am I so convinced you won’t understand? Have you ever shown me to be heartless monsters that would not hold their daughter while she is in pain? Comfort her? Why can I not share this with you? Why am I so scared you’ll think this as some sort of failure on your part as parents when you are literally the only thing – for better or for worse – that keeps me tethered to this shithole.

The few thing I manage to be happy about you dismiss as hobbies, making me chop bits of myself till I fit the daughter mould you have in mind for me. Does it not occur to you that I want nothing of the life you prescribe for me? Not as an insult to you but because I might perhaps know what would make me happy, give me some semblance of peace. Do you know how tiring it is to feel guilty for the things you buy, how they affect the world, to be acutely conscious of the fact that your life is not your own, that your actions have consequences, even the seemingly inconsequential ones, to constantly feel that you are contributing to the same system that is fanning the fires of your self destruction, to overthink everything from where you eat to what you wear because of some irrational culpability that won’t give?

I don’t want to be like this, and I’m afraid, so afraid, that one day I’ll fall and I wont get up. I know you want the best for me, you keep pushing me to be great – go to school, get your bachelors (barely made it out of the first round alive and you just wanted me to jump right back in, all bloodied and bruised), study translation, get a masters, unhook the moon, we know you can, we’ve seen you do it all before. For once would you just listen to ME? I don’t want my last thought to be that I’m leaving my parents with another bill to pick up (just so you know cremation is the way to go).

I don’t want to be a burden, but I’m terrified of being the kind you keep 6 feet under. I am not weak, I try my best not to complain, I push myself beyond my limits but fuck this shit – I’m not a mule. I am chocking – I want to fucking breathe. I am barely surviving – I want to fucking thrive. Somehow I’m back under your payroll. You offered, wanting me to focus on school instead of work. I resisted, not wanting you to think me weak or incapable, reluctantly accepted under the guise that it would be better for school, truly knowing I’d rather do neither. I can barely take care of my primary charge, my own body. I am trapped in me, ashamed to ask for help because you’ve convinced me I’m capable of so much. I don’t think you understand how the cost of your power over me, my desire to please you, to be who you think I am, could be, should be is literally killing me. It’s easier to keep quiet when it seems as if no one is listening.

So please, the few times I speak to you in a voice that doesn’t mirror yours, hear ME and not what you think I’m saying. Listen while I can still speak.

Tales of a maladjusted adult pt 3

I forget what it feels like to have a mind that doesn’t betray me, a mind where up is up and down is down. I want to be able to control all these thoughts but they have grown wings. They are them and I am me. What did I expect though? I fed them, nurtured them, pruned and shaped them. How could they not want to be free, to wander, to grow, simply BE. They are king now and their word is law. I am only a vessel. I think therefore I am? No – I am and now my thought too, are. They run, jump, explode – a multitude of tiny bombs, one setting off its neighbour unleashing a kaleidoscopic mosaic of memories, dreams and visions all intertwined by some thread I can’t seem to find.

How can I not love these thoughts though? How can I not indulge in their LIFE? It is not without sacrifice. I must first give in to them, only then can I even begin to try to reign them in. But what is flesh against the forces of a great wind? How can I begin to control them when I am only starting to grasp their power?

Space and Place

1.

BSL: international day
This is just a costume. I’m a fraud. the mask is slipping and I think the others are catching on.

Just the other day Tunde played a bunch of anthems on Encarta. I walk into the computer lab and he starts playing one I can’t recognize. I don’t know why but my eyes fall on his screen and I see a Cameroonian flag. Small imperceptible glance. As if he could sense my ignorance he asks smugly if I know what anthem is playing as he quickly minimizes the page to keep any hint out of sight. “Of course I know my own anthem” I reply with such indignation I am shocked at my own lie. I spend the next two days learning every word.
In french.

National anthems known in chronological order:

France
Ivory coast
Nigeria
United kingdom
Ghana
Cameroon

2.

When people find out I speak french and I tell them I come from Cameroon, they assume I’m francophone. I’m actually north west (anglophone) and I speak french because I was born and raised in Ivory coast.

3.

Going to primary school: we were not Ivorian and most of the Cameroonians we knew went to english schools. All were born in Cameroon so in a sense we were the odd ones out. Cameroonian by blood, was that enough?

4.

“Aleh (how are you)?”

“Don kein (I’m fine thank you).” success, 1 experience point.

”Luwien yeh?

“Don kein.”

They laugh at me, I didn’t understand. They asked where my mother was. I am not from here. I will never forget what that question means. Luwien yeh? is your mother here? Luwein yeh? is your mother here? Luwein yeh? is your mother here?

5.

World cup in Canada. cars are passing. I see many flags, Argentina, France, Nigeria, Ghana. Who here is even from here?

6.

IB results come in, 6 in French and in English. Not good. Excellent. What can I say in Kedjom? Ma kefi nyam : I want to eat meat.

7.

‘What’s your name?’ Sally. ‘No what’s your name name?’ Sally. ‘Is that your first name.’ Yep. ‘Do you have any other names?’ yes, Wuwihbwen. ‘how do you spell that?’ It doesn’t matter, the spelling doesn’t correlate with the pronunciation. I know its meaning: man is not God. It might as well be empty. I say my name over and over and over again till it doesn’t mean anything anymore. Just sounds strung together by some unknown ancestor. My own name has to be subtitled. I am the audience.

8.

World cup team support in order:

Cameroun
Ivory coast
Select colonizers
Brazil

9.

Sharing rooms with Maki with a clear line demarcating our sides. Somehow I’m always cleaning up our room. Everything in its place. Everything has a place. Clothes closeted, books tabled, toys and assorted things boxed. Nothing can be out of place.

10.

I wish I was a twin. I’d have an anchor. I would look at their face and know. Know I belonged. There is a root. There is a home. I am not alone. I am not alone. I belong to something. I belong to someone. I am a point of reference.

 

11.

Kedjom funeral – I can’t feel – I don’t know this person enough – if at all to feel. But I know Mum, she is my bridge so I take her hand and she leads.

I am from nowhere. I am from everywhere. I am a bridge too. Where do I lead to?

The Hedges

Do you remember the day it dawned on you that this thing called life would one day end? That all those around you: your father, mother, siblings and friends would one day cease to exist? Expire, never to be held, cried on or played with again. When it occurred to you that unlike Coyote, there was no next episode after that cliff fall. The realization of your impermanence on this earth can be quite a destabilizing experience especially as a child; it tends to leave ripples in your subconscious you feel well into adulthood. It may have been when your favourite grandfather passed away, or when the scruffy girl with the cornrows who always sat at the back of the class unceremoniously stopped coming and your teacher had to keep explaining every day for the rest of the year in cushioned words and a coddling tone that it would never be filled by her again. Even with promises of the afterlife, you can’t quite shake off the fact that you, as you are in this vessel, will one day simply not be. With that realization comes a certain type of awareness, a particular blend of fear, acceptance and caution privy only to those in tune with the ephemeral nature of their existence. Fun times with mortality. How do you accept this finality, complete obliteration from this earth but for memories that, too, will not last the test of time? How do you learn to put this inevitability in the back of your mind and carry on? Mine was a rather rude awakening.

It starts, as most existential realizations of my childhood, in our plant-heavy backyard. There was one particular hedge that ran parallel to the high walls surrounding our compound, lining the inside with its dark green waxy leaves. My siblings and I’s bodies could easily fit between the ledge on the wall and the trees and, on hot afternoons, we could sometimes be found exploring the treacherous terrain of our makeshift jungle. Said hedge was a source of conflicting emotions: it could go from playground to arsenal in split seconds. Our house boy (without our mother’s blessing mind you) would send us down to pick branches from it whenever we misbehaved or caught him watching porn for what seemed to be our semi-regular flogging sessions. There was something remarkably cruel about personally selecting the rod that would become to your body as paint was to canvas. It was the hedge’s hermetic character however that left the deepest wounds: while it was designed to keep people from looking in, it had the unintended consequence of not letting us look out.

It was here that I first tried to kill myself. Very melodramatic considering the circumstances. My mother had once again found her grievous actions towards me fiercely engraved in my seven year old self’s black book, the particulars of which do not matter considering the frequency of such occurrences. While most would threaten to run way, I had the genius idea to off myself in a rather twisted effort to hurt her. I could never quite understand how I came to that conclusion but my money’s on the questionable viewing material courtesy of your standard 0000 DSTV parental code. “See your life” she said as I blasted off threat after threat. I was livid, how could she not take me seriously? I would show her. I stormed to my room and rummaged through my closet for my karate belt. Indignant dead man walking that I was, I made my way to the garden. I would show her I wasn’t to be taken lightly. I don’t think that I truly wanted to die. In retrospect it scares me how far I was willing to go to prove her wrong, how inconsequential and disposable my life suddenly was. The problem wasn’t that I hated my mother, though very much a factor at the time. I simply didn’t understand what it was I wanted to do, the finality of the consequences. Taking my life was on the same level as burning her favourite dress. I knew I was dear to her and at the time it made sense. You take from me, I take from you. Very dangerous child logic. To everyone’s relief – mine especially – my exit from the world of the living was unsuccessful. After tying one end of the belt to my neck and securing the other to a branch I let myself fall from a staggering two feet. The branch snapped as my skinny frame met the ground. My mother made no mention of my outburst at the dinner table.

Death had taken a bite. With blood in the water, it began circling, a predatory spectre looming over me. It would rear its head again during one of my favourite pastimes.

My sister and I had a number of go-to games for those days where the television wasn’t enough to keep us busy and my nose wasn’t buried within the pages of what ever new chapter book I’d discovered that week. Our dolls would always get stranded on desert islands with nothing but their wits and our imaginations to keep them alive. On this fine day they had found some nice plantains and yams they would pound to make foufou. I went to make a round of the hedge trees to find the empty nests birds usually left as my sister readied the pillar and mortar. My search quickly bore fruit and I rushed to her side, put the nest in the mortar and started pounding. One, two, three. I heard the muffled sound of chirping and suddenly, I was frozen. Ever wish you could reject a reality by simply refusing to acknowledge it? For a while I wouldn’t to put words to what was becoming evidently clear: I hadn’t checked the nest. How could I have been so careless? Like a seed taking root, the weight of this death thing began to settle itself in my young mind. I had taken away life for no reason. Every fibre of my body was suddenly consumed in shame. My sister had heard it too. We took the nest from the mortar. A mangled mess of flesh and egg shells. We stared at it. We didn’t know what else to do. We just stared, suspended in time. One of the birds was still alive, a hatchling that had managed to escape the blow of my pillar. We buried the nest under the pine tree in the backyard and tried to find him a new home. He obviously didn’t survive. Left to fend for himself, the tiny bird, no bigger than a finger, didn’t even make it till evening.

That night at the dinner table, I could suddenly hear the pain that had coloured my mother’s voice during our heated exchange on the day of my not so fateful suicide attempt. As a child I had this uncanny ability of replaying conversations surrounding my offences. Her words always stayed the longest, sometimes for weeks, letting me relive the shame, hurt or anger of her scoldings. I passed by the bird tomb many times that week, noting how the birds remained in the ground, the implications of which opened a door of unending questions with such force that till this day I’m not sure I’ve managed to shut.

Tales of a maladjusted adult pt 2

How to break the spell, how to pluck yourself out of this endless cycle of sleeping, eating, being, not being, wanting to be, being afraid to never be. You would think one would be pushed into action with such dissatisfaction but it only seemed to fuel the tepid fire of self-destruction. Mine is a slow and painful death. A tenacious rot eating away at the foundations of a life half built. I might be more like my uncle Alphonse than I care to admit. Till this day his house in the village stands unfinished. Roofless rooms, doorless frames: a homeless house. No fraction could quantify its level of completion. Is that what my life is amounting to? An endless pile of fractioned sentences, fractioned thoughts, fractioned wants, fractioned wills? He only completed our own family house because my mother (bless her brand of crazy) moved us all into the fraction-complete building, still pregnant with Alphonse (named after the same uncle – the similarities ended there). A fraction of a life in a fraction of a home. A fitting abode of sorts. If only I took more after the woman. I stubbornly cling to my mediocrity, the fear of failure dragging me down like cement shoes in a sea of stagnancy. A writer. How can I call myself that when I barely put pen to paper? I think about it though. Oh that I do a lot of. I think. About not writing, about writing more, what to write about, how to make my words tap-dance, endless click clacking on blank pages. What am I scared of? That people will see me? That my words might reveal some unexplored truth? I am looking for something, anything, a lifeline (going down swinging) pouring over books, articles, tweets, binge-watching television. I’m not finding it. Whose voice am I looking for? Mine? Can I even hear myself? Will I recognize that “I”?