Mar 22 • 5M

The Birthday Issue

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Ruminations, ramblings and rants on the experiment with an N of 1 otherwise known as my lived experience.
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I had a more elaborate essay planned on food and how it makes friendships flourish but it started to ring a little hollow when I realized that I’d be celebrating my 26th birthday alone. This would be a marked difference from my 25th for which I held a pool party but it’s eerily similar to my 22nd that I spent hospitalized at the Lagos University Teaching Hospital for severe depression.

It was really quite unexpected. Birthdays have never been too much of a big deal for me but I had been making plans for weeks for a birthday photoshoot for this one. From strongarming my aspiring photographer friend to agreeing to the shoot, to planning the outfits and generally having fun. After all, I’d only turn 22 on the 22nd once, right?

Then everything ground to a halt when my laptop and phone were stolen at my university campus. Between weathering my mother’s displeasure and the pain I felt from my thousands of novels gone, just like that, I felt absolutely terrible.

Subsequently, I had a routine clinical appointment and after a few questions, the psychiatrist realized I had been using my enthusiasm for my birthday to cover up suicidal ideation. The enthusiasm however couldn’t stand up to the loss and embarrassment I felt the day of the theft. That was the first I heard of the term “Atypical Depression”, also known as “Smiling Depression”. Apparently, you could be cheerful and bubbly but just one straw too many away from severely spiralling. As a result, the consultant recommended that I spend some time in the hospital, under observation.

The ward had a gate like a correctional facility and the same dreary paint job and barely sanitary facilities I imagine some such facilities have. Men and women shared the same ward, but a wall with a doorway served as a demarcation. We weren’t allowed phones or laptops and had to bring snacks and supplies as those would not be provided. I was the youngest on the ward, excluding three other people; a girl and two boys.

The girl was brought in the same day I was, though later in the evening. She had apparently been transferred from the A&E for attempting suicide via drug overdose. She was pretty, slim, tall and accompanied by her siblings. In the following weeks, I came to envy her for a very specific reason: She got visitors. Perhaps because of possible stigma, or because it was difficult for her, my mother refused to let anyone know I had been hospitalized. She also was only able to visit me herself once or twice in my three weeks there, due to her work.

The teenager beside me though, got visitors every day. Perhaps because of the severity of her condition, or that she simply had a larger social circle, I don’t think a day passed when she did not receive guests. However, those guests had to leave at 4 pm so when she had ulcer attacks at night, and the nurses were fed up with her refusing to eat, I stayed up and spoonfed her.

The other younger people on the ward were a boy with the same diagnosis as me who believed he had been called to abandon university to become a minister and another there for drug abuse. Everyone could see the other boy would return to his habits as soon as he left the hospital and was only there because his private university required a certificate of rehabilitation.

Between the four of us, we tried to make the most of the monotony of being on the ward. Said monotony was only broken up by subpar meals, medication, group therapy, the radio that played all day until lights out or an outburst by one of the other patients. One of my few fond memories of that period was being taught the current popular dance by the other three “youngsters”. On my birthday, they did their best to make the day as lively as possible for me, especially as I was particularly down after the doctors had decided not to discharge me in time for me to celebrate outside.

Since then, I haven’t been able to muster much enthusiasm for birthdays and until last year’s pool party, hadn’t really celebrated any. However, being in a different country, I’m experiencing a sense of isolation as strong as that I felt on the ward. But, in the same vein, I know it’s not entirely accurate. I might be alone physically, much as I was on the ward, but there are people who care for me, distant though they may be and like the friends I made on the ward, there are those around me who try to make things better how they can.

This brings me back to the present. Earlier this year, much like in 2018, I had another episode and am only now recovering from its effects. That said, though I may not have a big feast at which all my loved ones are gathered, I do have the comfort of knowing that I am loved and appreciated and that makes all the difference to me. I’ll probably schedule this post to go out in the evening, so I may or may not be able to update how the actual birthday went but know that if you’re receiving this, I do not take the gift of your time and attention lightly.

Until next time, Peace and Warm Hugs.

PS: I am in fact sending this out really late (and with minimal editing 😅). I decided to add a recording of some of the music from the chamber music performance I attended this evening. Enjoy!