I write this article in honor of my mom Sara Shewangizaw, who passed away from complications related to Covid-19 on May 15 of 2020. I also dedicate this article to the countless millions of people in America and hundreds of millions around the world who struggle with depression, anxiety and other mental maladies and have to muster the strength to overcome debilitating sorrows and incapacitating angst to survive each morning they wake up.
This is especially true of parents who suffer from mental illness like my mom did throughout most of her life. Not only did she have to juggle the burdens that comes with depression and anxiety, she had to do so while taking care of four children. It’s only now, in my mom’s absence and once I have a child myself, that I realize the depth of her power. For most of my adult life—after witnessing my mom cope with her demons for my days of youth to adulthood—I built up a wall between us and learned to love her from a distance.
The woman who brought me into this world, and who was my best friend growing up, all the sudden became an abstraction after I saw her trying to hurt herself in ways that have deeply traumatized me. I did not do it on purpose; my decision to build a wall between my mother and me was not malicious—it was a choice made out of self-preservation. Unable to understand why mom agonized while my friends’ moms seemingly thrived, I grew estranged from my own mother. In time, this decision became my own crucible.
Like a cursed inheritance, the sadness and unending stresses that haunted my mom for decades were passed down to me the minute that my father passed away from lung cancer in 2001. After spending most of the aughts partying, drinking and cavorting with countless friendly strangers of the opposite sex—many of whom were most likely bearing their own crosses—years of suppressed memories and buried anguish came gushing out like the Ghion River during rainy season in Ethiopia. In 2008, while driving myself into exhaustion working full time, enrolled in graduate school full time and traveling to 16 states on behalf of the Obama campaign, I suddenly buckled and in short order spiraled into an abyss.
It’s been more than a dozen years since I experienced my first depressive episode yet I still carry the weight of the pernicious condition that my mom once battled with. Even though I am in a good place right now, it was only last year that I once again fell into the black lake of unfeeling and the red sea of dread that I would never wish upon my worst enemy. The only difference between my mom and me is that I live in a society where depression and anxiety are not treated like leprosy during the time of Yeshua. Yet even given the fact that mental illness is not as a taboo in America the way it is in the Ethiopian community, I still found it easier to hide in shame instead of letting others know that I was hurting. In the process, I berated myself for being weak when what I needed the most was compassion and kindness for Teodrose.
To love yourself, to be self-compassionate, is not selfishness but essential to truly love others. Feed people as you feed yourself, care for humanity but care for thee first. If not, your empathy will morph from a blessing into a curse::
In loving memory of my mom #SarasSong
— Teodrose Fikremariam (@Teodrose_Fikre) March 21, 2021
It’s precisely because of these hard-learned lessons in self-care, which enabled me to climb out of the hole of darkness that enveloped me most of last year, that I write this article so that others can avoid the pitfalls that claimed my mom and long stretches of my life. If you find yourself enmeshed in the blues and distress—or even if you are doing well at this precise moment—I hope you really internalize what you are about to read because I truly believe that my mom would have fared better and I would have not sank into the pits of hell on five different occasions if we both knew what I am outlining below.
First and foremost, never withdraw when you are facing hardship. Isolation is the devil’s kiss; the minute you are seduced by solitude, you will double your woes and condemn yourself to hopelessness. Community to humanity is like the heart to our bodies: if we are not connected to others, we will be tethered to misery.
Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their work:10If one falls down, his friend can help him up. But pity the man who falls and has no one to help him up! Also, if two lie down together, they will keep warm. But how can one keep warm alone? Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.” ~ Ecclesiastes 4:10-12
In the age of social media and social distancing, we are abandoning the therapeutic measures that have preserved humanity for centuries while accepting new norms like chat, texts and emojis from people who are not physically next to us. The predicable outcomes from self-segregation and wired connections are skyrocketing rates of addictions, mental and physical afflictions and suicides that keep taking the lives of countless thousands of loving souls like my mom. This is not to say that you have to be a social butterfly if you are an introvert, a community can be a few people you stay close to and who understand you.
Key to recovering after depression and anxiety, beyond staying plugged into people you can touch with your hands instead of those you type with your fingers, is to be kind to yourself. There is nothing as powerful in this world as words; in the tongue lies both life and death. As we speak of ourselves we will eventually become. The most destructive part of depression is the negative talk that serve to amplify insecurities and magnify manageable problems into unclimbable mountains. Once the mind hijacks our conscience, we get led by our noses with whispers of doubt and self-loathing that drown out everything beautiful and only floats the miseries that abound.
The key to break out of this cycle of self-flagellation is to speak affectionately about yourself. Do not let depression deceive you, in you are latent powers that can shake the universe. Moreover, no matter your station in life, know that you are beautiful and loved as you were when you were born. I know these words that I am writing might as well be Cantonese to people who find themselves at the doorsteps of desolation; I know because I similarly dismissed people who tried to encourage me during my two year stretch of homelessness as naives who have no conception of my misfortunes. What I did not realize at that time was that these kind souls were angels in human form who were planting seeds of hope that eventually blossomed once my season of scarcity passed.
My blessings! I smile when I see this picture because it reminds me that despite what’s happening outside, children continue to get older and love will continue to grow.#FikreBekele #OurLoveGrows pic.twitter.com/72XcmEtkfX
— Bethlehem Bekele (@BettyBeke) December 4, 2020
I wish I could say these words to my mom but she is resting eternally with my father so I offer this article in her memory to others who can use an encouragement during these difficult times. You are not your circumstances; no matter how bleak this moment seems, just know that all things eventually pass. In time, the tears that you shed will be the broken water that renews your life and rebirths happiness. Do not give up and keep pushing forward; when you feel like withdrawing do the opposite and when you want to scold yourself have self-compassion. I write this article in remembrance of my mom Sara and in tribute to all who struggle with mental afflictions. Words matter; do not beat yourself up, instead speak with love and hope and they will come into existence #BeKind2Yourself Click To Tweet
“Out of suffering have emerged the strongest souls; the most massive characters are seared with scars.” ~ Khalil Gibran
At the bottom of my articles is usually a way for readers to contribute to me financially and to support Ghion Journal, but on Sundays I redirect people’s generosity to others who need the help.
Help Autumn and Her Kids
“My name is Autumn and I am asking for donations to help my family through this time .Please my family and I could use any help. The rest of my family does not have the capacity to help me and my children. Any amount would help and change our lives at this time. Your donations will help me continue to pay for the necessary things that help my children and I.”
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