Artists, Radicals and Fringe Jews

Luftmentsch writes diary posts about his life, including searching for his place in his British Jewish community and challenges he faces with autism and certain mental health conditions. This piece starts with an account of a work task he faced for his job; it was first published on his site.

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I slept late again. It didn’t surprise me, as I got to bed very late after the family dinner yesterday and I was quite exhausted and peopled out from the day. I left my phone on my bedside table (as opposed to on the other side of the room as I usually leave it) in case J phoned about the Very Scary Task and I hoped I would hear if a text came in (my phone has stopped pinging when texts come in and I can’t make it do it again). I dozed through the morning, part sleeping, part waiting for a message, but nothing came in. I texted J at lunch time and he told me where the holdup was. I was glad I hadn’t missed something (a call or a text) and caused the delay.

I was hanging on all day waiting for a call or text, being reluctant to start doing anything else in case I had to stop. Then, just when I thought it wasn’t happening today, about 4pm, I texted J to confirm and he said he had just received the form needed for the next stage, so I suddenly had to get myself into work mode. I had to make a number of phone calls, including some with poor reception. I played a lot of telephone tag and waited around for people to get back to me. I found it hugely stressful, and it was late in the day, when I had intended to cook dinner. By 6pm I felt physically tense, as if I’d triggered my flight-or-fight response. I wasn’t completely finished until nearly 7pm, by which stage I was pretty exhausted. I was too tired to cook and ate frozen pizza instead (which I think I didn’t cook properly — I was so tired and hungry that I didn’t notice until I was three quarters of the way through eating it, which probably was not healthy). I wasn’t working on this task continuously from 4 to 7pm, but I was working quite a lot (and it was hard to do other things when I was expecting to be called back), so I asked J if I can have an hour off tomorrow and he agreed.

I might have to do it all over again tomorrow or next week, as we do have to deal with this task a lot. It really is the core task of our organisation. J usually deals with it as he works more days than I do, or is at least on hand if I get into trouble, but as he is on holiday, I said I would deal with it.

I also think I talk too fast on the phone because I’m nervous and as a result people can’t hear or understand what I’m saying, which has led to some slightly awkward conversations.

Other than that, I didn’t do much. I finished my devar Torah, did some Torah study (finished reading Nehemiah: Statesman and Sage) and went for a walk as I hadn’t been out the house since Monday.

***

As well as feeling burnt out and hanging in suspense about the Very Scary Task, I’ve been pondering something about creativity and my place in the Orthodox Jewish community. I thought a bit about it yesterday, but didn’t really want to write about it, but I keep running into it online again. I guess I had two interactions that seemed to take place at opposite ends of a spectrum, and I don’t like either end.

One interaction was on a Jewish website where I said that telling more positive stories about the Orthodox community would depend on the community (a) placing more value on creativity in general and (b) being more accepting that good art is “warts and all”; you can’t create good art that is polemic or kiruv (outreach) with no awareness of nuance. The site administrator felt that (a) already happens (which in my experience is largely untrue) and that the role of Orthodox Jewish art should be to celebrate the Orthodox community, which makes me feel a bit annoyed.

The other extreme was finding an article by a former friend of mine who was a writer in the Orthodox community, but who has now left it. He left I think largely for political reasons, upset by how many Orthodox Jews supported Donald Trump, but also by the slow progress of social change in the community. It’s hard to focus on my feelings here, as he actually has upset me on a personal level a lot over the years and I don’t really feel that he’s a friend any more (and I probably held onto the friendship for longer than I should have done).

He wrote about leaving the Haredi (ultra-Orthodox) community because it wouldn’t change. I wondered, based not so much on this article, but his other writings, if he equates creativity with political radicalism, that making art is the same sort of process as fighting for socio-political change. Obviously a lot of art is political, but I’m not sure it’s inevitable or even positive. Certainly in the Orthodox world there seems to be a benefit for producing apolitical art, or at least less radical art, although I think my former friend would see this as the community suppressing dissident artists.

I saw this article yesterday and I wasn’t going to write about it, but then today I came across an article by his wife saying that Orthodox artists must produce art that attacks the status quo in their communities, and that art attacking the Orthodox community by those who have left is aimed at improving the community (I don’t think a lot of it is, which isn’t to say that it’s necessarily bad or invalid). But then, maybe even art that just mirrored the community would be deemed antagonistic by people who are in denial about the extent or even the existence of problems in it.

I guess both extremes make me wonder if there is no room for real art or literature in the Orthodox world and I have to choose either my religion or my craft/hobby/aspirational career/whatever-my-writing-is. I want that not to be the case, but I worry that it is. E says that she finds my attitude to religion more compelling than that that she has found elsewhere in the Jewish world, which is flattering, but makes me worry that I’m in a religion of one (or two).

I admit that I used to want to “shake up” the Orthodox community with my writing in some vague and probably narcissistic way, and certainly I’m aware that I’ve mostly chosen serious topics to write about, both until now and in my ideas for future writing, but I feel that more and more that I should focus my writing on just describing the world as it seems to me (even if it’s a fantasy/science fiction world) rather than celebrating it or attacking it. It reminded me a bit of an article I read recently by a textile artist who was ‘cancelled’ from an exhibition. She felt that art should be about looking closely at reality, but too many artists nowadays are just showing what their politics tells them reality is, or should be, rather than what is really there.

I don’t know. Perhaps I’m over-thinking things, over-thinking my writing if not other people’s.

***

Related to this, one rabbi whose blog I read (it’s now been deleted) used to write about “fringe Jews,” Jews on the outskirts of the religious community, and how we can reach out to them. I guess there are a lot of them/us: neurodivergent, physically disabled or mentally ill; addicts; LGBT; doubting; shy; conflicted; abuse survivors; abandoned; older singles; divorcees; young widows; infertile couples… The people who, in some way, hang on to belief or observance, even just to a shred of it, despite all these obstacles.

I have this kind of fantasy about putting together some kind of informal network of fringe Jews or just being able to befriend them somehow, although I’m not really suited to anything involving social contact with strangers. To create a space for I-and-Thou encounters and dialogue, although I’m not sure what that would involve, exactly. I guess it comes to mind because my former friend set up an online space that functioned a bit like that, although it was mostly a creative space, but I think he saw it partially in political terms and I saw it more in terms of empathy. I don’t know if it’s still functioning.

Luftmentsch, visionofthenight.wordpress.com, Aug 18, 2021

Mental health crisis – Experience and advice

A young woman or “village girl” from South Africa, as she sometimes refers to herself, Nosipho, reflects on a recent and intense personal experience of anxiety and despair, after being sent home from work, which had led to self-awareness about her difficulties. She puts her mental health difficulties in the context of her childhood experiences and writes to encourage others facing similar difficulties. The piece was first published on her site.

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I am bringing you a heavy one today. We’re going to be unpacking issues surrounding mental health. A little disclaimer before we hop onto today’s chat: this piece is not in any way a cry for sympathy. I am also not going to be romanticizing mental health. I will be talking about my personal journey with/on mental health as a young black woman from the village. This is going to be a chatty space where I talk about my views and possibly/hopefully help someone who may unfortunately be dealing with the same struggles as I did or still do. I am not an expert in this field obviously. If you are looking for expert and professionally researched data, please try to find medical institutions that will help you. I also did a little research myself, but will be focusing more on my lived experiences with mental health.

Today’s topic is one of the most triggering things to write about, hence it took me so long to write about it. This might be hard to read as well, especially if you’re somebody who struggles with mental health related issues. I won’t even try to define mental health for you guys because it is such a wide spectrum, I wouldn’t even know where to start. Anxiety and depression fall under this wide spectrum and my experiences with mental health are mostly around those 2 disorders. For this conversation’s sake, I will just refer to anxiety as a reaction to life events. The type of anxiety that I deal with makes day to day duties uncomfortable and hard. It is this heavy obstacle that becomes a hinderance into performing the most basic of basic duties under the sun (at least for me). You worry about the small things that might happen if things go wrong. Your heart even pounds sometimes and you want to be alone to avoid things going wrong. The thought of getting through the day gives you great anxiety.

What triggered this chat for me is the incident that took place at night in my bedroom on the 26th of June 2021. My brother was not home that night, he was at a friend’s wedding. I am not employed right now but from May to June I was doing promotions for brands instore. I had a promotion gig that day at the mall and had to deal with rude and unkind store managers who essentially do not see promoters as human beings (I will get into that chat some other time). That day was terrible, I ended up not working. I was sent home after a long day of going up and down at the mall. When I got home, there was no one, which gave me enough liberty to cry as much as I wanted to. I cried longer than I should have, heavier than I have ever cried, until I felt physical pain on my spine, ngathi khona umthwalo engangiwuphethe osindayo (I said that the burden I was carrying was heavy). I am so embarrassed thinking about the fact that I’m putting this on the internet. My intention is to raise awareness and to tell my story so that it will not be constantly living in my head. My blog is an outlet that I use to heal and help myself.

The scary part about that experience is that for the first time in my life I wanted to harm myself. I have had suicidal thoughts in my life before but it has never been to a point that I want to act on them. I was feeling so much pain and wanted it to stop forever. I was feeling so suicidal and was so sure I wanted to end the pain. I got scared and immediately called my boyfriend who did not answer. I sent him an SMS telling him that I had a bad day and its messing with my mental health. He did not answer my SMS as well. I was alone and felt like there were voices in my head convincing me to kill myself straight away. I felt useless and pathetic. I was sobbing, alone and scared. I was able to get my brother on the phone and started crying as soon as he picked up. I told him I was thinking of hurting myself and I’m scared. I told him about my day and how it triggered terrible thoughts of self-harm. Every word I said was accompanied by a stream of tears. My brother sounded so worried and told me he’ll be home shortly. I was struggling to breath and just wanted to escape that feeling immediately.

I stayed in bed covering my face with a pillow shaking. My body was shaking and my heart pounding just like those dramatic scenes we see on the movies. I wanted to get up and go get water in the kitchen but was having physical pain that demanded my stillness. I needed a quick fix to soothe the pain away.

When I think about it now, I am convinced that it was a mild panic attack. I am so grateful to God that I did not have resources to end my life that day. I also feel like my fear was dominant over the suicidal thoughts. My boyfriend called moments later and we had the longest phone call we’ve ever had. He created a comfortable space for me to express myself. Even though I did not want to bother him with all the details of my mental health issues. Prior to that day, we were not in a good space because I was constantly picking fights with him. Revisiting this day makes me realize how patient he was with me through out that call. Our relationship was a bit rocky those days. We were fighting so much. I think opening myself up to him made him understand why I kept fighting him. Not to make this sound like a Romcom, but it was his phone call that helped soothe my pain away. I was also able to get up and drink water.

My brother came back home an hour later after our phone call and I immediately got out of bed to open the garage door for him. I was expecting him to fight with me and tell me uzofonela emalume amtshele ukuthi sengiyahlanya ekhanda, (he’ll call my uncle and tell him I’m crazy) or worst-case scenario, turn my mental health issue into a big religious speech. My brother is Christian and lives by Christian values. I was not expecting him to be that gentle and understanding. We had a very long chat while he was in his car and I was standing by his window. Very unconventional setting to be having my first mental health chat. I told him to keep it a secret and not tell anyone about my incident because I really did not want anyone thinking I am crazy or losing it. I think my brother might have told a friend of his about my suicidal mess because I got a lengthy text a few days later from him (brother’s friend). This is somebody who has become family to us, I didn’t mind him knowing. That lengthy text was so beautiful and made me smile.

This suicidal mess forced me to take a 1-month social media break. I had to take a break and deal with myself outside of social media. I deleted WhatsApp and Facebook and spoke to my closest circle. I spent that time introspecting. I am on a journey of educating myself on mental health now. I am in a period where I am questioning every response and why I find myself reacting a certain way. My response always dials back to my childhood. I have figured that I am someone who tries to portrait an image that I am doing well or have my shit together. It is not even about being fraudulent, it is simply because I do not want to feel like I am failing. Maybe it is also because I am a black woman and I grew up wanting to be strong like the women around me. I have seen my mom hurting a million times but concealing it and kept the show going like she wasn’t crying herself to sleep every night. From observing the way that she lived her life, I would say she was anxious about certain things, but I cannot really say she suffered from mental health related issues. She was troubled a lot but I was too young to determine what was wrong. As black women, we are obsessed with being strong all the time. I am obsessed with looking strong. I definitely picked that up from my mother. She would say things like “into uma ungenayo ungahambe uhlupha abantu linda uze uythole nawe. Funda ukulinda” (something if you don’t have it don’t go bothering people wait until you find it too. Learn to wait). I am pretty sure that was her way of teaching me independence or waiting my turn, but I see that along the way of life, I have used her words to stop myself from seeking help. I am really obsessed with people thinking I have it together while I do not. I actually do want to have my things together. Having it together is what I think about every day and dream about every night. I try to do my best every day to eventually get there. I really lack the ability to allow myself to be weak sometimes. The way I react to a lot of things always boils down to the way I was raised.

I was born and raised in a village just outside Empangeni called Ntambanana. I have told this story a million times and do not want to keep boring you guys with the same boring “i was so poor” speech, but I was born into a pretty disadvantaged community/home. As a child, I was obviously not aware of those circumstances that much. I was around people of the same “tax bracket” if you will. A lot of people around the community were subjected to the same struggles. We all had less. I did not have a lot of neighbors who had it good financially, therefore did not really have something different to compare my reality to. Having less did not affect me at all as a little girl, I still played outside with friends, ate whatever meal we had that day and lived like a normal happy child. It was not the most perfect/magical childhood but my parents really did their part in raising me. I really cannot pinpoint a part of my childhood where I could say I experienced heavy anxiety, until when I was 13.

When I was 13, I stayed with people who weren’t my biological parents or relatives. They were people who were looking for shelter and my mom allowed them in. It was a grown couple from around the area that needed a new place to stay immediately. My mom allowed them to stay because she needed someone to stay with us while she goes to work. She left for work in a different city, leaving my brother and I with these people she did not know pretty well herself. I am certain that had she known the kind of people she had left us with, she wouldn’t even think twice about staying. I guess she trusted them to be our guardians. We were treated so badly by this couple. They really made me feel unloved as a kid. I was not treated like a kid and a lot of wrong things happened around that period of my life. I was starved and went through the worst emotional abuse. My brother even killed their puppy at some point (he was wrong and feels really bad about it now). I cannot say all of the things they did out of respect for their image. I really do not want to dwell on those horrible times a lot but I find it fitting to mention that those where the times where I suffered intense anxiety and overwhelming thoughts as a child. I consider that time my earliest memory experiencing mental health issues. At that time, I was not aware what that overwhelming feeling was.

I am an emotional mess right now as I jog my memory back to those days, thinking about how this couple would deny us meals. I’m reminded of this other day when my brother and I were so hungry we had to gather strength to go ask for food, at least a plate to share. We were by the passage area pushing each other to go knock in the room. That picture is still clear as day in my heard and it brings back excruciating memories. I felt so unworthy of love in that very moment. I was angry at my mom who was gone, angry at the couple and at life. I was always apologizing to this couple. I was always scared to go back home from school. It was a daunting experience. I was always told I was bad or wrong. Every time I got back home from school; I would be so scared because I knew that my home environment is toxic. You also wondered what are you going to be shouted at about next. It was not normal child reprimanding methods. That couple hated us. I started being mean at school and started bullying others to find comfort and confidence that was crushed back at home. It is so twisted how many “friends” you get when you are a bully. Bullies always have a lot of “friends”. Those who went to my primary will remember our group. I feel terrible right now for trying to find solace in hurting others. The problems I had at home made me such an anxious teenager. I hated myself. I did not have anyone to talk to, I kept it moving and the anxiety grew with me.

I am not holistically blaming this couple for my mental health struggles but simply calling them out as one of the prime characters who contributed to the story. My parents were responsible for instilling love and life into me as a little girl, not strangers. I am not holistically blaming the couple because it was not their duty to nurture me and make sure I grow up to blossom and be confident. That does not mean they had the right to treat us the way that they did though. I was made to feel all sorts of ugly things and that was cruel. I was a child.

My childhood traumas are one of the biggest factors of my mental health. I am doing a lot of unlearning and restructuring my self-identity right now. I think it is important to raise kids with love and instill a strong sense of confidence in them. That thing sticks. Kids grasp things that we teach them and ride with them for the rest of their lives. I really want to give my children a healthy childhood so they will not have to be broken like me. I want them to know that they are worthy of love from birth.

I am teaching myself that I am worthy of love. I am 25 years old and I have to wake up every day and labor on that part of myself that lacked as a child. As a teenager in high school, I fully became aware of my mental health issue. I became socially awkward and struggled with self-esteem greatly. I was always worried and that gave me sharp pain around my shoulders. Everybody gets anxious in high school. it is very normal to have anxiety in high school, but it should not last forever. That is when you know you have a problem, when anxiety takes forever to subside. I started suffering from social anxiety. I struggled with walking alone inside the mall or asking for change etaxini. The most basic things. Uba namahloni lawa asabekayo, (He is ashamed of these terrible things). When you tell people about it, they always say it is all in your head. You are thinking too much about it, teach yourself to snap out of it.

You eventually dismiss your own thought and snap out of it for a while until it revisits you again. Mental health issues are meant to be dealt with from the source. Temporal measures can only take you so far. I remember back in 2010 when I visited my cousin in Cape Town. My other cousins from Durban were also visiting and we shared the same bed room. I was so uncomfortable getting naked in front of them. I would go into the bathroom and shower, lotion and get dressed there. They never saw me naked because I started getting heavy body dysmorphic thoughts about myself. They were always asking why do I always hide and I just smiled and said “Lutho”. Lutho was my answer to a lot of things. I was just shy at 14 years old. I never had a backbone and would always say yes to everyone, even if that yes meant a no to myself. I never had my own opinions at all. When you have no backbone, you become a scapegoat. My cousin recently showed me videos of us singing and dancing in Cape Town during that vacation and I was so sad to see 14-year-old me with zero confidence. You could see that I was just following the others and not enjoying myself.

I had the craziest social anxiety that wanted me to skip school to avoid crowd. I always wanted to skip school. My Facebook memories remind me all the time how much I wanted to stay home. I hated school. I started labeling myself as an introvert who liked diaries. I wrote daily entries and dismissed the thoughts of possibly having a mental health related issue. I associated my depression with normal teenage puberty confusion. I also come from a community that calls depressed people crazy and doesn’t understand that mental health is more common than we think. A lot of people are suffering from these issues but cannot talk about them openly because of the stigma around mental health in our black communities. I have seen a lot of health campaigns around my community hall but never seen them talk about mental health issues. This is proof that mental health issues are not taken seriously in the black community. We are taught to bottle things up until we cannot take it anymore. I really do not want to be on the statistics of suicide. I do not want to be the next number. Which is why I will keep talking about what bothers me even if it makes me look like a crazy woman. No one wants to educate us on these matters. Same matters that affect us the most. I am willing to continue talking about mental health and help myself the best way I know how to. Possibly help others as well. This is only the beginning. Damn, I need a hug so badly right now because I am crying like an idiot in front of my computer.

When I was 17, I was pretty good at sucking my depression up. I lost my mom that year and that contributed into my depression. As one does when they lose parents, I was always sad and crying that year. I knew then , (“that the time has come when I need help”). More than ever, I needed to deal with my mental health issues that year. Everyone gets anxious guys, don’t get me wrong. Especially after losing a parent. It is normal to be sad and cry every day. With my anxiety, I did not see life past the passing of my mom. That is when I knew I had depression that has crossed the line of normal and needed medical attention. I was obviously not in a position to get any medical attention. I sucked it up and kept it moving. I have always packed depression and anxiety in the bottom shelf of my mind as an item to deal with later on when I grow up. Fast forward to present day, I am in a relationship right now and really feel like a burden sometimes. Anxiety and depression always whisper to me that I am not good enough to date because I do not have a job, I am ugly, I am not as smart and I am boring. Trust me, there has been times in my life where I just did not want to date any more because I do not want to stress the next person. Some mornings I wake up and feel like I am letting my partner down. I hate inconveniencing people; it makes me feel uncomfortable. I am lucky to be with somebody who is supportive of my journey, wants me to win and helps me with my mental health journey. When you are suffering from mental health related issues, you struggle with things as little as texting back. This is the most basic duty to perform right? But it gets pretty overwhelming to receive a lot of messages all at once. Ideally, I would love to text back immediately, but I cannot bring myself to do it.

Texting back bugs me more than it should. I have lost friends over it because they always thought I was just casually ignoring them. They found it so hard to believe that my mental health problem really messes with my head. Let me break this down for you. So, if I leave a text without a reply for too long, I get scared to respond because in my head its already too late to respond and the next person doesn’t want to hear from me anymore. I always struggle between should I respond or it’s too late? I end up not responding at all because I get physical pain from trying to crack that code. I understand that texting is more casual than it is important, but it really bugs me. Connecting to people becomes so hard when you are suffering from mental health. Being present and available for others becomes a great chore. When I text back, I want it to be meaningful. I want a perfectly curated response. I really want people to be pleased with our chats. Sometimes I do not have enough of myself to share and it is not easy to explain that without offending people you love. People will say things like “no just say that you are lazy to text”. They do not understand that it is the anxiety working in my system more than it is laziness. They minimize it to nothing but I am not crazy. The physical pain I feel from not texting back is not made up. I hate it too. It is not because I lack morals. I want to match the energy when I text back. My close family and friends know to call me when I do not answer texts. They call me and we talk. Mental health will want you to be uncomfortable in spaces you should be okay in. There is really no reason to feel weird about texting back, honestly. Simple communication becomes difficult.

Anxiety is such a mind fuck; It will try to keep you away from the people that you love. I feel weird around my friends, brother and all the closest people around me when I’m depressed. I start feeling unlove. That is how you know that anxiety is a fraud, these people love me no matter what and there is no reason to feel weird about it. Sometimes I wake up super late because I do not want to face the world. When I am having a bad day, my curtains would stay closed all day in my room. That is an indication that I am not grand. I stay in my room more than necessary. I am on a journey to help myself out of that. I have new survival skills right now. If I feel very low, I call the people I love in the morning and have a chat. Even for a minute. I called Thobeka the other day and we spoke for no longer than a minute and that brought me so much joy to hear her voice. I try not to drown into my sorrow in the mornings now. If I detect a bad energy field that morning, I try to open my curtains to bring in light and get rid of old ways of dealing with my mental health. I know you guys will get annoyed at me for saying this, but you would be surprised what a little exercise could do for you and your mental health. Jogging and skipping really give me great joy. I am not the most consistent hun when it comes to that,
but I know for a fact that those two activities help me curb my mental health issues.

As a person who suffers from anxiety, you often have self-destructive conversations with yourself that will impact your life. I remember having a presentation in class last year and feeling my heart pounding even after the presentation. My entire week was ruined and I kept hoping for no more presentation. It is important to teach yourself some great coping skills. Anxiety is not made up. Abantu abazenzisi, (People are not hypocrites). We call people moody without even knowing what they are dealing with within themselves. Mental health chats are so scarce in our black spaces and that makes me sad. This is a real pandemic and if left untreated or unattended, people even kill themselves. It is a real problem and needs real attention.

People suck it out and ignore their mental health issues. Sometimes they end up becoming bullies on social media like I was back in primary school. They run to temporal measures that later harm them. The same people who shame us for talking about mental health are the same people who share posts like “depression is real” when someone takes their own lives. I feel like it is important for us to educate ourselves before we make people feel bad about certain conditions and bring more awareness to prevail. A wave of support goes a long way.

Anxiety is more common than we think. A lot of people around us suffer from it. We just do not want to deal with it because of the stigmas around it. I got so much comfort when I saw an interview of Michael Phelps taking about this mental health journey. He was talking about how glad he is that he did not take his own life. He is a big star and listening to him open up about mental health inspired me to do so too. I always say this on my blog, vulnerability is strength. I do not want to be a victim of mental health. I will wake up every day of my life to fight it and protect the relationships I have with the people around me. Mental health can really fuck up good relationships and prevent you
from having a full life.

There is nothing cute about having depression and self-harming thoughts. If you are going through that, please find means to help yourself. If you are on medical aid, try to find out if therapy is an option for you. I am so sorry you have to go through such a dark space. I know how it feels like to sit alone and crave for eternal peace. I know how it feels like to have your thought process channel death. Please seek for help. You are loved. Tap into your belief system is you are able to. If you believe in God, tap into that energy field. Find scriptures to keep you afloat like 1st Peter 5;7 which tells us to cast our anxieties to the lord. Pour some love within yourself more than you do to others sometimes. Say yes to yourself and choose yourself. It is okay to let others down to take care of your mental health. You are not alone, trust me. There are millions of people struggling with the same mental issues. You are not crazy and this is treatable. Whatever route you choose, do not be mean. Do not hate on others, try to find help. I am one step into fixing my mental health issues because I am no longer in denial about them. Awareness is the first step. I am also aware that all the mental health issues I have are mostly influenced by all that transpired in my childhood. I am living in the present and I am gradually teaching myself to take it easy and be gentle. I am aware that I cannot go back and undo all that transpired in my childhood.

I have a beautiful circle of people that love me and truly want to see me win I will not always get it right and will not always feel strong enough to fight, but I am determined to pull myself up after every emotional slump. I am loved greatly by my brother and he is so loud about it. He has always been loud about it even when people thought it was weird to be so close and joined by the hip with your sister. His love reminds me the love of God. Unconditional and unchanging. My cousins and my friends are like my sisters and best friends. I do not want to let all of the people that love me down.

I have friends from online that I interact with and deeply appreciate their kindness. As much as social media can be a dark space, you’d be surprised how helpful the kindness we get from social media is. Spread kindness and good vibes if you are able to. Try not to use social media to pull others down to feel good about yourself. Identify the problem behind your mean ways online. If you are being too negative online, best believe you are harming someone. People are obsessed with being mean like it is the new cool. Kindness goes a long way. A lot of kind words from online saved me during my sad days. I understand that the internet is a place to joke around, a place where we share memes and be sarcastic. It should not however be a field where we tear others down and call it a joke. Know when to draw the line with your jokes. I am always laughing on the internet, but that does not mean I am grand. Certain things still bug me. I try not to consume content that might harm me or trigger suicidal thoughts. I try to laugh and not dwell on the mean side of the internet. I want to make it a ritual to tap out of social media every once in a while.

In closing, if you are dealing with issues surrounding mental health, please go seek for help. Do not self-diagnose, make sure to educate yourself about your condition and do not allow people to tell you uyazenzisa ngoba usuke usuwedwa, (you are pretending because you are alone) in your bedroom with those dark and destructive thoughts. If you are around people who choose not to believe mental health issues, I am deeply sorry that you have to go through that. Abantu ngeke bakwenzele lutho, bazoku posta mase ushonile bethi, (People will not do anything for you, they will post and you will die), mental health is real. Help yourself right now. Heal yourself right now. See someone and talk to someone. Identify your triggers and get to know your habits. Do not be hard on yourself. Get to know what habits are damaging you. Do not be in denial or place your mental health issues in the bottom shelve for later like I did. What if later is too late? Lento yethu yokuba depressed kangaka sibancane izoqedwa yithi noma ibhebhekithiswe yithi, (Our being so depressed at a young age will be eliminated by us or aggravated by us). Take care of yourself by doing things that move your heart. Go outside and try to be around the people that love you. I love listening to music when I am not well. I have this song by Simmy titled we were here. I love listening to that song. It makes me so happy. I also love looking at the sky turn peach during sunset hours finding a new book, magazine, all those little things contribute to my joy. Do more of what make you happy. Pour more on that. I believe in myself to be the change. I believe in all the youth to be the change.

Thank you so much for reading, man. What a blessing it is to find a community of friends on WordPress.You guys are amazing. Let us continue this conversation on the comments below. Let us be kind to each other. I love you so much guys.

Nosipho Pour Truelove Mbuyazi.

Fear and having a purpose

In this piece, Natalie Buske Thomas, makes an interesting connection between our personal values and acting out of faith or instinct. It was first published on her site, where she also shares her work as an oil painter.

What scares you? Fires, hurricanes, storms, floods, criminal violence, car/plane/train crashes, losing a loved one, medical issues, loss of freedom? Open spaces, closed spaces, heights, water, heat, cold? Social anxiety in a crowd, or isolation when not in one? When things stay the same, or when things change? Finding your own way, or being told what to think?

Faith is about believing even when there is no evidence of our belief. We just “know”. Some call it intuition. Others think of this as a spiritual commitment to hold certain truths in our hearts, never wavering or disloyal to a higher calling. Usually this relates to living a moral life, defined by our personal values. For animals, faith seems much less complicated. Little birds may be literally pushed out of the nest by their mothers, but in a few short seconds they believe that they can fly- and indeed, they can.

When we believe in who we are, and the abilities we were born with, we trust that we can do what we were meant to do. Faith comes easier, requiring no proof of our claims, if we make a spiritual, intellectual, and physical commitment to be true to our purpose. If we believe we are meant to be strong, healthy, and positive for our families and communities, we can act in faith to BE strong, healthy, and positive.

Fear can be a mysteriously beautiful thing, just like an out of control forest fire. When we are afraid, we are aware of how fragile life is, and how vulnerable we are. We are aware of how precious time is. We may see our role in this universe as very small, but each of us are a tiny intersection point on a vast web. We matter. Every life connects to other lives. When we lose a connection point, part of the web falls apart. All of this may come to us in a fuzzy sort of way that we don’t analyze, but on a gut level our focus is sharper when we are afraid.

Fear is an opportunity. Do we rise? Do we respond with cowardice, submission, and defeat? Do we abdicate our responsibilities to others, and let them dictate our lives? When we give up our authority, when we surrender our sovereign self, we allow fear to be an excuse to abandon who we are, to lay down our purpose under the cloak of compliance.

When we choose to rise in the face of fear, some may call it choosing faith over fear. But perhaps it’s more fitting to say that we choose faith through fear. Fear can be an exhilarating journey; when we are aware of death, we are aware of LIFE. Our passion to live may be ignited, cultivated, and utilized to provide lasting change. We may “level up” spiritually, intellectually, and even physically. Mind, body and spirit are always connected. When we elevate in one, we elevate our full selves.

Fear can be a blessing. The choice is ours. Fight for your purpose. Never give in, back down, or give up in the face of fear. Embrace what scares you and stand firmly rooted in who you are. May your responses be in alignment with your core values, and never compromised by the demands of other entities, agendas, or people.

I finally started my new painting today, after two days of planning to do so, but getting distracted by family things. I don’t regret going with the moment and focusing on the family. Awareness of time helps us choose what’s most important. Even though my vocation is very important to me, work is work. It is here today, and gone tomorrow, even if I become successful enough to be legendary. One day my art will mean whatever people want it to mean, with or without me. 

But love is forever. What we invest in people lives on spiritually, eternally. When we experience fear, we understand this concept in a heightened way that is a blessing, should we accept. I accept. I hope you do as well.

by Natalie Buske Thomas, July 22, 2021

Making a difference in the workplace

Fern leaf sporangia (Pixabay – Creative Commons)

The account below, first published by by Robin Williams, on her site, Green Fern Coven, provides an example of how one can make a difference in the workplace and society despite relatively limited power or influence, especially, by reaching out to others. It also shows that resistance and reform can and, perhaps, must, occur from within and without, to change institutions. Whilst the wider impact of one’s activism might be hard to measure and may feel small or insignificant, the sense of promoting one’s personal values can be greatly empowering and meaningful and, ultimately, essential for healthy wellbeing and development.

I Work for a Church – But I’m a Queer Artist

Yes, you read the title correctly. I’m queer and work for a church. I’m well aware that there are some beautiful churches out there that do support and love us lgbt+ but the church I work for and grew up in, is not one of them. So then why do I work for them?

The short answer is: I have horrible social anxiety. I got my first job when I was nineteen years old, working as a social media coordinator, and it’s been a blessing. I rarely have to worry about people, only have to answer the phone if my co-worker is off or out, and I have the freedom to channel my inner creative to share with the world.

The long answer: I believe in changing the environment I grew up in.

I am not out to the congregation of my church. I’m not out to my pastor. Only my family is aware and I’m currently okay with that. But I still want to integrate my beliefs into my church, and as the social media coordinator, I can.

During Pride month, my first thing to post if I could, would be the Pride flag telling the community that love is love and all are welcome here. Unfortunately, I can’t do that. So instead I pulled verses from the Bible that spoke about love and kindness, and I pasted those words onto solid colour backgrounds. Each coloured background was in the order and shade of the Pride flag and has been scheduled to post through the entire month of June.

It’s no bold act, it’s subtle, but it’s enough for me to feel like I’ve done something. The church doesn’t realize that their social media posts line up as the flag. They don’t know that each week when I make them a playlist of Christian songs, I go out of my way to find an artist who supports the lgbt+, who may even be part of the community themselves. They don’t know that their prayer card readings are formatted the same way my Tarot card pulls are.

And they don’t have to. Anyone looking will know. Anyone who cares enough will know. And if they want to reach out, by reading the list of staff in our office, they’ll see my name and next to that bold text, the words Alphabet Mafia.

And they’ll know that I am their safe space, here, in a place where they will be condemned by the people they grew up around. I work for this church because I know that there is someone else just like me, trying to find comfort and love in the place that preaches it, but doesn’t practice it.

by Robin Williams, Green Fern Coven, June 28 2001.