If you’re an avid follower of performing arts and poetry in Uganda, there is no way you could have failed to encounter Begumya Rushongoza Nkabafunzaki. He’s a poet, student and political talk show analyst for Andrew Mwenda’s KFM talk show, the Hot Seat.
Having experienced depression first hand, Rushongoza seeks to highlight the growing scare of depression that has claimed so many youthful lives in his upcoming poetry show at Makerere University. Our reporter caught up with him to discuss the subject of depression and poetry.
Briefly give our readers the details of your show please.
“Light” is a one man show based on my poetry collection by the same name that is still forthcoming. The show is hinged on two central themes; Rooms and Light.
I wrote the collection in Makerere, to detail my experiences dealing with pain, depression, anxiety and loss. The collection is centered around university hall/hostel rooms and that’s because my room was the most private space in my social life where the realities of my life were fully manifested to myself.
Are you a victim of depression yourself? Or are you detailing experiences of people around you?
I have dealt with depression and continue to. But I am also telling the stories of my friends. Some of them have been brave enough to speak to me about it, and sometimes after those intense conversations the inspiration comes to you. So yeah, a bit of both; but mostly my story.
Not to pry, but how have you dealt with depression? Very many youths are suffering with it.
To be honest, I would like to sell you a story about how I ran to Jesus and he sorted everything out. For me, it’s been a process of finding a way of coping and using for as long as it works, and when it doesn’t, finding the next way to cope.
When I was younger, I kept telling myself that I would grow old and forget the tragedies that cause my depression. Eventually that didn’t work. Then I shifted to immersing myself in novels and plays and that stopped working too. I tried God. After a while I began to feel empty and suffer long periods of depression. Then music, mostly Radio and Weasel and rap and that also stopped being able to do it. I immersed myself in school and taking up so many things such that I was too busy to be lonely or down, but again my depression pierced through that. I reached an extent of using weed, alcohol and parties to cope and that failed to work too. So my life has been a journey of migrating from one coping strategy to another.
Do you believe a professional counselor can help you through this phase?
The honest answer is that I don’t know. My friends spoke to a counselor and they say it really helped. I don’t think I would talk to a counselor because these are things I don’t like to talk about. When I am really down I prefer to just run away and be with myself. And the fact that the therapist or counselor is not allowed to talk about their life as well is bad. I don’t think I am comfortable speaking to a stranger about all this. I know people will say I am ignorant or stupid. But when you are in that state, speaking out or being around people is very difficult and to do the same to therapists who sometimes have never dealt with all this is even harder. So I don’t see myself in a counseling session any time soon.
Back to your poetry show. Where will it be and how much are tickets?
The show is at Makerere Law School, lower lecture theatre. We did it that way because we want the show to start a conversation on depression, anxiety, mental health and all of that with the students of this university who are actively dealing with these things daily.
It is on Sunday 14th April 2019, and tickets will be available at the entrance for just UGX 3000.
Are there any other poets that will grace the show or it will be only you?
It is a one man show in the sense that all the poems performed at the show will be written by me. (I know it sounds a little selfish). But reputed performers Mwesigwa Diego, Lilian Arinda, Aine Berna and Noah Infectious will join me on stage that day so you’ll not only be seeing my face.
Does the collection have a print copy yet?
Not yet. The process of creating a great book takes so much time. We already have a publisher, and the process of publication is in high gear. The book is set to launch this year, along with another poetry collection of mine that’s also in the pipeline. But the show couldn’t wait because everyday a friend is going through a phase. Every day, someone I know is attempting to end their life, last year someone in my hall took their life, and this week a close friend tried to do the same, thankfully someone stopped them. I kept seeing all these things and thought, will I keep sitting on my ass while this gets worse and worse? I thought to myself that maybe I should do a show and share my truth, and perhaps that would somehow help others figure out a way out. I am not offering many answers for the show, I am doing it to show people who don’t understand what depression really is. And for those dealing with it, how not to deal with it. I am telling my truth, and in a way, asking for help.
Alright then, we hope to attend and try to find some answers too. Any last words?
Depression is not a condition one has when they can’t find the right Snapchat filter or are too broke to afford tickets for a big show. Depression is really a disease. And it is a condition that can create other bigger conditions; addictions, self mutilation and so on. If you lose a parent and you are down for 3 months and then get better, it’s not depression. But if 6 months later it’s worse and worse, it probably is depression. Depression is like slipping on a wet floor and falling, except instead of hitting the floor in seconds, the fall lasts 5 months. It’s like if you were set on fire using fuel, except the fire is inside your body not outside and it is never dying out. You just feel so overwhelmed by emotional pain that you can’t seem to stop. That’s why people just choose to end their life. As a student community we need to be more deliberate about being supportive and understanding the plight of people with depression. We need to actively get involved in helping them, whatever that takes.
To everyone that is dealing with depression, I don’t know what to tell you. But I will probably share with you something that rapper Kendrick Lamar once said;
“Pick yourself up, life is more than suicide.”
I am happy to help you through these down phases, and I hope eventually it all gets easier.