Medication: to be or not to be (on it)?

One of the central things about living with a mental illness is deciding whether to go on medication or not combined with the difficult journey to finding the right medication for yourself, should you decide to. There are four things I want to focus on, which I have encountered in my experience: the process of diagnosis, deciding to be on medication, the hell of side effects and the necessity/benefits of being on medicine.

My initial diagnosis was not clear. Which most sufferers of mental illness can attest to. When I initially figured out something was wrong, I was 22 and studying my Masters. I woke up one day and could not read. It was then that I realised that my world had been losing colour slowly for a while. I would sleep all day and stay in bed all night wide awake not being able to get any work done. I had always been a highly functional person and I assumed I was being lazy but I could not shake this haziness and low energy off. I saw the school counsellor where I just cried and cried and even saw someone to help me structure my time and work. It took everything out of me to finish my coursework at the end of that year. My counsellor let me know that I had symptoms of anxiety and depression due to abandonment and rejection issues I had from my childhood. I thought it was strange and funny. I thought it was temporary. I would go for my therapy session and go straight to my room and cry for the rest of the day. It was the beginning of a long journey of unpacking and shedding tears for myself.

I was put on anxiety medication, which was straining my body but after a while, I got used to it. However, I stopped taking it. The symptoms I had of extreme behaviours, really low lows were all there but I decided it would pass. I took an opportunity to go to Korea to teach- I was in a small town in the rural town of Nonsan where I was one of less than five black people there. Everywhere I went people stopped and stared which left me constantly anxious, at times unwilling to even leave the house. I was depressed, could barely get to work and make it through the day and I would get into bed as soon as I got home. I was lonely, isolated and sad. I came back home and continued like this. My motivation was gone and I did not know what to do or think. I eventually sought help at Emthonjeni Centre at Wits University which was almost free. Each session was filled with tears and fighting to understand my life, my feelings and how to get back to being me. My therapist suggested I seek psychiatric help because I was not getting better in therapy, in fact, I was getting worse.

I pleaded with my father for money to see a psychiatrist. He believed I just needed to pray but that train had passed for me. I needed help. He eventually agreed and my psychiatrist put me on Valdoxane, to keep me motivated and lift me from the depression. Suddenly, everything became clear again and realised how, for many years, I was living in utter hell and did not realise it. When I could not afford the medication anymore (I was unwilling to trust my family with my diagnosis at this point so was basically on my own), I sought help at a public hospital. The public health system means you wait three months to see a psychiatrist after referral from a local clinic- however, with each appointment you see a different psychiatrist which feels like starting from the beginning every time. However, because my therapist worked at Helen Joseph, she put me in the front of the queue and I was diagnosed with depression and put on Fluoxetine, a generic of Prozac.

This is the point where I got worse. I was delirious, flying high one moment and crashing the next. A strew of bad decisions followed me and I exhibited very odd behaviour that affected those closest to me.  I lost so much weight because I could not eat at all. Also, I felt like dying. I would dream of throwing myself into the street so a car could hit me. I had contemplated suicide before, but it escalated at this time and it felt like I was just floating by, waiting for something to take me away from this earth. It was still at Helen Joseph where another psychiatrist realised the Prozac was exacerbating my symptoms and decided what I actually had bipolar type two, not depression, but continued me on the Fluoxetine but added Sodium Valproate to the mix. It is this new diagnosis I took back with me back home to Zimbabwe, where I went to get better and figure everything out. I was on this combination of medication for about a year and I still did not get better, no matter how much I tried. I even accepted that this is what my life is going to be like. I died inside. I stopped dreaming, wishing, hoping to get better. I accepted this illness as my fate because hope was painful. Dreaming was too hard when this wall was in front of me getting higher and higher every day.

Eventually, another psychiatrist decided to switch my medication. She could not understand why I was on Prozac at all when I was diagnosed with bipolar. She put me on Olanzapine, which is specifically for bipolar. The initial dosage was quite high- at first, I responded to it well. I was sleeping better and I could function very well. My manic episodes became less and less. However, I was gaining so much weight on a daily basis and within two months I was the heaviest I had ever been in my life. I tried to hold on to the fact that I was better than I had ever been but it was difficult to live in this new body. I would get tired very easily, could not stand for long periods of time nor could I even drink a beer without feeling full and disgusted. After two months, I began to have one straight aloof mood. My emotions did not change and I did not seem to feel much outside of plain and removed. Seeing the doctor again, she lowered the dosage, which made it better. I managed to move back to Johannesburg and begin working again. The lower dosage enabled me to function at my almost normal level, but the weight gain continued. I hated it. I barely recognised myself. I speak more on that here in a previous blog.

Something happens when you’ve been struggling this long with your illness and have been on several medications- you take what you can get. You do not actually believe you will ever feel the way you used to before the symptoms took over. I accepted the weight gain, the lower energy and intermittent sleep because it was better than not being on medication. It was better than what I felt like before I sought medical help. So I took it. Also, I understood the limited options of medication for someone with bipolar- my doctor pointed out exactly five drugs that treated bipolar type two and I had been through three of them already.

I also still could not accept that I would be on medication for the rest of my life. I thought I would get better and not be on it anymore. I was wary of what people called ‘addiction’, reliance on medication to function on a day to day basis. I was ashamed to be on it. All the advice I read said I should be exercising, doing yoga, taking herbs, following a daily routine and going to therapy in order to get better, instead of relying on medication. I thought I was failing myself for being on medication. This is why I was reluctant to demand better for myself in terms of medication. Of truly exploring what I needed and what would work. I was not expressing my very specific needs with my doctor because of this shame. I was afraid that he would see that I am too focused on being on medication and assume I was enjoying it too much and take me off it. I needed medication to be able to sleep, I needed medicine that did not make me and keep me fat. I needed medicine that would get me back to my old form, where my brain was when I was a voracious reader, great academic with high efficiency. I thought I had picked myself up but the truth was that I had given up, as I share in this previous post.

Eventually, I accepted that I will be on medication for the rest of my life. Because my brain does not have what I need. My brain does not have the bare minimum of what it needs to function fully like a ‘normal’ person would, and I needed to accept that and do what I needed for MYSELF, no matter what other people thought. It did not matter whether Big Pharma was pulling a fast one on us, whether you consider it an addiction or not or that I was weak to rely on medicine. It was what I needed and I would make sure I got it. I was put on Epitec and Seroquel and for the first time in over five years, I slept. Throughout the night. I woke up feeling rested and fresh. For the first time in years. My brain was clear. The fog was gone. I could feel things, nice things. I could feel joy. I could feel hope. I could feel strength. I felt optimism. I felt the desire to live. I was in awe.

I got up and I travelled. I got up and rediscovered hobbies. I got up and I remembered my dreams. I got up and I could do the things they had said would make me better: the yoga, the exercise, the routine, the healthy eating habits and even therapy was easier to get through. I could think and plan the things I needed for myself. I could focus and work hard again. I could fall in love with myself again. I could feel the parts of myself I thought I had lost a long time ago. I was back.

This is not to say these meds do not have side effects- I cannot sleep without them, I wake up in the middle of the night to snack, sometimes I have night sweats and for the first six months, I had the most terrible nausea of my life. But I have learnt to live with it. Do I rely on these meds? Of course, I do, I would not be alive without them.

I do not know how long this combination of meds will last, or if I will run out of options at some point- or maybe I will get well enough not to be on it anymore. It does not matter right now. What matters is that I am well. I am breathing. I am feeling. I am well. I am exhaling. That is enough for now.

Advertisements

Back to life, back to blogging!

“I’m exhaling b****!” -me.

It has been a while since I last posted anything, the past year has been a very busy one, full on new adventures, opportunities and soooo much growth and healing. Reading through my past posts and thinking about how to continue this blog is making me very excited and I am also in awe. The depths of the struggle I have been in for the past 5-6 years overwhelms me, there was so much hopelessness, a search for understanding as well as peace. I was trying to reconcile myself to my diagnosis, fight off this desire to die and when I overcame this- I no longer knew how to live, be alive, and I felt like I had lost myself along the way and did not know how to get that back.

I have spent the past year in so much contemplation, working through this mental confusion and also setting myself straight, to re-enter my path towards my dreams and all the things I have always wanted to do. In many ways I was behind, behind time, behind mentally and I had to push myself to recover this time and to regain my strength both physically and mentally.

What I am excited to do on this blog this year is speak of recovery. To speak of ways to come back to life, health and manage living with bipolar. It is not definitive, but it is sharing the ways in which I am coping and moving step by step towards fulfillment and growth. The struggles are still there, the pain is still there, but it is is different now, there are many ways to move through it, to understand it and to work through it. I have moved and fought so hard through this maze of mental illness and I have maintained what I set out when I set up this blog- to bask in the beauty that I can find. It is the different forms that this beauty has taken that I want you all to be a part of. I hope you are willing to follow me on this journey again- for both you and myself. I’m exhaling bitch!

Image credit: Cornelis Vaandrager

The dreams I lost in the depression

“What happens to a dream deferred?
      Does it dry up
      like a raisin in the sun?
      Or fester like a sore—
      And then run?
      Does it stink like rotten meat?
      Or crust and sugar over—
      like a syrupy sweet?
      Maybe it just sags
      like a heavy load.
      Or does it explode?” – Langston Hughes
dandelion-2561575_640
This has been a difficult year, but also a great year. I was really floored by life this year, to the point where I felt so directionless and had to just stop and think very deeply about my life. For a long time, I have allowed my disease to dictate a lot of my life, which was necessary for me so I could get a hold of it. But I had to get to the point where I had to tell myself that I’m the one in control- that I have lived with bipolar long enough to know how to take care of myself and to stop doubting myself and be swayed by the heaviness of it when it is no longer something new. This is a very difficult conversation to have with yourself but it marked new growth and I am happy I did that.
One thing I have spoken about, and maybe not in detail, is how angry I am. I am so angry and bitter for having to live with a mental illness. I still have not been able to let this go. However, I think I have held onto this anger and bitterness so badly that I lost sight of myself. I lost sight of the possibilities of the future. When I made the decision to live and to give life my best, I was slow on the uptake. So I have had to ask myself- “What do you want?”, “What do you want your life to look like”? It seems so simple but I have not thought about this for years. When I had my first breakdown, I lost a lot of myself. I lost my dreams, desires and I felt so empty. This year, I had to remember who and what I wanted to be and decide if I was going to go for it or not.
This is scary for me because I am very afraid. One of the things that has held me back is that when I had my first breakdown I genuinely felt it was because I was doing too much, I was too ambitious and I overreached. It doesn’t help that in a heated moment my brother shouted at me “Your problem is that you think you’re special” and seemed rather triumphant when he watched me fall. This stayed with me in so many ways so I have been scared to dream again or too push hard just in case I fall again. I don’t need to tell you that that is no way to live.
I sought clarity within myself and I decided to go back to the dreams I lost in the depression, to see what I still wanted to do and be. I went back to see what I needed to finish or start again. There are so many dreams I have that are filled with so much bitterness that it has been difficult to be happy for other people in my life who are achieving them. I could not attend a good friend’s book launch because I was filled with jealousy and bitterness- not at her- but at myself for not being there yet or pushing hard enough. I have always wanted to be an academic but the thought of going back to school is filled with such shame because I feel like I should never have left and that I failed those who believed I could go further. I am angry because my mind betrayed me and I don’t know if I can ever get it back fully. This is very hard to live with and work through. I still, though, have to be kind to myself, to forgive myself for the thing that were in my control and to let go of those that were not.
A dream deferred is painful. But I am tired of living in pain, something has got to give right? So the plans for 2018 are underway and I am excited to be on a new journey. I have taken big steps to follow what I want and I have never been happier. The ideas keep coming, I am gaining strength and I am trusting  myself and my brain more and more. Now, I am still afraid but I am also brave. No more raisins for me, I’m making some wine 😉

Love and Bipolar

“Relationships with people, I’ve learned, are like the weather;
there are sunny days, and then the rainy ones too, only most of mine were either hurricanes or cyclones that could tear a man in two
or vicious heat waves that dried me of feeling much of anything at all”

– Sweet  Hurricane- Beau Taplin

 

2058198168_fac0e21ee1_z

Whew! Talk about a roller coaster of emotions. I have said this before in the best way possible- every feeling you experience with bipolar is extremely exaggerated. It feels normal to me, but is about ten times as much as a normal person feels.
So you can imagine how hard it is to feel that much for someone, but also be very aware of how your feelings may not accurately define what you really feel so working through a barrage of feelings to find the right one that you REALLY feel is a mindfuck!

An important thing to note, when you have a mental illness, is that you have to maintain functional relationships with anyone in your life. those around can be triggers that lead us either to depression or to mania. In order to maintain balance in your life, no dysfunction must be present. Now this is laughable considering heterosexual romantic relationships in general are a hotbed of dysfunctional behaviour. Especially the manner in which women are treated or expected to carry most of the emotional labour in a partnership- it makes it almost impossible to have anything remotely functional.

The disturbing anxiety that accompanies a relationship is still something I am not used to nor can I live with just yet. As someone whose major triggers are rejection and abandonment- any form of this or feeling of this sends me off the edge and is very difficult to deal with. So a phone call not answered sends me down a spiral. A date not honoured will have me three bottles deep in wine deep. God forbid I experience direct rejection (which a man would be entitled to) and I am well on my way to a manic episode. It tires me out.

You hold so much in. You stay away when you do not feel predictable. You cry on your own. You show your best side. But you go over and over every single moment and conversation in your head to make sure you didn’t say the wrong thing.

Also- when is the best time to tell someone you live with a mental illness? How do you even say it? As someone who has been sharing my story, one would think it is an easy thing. But it is not. There is always a split second where the guy has an “oh you’re actually serious?” look. One guy said to me “oooh, so you must be on those good meds huh?”. While the swiftness with which I swallow my pills with no water is enough to put the fear of God in others!

What makes it harder is even describing the illness. You could do it scientifically, but there is also how you feel and what you go through, which is not exactly easy or PG13. I also wonder- how do you tell someone how bad it could get? That you could spend months in bed, or end up in a psych ward at some point in your life? How do you tell someone you cannot have kids because you do not know if you could survive 9 months of crazy hormones in your body off medication?

How do you call someone when you feel like dying to ask them to be there? How do you ask someone to be there for you when you’re depressed and you know it is a difficult task? But how do you keep it from them? It is a constant negotiation of these things and thoughts that go through your mind continuously.

Then there in mania. This is the most embarrassing. Because when you’re having a manic episode, literally anything can happen. And it is usually very extreme. It can be very damaging and can lead to the end of a relationship, actually, it usually does. This is hard to talk about. I have written a few times about mania and one particular episode in “Bright Green Sharpener”. I will refer to my typical manic behaviour with a partner as the ‘trespasser’. I am terrible with boundaries when I am manic and due to the paranoia that accompanies it, I usually believe he is holding out on me somehow when he is simply not available. So what will I do? I will show up, in the most embarrassing way, in the most demanding way and often in the most risky way. I am the crazy lady.

Living with bipolar is a daily task in control. In measuring the way you react, speak and present yourself. In analysing every emotion just to make sure you’re fine. So mania is not only scary because of what could happen to you, but because of losing control. Losing control, while fun in the moment, has the worst aftermath. Losing control feels like weakness. It is almost as if you’re constantly sitting at the edge of a gaping hole and could freefall at any moment. Having a witness to that is horrible. Who would stay after that? How do you explain that? How do you promise it doesn’t happen often when you’re not in complete control of it?

However I am still aware I deserve to be loved. Wholly and completely. And that I am capable of loving too. Wholly and completely. My “Disney” fantasy world never mentioned anything to do with living with mental illness, and that is alright because it said nothing about your boyfriend possibly sleeping with your best friends either- so disillusionment has occurred already. But there are a few people who seem to have found a partnership that works with their mental illness. But I cannot hold on to that as a possibility- it is not guaranteed.

What I do have though, and that I find more fulfilling and stabilising, are the friendships around me. The most poignant moment I had with two of my close friends was one where I had to speak about my desire and plans to take my own life. In that moment, I laid bare my most vulnerable thoughts on something so difficult for a friend to be there for and their response, in that moment, healed me. Their acceptance of the deep darkness of my soul that I would never have dared to share with anyone brought so much light and affirmation.

It is this kind of love that holds me. The kind of love that only requires me to just be. I have it and continue to cultivate it. It is liberating. While I hope I can experience this one day in the form of a partner, I am not holding my breath, in this horrible world we live in where the person you lie next is the one most likely to kill you, let alone visit you in the psych ward. And that is something I am learning to be okay with.

 

Worth the Weight?

weight-1923409_640

One of the hardest aspects of dealing with bipolar is the medication and it’s side effects (I have held the toilet bowl too many timed, fallen alseep at important events, have been a walking zombie and several more embarrassing things!) the major one being weight gain or loss. I have found it difficult to speak about this because I did not know how to speak about it without feeling shallow. I have felt terrible about worrying about weight and body image when I am dealing with something that I felt was much larger. However, it is part of my (and many other people’s) experience with mental illness and I am in no way ‘above’ the struggle of how my worth and value relate to what I look like.

Growing up was a struggle being dark skinned and a late bloomer. But this is something I had to teach myself very early to get over. By the time I was 16 I had made a pact with myself never to compare myself- which got rid of most of the insecurities and I moved along to my early 20’s with relative ease. A pointed moment for me was when I was 22 and I made the decision to cut my hair (for several reasons). I stood in the mirror and I said to myself- now I will have to find myself beautiful every single day of my life as long s all I can see is my face. But I was always very aware that I was quite conventionally attractive.

The constant weight gain and loss that comes with being on medication for mental illness is really quite dramatic and damaging. When I was at my lowest, in terms of my depression, I was also at my lowest weight. When I was at my heaviest, I was very happy. I initially lost lot of weight after my initial diagnosis. I was diagnosed with depression and put on Prozac, which completely destroyed my appetite and the weight loss was quite dramatic. I was sick. But my oh my the compliments I got! People wanted to know my diet tips, my exercise regime and how I stayed motivated. It took me aback because I had not realised how visible my weight loss was and because I already felt like shit, it was hard to take in. One of my former colleagues said something to me that at the time seemed invasive, but when I look back at it now, was very perceptive. She looked at me worryingly and said “Are you ok?”. “Why?” I asked sceptically. “You’ve lost a lot of weight and I just wanted to make sure you are ok. You know it can be a symptom of many things and I don’t want something to happen to you and think ‘why did I not ask when I could”.

I will not lie though- I enjoyed being thin! You actually find clothes that fit and look good on you ALL THE TIME without your ass getting in the way! The difficult part though, was when I changed medication again and along with it came a whole new slew of side effects, the main one being weight gain. By this time I was back home in Harare and it took my psychiatrist a while to decide to change my medication, even though they were aware that Prozac was definitely not the right medication for my condition. I was put on an anti-psychotic- Olanzapine- which worked really well except I started eating like a pig. I was hungry all the time and it was like I was expanding by the second. I bumped into a “friend” of mine a couple of months into this new medication and the first thing he said was “What have you been up to? Besides overeating of course” and was rather amused with himself.

So besides the fact that my clothes no longer fit me. It was people’s reactions that got to me more. The weight gain was quite rapid so I understand the shock, but I did not know what to do with it. But also, for the first time since I was a teenager, I was asking myself “Am I still attractive?” I felt fat and flabby and it had quite an effect on my sex life.

I was also quite resentful. I hated working out to lose weight that I did not feel responsible for gaining. Like, I was not reckless and eat my way through life. I wasn’t “greedy”. I felt like I didn’t deserve to be that big and I refused to put any effort into losing it. This gave me a glimpse into some generally held myths I still held about obese people in general, along with how much I had held on to socially accepted notions of beauty besides my attempts to let go of them. It seemed I had simply not been challenged enough.

A close friend of mine tried to reassure me once and said “But you still look great and beautiful”, which I immediately dismissed and she came back with something that touched me “Well, I’m about the same size as you and you have reassured me many times pretty much the same way. Were you lying to me then?” I had to reorient.

The thing is I was mad at bipolar. I’m still mad at it. There are so many things out of your control. And many things that need so much control you cannot even let go for a second without catastrophic consequences. It is tiring. I am losing weight now due to a new course of medication. I am very aware that this cannot be good for my health. That I can lose muscle, that I am at risk for diabetes in the long term. That my body will soon feel the toll. But I also know it will continue for the rest of my life- a constant balance between what my brain needs and what I want to look like. A trade off. A struggle. Another thing to add onto the list.

I’ve got dreams to remember…

“It is still winter, carry yourself gently…” Ijeoma Umbeinyuo

Falling leaves

When I started this blog, in the darkness of my soul I was determined to do one thing: search for beauty and live in it. I looked for beauty in that darkness and it led me to light. Well. pieces of light that I could hold onto in the darkest of the dark, and smiled when those pieces became day.

I became well. Okay, maybe better. And I forgot. I saw the world again and I forgot it is not kind. I was stable and I forgot that mental illness is never kind. In my desire to live a normal life, I forgot that I am not normal. I discarded my search for beauty. In my frantic desire to prove myself after years of battling my mind in the confines of my childhood bedroom, I ran away from what I thought was desperation. I ran to the lights of the bar, the buzz of city living, the rush of career living and wasted hours of the useless dance with men whose names I will not remember. And I found myself in the city of my breakdown, wracking tears once again overwhelming my body and I wondered why I has chosen to live.

“Learn to live from a different place”, a friend told me said. It sounded good, but I did not know what it means. And then I remembered. I remembered the promise I had made to myself:

“…what inspires this blog the most is something that one of my literary heroes, Yvonne Vera says -“We have acquired beauty in the betrayals and tensions”- that is to say that even in pain and difficulty, it is still up to us to search for beauty and hold on to it. That is one thing I have come to appreciate about being depressed. You are coerced into seeing the little bits of beauty and glory that surround you for it is in those things that you find hope. In a life where everyday can be a struggle, the smallest things can bring joy. I have been down and blind long enough to know that when I feel wide awake I want to enjoy every moment I can. To feel each moment tangibly and breathe in every beautiful thing I see. This way I am assured I am still alive.”

Each day is different- it never completely gets better. There is still more to learn, not just about the illness but about myself as well. This is a life long journey towards wellness and healing and I am going to continue to share it. And I have accepted that. But I want to reembark on this journey that I began years ago. I will keep my promise to myself 🙂

 

 

When being alive is not enough…

“I know a few things to be true. I do not know where I am going, where I have come from is disappearing, I am unwelcome and my beauty is not beauty here. My body is burning with the shame of not belonging, my body is longing” Warsan Shire.

Wilting Flower

The first thing you realise when you get out of that deep depression, is that the lights are brighter, the air is fresher, the words on the page are clearer and most of all the silence. No more voices in your head. You can breathe. You can hear yourself again. The real you.

You are excited, happy and finally feel ready to continue with your life.

My life was at a standstill for about two years. I could not work so I moved back home. My mother was my lifeline. She fed me, cleaned up after me. Made sure I took my medication. Took me to the doctor. Worried when I could not sleep. And she prayed for me.

I lost friends. I lost lovers, several times. I did not want to live. All I could feel was pain and I wanted it to end. I fought for a while and then I let go. The fight was too big for me so I stopped fighting. I thought: whether I live or I do not make it out, I am tired. Many times I planned my suicide but could never go through with it. I read that it was selfish. I thought about my people. So all I could do was give up.

I lived in that space between life and death. Recklessness. Sadness. Disconnection.

With the right combination of meds, I made it out. I was breathing again. I got to the end of the tunnel and
I saw the light. Or at least I thought I did.

What no one tells you about coming out of depression is that you have forgotten how to live. You have to learn to live again. But after being so close to death you do not know how to do that anymore.

First there is this great fear that you will fall again. So you are cautious, take it step by step. Get a job again, then move out, maybe to another country. Then pull out all the stops- get a good therapist, get a good psychiatrist, surround yourself with supportive people, download a mood tracker so you know when anything goes wrong. And you think you are okay.

But the fear stays, you do not want to slip. Or miss the warning signs. So you remain in between. You are too scared to be happy because you do not want the next fall to be hard.

You also do not remember what it is like to be happy. Is it a feeling? Does it last? Is it real? Am I too happy? Is this a sign I am falling into a manic state? And you convince yourself you just need to learn yourself again.

But the truth is, you are no longer yourself. Your old self at least. At some point along the way, along the fight, everything you believed about life, the world, yourself and god was not true or even real.

There is no doubt that you can get to know this new being. Find new dreams. Find new friends. Love again. Find new passions. Rediscover old dreams and passions. Overcome the fear.

And you overcome it. And you think yes, I am on my way. Bipolar did not beat me. I survived. And you share your story. Everyone is inspired. And you think it is over. You don’t think of dying anymore.

But the thing is, the world has not changed. It is still the same. It still hurts. People are still the same. The same world that was difficult to occupy, that you were sensitive to, that made you go crazy. It is still the same.

Except this time, you are tired. I am tired. It is an overwhelming feeling. Not just physical, I can feel it in my bones. I no longer have a desire to live. Not because I am afraid, or I am depressed. But simply because I am tired.

The world is not enticing. Family and friends are great. You love them but love does not always feel enough. But living with a mental illness in this world is exhausting. I am tired.

The joy you feel coming out of depression and mania is short lived. The light shines only for so long. The rest is a struggle. You realise that maybe you do not belong in this world. And that is ok.

Perhaps my soul, reincarnated, is tired. Or perhaps it came too soon. Whatever it is, it is hard to live. And now you have to figure that out.

I meet friends and family who used to read my blog and they are excited to know what happens next. I look well. I am ‘stable’. I have a job, my own place, I am out and about. But the journey does not end there. It is more difficult than I thought.

I still do not know how to live with bipolar. I know when to go to my doctor. I know to go to therapy. I know which medication works. I know not to drink too much. I know to avoid dysfunction. To limit my friendships. I know my triggers.

But I still do not know how to live in this world. I do not know how to be alive.

The Calling.

“Did you really want to die?”
“No one commits suicide because they want to die.”
“Then why do they do it?”
“Because they want to stop the pain.” Tiffani DeBartolo

I found out a friend of mine killed himself. Suicide. He jumped off a building and died. I thought: it must have been really bad, the urge, the pain, the flames. And I can only imagine the courage it took. He made a decision I cannot blame him for. Are we alive because we choose life or we are simply too afraid to die? I’m still trying to choose life… Every case of suicide I hear of shakes me to the core. It makes me think, at some point you lose. You can fight that call for months and years and win. But one day, you lose. There will be that one call you answer. It makes my bones cold. Will I answer it one day?

Bright green sharpener.

frog sharpener

It started with a glass of wine. Funny, with me it always starts with a glass of something. Since I figured out how to induce this mania, I know how to get lost. It is addictive. When the world is too much, I know my escape route to the dangerous side and I will not remember it.

So it began with a glass of white wine. I had vowed it would be, “just one,” because I had to get back home soon since Mother was out of town. I usually gauge my mood levels to consider where on the scale my mood is and whether or not it is a good idea to drink, but not this time. I was trying to forget to remember, so I refused to think about it. It was obvious I was on the slippery slope, especially after the conversation I had had the other day. Two days ago to be exact. I had done it, finally, I had put it all out there and told him I wanted to be with him. “If there is a chance, let us do this”. “I’m seeing someone else…”is what I got in return. Just at the moment, I thought to myself, when I am brave, this is how the universe repays me?

But I was calm; breathing, in and out, right from deep down in my stomach and exhaling. I walked away. Today, I put on something nice. My new fad is African print so I wear a pair of high waisted shorts in print, a vest and a cute jacket. My make-up is on point and I set about making my way to my favourite bar. I sit on the high stool by the bar and promise myself- just one glass of wine. That is the clearest memory I have.

I am dancing. The DJ, whom I know, is playing some good house tracks and I move, my body is lost to the music and I am unafraid. I see friends, old and new. Conversation flows. I can hear my high pitched laughter fill the room and I think this is it- this is the life and I am living it. My mother is calling. I put the phone back into my bag, none of that tonight. I let the image of her calling, worried that I have not gone home yet float away to that unknown place I have thrown all my worries to. What I see, when I look in the mirror, or feel myself viscerally, is an amazingly beautiful dancer- all eyes on me. The women are jealous, the men want me. I’m in love with life. But in real life, all I am is a broken girl in a manic state skirting dangerously close to the edge of recklessness. I’m walking at the edge of the cliff and the pain deep down inside could cause tears for thousands of eyes. So I choose to keep going, higher and higher, until I am unaware of anything except for the most base of emotions. And these I act upon.

I wake up in my friends bed, she lives in my ex boyfriend’s house. I do not know how I got there, it should be about midnight or so. I can hear voices outside the door. ‘She is here? Ok, just keep her in your room’. Vaguely, I can tell they are speaking about me but I am not aware of my surroundings or the situation. I get up from the bed to go to the lounge. There are lots of people. Most I recognise and greet, although I do not know what I am saying. It seems as if my mouth is bypassing my brain.  Beer. There are cans of beer on the table. Nothing I usually drink so I settle for anything. There are a number of girls around. The kind I usually despise, even though I never admit this to anyone. I am working on embracing them but to me they are the embodiment of self hate. I find myself in conversation with one of them. While the other girl seems to be particular irritating on my eye- I am not sure if it is the style of the weave, which looks rather asymmetrical or the tight vest through which her love handles are bursting, grasping for some air, I assume.

I see him, he is there. I do not know if we have even had a conversation. He goes to the bedroom. I follow behind. There are two girls and another guy. He gets into the bed where both of the girls are. I watch through the slit of the hinges, meaning not to be spotted. They close the door as I walk away. I try to socialise once again but I fail to get that image from my mind. So I march up to the door. I try to push it open. It’s locked. I figure I will just have to knock. But my presence at the door must be felt, after all, this is me and I came for a purpose right? Although I am not clear what my purpose is. Get him, get him, get him, get him. I remember. I thump on the door with such umph the police would be envious. A man answers the door and I somehow manage to communicate that I am looking for him. Words. I am not listening, I am talking. Frustration. A beer falls to the floor. I can see it froth up before it slowly turns into a golden liquid spreading across the floor.

There is a hustle. She is holding me from behind, twisting my arms. I yell and thrash for her to let me go. No one touches me, you do not touch me. Let me go. This is between him and I. He needs to talk to me. I need to talk to him. I shake her off. My bag flies into the shrubs just outside the verandah. I cannot see. I can see my surroundings but I cannot see, I cannot perceive. He is angry. I do not understand why. I do not see his anger nor can I relate it to me. As much as I am there, I am not there. Mania. Fying high above myself, observing yet even then my sight is narrow. I follow him outside, shout and scream about being heard. The sun is beginning to rise. “I respect you. I respect you” he says. He walks back into the house, I follow him inside. I refuse to go home. I am determined. He must see me. He must want me. He must choose me. Like a puppy I follow him up and down. “You have to walk me home” I keep declaring. I find it fascinating somehow. I am inciting a response. Anger, frustration is better than no response at all. He gives in and walks me home. At the gate he tries to say goodbye. I refuse to go until he talks to me. Words slip out, once again they seem to bypass my brain. He takes a walk, I follow behind. He sits down, I wait. He shouts and is stern, I snicker. At least he is still here, I think, even though he is mad, he is still here, with me.

“No. My answer is no!” he says. I am in shock. I am still trying to fix it, although I do not know what I am trying to fix because I do not know what I have done. A kite flying lower and lower as I feel the wind slowly coming to a halt and my senses coming down with it. “What am I doing here?”

The chaos, I love it, the drama, I love it. It is the truth I know, the truth I believe. Finally, I think, he has finally come out and told me the truth, the truth I was waiting for. Because somehow it had to be too good to be true. Me? Liked? Loved? Considered? Ha! I pushed him, pushed him hard, till I got what I knew, what has always been the most welcome in my heart, an old companion whom I have lived with since my childhood- rejection. Yes, that I can live with. Love? No. Admiration? No. Being wanted and needed? No. Give me what I can work with. Dysfunction. Yes, that’s mine.

It is my first prize giving day. I am excited. I am getting an academic prize. It is the day everyone’s parents come and celebrate with us. I cannot say the last time I saw mine. The last exeat weekend it was just Sisi Mai Tendai and I. In my child’s heart, I can see my mom and dad strolling through those doors any minute now and when they hear my name they will be so proud of me. I smile inwardly. I have already seen it all in my head. The picnic we will have, the hugs and kisses and maybe, just maybe they will take me home with them in the evening. The speeches have ended and now we have come to the part we have rehearsed every afternoon for the past   week, except this time it is really happening. My thrill is mixed with anxiety because I have not seen them come in. Did I miss them? I could swear I was looking at the door the whole time. I strain my neck trying to look behind me to where all the parents and teachers are seated in the chairs, but it is impossible to make out who is who. I settle it in my mind that I missed their entrance and then focused on waiting my turn and remembering not to slouch and to take slow steps, all the while wearing the best smile I could muster.

I have always loved prize giving days. Our people celebrate in such an animated way even for the smallest things. Most of these events I have been to have been characterised by loud ululating, dancing, running across the stage to give your child a hug. On one of my graduations, the Dean had to stop reading out names while a very proud Grandfather recited the whole praise poem of their clan! Another thing I have noticed though, is the virtual silence, or relative silence when there is no one in the crowd doing the same for you. However, on this first big day of my life, I am excited.

“Lebohang Mojapelo”

That was my cue.

I get up and do everything as I had practiced, carefully. There is applause and I think, surely this should make them proud. I receive my certificate and my book prize and take my place back on the floor. I cannot sit still any longer, my part is done. I just want it to be over so I can see mom and dad, see the pride in their faces. We are showing a play later on and I am the narrator- I really want them to see me in my element. The teacher says I am really good, I hope they think so too. I get lost practicing my lines until the ceremony is over, now we can get up and meet our parents. It is pretty crowded as I crane my neck trying to spot mine. Slowly, people move out of the hall as they find each other. The crowd is thinning, laughter rises as excited children find their parents and embrace. I still cannot find mine. I am one of the only people left inside. I walk outside thinking maybe I had missed them. My child’s heart beat is fast, not wanting to believe it, no, it cannot be. I keep looking outside and walk around the breezeway, amongst the mini reunited families. I keep looking but my heart keeps sinking as realise, slowly, that they did not come. It was my day and they did not come.

There is not much else I remember from that day except the feeling. The feeling from the message I got that day- you are not important. I felt rejected, forgotten. Vividly though I remember a sharpener, yes- a sharpener. In the breezeway there were tables set up with various items of stationery on sale. One item caught my eye- a bright green frog shaped sharpener. I really wanted it. I stood there and looked at it longingly and watched other parents buy it for their kids. For some reason it is that moment that hurt the most. Not that they didn’t see me get my prize, or narrate the play, or bring me a picnic like the other parents did. It is that I was alone and I did not get that sharpener. It is a cruel moment for me- standing in a sea of joy, alone with no bright green frog shaped sharpener.

I don’t know why I think about this moment as I walk home but the feeling is the same, almost déjà vu.  I have lost him and this moment it feels like I am staring right at the bright green frog shaped sharpener I cannot have.

I want to believe in magic again…

“Magic comes from what is inside you. It is a part of you. You can’t weave together a spell that you don’t believe in.”
Jim Butcher

Falling leaves

Here is something I wrote a while ago in a moment of despair:

When I was a child I used to believe in magic. But the universe let me down. Or maybe it worked when it was meant to because God knows I needed something to believe in. Something to hold onto like those leaves I tried to catch hoping for a wish. Autumn was a great season for magic. The trees would be shedding and hope was alive in the brown leaves falling. Every time there was a gust of wind blowing we would gather around the tree and run for as many leaves as we could catch. The reason- each leaf you caught gave you a wish. And being in a boarding school so far from home there was one wish we all had- please come and visit me. The rest of the wishes, if you were lucky enough to catch more leaves in that scurry, would be for what goodies you would want when they came to see you. Even as I think of it now, I can still feel the hope in my hands as I reached out to catch what I thought would be my saving grace from the loneliness of that place.

One leaf for chocolate. One leaf for sweets.  One leaf for something special that you cannot even dream of. But ultimately, the biggest wish was to take me away. Take me back home where leaves are just leaves and the magic lies within your arms as you hug me and tuck me into bed every night after a bedtime story. Take me back home where all I need to wish for is for you to look my way and smile, giving me the confidence I need to believe in the magic of people.

Sitting at the dining room table. There are three rows of tables, each table long enough for twelve. It is chicken tonight and everyone gets excited. It is not just that chicken night is a good night- chicken night is wishbone night. You know the one I am talking about right- the ‘V’ shaped bone in the breast. What happens is that if you get this piece of bone (after chomping way at the flesh of course) you look for a partner and each of you places their little finger around the base of the bone. On three you pull and whoever is left with the larger chunk of the bone gets to make a wish. When I was younger my wishes were more grand- I would wish for a surprise party- with all the bells and whistles and of course and insane amount of junk food. And I genuinely believed my parents would show up with a trunk full of party favours and food. But with every wish came disappointment but not in anyone but myself. It happened for everyone else it seems. So I thought I was unlucky- that my wishes did not count and perhaps I did not deserve answered wishes.

There was a girl in my dorm room when I was in grade one. She was one of the older girls and we all thought she had special powers for some reason, everyone knew she could foretell the future and make things happen. She could wake up one day and declare someone would receive a visit and sure enough that very person would get their visit. She could suddenly say “anyone who hangs up my gown for me will go home today” and we would all rush to do her bidding. I don’t remember clearly if this ever worked but there was enough faith in her magic to make us scramble across the room running her errands.

I want to believe in magic again. I do not think I have encountered a moment more powerful than the child inspired faith of blowing into my cupped hands that hold a fallen brown leaf. Full of hope and excitement, filled with pure belief that luck was mine, that the universe would work in my favour and bring my desires into being.

I want to believe in magic again. I want to hold onto another wishbone with my right pinkie and hope with all my might that this time it is my turn for the spectacular to happen to me. Holding on to dreams that to me seem possible simply because I have been able to imagine them.

I want to believe in magic again. To see in someone else the power of making things happen. To feel being next to someone makes it more likely their magic might rub onto you and perhaps something special will happen for you because they wish it for you. To know that a power exists beyond you and all you have to do is run an errand for it to be at your service.

I want to believe in magic again. And this time, it has to be mine, my own kind of magic that I find for myself, within myself.