It was 2019, at night when I wrote my eldest sister, Sarah, who lives in Qatar. I don’t remember exactly what I told her, but it was in the neighborhood of death, imminent death. My death. For years I had fantasized over death, obsessed even. For whatever reason, I never pictured myself growing old, combing grey hair. In flashes and dreams I saw myself eulogized, my story being read:

He was a writer, he told stories. In my movie, my daughters were there. They would turn out all right, without me. They would go out into the world. They would remember the father, the writer.

Beyond that was a mound of earth and a cross and a dash.

And so I wrote my sister a text message. I was going to die and I wanted her to know that I treasured the moments we’d had together. She’s my closest sibling. I did not die. She wrote back; she always wrote back. I snapped out of this broken reverie.

Until deep into my adulthood when experts ferreted out what ailed me, I had lived in a world where little made sense. Don’t get it twisted: for the most part I had lived a successful life. I had been a banker, and later on the chief writer for the same bank; I generated content for the institution’s newsletter and edited promos. Later on, I became a columnist for a national newspaper.

I was never happier when I wrote; I was never sadder. I will explain. You see I have been a writer for as long as I can remember. I was celebrated in primary school and in secondary school. Writing came to me in gushes. I never went to school to write; an unseen hand seemed to guide my hand. But even as I was being celebrated for this gift, I couldn’t pull myself out of a nagging, pesky sadness that shadowed me all my life. One time I would be jolly, the next moment I wanted nothing to do with humanity.

I cried, I hid. My parents didn’t know what to do with me. I am the eldest son and in my culture, this came with certain weight, certain expectations, and I simply couldn’t live up.

It’s amazing that I am sitting here writing this. Because I never saw myself living past 27. And when I did reach 27, I couldn’t see myself living past 40. There is a theory that has existed for years that most creative people are prone to impulses, to death by their own hand. Kurt Cobain of Nirvana. Jim Morrison of the Doors. Vincent Van Gogh. I saw myself in that tragic list.

There are days when my mind would be so clouded that no matter how bright the sun was, no matter how beautiful the flowers I captured in my camera, I couldn’t see any light, any beauty. I was dying inside. As a kid I would cry for hours and maybe that was my outlet, maybe that was my way of saying, There’s something terribly wrong with me but I can’t figure it out. Tell me, how does a 30 year-old man cry?

I found something, by accident. I found a palliative. I found my destruction. I am at a safe place in life where I can talk about these things now. In 2014, I discovered codeine. It came wrapped as a cough syrup and when I took it, my life took a turn. When I poured some into a spoon my whole outlook changed; my mood lifted. My shyness fled. I didn’t have to deal with darkness, I was light. I was bolder and my copy was riveting. For the first time, my mind was free. Whatever ailed my mind was no match for the feeling that I engulfed me when I took codeine. In the streets, they call it Lean, but that was a world away; names meant nothing.

Bill the writer. Bill the one-time altar boy. Bill the shy man. Picture everything bad taken away and all things good at your doorstep.

Picture me with a pair of handcuffs dangling in my face.


Along came Mercy

If there were a diagram, a list even, of the qualities I would have wished for in a spouse, then Mercy fit it to a ‘T’. We didn’t wait after we met; we hurried to the altar on November 8th, 2014. The ensuing months were bliss. I looked forward to her smile after a long day at work, to a meal made with love. Our daughter Hadassah was born in April, 2015. I should have been happy, this should have been the happiest time in my life. And it was, for a period. You see whatever ailed my mind, whatever  led me to counter after counter for codeine was still there. I didn’t have a name, but it was the welcome guest in our life-at least mine.

Mercy knew something was wrong; she would catch the whiff of the syrup on my breath. I owned up to my habit. One night she berated me-gently-about it, and I made a promise that I would kick it. I had no intention of doing so. By late 2015, I was a functioning addict. I wasn’t even present during the church dedication of our daughter. By December, Mercy had had enough and moved out of our home. She had been the one tether that kept me in reality; she tried until she couldn’t.

By 2017 I was no longer working for the bank. I simply didn’t care whether I reported to work or not. But I still had my writing, and my codeine. And whatever darkness that trailed me every step I made. It was then that I began thinking about death, intensely. The paradox is I was at the top of my writing game but no matter the applause I couldn’t shake this unhappiness, this sadness. I self-medicated. I drank. I was being invited to talk to students about writing and how to walk on the right side of the road while I was really going to be road-kill.

I consider 2020-2022 my lost years. The once-brilliant writer was now a shell, the village drunk. For me to have let go of myself, to have sunk so low should have been a sign, but I missed it. We missed it. The over-the-counter codeine, the Valium were a losing battle to the darkness that loomed ahead; that had stalked me all my life.

Facing depression

There is a certain reluctance, even stigma in admitting that one’s brain is breaking. Or at least that is what depression is viewed as. I wouldn’t have cared had I known that what stalked me for years was depression. I was properly diagnosed in 2023, after I checked into rehab at Primrose Wellness. I sat down with a doctor and I unburdened myself. These dominoes fell, and I could now understand why I acted a certain way, why I felt defeated even in my most exhilarating moments. I remember feeling there was no need for shame. The doctor told me I could manage the condition with the right medication.

Over several sessions with my principal counselor, Joseph, I became aware of the many facets of depression. And how therapy helps to mitigate the attendant symptoms. I am taking more photographs, reading more, taking walks. And writing.

All these years I tried to negotiate this condition with syrup and other medication. Now I can write without the influence. I am on the right medication. I have read about writers who have produced amazing work even while suffering from depression. The big ‘D’ as depression is sometimes referred to in polite company is now the big Determination for me.

We can walk up that hill, shall we?