Mental health talk: a dialogue part II

Learning to readjust back into what used to be your normal routine after your diagnosis or even through a self-taught understanding of your condition is probably one of the hardest things to do when you are still coming to terms with the fact that you are mentally ill. In part two of our dialogue, we explore these complexities a bit more. You can read up on part one here if you already have not.

Continuing with our discussion, we look at how people affected by mental illnesses continue to strive for normality in their daily lives.

What do you wish the people in your life would do to support you now?

Simamkele: I honestly don’t want anyone to do anything they don’t want to do because allowing yourself to support someone with mental illness requires commitment but if willing, knowledge is the first go-to tool. They would have to educate themselves about mental illness and learn to communicate more to me about it and be there when needed. Often times when all you’re looking for is an ear and shoulder to lean on but you receive unsolicited advice from people who don’t have an inkling of what you’re going through and I just want it to stop. It is as simple as asking ‘What would you like me to do?” or “Would you like me to do something?” because half the time people do things to help you end up causing more damage, all because they didn’t allow themselves enough time to be fully informed. Even if it comes from an innocent and pure place.

Thabile: I need them to take better care of themselves. To fix themselves, too. Especially my mother. They show up for me all the time, I need them to show up for themselves, with me by their side. That is all I need from them.

Mamaili: They are already doing it. They understand me much better now and they validate whatever it is that I am feeling. My parents have also allowed me the freedom to experience all my hearts desires and although they have always been actively involved in my life, they are more compassionate and understanding of my everyday struggles.

Maina: I would appreciate if my condition wasn’t trivialised or made to seem as though I made it up, or that I use it as an excuse for my shortcomings. I would appreciate it if the people I love were open to having a conversation with me about how I am feeling and learn together about ways of making a healthier environment to express ourselves and our feelings.

Did you ever struggle to enjoy the very things that once made you happy?

Simamkele: Oh yes.

Thabile: Yes.

Mamaili: Definitely.

Maina: Yes.

What were they and please elaborate on how you returned to loving these again or if you found something new to love?

Simamkele: I couldn’t pick up any book, I couldn’t listen to music, I couldn’t conjure up the strength and collect clear thoughts enough to write even a paragraph of any thing. There was a period in my life I stopped talking altogether for months, battled with insomnia and the only thing I could do was bury myself underneath the cover of a plethora of movies and series. Through therapy I eased back into reading and listening to music.

Thabile: I stopped enjoying reading. Music no longer had the same effect on me, I associate many songs with depression to this day. I stopped being able to sleep. Therapy and medication haha. That’s how I came to enjoy those things again. Truly.

Mamaili: I enjoy writing and public speaking. Prior to my diagnosis, I no longer enjoyed doing any of that. My social life also experienced a major decline. I switched from my Accounting degree to what I am currently studying now and it helped in reigniting my love for writing. I also established my own website where I force myself into the social scene by going to events so that I can cover them for my blog and vlog respectively. I am slowly getting back into public speaking but I am in no rush to get there. I also discovered a genuine interest in other aspects of creativity like photography, videography, podcasting and so on. I am still learning with each one at the moment.

Maina: I’m naturally creative and loved expressing myself in poems and stories. I had fallen into a pit when I was 19, that convinced me that my words weren’t good enough either. So I stopped for nearly a decade. But my life took a toll and I was in need of a release other than hurting myself. Now I am actively writing again and took it a step further and started blogging and taking pictures to calm my mind and keep it constructively preoccupied. With “my person’s” help, it has been a strong place of comfort and therapy. Also prayer and meditation are a few other things I have adopted into my life to keep my voice silent of the evil things it keeps.

What were the things (or one thing) that you had to unlearn or relearn on your journey?

Simamkele: I wholeheartedly believed I wasn’t worth anything, wasn’t good at anything and therefore just existing and not living. There are days where I still feel like I truly hate my life but that’s usually drawn from specific circumstances that I’d rather not be going through but I am unlearning the hate and relearning self-belief-love and confidence. Gym also helps in the confidence department. I’m also learning to pause and breathe. Particularly on days when I feel overwhelmed. In essence, I’m learning to take better care of myself.

Thabile: Mostly the stigma around mental illness and psychiatric hospitals. Mental illness definitely impairs you, as does any chronic physical ailment, but it is manageable, and that’s what I had to learn. I live a normal life outside of having to take pills twice a day and even that isn’t a hindrance in the slightest.

Mamaili: I learned to listen and accept whatever it is that people are going through. One of the worst things to do to people is to convince them that they are not feeling a certain way when they express their feelings. I came across many people who would invalidate what I was going through by calling me a spoilt brat and other such names which to me, felt like invalidation. Our depression and other mental health challenges are not a competition of, “who is the most depressed?” and something which seems vain to you could represent the worst kind of pain to the next person.

Maina: I had to unlearn my way of dealing with life and accept that I have a problem. 
I had to learn how to love myself completely (mind, body, and soul) and slowly convince myself that I am beautiful. The ugly bits too.  I have had to relearn how to guard my heart.

What are the things that you wish society would understand about mental health?

Simamkele: That it’s not a white folk thing, that it isn’t just an empty cry for attention. That it isn’t self-inflicted or just a mood thing but a real, serious and fatal illness. That it is important to educate themselves about what it is and how they can assist their loved ones. People need to teach themselves to stop and listen. They expect people to deal with situations the way they believe they would but life doesn’t work like that. You can’t impose your ideas, beliefs, and opinions on other people who have a brain wired differently from yours.

Thabile: That is manageable and that IT IS COMMON! Everyone comes into contact with mental illness, be it from themselves or someone else. Everyone gets anxious. Everyone experiences depression to varying degrees. Mocking people with bipolar/depression/schizophrenia etc only makes you not only ignorant but incredibly insensitive, too. There is no humanity in that. I also need people to stop using mental illnesses as flimsy adjectives. Saying you’re bipolar because you’re indecisive. What is that?

Mamaili: It is not something we attract and it is not a white or rich people thing. And there are support systems in place. At my darkest moment, the South African Depression and Anxiety Group (SADAG) came through for me and I believe that is what saved my life. They will listen to you and your concerns. They will also assist in the best possible way depending on what your situation is like. If the people in your life are not accepting or supportive of your condition, please know that they are the people to turn to.

Maina: Society needs to understand that mental health isn’t a weakness. That generalising the issue causes more harm to the community than fix it. And that, someone they love probably suffers in silence and contemplates death more often than not, because of the way mental health is made out to be a figment of the imagination.

What is life like for you now, in general?

Simamkele: It’s a hike up Table Mountain really. I’ve learned to manage things on my own and boy, are there triggers everywhere, but I constantly have to have a conversation with myself, beg myself not to allow myself to walk towards the pit-hole again.  I’ve learned to choose my battles and try to simmer down and go back to the drawing board where coping mechanisms are tabled. It also helps that music has returned to having a healing effect on me. I’m also now back to averaging 2-4 books a month. I exercise when I can, eat well when I can. Socialise when I can, although I find it a tedious exercise, in all honesty, it’s the small talks I really truly struggle with. But I do go out for lunch, dinner or movies every now and then. This platform, Penned Pieces, helps me talk about the things I truly care about the most and running it, despite the fact that it’s a slow process due to my professional work, running it feels my heart with joy and the reception from people warms me and motivates me to continue on this journey towards self-discovery and peace. I am now also content with my skills and do not limit my capabilities. There’s so much work to be done and I’m ready to conquer.

Thabile: My life is great. I now experience genuine happiness. It is so freeing to have stable moods. I am triggered sometimes, and sometimes it’s enough to tip me over the scales – that can’t be avoided with all the therapy and medication in the world. But those episodes are few and far between, and I am able to deal with them in ways that aren’t destructive. I’m also helping people through my personal experience and that gives me more peace, more contentment than anything I’ve ever done in my life.

Mamaili: It is not without slight irritations but I have become better at prioritising myself and my mental health. I open up to my parents more and that has helped me to keep a healthy balance in everything that I do. I also surround myself with people who are understanding and accepting of who I am. Overall, I am actually enjoying my days a lot better with the support of my parents, friends and my psychotherapist. I also check-in with SADAG from time-to-time which helps me reflect on the elements in my life that I need to let go of.

Maina: I have my ups and still struggle with my downs. But my support system is a big factor in reassuring that I am not crazy or dealing with it alone. I know I will have to seek professional help eventually, but until then I have found the calm in my tornados and equipped myself with healthier ways to get through it.

 

A big thank you goes out to Mamaili Online and Mental Wealth ZA for this collaboration piece. To the ladies who selflessly volunteered their stories, may your courage be the light that many may need at the end of their very dark tunnels. If you are reading this and you relate to the experiences which were shared on this platform, we would like to take this time to validate your feelings and we encourage you to seek professional help. Your mental health matters and you are way more than the stereotypes used to box those who are affected back into their little holes.