Where is my Face?

help me, please.

3 min readJan 31, 2024
Self-Portrait as a Drowning Man, Dieter Roth (1974).

He is drowning again.

Seated at the table, fingers pecking away at the laptop in front of him. He has two feet planted on solid tile, but in his head, he is underwater and does not know what to do.

It started like all things do- slow, and steady. The first time he looked in the mirror and saw that there was no light in his eyes, he said he was burnt out from work and he needed to rest. Then he rested, but his eyes remained dim.

He dug deeper into his brain and the answer came to him. He was missing community! So he packed his bags and made his way to Lagos, and saw his friends, and hung out with his friends, and he laughed, but the laughter did not reach his eyes. It stopped at the cheek stretching it so taut that it became obvious to anyone looking closely that it was a fake smile, and it was a fake face.

What’s wrong? Why the mask? Where is your face?

He doesn’t know. He has upturned the cupboards and has searched the wardrobe and under the rug and under the chair and he just cannot seem to find the cause of his troubles. He has probed, and questioned, and traced the different paths his emotions have taken and he still cannot find his face.

He has read articles, and watched short video essays, and long documentaries and all he feels is a sense of comradeship with the subjects of these, because their feelings are familiar. But their stories also differ in origin and shape and they cannot point him to the root cause. They cannot help him find what he has lost. What has he lost?

He has read research papers and now knows that the main subcortical limbic brain regions implicated in depression are the amygdala, hippocampus, and the dorsomedial thalamus, but this knowledge is an inefficient appendage — hanging over his thoughts but not doing what he wishes it could — what he wishes it would: help him find his face.

Sometime this week, he woke up debt free for the first time in months. But because money is a vicious cycle, paying off all the debts has left him back where he started. The joy of freedom quickly replaced by the pressure to stay afloat and-

He is drowning again.

On his knees, with his head in his hands. He is crying in the only way that he knows how to; silent, his mouth opened wide, but no sound escapes from it. His eyes are closed and in the darkness behind his eyelids, the current is strong, sweeping him and everything away. He tries to hold on, to grab something — a happy thought, a fun memory, an outstretched friendly hand, but the nature of water is that it makes everything wet and slippery and harder to grasp.

Everything slips away. The flow has taken his face away. The salt is wet in his eyes and ears so he cannot see the love they said is out there for him. He cannot hear the reassurances, only the roar of waves crashing in his mind over and over and over again.

Untethered; he turns to the page, looking for answers, looking for an anchor. But there is nothing. For a little while, the sadness is on the other side and he is staring at its physical manifestation on the laptop screen, but it is just a projection and the minute he blinks, it is back inside him.

He is drowning again, and he is scared that he will drown forever. He is worried that this is all he will be — a man constantly underwater, never able to float, to stand on his own.

Help me, he whispers into the void. I don’t know how, but please help me. I want to stand, I want to float, I want to see. Please, help me find my face.




i was born in aba, so all my life i've felt like a spare part.