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 was not. 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 cliché 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 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 Parisian 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 is understood, 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 cannot colour happiness outside the edges of your life and imagine it is a sea mist surrounding your body when inside you are 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 had envisaged myself being, but not a 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 remains. It is both a reminder of what came before and what lies ahead in my future.
The following essay was published in the book ‘Being Bipolar: Stories from Those Living with the Disorder and Those Who Love Them’ by Rachel Ellen Koski (Editor) as well as the 34th Ovi Symposium in Ovi Magazine: Finland’s English Online Magazine.