”Written byNicholas Trethowan
Last year SADAG (South African Depression & Anxiety Group) reported that nearly 23 suicides happen daily in South Africa. Over the last two years of COVID affected life, if not somebody you were friends with then at least someone you knew found the currents of their own inner struggles too strong to contend with anymore. The hidden battles of the mind and the wars of the soul convince us we are alone in this world and more often or not the media and society we live in endorses this and have created a narrative that is seemingly more conscious and aware, yet we still struggle to countenance our own issues with that of the larger global ones – making our own feelings seem petty in comparison to the insane things happening every day. “I’m feeling sad but what of it, the worlds gone to shit, what does it matter how I feel?” Which brings me to the floor of this discussion: mental health and our brave new world.
Now mental health issues are more often or not clumped into a monolith. Specific or particular afflictions are grouped all under one major crux and that is that those who focus on their mental health are usually sick. For a long time it has been considered that anxiety, depression, lack of attention, insomnia, body dysmorphia; are all a disease and that by suffering from these things or having them means that like a disease, there is a medicinal cure which will make it all better.
This is a fallacy.
Pfizer and other major big Pharma have spent a lot of money to get us to believe this and so enters the next Big Bad of our recent generations: medication.
Now please don’t think that I’m saying mental health and it’s particulars isn’t a sickness and can’t be treated. It is and can be. But unlike almost every other clinically diagnosed disease, this is a sickness not just of the body but of the mind and of the soul. Body chemistries are specific and incredibly complex, what works for one does not always work for another which renders blanket treatments finicky and so the treatment gets more precise. Soon it overwhelms your life. The loop that becomes prescription pills easily teeters into the slippery slope of self-medication and the crunching jaws of addiction. This is again not to say forgo medication, finding something to help create stability in life is vital and if the support you need can be introduced in your life then take it! But what people forget about monoliths, are their hidden complexities.
Depression, anxiety, bi-polar, is a dance that consumes you. It inhibits you, it leeches you. You wake up in the morning and by the end of the day the sultry salsa of emotions has been playing out in your mind the whole time and you are exhausted. For me, depression is being so tired, so bone-weary that all you want, all you NEED is sleep and yet it doesn’t come. You want to eat but you’re just too tired. You want to care but you’re just. Too. Tired. Waking up in the morning and still, tired. The pills are just a quick fix. It’s 2 AM and still haven’t slept? Take a heavy sleeping tablet. Anxiety making you feel like you’re going to throw up? Take a Xanax or an Urbanol. And so we put a tiny plaster over giant wounds and we sigh with relief because for a moment, one moment in a sea of time that feels so slow but moves so quick, we feel better.
But what if none of that works? What if it just keeps getting worse and worse? The planet seems fucked, people seem fucked, we seem fucked?! Fuck! What if no matter what we do it doesn’t matter? We’re alone and the black pit of depression towers around you, the steps too slick with despair and self medication to climb.
I understand that panic, I understand that despair and the dissociation. Simply, in an overwhelming darkness of the spirit I urge you this:
We come into this world alone and we die alone but the greatest tragedy in life is thinking we live alone. It’s the ultimate lie of our egos. From the moment we take our first breath to that of our last, we are constantly surrounded by life. Beautiful, chaotic life. A dance of a different nature, one of partners and whirling music, of dips and highs that exist outside of your control. In this we do not exist for ourselves, we exist for others. We exist for the world and it’s life. From our parents welcoming us to our existence to our friends, our colleagues, our lovers, our enemies. Our lives are not our own and we are never, ever truly alone. We are not what we think, the evil poisonous voice that shouts in your mind IS NOT YOU. We are what we do. We are the people to the world around us. We are not judged on how we fall, but how we get up. When we live our lives with the closed hands of fear, we will never be able to take a helping hand, or to give one.
In the words of our uncle Iroh; “sometimes the best way to deal with your own problems, is to help someone else’s.” and that “in the darkest times, hope is something you give yourself.”
And I promise you, hope is always there. Even when it flickers and seemingly goes out. Even when you can’t give it to yourself. Hope lives around us, in us. When we accept the lie that we are isolated, it becomes so. But when we reach out, even just slightly, we see all that is waiting behind the veil.
Love, kindness, compassion, these things are for free. Be giving and you water the garden of your soul. Reach out with your struggle, even if you think you have no one there, you never know what’s around the next corner. The next person waiting in the wings to change your life. Be it a therapist or a friend, a love or a mentor, the steps that have brought you here, will keep on taking you somewhere new if you just take the next step. The next step is always the most important step of all.
It is believed time heals all wounds. This is also a fallacy.
With time, wounds can be healed. But wounds can also fester and with time, it can infect you. And don’t think you won’t be wounded if you haven’t already, this wild and violent dance of life and mental health affects even the strongest of us. None of us can escape the damages of life; the traumas, the tragedies. Bottling up and minimising our own hurts only makes that poisoner stronger and move quicker to the heart. Finding your voice and speaking to someone to help you through your pain and experiences, doesn’t make us any less but rather more whole. Maybe the first person you find doesn’t work, keep trying, keep working.
Because mental health and the journey we take in healing ourselves is not a once off resolution. We can’t decide once “I’m going to get better now” or “I’m moving on and focusing on me and leaving it all behind me” and it is so. The opposite is true. We have to decide everyday who we are and what we do. In this journey, the destination is not as important as the path we take to get there. We decide with each step.
When I was 16 I read a piece by Thich Nhat Hanh and found a line that at 12:00 AM I wrote in big letters in permanent marker on my wall before my door, so I could see it everyday before I left. It read:
“The mind can go in a thousand directions, but on this beautiful path, I walk in peace. With each step, the wind blows. With each step, a flower blooms.”
I promise you, hope is always there. Even when it flickers and seemingly goes out. Even when you can’t give it to yourself. Hope lives around us, in us.
You are powerful. You are special. You are part of a world and existence that overflows with magic and beauty, mystery and magnificence. Take these words and write them in your life. You are a host to an array of exceptional things and when I greet you I do so with the love of a fellow dancer, a fellow journeyer and a fellow fighter. I see in the eyes of those around me the hope that stems from the base of our existence, to the limits of our souls. In you I see me and in you I find the hope that holds back the dark.
If you struggle, do not struggle by yourself. Reach out. Contact SADAG or their support line:
Suicide Crisis Line
0800 567 567
SADAG Mental Health Line
011 234 4837
Where someone can be with you and remind you of the most basic truth. You are not alone. Your mind may go in a thousand directions, but in this beautiful path, I hope you find your way to walk with peace.
In honour of Misha and Muhammad, you only really die when your name is no longer spoken.