WARNING: some of the stories detailed below have graphic and detailed descriptions of self-harm and traumatic experiences related to suicide. Please do not read on if you are upset by this. And if you do need someone to talk to, please give me a comment and we can chat on email.
If you are suicidal, please read this first:
I would like it if this blog were all about self-development, but before we can get there, you will need to understand what my frame of reference is for the articles yet to be written.
Also, I need some practice writing, so this should do the trick 🙂
[NOTE: I wrote this and edited as I went – therefore it is technically spell-checked, not edited. If I spend more time on it I may not have the guts to post it.]
Now for a little history on me – but fiiirsst –
Courtesy of Urban Dictionary:
etim. Spanish for “crazy”, “insane”, “mad”.
Ese tío está loco
(“That guy’s crazy”)
1. A mental state that arises spontaneously rather than through conscious effort and is often accompanied by physiological changes; a feeling.
2. A state of mental agitation or disturbance.
3. The part of the consciousness that involves feeling; sensibility.
4. The emotions of joy, sorrow, reverence, hate, and love.
“He spoke unsteadily in a voice that betrayed his emotion”
1. The proper slang term for a wash cloth used for tables and counters
“YO! Pass me my motion, I need to clean this spilled milk. “
2. noun: the action or process of moving or being moved.
“the laws of planetary motion”
So in summary – loco is the crazy bit, emotion gets involved, and motion is the only thing that will get me out of this Loco eMotional state!
The early years
Fresh out of the army, my dad was my age, 26 yrs old and working in computers – a foreign concept back then, especially in a 3rd world country (NOTE: South Africa has since been “upgraded” to a developing country). He grew up with 3 brothers and a sister, in a big loving household – more poor than not, but happy.
Just out of school and in varsity was my mom, 19 going on 20 years old. The brightest student in her high school classes, and coming from a “school for the gifted” made my mom and dad the perfect, quick-witted match. She had had a much more financially secure life. She also grew up in a big household – just the loving part was a bit twisted. Alcoholism (both parents) and undiagnosed mental disorders (hers and her mother’s) were the main issue in my eyes. This led to an array of situations and behaviours that eventually got her parents attention when she was thinner than a stick and had not got out of bed for weeks. I believe that was the first of many trips to the hospital – Anorexia Nervosa, diagnosis one of one million.
1988 – I was born to my loving father and mother, and we lived in a house my dad had built – our house in the middle of the street (like the song).
The doctors had given my parents the option to legally abort me before I was born (abortion was illegal in South Africa back then). Reasoning behind this was my mom’s history of mental disorder. They decided to battle the odds and have me anyway.
Thank you Mamma and Pappa.
The formative years
I grew up in a suburb of Pretoria – north of Johannesburg. We lived in the same house until I was 10 years old. My first memories are of being 2 years old, going on 3. We had arrived in Pittsburgh, America for a business trip. My dad took my mom, me and my little baby brother (6months – 1 yr old) with him. My dad’s late brother also came with as an au Pair for me and my brother.
I remember going to choose my birthday cake for my 3rd birthday – the shops were HUGE and the cake was iced in white, with toy plastic trains on it. I also remember my dad and/or uncle coming home late one night, one of the first nights we were living there. They brought me a doughnut (South African spelling) from Dunkin’ Donuts in bed, and woke me up for it – I ate it then and there in the middle of the night – it had multi-coloured sprinkles on it.
When we returned to South Africa 9 months later, my American English was fluent, and my mother tongue (Afrikaans, stemming from Netherlands Dutch) was a little rusty. My grandpa (Oupa Sailor) iced me a huge flat cake with a bicycle drawn on it. I think there was a moon in the sky on the cake with 4 candles in it. We were at my granny (Ouma Alma’s) sister’s house – my Great Aunt Hildegard. They lived on a big plot, with a swimming pool and tennis courts. My parents met eachother there for the first time, and later got married there too (I was there, but in the belly).
My dad’s parents had a farm in the North West province in a town called Groot Marico. They had a river flowing through their farm, with a swimming spot. There were cliffs and mountains, and my grandfather (Oupa Maré) built walking paths all over his huge farm, with the help of one old man (we called him the Outa – respectful term for an older, working, typically black man.)
We went to visit here often, and I think my first love for nature was born here.
My parents also used to take us for hikes in Swaziland – we always hiked the same trail, and camped at the same spot. My parents would feed us sweetened, condensed milk in tubes, and push us along with a stick against our backpacks if we slacked 🙂 We were badass like that. (My folks carried the tent, food, sleeping things, etc in huge backpacks)
I went to Village Montessori pre-school, after leaving the Afrikaans school when going to America. Montessori schools are different to other methods of teaching. Montessori schooling is approach developed by Italian physician and educator Maria Montessori and characterized by an emphasis on independence, freedom within limits, and respect for a child’s natural psychological, physical, and social development.
My parents continued this methodology throughout all areas of my life.
At this stage (pre-school), the Montessori teacher recommended to my parents that I was ready, about a year early, to go to school. I was a fast learner and already had all the basics down that they could teach me. My folks did the reasonable thing and took me to a child psychologist to determine if I was ready or not. I was levelled up a bit for the rest of the year at the Montessori, but I went into Grade 1 on time – 6 going on 7yrs old.
I did well in Primary School (as we call it). Straight A’s, took part in gymnastics and drama, singing and dancing. Was not to keen on any school sport at that stage. I once remember walking up to wait for my mom to fetch me after school, halfway through a softball game (it was half time and I thought it was finished.) They had to come and call me back! So no more softball.
From a young age, my dad worked in the IT industry, and we always had a computer at home. At some stage we got a dial-up internet connection, and my dad encouraged me to have a pen pal (email-pal) – anywhere in the world. So I did, and it opened my eyes. The internet was still pretty rudimentary, but it was more than anything I had ever seen.
As a 5-10 year old I was also an extremely avid reader. I would read anything I could get my hands on – mostly stuck to children’s books my folks got me. Little girls and their horses – fairy tales and fantasy ruled these days.
When I tell you about these, note that they are not mine. They are my mother’s. I lost count how many times she tried to … save us from her. But in essence kill herself, therefore abandoning us. To this day I am grateful for every time the universe told her F. U.!! You WILL stay, you are not done here!
I must have been 5 or 6 years old. Pretty sure it was not my mom’s first attempt – but it was my first awareness of it.
My mom gave me an envelope and told me not to read it. She said it was for dad. I could see she was sad, and somehow I knew to read it, and call dad. I do not remember anything else regarding this day or incident. Just that I knew she wanted to kill herself, and I had to get my dad to save her.
Just that thereafter it was a seemingly inevitable string of mental hospitals. Weekend visits were horrible and wonderful. We got to see our mom a little. But she was not really our mom there. We played in the beautiful gardens and made our own safe world, me and my brother. Being 2 years apart in age, we were quite close, though it was the unspoken kind of close. My dad would get a lot of takeaways – that was about the best part of the ride to or from the clinic. I looked forward to that.
Through all this, my mom remained mostly functional for contract work and freelancing. When she worked, that was all she did though. It was difficult to find a way to connect. In later years, when I could keep up with her conversations, we really have managed to get to that point I so dearly needed back then. I just didn’t really understand or was not able to understand what she was going through back then. So as a child I take it personally. As an adult I understand.
My dad was a hotshot in his career – also worked a lot, but usually could switch off and focus for me and my bro. My best conversations with my dad were on the way to school in the car.
Me, age 10-13
When I was 10 and my brother was 8, we moved from Pretoria to Midrand, to be closer to my dad’s work. It was only 25 kms away from where I grew up, but a whole different world.
Our folks enrolled us in a private school. They go all the way from preschool to grade 12. This school was started by Gill Conradie, who had learned Transcendental Meditation (TM) from Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. When we joined the school, everyone had to be inducted into TM. The younger children quietly repeated a mantra in their heads while walking for 10 minutes every morning and every afternoon. The older children sat with their eyes closed for 20 minutes twice a day.
By this time, I had figured that my life was harder than some of my friends’ lives – they were rich, and their parents were THERE – not always working or in hospital. One of my biggest mentors and role models was my grade 5 (Standard 3) teacher, Sue Adler. She wore patchouli oils, and burnt incense in her classes early mornings. We started reading Siddhartha in homeroom class with her. She also gave yoga classes that I eventually turned into a proper home practice with the aid of a book from the school library. That was the first time I felt centred, and good – even if other things were bad. I have not been as close to yoga again since I was 10-12 years old – so I really want to revisit that practice.
Teenage years AKA the wild years
At 13 I smoked my first cigarette. By the time I was 14, I had gotten drunk more than 6 times, and at 14 I lost my virginity to my then boyfriend (who was also a virgin). This was the prelude to years of binge-drinking, cigarette smoking, forays into drug use, meaningless one night stands, and I could never seem to hold onto any money – it flew out of my bank account.
At about 15, they medicated me for “Major Depression” which was at the time thought to be alcohol-induced. I would spend all weekend partying, then come Monday I would want to stay in bed. One morning my mom had to get the pick-axe and start hacking away at my locked door before I would open it.
I did not really change my habits upon going onto the medication. I still drank, once or twice a weekend – 6 to 10 drinks at a go.
This is also when my school marks (grades) started dropping.
I told my parents I had to leave my amazing private school for a crummy public school – which I did – not sure why. I recall the reason being that I was on a semi-scholarship basis with Sagewood, and my school work suffering was threatening that. I did not want the constant pressure to perform anymore, which mom understood. So I left to mix in with the masses.
It was horrible. The first time I stuck up my hand to answer a question, I was teased for being smart. Needless to say, I did not do that again.
About a year and much too much drugs, sex and alcohol later (the rock ‘n roll bit was good!), I had a steady boyfriend (he drank too much too, snap!).
We had been together almost 2 years when I missed my period. I was pregnant, and 15. My mom had always said (due to them being offered an abortion and being “pro-life” in that particular decision), that I was to promise her just to NEVER have an abortion if I fell pregnant. She always said she would help me take care of the baby.
There I was, not wanting to disappoint my mother (more like sever ties, in her eyes it was murder I thought). I “made the decision” to keep the baby. Everyone was supportive, happy , excited. Uncles, aunts, grandparents were told. Even the school. The principal called me in for a fatherly chat even.
About 16 weeks into the pregnancy, my parents and his parents had a sit down (it ended up in a “Get out of my house, don’t talk about my daughter like that” let me throw you with something – from my dad). Basically his folks had rocked up there (he was 20) to advise us to rethink keeping the baby. They suggested that we had our lives ahead of us, that we had the choice and that we should perhaps go for an abortion. We were all horrified. They left.
I went and cried and cried in my room, trying to figure out how to tell my mom I had changed my mind. I told my dad first, as they were fawning over me after the incident with my then boyfriend’s parents. I think he understood and explained to my mom that she needs to be WITH ME on this decision now, or likely lose me forever. My mom did the hardest thing and accepted my choice. I did not even feel a scrap of resentment or judgement, they just loved me.
I went for the abortion and my boyfriend and I broke up shortly thereafter.
Now the real fun started. By now, still on antidepressants, even more so after the abortion, I had also discovered sleeping pills. Stilnox can ruin your life. (in my honest opinion)
I had more one night stands, each one just looking for love that would last – which never did. There was an older boyfriend (30-something, and I was 16), he died in a car crash towards the end of our dysfunctional relationship. He was high on cocaine. I had just managed to stop smoking cigarettes for the first time, when my friends broke the news to me. Nicotine patch off – nicotine stick lit up. Then I got a puppy.
Getting a puppy is the cure for someone close to you dying. I promise you.
I dropped out of “real” high school after the abortion, insisting to my parents that home-schooling was the way! (I knew I could do it myself, needed no parental help).
They let me do it, and suddenly most days were spent sleeping, and nights chatting on Skype with randoms or playing The Sims until sunrise. One of those randoms I met invited me to be flown down to Cape Town for a week (after months of Skype chatting – text). We tried the long distance think thereafter, but it didn’t work.
When I was 17, I met a beautiful soul who was just as tortured as me. We could never have made it work with all our issues together, but he understood me. He introduced me to music that proved more people felt like us. The first person to ever understand me.
He broke up with me, and I broke.
I went out for a night of partying, hoping for it to end up in meaningful (less) sex. It didn’t, so I came home alone. I was drunk. I was high on a Stilnox sleeping pill (adco-zolpidem). I was teary eyed and depressed and sorry for myself. Everything felt wrong. I was out of control, yet in control when I grabbed my plastic pencil sharpener and stomped on it – breaking the plastic to reveal the rusty old blade in it.
I cut. I cut lines across the tops of both my arms (very aesthetically pleasing, in the same direction as my hair grows. The bracelets of my pain. The cuts were not very deep, just enough to bleed. I wrapped my arms up in bandages I found somewhere. I spent a day or 2 contemplating the situation.
My mom and I were just about to leave therapy at Jo – I think it had been my mom’s session I was just waiting in the car. When she came and sat next to me to go, I told her that there was something I needed to tell her. I could literally see her worry and fear appear on her brow as she prepared herself for the worst…
“I cut my arms” and I showed her.
This was so familiar to her, being a regular cutter as long as I had known her, that I think she unwittingly looked relieved, and even told me in so many words she was relieved that I was not addicted to heroin. Fair enough, so was I, but to me this seemed uncaring. Like it was to be expected. Like “yes, your whole life has been screwed up, so therefore cutting is absolutely natural”. Next reaction was to book me into the mental clinic that I had visited so many times throughout my life as a child visitor. Now I was in it. The gardens were not as beautiful as I remembered them anymore.
The clinic was hell – I spent 2 weeks there. One person just more f*cked up than the next. I made a vow to never end up there again. I did therapy, took the meds, and I got me better.
I managed to complete my final year of school over 24 months – I just couldn’t manage to pass all the exams in year one. My subjects were English, Afrikaans, Mathematics, Physiology, Criminology and one other that obviously didn’t sink in as I can not recall it now.
While writing my final FINAL exams, I met my friend-soulmate (I have a lover-soulmate too!) The second person in the world who understood me. We are still friends today, the closest.
I got better. I met the love of my life, G (3rd person to understand me – sometimes). I was 18, he was 21. I was over-kissed, he was never-been-kissed.
Instead of going to travel for a gap year abroad, I opted to stay with G, and to go to university. At this time I went off of my psychiatric medication. I signed up to study for the only thing that made sense to me at the time – Bachelor’s degree in Journalism. After years of self-study and cramming working for me – university was a different ball-game.
I could not keep up. I tried, then I stopped trying, then I felt guilty, kept failing, and eventually walked straight out of a history test and into the admissions office to return my student card in August of year 1 (our year starts on 1 February).
I moved back from my commune to my parents’ house, and I got a job at the place where my brother worked. I worked there for the next year or so, until I left for a sales job, then to customer service type sales job where I actually became the branch manager a couple of years later.
During this time, I upgraded from a scooter (moped) to a little car.
My early twenties
I had this job – working as a sales/ customer service consultant at a storage company. We rented out space for people to store their belongings. I excelled in leadership skills, so they promoted me to branch manager about 1.5yrs into the job – I stayed another 6-8 months.
Upon being given this role of responsibility, I completely freaked. I worked late all the time, brought work home all the time. I didn’t realise it at the time, but I was unable to prioritise, and was just throwing all of me into the work, leaving nothing left for myself or G. I quit this job, as my boss was also an overbearing horrible woman who made me nervous.
One month before my notice period ended, I broke my hand in anger (hitting a metal door frame mid-argument with G on New Years’ eve). I only realised 2 weeks in that it was broken, and had to have it operated with a metal plate put in to hold it right. I had no medical aid, and went on a wonderful adventure of South African public health care. Pigeons in the admissions room, dirty bathrooms, dirty used hospital clothing. 3 years later, I am still paying off the incorrectly charged bill. But my hand is fine. I took off sick for the rest of my notice period at work. They first refused to pay me saying that certain responsibilities were being shirked, but I made them pay me out. It was horrible leaving a place in that state.
My next job (it was lined up already) is the one I am currently at. I have been here 2.5 years. The first year was a dream. I worked HARD. I worked smart.
All this time since varsity, no antidepressants or psychiatric medication. Then I had had enough, and decided to stop smoking cigarettes. Thank you Allen Carr. That was the 8th of July 2013 (1 year and 2 days ago, thank you very much). About 2 weeks into this, I had a nervous breakdown. I went to the Dr, got back onto antidepressants, and took about 1 week off work.
I let my bosses know what was going on, and they were understanding. The happy pills were not enough, could still not stop crying. So they added another one. Then they doubled the dosage. Now my life was a whirlwind of getting things done, making stupid small mistakes and breaking down into a whimpering mess when the pressure got too much. But mostly there was a lot of happy. Unnatural, keep you awake all night, kind of happy. I was later to find out that the antidepressants seemingly incited the hypomania I was experiencing. I would cycle through working hard, working late, getting everything done in 1 night, and then crashing for a day to a week to recover. I managed to keep work attendance up for a while, but soon it was clear there was something else here.
I went to see a new psychiatrist (the only psychiatrist I ever saw before was from when I was hospitalised – and I had not seen him since I was 17 – it was all GP prescriptions for the antidepressants). He listened to my sob story (see above). He threw it out there: “Bipolar II”. I researched it, it made sense
So there it was. Go off all your antidepressants, go onto this mood stabiliser – oh, but it will likely take 4-16 weeks for the new meds to take effect. So now, at the full dosage (100mg Lamictin), I seemed to settle for 2 weeks after my increase to 82.5mg, and just hit another speed bump with my final increase this Saturday.
I have been making impulsive “bad for my job” choices all week. Not working at work. Then not working AND not at work. Today I am back (after my bosses have told me yesterday how “reliably disappointed they are in my work attendance). I also always do it when they are out of town, which is again the case this week.
So I am looking for a new job. On the back burner, my G is starting his own company 1 August – by 1 December I may be able to join him if all is going well. I am clinging to this dream. In the meantime I get a “you are irresponsible” for leaving work when faced with mental issues, but at least I am not lying to him about it anymore. I have made peace with the fact that he may stay or go. Whatever makes him happy is what I want for him. I would like for that to be me and us, but if it not, then that is the way it is meant to be.
What is meant to be will be.
I am Catalyst.