The first and last time I attempted to commit suicide felt like any normal day. It was sunny; kids were playing and laughing outside. Like any township, Kraaifontein was buzzing that day, full of life while I felt so lifeless.
I overdosed on sleeping pills. I can’t tell you what triggered me but up until that moment I always considered myself a happy person. However, the guilt that followed when I saw the panic in my mom’s eyes after receiving a call at work that I had tried to kill myself, made me feel like I was being selfish.
My mom lost all her siblings. She was the only girl with four brothers. Her mother has also passed on. I am her first-born and my sister is her youngest child. The fact that I decided to take my own life knowing how lonely and damaging that would be to my mother felt so selfish. So, after that attempt I never tried again.
During my matric year, my mother sent my sister to come stay with me in East London, as she couldn’t take care of her while working here in Cape Town. That’s when I started becoming my sister’s other mother, I took her to crèche every morning before my morning classes which started at 7am. I put her to sleep, I woke up at night when she couldn’t sleep and stayed up until she fell sleep, I did this daily. That’s why to this day we don’t have the normal big sister to younger sister relationship and more of a mother to daughter relationship. During that time I started to get severely depressed but I had no knowledge about depression or anxiety. I also felt like I couldn’t break down because my baby sister was leaning on me, she needed me and I couldn’t be selfish.
But with time I was getting more depressed, on a particular Wednesday while taking a bath after my mom got back from work, I remember looking down and saying, “If I die, at any moment, now or tomorrow I wouldn’t mind.” After hearing this she looked so shocked.
The confession came out of nowhere, we were not talking about anything serious. Since this year started, I have been on a journey of letting her see my mental health struggles. I want her to understand that I am sick, I may look healthy physically but for the longest time I have been hiding how sick I feel mentally.
I can’t tell you the last time I remember feeling human, feeling genuine happiness, smiling freely and not feeling like I am carrying the world’s problems. I think I started really losing touch with myself when I lost my best friend. She died a week before my birthday in June, I couldn’t go to her funeral because I had already moved to Cape Town and couldn’t afford to travel back.
Vee and I were neighbours in East London; I first met her through my oldest cousin. She was vibrant, beautiful, confident, curvy and tall. She was sweet, welcoming, warm and kind. She was talkative, patient and haunted. When things were not great at home, in my darkest hours I would break down to her. She held my darkest secrets in her small hands and protected me for dear life. When she died, my world died with her. I was living but I wasn’t alive, but I pushed myself as I felt I had to live for her since she couldn’t.
You see all my life, I have lived for other people. I was always the perfect daughter who got home on time, did her homework and passed all her classes. I was always the reliable child who did everything the adults wanted from her. It’s tiring, I am exhausted, most days I feel like I am in a dark room with a bright spotlight on me, expected to put on an act to entertain the audience. No one asks how the characters on stage feel because they are not real; I have been living in character for so long that I don’t feel real, the act has taken its toll on me.
So if you’re dealing with mental health issues this article unfortunately wasn’t a motivational piece on how to stay strong. It wasn’t a piece about where to seek help. I don’t have any of those answers as I deal with the same struggles you do on a daily basis. The only thing I can tell you is don’t be defeated. Someone said to me I should celebrate the small victories. Celebrate being able to wake up and go to work/school, celebrate being able to be present in the moments that matter. Just celebrate because you know the battle you had to fight just to get out of bed.
Remember depression is a small battle you have to fight in a big war and as they say to win a war, you have to fight the small battles.
Read about the stigma surrounding mental health, here
Tell us: How would you respond to someone with depression?