The reason I am writing this is to help someone who is in the same situation where I found myself eighteen years ago so they can benefit from my own funny, unique, sometimes hurtful, painful, uncomfortable and even humiliating personal experience. I am writing this is to answer the questions I had about myself, the discovery that my depression was not clinical depression but that it was manic depression, the onset of my mood swings and Christianity in my own life. If North America can be described as the 'Prozac Nation' by the North American author Elizabeth Wurtzel and the USA coined the terms 'hype' and 'spin' then why is mental health such a low on the list of priorities of the people we voted into power when it basically affects everyone around us directly or indirectly, in a significant manner or otherwise?
It is a psychiatric illness also known as bipolar mood disorder or having mood swings. I have lived with this debilitating, mysterious and deadly disease my whole life. I have struggled to overcome the stigma attached to this disease by people who are intimidated by anything that they do not have any control over.
This is my story. Sometimes I imagine that I am standing on a stage giving a seminar when I say those words.
I am just like you. I believe there is nothing extraordinary about my life except the way I choose to live it. Some people have to have physical proof that something is amiss with their body. We put so much of our faith into the hands of healers. Faith is a supernatural force of will. Time, God, homeopathy, holistic repatterning, reflexology, full body massage, tea, herbal infusions, therapists, psychiatrists and doctors are all healers. We don't have time to visualise and reflect what our bodies are trying to tell us why we are hurting.
The illness was there for a long time. Now when I look back the truth about it is undeniable. It can be cured - or at best prevented from recurring - to the best of the patient, the doctor and the pharmacist's ability.
I don't believe in labels like gifted, talented, creative genius or eccentric.
It is such a fine illness that influences subtle nuances in an individual's behaviour, that it takes a cluster of specific symptoms to diagnose it. It takes charge of your brain's serotonin and dopamine levels. The feel- good hormones in your brain and that are when your slow descent into a personal and very private hell begins - your secret pain.
I was brought up in a liberal-minded household by parents who believed that love, happiness and peacefulness where greater aspirations than prestige, position and status. I am part of only a lucky few. I was taught not to bear grudges. I was told when someone hurt my feelings to ignore him or her and see him or her for who they truly were. I was taught to be forgiving and understanding and that there wasn't any difference between the rich and the poor children at the schools I went to. I was taught that the noblest profession in the world was being a teacher. Re-enforcing values and excellence, as well as enriching wonderfully young lives filled with so much hope and promise.
My parents taught by example. My father is a community leader and my mother is a teacher.
What I do believe is that the word stigma is a synonym for phobia. I believe people choose to see the very best in someone and that their judgment is clouded when they ignore the rest. Acceptance is something that I think we all think comes at a very high price. It is the denial of human dignity that comes at a great price with unforeseeable circumstances.
The signs and symptoms of a hypomanic episode are as follows. You behave wild and free, have depressive slumps, spiraling depression. You don't sleep. You don't nap. You are the focus - the centre of the universe. You are beautiful, smart, determined but the reflection that everybody else sees is militant, horribly annoying and irritating.
You feel humiliated in later introspection while others felt uncomfortable in your presence. You were Dr. Jekyll incognito and Mr. Hyde in the flesh.
There is a genetic predisposition to depression and mania as well. There has been a history of mental illness on my father's side including alcoholism, depression and suicide.
Depression is a devastating illness that affects millions of people worldwide. The more family values are on the decrease the more suicide is on the increase.
People refer to their depression as sadness and stress. Mental health seems not to be a moot point for people in government. To the world at large that are still suffering in silence, I say, break the silence; add a visible, outspoken voice. There are more of us out there than you realise. Keep on fighting. I did. I do everyday and as I take my first breathe for the day, I thank God I am alive. It's not brave when you're not scared and sometimes I am both good days and bad.
I had no idea I was sick for a long time. Later in the beginning stages it defined who I was. My whole life revolved around hiding my disease. Sometimes it was easy to hide and sometimes it wasn't. It was cerebral. It was a catalyst. There was no scarring, no wound, no stitches and sutures required. I have changed. I have changed for the better only just these last few years. I am a nicer person. I am kinder. My rough edges are softer. Perhaps it is a clique but it has become true. As the popular song goes, 'We can find love if we search within ourselves' but also, I believe, everywhere if we look hard enough.
People who suffer from mental illness think that they are a burden to society. Fact. The suicide rate amongst teenagers - the most vulnerable group - is growing. Fact. Social grants are on the increase as well due to a decrease in family values, growing up as orphans or having a single parent, poverty, unemployment, depression and stress. The list goes on. Rape, domestic violence, battered woman syndrome and the stigmatisation of mental illness is never-ending.
Fact. Some people still continue to have a blind faith in their medical aid or fund, that is, if they have one. Ignorance is like scar tissue, subterranean and lurking beneath the surface. Whoever said ignorance is bliss was duping her or himself. Unless a forum or a platform can be raised to break the silence, annihilate in one blow the stigma of mental illness and of prejudice. Suffering in silence from depression and stress, families will break up and kids will be caught in the crossfire of divorce. There is nothing more devastating in the world than a child who feels unloved and has no self-esteem.
Both Princess Diana and Mother Theresa said that the greatest disease that exists today is the feeling of being unloved.
I felt bewildered when I read 'The girl in the Parisienne dress', an article that was published in another popular women's magazine on Ingrid Jonker; a celebrated South African poet. She was a genius, that goes without saying, but also deeply emotionally unstable because of her childhood and her past and the one man who she would never gain approval or love from - her father. You can't colour happiness outside the edges of your life and imagine it's a sea mist surrounding your body when inside you're backsliding and waning in gloom and doom. Everything around you is blacker than night. William Styron, an American writer, described depression as 'darkness visible' and that was the name of the book he wrote chronicling his own depression as well. I think that there are no two words that describe depression and stress better than 'darkness visible'.
There is one thing that I have learned during the past eighteen years. The future is still in my power, even though the past cannot be changed. Mental illness is not a human stain. Currently I am working on an anthology of my poetry, a collection of short stories and I am beginning work on a novel co-authored with my father called 'From hell to eternity: A memoir of madness'. Earlier this year I received a grant from the National Arts Council which not only encouraged me to begin to write again - this time with both my survival and my experience in mind - but to put together some of my earlier poetry in a collection entitled 'Africa, where art thou?' Yes, my life has turned out rather unconventionally from who, what, where I'd envisaged myself being but not day goes by now that I am not thankful for. I do not question why I am here or what my divine purpose is. I am not driven by fear and uncertainties anymore or if I behave self-consciously. Although there is still a sorrow here I cannot reform, that yields stillness in quiet moments of reflection or contemplation, every event in my life composes furious life anew. Through all the infinite wisdom of my mistakes that came before, the love of my family still remains. It is both a reminder of what came before and what lies ahead in my future.
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