Chimamanda Adichie, an award-winning author, reportedly suffered instances of depression while growing up and even as an adult.
Adichie’s experience was recounted through the narrative of Eghosa Imasuen, a medical doctor who attended one of her workshops.
Imasuen said he encountered Adichie online after his mother showed him the picture of a “girl” in a magazine. The girl was Adichie. The incident was in 2005.
He said: “So I go online and I read about Chimamanda, the girl in the magazine who got me insulted by my mother. Eventually, I travelled to Lagos and bought her novel ‘Purple Hibiscus’.”
But Imasuen did not get to meet Adichie until two years later when she organised a writing workshop in September 2007 in Lagos. The workshop would last 10 days.
Imasuen, from interactions with the literary icon during the workshop, talks about her fears, depression, marriage, and her family in an interview with The New Yorker.
NO TO A WRITER HUSBAND
Despite Adichie’s love for writing, she would not tolerate a writer for a husband nor live in a place surrounded by writers, Imasuen said.
“She thought if she were married to a writer, one day she’d wake up and strangle him,” he said.
“She could never live somewhere like New York, where you were tripping over writers every time you turned around, writers in restaurants, writers in the supermarket, writers on the subway.
“But back then the thought of a roomful of writers discussing craft appealed to her.”
Imaseun said Adichie thought she would marry someone “flambouyantly unfamiliar but the man she ended up marrying, in 2009, was almost comically suitable”.
Adichie was quoted to have said: “One of the perils of a feminist marriage is that the man actually wants to be there. He is so present and he does every damn thing! And the child adores him. I swear to God, sometimes I look at her and say, I carried you for nine months, my breasts went down because of you, my belly is slack because of you, and now Papa comes home and you run off and ignore me. Really?”
WANTED TO BE A PRIEST
Adichie was raised Catholic and loved the ways of the church. But she wanted to be more than just a worshiper, she wanted to be a priest, simply because of the power that comes with it.
“Nigerian Catholicism is almost feudal, and the priest is God,” Adichie was quoted to have said.
“The priest would sweep in in his long soutane, and you cleared the way because Father was coming. I wanted that! I wanted the power. But it was a beautiful kind of power, because I felt I would instruct people on… I had dangerous ideas as a child.”
BATTLE WITH DEPRESSION
“I was a popular child who had tons of friends and did well in school, but then I would have moments where I didn’t want to see anybody, didn’t want to talk to anybody, cried for no reason, felt that I was bad and terrible, isolated myself,” she said.
Adichie said she feared she would suffer postpartum depression, given how she felt during pregnancy.
Her family, she said, does not understand depression because “they expect a reason” for it.
“I can’t even read. It’s a horrible, horrible thing. I can’t see my life, I’m blind. I feel myself sinking—that’s the word I use with my family and friends. Well, actually, I don’t talk about it with my family much, as lovely as they are, because they don’t really understand depression. They expect a reason, but I don’t have a reason,” she said.
Imosuen said when Adichie is depressed, “she sits for hours and watches films about the Holocaust. Her family tries to discourage her from doing this—it seems to them unlikely to be helpful—but she does it anyway”.
He further said Adichie is not trying to cure herself of depression.
“I think I’m addicted to a certain kind of nostalgia,” Adichie said.
“I watch these films and I find myself in a state of mourning for all the things that could have been. They just make me cry and cry. I don’t know. All I know is that I will continue to watch them. I go on Netflix all the time to check, to see.”
Imasuen added that Adichie loves originality, freedom and self expression, irrespective of the twists in one’s life.
“She wanted people to feel that they could be who they actually were. She particularly wanted gay writers to feel at home, because it was so hard to be gay elsewhere in Nigeria, and in fact two people in her workshop came out there for the first time. On the other hand, she also wanted people who had what she considered to be the wrong beliefs to say what they were thinking, as long as they didn’t do so in a nasty way. It wasn’t that she felt that all beliefs were acceptable; in fact, she considered one goal of the workshop to be social engineering,” he said.