I stare down at my swollen ankles and use my hands to trace the chubbiness right from the ankles to the toes. I used to want to be this fat. The kind of nice plump that people could tell by looking at my feet, that I was well cared for. Now I know it’s not healthy to be over a certain weight given one’s specific body type. But as a young person who pretty much weighed between 80 and 100lbs until my mid 20’s, I was teased mercilessly. Complete with buck teeth, I was the brunt of many a joke in my classrooms over my entire school career, that is until I wore myself out praying to become fat, eating all things fatty, and padding my clothes.
It’s funny how a tiny act like staring at swollen feet can evoke such a powerful memory.
In any case, I had almost a four hour layover in Brussels. It’s slowly dwindling and I am happy for that. There are no shops in this section of the airport. This is probably a good thing since I am broke anyway. This trip is costing me a lot more than I bargained for. Or maybe the truth is I didn’t know what I was getting myself into when I agreed to move my life to Ghana for a year. With a ticket over $1800, airline baggage fees about $300, shipping 3 barrels costing $175 each, travel to and from Cali, shopping for professional clothing and other household things, I think I am close to $5000 in total moving costs.
Was it worth it all? What happens if I decide this is not for me, and I want out? What do I do with all these things I’ve shipped to Ghana? But what if I decide, I want to stay? How many of my contemporaries return to Ghana and stay this early in their lives,l. at age 34? I know of folks retiring there after they’ve acquired their “fortunes” or amassed enough wealth to live better than they used to live when they were there. I know these folks are around my mother’s age. But what would the country look like if my contemporaries all came home in their numbers and pushed for better functioning public service systems. New public restrooms. Dual-, better yet, multiple-carriage roadways that were built in the allotted amount of time with no contractor “chopping” the money. Traffic regulations implemented and thwarters penalized. Child labor abolished and perpetrators dealt with harshly. The status of women elevated and their well-being and thriving be of national concern. What if my coming home, our coming home would aid in this process? Would I have the patience to deal with the traffic, poor cell service, filthy public restrooms or lack of, and the superiorist attitudes of men?
Lots of people commend me when I say I’m returning to my home country. Most wish me well amid comments of “there’s no place like home.” A few laugh out loud in my face saying: “no way you are going to make it. Those people will drive you nuts.” I first I saw this as some challenge. Then with sadness, as I saw my own people give up on their own developing countries. Then I saw the added layer of how they perceived my assimilation. Was I so assimilated that I was unable to return to my own culture? Then there’s my mom who says jokingly, Kuukua loves Ghana. She’s a Ghanaian through and through.” I’m usually waiting for the “you can’t take the Ghanaian out of her” part. It doesn’t come. Maybe that’s my own baggage. Is this a bad thing? Idk for right now.
For now, my swollen feet tell the story of my long journey to try out this my home country. I’m in Brussels after traveling from Columbus to Chicago, a total of about 8 ½ hours flying time but more of prep and stress. I still have about 8 more hours to go not including the layover. Ugh! Anyway, onward I say.Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( 6 so far )
So how crazy is it that two Sundays ago I wrote the piece below (still needs editing (it’s my MFA Non-Fic piece this weekend), and tonight found this one by Bassey Ikpi
“Emmm…Bipolar much?” My two friends quipped as they entered my apartment and took in the scene. I had done a 360 over the two days immediately following Christmas. It was a completely different apartment than when I first moved in the summer of 2009. I felt good in the new configurations. It didn’t feel like it had the last eighteen months. Like I was ready to leave when the winds of change came calling. This time it felt settled in a sort of calm peaceful way. I still knew this wasn’t a permanent location, but for some reason after Christmas, I felt like I was tired of waiting to move. I needed a feeling of stability and I needed it now.
“So what prompted this latest switcheroo here?” Em smirked pointing specifically to the latest addition in my apartment: two new birchwood IKEA chairs and some new curtains.
“They were on sale, I said raising my voice a notch and going on the defense. “I spent three days in IKEA and I only spend $65!” I stated proudly.
Three days! Jesus Christ! Em, prone to the worst case of dramatic utterances, exclaimed.
“Yeah Kuks, why didn’t you buy me some chairs? Cee added.
“Ok, what happened this time?” Em asked, both of them ignoring my comment about careful spending and focusing instead on the behavior that possibly underlined the 360 change in my apartment.
I was diagnosed first with Clinical Depression, and then with Bipolar Disorder in 2006.
For years before the diagnosis, I had felt something was not quite right, and this something was evident in other family members too. As Africans, my family never spoke of mental illness unless it pertained to others, and it was always in hushed tones and with such dread as if it was contagious. Perhaps it was. Or perhaps it was because some of us had a more personal experience with it than we let on. Whatever the case, I had persevered through my first Graduate program with severe bouts of depression and anxiety. It only became apparent to others when I, the straight-A student, stopped showing up for class. As a live-in campus minister ministering to a hundred plus first and second year students, I really could not afford to stay in bed all day. Since this job was part of my assistantship package and I didn’t have the luxury to lose it, I followed the recommendations of my supervisor and began “seeing someone” making sure not to share this with any of my family members. At first it seemed pastoral care was the cure, but when I began driving my car to Hunter’s Creek, everyday, I sought the help of my primary care physician. She suggested a psych eval, I declined. She gave me a trial run with a Phototherapy box, hoping that I had a bad case of Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). I agreed to try it for six weeks, promised to eat better and exercise more, and returned to pastoral care and the creek, albeit it less frequently.
In 2006, in my first year of full-time ministry, I finally broke down and sought the help of a psychiatrist. After days of refusing to fill the prescription, I gave in and began my trek up the dosage ladder with Effexor while searching for a good therapist fit. By the time I found one, I was positive that my diagnosis was not Clinical Depression because I had planed and come close to executing my own suicide more times in that 3-month span on the meds than ever in all my ten years of struggling with what had originally been diagnosed as SAD.
So I trekked back to my family physician and asked for another psych eval because at that point, after many months of research, I was sure I had more than depression and was on the wrong medication. I received the diagnosis of BP II with elation (yay, we found the problem), and then eventual upset because it was incurable. If I sought medication, it would be all only serve to stabilize my moods for the rest of my life. This didn’t upset me as much as knowing that such a diagnosis would alienate me from my family. Most people pretending it was just stress chose the classical, “it’s-all-in-your-head” and others, “those-American-doctors-will-tell-you-anything-to-take-your-money.” I gave up trying to explain that wanting to kill myself was not a lifestyle choice I wanted to live with.
Fast forward to first semester in my second Masters program. I ran into a group of bisexual women, most of whom oddly enough also happen to have been diagnosed with BP or Clinical Depression. Needless to say we bonded and became each other’s support systems. For the last few months, I’d been discussing quitting my meds entirely. They had been advising against it, going “cold turkey” they said, was no good. I’ve never felt so irritated by the diagnosis until recently. I’ve been medicated for the last five years. Why am I suddenly needing a change? Was this a sign of perfect health or another sign of a mood change? Em pleaded with me recently to begin by lowering my dose gradually rather than skipping entire days as I had been doing lately in my irritation at feeling imprisoned. Was this behavior symptomatic of the Bipolar disorder?
What is me? Me? ME? Can there still be a me, Me, ME in there after 5 years of being medicated? Has it affected my formation such that I can’t recognize the “me’s” anymore? What have I missed out on? What emotions have I not felt since being on this drug? Which emotions have gone awry as a result of this medication? Lucky for me, unlike the millions out there, I tried one drug (after the correct diagnosis) and I haven’t had to change it. But what if it is something that can be cured? Something that after years of “aggressive treatment” I could live BP-free. I know there are no tests for it. Just the analysis of behavioral patterns which really truthfully depends on my ability to convey the truth to my doctors. Do I really feel fine or is this another symptom that precedes the characteristic mania?
So Kuks, Em says to me, “how are you doing?”
“Talk to us!” they enjoin in unison.
For them, this is normal behavior, well for BPII, that is—shopping, spending money, not doing the rational— like taking maintenance meds. For me, I am wondering how much damage this diagnosis and its years of slow medication increases have done to me, Me, ME? Am I purely a shopaholic or is shopping a sign of an impending mood change. What’s the difference now, post meds?