When Giving Up is the Easiest Choice

Trolling the ruins. Gaza City, February 2015.

If the world’s cameras were to move a little deeper into Gaza, into the streets and behind the doors of people’s homes, they would see the desperation in almost every home. After 10 years of siege, the 2 million people of Gaza, living packed on a tiny strip, find themselves without work, their economy killed off, without the bare essentials for decent life. The siege is fracturing minds, pushing the most vulnerable to suicide in numbers never seen before. According to Gaza’s health professionals, while suicide figures cited in the media indicate a substantial rise, they vastly underestimate the true rate. Suicides are “disguised” as falls or other accidents, and misreporting and censorship are common because of the stigma against suicide. Among the dead are men who despair because they can’t support their families; pregnant women, who say they don’t want to bring children into a life in Gaza; women and children who are victims of abuse…[The Guardian, 18 May 2018]

If you’ve never suffered from depression before—not the kind that lasts a few hours or even a day because of a temporary setback, but the kind that goes to sleep and wakes up with you—let me describe it. I pictured my depression like a backpack full of rocks. And I was sentenced to carry it on a seemingly unending hike up a very steep mountain. I could see the peak, but it was always just around another bend.

In my culture, depression is not something we talk about. But my heavy load had given me dizzy spells and headaches, and an insightful doctor at the clinic had tactfully suggested to my parents that a therapist could help my symptoms more than any medicine.

And thus, I found myself in a psychiatric clinic. Given the lack of understanding and acceptance of depression in Gaza, I was surprised by how crowded the waiting area was. I felt a wave of relief; I was not alone! But no one looked happy to be there; many had a pucker on their faces like they had just tasted a bitter mango. I bet they weren’t there by choice either.

In front of me, the receptionist’s table was stacked with dozens of files and a harried-looking, middle-aged man who looked like he hadn’t had a good night’s sleep in weeks was checking off the names of the people waiting for their turn to see a doctor. I sat next to my dad impatiently, waiting to hear my name called and feeling like all of the eyes in the room were staring at me, wondering what my story was. Meanwhile, my dad and I stared at a beautiful woman with intense blue eyes to my right—wondering what her story was. She seemed so poised and composed; what could be wrong? My father acted on his curiosity—both to my embarrassment and surprise. The compassionate tone in his voice was not the father I knew.

“Can I ask you something?” he began.

“Yes, of course,” she replied, respectfully.

“You look too ‘normal’ to be here. What’s wrong?” he asked.

”I suffer from depression,” she said calmly as if she had talked about her problems many times before. She went on to explain that it seemed to run in her family.

My eyes glowed like stars. Here was a woman strong enough to face her depression. I had learned to be independent since I did many things alone. So maybe I could be like her.

Then my name was announced. It was my turn. My heart beat as loudly as a million drums. A man around 55 years old, white-haired except for a few strands as black as his skin, sat in a neat office rifling through some papers. He put them aside while I shut the door and paced around the room, feeling the doctor’s gaze studying me.

“You can feel free to say anything,” the doctor told me with a questioning expression in his eyes.

At that moment, I didn’t want to be there. I didn’t think I had the courage to talk about the anger and worry I had kept inside for so many years. Silence descended on the room. I realized there was no escape. I had to talk. I cleared my throat, but before my wobbly voice could share my secrets, tears streamed down my cheeks like a waterfall. I closed my eyes and took a breath. Then I told him everything.

My parents quarrelled all of the time as if they were on a schedule. My father would hit my mother with his fists, and if I tried to help her, he’d hit me too. So now, whenever an argument broke out, I huddled in the corner of my room, hearing my heartbeat, feeling my body shaking. I was only a 14-year-old kid who wanted to live a normal life.

I didn’t understand why they fought. I wondered if they had ever loved each other. I think my mom had originally thought he would be kind to her since he was 10 years older. But she was wrong.

“Make me my coffee, you bloody woman!” yelled my dad at my mom.  “Okay…..” she replied in her thin voice, sounding as if she wished she were dead.

I was replaying that conversation from last night when the doctor interrupted my thoughts.

“Almost all people face problems in their marriages and sometimes they are as bad as what you describe,” said the doctor. He was probably trying to help me feel better by saying how common it was, but instead, I felt like I was just one among many “cases” to him.

“But these are my problems and my problems are mine—not anyone else’s!” I screamed. My dad was beating my mom. He wasn’t kind to her. It was like living through a war every day, in my own home.

I visited that doctor many times. At least I had someone to talk to and he listened. For a while, that was enough. But the fighting didn’t get better at home and I grew increasingly despondent. I wanted a solution.

After two months, which felt like a long time, I announced I would no longer go if he had nothing else to offer.

“I will try speaking to your dad, but you must adapt to your circumstances,” said the doctor. It was his last sentence to me. He gave me a tranquillizer to help me get some rest and I left.

I was dying inside. What if I lived a long life, maybe even a hundred years? It felt as if I couldn’t survive even two more weeks. It seemed I had only two options: see another doctor or give up. I chose the latter.

I sat in my room and looked around. My whole life was here, the little room painted pink and rose where I had hidden from the world. I used to lie in my bed, gazing out the window at the lemon and olive trees in the backyard. Either that or I’d read a book; now it was my favourite novel, A Beautiful Lie, by Irfan Master. I had read this book over and over again, never bored by its poignant story about a boy who wanted to protect his father, who had cancer, by shielding him from any bad news. I wished I was that child because I yearned for such a close relationship with my dad.

My mother knew I was in trouble and pledged to stay by my side, but if she couldn’t help herself, how would she help me? I looked at my mom’s pleading eyes and promised I would be fine; I’d focus on the positive side of life. She was my best friend and I wanted to wipe the worry from her eyes. She nodded eagerly, with a big smile, and left with relief.

But it was just an act. I couldn’t be as strong as everyone wanted me to be. It was too tiring. Depression is like the war my parents were fighting. You either win or die trying.

I climbed onto the sill of my eighth-floor window and jumped.

This story, one I “lived” with one of my best friends, is true except for the ending. Fortunately, a relative deterred her at the last minute and today, she still struggles but has chosen to live. Her father beats her mother less but she remains to determined to help her mother become independent and live her own life that way as well. However, independence requires money and money requires a job. The blockade of Gaza must end.

This article originally appeared in We Are Not Numbers and is republished with permission. Photograph courtesy of  Jakob Reimann. Published under a Creative Commons license.