Sunday, September 16, 2012

Battling depression and enjoying the scenery

I haven't blogged for quite some time now.
I could say that I've been busy and haven't had time to write, but it wouldn't be true.
There have been many times when I've come home from work and wanted to write but have stopped myself.
The truth is that I think that I've been depressed.

When I started this blog, I decided that I wouldn't write about certain things. I believe that the Western world is bombarded with images and stories about Africa that don't do justice to such a complex, beautiful region of the world. I didn't want to jump on the 'Africa is hunger, flies and AIDS' bandwagon because there are already so many sources telling that story. Although I see a lot of malnourishment, HUGE flies and work with the organization representing people living with HIV and AIDS in Malawi, there is so much more that I've wanted to share about a very special place. It's for this reason that I've wanted my posts to remain positive and been holding back writing when I haven't been feeling in a positive mindset.

I received a call from my Mom last week. She said that a woman from the church called her to ask if I was OK. She was worried because I hadn't posted for a while. This news made me feel wonderful because I didn't think that anyone would really notice if I stopped blogging. I resolved to post something immediately, but was so stuck on posting something positive that I didn't write anything at all. In a place where people choose to be happy with so little, how could I be sad?

The next day I was in Nkhotakota , a lakeside town in rural Malawi. It was Friday night and I was visiting my boyfriend, Daniel and some friends from South Africa.
We were on our way back from a concert - a rare treat in a place where Malawi's big names don't usually visit.
We had danced to the light kwasa kwasa beats late into the evening. The music was beautiful, the night was full of bright stars and people were having a wonderful time. Despite all of the ingredients for a perfect night, I found myself pretending to have a good time while secretly trying not to cry.
This feeling of disoriented upset had become quite constant the past months and I had been pushing it back.

Sitting in silence on the way back from the concert, Daniel gives me no option but to face up to my feelings. His voice pierces the darkness of the car's interior as he explains in his mild scandinavian accent that I'm having a tough time. He tells our friends that:

'Sometimes when you are living long term in a place like this, working in development, you just hit a point where you can't make sense of things anymore. I think that Lesley is going through that right now and I think it would be good for her to talk about it'.

I suck in the warm lakeside air, feeling it hit my lungs sharply. At first I want to punch him – how dare he put words in my mouth and expose me like this? The anger passes quickly and I allow hot tears to roll down my cheeks. It feels good to let go and cry. I start to feel less disoriented as I allow his words to situate me.  

I've hit a point where I just can't make sense of things anymore.

Since that in-car intervention, I've started feeling better and realizing that my real challenge hasn't been feeling disoriented and faithless. It has been acknowledging it.

I'm living in a gated compound where the high walls are decorated with shards of sharp glass and an electric fence. It isn't safe to be alone at dark in Lilongwe and sometimes I feel afraid. I've also been scared to let go emotionally and have put up walls so as not to find myself doubly in the dark in a foreign place.

But isn't feeling lost the first step to getting back on track?

In acknowledging that I can't make sense of anything and that I'm not in control anyways, I have released myself to put aside my fears and embrace experience again. This past week has been tiring but wonderful as we've been doing organizational capacity building work with a small NGO. Seeing the participants desire to better their communities has left me feeling excited and engaged although there is no certainty that our work will make a difference.
I've started feeling interested in people again and enjoyed asking them questions about their lives and hearing their perspectives. I've gone outside at night for no particular reason and felt small looking at the stars, in the same way I did as a child. I've cried a lot but it has been worth it to feel alive and joyful.

Sure, I still feel like I'm on a journey in a very foreign place and that someone has snatched my map and left me grappling to find direction. The difference is that I've stopped pretending that I know where I am and where I'm going. Instead, I'm using my energy to observe what is around me so that I can sketch a new map - and at the same time enjoy the scenery. 

Some pictures from enjoying the scenery of last week:

Sunset over Cape Maclear, Lake Malawi

Breakfast with veg fresh from the garden and cheese from Lilongwe :)

Young women can do it! In last week's training session.

The Warm Heart of Africa , in Cape Maclear

Taking a break from governance training, Nkhotakota Youth Organization
Participants dancing in gender training, Nkhotakota youth organization

Children in Nkhotakota, Malawi

Ferry stop from Mozambique - Nkhotakota


  1. You are amazing Les! Never stop writing. Trust me, someone is always going to be reading :)

    Love you lots,

  2. Lesley, so glad you've found the strength to blog again. I'm wishing you can dig deep to find that elusive catalyst for change - hope - and continue to find joy and revelations in the small things, like African sunsets and in-car introspection. My time in Malawi still confuses me, so I've given up looking for some sort of lens that will bring it all into focus. The liminal gray is one of the most compassionate and open-minded place in which to find yourself floundering, so I would argue there are worse places one could be. Much love to you on this fall valley day.

    1. Holly my friend, thank you for your kind words. You write beautifully and your words help situate me. Hope that autumn is treating you well. Will write soon. xo

  3. I really appreciate this post Lesley. I've noticed there is often noticeable signs of cynicism, isolation, and depression that creeps in on you after being so far from your frame of reference...or when you can't make sense of things. It makes things like blogging and keeping up with your email almost upsetting. Wishing you all the best as you re-find your groove in I try and find my groove here in Ghana!


  4. Rebecca, thank you so much for your comment. It is so comforting to know that someone gets it!!! What are you up to in Ghana? Take good care and good luck 'finding your groove', I know you can do it! Tionana