Have you ever watched a beautiful sun-shiny day? Have you seen the sun rays early in the morning? I have had sunshiny moments in my life.
Allow me to introduce myself. My name is Refilwehape Mofokeng. My name means ‘we have been given again’; this means I am a gift. I am the last born in my family. We are only two girls at home. My mother would have had four children if life was fair. I had a twin who died at birth. My younger brother, who was born in 2004, died as well. My twin brother would have been 25 this year, while my younger brother would have been 13.
I have always wondered what it would have been like if my mother’s two sons were alive today. I wonder how my life would be different. I often imagine my twin brother smiling at me and us sharing laughter together. I can also imagine our fights. Unfortunately, I cannot bring them back to life. All I can do is wonder.
When I was growing up, I was once asked by my English teacher, in Grade 9, what I wanted to be in life. My answer was I wanted to be a psychologist, because my friends trusted me with their deepest secrets.
As time went on my dreams changed. When I was in matric, I wanted to be a biotechnologist, or a motivational speaker or a radiographer. Then after school I enrolled at Damelin to study Journalism and Media Studies. The journey was exciting, until I was met with the challenge of finding funding for my studies.
I found a job being a volunteer tutor for the NGO called Education without Borders, where I tutored English and Maths. But, as time went on, I could not keep up with studying and working at the same time, so I had to drop out of Damelin College.
My troubles were not over. My father lost his job and we had difficulty paying my Damelin fees. Luckily he got a retrenchment payout, and with his hard-earned money he paid my debt. My sister also helped me to pay my fees by cleaning toilets at Stock Road taxi rank.
The worst seemed to be over after my debt was paid. But what lay ahead after the Damelin College journey? I had to look for opportunities. I got accepted at UCT for social work and I went to study.
My first year at UCT was a phenomenal journey. I was excited about the social work course and passed my first year well. I also had an awesome group of close friends.
In the storm
The clouds started to gather in the summer vacation after first year.
One rainy day, on our way home from visiting a young man in our church in hospital, we were involved in an accident. A taxi collided with our car, which rolled and hit the wall of a house.
There was a lot of screaming. When the car stopped rolling we got out. We discovered that my father’s arm was broken and he was bleeding, and he and another person received medical attention. I thought I was fine.
But as time went by I got extremely depressed. I did not know how to deal with it. It was as if the accident had triggered something in me.
When classes started and I couldn’t cope. I started noticing changes in myself. I was not the same Refilwehape. I lost interest in things and in people I loved. I started crying and not eating. My work load piled up and assignments remained untouched. Exam time was nearing and I failed to get my DP.
Then one day, my father visited my residence, Liesbeeck Gardens, and discovered I had not eaten for several days. I wanted to commit suicide. My dad said it was time that I returned home.
At home, my parents took me to a doctor who referred me for counselling. Mostly my counselling involved issues about my childhood and dealing with the sexual abuse I had gone through and kept buried all this time. The counselling helped and I felt motivated again.
I thought the worst was over, but it had only just begun. I kept sinking into depression. Every time I had to be admitted to hospital. This happened several times until I was transferred to Lentegeur Hospital. That’s when the healing process really started. I was diagnosed bipolar, and I learnt what living with this sickness meant. But there were setbacks. In 2017 I relapsed and went back to hospital. A lot happened to me, and I nearly lost my life that time around.
The storm clouds disperse.
Have you ever witnessed clouds disperse after a rainstorm? I have had moments where the clouds in my life dispersed. When I received treatment in 2014 the clouds lifted and I regained my health with the help of the psychiatric drugs, Epilim and Folic acid. But when these stopped working and I relapsed I had to change drugs to Citalopram and Risperidone. This treatment has worked and I am still on it, and feeling much better and more stable. Ndingumqabaqaba gqabi le Vinegar. I am alive and kicking. I could not ask for a better life.
The sun rises again
In life we know the night comes and it becomes dark, but the darkness doesn’t last forever; the sun rises again every morning. There have been moments when the sun rose in my life.
In 2016 I was accepted at Year Beyond to be a volunteer tutor. This was a great journey, and I grew a lot. I learnt to put my best foot forward.
My sunshine did not end with Year Beyond. In 2017, after I was discharged from hospital, I worked for almost two months as a field worker doing research for an NGO project. It was a great experience and I learnt a lot about research. I also worked as a part time volunteer tutor at Beautiful Gate South Africa, and had a wonderful time.
There are two moments from that period that I will never forget. The moment where I attended a volunteer appreciation ceremony and received a cup personalised with a thank you message and my name on it. The other moment was when we went, as staff of Beautiful Gate South Africa, to Oudekraal beach. We had great food, we swam and sang inside the bus on our way back home.
After the Storm
I once visited Limpopo which is famous for its thunderstorms, especially in summer. One night it started to thunder. We were so afraid, but after the storm we were relieved and happy, we sang lovely songs and prayed.
My life had been like my Limpopo experience – I have weathered the storm of being bipolar. After receiving treatment the sun came out and I felt whole again.
One thing I can say is that all these experiences made me a stronger young woman. I became more self-aware and I understood myself and my feelings better.
Today I am not ashamed to say that I am bipolar. I am not broken. I am looking forward to my future. Even though I dropped out twice, I am proud of myself because I have shown initiative. I did not give up because things were not going well in my life. I stood up and went out there to look for opportunities. Currently, I am an intern at FunDza.
Today I have got great prospects for my future. I am saving for my studies, and next year I will be returning to school to study Bachelor of Social Work at the University of South Africa.
I just want to say to bipolar people like me: Just because you were diagnosed with bipolar, probably at the prime of your life, don’t give up. Rise up and follow the dreams your heart desires.
Tell us: Why do you think its important to take care of your mental health?