2020 fucked me up in ways that I am just beginning to realize. It might’ve been a tough year for everyone, but for me, it is where my string of mental health struggles commenced. The problem started around March when Covid-19 was only in China.
I had the worst kind of cold, with chest pains and loss of smell. I could go for minutes struggling to breathe while coughing hysterically. During one of those coughing sprees, phlegm accidentally entered my windpipe, and I found myself holding my throat as I struggled to pull in air to my lungs.
Almost two minutes passed, and I could feel myself losing consciousness. Luckily, I managed to pass the blockage and start breathing again.
I did not think much about the situation until later when I woke up at exactly midnight. I remember because I looked at the time, and it got me curious about how someone could wake up at exactly midnight. In my 'midnight thought,' I realized that I could have died that day.
I felt that I woke up at exactly midnight because I was not meant to see another day. In a moment, I found myself unable to breathe. I could feel my soul literally leave my body. I was convinced that I was dying. I tried to take in air, but somehow my lungs had stopped working.
Shakingly, I crawled out of my bed and drew a paper from my desk, and wrote frantically. I was drafting my 'death note.' I was writing about how much I loved my family and my friends; it was what I imagined would be my final note to the world.
A minute or two passed, and I realized if I was going to die, I did not intend to die alone. A friend of mine lived in the next room, and I picked up my phone and asked her urgently to come into my room. I remember how fast she came and how her knock gave me the strength to push myself off the floor to open the door. 'I am dying; please help me pray,' I whispered urgently as her face came to view through my opened door.
She looked at me with amusement and wonder before realizing I was being serious. She took my hands, guided me to my bed, and talked to me. I cannot remember what we talked about, but I know that I somehow managed to calm down in the process, and I could breathe again. At some point, we even called her pastor, who prayed for me.
Over the week after the incident, I was so jumpy about anything. I could start shaking if someone beside me talked too loudly. I slept with my lights on with earphones blasting comedies from YouTube that I could no longer laugh at. I felt like I was living on borrowed time. Like I had cheated death, and it was lurking beneath the shadows waiting for the slightest chance to gulp me up.
I was afraid of everything. I wanted to talk to anyone about what had happened that night, but my lips remained shut. I was seeing someone incredible at the time, but I had to break it off because my mental health felt so fragile. Two weeks later, Covid-19 reached Kenya, and offices were ordered to close.
I remember I ran home on the very same day. Home has always been my comfort zone, and I knew going home might help me escape the hell my mind was putting me in. As expected, everything disappeared when I got home. All the worries, anxiety, and mental trauma disappeared when I set my foot home. The government had us locked in our homes up to around August, after which borders were opened.
I did not have any issues with my mental health during that time, and I somehow forgot what had happened. In August, I decided it was time I returned to my place. It felt as if I was returning to a crime scene. On the same night, I had a nightmare about that eventful day in March, only this time my friend was not around to help me. When I woke up in the morning, I was set to return home.
Only I realized I could not live at home for the rest of my life. I needed to drag myself out of the hell my mind was putting me in. I found myself online, trying to understand how I could drag myself out of the mental prison I had put myself in. At this moment, I realized that what I had experienced at that time was a panic attack. Believe it or not, I never imagined it as a panic attack.
Even after close to 5 months, I still thought I escaped death that day in March. Reading more about it made it easier for me to get through the days. Sometimes, though, I could feel death lurking like a hungry lion loaming for my soul. I could lie in my bed during these days without the energy to do anything. I did not have the energy or will to do something as basic as getting out of bed.
Such days happened only once a week. However, sometime around September, I stayed in bed for two days. I was not on my phone. I was not reading. I was not watching. I just lay there thinking about literary nothing but feeling everything at once. I felt tired and out of control. I felt like someone else was in my body, tying it down to my bed and forcing me to remain in a dormant state.
At the time, I was doing an unofficial internship at a company where it was not a requirement to report daily. As the second day in bed dragged on, I felt nothing. It's hard to explain but imagine not feeling anything or thinking for two days straight. It felt like my mind was backed up in the corner, asleep and tied up, while something else took control of my brain. I wanted to feel something, anything.
I wanted to punch the wall to awaken my brain. A sudden urge to jump off a building as a means of gaining had me jolting out of bed. I had never had any suicidal thoughts, which is why that moment had me close to another panic attack. Thankfully, the thought had jolted my mind to start functioning again, but it still felt blurred.
I could feel something, but it was somehow through some lens and cobwebs. I could not scrub off my vision. Over the week, I struggled to stay sane in the blurry veil of emotions and mental stability. I started going to my internship every day just for the company.
Over the weekends, I would go home as an excuse to escape to my comfort zone. I would go through the week with one goal in mind, 'if I get through the week, I will be able to go home for the weekend.' At times, it would be on Wednesday, and I would wake up with that looming feeling of death.
But the thought of Friday evening made me struggle out of bed and push on in autopilot mode throughout the day. I wanted to tell someone about the struggle I was going through, but I did not think anyone would understand. I would visit my friends often.
Hoping that somehow they would notice how fake my laugh was. How made up my smile seemed, or how disconnected I looked. But for some reason, no one seemed to notice. In the morning, I would look at my mirror and wonder how it felt to be normal and not to have the cloud of darkness looming above me.
I could not remember a time when my mind was free. When I was fully in control of my life. Somehow and without me noticing, all that melted away. I remember how happy I was the first time I woke up and felt full like I was truly awake.
On that day, on my way to work, I happily moved out of the way when someone pushed me to get ahead. I smiled at the foul smell of exhaust fumes and carbonized smoke as a lorry zoomed past. I gazed gratefully at the punishing sun, thanking God for that moment. There are times when I still feel that looming darkness above me.
But I have learned how it feels to lose control, and it is not a feeling I ever want to experience. So every time that cloud of despair zooms near me, I distract myself and chain that cloud deep in my mind. I am going on a trip.
I visit new places, visit my home, and start a new project. I sometimes feel like I am postponing the inevitable, and I won't lie; that scares me. But my coping mechanism has gotten me this far. Two years and still pushing.
You are probably thinking, 'you should see a therapist. Who can afford one in this economy anyway? Plus, I am scared that a therapist could unlock that darkness. And I will find myself lying in bed again without an escape and probably making a stupid decision.
Don't we all have some darkness locked away inside us?