mental illness has never been my problem. I’m mentally stable to the point of being emotionally logical—I could write a thesis about my feelings for any given person in my life complete with bibliographies and case studies. I’m not trying to be funny. it’s true.
I’ve been depressed. there have been times when I was so depressed I fuckin worried myself, wanted to tell someone to come watch over me and make sure I was okay. (I’m okay.)
it’s the most heartbreaking thing to watch your mother lose herself in her own depression. it’s a pain I can’t put words to. it hurts so much, I’ve stopped feeling. I’ve just shut my feelings off, sent them to go shudder and huddle into themselves in a faraway country. she says really mean things to me. and doesn’t remember. she disowned me a week before Christmas. told me she never wanted to speak to me again. then she called me from Nebraska, thousands of miles from home, wanting me to bring her back home. she didn’t remember telling me the things she told me that hurt me so deep I was walking around like a zombie for a week. she didn’t fuckin remember the words that devastated my soul.
she calls me—crying. angry. happy. regretful. depressed. yelling. whispering. sometimes she goes through all these emotions in one conversation. sometimes she hangs up on me. sometimes she cries. sometimes she blames me. sometimes she wants me to forgive her. sometimes she thinks I’m her perfect daughter. sometimes she blames me for everything. sometimes she thinks I’m her savior. but never is she my mother. she hasn’t been my mother in years. I’ve been mothering my mother for years. she’s someone else. my mother is gone. you know her? you don’t know her. the things my mama taught me…that woman, who taught me how to sew, who held me when Aymi died, who always made sure I knew I was Nigerian, knew where we came from and was proud, that woman who used to make the best egusi soup on either side of the Atlantic, that woman who taught me how to be funny, that woman. my mama. my mother. she’s gone. so fuckin gone. depression took her. paranoia took her. the pain of losing everyone she ever loved, except me, took her. the whoever and their army that she’s convinced is after her took her. maybe her soul is buried with her mother. or with her dead son, my brother. or maybe the pain of being apart from Naija done broke her heart proper. she won’t listen to me. I’ve tried to save her more times than I’ve tried to save myself. cape with the s on my chest. I’ve ran relay races passing the baton to myself, running and running, trying—and I can’t. I can’t give her mind and pride and laughter and joy and life and will to believe in herself back to her. someone stole her from her. if I knew where to go to get her back, I’d go get her back so I could give her back to herself. and have my mama again. do you know how much I need a mother? how many times I want to call a woman who knows me, from breast feeding to baby pictures to puberty to high school dances to college admissions essays to graduation day, and say “mama, tell me why she broke my heart?” and have her comfort me and tell me my wife is somewhere looking for me. do you know how much I want to go home and have her make me a plate of my favorites and not have to tell her how to cook anything because she knows? because her hands making that meal for me my whole life is why it’s my favorite, is why I can’t have it any other way? do you know how much I miss home? I mean the home we made in this country—our home away from home.
I miss our plates and silverware—is that weird? I miss my mama’s silverware and that small kitchen with the blue carpet and delicate little curtain, brown cabinets and old stove. I miss our broken old school 1980s tv, on top of which our new school (well, now it’s old school too) tv sat. the tv we watched benny hill and eastenders and guiding light and the young and the restless on. I miss the glass dining room table where we ate every dinner together everyday of my entire childhood, except the years I was in Nigeria.
do you know what it’s like to watch your own mother disintegrate before your eyes? lose herself and lose so much weight she makes a dandelion seem heavy in comparison? as I write this, the tears are coming and I refuse to let them fall. not again. I’ve cried so many tears, I just won’t anymore.
and then they wonder why I’m hard. they do—the women I love. they call me hard, say I won’t open up. of course I am and of course I won’t. if I love you and you break, like I loved my mama and she broke, how the fuck am I supposed to survive that?
mental illness, depression, paranoia. none of these things are my problem. none of these things effects me. I’m mentally stable. to the point of being emotionally logical. no matter how angry I am, I’m like a lawyer with my emotions—organized and eloquent. I could take any argument to the supreme court and I would win. I’m not like her. they tell you about mental illness and depression. in commercials and in magazine advertisements. they don’t talk about how much it fucks you up to watch the person you love vanish before your eyes, swallowed by a world you can’t see and can’t change. no matter what anyone says, I’ll always feel I haven’t and didn’t do enough. I’m not depressed. but I have plenty of sadness. I carry my own sadness and guilt that I can’t save her from her suffering.