“One day, all that will end; one day, I will finally have peace and my tormented soul will find rest.”
This phrase is what I repeated to myself every day to give me the courage to get out of bed, put one foot in front of the other, and go about my business. Every morning, I had to draw from what motivational reserves I had left to get through the day because I felt that just breathing was exhausting me. I was tired — of that pain in the soul, of that anguish, of that feeling of constant rejection, of that shame, of that sense of having nothing to do on this earth, of those memories which, laden with their lot of suffering, had swept like a torrent in my head and which had haunted me ever since. I was tired of being like a zombie, a soulless body that wanders around without knowing where it is going.
These painful memories contrasted so much with the sweet ones I had for the first five years of my life. I was born into a Cameroonian family in 1985. The first months of my life were punctuated by the absence of my mother, who was a single mother and had to work long hours to be able to meet our needs. She entrusted me to the care of my aunt, who in turn entrusted me to my eight-year-old brother at the time. Despite this, these first years were not so bad. I was a child filled with energy, who was not afraid of anything and had an incredible self-confidence. I remember a fight between my mother and a neighbor, and how I got involved by telling the neighbor that she had better stop looking for trouble with my mother. I was barely five years old, but I felt like I was infallible and nothing could stop me; I was wrong.
After my aunt got married, she called on my uncle to take me in when she was working. She had no idea how something so innocent could turn so rotten and destroy me. One night when she was traveling outside the country, he sexually abused me. That was when I learned that some experiences were better buried in the depths of my memory if I was to have a semblance of normal life. And that would have worked if there had not been other abuses afterwards, which lasted three years. In the long run, I end up shutting myself out; my soul ceased to exist and I became like an automaton, executing pre-programmed actions, without any emotion.
In 2000, I moved to Canada to live with my older brother and try to get away from all the pain in Cameroon. I had succeeded at keeping my emotions at bay, but in the fall of 2003, at age 18, these buried emotions suddenly resurfaced.
Sitting in a classroom at the University of Montreal in September, I had my first panic attack. I could not breathe, move; I felt like a vise was squeezing my chest and I just wanted to disappear. I waited for everyone to leave the classroom, I waited for the halls to be quiet to make sure I did not meet anyone, and I ran literally all the way to my house, in a trance, as if I was pursued by danger. It was only once I got in my room, on my bed, protected by a blanket, that I regained my senses and my heart began to beat at a more regular pace. I did not know what had happened, but I was scared.
I was so scared that I took refuge in my room for a year. Although I was enrolled in the university, I did not go to school that year. My contacts with the outside world were kept to a minimum. After this panic attack, I felt it was better to live with friends because I had the feeling that they would understand what I was going through better than my brother. He never knew the reasons for my abrupt departure, and I would not tell him. I did not want the world to know what I was living with.
My existence was summed up in the four walls of my room. I spent my days eating and watching TV to silence those voices in my head that kept telling me that I was a victim. They told me that I must feel sorry for myself; that I was good for nothing, rejected by everyone, and that the best thing I could do was put an end to these sufferings and die.
I finally let the voices take control, I let them convince me that the best way to stop suffering was to finish. I started to imagine ways to take my life. I looked for a painless and effective method because I felt that I had enough pain in my life. I documented myself on the pills to take, the amount, but I realized that with this method there was a risk of being saved through a stomach wash. I thought about opening my veins, but two things discouraged me: I did not want my roommates to discover a pool of blood, and I could not find a blade sharp enough to open my veins without too much pressure on the blade. I thought of throwing myself out of a 13-story building, but there I judged I could just break a limb and suffer the martyrdom without reaching my goal.
In my suffering, I chose to turn to someone who could help; despair often leads to consider the impossible and my despair led me to ask God to help me die.
I prayed night and day to stop waking up. Only, I experienced something different. The more I prayed, the more I had these thoughts that went up in my heart, thoughts that were too positive to be mine. They spoke of love, of joy, of peace, and of the future. Concepts that were totally unknown to me, for the darkness that filled my soul was heavy. It’s strange to say, but I felt like I was suffering from a split personality: on the one hand, I heard voices assaulting me and incessantly reminded me that life was not worth the trouble to be lived. But on the other hand, there was that other voice, sweet, loving, who spoke to me about all the projects that I had to accomplish, the wonderful creature that I was, the talents and gifts that I had.
I could look at myself in a mirror and not see the ugliness that I hated, but a smiling girl with a heart filled with hope. This image did not last very long, but it was enough to make me want to fight; to tell me, “what if…” If I had more to live, more to give, more to receive; and if I refused to let the depression win, and if I chose life? I feared for what the future held, but I understood that fear is a thief, and I did not want to let her steal more than she had already taken.
So, I plunged into uncertainty. I chose to live. And I was terrified. For me, to make this choice was to throw myself from the top of a bottomless pit, simply having faith that at the bottom of this well my landing would be smooth. Even if I did not see or feel it, I had faith that the future reserved something better for me, because that was what the sweet and loving voice was saying to me.
The first step I took was to ask for help. I called my mother in Cameroon. I had been in Canada for over three years at this point, unable to continue my studies. I was afraid to tell her that for a year, I did not go to school because I was depressed; I was afraid of her reaction, that she wouldn’t understand. Yet, she did not blame me; she seemed to think it was my departure from Cameroon, at such a young age of 14, that had caused my depression.
I spent all of summer 2004 in Cameroon enrolled in a health center. I learned to tame these feelings and memories little by little. I was conscious of having a very fragile mental balance and that’s why I prayed constantly. Whenever I felt overwhelmed by an emotion, I prayed; and when the memories came back to haunt me, I prayed.
The prayers were simple, I just cried in silence and I felt a peace invade me. I believed through God, I could learn to heal. Before starting this restoration process, I was aware that it would take a lot of faith to believe that what I felt or thought was not reality; the reality was the peace I felt when I prayed or read. And I chose to hang on to it.
I returned to Canada in September 2004, a changed woman. I finished my studies in 2006 and then began working in a community organization that helped young immigrant women. I eventually started my own organization in 2012. Helping others helped me find more purpose in life, and now, on days when my depression gets bad, I have people to lean on so I don’t feel so alone.
It’s true that it was not easy, and it still is not, even today. It’s progressive work, with different seasons. There are seasons that are quieter and others that are more intense. I must pay constant attention to my thoughts and learn to listen to myself so as not to fall back into this darkness. But when I look at how far I have come and consider my point of departure, I am infinitely grateful. Life is definitely worth living, and I make a promise to myself each day to live to the maximum.
This is the story of Dominique Abana
Today, Dominique is learning to live life to the fullest. After years of abuse and a particularly difficult season when she had to deal with a depression that led her to the brink of suicide, she knows that although life is not always easy, it is definitely worth to be lived. Residing in Canada since 2000, she decided to use her life experience to help others by sharing her story and working in the humanitarian community. Everyday, she draws the strength to continue in her Christian faith and in her community. Inspired by the organization she worked for and after returning from a humanitarian trip in Mali, she founded her own association in 2012 to assist young people living on the streets by providing counseling, clothes, and school supplies for them. It hasn’t been easy, but she’s working to manage her depression.
Life Log #229
This story first touched our hearts on December 21, 2018.
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