We are seduced by people, individuals’ who achieve extraordinarily. I never thought I would be living the life that I am living now. I am literally living out my dream. I am a poet, and a writer. I was very much in love with the stage as a child. I was four. I started reading when I was four. I was eight when I wrote my first poem. My friends were writing stories about Barbie and Ken. I was quoting Shakespeare.
I took part in plays when I was very young, all through high school.
Lead role in the house play. Editor of the school magazine. I wanted to be a child prodigy, a gifted child for the rest of my life. I always wondered where does it come from? This nature to drive yourself to achieve, achieve, achieve.
Achieve nothing less than perfection. I was perhaps only five years old, or, perhaps even younger than that. I thought to myself later on in life, when I was a teenager and beginning to feel the onslaught of peer pressure. I wasn’t fitting in. I was being bullied. I didn’t have a boyfriend, but I made up for that in my twenties. There was for a time period a complete lack of interest in anything academic, or, social, or, athletic in high school. I consciously chose not to succeed. I told myself I didn’t want to be successful. In my mind, if I wasn’t successful people would like me more. Life didn’t work out like that. I was my father’s daughter. So, I had this depression in high school. It would continue, these spells all through my life.
The depression did two things. It made me go into an almost catatonic state. I did not speak. I did not communicate. I didn’t talk to anyone. Then there was the onset of eating disorders. A phase of anorexia, which turned into bulimia. On again and off again in high school. On again and off again in my early twenties. My body. My physical body became a villain. I couldn’t trust what to eat. So, the bipolar genius is obsessive. But we don’t all have obsessive compulsive disorder. I was, still am a perfectionist. I have to at least write a certain amount of words in a day. I have to write a poem, or, meditative haiku. Not just one but a series of them. Also, people in high school, other students would say, you’re so ahead of your time.
This did not make me feel good. It only made me feel more different.
Is it natural, or spiritual, and why don’t I have it? When I was very young, I would watch a lot of television. Some good shows. Mostly sitcoms of happy families. My family was dysfunctional. I have a brilliant manic-depressive father, who was the principal of a high school in a sub-economic area in the Northern Areas, of the Eastern Cape, South Africa. He worked on his doctorate in philosophy for nearly a decade. Riding up and down to Grahamstown for about on average every two weeks. Sometimes I would go with him. I would play on the hallowed grounds of the university. I’d be about six or seven years old. We’d be the only people of colour there.
Everybody had a degree. Professor Ray Tunmer was my dad’s supervisor.
He’d make coffee before they began to go through the chapters of his thesis my father had worked on the evenings when he came home from work. I’d watch him sleep. Watch the news sitting on his lap. My father was my life. My father was my entire life. My mother, a narcissist, is still an extremely beautiful woman. She had it all. She was also very religious. Experienced the loss of her youngest brother early in life. Her father was a high-functioning alcoholic. I’d walk around as if I owned the place. We’d eat strawberries and drink pineapple juice at a roadside stall. Creativity seems almost second nature to them? It captivates lesser mortals. The average.
But there’s the other side to the creativity, the creative mind of someone who suffers from bipolar. Is it a mood disorder or a brain disorder? Why do I have to take the medication? Why do I feel isolated and rejected from society? Why do creatives live solitary lives it seems? Are they lonely people that have social patterns of self-destructive behaviour? The bipolar genius takes life literally moment by moment. They live fully in the moment. Immerse themselves in it. It is very much an unorthodox life. The life of the creative.
You’re a gifted personality. It never leaves you. There were many, many times I thought that, there it goes. My poetic gift was gone. It wasn’t. It was always there. As a child I had the flair for the dramatic.
Able to memorize poetry written by Emily Dickinson, study and portray Shakespearean characters in monologues from his plays. I still think that bipolar mood disorder doesn’t make me special, but daily there are breakthroughs. Research studies are being done on the brain all over the world. We must take cognisance of the fact that it is a lonely life. Creative people understand loneliness, the solitary life better than anyone else. I think in retrospect it was my mother who wanted to be up there, under the spotlight, on the stage. For me, sometimes everything came a little too easy, a little too effortlessly. Being different when you’re young and gifted, when you’re a child prodigy doesn’t make you popular. It makes you stand out.
When you are a child you do not want to stand out in this way, you just want to go to the park, play on the swings (but of course, every single thing that I did with my younger siblings, also gifted, was a competition). Genius is unafraid to challenge the status quo. Genius is not frightened of asking questions about the world around them.
What they can do with their imagination and creativity far outweighs what the average person can do. I’ve asked myself that eternal question, “Why me?” I’m a writer and a poet. Some days it feels as if, it’s even acknowledged deep inside of me, as if I was born to do it.
You hear this all the time. I was born to do this. I was born to imagine, to create, to progress in life using these gifts, but my creativity is genetic.
My father is a brilliant educationalist. He is the most selfless, giving and gifted person I know. He grew up in a time when there was a great deal of alcoholism, addiction around him, poverty and the promulgation of the Group Areas Act, I think what people today refer to as the forced removals. In those days you could not have relationships’ and marry across the colour line. It was the law in South Africa. The fact of suicide. People have committed suicide in our family. Mental illness is in our genetic makeup. He has six degrees. He studied at London University, he went to Rhodes in Grahamstown, he went to the University of the Western Cape (Bush
University) during apartheid. He wanted to become a medical doctor, but his family was poor. His mother was a seamstress, cleaned houses, and churches and took in washing.
His older sister had to go to work, leave school and put her brothers through university. He is also creative. He is a writer. Has written pamphlets on mental wellness. He has co-authored books on historical non-fiction. He was moody. Still is. But now I know that it is simply an aspect of not only creativity, not only an aspect of genius. Every knows who my father is in the Northern Areas. A few months ago, they named a building after him in Port Elizabeth. This is our normal.
Writing books, engaging in discussions about politics, relationships, life into the early hours of the morning, watching documentaries on apartheid, and me listening to my father talk about the past. About how he heard Ruth First speak.
This was at an African National Congress conference in London. How he was recruited into a subversive organization when he sixteen years of age, along with his brother. How his comrade Dulcie September was assassinated. This is how we live. We live to understand our brain.
How our brain functions. The deeper levels of imagination that only highly intelligent people have access to. It is not easy to have an above-average intelligence. People are always testing you. If you are creative, highly intelligent, have bipolar, or a recurring (see chronic here) mental illness. You don’t write books to make money. To get on the New York Times Bestseller list, or, to become a national bestseller. I write books that will move a person, because that is all that it takes. Just one person is all it takes to start a movement.
That one person can influence other people, communities, learners in every sphere of life (like my dad did). That’s why I write. My father devoted his entire life to learning everything he could about the brain. Philosophy, education, psychology, mental aberrations’, physical abnormalities, and the effect that it had on the mind. That’s why my father writes. In our world, we’re normal. In the outside world, we’re outsiders. But would you rather want to change the world, the way that people think and move and exist and evolve in their reality, or would you rather be average. Coast through life. Marry, have a family. I’m here today to tell you that there’s a kind of nobility in that. Those are noble ideals too. To be follower, or disciple. What you are doing to the utmost of your ability, God sees that.