Last weekend I attended a small event. I am part of a two year program with a couple of other Ugandans.
I had met two other participants once before and everyone else was either in administration or had completed the program.
After settling down, I shared my experience with those I knew over some bites. We agreed that we had faced similar challenges, except in different doses. Sadly, one of us had not even made it beyond two months of the intense program. Later, I mingled with the ‘experts’ armed with my notebook so as to learn a trick or two.
When we got to the sharing session, I turned to my counterparts, hoping that our joint voice would hold more water. They were completely silent. They only spoke up if it made them look good but otherwise had nothing to comment about the rigorous exercises we had earlier discussed. I was stunned. They are both vocal people actually. I realised it was not because they were timid. It was just easier for them to admit failure to one person (me) than to openly express any kind of discomfort publicly.
I decided to take it upon myself to articulate my issues and those of the people who suddenly could not speak. Frankly, I did not care if I was being judged by the listeners because everything I said out loud became a problem half solved. At least in my mind.
After the session it became evident that they were grateful for the advice received as a result of the candid feedback.
I do not blame them or at least, I would like to think I understand them.
Many a time we make decisions, consciously or sub consciously, solely for the benefit of others, or so we tell ourselves.
‘My father is a respected member of society, what will people say if they find out I am pregnant before marriage? I must terminate this pregnancy.’ ‘I cannot quit my job to start the salon I have always dreamed of. Everyone will think I wasn’t good enough for the promotion I have been talking about endlessly.’ ‘My colleagues can’t know I have family issues. This will be their chance to try and steal my position.’
These pressure groups (read family and friends) have their own issues, a battered spouse here, a rogue teenager there, millions in debt. The only reason you don’t know this is because they have decided to bury it under a rug. You are probably in a better place than half the people whose ridicule you are afraid of.
We live in a hypocritical society, quick to throw labels, remarkably sluggish when challenged to back our words with actions.
The truth is not everybody is capable of sharing their pain. Whether because they believe it is a sign of weakness or prefer to be discreet and a myriad of other reasons.
We often find it easier to discuss achievements. If there is mention of tragedy, chances are it is occurring in someone else’s life. Here we can sit and give them advice (in their absence) while feeling good about our ‘drama-less’ life.
We are so afraid of what people will think, of pity… of everything that is remotely close to real.
No, our beautiful wedding photos, awards and promotions are not what make a marriage work or a job more meaningful.
I am honestly more interested in the process, the tears and the loneliness at the top. I want to know what keeps a mother up at night, how many closed doors this big shot CEO met before he got where is today.
If I am lucky, I will find it in a biography.
If I do not experience some of things for myself, I might never hear of them even if people I am close to people who have gone through the same. WHY?
I found out Joan was suicidal years after she had started feeling that way. I was ‘lucky’ to see her in a towel that exposed her cuts. Before that, she wore a sweater whether it was 30 degrees or 8. We figured it was ‘her thing’ and simply teased her about her collection of long sleeved clothing.
I had hundreds of questions to ask per minute. She had a practiced comeback for each. The overriding condition was her uneasiness in her skin and the absence of someone to speak to.
She was a star student, bored with books; a perfect daughter, struggling with this façade.
I was broken. Luckily, after finding out I could do something
Perhaps, we to have had similar encounters. Situations when you front a different you, that you think the world will love, only to go home, take the mask off and feel the misery and regret in one large lump.
I admit to being in this place before, many of us have. The saddest part is that even if you succeed in fooling everyone, the person in the mirror knows the truth. That person can’t be fooled.
My 20’s have proved to be a great turning point and you will now find me ‘preaching’ about self-belief, learning from failure and encouraging people to let go and often saying ‘do you.’
This is because I have admitted that my mistakes don’t define me. I have made a joke out of my lowest moments and intend to make it my life mission to share as much as I can about my journey without sugar coating it.
I was speaking to Tina recently and asking her why she had been off the radar. She explained that she had been going through tough times and didn’t want to trouble anyone. I have heard this ‘excuse’ many times and I have also given it to some people. If not out loud, then definitely in my head. We are all superman or superwoman. How dare you fall when you are supposed to fly? How can you let us down with tears when you are our source of strength? How? You traitor!
My reasoning is always the same. Solitude is good and we need to obtain it from time to time. However, in many cases, when you stay there long enough, it sometimes consumes you .Before long you forget who you were and who you want to be.
Speaking up on pain is not a crime or a sign of weakness. You don’t have to walk around with smudged mascara or swollen eyes to show you are hurting inside. You can look perfectly fine but still tap someone close by to say, “I need help.”
It is true that not everyone around you needs or deserves to have insight on all your deepest fears and aches. Nevertheless, a big hug and some shared tears can go a long way. I have learned that there’s almost always a solution but how will you find it if you do not ask?
While Tina is quietly struggling with unemployment and not ‘troubling anyone,’ I might know someone in desperate need of an employee with her qualities. It will take some nudging and a bit of telepathy for me to get the truth out of her before I can make any recommendations.
Life is fast. Friends are few. Foes are plenty. We all want to get to this mythical destination as soon as possible. If you do not speak up, we shall simply run over you as we get there. You will stay lonely and bitter, complaining that no one cared. Except they did, until they didn’t.
I am sad that there are Tina’s in my life who don’t know that friends (except fair weather friends and the like) are actually more likely to run towards you when you need help.
I am mad that we would rather stay in dead relationships than admit that things did not work out
I cringe at the thought of lying to my child that everything is fine and it’s the onions that made mommy cry, and sniff. Loudly
I am repulsed by anyone who isn’t a child that still makes decisions and utters views they don’t believe in for the sake of cheap popularity.
I am bothered that we still stay in jobs we don’t like, working for bosses we despise, living lifestyles we can’t afford simply because we are wondering quietly ‘What will people say/think?’
The truth is nobody cares. Whatever we are gossiping about you now shall infinitely be replaced by a bigger scandal before nightfall. Just. Do. You.
I know it is easier said than done but it is not impossible.
I find that real failure occurs when we don’t pursue our dreams, not when they weigh us down to the point of wanting to give up. It’s also true that not all of them will come true. BUT How shall we know if we can only sit and say “hmm, for her she’s lucky at least she had her money” Goodness! How many people have risen above humble backgrounds to get to the top? Try, fail, try, fail…repeat.
What I am advocating for <even to myself as I am also a victim sometimes> is some honest pain.
When you get depressed, ‘Oh it is in your head, those are mzungu problems.’ Counselling? What? No child of mine will be seen going to a counsellor. Never mind that the child’s problems could have stemmed from your parenting skills, or lack thereof.
That’s if you are lucky. In many areas, any mental illness is ‘community diagnosed’ as madness, probably a result of bewitching.
I know of a young man of only 25 years who is locked in the house every day of his life because he abused drugs, right here in Kampala. It is his paid caretaker who told me but I have so many questions for his parents. Visitors are banned from their premises in case the ‘mad man’ strikes. Writing this alone just gives me shivers. Why?!
So yes, a lot of what I had to say must have been lost in translation. If it’s incoherent, it’s only because it is the exact reflection of my thoughts on this matter.
Talk to your children, friends, family and anyone who cares to listen. Don’t allow your loved ones to feel so alone that a suicide note will be their only explanation of their last years of pain.
Do not be fooled by airbrushed photos of everyone livin’ da vida loca.’ If you only share what you think the world wants to know, what makes you think we are any different?
Cry. Fight. Despair.
I will take scars over pretence any day. The latter wears away to expose rot. The former exist to remind us of healing.
I am the first to admit. I am blessed to be in the position that I am right now, playing a small role in transforming lives. However, I am also the first to admit that it would be impossible without sacrifices that many have made to get us to where we are. Ironically, I also know that there is a lot worse ahead but it will be rewarding. When Jane walked up to me and said “Eh, is it fair? You guys are in the papers and t.v every other day!”
I responded “Eh, is it fair that you don’t understand all that work we put in?”
I am honestly happier to discuss the process than newspapers that will wrap a rolex.
Whenever you can, share a lesson from your pain. You’ll be surprised how many people have gone through the same or worse. You might be amazed by how many lives you can touch.