Dear Mom and Dad
If you’re reading this, it’s too late. I was depressed but not anymore – now I’m gone. This isn’t anyone’s fault – not yours for not noticing the signs, which I effectively masked it seems. Our society perceives everything in black and white: but most things aren’t that clear cut. Therefore, it’s not simply a matter of your parenting skills. But even in death I wonder, will my passing cause you to question how you raised me? Will my little brothers and sisters be safe under your wings? You tell me.
Till we meet again …
Words by Michelle Kundisai Mutangadura (Vlogger)
“Children can’t be stressed”.
This is a sentiment often heard in African homes that makes identifying depression in children nearly impossible, since stress is shrugged off as something exclusively “adult”. But if that’s the case, why do children then qualify under the Diagnostic Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, and 60% of the time this is related to the parents. Depression in a child could in fact be a result of a parent’s undiagnosed depression. We are raised in a culture oblivious to mental health, so we’re taught to keep our “wild thoughts” to ourselves and act like we have it together. But, just for the record, there were times when I was emotionally hurt, crying and you would say,
From a young age we are groomed to contain our pain – emotional and physical. Our expression of anguish is met with rejection. So, we learn to negotiate trauma because if we tell the world we’re “not okay” that deepens the rift at home and opens up old wounds. So, we learn to negotiate with our parents. How many times did I ask to change schools because of bullying? Only to be told:
“Wakaenda kunoita zvechikoro kwete zveshamwari”.
Then you cut my hair. Why? “Ndokuti usanyanye kutariswa nevakomana”, you replied. Without considering how ugly and out of place I already felt. I was already being ostracized by the girls at school, and to make matters worse, now boys weren’t going to look at me too. Unseen and unheard I became the bald, silent, ugly one – a permanent part of “the nobodies” at school. Nothing to write home about. I quickly learnt that other people, not me, set the standards of beauty and worth. The social spectrum was not conducive for learning anything else and I was done negotiating. So, I crawled into my isolation and four years later I came out with “U’s”. Then you both said,
“Enda kumusha, wakafoira”.
Sometimes depression arises from parents’ high expectations which the child may fail to meet. In the case of education, we hear a lot of cases where children commit suicide over failing Zimsec or Cambridge final examinations. This is because children aren’t taught that it is okay to fail because you can always try again. After every school term children are asked to show their results to their parents. Their subsequent response determines whether or not the child understands that failure isn’t the end of the road. Beating your child or shouting at them after they’ve failed leads to feelings of inadequacy, depression, and suicidal thoughts. It’s important to sit down with your child and try to hear their side of the story, rather than to chastise them over something that is a recurring aspect of life. Yes, failure is a recurring part of life. However, African parents are not adept at handling failure. Some even go as far as physically removing any traces of it in their life by sending the failures far away to the rural areas.
So, over the weekend, I packed my bags and was sent far away from my siblings. Out of sight, I was not only hidden but excluded from the so-called family trips. Family trips that I could no longer be a part of. Texting my siblings when I could, I learnt that failing was the end of “everything”. Understanding that failure resulted in abandonment and no one offering a helping hand – I was now a “loser”. In my isolation I then had to learn how to be a winner by reading text books, “toughening up”, and “getting serious” about life. I just could not afford to fail again, because failing is outside of normalcy. Dearest Mom and Dad – is this our only option?
In any event, I found new options, or should I say, new friends. Bad friends actually. Bad because they made me feel so good in all the wrong ways. Alcohol was my first friend. He taught me so much. He taught me how to get to the top, how to get high up and not too tipsy cause I might just fall. I abused the friendship, which I still regret honestly; that’s the one friend that was there for me when I needed a little laughter. So, I made another friend. I liked her more because we had a lot in common – and she was cheaper anyways. She taught me that sometimes it’s okay to just relax and sleep through life. “Nothing really matters” – she emphasized, and I felt like that’s something I had already learnt on my own anyway. Bronco was a real gee, she put the ‘dope’ in coping. In fact, they both taught me so much more about myself but that wasn’t enough. I was still a bit “off”, so I choose death.
I choose death because a parent losing a child to their bad choices is the worst thing that could ever happen, right? It should make them question whether or not they are raising us right. We live in a world where it’s important to consult psychologists, therapists, and other professionals about mental health issues, but if you try to talk to your friends and family you are termed sick, “emo”, going crazy or bewitched by Mai *******. Most of us carry the weight of the world home without reprieve. We are stuffed with negative thoughts that we should be able to offload to our parents at the very least – but we cannot. Our mothers and fathers often practice more discipline than nurturing. Thus, some youths choose suicide because it’s scarier to talk to their parents about depression, anxiety, addiction, bipolar disorders, and other mental health problems, than it is to take their own life. In their anger and frustration, they act irrationally and take fatal action hoping their death will make Mom and Dad question themselves. They expect them to make a change knowing that fear will at least force them to raise their remaining siblings differently. In hindsight, what some teen suicides really wanted to say was – “I’m depressed” – so you could teach them to tame their negative thoughts.
Parents are supposed to be their children’s friends and mentors. It’s a unique role. African parents need to understand that helping someone grow up to be an accepted, successful member of society requires some parental-emotional-aptitude along with the school fees, clothes, food, and shelter. Your actions, words, beliefs, and experiences become a part of the adults we become. So, it is important to build a relationship with your child strong enough for them to come crying to you when the world throws **** at them. When they stumble, it should be you they seek guidance from first. In the end, so much is left “unsaid” to the people that matter to us the most and so much is left “unheard” by our parents because someone outside our homes said, “it’s not in our culture”. Although depression isn’t as common in children as it is in adults, it should not be swept under the rug because these kids become parents with undiagnosed mental disorders. Your kids’ “wild thoughts” matter, so talk to them now so their kids don’t write suicidal letters to them too.
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