This blog appears to be morphing from a science blog to one on mental health issues… which isn’t bad, I guess. For the first time in months, I woke up not buckling under the weight of crushing depression, which is somewhat odd. People who have depression issues know that it isn’t simply feeling down about this or that, rather the problem is that no matter what may be happening at the time, it is simply impossible to not feel down, even when one knows it’s all irrational and baseless.
Granted, I have a lot to be depressed about, my job is thankless, money issues, serious family issues… there’s a lot wrong with my life at this point, some of which is due to my mental health issues, some of which isn’t…. but, as in epidemiology, finding the root cause of a problem, isn’t necessarily all that easy. X causes Y which changes X which again changes Y. I could make a cool dynamic model out of my mind and my life… Or not. Point is that there’s not just one thing to blame for the current wreckage of my life.
So, waking up this morning at a normal hour (6 am) with the sun rising and shining into my east-facing apartment was kind of pleasant. I got up, made some coffee, ate some cereal and felt somewhat normal for the first time in a long time. People who understand these things know that there are days where it all just magically goes away and you’re left standing and asking yourself what the fuck all that was about.
Not sure what it is… but in the rational times, you sit and assess what it is that brings the darkness on and makes it stay. Maybe it was not watching TV before I went to bed, maybe it’s the book I’m reading, maybe it’s the live recording our band did at the National Theater last night, maybe it’s having stopped by a place for dinner on the way home and seeing people I hadn’t seen in a while, maybe it’s being able to send money home, maybe it’s any number of positive things to balance out all the negatives not so you forget, but so that you remember that life isn’t completely black. I don’t know. I have no clue, but I’ll keep looking.
So, to whoever out there reads this and worries, I’m sorry. I don’t post all this to make people worry or feel sympathy or whatever… but thanks all the same,. I hope that everyone is well, particularly those in the US where it is cold and I’m not there. I hope you are all getting along well. Despite all the terrible shit I do to myself and others, I love all of you.
This was a week full of challenges. Woke up on Monday in a normal fashion, crushing depression keeping me from leaving the house on time, which was as normally uncomfortable as it is every Monday. Horrible, but I’m used to it at this point. I spent all of the previous Sunday alone in the house. Did not even unlock the door. Whenever I spend long periods alone, I get extremely depressed and unable to function properly. This was only the beginning, however.
Asthma attack on Wednesday. I had been feeling it coming for a couple of weeks, then it hit hard on Wednesday morning. It isn’t the coughing fits that one commonly associates with asthma, but a simple lack of oxygen. It’s like being made to be 90 years old overnight. Thursday went to work in a delirium.Aside from the greater issues of hating my current job, it is difficult to concentrate when you can’t breathe.I never knew that asthma symptoms varied that widely until it happened to me.
Thursday night a friend told me that an ethnomusicologist who had done his field work here in Kenya on nyatiti was coming into town and they were going to meet that night. I was quite excited about it. His dissertation is perhaps the only available academic resource on the instrument and was looking forward to talking to him. Kinda felt like shit most of the end of the day (outside of the asthma) but decided to ignore it. Things were fine for a while, then I started feeling nauseous, left, vomited in the parking lot, struggled to get a taxi, made it home, then vomited all night and into the next day. You can keep vomiting until nothing but bile comes out, as if one’s body is trying to purge itself of itself.
My life is incredibly awful most of the time, really, it’s never been worse. No money, no career, nowhere to go but down and the recurrent health problems make it worse. Most days, death seems preferable but one is obligated to live for the sake of others (or at least so they don’t have to pay for shipping bodies overseas), even when one has had enough. I never thought life could ever be this bad. Oh well.
Life may be a pit of misery and failure and this blog is unbelievable depressing and bleak (and I apologize for that to anyone who might be so gracious as to suffer through this horrible blog), but sometimes things get interesting*
Started feeling better later and decided that staying in the house was a bad idea. I made it to my Friday nyatiti lesson, started feeling much better so I offered Nyagweno a ride home to his hood. Figured I could meet the ethnomusicologist at his gig in Kariobangi South, near Kariobangi North, where Nyagweno lives. Kariobangi is rough, but Nyagweno lives in perhaps the roughest section of it, Korogocho, a mixed Kikuyu/Somali/Luo slum section. I never feel unsafe in Kibera, but Korogocho is a completely different world. As we are approaching his house, we get stuck because two giant buses are trying to pass one another around a tight corner in typical stupid bus fashion. I’m texting trying to tell someone where the gig is and roll my window up halfway in case someone tries to steal my phone.
Suddenly, I hear an thud and my phone has disappeared. I look back and see an 11 year old kid running away. Somehow he had gotten his hand in the window opening and grabbed it out of my hand within about a half a second. I move to try and chase him but think better of it. The kid has probably got a gun. The phone was terrible anyway. Nyagweno is shocked and extremely apologetic. I think nothing of it but he feels really bad. Nyagweno is a really good guy. I drop him off. He clearly isn’t happy.
I immediately drive back to Thika road and pull into the first mall I see. There’s a Samsung store there. I lay down 20K and have a new phone and a SIM replacement within minutes. Some things work in Kenya. I then start driving out to get to the gig. Construction on Outer Ring Rd has made the place a complete mess. You are forced to drive in the mud to get where you want to go, guessing the whole way because there are no signs telling you where to go. Chinese construction companies aren’t like Japanese ones, who come up with plans to divert existing traffic during construction.
I bottom out several times, nearly get stuck under an illegal road under an overpass, get lost in Kariobangi South which I find to be as sketchy as Kariobangi North and eventually make is to somewhere in the vicinity of this nameless club I’m supposed to go to. I pull up somewhere and start making some calls. People are looking. I’m thinking to myself that I’m going to get carjacked down here, then remember that my car is a piece of shit. No one wants that thing. Cops pull me over regularly because its so shitty.
A Luo guy sheepishly comes walking up to me. Some Maasai guy jumps in between and starts loudly saying “Mzungu.” Thanks dude. Announce to the whole neighborhood that I’m here. People are now really looking as if to say “what the fuck are YOU doing HERE?” The Luo guy passes between us, I’m thinking that he’s going to ask for money (not to be tribalist, but Luos generally aren’t candidates to be violent muggers), but he says “Peter?” and holds his hand out “Karibu sana!” He’s come to take me to the club.
After the nightmare of getting there, the club is nothing but welcoming. People come up to shake my hand and smile and they give me the best seat in the house. Even the band announces that I’m there and everyone claps while the music plays. It’s pretty touching. It took a total of four hours to get out there, but this was worth it. Kenya has ways of making life miserable and then turning it around inexplicably.
The ethnomusicologist guy finally shows up and we hang out with all of these old benga players who keep taking turns up on the stage. Eventually, they call Ian up to the stage (he plays benga) and they keep calling me up to play. At first, I refuse (because I don’t know how to play benga) but watch the guitar player for a while, kind of figure it out and motion to him that I want to play. He happily passes me his guitar and I give it a go. I’m struggling with it so the singer keeps singing the guitar lines in my ear and I’m trying to fake it. Everyone in the place is taking pictures and video of the two white dudes playing benga music. Pretty rare to benga music at all, let alone two mzungu playing it. I’m thinking to myself that Luos really know how to do it up right. There’s a lot wrong with Western, but when it comes time to party with guests, the Luos are among the best in Kenya.
I play for a while, then pass the guitar on to someone else start feeling horrible again and decide it’s time to go home. Of course, they make me sit down for a little while longer and eat some chicken with them but eventually, I decided that I simply have to leave for my health. I say my goodbyes and start driving….. where I’m not sure. The main road is closed. I could go back the way I came that that presents risks, so I just start driving in the direction that seems right…. and get lost in some post apocalyptic urban hell hole. Every road is a dead end. There wrecked car husks everywhere, packs of dogs, burning trash heaps. If there’s anywhere I’m going to get carjacked, it’s here. Google maps doesn’t work here. I see an Indian looking guard, though he doesn’t speak English, ghettos are weird like that, there’s always the mixed individual who stands out like a sore thumb, but is completely one of the locals. Probably some tragic back story there but this isn’t the time. I’m trying to get directions out of him and he just keeps pointing the general direction. No help.
I drive a bit past more car husks, dogs and trash, even what looks like a body but might be a drunk guy, then try again. There’s a lady wandering under a light. She could be prostitute but she is dressed like a regular young mama. She looks like she’s been inhaling paint thinner. Probably a prostitute. I figure she won’t mug me or is at least so fucked up that she can’t.
“Habari yako? Nimepotea sana.”
“Poooole. Unaende wapi?”
Pretty normal convo so far. Despite operating while impaired on paint thinner or methanol, she gives me fairly decent directions out of the area or at least to a place that Google Maps seems to know about. Two hours later, I’m home and feeling even worse.
Now that this one has completely dried up, I have to think of options. The simplest option would be to let myself get hit by a bus in Nairobi (likely on most days anyway), but the costs and logistics of getting the body for cremation would be an immense burden on my family. Just not fair, as tempting as it is.
So that’s out.
Having not much to work with, I’m considering a few possibilities. Some might argue that I have options given my degrees and all, but without a social network to support it, it isn’t much use, aside from the general failures of this career which haunt me. Moreover, my mental issues prevent me from doing much that requires long term commitment, let alone produce anything of quality. My putrid character prevents me from working in groups. Not being able to look at email makes things even harder.
So, one has to think of what to do.
As I am 47, my options are limited. Going back to school is out. I can’t really remember anything anymore, and the time commitment would be too much given the small amount of time that’s left in my life. Granted, some people do both, but it can’t be easy.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics, fortunately, provides data on employment numbers, sector growth and average wages. This is quite useful when making plans of what to do upon a move back to the US.
As I know how to drive, taxi driver might be an option. At $12.53 an hour and $26,070 a year on average, it is a possibility. Retail work is about the same. The average wage is $12.67 and the yearly income $26,340. Construction is a bit better, $17.57 an hour and $36,500 a year. I can’t really think of any other options. Food service would get me about $9.16 an hour.
These three possibilities are not without their problems for me. Taxi driving companies are probably not hiring, and to get into Uber I would need a car, which I don’t have and can’t afford. Retail requires that I be nice to people, which is difficult for me since I’m depressed and unpleasant. The problems with construction should be obvious. I’m too old anymore. No one would hire me. Food service pays poorly but it might be my best bet.
So the employment outlook is pretty bleak. I could go back to teaching adjunct, but that would mean that I make half as much as a person working retail, which would make it impossible for me to live and pay my other expenses. I would be better off on welfare.
One might ask why I don’t start looking for jobs related to my skills. Well, when one can’t look at email, one has a really hard time getting work.
I know a lot of this is crazy because I know I’m crazy, but there’s not much to be done about it since it doesn’t appear that it’s going away any time soon. Some people say that one is only crazy if one doesn’t realize it, but that’s nonsense. Most people with mental issues are fully aware of them. It sucks. It’s a living hell. The awful shit you do to other people when you’re like this just makes it all that much worse.
I don’t write this expecting that anyone feel any sympathy at all because it’s my fight and no one else’s. Some days are better than others and any time I get an instrument in my hand, it leaves me temporarily. Some people self medicate with alcohol and drugs, I play the shamisen. Seems a bit healthier. At least its more fun.
Food service it is.
Please don’t email me with any offers of help. Though appreciated, I don’t look at email anymore so it won’t get to me.
I went to bed last night, assuming that I would wake up to an America that had pulled together its senses and rejected a misogynistic, xenophobic, inexperienced, uneducated and irresponsible bigot dead set on propping up his own ego and erasing decades of American progress.
But that didn’t happen. And now I’m wondering what the future holds. Life has never felt worse.
I didn’t like McCain, or Romney, or either of the Bushes, but I had no doubt that all of those people had the best interests of the country at heart, even if I disagreed with how they approached it. Trump, on the other hand, is radically different. It has been clear from the beginning that he cares little for the country, exemplified by how ignorant he is of it. The American dystopia he imagines is foreign to me, but might resonate to unemployed, uneducated white people on disability.
So, maybe this is it. Maybe it is time to just cash it all in.
At 47, I never expected my own life to be this bad. I am in a job I hate, living in a place that simultaneously rejects and exploits me, broker than I’ve ever been with no career of job opportunities, watching the life I built for years crumble and burn, leaving a wasteland of people I’ve loved yet hurt and destroyed. It is really hard to go on.
The last is the hardest to take.
I’m not sure I have the will to move on. I have no idea what the future holds as it is blacker than that blackest night. When you’re young, you kind of think that there might be some hope, but when you’re old, there really isn’t anything at all.
It is impossible for me to do simple things like check email. I’ve disabled my social media accounts. This blog will be next. I’ve alienated everyone that ever loved me. Leaving the house is almost a feat. I usually sit for hours trying not to.
“One more cup of coffee….”
I do some music, which is about the only thing I feel I have any control over and that’s always a temporary respite from this noise, but it always falls back to where it was before.
And on top of my personal disaster, my country seems to want to burn itself to the ground.
So, really, what’s the point anymore? People are saying that we should fight… but fight what? It’s clear that this has done irreparable harm. There’s no turning back now.
Sorry for the tone of this post. Fortunately, no one will read it.
Same thing. Wrong way down an unmarked one way. Cop at the end. After arguing with him for a bit, I threw 1000 schillings at him and just left.
It is pretty obvious that after July, something happened and I stopped posting with any sort of regularity. I really need to fix this or whatever is keeping me from posting. I don’t get a whole lot of traffic on this blog, but it seems that every day I don’t post is a missed opportunity for me.
Anyway, to all of you who read this blog in 2014, I thank you. It’s great to have you around. I wish everyone a great 2015.
The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2014 annual report for this blog.
Here's an excerpt:
Madison Square Garden can seat 20,000 people for a concert. This blog was viewed about 62,000 times in 2014. If it were a concert at Madison Square Garden, it would take about 3 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.
In 2012, my friend Akira and I went hiking in the mountains outside Osaka. It was a pretty easy hike, but on the way down Akira twisted his ankle and sort of lumbered down the rest of the trail. After a few days, the pain got worse and he had to cancel an upcoming research trip to Vanuatu. He asked me to go in his place and offered to pay my expenses. I was due to go on a couple of other research trips that summer so I couldn’t commit, but the only other gringo on the trip begged me and at the last minute I decided to go.
Long story short, it was a crazy set of interpersonal dynamics, we suffered bacterial infections, got stuck on an island for ten days because a plane needed to be repaired, one of us didn’t eat or drink water for ten days, much fish was eaten (but the people who ate), much kava was drank and stories were told. Our diet alternated between delicious seafood and fresh fruits to ramen noodles over rice.
It was a surreal experience. I lost ~16 pounds, down from 175 to 159, came back with numerous skin infections and was a general physical wreck for months, more so than usual. It was challenging, but an experience I am unlikely to forget. I hope to go back one day.
The paper can be found here.
Pictures from Vanuatu (back when I took pictures) are here.
Insecticide-treated nets (ITNs) are an integral piece of any malaria elimination strategy, but compliance remains a challenge and determinants of use vary by location and context. The Health Belief Model (HBM) is a tool to explore perceptions and beliefs about malaria and ITN use. Insights from the model can be used to increase coverage to control malaria transmission in island contexts.
A mixed methods study consisting of a questionnaire and interviews was carried out in July 2012 on two islands of Vanuatu: Ambae Island where malaria transmission continues to occur at low levels, and Aneityum Island, where an elimination programme initiated in 1991 has halted transmission for several years.
For most HBM constructs, no significant difference was found in the findings between the two islands: the fear of malaria (99%), severity of malaria (55%), malaria-prevention benefits of ITN use (79%) and willingness to use ITNs (93%). ITN use the previous night on Aneityum (73%) was higher than that on Ambae (68%) though not statistically significant. Results from interviews and group discussions showed that participants on Ambae tended to believe that risk was low due to the perceived absence of malaria, while participants on Aneityum believed that they were still at risk despite the long absence of malaria. On both islands, seasonal variation in perceived risk, thermal discomfort, costs of replacing nets, a lack of money, a lack of nets, nets in poor condition and the inconvenience of hanging had negative influences, while free mass distribution with awareness campaigns and the malaria-prevention benefits had positive influences on ITN use.
The results on Ambae highlight the challenges of motivating communities to engage in elimination efforts when transmission continues to occur, while the results from Aneityum suggest the possibility of continued compliance to malaria elimination efforts given the threat of resurgence. Where a high degree of community engagement is possible, malaria elimination programmes may prove successful.”