I stayed awake one night, with a big knife placed on my wrist. Yes, it was big, and it was also blunt. I was a coward, too, as I couldn’t go through with it.
Instead I took a bottle of mild tablets, and hoped not to wake up.
The next day, I told my mother I wasn’t feeling well. We went to the hospital.
I went in to the doctor’s room with my mother trailing behind, picture a ball and chain. She felt wounded when they asked her to leave the room. I felt relief.
And I was able to tell them of my psychological state, freely.
The doctor referred me to another hospital, with a psychiatric unit. Inside my medical folder the doctor had written ‘SUICIDAL’ in capital letters.
My mother wore the expression of shame. It dripped from her tongue as she stumbled over the same questions she asked of me. The ‘why’s’, to the ‘what are the people going to say?’ The need to be told that it wasn’t true, that it was some horrible mistake, nightmare.
I was stone cold. I just knew that I needed this for myself, and this was my cry for help.
In the black community mental health is treated as a taboo. When the troubles of life weigh one down, and one is precariously teetering on the edge with no one to speak to, until one eventually breaks down.
You see the many who have dropped over the edge, the vacant eyes, the unceasing ranting, the scavengers of other’s rubbish. That is the picture that comes to mind of people with psychological struggles. The image that is shunned, ridiculed and treated with contempt.
Then the dialogue that ensues is of “unamafufunyana” (one has an evil spirit / they have been bewitched.)
As we sat there in the admission hall, the nurses and staff crowded at the admission desk. Openly pointing, probing and assuming. “It’s a boyfriend” they unanimously agreed.
My mother visited each of those three days I was there for observation. I spoke to a psychologist who gave me cognitive therapy even after I was released and had to return for counselling. Cognitive therapy seeks to identify the stressors that lead to the depression, and to find alternative avenues to handle that event in a positive way.
Going back to attending class and writing exams was extremely hard, as the news had spread that far.
When that year was dusted and packed away, I escaped to a larger city – a place where I would be just another face in the crowd, one more number. It worked, I felt invisible. I spiralled further into darkness, bad relationships, and recklessness for a period of two years.
The turbulence subsided when I sought help and began professional counselling again. I was diagnosed with depression and was put on light medication. Six or so months later I stopped the medication as I thought that I was healed and I could handle anything, I was feeling good again. I was cruising on a high, making good decisions, until I made a bad one, and descended to that familiar dark place.
That is where I made the realization that there was truth in what my counsellor had said – that people have different ways of dealing with situations. And that therapy didn’t mean that you’re crazy, but that it’s a tool that can be utilised to by anyone for emotional support. I accepted that the level of happy chemicals in my brain was low in comparison to most and that I would need the medication to restore the chemical imbalance.
The day I admitted it to myself, is the day I freed myself of the shame that had cloaked me for a long time.