Ten years ago, I wrote an article titled “Depression Fikre” where openly I talked about my struggle with debilitating sadness that we all go through even if many of us don’t acknowledge it. The title was a take on my last name—Fikre means my love in Amharic—my intent was to convey how painful moments during various times in my life wedded me to ennui. I realized eventually that hiding my struggle became a struggle within itself. By acknowledging my woes, I wanted to at once loosen the shame of feeling powerless and in the process help others who suffer in silence.
There was nothing controversial about what I wrote, I did not talk about politics nor did I talk about divisive social issues. I expected nothing but positive feedback and responses from other people who were struggling to overcome their demons too. To the contrary, I learned for the first time love and positivity draw the ire and negativities of people. I was dismayed that something I wrote with the aim of giving hope to others would be the subject of such vitriol and hateful retorts. However, my initial exasperation was soon replaced with humility by an email I received the day after I posted my missive.
Stuck at a red light during my commute home from work, I got an email notification on my phone with a subject header that drew my attention. I pulled my car over to read a note addressed to me titled “thank you so much Teddy” from someone named Selam. In the email, Selam detailed how she had been struggling with depression for more than a year and that how lately she was feeling more and more hopeless. She felt alone and unable to cope; getting out of bed was a challenge and the future seemed barren. In a community where depression is treated like leprosy in biblical narratives, she noted how it was inspiring that a fellow Ethiopian would write about something so taboo and put light on an issue she was wrestling with.
At the end, Selam said one thing that moved me to tears. She said that my words gave her a flicker of hope for a better tomorrow. This is something I know to be true, depression is a vexing affliction that is made worse by loneliness. Withdrawing in sadness is akin to taking a hammer to our temples in response to migraines. What is needed the most during doldrums is knowing that we are not alone—Selam found camaraderie through the encouragement of a stranger. To this day, out of all the articles I’ve written, the “Depression Fikre” article stands out as one of the ones I’m the most proud of. It taught me a lesson that small gestures are enough to change the trajectory of our lives. The same way I impacted Selam and gave her hope during her time of despondency, others have done the same for me on countless occasions throughout my journeys.
The rendezvous I had with depression in 2008—after I drove myself into a rut by taking on too much and not understanding my limitation—was but an appetizer. People pleasing is a harvest to receivers and a poison to the giver. In 2015, the floor beneath my feet cracked and cratered my world into a tempest of strife and adversity. Indiscretions, bad business decisions and malfeasance that darkened my doorsteps soon enough witnessed my life crumbling into distress and homelessness. I survived the storms only to be marooned on an island of melancholy and desolation. Down on my luck and down to my last penny, I ended up at a farm mission in Wellington, Colorado facing the same crucible that Selam faced in 2008.
In a time of seemingly endless tribulation, what restored faith in my heart and rekindled purpose in my soul were the smallest acts of kindness by people I did not know. Angels do exist on this earth, except angels are strangers who become friends as they give love and good will when the world is steady giving us cold shoulders. We can protest from here until the next millennium and keep voting until the sun loses her luminescence, but without love all actions are rendered meaningless. The answer is within us, the world is only a reflection of who we are inwardly and the scars we bear within our spirits. If we don’t first mend the pains we carry, everything we see externally is nothing but a projection of the wounds we harbor internally.
I’ve been reflecting on these issues for the past couple of weeks, a reflection which hit a crescendo this week as I encountered a scene that reminded me of my past austerity. A chance meeting with a pregnant homeless lady last Sunday served as a crystallizing moment, a tear drop on her cheeks in response to my act of empathy reminded me that we can do more to alleviate injustice on the ground than we can by pontificating about politics through the ether. Martin Luther King once noted, “darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that, hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that”. If we are to bend the arc of history towards justice, we can only hope to do so by being the light in a world that is being consumed by the darkness of selfishness and ego. Click To Tweet
It has been a year and a half since the launch of the Ghion Journal. In that time, I’ve come to realize that politics and outrage draws infinitely more eyeballs than the articles I write about faith, hope and love. We live in an age where rage and clap backs are prized and generosity and benevolence are devalued. The ego is a bedeviling companion, in my quest to be more read and gain wider traction, my aim to help others has been subverted by my drive to be acknowledged as a writer. This quest to prove my worth was the same reason I ended mugged by depression in 2008—proving people wrong is never a pathway to happiness. This I know to be true through observation and experience; it is easier to fight the wind outside our windows than confront the tempest inside our souls.
A friend once asked me “what if you are contributing to the very divides you are speaking against, the system is cunning, they want you to expend your energy being angry instead of spreading positive energy into the world”. Alas, this is exactly what most of us are doing. The injustices of the world are logs on the fire and we keep breathing the kerosene of animosity and vindictiveness on the flame that is roasting our planet. Instead of wasting our energies on politics meant to splinter us and wedge issues that are purposed to breed rancor, what if we set aside our differences and focused on the things we all have in common? Instead of declaring wars outwardly for the sake of peace, let us seek peace within our hearts so that one day our children can have a chance to live in a world without conflict.
Going forward, I shall dedicate more of my writings to discuss the inner struggles we all face and spend less time focusing on politics and the sensationalism that is injected into the public square by a media industry that thrives through disunion and antagonism. If the audience for my writing diminishes as a consequence, so be it; I’d rather impact one person who struggles than reach a million who scan and move on to the next article. It might feel good to rant into the night and have many people clap along with our grievances, but the surest way to make a difference is through the subtleties of kindness and love we impart to others that go unnoticed by all except the ones who need them the most. #BeTheLight
“Live your beliefs and you can turn the world around.” ~ Henry David Thoreau
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Check out the Ghion Cast below where I talk about how we can all impact one another and make a difference in the world not through indignation and rage but through kindness and love.
Originally from Ethiopia with roots to Atse Tewodros II, Lij Teodrose is a former community organizer whose writing was incorporated into Barack Obama's South Carolina primary victory speech in 2008. He pivoted away from politics and decided to stand for collective justice after experiencing the reality of the forgotten masses. His writing defies conventional wisdom and challenges readers to look outside the constraints of labels and ideologies that serve to splinter the people. Lij Teodrose uses his pen to give a voice to the voiceless and to speak truth to power.