Crashing Down

I have been waiting for death all my life. I do not mean that I actively wish to die, just that I do not really want to be alive.

I came across that quote in January 2021 when I was reading Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman and, macabre as it is, I never felt more seen. If I was to sum up my 2021 in a few words, I would do so with that quote as it perfectly described my mental and emotional state to a tee that year. I have said before that there have been long periods of my life where I was tired of being alive, but that feeling went away for a long time before coming back with a vengeance in 2021.

I know this post has been a long time coming (actually it is only a week late but who am I to pass up the chance to use a Taylor Swift lyric 😅) but for the life of me I just could not figure out its flow. I had almost 3,500 words but the structure to the post was sorely lacking and I could not find a way to make the jigsaw puzzle of words fit. I finally solved the puzzle because I am a mastermind (💁‍♀️) and today’s post is a raw, honest, vulnerable depiction of how the cracks in the happiness I finally found in 2019 (after chasing it my whole damn life) started to show in 2020 before it all came crashing down in 2021. Crashing Down is me in all my damaged glory but be warned the post contains references to suicidal ideation so please proceed with caution.

Picking up right where I left off in my last post, I started 2021 deeply troubled by my brother’s mental health, relieved to be done with telling the story of my mum’s battle with stage IV breast cancer, and optimistic AF for a bombass 2021. To its credit 2021 started off incredibly well as my man and I went to Diani for our first anniversary baecation. We were there from January 3rd – 7th and when I came back I spent the next three days with my cousins and sister before resuming work on 11th. That is when all hell broke loose.

I detailed how and why all hell broke loose in the posts See You When I See You and Karibu 2021 and would rather not repeat myself here. You may want to (re)read them to (re)familiarise yourself with what I was dealing with at work at the time that caused all hell to break loose. What I did not reveal in either post though was the major reason work was stressing me the fuck out. Yes the workload was insane and I was working 12 hours a day, but it be like that in my industry sometimes and I have learnt how to weather the storms. The main reason was that my contract was up for renewal that year and as mentioned in Cracks, my industry was adversely affected by the pandemic. We had staff cuts barely a month after we started working from home on March 18, 2020 and were advised by our HR department to be prepared for more staff cuts towards the end of the year, as well as possible pay cuts.

In my organisation, many of us were on fixed-term contracts at the time rather than permanent ones. One of the ways people were being let go of was by not renewing their fixed-term contracts when the time came, as that is more cost-effective for an organisation as opposed to letting go of someone who is on a permanent contract. My contract was up for renewal in May and the uncertainty of whether it would get renewed or not is the main reason why I pushed myself so hard at the beginning of the year when work was extremely busy. There was a small part of me that felt like I needed to do exceptionally well to prove to my organisation that I am worthy of having my contract renewed, but the larger part of me knew that was illogical. I had been with my organization almost five years by then and if they were planning to let go of me when my contract came to an end on May 15th, nothing I would do between January and May was going to persuade them otherwise.

It all worked out in the end and in May I was finally given a permanent contract, meaning no more squeaky bum time every two years when my fixed-term contract was up for renewal. I got confirmation of my permanent contract on May 10th but by then I was already drained from four months of living in fear that I would be unemployed by June.

2020 was the year responsible for the cracks in my happiness and my strained relationship with my brother and concern for his mental health was the main reason for that. In April 2021 my sister had a depressive episode and just like that *snaps fingers* I went from having my sister be a source of strength for me when dealing with our brother to being worried out of my mind for both of my siblings. In 2020 my fear for my brother grew to the point that whenever my sister called me, I panicked that she was calling to say my brother has died by suicide. One day in August she called me and could barely speak because she was crying so hard and for a moment the room spun I even had to hold a wall to steady myself. Thankfully, she was not calling because something had happened to my brother, she was calling about her horrible workday. A few days after that unprecedented room spin, I asked my sister to stop calling me unless it was absolutely necessary. In April 2021 my sister and I went from me asking her not to call me for something textable, to her not picking up my calls or replying to my messages. I was barely hanging on from all the fear I had for my brother that having both my baby siblings not talking to me was a breaking point for me. I was no longer only living in fear that my sister would call me about my brother because that fear had extended to worrying that I would get called about my sister. Thankfully she came out of the depressive episode a few months later.

My relationship was also quite challenging at the time as my man and I had moved to the Power Struggle stage of our relationship. Psychologist and self-help author Dr. Susan Campbell identified five stages that every relationship goes through:

  1. Romance
  2. Power Struggle
  3. Stability
  4. Commitment
  5. Co-creation

Usually somewhere between two months and two years into a relationship the romance begins to fade and you face a new stage in the relationship: the Power Struggle stage. In this stage you notice your differences more and discover beliefs, habits and annoyances you do not like. You trigger each other’s attachment fears and there is an increase in arguments and conflict with small disagreements being blown out of proportion. There is an increase in criticism, resentment and frustrations and you feel disconnected, leading you to become anxious and demanding or withdrawn and distant. This is the stage that most couples get stuck in because they do not have the skills or tools needed to find a balance, hence breakups are a common occurrence six months to two years into a relationship. That said, you can return to the Power Struggle stage at various times throughout the relationship, especially during times of hardship and major life changes and transitions.

2021 was a tough year for my relationship as my man and I were deep in the Power Struggle phase. I might or might not write a post about the Power Struggle phase later on, but for now just know that we fought many, many, many Great Wars in 2021 (and 2022). In the end we made it and, to borrow from Taylor Swift, I vowed I would always be his because we survived the Great War.

Because 2020 was the year responsible for the cracks in my happiness, I started 2021 with my “mental health tank” ⅜ full. And given what I was dealing with at work, with my siblings and in my relationship, in addition to the three anxiety disorders I live with, the reserve light switched on and my mental health tank became dangerously low before the first quarter of 2021 was over.

As you can see from that text that I sent to my therapist (at 4:20 p.m. 😎) and her ensuing response, my mental health was in the gutter in just the third month of the year! Of my three anxiety disorders, the one I struggle the most with is Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). I have a shitload of PTSD and because my therapist tells me I will never completely heal from it, my goal in therapy is not to attempt the impossible but to get to a point where I can remember the pain without experiencing it all over again. The journey to healing is not a linear one as some days are good, even great, and others are utter shite. There are times I have a string of sooo many good days I even forget I have PTSD. Then there are times when it comes back like an unnecessary Hollywood sequel that promised to be bigger and better than its predecessor. Times when I would text my therapist soon after my man’s alarm went off at 4:30 a.m. to let her know what I was going through, and she would ask to see me with immediate effect.

I have been living with three anxiety disorders from before I knew what anxiety was, let alone mental health, but thanks to therapy and the destigmatizing of conversations around mental health, I can now manage my anxiety disorders because you cannot fix what you do not know is broken. I have a “toolbox” full of tips and tricks that I turn to for help when I am struggling with my mental health. But 2021 called my bluff on all my usual tricks *Taylor Swift voice* and nothing from my toolbox was proving effective. We were just three months into the year but the “score” was Mental Health 26 – Lwile 3.

In AWOL I revealed that by mid-May 2021 I had quietly made the decision to take even more time away from Lwile the Leo with the aim of coming back in August for my blogiversary, but what was meant to be a two/three month break ended up being a two year one.

What is so bad about writing sporadically as I do other things?

That is the one question I asked myself repeatedly during my break from Lwile the Leo in May 2021. I launched my blog on the last day of Leo season in 2018 and for 2 ½ years I never missed a Wednesday, except for January when the blog is on hiatus and May 2020 when I ran guest posts all month for the inaugural Mental Health Awareness Month Guest Post Wednesdays. This all changed when I was unable to bring back the blog back from hiatus in February 2021, but I recovered in March and April before going AWOL for two years in May.

As the Mental Health Awareness Month guest posts took centerstage in May 2021, the main agenda during my time off was to think about what is so bad about writing sporadically as I did other things. I say all the time that writing is not what I do, it is who I am. But having to tell my mum’s story while dealing with my brother’s (and briefly sister’s) struggling mental health in addition to worrying about unemployment and my relationship in the Power Struggle stage took a lot of my joy away from me and I no longer enjoyed weekly writing. I felt like I was being held hostage by the weekly blog posts and since writing is not what I do, it is who I am, imagine being held hostage by something that is who you are. I will give you one word for it— Unbearable. Miserably unbearable. Wednesday used to be my favourite day of the week, which is why blog posts would go up then, but in 2021 I felt like I was being held hostage by something I was not sure I loved, let alone enjoyed, anymore and come April I started to hate Wednesdays in general and writing in specific. I would wake up on Wednesday filled with dread about the upcoming post that I had yet to finish rewriting which, as you can imagine, only served to drain my dangerously low mental health tank.

So, now here is the content part… It’s a bit complex for me. Not even sure whether to put it in writing or have a call. I think it’s because, it has a lot to do with you and my input depends sooo much on how you feel, what you think, whether something is holding you back or motivating you….  I enjoy your work & what inspires you. I enjoy your originality & would love to feel your freedom in writing… I don’t want you to feel like you’re struggling to make the readers happy, because I want you to enjoy what you do, thrive in it…. and we get to drink from your happy place…

That is what one of my readers told me in April 2021 and her words were the flint that lit the spark that flew in May. I spent the first half of May thinking about what is so bad about writing sporadically as I did other things, and my reader helped me realise the answer—Nothing.

My reader’s words, which have stuck with me since then, gave me permission to take time away from the blog and do other things. There were big things and also little things I wanted to do during the newly minted gap in my free time. The littlest was probably curating playlists as I listen to only Taylor Swift 99.13% of the time. I am, unabatingly, forever and always in my Taylor Swift 𝘦𝘳𝘢 ✨ #💚💛💜❤️🩵🖤🩷🩶🤎💙 and don’t blame me when august almost singlehandedly cured my depression in 2021.

Back to that quote from my reader… I have a Facebook page for Lwile the Leo that I opened on my second blogiversary in August 2020 and one of my goals for 2021 was to grow the page. I reached out to some of my readers and asked them to please like and follow my Facebook page while also asking for suggestions on what content they would like to see on there. Out of the 37 people I reached out to only 13 people responded and 1) guys 😐 2) see what I mean when I say that 13 is my number frfr. Me 🤝 Taylor Swift 🤝 triskaidekaphilia. From the 13 I got the loveliest response that I shared earlier on, and she went on to say:

Imagine I admire your career side – your passion for your job, your relationship, your routines, the 4.20 vybes (despite me not partaking) 😅
Yaani, I like you for being you. Your dressing is amazing, your shoes, your blog posts…
Just YOU… as Val and as Lwilé the Leo (even without ever meeting you).
You are enough, you’re adequate. Continue finding inspiration and in what makes you happy. I’ll be here to brainstorm on YOUR ideas. For now, I’m just happy that I found your blog. Even selfishly so..

My heart 🥹🫶🥲 her compliments were sooo sweet and genuine, but I debated whether to include them in the post as I did not want to be accused of showboating. I debated whether to only post from “You are enough…” onwards, but such reader feedback always warms my heart and I decided to include all of it because such earnestness should be appreciated in its entirety.

Next up was to read more. Reading is a big part of who I am. I have been reading for as long as I can remember and it has shaped me in ways I cannot fully articulate. Books, to me, are both a teacher and a healer. I have been to New York, Paris, Rome, Ireland, Nigeria and many more countries all from the comfort of my bed. I have learnt empathy from reading as books really put you in the mind of a character and allow you to fully understand their decisions even if you do not agree with them. Naturally, my exposure to other cultures has also come from reading. I challenged myself to finish my 2021 reading challenge by my birthday and I succeeded in that endeavour as I finished book 30/30 on my last evening as a 33 year old 🤓

Then there were the big things I wanted to do with the newly minted gap in my free time like pulling my mental health out of the gutter. One Wednesday evening I was at the balcony listening to Sia when I broke down and started crying. When my man heard he immediately came to check on me because he knows I only listen to Sia when I am, as Gen Z say (said🤷‍♀️), super sadsies. One of the main reasons 2021 was difficult AF mentally is because it was the second year of the pandemic and for a lot of people, myself included, 2021 equalled one year of pandemonium. You would think the fact that the coronavirus was no longer a novelty in 2021, and that there were vaccines available, meant that the anxiety around COVID-19 would reduce in its second year. But for me and many others the cumulative effects of 12 months of anxiety, grief, fear, uncertainty, panic etc etc. culminated circa the first anniversary of pandemomium.

If I were to describe myself in one word I would use resilient, but even the most resilient people have limits. The rubber band is often used as an analogy to describe resilient people because resilience is defined as the ability to stretch yourself when the pressure is on and return safely to your normal shape thereafter— just like a rubber band. But, and we never really talk about this, rubber bands do not always return safely to normal shape. Sometimes when they are stretched too far they break. And on the first anniversary of pandemomium many people, myself included, broke. I went for my annual medical checkup on Fearless (Taylor’s Version) Day (April 9, 2021) and my doctor told me that brain fog was a common finding in the online burnout test they administered during their annuals that year. Brain fog is not a medical or scientific term; it is used by individuals to describe how they feel when their thinking is sluggish, fuzzy, and not sharp. There was a sharp increase in reports of brain fog in 2021 correlating to COVID-19— either from the disease itself or the pandemonium of it all. I will share more details about my connection to brain fog in the last post of this series when I open up about my procrastination.

2021 is easily in the top five worst years of my life and by May, even though the year was not halfway done, I was. I was done doing and wanted to just be so I took the year off to sit in the be of human being. In the end 2021 was sooo rough that I did not write a Kwaheri post so in the penultimate paragraph of today’s post, I will share a sentence that was meant for the final post of 2021 that ultimately never got written because pRocCrasTinAtioN.

This year has been a difficult one for me so I do not have much to say as “I took the year off” to just ~be~, but I am looking forward to next year as I am determined to have a more accomplished year come hell or high water.

Spoiler alert: The hellfire raged and roared, the floodgates burst open, and I lost myself in the madness.

One thought on “Crashing Down

  1. Don’t stop being unabatingly, forever and always in your Taylor Swift 𝘦𝘳𝘢 ✨ #💚💛💜❤️🩵🖤🩷🩶🤎💙

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