If you read my bio on my Instagram account, you’ll notice the last sentence at the bottom reads “Advocate for the mental health community” and that’s because I consider myself one.
What you’re about to read is something I’ve never shared with a lot of people because I felt its not something I wanted to share. But as time progressed I realized this is something I should have been vocal about while I was fighting it. I have lost so much to an invisible illness that is stigmatized by a society that doesn’t even understand it. What I have faced and gone through,I wouldn’t want it for anyone.
BIRTH OF THE MADNESS AND THE VOID
I was born in Katlehong which happens to be one of the biggest townships in South Africa. I lived with my mom and grandparents and we were a great family. We had meals together, ran the family business together and we were just happy to be together. But things changed and I lost what felt like a family. It was the year 2002 when things would change.
My grandma got very ill and had to be admitted into a hospital. I’m not sure what it was but it was something common in old age. A week later we got a phone call from the hospital that she has passed away. My grandma happened to be the only person my mom was close with so her death was such a huge loss to her.
After 3 years we moved in with my dad in a different province and I didn’t really like the place. I had no friends, spoke a different language compared to the locals, there wasn’t much to do in the area and I was enrolled into a new school. The first year staying with my dad was nothing like I had imagined. My dad was in the army and would go away on work for a month and would come back for a week or something. Whenever he was back, it was never enjoyable. He would often try to force his interests on me just so he could see himself in me and whenever I failed him, he would make feel inadequate. He would abuse my mom verbally and physically. My mom suffered three miscarriages from this abuse and received no sort of counselling or therapy from this.
A few months later my mom would often talk about our neighbors practicing witchcraft and that they’re after us. She wouldn’t let me play with the other kids because of her paranoia and delusions. Every day when I got home from school I would watch television, play videos, do my homework then go to bed. That was it, that was my life. We were isolated from the community because apparently they were after us. My mom would later get more paranoid and the abuse got worse. She then later got diagnosed with Schizophrenia.
Schizophrenia is a mental illness where an individual finds it difficult to relate to the real world and the people around them. They have deluded thoughts, paranoid, hallucinate, and are out of touch with reality. It cannot be treated as simple as flu and the person with it has to be on medication permanently. Very often people with this illness get called names like “nutcase”,” crazy” or “schizo” to name a few and it was obviously from people who were uneducated about the illness. That was my mom, all that trauma, loss and abuse drove my mom to madness. I lost her to this illness. The relationship I had with her was completely shattered from that moment.
A few months later her symptoms would get worse and I didn’t know how to handle this. Me, at the age of 10 years old mourning the death of my mom who was still alive but gone. The roles were switched, I became the parent and she was the child. I had to be a man and try take care of my mom while trying to get myself together. The abuse got worse, the madness worse and I started feeling like I had lost a huge part of myself.
One morning my mom woke me up very early in the morning and ordered me to bath, she packed our bags and told me we’re leaving. I didn’t know where we’re headed but I eventually figured that we’re escaping what we called home. We only had R50 at the time and she spent it on KFC streetwise 2 because I had asked for food. We hitchhiked all the way to Pretoria from Limpopo to stay with my mom’s aunt. They later got divorced and that was the last time I ever heard from him.
I would later change schools, tried to create a relationship with my dad which never worked out and also try to work around my mom’s illness. We later changed locations and decided to head back to my grandma’s house to live there. Upon arrival I felt like I was back at home where I should be in the first place. Felt like things would get normal and that my mom would get better. They didn’t
My mom would later get worse, was a danger to others and was despised in the community. She would verbally attack our neighbors. physically attacked me sometimes, extremely deluded and would get in trouble a lot. We would have the cops coming to our house a lot and I would always have to step in. I would miss school for weeks, rarely sleep, failing at school and just didn’t want to go home anymore. My mom was and still is popular for her illness in our community and was often called names. I was also isolated from the neighbors and seen almost in the same light as her. For every single bad thing she did, the neighbors would look at me in the same light.
In my 9th grade my uncles got her some help and it was one of the most traumatic days I’ve ever encountered. They called an ambulance and the cops, the entire community was watching and laughing as my mother was being dragged out of the house and into an ambulance. I felt so embarrassed and sad to be her son during this time. All I could think is “why is this happening to me?”. She got put into a psychiatric hospital, got out then back in again and was put on meds. She got better and was sane. We would talk about stuff and did things together. She got herself a job and she was happy. I was happy to have her back and it felt great to have that kind of relationship. She would later lose her job, got very depressed and then she hit rock bottom again. The madness was back and this time it was more horrific. I only got to enjoy her for a year and lost her to the illness again.
THE SIDE EFFECTS.
I then got diagnosed with depression and anxiety. I couldn’t afford medication and wasn’t educated about mental health at the time. I wasn’t very happy being at home and my only escape was my art, skateboarding, music, school and church. Surprisingly academically I was doing well and would seem to be okay when I presented myself to teachers and my peers, but when I got home I wasn’t the same guy. I wouldn’t often lock myself in my room just to get away from my mom and her episodes. Church was great but I always felt out of place and different from the others. Sometimes I felt like my faith in God was inadequate because of my own mental illnesses even though I knew that the little faith I had was enough. When I was at home and around my mom, she would often have an entire conversation with her imaginary friends and witnessing it only made me more anxious and depressed. I would try mask her noise and the anxiety within me by blasting loud music through my headphones just so I couldn’t hear it. Some mornings I was woken up by her conversations or a fight she’s having with the neighbor. Sometimes the neighbors would want to beat her up and I would have to intervene. Every single day I went through a cycle of emotions, from sad, anger, shame, love, loss and suicide.
I graduated from high school and tried to further my studies by enrolling into the University of Johannesburg. I studied Information Technology which was something I didn’t like and dropped out 6 months later. I was back at home with my mom, my demons and hers. I got extremely suicidal and would attempt it almost every week. I would reach out to a friend when I felt like this and he helped me every time. I didn’t want to live and deal with this anymore. Death was my only escape but I didn’t want to leave my mom alone in this world. Nobody was going to care for her and I was worried what would God say if I committed suicide. I got on and off antidepressants, depression got worse, anxiety was through the roof every single day and the suicidal thoughts would get worse. My own mental illness would cost me a lot of friendships and opportunities to better my life.
Getting my mom help took such a huge toll on me I decided to accept her loss and try to create some life around this. I consistently told myself I’m not going to let this be the end of me, I told myself I am stronger than this and that I’m here for a purpose. I skated a lot, drew a lot, got therapy and when I was back at home with my mom I would surround myself with things that made me happy and gave me some sense of hope. I would talk to my friends at the time about how I’m feeling and the support was great.
My mom’s battle with schizophrenia scarred me for life but it also taught me a lot. Me accepting my mom as she is and loving her unconditionally taught me to overlook other people’s mental illnesses and accept them. What my mom has been through, what I experienced and felt, its something I wouldn’t wish on anyone. Not even my enemies. I began forming meaningful friendships with people that have been shunned by society, people deemed “broken” and the black sheep of the family. It was through these friendships that I got to learn from others and offer help while I’m still battling with my own troubles. It gave me a sense of purpose.
I decided to devote my life and my art skills in helping the mental health community and being an advocate. I hope the next time you read a tweet saying “I’m not okay” or “I feel suicidal” you don’t find it funny but rather see it as somebody asking for help. I hope the next time you meet a kid with autism or Tourette you don’t call them “weird” or “crazy”, I hope the next time you come across somebody battling with bipolar you don’t call them “moody” or a “ticking time bomb”. Mental health is very real and my mom is a clear example of that. There’s nothing laughable or shameful about battling with it. If I can create, educate, and help others from my sufferings then so can you. That’s what advocacy for the mental health community is.
Be patient and kind to the mental health community.
I love you mom. Thank you for being so strong all these years and trying to protect me. I know grandma’s death took a lot from you. I miss her daily. I’m sorry I may have not been empathetic of your sufferings. God bless your heart.