I’ll never forget the day it happened. 13th September 2014. It was an unusually warm and sunny Saturday, considering it had been raining heavily for the past few weeks. Why can’t forget it? Because of what I did next. I took the car keys from Mum’s drawer, muttered “I’m off to Kikuyu to get some supplies.” Only that I didn’t go to Kikuyu. Instead, I got into the car and drove all the way past Limuru, to the Great Rift Valley Viewpoint, whereupon I gazed into the horizon, that marvelous freak of nature and sobbed, bitterly.
I just wasn’t myself.
I returned home, sans supplies, at 8 pm. Mum never uttered a word.
Perhaps I should start from the beginning. I had two jobs. They were killing me daily. It’s not that I didn’t enjoy it, I did; it was just too much. Plus there was also the smug feeling of “I’m good and I know that I’m good so I have to prove myself because these here folks will think I got here through favouritism/nepotism/whatever”. So I had to work twice as hard to be considered half as good. I was the first one in, last one out. I took on files, read and read some more deep into the night. I was to be….prepared.
My aunt (one of my bosses) noticed I was getting burnt out. She kept reducing my workload to a manageable level. The human body is a work of art. Push it too far beyond its limits and it simply refuses to function. I had reached my limit. I asked my other boss for a week off. No questions asked. I stayed home, dialing a delivery every day, sprawled on the couch watching Game of Thrones and/or playing Call of Duty: Ghosts in my sweatpants while imbibing copious amounts of Minute Maid.
It got better, for a day or two. Then it got worse, culminating in my drive to Limuru. I’ve never told a soul about this, until now.
Why is the above even necessary?
I stumbled upon a book on these Nairobi streets, it was only a 100 bob. No harm no foul if I bought it. On the cover was Marcus Trescothick. I’d heard a bit about him, especially with Jonathan Trott’s withdrawal from the English cricket team amidst the furore that was KP-gate (yes, I follow cricket, so what if I’m elitist?).
Marcus Trescothick was a goddamn good cricketer in the early Noughties. His job was to whack ‘em, and boy, could he whack ‘em! His career highlight (for me, at least) was the 2005 Ashes rout of Australia, where Flintoff, Vaughan, Strauss and KP (and the rest) absolutely whooped them Aussies.
But then it began to unravel on a tour to India. He just couldn’t take it anymore. In a way, I understood. The life of a Test cricketer is not easy. He wrote that 300 or so odd days of the year would be spent on the road, in airports, hotels and stadiums playing cricket. If you have a young family (like he did at the time), it’s nearly impossible to be yourself.
Then there was the cricket – it is the most individualistic team sport there is. Miss a catch, get caught out, it’s on you. It gets worse if you’re playing for England and their rabid media is waiting for your one fuck up that’ll turn them into a pack of wolves.
He was ill, gravely so. But he couldn’t face the truth about his illness, because, as most people (who don’t know what it’s about), what did he have to be depressed about? He was doing what he’d always wanted to do ever since he was a kid, getting paid a shitload of money to do it. He had a loving wife and a beautiful daughter. He struggled with his illness, tried to play his way out of it, kept up a façade and kept doing the “right” thing –suffering in silence- but nothing worked.
This book is an amazing piece of work because it’s just all too relatable. Read this excerpt of a conversation between Marcus and his therapist:
“Depressive illness is not a psychological or emotional state and is not a mental illness. It is not a form of madness. It is a physical illness.
“Depressive illness, or at least the commonest form, which is that caused by stress, nearly always happens to one type of person. He or she will have the following characteristics: (moral) strength, reliability, diligence, strong conscience, strong sense of responsibility, a tendency to focus on the needs of others before one’s own, sensitivity, vulnerability to criticism, self-esteem dependent on the evaluation of others.
“This person is the sort to whom you would turn if you had a problem to sort out upon which your house depended, a safe pair of hands you can trust with your life, though often somewhat taken for granted. People are usually very surprised when he gets ill; indeed he is the last person you would expect to have a breakdown.
“But it isn’t so surprising when you consider that depressive illness is a physical condition. Think about it: give a set of stresses to someone who is weak, cynical or lazy and he will give up. So he will never get stressed enough to become ill. A strong person, on the other hand, will react to those pressures by trying to overcome them. After all, he has overcome every challenge he has faced in the past through diligence and effort.So he keeps going, absorbing more and more, until inevitably, symptoms emerge. At this point most people say ‘hang on, this is ridiculous. I’m doing too much’ so they pull back from the brink before it is too late. But the sensitive person, without a very solid sense of self-esteem, can’t stop struggling, because he fears other people being disappointed in him. Even more than this he fears being disappointed in himself. He goes on and on and on, until suddenly: BANG! The fuse blows.”
It just described what I was going through, and my eyes were opened. Similarly, the periods of self doubt Marcus has when he asked himself all sorts of questions, I had them too.
“What if I’m not as good as I think I am on the job? What if I screw up? What if I get fired? What will my parents say? What will my friends say? Will my girlfriend still be with me? Is that my Valentines date taking a plunge, tits up? What if I don’t make it as a lawyer? What if I can’t make it in life? I’m a shit writer, I haven’ even blogged in days, I keep on messing up….aaaaargh!” I had that too.
I didn’t see a therapist like Marcus did, because a pupil’s minimum wage is shit. Plus there’s this whole stigma, I didn’t want to be the crazy one who visits a shrink. Chimamanda’s piece on her battle with depression makes perfect sense.
So I found myself a nifty little book called The Chimp Paradox by Dr. Steve Peters, which talks about calming your mind.
I tried to talk to people.
One of them thought I was too full of shit and walked away from my life forever; the other, well, she’s special. She’d send me a voice message late in the night and trust me, there’s nothing more soothing than a husky English accent telling you that you’ll be all right as you begin your day.
I wouldn’t want to spoil the story for y’all. The only drawback is the first part of the book where he describes his early life and career – it’s all highly technical aspects of cricket, which unfortunately did not have non-fans in mind. So you might need to familiarize yourself with the cricketing lingo: what’s an over, batting order, all-rounder, county cricket, tons etc.
Otherwise Coming Back to Me by Marcus Trescothick is a most deserved winner of the William Hill Sports Book of the Year 2008.
P.S. There’s a long queue waiting for this book. Happy Valentines folks.
© Martin Maitha (deMaitha)