Finally, a blogpost!

Here I am after 5 months of not blogging. I stopped blogging after one of my closest friends and compadres committed suicide. It was a major shock to the system for me. And I suppose I could go on and on about it- how I went through two breakdowns partly because of the event. But. I won’t. 

Instead I’ll just briefly fill you in on what happened in this short while. Firstly, I was hospitalized twice. I know. It was majorly stressful and I wasn’t coping. I was arranging an art fair with two other ladies and then when it came closer to the launch date, I fell ill. I spent 9 days in the hospital. It was long but not long enough to make a big impact. It did, however, save my life. I was on Ketamine and had 6 sessions. December came and I appeared to be doing well. Then, boom, another episode. This time I was admitted for 21 days and had to have ECT. I had 5 sessions in total and although I regained my sanity, I lost many memories. I’m sure others can relate. 

To cut a long story short, I recovered and I’m still doing well. 

People know that I’m a public person; I love to share. So when I was offered a business partner position on the condition that I drop the bipolar label, I was taken aback. I wear my label proudly and it doesn’t bring me shame in any way. I believe that we need to talk about Bipolar disorder and work to eradicate the stigma. But the person who offered the partnership isn’t of the same opinion. They believe that the contract condition was added to protect the image of the business. I took the weekend to decide what my next steps were. Do I take the offer and close down my accounts and keep things clean or do I reject it and continue in my plight? 

This badass decided to reject the offer. Whoop whoop! I feel proud that I stood my ground. I feel like I honoured my feelings in that I stuck to my guns, to what I believe in. 

Did I lose out? 
Not in my books. I wouldn’t have been able to live with myself knowing I couldn’t tweet, Facebook or blog about my life (in the open). 

This is a victory for me and I hope a victory for us all who fight the good fight. 

Stand you ground,

Yvette

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Goodbye Homie; Goodbye Ulla

*lights a candle*

This is going to be a bit all over the place but I’m going to try to say goodbye. She knows I was the type of person to be all over the place so I guess it’s okay.

My Homes,

I understand why you did it. I really do. Your brothers and sisters knew your torment. There were times I felt so helpless to be honest. But you always made me believe that every chat or every chuckle was worth the immense effort it became to you. It became so draining to participate in normal life things for you. But you tried. You tried for us, your friends. Your tribe.

I feel like I let you down. I wanted to do more. To be that rock you were for me. I could always turn to you when the world was at my throat; when the demons were at my feet. Grabbing at me. Now I have to face them on my own.

But you’re at peace now; this was all I have ever wanted for you.

You’re free.

You hated it when I would complain about my weight. Looking back, it feels so stupid now. You always encouraged me to keep writing; to keep painting. Thank you for believing in me especially on those days I had no hope for myself.

You were my gangsta, and I was your blood. We were homies.

You complained that you were old. But you were so badass. That’s a fact. You’d send me the best music. You had fucking good taste. And I loved that we both crushed on LL Cool J. Why you crushed on him I don’t know. 🙂 Makes me smile just thinking of all the drool we lost to that guy. PS. Thank you for keeping all my guy and lady crushes TOP SECRET. Thank you for never judging my taste either.

Oh Ulla, as I’m typing this, I still can’t believe that it’s true. I keep looking at our old chats, I send you “I love homes” messages but watch silently as they don’t deliver. It breaks my heart. You always responded; you were always there.

I’ve been wanting to paint a picture for you for the past two weeks (to send with the flashstick I still needed to send to you). Something abstract, something nobody would understand- just like this fucking illness. I wanted it to give you hope because your sense of hope disappeared long time ago. In fact, the real Ulla seemed to only come in flashes towards the end, I used to tell you to leave the hope for me. I had it in the bucket loads for you. I had hope that you’d come back to us.

You fought so hard.

Please know that you were never a burden to me or any one of us. You were loved. And it’s because of this love that we’re making such a fuss.

Thank you Ulla.

Thank you Blue, for all that you’ve done for Our Lived Experience. Thank you for the back and forth emailing, for doing the interviews (probably from your couch). Thank you for keeping us going, for keeping me going.

So many times we’d talk about meeting. I said I’d cook and you’d make the coffee. We’d sit together on your stoep. You’d obviously have your smoke and I’d watch and you take it in and exhale. All I wanted was to be in your space- to be next to you, to care for you. I guess I’ll have to hold onto those memories that never really happened.

I’m sorry for not being able to save you.

I love you Ulla. I always have, I always will.

Your gangsta,
Your blood.
Always.
Yve

**For those of you interested, I’ll be painting a series of paintings as a tribute to Ulla (Blahpolar). I want to sell them and all profits made will be donated to the clinics she went to in the Eastern Cape, South Africa. It will be an ongoing project. Spanglish Familia will be helping with the setup of a gofundme account.

I’ll use some of Roughghosts pictures and some she sent me. If you have anything specific in mind, let me know.

I work in oils and mainly use a palette knife. I am however flexible with my tools.

She always encouraged me to keep on painting even when I wallowed in self doubt. How stupid of me. Her mom used to paint shells btw. Anyway, I’d love to use my talents to remember her fondly.

You can see my works here: http://www.yvettehess.com

yvetteyadams1@gmail.com**

An Invitation: JOIN ME on SEPT 10th to Honour ULLA’s Death — Our Lived Experience

I’m struggling to write this, so please bear with me.

Two days ago I found out that one of my closest friends and the co-founder of OLE took her own life. Ulla, or Blahpolar as she was known to most, was one of the best things that ever happened to me. I don’t want to write too much – but I do want to invite you to join us as we (with other bloggers) celebrate her life  on September 10th, World Suicide Prevention Day, on her blog:  (https://theblahpolar.wordpress.com).

Yvette

 -Originally posted on My Spanglish Familia: Dear WordPress Community I am overcome with grief upon learning of Blahpolar’s death. I assume, many of you are too. Please join me and Yve on SEPTEMBER 10th, 2016 – World Suicide Prevention Day – on Blahpolar’s blog (link to her last post here) to honour her beautiful, brilliant,…

via An Invitation: JOIN ME on SEPT 10th to Honour ULLA’s Death — Our Lived Experience

Anxiety killed the cat

My anxiety killed me, dead.

I really struggle with the anxiety part of my bipolar disorder and we’re beginning to think that it’s an issue all on its own. My last post spoke about my obsessional thinking patterns. I brought this to my psychiatrist’s attention  on Wednesday. (There was a cancellation so I could get an appointment sooner than I’d planned).

Some context: I’m enrolled in a writing course where I’m learning how to successfully write my memoir. Lately, towards the end of the course, I’ve been struck with debilitating anxiety.

I explained how I thought that maybe it’s psychosis as I must be delusional. My thought processes are affected. And bonus, it’s affecting my memory.My psychiatrist says that my anxiety may be the cause of all of this.

It’s more than just writer’s block. I am the one who is blocked.

Even writing this, I find that I’m struggling to string words together. I’m at a loss for words even in the simplest of situations. In social settings, I find my body temperature soaring (evident in my glasses steaming up) and I need to remove my glasses or scarf till I’m settled.

I recall experiencing this anxiety when I was studying at varsity. No surprise that I dropped out. Does this mean I won’t be able to achieve anything?

No need to answer that. I’m throwing out questions for myself to think about.

One thing that came out of the session was that I was adopting other people’s definition of success as my own and using it in turn to define who I am.

So, if I don’t submit 10 000 words  by the 15 July, I won’t get my certificate. And if I don’t get that certificate I’m going to be a failure, because I never graduated like everyone else. I made my happiness depend on that certificate, this upcoming submission. My livelihood depends on it. I have nothing else, if I do not have this certificate. I am nothing if I do not get this certificate. 

These are the kinds of thoughts that I constantly grapple with. They overpower all that I am and I am left, broken. Apparently it’s a combination between severe anxiety and low self esteem. The latter, I assume I need to fix quick-quick and in a hurry. These are the times I wish I were manic, just for the feeling of being invincible. Just to have that taste of power. Because right now, I’m yearning to feel that power and drive I had so many moons ago.

I’m sure some people, especially those without mental health issues are thinking, “Get it together.”

I wish I could. I wish it were that simple. But I’m trapped in my own head.

This anxiety has me questioning my very existence.

 

 

Obsession

One of the things I haven’t read much about when it comes to bipolar disorder is being obsessive or having obsessing thoughts. I obsess over little things like if the windows are closed at night to big things like what are people thinking about me. I know it seems stupid and possibly childish but paranoia, at its worst, can be quite overwhelming if it spins out of control. 

Because I have a lot of guilt and shame issues, I obsess over what I think people are saying about me and even what they are not saying about me. (Like they’re not saying I’m a good person). I obsess about my worth. I obsess about the way I look. I obsess about my weight.

Paranoia finds itself in every day situations. Let me give you an example. I know a lot of people and so communicate with many of them on Facebook or whatsapp. While chatting to them, I’d have secret conversations happening in my mind where I imagine or “manufacture” things the other person is really saying with their messages. I obsess over reading between the lines constantly. It quickly spins out of control and I find myself completely detached from the actual conversation AND my mind is filled with negative what-ifs and so on. I’m become engrossed in the conversation that happened in the background.  Scary thing is, I can justify every bit of these thoughts, in my mind of course. I feel as if people are out to get me, hate me and so forth. I hate it. I loathe chatting because of it sometimes. 

According to an article I read online, paranoia is a symptom of psychosis. Gah. Really? Other symptoms include:

  • Disrupted, disorganized, or hard-to-understand speech or thought patterns
  • Hallucinations
  • Unrealistic beliefs
  • Difficulty managing daily activities
  • Difficulty knowing what is real and what is not

Ah yes. I relate to these above. 

It’s hard to accept symptoms let alone hide them. It’s hard to accept, that I’m mentally ill when you read the hard, clinical, truths. But I know it can be managed. I take my antipsychotics and go for therapy. 

Do you struggle with unshakeable paranoia? 

Prosper,

Yve

Validating my Bipolar Disorder

Yesterday I posted, on Instagram, a photo of myself, without makeup (Thank you Alicia Keys). The picture’s caption read:

How i feel. ‪#‎downday‬‪#‎mentalhealth‬‪#‎mentalillness‬‪#‎bipolardisorder‬‪#‎manicdepression‬‪#‎stillinmypajamas‬
Being honest. Living out there in the open.

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I’ve been living out there in the “open” with my diagnosis for a few years now. It hasn’t been easy. Yes I have been liberated, but I have also been judged and constantly watched. That made me so anxious. I was so afraid to make any wrong moves, to have bad days. So, yesterday was my way of freeing myself from that. Even as someone who advocates for mental health awareness and speaks openly about having a good life with Bipolar Disorder, I too will have bad days.

Just because I’m on medication, doesn’t mean this monster goes away.

Just because I go for therapy, it doesn’t mean the problems go away.

They stay there. You just learn to deal with them better.

And I for one, over the last two weeks, was not being proactive in preventing this relapse. I was not stupid. I just took on too much- something I think this illness can be blamed for. One just thinks you can do it all, save the world. It’s part of the illusion and I seem to fall for it every time.

If I look back at the past two weeks, I can say that I was way too busy for my own good. Life threw lemons at me and I tried to juggle them all.

It all started with driving to Cape Town for a radio show, (I live about two hours from Cape Town). Driving plus anxiety never mixes well with me. Constantly images of car crashes fly through my mind. Anyway, I got home safely and I think it was the next week where I had to be in Cape Town again for a TV show. More driving. More anxiety.

The next week I had a three day art workshop in Cape Town again (from Wednesday to Friday), a presentation I was asked to give about living with Bipolar Disorder on the Saturday and then a market on the Sunday (where I was to sell artworks I have been working on in my spare time).

ANXIETY GALORE!

I was so unsure of myself, so full of negative talk but I made it through the  busy days. The very next Monday it was my turn to drive for our carpool (lift club). It was all just too much. I crashed. I stayed in my pajamas, I didn’t shower (obviously), I didn’t eat (not so obviously). I was irritable. Everything was so loud, from doors opening to the kids crying to sounds outside. Everything was amplified. Everyone (and -thing) was in slow motion. My body feels heavy, like I’m walking around in ankle weights. I just wanted to give up on everything including myself. No amount of positive talk was helping. I chatted to my team members (now my friends) from Our Lived Experience and that helped. They kept me distracted from the fog. The numerous wishes on Facebook were also an eyeopener for me. People, some I haven’t even met, were clearing my cloudy day with their messages of support. Some didn’t know what I was going through, some did. But with every like and comment, it was like my experience, my down day, my crash, my illness was validated. It was real. A lot of the time I find that people do not understand this illness because they do not think it’s a real thing. How can it be real? It’s all in your head, no? No. It’s not only in my head. It affects my entire being. I was scared of posting that picture because I was afraid may label me as weak or seeking attention. Maybe I am seeking attention.

I want my illness to get some respect!

There are days where I hear things, and when I see things.

There are days where all I want to do is kill myself.

I am being blunt because that is the truth. I need treatment. I need compassion. Just as you would show compassion to people undergoing chemo or a child who just broke their leg- I too deserve it. They say the mind is a wonderful thing, but my mind can be hell. And it affects who I am to the world. My illness alters the person I am. That is scary. An illness that can take you away from your family and friends is scary, not only physically (like going to a clinic) but episodes take you to a different world and it can turn you into the worst version of yourself. All this is beyond your control. Most people don’t realize that. This illness robs you of control over your entire life. This is not just about having a bad day. Anyone can have a bad day. It’s about not being able to function. It’s about constant negative thoughts you can’t control. It’s about feeling confused by constant racing thoughts. It’s about (again) not having control. With “normal people”, you read a few positive quotes and Bob’s your uncle- you’re back on track. This ILLNESS requires other interventions (quotes can help, don’t get me wrong), but serious interventions are required for you to manage your life.

People will and agree with me and many won’t. And that’s okay too. This is my truth.

I’m busy finishing off my memoir writing course and I hope it will give me the tools to write a book that will explain exactly how I got to the space I am in today (both medically and otherwise). I want to be able to tell the story that needs to be told. I want to be able to share the story in a way that will help people who cannot go public for various reasons. Most of all I want to be able to tell my story with the compassion I deserve to give myself.

I deserve to give myself all the love I can.

I got this message in my inbox. I’ve been too overwhelmed to answer.

Your encouragement is worth more than gold. And your sincerity shines through in your Facebook posts, the few times I’ve heard you speak and definitely in our chats. I am a stranger to you, yet you offer words of encouragement and support to me and many others through your work/blogs etc. I’m sure I’m not the only one that randomly inboxes you, often bombarding you with questions and more. If what you have offered me is anything to go by, I am positive that you do the same for them. Each individual diagnosed with bi – polar has various triggers, some common where this diagnosis exists, others unique to the individual. I sense “your worth” is or has been a struggle to you. You can doubt your own words despite knowing the sincerity with which you offered them. Your actions however…This not even you can dispute. It’s clear in the work you do, albeit your talks, blogs, words of advice, your positive posts and your beautiful paintings you graciously share with us all. All these acts surpass your words, whether you think those words have worth or not. And therein lies evidence of your kind heart. I don’t know you, and I am certain you are not perfect (a common feature amoung the human population I’ll have you know! 😁), but your intentions are clear by the way you put yourself out there. Don’t you begrudge yourself the acknowledgement, respect and gratitude you deserve. After all, you should be Yvette’s biggest supporter!

Sometimes we can’t heal ourselves, but in helping others we actually do…one kind gesture at a time

Sorry for the vent/rant tone in some of the … You know what, I’m not sorry.

Stay strong,

Yve

Abuse- it stays with you

Trigger warning: sexual content

In my previous blog post I mentioned that I was a speaker at one of the South African Depression and Anxiety Group’s talks about Bipolar Awareness. I also mentioned that I was molested at a young age.  I didn’t want to labour on the point, but I do believe it deserved a separate blogpost to highlight the important conversations around sexual abuse that need to happen. 

My abuser was a family friend. Someone I trusted. Someone my parents trusted. He was supposed to look after myself and my sister for the day while my parents were at work. I can’t remember where the maid was. 

I wrote about the actual scene in my memoir  and at first I was reluctant to share it but I believe it’s a worthy share. 
See excerpt below:

“The air was bitter cold and provided the setting for his warm, fat fingers to find their way to mine. With my fingers entwined in his, he straddled himself slowly while I watched. He towered over ,e in the purple and black one seater couch my parents had just bought for our home. I sat there, on the floor while my sister and innocently watched cartoons. He had my hand in his, pleasuring himself. I looked back to see a bulged shine through his sweat dark blue pants. His after shave smelt familiar and trusting, so I didn’t fear him when he placed his sausage-like index finger on his darkened smoker’s lips. “Shh,” he motioned me to keep this quiet, keep it sacred. He always smelt of smoke masked by cheap aftershave or aftershave masked by cheap cigarettes. By the age of 7, I couldn’t tell the difference.
I caught the white of his eyes wink at mine. I turned away his face, shy, not knowing what to do next. I was pleasuring him. I made him happy, I thought to myself. My eyes darted from my younger sister sitting barely a meter away. She watched the Teletubbies intently as I pleased him.
I sat there clouded by guilt and drowning in confusion. This didn’t feel right. Maybe it was in the way he shushed me, or maybe it was in the way his leather like skin felt against mine.
He paused and whispered,” Is it nice?” Did I lie? “Yes”, I answered softly. I didn’t want my innocence to hear me. And with that, he called my sister. My instinct jumped in and when she looked at me to see what the fuss was about, I sweetly told her it’s fine, she can watch TV. With no hesitation she turned her face, blind to the activities before her. She continued to watch her show. I looked up at his ugly brown eyes and shook my head to gesture for him to leave her out of it. He got the picture and continued. We sat there quietly while he pleasured his manhood and me proud that I saved her life.
He was a close family friend who used to tag along when his sister-in-law travelled around the country. The two of them would stay over at our home in the Free State, where we were isolated from family, friends and help. I remember praying with his sister-in-law, exploring the Islam religion with her, the warmth and inviting nature of the prayers still lingered with me while he caressed my cheek as he reached his climax.
Later that same day he created some games the three of us could play. These games were to be played under the covers, unfortunately. And I was scared as hell. After a five minute tickle session, he breathed heavily and asked, “Do you want more?” My heart raced a little faster. “Maybe your sister also wants to play.”
“No!” my innocence grew dim. Did I know what he meant? No, but I knew what he asked me left me feeling dirty, guilty and uneasy.
Milliseconds passed as the front door opened and his sister-in-law entered with a happy hello totally oblivious to the filthy games being played. My sister jumped up with excitement and rushed to greet her. He whispered his final goodbyes in my ear and I lay there, a frozen seven year scarred but saved from further sin. His words were heavy on my heart and haunted me from that day forward. He told me the usual lies that my family would break all ties with him if I had to tell them- and it would be my fault. He cornered me with guilt.
In my mind I scrambled for ways and reasons to tell my parents about this monster but I was left empty, and empty inside.
He took my innocence with him and left me with fear by my side.
That night, I lay in my bed, facing an open door; I waited for him to come back for more of me. While my eyes were adjusted to the darkness, I watched his room door across mine. I waited and waited, not giving in to sleep. My eyes burned from fear and insomnia. I lay there, not moving a muscle, waiting, not being able to process what had happened earlier that day. In the dark, confusion and guilt ate me alive. How could I sleep? Every one of his whispers, sat etched in my mind. I was overwhelmed by nausea at the sight of darkened lips and the smell of his smoky breath.
As I cried myself to sleep, images of a translucent Casper the friendly ghost appeared from my open door. He and his trio of ugly uncle ghosts chased one another around my room. They frolicked around the ceiling and sang songs from the movie.
 How lucky was I to have them around when Sin was so close to being inside me.
Were they there to protect me? In my isolated mind, yes they were. They took me away from that swollen face and his half shaven beard, a roughness I hated from all the inappropriate greeting kisses. They flew across the room, round and round and entertained me for hours on end. Every so often, I’d glance back at his room door to check if he was sneaking towards me. Casper would make his way towards me and make me laugh just to settle my nerves. I didn’t sleep. I didn’t need sleep. I could be detached from the real world for protection. The real world became a dangerous place and isolating myself became the only option.
 If I detached myself, nobody could hurt me, no one could penetrate my new world.
Unfortunately bed wetting and me nagging for a light to be left on became a frequent occurrence in my house, but nobody could understand my cries for help. ”

Copyright Yvette Hess 2016

Now I you’re thinking, “oh wow, did she have to share that?” 

Yes. Yes, I did. 

My reason is two fold. The first reason being simply that it is in my nature to share. 

Two: abuse is one of those taboo subjects that are not spoken about enough. Those who know me are well aware that I speak up for those who cannot or who are afraid to share. This doesn’t make me weak. The fact that I was abused does not make me weak either, no does it make me “damaged goods”. 

I remember being asked if I wanted to lay a charge against this man who violated me. All that was going through my mind was “I’m going to embarrass my family”; “it was probably my fault to begin with” and “I’ve let down my family”. I was seven years old and too afraid to be bold, to be strong, to put this man away so that he couldn’t hurt any more girls. Apparently, I wasn’t the first. That saddens me even more to this day. I hate that I couldn’t speak out. I hate that I wasn’t strong enough to fight him. 

But not anymore. I’m speaking up about the scars he left me with. 

Ps I’ve decided to continue writing my memoir. What do you think? 

Keep flying. Keeping soaring. 

Yve

Bipolar Awareness Day Talk hosted by SADAG & Akeso

Hello there! 

The South African Depression and Anxiety Group (SADAG) held talks all over South Africa in celebration of Bipolar Awareness day held on the 26th May. I was asked to give a talk based on my life experience, living with the disorder. The talk was hosted by SADAG as well Akeso Kenilworth clinic in Cape Town. I got a little emotional during the talk but I think that was a good thing. It showed how honest I was – and that’s all I wanted to depict: a raw, honest story.  

These were my rough notes:

Good morning everyone. Today I’m going to be a bit selfish and talk about myself. I was very kindly asked to speak about my experience living with Bipolar Disorder.

 

Two things I want to start off by saying. 1- Everyone experiences bipolar disorder differently which leads me to two – we can all relate to the symptoms.

 

I’m going to be as honest as I can be. I’ve had a patchy memory due to the disorder and my medication but I refuse to let that stop me from sharing my story.

 

Many people ask me where this all started and I tried to think back – way back.

 

I tried to think of where my first experience of being disconnected from the world originated. I was taken back to when I was 7 years old. I was molested by a family friend. That night while I lay in bed, I was hypnotized by Casper, the friendly ghost. He came, with his uncles and he kept me distracted from the fear I had inside- that that family friend was going to get me in the night and finish what he started. I know that it sounds strange but losing touch with reality really helped me.

 

I grew up a bed wetter and remained afraid – especially of the dark. I would lie in bed, always facing the door left slightly ajar. Just enough for me to enjoy the light seeping in- enough light for me to be see if anyone was entering my room. I was always a sensitive child, but no one could understand why. And neither could I. I always felt very different from other children- inexplicably sad- sensitive- bruised. My father at the time saw this as weakness and constantly tried to change this. His methods did more harm, I think, and stressed me more.

 

Years pass by and I find myself in university for the first time. I befriend the Student council president and end up being one of the most popular people on campus. I lived away from home and found myself drunk every week- travelling to the city, dancing in clubs I was way too young to be in. I could see myself as if to look at myself from a distance. That’s where the out of body experiences started. I was a hot mess as they say. Everything was in slow motion. I couldn’t find myself. I couldn’t connect with reality. And that’s how my life went, being the popular girl in student leadership who couldn’t maintain her studies.

One of the biggest events in my life was when I first attempted suicide at 19. I had just dropped out of university and was dating someone 15 years older than I was at the time. I felt like was failure and a liability to my family. I couldn’t deal with the torment inside- the whirlwind of being different, being sensitive, not being able to feel like fit in. I didn’t want to die, I just didn’t want to exist- if that makes any sense. The suicide attempt seemed to come out of nowhere to everyone else. They didn’t pick up on the way I felt, because I was a very quiet person. I couldn’t articulate the untouchable pain I was feeling. My family was distraught. They felt like they failed me and that made me feel even worse. The psychiatrist at the time just told me I have two sides to me and that I was just very sad- nothing I have to worry about. He was wrong.

I fell pregnant with my first born soon after the attempt. Life couldn’t have gone more “wrong”. My parents decided to relocate to Cape Town from the Free State. Although we had family there, I felt lost and was forced into a single parent situation. I decided to start studying again and it wasn’t long until I found myself being a student leader again. I started a student organization and was chairperson of and founder of a few more. I excelled academically, but only initially. At university, I was surrounded by opportunities to shine outside of academia. I had millions of ideas – often feeling like I was going to burst. People loved me. I was Miss Personality. I exuded all kinds of awesome.

But soon, things began to crumble as the semesters passed. Bright ideas became bigger and bigger. I was going to start an intercontinental magazine, and an online business all while being a single parent, working part time, a student leader and well, I just couldn’t keep up. Of course I wasn’t sleeping. And I was sleeping with many guys. The shame that goes with the hypersexuality is just unbearable. Every relationship was the one. Each one of them filled with so much intensity. That was me.

Intense.

A ticking time bomb.

In my third year of studying at university I became physically ill- suffering from major headaches and stomach problems. I was hospitalized often. And always discharged with them not knowing what was wrong with me. What followed was “the crash”: days of being in bed, not taking my son to school because I just couldn’t get up. I’d put my cell off so that I wouldn’t have to speak to anyone. Team members of projects and varsity staff looked for me. I wouldn’t shower for days. I’d just crawl into bed. And sleep. Negative thoughts like I’m a bad mother, I’m a bad girlfriend, I’m a failure, I can’t function; I’m worthless would spiral on and on in my mind.

Finally, I was diagnosed with Bipolar disorder in 2011 by a medical doctor on campus. I was advised to see the psychiatrist but he was reluctant to accept the diagnosis. When I researched all the symptoms- I could see myself in every line. I could see the manic me and I could see the depression as clear as day. I just couldn’t see why he didn’t see it. I decided to see a new psychiatrist closer to home. He diagnosed me and started me on Lithium. My parents lived abroad and so my support system wasn’t really of the best. My sister didn’t understand the illness either. They couldn’t understand how I was unable to function. This was someone who won student of the year for goodness sake! I failed to see my therapist. I didn’t comply with my medication and eventually things became worse.

At one stage I was in such a bad state that I couldn’t walk and my eyes refused to open. My body was shutting down. The neurologist on duty at one of my hospitalizations said that that this is all in my head. My then boyfriend at the time decided to research what the disorder is all about. He took it up on himself to make sure I was taking my medication and going to support groups. He travelled every day from St Helena bay to Muizenburg look after me. To care for me. To get me to a point where I could look after myself. This took years.

I fell pregnant twice again and this caused havoc for my disorder. I would lay in bed and see the charger cord and see myself end my own life. The medication just wasn’t keeping me stable. I must mention that thoughts like that still plague me when my anxiety levels rise. It’s like I flip to my default which is to rid the world of me. When I’m drinking a glass of wine or cool drink, I envision myself breaking the glass and hurting myself. These are real thoughts that come from my mind which I can’t control. It’s all scary.

With the initial diagnosis, I felt very alone. Nobody was talking about bipolar disorder, instead they were joking about it. I decided to start looking for support online. And I found a world of voices who echoed all my experiences. Unfortunately very few were South African. And that’s when I decided to start a blog called Our Lived Experience- a place where people are welcome to contribute to share their lived experiences of living with mental illness in SA. Our lived experience was born out of the value one gets from shared experience and the healing that comes from it. We are team of four bloggers who live all over South Africa. We each have unique views and experiences with the disorder which makes for great reading and insight. We have been blogging for a year now but we are less successful than our UK, U.S. And Canadian colleagues also fighting the good fight. South Africans are just not talking openly about mental illness, more specifically bipolar disorder.

 

When I went public with my diagnosis, I felt like it liberated me. Then I again, I felt like I had nothing to lose and more to gain. I didn’t want to be caught in its grips anymore. I disclosed my diagnosis at work but I found limited support- there was just too much stigma attached to the illness and very little knowledge about how to support an employee with mental illness.

 

We’ve found that sharing stories work similarly to how support groups work- in that you form relationships with people you can relate to. They give hope. And they provide healing for those who write them. WE have noted a decrease in the stories being shared though and it’s sad to see. I use my spare time to advocate for a stigma free South Africa. I use my time to speak about the hurt that this illness has caused – but I also talk about how far I have come. I’m a living example of how far anyone can come. I am proof that you can have a good life. Sometimes the illness overpowers you but it’s important to note it’s not you.

 

Going through my episodes I have learnt that early intervention is key. I unplug myself when I am manic. Okay those around me unplug me. With the whirlwind of ideas and energy I find it difficult to Say no.

During my depressions, I Sleep. It’s the cheapest form of medication. I go to my therapy sessions to Work through feelings of guilt and shame. I have to work hard to Forgive myself and try Not be so hard on myself. I remember that I have to Love myself. I have to Accept myself. I have to Accept my illness. Bipolar disorder evolves over time, but just as it evolves – you have to remember that you’re growing and learning. Triggers change. But so do you. You have to keep working to keep afloat.

 

This is a life-changing illness but there’s one golden truth I can share with you today. There is always help. There is always hope.

One parting thought: Your illness is your responsibility; your actions, even if they were wrong, and not your fault, are still yours. It is not to pin guilt, but rather to help you in being accountable and taking ownership of your wellness. Only you can do the work. And it takes a lot of it to be well. But you can be well. You can live a really good life.

 

I wish I was manic 

Yes. You read the title correctly. I’d rather be an irritable fool than this bag of useless nothing I am now. 

Every year this time I seem to go under and drown in a sea of hopelessness. I have trouble sleeping even whilst on sleeping meds; I am extremely negative and the suicidal ideation is a problem. 

If I were manic, my manic, at least I’d be doing something productive and not lay in bed all day fixated on ways to hurt myself. 

My manic is romantic. One or  more times a day I’d snap -of course- but I’d still be smooth, confident and a true magician with my charm. 

I’ve been in recovery for a while now and experienced the odd off mood but this is different. This reminds me of the many years of depression I struggled with before. Years of torment I thought was gone. 

I want to be gone. 

I’m so glad I’m not working because facing people would be very difficult. Firstly, I’d need to shower. And that right now is not happening. Secondly I’d have to plaster on a thick impasto mask to hide the hurt within. The hurt that I inflict upon myself -my mind the hell that it is -spewing lie after lie. 

Ah God. 

My nanny says I shouldn’t let the devil attack me like this. I’m a strong woman she says. 

Lies. 

For today I am broken. 

I’m going to see my psychiatrist today. I want her to fix this. I’m getting tired of saying I’m fine and that I’ll be okay. 

Yve

-This is not a cry for help. I’m open about my mental health because so many other people can’t be. I’m not scared of being judged. 

I’m still bipolar 

Being in recovery doesn’t mean it’s always going to be rosey. Sometimes it’s going to weird and shit, just like yesterday. 

Yesterday I woke up feeling strange in an off-ish way. I hadn’t felt dreariness of that dark somber cloud in a while. I dragged myself out of bed to take the children to school. Fatigue sat in  etched in my bones. Every move I made was a chore. The want to look good wasn’t there. No lipstick. No smile. I just wanted get back to bed. I wanted to escape people and their smiles and laughter and zest for living. I wanted to escape life. Just for that day, I was done with it. 

I dropped the kids off, blew my sad kisses and drove back home- in a daze. I was in dark trance. I didn’t want to exercise. I didn’t want to eat. I heard the negative talk whispering in my ear. The bipolar’s smokey lips almost pressed against my ear. I smelt its disgusting breath. My emotions ran high. How could I let it come for me again?

I have not been taking my meds as I’m supposed to. I ran out. I failed to fetch more. Stupid. Rookie error. Or maybe I was asking for trouble? 

So many things have been happening in my world. Good things. Great things. 

Then yesterday happened to remind me that I’m not super woman. It saddened me because it reminded me of those times I wanted to give up on life completely. It reminded of those times where no matter how hard I prayed, days were a torment to live through. 

I spent the day in bed. Messages streamed in. I zoned out. My husband took some time out to call me so that we could figure out some sort of plan of action. How were we going to tackle this beast yet again? 

We decided the plan of action would be to drop all my current projects and then rest for the day. We would make sure I’m taking the right meds at the right doses. Besides those important things, I would need to rewire my way of thinking.  Around every corner, there would be a negative thought or belief. One would be borne out of the simplest of situations. I’d lift a glass to pour myself water and instantly I would see a vision of cutting myself. It’s almost natural. The negative thoughts would pile on top of one another, one sad one after the other. Yesterday, I practiced not believing the thoughts or not dwelling on them. I didn’t let them linger long enough to cause damage. Even though I couldn’t stop them, I could control the way I reacted them, the way I handled them. This is a first for me. And maybe that’s what recovery really is: being strong enough for the battles that may come your way. 

Today I’m feeling much better. My mood has lifted and I’m excited about things again. Yesterday’s torment was short lived but I know it will return. At least I know I’m ready. I’m capable.