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Managing anxiety and depression in time of difficulties

No pain, no gain!

In the 19th century, a German philosopher by the name of Friedrich Nietzsche created this all-time famous aphorism which has been translated into many languages and become one of the dominance maxims of self-motivation and strength in the English-speaking world; “out of life’s school of war—what doesn’t kill me, makes me stronger.” Out of the life’s school of war which is our experience, that which doesn’t kill us, make us stronger right?


From our relentless efforts to get the best education that money can buy for ourselves and our children, with the hope of getting the best paying job when we are done, to physical fitness that help us to burn body fat and avoid illness, as well as to the pursuit of those endeavours we put our heads and hearts into, and many, many more, you name them. It’s believed that if we take the hits, we will end up building our stamina to withstand difficulties and become prosperous. “No pain, no gain,” the statement goes. Anything which doesn’t kills you, makes you stronger. But if that was the case, why do many people fail to withstand adversity when they are faced with the reality? 


The answer is, maintaining your stamina to withstand difficulties it’s not that easy, if you don’t have a reason or prepare yourself to do so, it has nothing to do with your effort and desire to be recognise by other through your achievement, it’s about you and nothing more. If it was that easy, we all will be strong and unbreakable after going through a phrase of life testing situation. The Covid19 pandemic is a good example.


A philosophy professor at the University of Glasgow by the name of Michael Brady once explained that when Nietzsche said in his aphorism that which doesn’t kill us, make us all stronger, he “does not seem to think that all suffering will result in strength, but rather that he is suggesting one should take suffering as an opportunity to build personal strength, and that those who are already strong are those who can do so” easily and others have to learn to do so. Jonathan Dollimore, the author of Death Desire and Loss in Western Culture English portrays the practise of human beings embracing pains and discomfort as an opportunity to gain strength, as “magical, cannibalistic ingestion.”


Most times when we are confronted with complex incidents which falls beyond our control, as in the case of the corona-virus pandemic which has disrupt the livelihood of many of us across the world, our life and feeling goes through a five-stage process which include; denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and finally acceptance. As we are aware, even though we are concern about our future and the future of our loved ones during this difficult time, we are now coming to terms with the situation and the aftermath as the ‘new reality’.


Those people who were already designed to be strong by nature and capable were easily able to embrace the difficulty and discomfort brought about by the corona-virus, the Darwinism “survival of the fittest.” On the other hand, it will take many of us time and encouragement before gaining strength and come to term with the new reality. As humans, we should be aware that it’s inevitable for us to go through these experiences of been pull in various directions by external forces, whether it’s the result of nature’s gravity or an ongoing crisis. This is what makes life a mere tries, without the assurance when our hour will be up.


How Anxiety made me see the World.

In 1990, when I was around 10 years old, I inevitably came to terms with my first recognised new reality, and ever since my life has been through numerous phrases of what I described as new realities. Whenever I’m confronted with any of these new realities, as we are currently undergoing a phrase of global new reality, I try as much as I can to focus on the fact that being human comes with many limitations, and accept that anything which is beyond my power is a human limitation set out by nature and trigger by a circumstance and try to find a way to adapt myself to the situation.


What I’m sharing with you is a little trigger of some of those new realities which formed part of the pieces of the jigsaw puzzle found in my ‘life hack mental toolbox.’ The reservoir of experience and knowledge which has become the model upon which my life is built and usually helps me to navigate the rough current of life’s inevitable challenges which I periodically face, as we all are facing this global challenge brought about by the corona-virus. As everything in nature is made in pairs, I’m convinced that whatever situation we faced, there is something positive that we can learn, even from our bad experiences. If we decide to take our time to understand the incident without perceiving it at first glance as a mountain, we might be able to work out a plan that might work in our advantage in the long run.


On one unforgettable day in March 1991, at the pick of the Liberian civil war, when I was yet a child and almost at the point of death due to the impact of an illness that have been dragging on for years, my father made a decision which changed the cause of my history and laid the foundation for the current life which I’m living today. Whether it was his original plan or part of my destiny design by God, I would honestly confess that I’m still here today because of that extraordinary decision. Ever since that occurrence, whenever I’m confronted with a life challenging situation, I will use my mental scale to compare the impact of the current situation to similar situations which I already have in my mental ‘burden bag.’ If it happens that I’ve experience something worser than what I’m undergoing at the moment, I’ll put aside the anxiety and confront the condition with a positive mindset “like a man, like a real man.” But if the new challenge is heavier than anything that I’ve ever been through, I’ll first of all take a neutral position to try to understand it better by creating hypotheses which will help me to see the dim light of hope beyond the obstacle.


“…It was barely a week since my admission at the Segbwema government hospital in the beginning of March 1991, when it happened. Dad woke me up that early morning with the surprising news of his intention to return to Liberia, as he once did while we were in Mobai where I was first admitted at the local clinic when we entered the country few months earlier.

“Oscar, wake up, I’ve to return to Liberia today so that I can try for some money to pay your hospital bill. I’ll also bring you some food on my return.” He said.

“Tony, who will take care of me when you are gone?” I asked.

“I’ve spoken with the people here at the hospital to look after you until I’m back.”

“But Tony, you know I can’t wash my clothes, Solomon and Naomi aren’t here to help me, what will I do when my clothes get dirty while you are away?”

“Son, don’t worry yourself, I will be back within a week to wash your clothes.”

“Tony, you just want to leave me here alone, you still have the money which the UNDP man gave to us when we were coming, why can’t you use it to pay the bill and buy us food?” I confront him.

“It’s the money that we’ve been using for our feeding over the past few days we are here and the balance isn’t enough to pay your bill or feed us anymore. I’m not going to stay long; I’ll be coming back soon enough to look after you…”


In the end, that’s how I failed to stop him from leaving me in the hospital, not even after I’d cried my eyes out, even though I thought at first that he might be joking. But from the look on his face and the responses I got to my inquest, it seemed that he was already on his toes before breaking the news of his departure, and there was nothing that I could say or do to dissuade him from making his expedition.

Beside the entrance door of the long hall which comprises the male ward where I was admitted, his few belongings were already packed in a little bundle and placed against the door post and ready for pickup. We had barely ended the conversation when I saw him on his feet; walked toward the door and picked up the bundle and opened it to leave. I quickly sat up on the edge of the bed with my feet touching the floor and started to gazed at him. My little Vono bed which was big enough for a single person was the first bed on the right roll from the entrance door. The ward was filed with two columns of those little beds with the main passage in the middle and little space in between the rolls for easy movement.


My heart started pounding rapidly as I envisioned the situation which I was going to be in until his return. Our eyes met and he looked at me in a way that suggested that he wanted me to escort him to the door. I got up on my feet and started to usher him outside the quarter. We both walked through the corridor where we usually hold our morning devotion before catching the few concrete steps leading to the path that he was going to use to exit the hospital compound.


When we had left the presence of the other residents at the ward, we walked silently along the footpath for a while before I could halt the escort and stood in the middle of the road and started watching his back as he left for Liberia, after he had say his farewell to me which receive no response. He went on to reassure me that he wasn’t going for long. However, I felt abandoned and betrayed as I continued to look in his direction until he became a dwarf and varnished in the distance. I took a deep breath, looked up at the blue sky before slowly turning around and started to head back for the block in order to face the reality of me taking care of myself in his absence.


However, to be on high alert for someone or something that you weren’t fully assured will come to pass isn’t an easy undertaking. I turned my weeping and longing into anxiety, as I speculate the full length of the trip, the same kind which took us nearly three days before we could reached the country when we first left our home, with hours turning into day and days into weeks and weeks becoming months, as I continued to pile up my used clothes which he would clean as soon as he’s back. All these activities and my other interactions with people in the hospital were happening at the backdrop of threats from a deadly disease and menace from a crunching civil war, which was now obvious to encroach the whole country.

But after such a long anticipation, I was surprised and heartbroken, since he never shows up anymore, neither send me a message to explain why he has delayed. Nothing of such and that forced me to change my perspective about his return since I now believed that his promise of coming back to take care of me and pay my hospital bill was of a shallow impression. They were like words from my fatherly Christ who’ll surely come, but in time infinite…


A Lesson from the Pass.

From an early age, my life has always been smeared with some form of misfortune or challenges right into the present day, but I tried to see the positive aspect of every situation. For example; I manage to use my status as refugee in a foreign country to send myself to school at the time when life and death was like the flip of a coin, something which I wouldn’t have achieve if I was peacefully in my home country and with my biological family due to my background. For many years, I’ve been longing to visit the UK from Sweden, but being postponing the visit due to me not wanting to leave my comfort zone. But when my relationship broke up and my ex-wife manage to unlawfully took my only child away during her aspiration to become a single mother which will qualify her to get child support from the government, instead of me to continue dwelling on the situation or engaging her in an never-ending court battle for child custody, I came to terms that it was time for me to make my trip to the UK because that which was holding me down, has forcefully been broken.


I have a mindset of what I describe as “me shouldering my own world without trying to depend on anyone else for assistance.” I’ve always tried to avoid falling prey to cynicism, bitterness, or self-pity. I deal with what life gives to me. I take responsibility of my action and avoid the ‘blame game’ of pointing finger at someone or something else for any mishaps which I incur. I only use my story as a means to empower, educate and motivate others who might believe they are at the lowest level of their lives.


We all have a history, but sadly there are people who for one reason or the other aren’t proud of their history or able to convey their story. I came to understand that the best way for us to identify our strength and weakness can easily be achievable by narratively knowing who we truly are. Nobody knows your story better than yourself. So if you take a closer look at yourself and manage to identify some of your hidden strength and work on building them to work better for you, I can guarantee that you will discover new meaning or reason to excel under any circumstance, even during this Covid19 era.


As I’ve learned over the years, the real defeat that anyone could suffer usually starts with their mental state of being and not merely by pressure from an outside force. From the above passage about me and my dad, you will discover that even though the act of me stomaching the thought that my Dad wanted to abandoned me in the hospital was the last thing that I could ever imagine and try my known tricks to stop him from leaving. Eventually when I realise it was time for me to stand my ground as the reality unfolds, I started to encourage myself. The first thing that I did was to stopped daydreaming about him and the situation which I wasn’t able to change, and start working on plans that will bring me back to the world of reality through self-consolation.


This is how I describe that moment of transformation; “…I went on to put on a brave face with my head high above my shoulders so that those around me will know that without him or his help, I would still be able to make it on my own, yet bearing in mind that my action in such critical time will have an impact on my treatment and physical wellbeing, which was the reason of me been hospitalise. In my effort to help myself to get cure from the disease, I try to forget my father, forget my mother, forget my siblings and other relatives who have always been part of my life right onto the time of the trip to Sierra Leone, and started to focus on how to survive in a foreign country where the government was now in a full-scale war with the rebels…”


In conclusion to this narrative, I will leave you with these questions; what is your response when someone hurt you, do you keep grudge and dwell on the bitterness for days and week or even years or allow yourself to easily forgive and forget and move on? When things don’t happen the way you expect it to happen in a disgraceful way, do you blame someone else, blame yourself or take responsibility and move on? Remember, taking responsibility for your action is different from blaming yourself. Your answer to these questions can help determine your mental strength to endure pressure in time of a life challenging situation like the Covid-19 pandemic, as I once did when my dad left me in a foreign land to fend for myself when I was barely ten years old. Don’t panic, stay focus because nothing in this world is permanent, everything is here for just a brief moment, even our very existence is not here forever, therefore, build on your divine strength and join force with others likeminded people and fight a just cause against Covid19 and any other difficulties that life might throws at you.

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