This will probably be one of the most candid blogs I have ever written, and also will ever write. In addition, it has taken me along time to put pen to paper since it is a subject that is difficult to talk about.
September has been a hard month for me over the last couple of years. In addition to the fact that it is suicide prevention month, it is the month where my son’s father ended his own life. For so many people he was the life and the soul. A generous, positive person who was extraordinarily fun to be around. A person who led people on a roller coaster of adventure. He was the centre of attention wherever he was. He had boundless talent and energy and needed always to be involved in something creative. After he passed, I received so many messages from so many people whose lives he touched. They could not believe what had happened. For many it seemed out of character. For those close to him, and the reality is that there were very few people who were really close to him, it was another story. His highs and Mania (which if you lived with him were destabilising. It would mean that he would disappear for days at a time, money would go missing and literally one was in the dark about what was going on, usually there was some extraordinary mega drama that would ensue) were followed by extreme lows, where there would be days of, inconsolable crying, desperation and drinking. He was very rarely in a stable place. He would write to his mother endless letters ridden with guilt that he would never send. At times he appeared to be suicidal. He also was an alcoholic and addicted to cocaine which he inevitably used to self-medicate. The alcohol turned him into a nasty drunk, leading to violent episodes and black outs. Sometimes I could not work out whether the depression came before the drinking or the drinking triggered the depression. The cocaine in the end, did not help bouts of paranoia which appeared to get worse with time. Many people did not see the dark side. It was not the side of his character that he wanted people to see, although sometimes he could not control it. His unstable behaviour and unwilling to get help meant that we did not have the easiest relationship, especially since our son was in the middle. He could be so sweet, on a good day, but he was so unpredictable that one never knew what was going to happen next. The last time I saw him, he was drunk, in Cuba. He said to me “maybe we can be friends in another life time”. This sentence never left me and I knew I would not see him again. In under a year, he was gone, leaving us all in a state of shock that for me led to a depressive episode for around four months or so.
Why do I write about this now, in this blog? It is because on his journey he made Ocha. He was a son of Obatala. He was marked for Ocha from an early age. He never had any money, it disappeared as quickly as it arrived, however he was fortunate to have a wonderful girlfriend (one of many wonderful girlfriends!) who was generous enough to pay for his Ocha, thinking that it would quieten his often disturbed and restless spirit. One of the things that people asked was why had all of these things happened to him during the last few years of his life? He had made Ocha? Why had things got worse for him instead of better?
The answer lies in the fact that his illness, addictions and depressions, were so deeply entrenched. He could not take on board the advice of his Ita. If an alcoholic is told they cannot drink, they can either take that on board and go and seek help, or change the interpretation to suit what they are doing. My son’s father chose the latter. His drinking patterns were entrenched from when he was a teenager and the fact of the matter was he could NOT stop. Things began to go from bad to worse once he had made Ocha. The Iyawo year brought about too many challenges for him that he could not take on board. The unhealthy patterns that he had been engaged with ever since I first new him, was beginning to be tiresome for him. It’s hard to know what happened exactly, but my thoughts are that in addition to the fact that he could not live where he wanted to live and had lost so much through his own actions, he just could not keep repeating the same stories. He was conscious that things were not right and he felt helpless. Many did not see signs that I saw. Many think that he did not intend to end his own life. However it was a violent end that indicated that he meant, at that moment in time to end his life. Whatever happened, my wishes are that he is without pain, and that we do not judge what happened to him. I was quite frankly really disappointed by some of the judgemental attitude of some Olorishas after he made Ocha and also after he passed. People seem to judge easily measuring other people’s actions against their own. We have to remember that we are not all the same. The strength that I needed to move forward, I managed to find. He did not have that strength and he should not be judged because of that.
After he was gone, after remembering all the hurt and pain his often selfish behaviour caused over 25 years of knowing him, I also was able to see through other people’s eyes, how much he also gave to people. All of his creative musical projects he inspired and his encouragement to all.
The interesting thing is, that his wife at the time, (who was not initiated) sent me his Ita. I was preparing for an Ita of doom and gloom but it was not. It was an average Ita, with a variety of signs coming in Ire and the odd Osorgbo. However, the information under the advice from Elegua implied that he had to completely change his life and his identity. What was asked of him, was completely unachievable. It must have been so hard to confront this for him. He was 43, coming up to 44 when he left us.
This was also the age that I made Ocha. I also had a history of depression from a very young age. Trauma and traumatic events as a young girl provided the basis of my depression and CPTSD. Unlike now, there was not that much information about. Depression can mean different things to different people. There are all sorts of different kinds of depression. Often there is not just one thing going on. Anxiety and stress, and undiagnosed conditions, such as Autism and ADHD and other things can play a part too. In my case, I lived with it without understanding what was going on, trying my best to keep my head above water. Most of the time it was cyclical, but I fell into an episode of clinical depression which lasted two years. Those two years are now but a blur. The pain I felt during that time was so physical that I too also self-medicated in addition to taking prescription drugs to help me sleep and to stop me from feeling pain. I was unable for a long time to take responsibility for what was going on, however one day after a bout in hospital, I woke up feeling that I could no longer live this way. I decided myself that I was going to face my demons. I was scared as a mother of what I was potentially doing to my children. I did not choose to go to therapy at the time having tried various times. I bought a whole load of self- help books and started to work out what would work for me. I gave up all the substances that I had been taking. I came off the prescribed medication also. After all that is said and done, the most difficult substance for me was nicotine, a habit which I also kicked and I began to organise a program of what they would called mindfulness activities. Basically engaging in activities such as Yoga and other creative pursuits including singing which occupied my mind on a daily basis. I also began to take my connection to the Orishas seriously. I had been marked for Ocha in the early 90’s but was always running away from it. By the time I made Ocha. I was clean from all drugs and drink. I had felt that I was ready to face anything that the Orisha would tell me in order to live a better live. I felt that I had reached rock bottom and never wanted to go there again.
Did making Ocha help me with my depressions? I would say first and foremost that I helped myself, and first and foremost, it has been me on a quest to make my life better for myself. However, the ceremony of Kariocha did tweak something deep inside and my depressions are not as severe as they used to be. Although they appear, I am very self-aware, I see the signs before they arrive. I am also aware since I originally wrote this article that there is a difference between depression and Adhd paralysis and now I have the knowledge I do not struggle with these episodes but engage in self care. If it is depression, and understanding the difference is important, I go with it for a while, allowing me to feel what is going on, and then I force myself to be proactive. I feel I have the tools. Ritual and making Ebo If necessary helps me. Connecting with nature helps me. Singing helps me. Connecting with ancestors helps me. Depression, trauma and also neurodiversity can be hereditary. There is evidence that we carry our grandparents suffering in our DNA, so connecting with ancestor I would say is fundamental to moving forward. Praying to Orisha helps me, regular cleansings of myself and my house also. Readings, my Ita, they all help. But these are NOT miracles and had I not worked on myself before I made Ocha, I am not sure whether it would have been the same story. NB: I have continued to work on myself since Ocha. The self healing journey never ends, but Ocha can help navigate the journey.
After the passing of my Son’s father I faced an extreme depressive episode which I could not shift. It was terrifying and I was genuinely frightened that it would turn into a long bout of clinical depression. In the end I did seek help and spent a couple of months in therapy to talk things through. It seemed that just as I thought I had dealt with stuff from the past related to my Son’s father, it had raked up so many mixed emotions. Hurt, pain, anger, sadness, pity, empathy and the questions, what if? What if? Could I have done anything different? Trying to rationalise the taking of his own life within my spiritual beliefs also. Feeling the pain of my son and trying to ease the burden. So many emotions to face. But I do face them now, and I can see them through. Sometimes, it takes a long time and a safe space to negotiate difficult emotions and this path and spiritual support can help, 100% but it is not the only tool.
Please look at this article., My diagnosis has been so helpful in understanding myself and giving myself compassion and I would say appropriate diagnosis can be extremely valuable in addition to following this path.
I believe that we have responsibilities as diviners and godparents to be very clear about what is achievable through following this path.
I have faced various people who have come to me with different degrees of depression, and other mental illnesses.
I think it is absolutely fundamental that if anyone has addiction issues that they are not facing that we do make it clear that we cannot help. I will not take on anyone that has not confronted their alcoholism or other additions. (Sometimes things can be tricky when clients lie, which has happened. It’s up to us to fine tune our instincts and spiritual connections).
I believe that we are doing more harm than good if we believe that the only tool is a spiritual one. I think it is necessary sometimes to have a knowledge of resources for people who do have mental health problems. In divinations where physical issues come up, we recommend a visit to the doctor. I believe also that if necessary, to point people to the right services if there are mental health issues. It is not our role to diagnose or recommend medication, but it is fundamental to become knowledgeable about what is out there. That does not only include doctors and therapists but classes in mindfulness, yoga and other activities that may help.
It is important for us especially if we also suffer from depression to protect ourselves and be honest about who we can help and not. We have to adopt a professional attitude and disconnect if necessary. Regular cleansing are also important of our space and ourselves.
I don’t think it is a bad thing if some of us who do attend to people have extra training in skills such as counselling skills. I would think that an understanding of Odu coupled with understanding of how to communicate deeply and really listening could enhance our roles. Talking therapy can be very helpful, but I think there is a problem when it comes to the educational and cultural background of some of the therapists out there. It is important I would say, when following this path that the person that you choose to talk to understands where you are coming from. When I was looking for someone in the UK, I came across this useful site: Black and Asian Therapy Network UK There is a list of therapists and their interests. There is also a problem in that getting referred for talking therapy in the UK is not that easy. Private therapists are expensive. Research into therapists who operate a sliding scale policy or who also operate in clinics that may provide subsidised treatment.
For those looking for spiritual solutions
These are only tools to help you on your way, however there is no “miracle cure” external forces are not going to ” save” you. The only person that can do that is you and various tools will be needed on your journey. Approach life a day at a time, and always remember that the only constant is change. There are infinite possibilities and there is always hope.
There is much to be talked about and it is important to break the stigma which is why I am writing this. Mental health and depression in particular which is really very hard to spot sometimes, still carries a stigma. It sometimes makes people feel uncomfortable. Telling people to snap out of it or to engage in positive thinking is not enough. People that suffer from depression are also very good at hiding themselves away when they are feeling bad and being the life and the soul when they are not. Be mindful if you haven’t seen someone for a while. Check up on your friends. Make sure they are OK. Please write if you have anything to add to this brief blog. I am interested in understanding other people’s experiences of walking this path and suffering from depression.
Dedicating this Blog to the Jorge Clemente Jimenez (Talabi, Ibae, Laye T’orun) 28 September 1927- 5-September 2015 Photo Elio Pena
RESOURCES AND FURTHER READING IF IT HELPS: ( mainly UK, please research local resources)
research done, Lucumi Responses to mental health
Featured Image: céline siani djiakoua
Wow! Great blog. Can I share this with my students? I teach a 6 week workshop on Obara and we were just talking about some of the points.
Ofcourse you can share as long as I am credited as the author. I was hoping it would initiate discussion! Thank you for reading! Let me know how the discussion goes with your students.
I cried at this. Firstly, for your son’s father, then for him, and then for you. I cried at it after that for my mother, and for my ex-wife, and lastly for me. I cried after that because so many in the Diaspora suffer; undiagnosed, stigmatized, judged, abused, neglected from care and lovingkindness because people tell them, “Oh, just stop making excuses” and “We *all* get depressed; snap out of it!” Thank you for your compassion.
Thank you for your very valid response and compassion also!