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.
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.