14 September 2017

Silent Cry: A Mental Health Post

I would like to think it began after a traumatic experience in Paris a few years ago. That it began when I was compelled to actually go and visit a psychologist, me a person who didn't believe in all this nonsense. I would like to think that before that I had always been 'normal'.

I would be lying.

A language that I did not know I already knew...
What happened that year in Paris introduced me to a language that I did not know I already knew. I had known all the emotions, the colours and the textures to it, but I just had not had a vocabulary to describe what it was. Before that, it had always just been, 'I'm feeling a bit weak, maybe it's a cold'. It had been ascribed to exhaustion from activities that had happened days, if not weeks before. I had calmly found a way to weave my life around it and continue as before. As 'normal'. I honestly don't know when it started but I would like to say the stress of moving to Algeria from Zimbabwe at the age of 19 is about as near as I can pinpoint the beginnings of the worst of it.

It is a darkness. A despair. An enveloping blackness that surrounds you. It is waking up in the morning and not understanding why you are alive. It is wishing the numbness of sleep to cover you and the clocks of life to stop. It is literally praying to die and wondering why you are alive. I remember one time in Algeria, I slept for nineteen hours straight. My friends thought I was seriously sick. The truth is, I just didn't want to be awake. Didn't want to be alive. Sleep was better than anything wakefulness could offer.

Nothing is the same. Food does not taste the same. Music that you love does nothing to you. The very fact of breathing can sometimes seem like an overwhelming effort and the people you love around you, the people you love, your friends and family can suddenly be the most annoying people in the Universe. It's a mood they say. And you believe them, then it lasts days or weeks and you begin to think 'moods' are like that. Begin to believe that this is 'normal' and that perhaps you should take their advice and 'snap' out of it.

Numbness is a gift....
But where is the 'snap' button? At what point did you snap into it? A part of you blames yourself and a part of you rages at yourself, screaming about how useless you are and how weird you are. And depending on the moment, on the day or the hour, depending on the texture of darkness you have surrounding you; you either burst into tears at the slightest provocation or a rage that overwhelms you and leaves you in the centre of yourself, shocked and shaken.

And the cycle continues. The darkness descends and the feelings it provokes in you make it descend further until numbness is a gift, is a joy, compared to the void that surrounds you. I used to write poetry then. Used to write pages and pages of heartbroken poems, screaming at God, at life, at the Universe at something that I couldn't name. Screaming loudest of all at myself, knowing deep inside that something was wrong but unable to put a name to it.

And then it passes and the world goes back to normal and you convince yourself that it was all a dream. That there is just a slight imbalance to the centre of your Self that needs a slight readjustment. That it was nothing to worry about. Until it happens again. And again. And again. For days on end or weeks on end. Until periods of your life are marked by it like a stain on a white sheet. Entire moments are just erased from memory because they were lost to the numbness.

Or it's twin. The euphoria. The manic days when sleep is an enemy, when ideas flow like wind through your mind and your energy is not enough to sustain them all. When entire nights can be spent working on projects that would normally take days but somehow you want to accomplish before the sun goes up. I once spent forty eight hours awake and I remember then my roommate began to truly worry about me. But I cannot worry about myself at all in those moments. It is all joy and euphoria and optimism and celebration and beauty and...and...and...and. And then it's all gone.

Until in the end you begin to be afraid of yourself. Afraid when you are happy because you don't know how long it will last. Afraid of when you are numb because of what you might do. Afraid of being high because the crash landing can literally suck the life out of you. And in between the fear, the numbness and the mania, you are left to dig something out and fashion it into a 'normal'. 'He is just looking for attention that one, don't mind him'. At some point, even the friends you have begin to evaporate and even as much as you are afraid of being around people, you begin to be afraid of being alone just as much.

I had a friend once. A close friend who studying medicine at the time. He says he was in a lecture about mental health and the professor began describing the symptoms of depression and he sat there and said, that is Bongani to a T. I remember laughing as he told me this but he scolded me to take it seriously. I saw that same spark of recognition in my psychologists face in Paris as I told her about my life. She listened and listened and listened. And finally when she spoke, she put words to the darkness whose name I had not known before but whose face I had come to recognise better than my own.

Chester Bennington, the lead singer of Linkin' Park who committed suicide in July 2017
I write for those who recognise themselves in this and those who recognise their loved ones. I write for those who insist mental health issues are a myth and those who are afraid of crystallising them into words even as they face their realities every day of their lives. Talk to someone. Reach out. Survive. 

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