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African Renaissance

Special Report: The Scrapbook of a Bipolar

Abigail George

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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?

Bipolar or manic depression 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.

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Abigail George is a feminist, poet and short story writer. She is the recipient of two South African National Arts Council Writing Grants, one from the Centre for the Book and the Eastern Cape Provincial Arts and Culture Council. She was born and raised in the coastal city of Port Elizabeth, the Eastern Cape of South Africa, educated there and in Swaziland and Johannesburg. She has written a novella, books of poetry, and collections of short stories. She is busy with her brother putting the final additions to a biography on her father’s life. Her work has recently been anthologised in the Sol Plaatje EU Poetry Anthology IV. Her work was nominated for the Pushcart Prize. She briefly studied film.

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African Renaissance

Yesterday Once More: Me, Anorexia Nervosa and Karen Carpenter

Abigail George

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There is no light at the end of the world only solemn-wounds and trees that haunt in the heavenly country where I live. Everyone suffers at some point in their lives. Reindeer of hurt planted on their tongue.

Soak this in sea or plateau. Landscape or context. Coming to poetry in the beginning was difficult for me. Words were like jam and had their own alter-ego. And then poetry loosened its soul against my own and went all-historic on me. It was poetry that took me to the sea. It was poetry that took me to the mountain. Covered me in shroud, veil, and ornamental tapestry. And sometimes in the evenings I watch the birds come home until the light of day becomes ecclesiastical.

Open the door and you will find a kingdom there. There are things that you need to know about me. I have a conversation inside my head about how some people should not be parents but they are. But they are. They fight in front of their children. They watch the news or inappropriate films. I look at my mother’s bent head over her work. I am doing this for her but she does not notice. Does not say anything. I look at her bird nose and her beak mouth and I have this urge to connect with her but she does not want to connect with me. I feel tribal towards her.

She’s an orphan in the world now. I dreamt about my grandfather last night or was it last week.

I think of the pale fire of the sea that resonates within me like thunder. Of course, I have always wanted music in my life. People are writing about modern loss now. Living in loops. I look at my mother’s bare neck. Her shoulder blades, and I think to myself that I came from that. I came from her intense psychologies. There’s the upward push of her fingers as she works. I would have put music on or the radio but she said that she works better in silence. She works barefoot like a girl, and I think of her pressing into my father’s back at night when they sleep together in the same bed, and I think of how some people should never have been parents and then.

Then I think of mine. I think of the silence in their bedroom and the last things they say to each other before putting out the light and putting their heads on the pillow. I wonder did my father always make my mother feel safe. I don’t know what that’s like. Believing in a man. Believing that he can give you the world. I think of the truth about loneliness. About how it’s all stardust, moonlight and roses. I think of the men who have been kind to my mother in her life because she was a beautiful woman and didn’t have to work hard for attention from kind or unkind men. The way that I have had to work hard for it my entire life, and I wonder if my mother has ever kissed my father’s neck like I kissed the last man that I was ever in love with.

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African Renaissance

Diary of a filmmaker, the fox and the curtain

Abigail George

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I woke up with my hands full of leaves. Marakana and Lonmin are all over the news. My brother the wolf guy, the lone wolf, Wolf didn’t know how to sing and how to hold down a melody between his ears. But he did like music.

Every kind and when he laughed, he howled. I could hear his laughter as if the veil was lifting from his belly. He was the first person who ever taught me about issues of trust and loyalty, vulnerability and morality and giving up the ghosts. The boy in him was the purest part of my memory of him. The geometry of loneliness was built into him long before I ever reached any kind of love story, any kind of instruction on that world that dominates. Between my parents there was denial, shame, truth, separation between both of their depressions. My father’s mood was manic and my mother mood was pensive. So, they would alternate. So, we all lived with broody illness. She would be sulky, moody, shout and disagreeable and mostly ignore us and forget that we have to eat hearty meals of meat and potatoes rich and thick with gravy, that the meat would have to be taken out of the freezer to defrost. She would shout at my father. How he could do nothing right. Was he having an affair? Why wasn’t he a family man? Paying more attention (to her). So, we lived like this, the three of us, my brother, my sister and myself for all of our young lives never daring to question it, thinking that this was the way everybody lived. Sometimes they would go out.

They would behave like a couple. They would go to the movies and be like girlfriend and boyfriend. I would wonder if they would share their popcorn and hold hands. My father would write at night working on his thesis. My mother would watch television. They would be in separate rooms but you could still cut the tension in the house with a knife. My sister and I would do what my mother did throughout her life. Watch love stories and read them. We had a library. Access to books in a way other children did not have. The paperbacks my father bought in London. The romance novels mummy read. In all of this happy-mess my brother came into the world, into the exciting times of two people who had decided that because they loved each other they would get married and start a family just because they could. The lives of four people, individuals who learned the controversial mechanism of not giving in to the unstable because it would mean you were weak and vulnerable. Fathers are supposed to be charming. Mothers are supposed to be poised. Houses are supposed to be filled with joy every day of the year not just Easter, Christmas or birthdays. Mummy was stylish even when she was wearing her glasses.

Even when she crashed and burned on the sofa chair while my sister and I played on the floor with our dolls, re-enacting the same territory, the same drama our parents had come from. Drama filled with a man having enough rope to hang himself, war stories, and a father who had another family. Children who did not have his surname though. Then there was the drama of alcoholism, clinics for stress, burnout and depression in faraway cities and a clinic and a notorious hospital that was close by. Just a twenty-minute ride away to visit over the years, the childhood years, and the years that counted the most. People stopped coming to visit and I stopped having friends come over because mummy needed to rest. At least that was what I told myself. One day she yelled and screamed, cursed, pulled the sheets off the bed as if she was a mad woman. And then I began to look for her in the books I read. I called her Mrs. Rochester when I read Jane Eyre. I watched, observed and learned. Her imprint marked me like my father’s old books and divided us forever. Sadness seeped into my home, my bones, the stars and fat moon, everything, everything. The sun burned and left a scar on my forehead.

I couldn’t see it when I looked in the mirror but when I put my palm against my head, I could feel it. Anger, now that was something else. It was a sharp and bright force. It came with the momentum that any negative energy came from. Hot and cold, Iceland and Hawaii and it hit me literally between the eyes. It was potent, made itself seem significant and important, as if it had any kind of real substance and staying power. But it would also vanish just as soon as it had appeared. So, I am not afraid of Virginia Woolf and of speaking of the data of her sorrow, her memory, behind the scenes of the wasteland of her childhood. Sometimes things go wrong but not today. Sometimes holding onto the videotape, that stream of consciousness thinking of the position of a dream of a man turning into dust is enough. This is my diary. A diary caught on videotape, life through a lens as I see it. I think that is when and how and why I decided to go to film school. I had all these images that I had collected over the years and stored up in reserves in my heart. Finally, I decided one day that writing about them was not enough. I needed more time to compulsively declare them to the world to be the truth about what happened to all three of us.

It had become an obsession. These thoughts, my goals, all the psychological heresy and games that is in my mind’s eye held down in text while serotonin and dopamine is whizzing around in my head (that I furiously wanted to fix, hold down, stick to). There is nothing neurological about preeminent death. It will come whether we want it, and will it to or not. The bluish sky was filled once upon a time with laughter, with your laughter. Your glee had never been so magnificent. All we wanted to do was live. In childhood we were tigers, mannequins, clowns, climbing trees like monkeys, aping them before an organic depression cloaked us, dealt us stealthily with blows, neglect. I abandoned you, Wolf. I know that now. We were perfect once and loveable, adorable, wacky before we put up barriers to our inner vision and dreams. Projects to build empires reside in us still. And then the darkness came, that monster, those monsters of shame and prejudice. No friend of yours or mine but it was activated all the same. In parking lots in Johannesburg, I dreamt of change and freedom and love as I felt hands reaching out towards my thundering heart. I never felt the electricity of passion passing through me like a beam of lightning.

I never saw trees in Johannesburg. All I saw was a city and smoke. And men and I saw them everywhere I went. I saw them sitting in cars, in peak traffic, smoking, in restaurants, with wives and children pulling on them, reading newspapers, in a glorious office space and most of all I saw them walking past me, leaving me behind. All these strangers inspiring me towards greatness like you have done for most of your life. I have to make everything up to you. It came from your childhood. Life is an event that we are always waiting for.

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African Renaissance

Alcoholism: Cloud Briefly Visible For A Moment Above Zelda Fitzgerald’s Head

Abigail George

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I think of total exhaustion and being. How it takes me from winter to summer. Then I think of you and the space, the gap you in-habit for me.

The thing is I don’t distrust you, or pain. I think of you unburdened.

I think of you but you’re light years away from me now. Once I called you home. Once you called me sanctuary. Your hands were like a hat full of leaves, a porcelain teacup full of blue sky. Now all I know is betrayal, ghost protocol, the estrangement of the heart, the page, the frozen sea. I am the surgeon. You are the vibes in my fingers at the operating table. You are the phases of a Saturday morning, the leveling out of daylight. There’s nothing common about you. About your system of arrows, your symphony of sorrows. You’re light, I’m a bird found with an olive branch in it’s mouth. The notes found here in this world’s paradise are tentative. I’m thinking of you again. Now what is so wrong about that. You were romance, and I was homelessness. Now all that I know of love is extinct for me.

Zelda is waiting for the light. We’re all waiting on the museum. She’s waiting for the light. I’m waiting for the light. The world is full of stories for us to sup on. Even you must have one. The text sparkles.

It stretches out into the widening silence. Zelda is fathoming. The old girl has hit her head. She is bleeding from the wound. Her heart over the years has been faithful. Zelda is young and smart and no-nonsense. The priest must come over the vastness of desert and city jungle. The priest must come to pray for me. Zelda is not holy like the tubers and fossils found underground are. I’m left to clutch at the bird in my hand.

Zelda is eating sunflower seeds and honey. The old girl pours milk into her tea. I’m falling in love with Tarzan. Me Jane. Let’s give thanks. Let’s celebrate the galaxies. New and old.

I fear photographs and the cold sea’s philosophy. Now we all grow like wildflowers. Anywhere that we please. Like the seed of a mustard tree.

There’s nothing as beautiful as the newspaper man eating fresh plums.

The woods, mushrooms, potatoes. The vibrations of foliage. Daylight.

Glory. A tender swarm. The triumph of an athlete. The redemption of a sinner. Spring found in the desert. A Saturday morning. Leaf! Oh, sacred leaf! Universal winter. Cat. The action of rope found in blood.

The shadow of a woman found in the venerable wild. There’s nothing as beautiful as deep-blue love. The echo of a bird. An icy wind that freezes everything green but the gap of time. A page in a book. Golden people. Fire. Bright places. Novel places. Iron faces. The out-lines of a lonely season and hills. There’s nothing as beautiful as the woman in the photograph. The bride of high summer days. The confession of a sinner. The perfumed juice of a pear. Bird. Field.

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