Writer, Chameleon, Bipolar

I feel as if I am in a constant state of imbalance. It’s like being on a neverending rollercoaster ride. My life in writing started in childhood. It’s kind of cemented there with a stressful mother and a traumatised father. This stress materialised in my life as a child, in a precocious nature, as a swimmer, adolescent, young adult and now has resulted in my chronic illness, in my fatigue, in the myriad of ailments that I have. Poor health. Ill health and I think of my times of writing, and these were my happiest moments. The moments and times when I had the capacity to learn, to think, to be prepared, to be imaginative and productive. I think of faraway Kenya and writing about a country that I know nothing about. I think about the tragic incidents in my life that I was not prepared for. I think of everything that I prayed and hoped for that came true or that never came true for me in my life. I know death is out there. It is waiting for me. This shroud, or basically whatever it is, this veil that covers my face when the world sleeps. My body seems to absorb this darkness, this energy and my body seems to lack vigour and vitality. There’s an inefficiency. I need to be taken care of. I know that now. My mother hovers but I lack her spirit. It is only a penetrating coldness that she feels for me now. Something I cannot get through to. It slides off me but it also in ways and means purifies me. I never leave the house. Never. I run errands sometimes. I visit the doctor or go to the shop to buy a milk tart or prawn crisps or chocolate eclairs or a fancy meal or some pre-packaged salad.

My brother is rude to my father and mother. He curses, is loud, is he proud of this behaviour and I know we should have left him years ago but what would have happened to him? Neglected and abandoned would he not have turned to the streets? His lady is pregnant and smokes. Does she not know she is harming the baby? I have problems. My mother is tired and sad. My father is depressed and worn out just with living. He wants to escape and when he wants to escape he takes his walker and tries to maneuver his way through the front door. My sister has disappeared somewhere in Europe. I wouldn’t know the street she lives on. We do not know where she lives. She never gave us her address. She did not come home for Christmas in 2023. Anything could have happened. Nobody picks up at her number anymore. We go on with our lives somehow. I was never close to my sister. My father explains the behaviour of my brother by saying he is a drug addict. That his brain is damaged. I am damaged and I wonder if it was my forlorn mother and weeping father who started us on this cycle. This tour into hellish terrain.

I regard the sensibilities and sacrifices of women who came before me, who were older, wiser, shamanic, and religious in their rituals of acquiring the human capital of husbands, motherhood, progeny and all of the pure and infinite rituals that came with it. That and poetry and writing as being the wuthering heights that humanity, the female identity, the feminine intellectual with her psyche and fractured ego can reach. There is a significant response that comes with the relief of understanding why we feel so wounded. Earth is earth. Nothing earth-shattering about that, only that sometimes we see our wounds and the hand that life has dealt us with as we might stigmata. The benefits that writing can bring to you can come with millions of thoughts clicking away like the mental switch that controls the order or disorder of the reality we find ourselves in. Amongst nature, the environment, climate change, global warming, the seasons, the reader will find the lack of mother-love rearing her head like a thoroughbred. Whatever inspired Ted Hughes during his lifetime as a poet inspires me as a prose writer. Abuse is the unseen borne from an unquiet mind. In children it can have far-reaching effects, and consequences. Children who come from dysfunctional homes will often find themselves up against tough challenges later in life if the same-sex parent chose one child above them in childhood, and if the same-sex parent was an individual who was abusive they will struggle to sustain adult relationships with people.

They will always be searching for the identity of love. Intimacy to build up reserves of self-worth that they do not have, that they never found in their home life and from parents who they hero-worshiped. The people, and events in the history of South Africa and in an African context that I am inspired by are all here with me in spirit and women in Europe and America are also with me in spirit. I in return am at their mercy. Their candour, energy breathes life into my imagination, prose writing, my society, my education, and my liberating myself from the subconscious lens that we are unaware of that is documenting the minutiae of our life.

Those are some of the gritty and not so easy to face up to themes which make up the fabric of this essay. For most of our lives as children, teen-agers, young adults and grownups we find ourselves in the midst of being in pursuit of something. I feel that way when I am writing. When I am approaching poetry I feel anxious and there is a sense of trepidation. There is a nervous, impenetrable kind of electric energy that shakes us to our core, to our very being and sometimes if we are lucky as poets and writers it shakes humanity to its core as we come face to face with our flaws and we realise we might not be, or our parents might not be as perfect as we might have thought they were. There is always tension on the surface area of things, niggling doubt, questions that we cannot refrain ourselves from asking. I don’t think I have ever read a book talking openly about depression.

I doubt whether it has ever been dealt with, the recovery period, the relapse, being hospitalised in an institution in an African context so I decided why I don’t do (what on the surface) seems impossible and write a book about depression and how it affects young people. Why don’t I write a book about sexuality and the promiscuous behaviour of young girls who are all extraordinarily beautiful in their own way (which is why I called the book “Beautiful Girls”)? Why don’t I write stories dealing with themes of that nature because I have never come across it (an African writer and here I might be mistaken. Perhaps there is a book out there that exists that has covered the issue of suicidal depression, terminal illness) before. I always like to look at my work as experimental. And this essay charts that passage into the world of the ordinary, and the extraordinary.

How quickly childhood turns from ordinary into extraordinary. How quickly a child’s intelligence turns from gifted to genius, accepting the adult nature of the state of the disturbing and unnatural lack of mother-love into turning it into something that is staggeringly brilliant. In the end the protagonist of the story finds healing and therapy through writing.

Anger is not normal. I rage. I vent. Am antagonistic. Like a burnt onion my mood goes up and down, it changes, is transformative as the taste and flavour of the day. My personality can be highly emotive, empathic and intelligent. That’s the meeting point where I find my story. I cut out repetition, the cutting out of the cliff viscerally and yes, sometimes there has been a marked departure from intelligence, story, the river that runs through and carries the narrative. I consider what the world offers up to me, the environment that I find myself in. Life begins in mystery. I think of the death of the soldier on the battlefield and might write a poem proving life through the process of my own personal growth. What does the story say, what is its intention, its craft, its personality that I am seeing? Mostly I see my agenda and its sometimes condescending, this discipline and its specificity. Its nuance begins with my intellectualism. It badgers me so much that I have to give in to the energy of the work and this in turn gives way to the politics of the prose, the complexities in the wake of the work that opens itself up to self-conscious ideology.

There’s a denial to be found, a dropping of illusion in hitting the bottom. Something is erased, perhaps a kind of optimism. I have always found a pathway to hope. There is a stone in the path and the writer, you as the writer either see it as an obstacle or a difficulty or you come to see it as a challenge. This is the reason why we are alive and where we find ourselves to be. The writer holds opposites up constantly, hope and despair, the illusion which is false and the result which is a belief. When I think of illness, the chronic fatigue I battle, there are days when all the useless and pathetic critic in me sees is the endless misery and mindgame of struggle. I am stopped, my growth stunted, when feeling and mind, soul, spirit and body become soundless, Darwinian, and yes, stunted and the division erupts quietly and oozes with review and correction. What is the partial truth of the writer that emerges? That they are spiritual. All writing is autobiographical as a phenomenon and spiritual as I become older. As I age I have to assert my principles. I turn to poetic prose and on that universal brink I connect to humanity. The clock falls. There are moments that I cannot grasp in this realm, in this system. In the present, in the moments when I dream, when I am psychotic, when I am insane, uneasy I am still living. I am still alive in those moments.

There’s attention placed on tension in the prose. It plugs relentlessly away at this capitol feeling within that turns this spiritual dial when it discovers the undulating and exaggerated pattern within, between, in the middle of the pause, that interlude that judo chops its way in the intersection of the text. I have searched for love even in the text, in far worse stories of addiction and abuse and darkness. I have discovered the power of love in the dynamic of interpersonal relationships, in that capacity that as I am falling asleep under the glow of moonlight I know, have this gospel truth of my own weakness and of how limited I am.

Early last year I went on a writing retreat. It was for a week on a beautiful farm, the drive there was scenic, the meals were wholesome. Country living. Country food. The theology of all of that became so sacred to me for the week. Everyone was kind and in the face of that I realised I was powerless and with a sensibility I also realised that I, in this contradictory political arena, had an innate power in the face of the other writers. They had a choice. Whether or not to listen to me. It was a choice for them. The structure of the retreat lent itself to friendship, joie de vivre, good will. Does fortune not favour the brave? It was brave of me to go and I felt on my return inspired, motivated and encouraged. But there were harsh elements to the group dynamic. There was the Empire and the Jedi master and the poet and the outsider. The wife, the friendships that were forged before I arrived on the scene. Near the end of that experience, I began to feel like an educated outsider. Be more specific, I told myself about your work. I carried traces of my chronic illness and fatigue in my clothes even if it was just the barest traces. I left the lights on and did very little writing when I should have been more consistent and used the time and the scenery to spend more time writing. I am always trying to spend more time writing. It becomes a cycle for me. Like every season that too passed for me.

In recovery there is no time for shame. There are passages in health for both reflection and self-destruction. There has been abuse in my life. I began to turn the abuse on myself. The words when it came offered me solace as it cut through me, rendered me obsolete, suffering, torn, my heart in shreds. I asked the world at these times, “Why me?” I asked this question with tissue and organ in disarray. I asked this question as my body began to turn in on itself, masking what I was really thinking. I asked it while I cared for my father, while my mother, siblings, relatives, neighbours rejected me. Of course, in this emotional isolation I dreamed up a life, dreamed up status, a position in which I was happy, had disposable income, security. While my brother wanted me to smoke a joint with him, I looked at him with a kind of sadness and despair. I have these memories where I say no, where I do not give in.

Abigail George
Abigail George
Abigail George is a researcher and historian. Follow her on Facebook, Linkedin and Instagram @abigailgeorgepoet.