My story begins as a young eight-year-old girl (1998), graduating from the second grade. It is a day I will never forget. I ordered my milkshake, celebrating with my Mom and Gran, and the phone rang. Everything else is a blur except my mother’s screams: “He’s dead, he’s dead.” My twenty-two-year-old brother was killed in a car crash in Spain. I do not even remember if we paid for the milkshake or the waitress just let us leave in horror. Life really knows how to throw you a curve ball because my brother was meant to leave his home in Spain and come back to South Africa, shortly after he had passed.
The word ‘suicide’ began to surface. I was eight, I had no idea what that meant. However, when my Dad and I were alone, he would often say I want to be with my son, I want to die, I want to commit suicide. I understood what death was, but not the concept of suicide. I remember saying things to my mom such as: “I am going to be with my brother in heaven. I am going home to him.” Right away, my Mom decided to find a good child psychologist, who was wonderful and I was with her for a few years. I don’t remember much of the therapy, I just remember that phone call, the screech in my Mom’s voice, the tears running down my father’s cheeks night after night.
My brother was a hero. Not the kind of action heroes you see in movies running with red capes colliding into the walls of a building. I believed my brother was a mortal hero that walked amongst us mere beings. He had the ability to see pain and suffering, internalize it, almost making it his own burden to bear. He was my everything. He was my rock, my strength. My world crumbled when he left.
I became a very lonely, sad, insecure child. What can you expect after losing your best friend, confidant, your shield? I did not have friends. I was always alone. It became very difficult for me. I did not know how to make friends. This carried on until the eighth grade. I thought that high school would be different; we are more mature, closer to being adults. I could not have been more wrong.
At the age of sixteen (2006), I was befriended by the most popular girl in our grade. But I was too stupid to see that she was using me to get to someone that she wanted. It reminds me of the movie The DUFF, The Dumb Ugly Fat Friend. But in reverse, she was looking to, shall we say, “befriend,” my boyfriend.
Now you might be thinking, I have heard this story before, did she rewrite a movie script, or, this is so lame. You are right. It sounds lame. But what I am hoping to achieve here, in regard to mental health, mental illness, addiction, bullying, abuse, and suicide, is to shine a light on the fact that EVERYBODY HAS A STORY. We do not become these people because we want to be bad, a burden, a nothing, nobody, a junkie, an alcoholic, or my favorite, an attention seeker.
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Once my boyfriend was hers, things changed in ways that I still cannot comprehend. This, coming from a twenty-eight-year-old woman sitting at her laptop for the umpteenth time revisiting this story.
This is when the bullying started; little things like throwing food in my face, calling me fat, ugly, etcetera. But it escalated at a drastic pace. I became anorexic in three months, by the end of those three months I was given three weeks to live. My body went into auto-cannibalism, began feeding off of itself and what was left. Eventually, I collapsed and could not walk or attend school. This was the cherry on top because it showed how weak I was. The bullying escalated to full on abuse. The abuse took place from learners in the school and outside at malls, parties, any public place that they could get to me. Twenty-four-hour security could not stop these people. I was not even allowed to play hockey matches at other schools for fear of being attacked.
Then I found my saving grace. You are probably thinking a knight in shining armor. Not quite. It was cocaine and ecstasy. I would use hard over the weekends, so that by the time the withdrawal stage set in, I was too sick to attend class and I would sit in the sick bay the entire day, or for most of the week. I began to realize those people could not reach me behind bulletproof glass and would have to pass the staffroom to get to me. So I continued using for the remainder of my two years at the school. But there was another advantage to using, it was the people who used with you. I befriended these people outside of school and suddenly, I had a group of friends that could protect me from what was happening. Which they did; when you are friends with gangs and drug dealers, no one messes with you.
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It is not as if I had not alerted the principal, staff members, teachers, cleaners, you name it I spoke to them. They all told me I was exaggerating and that nothing would happen to me. Until one afternoon, a neighboring school stole their school bus, drove to my school and I had to be escorted off the premises because there were twenty plus something learners in there who came to attack me, record it, and upload it to YouTube.
Fast forward two years (2008); this was my introduction to mental illness. I was dating someone and during my midyear finals, he drove himself through a wall and killed himself. He flew so far out of his windshield that a search party was sent out. He had to be identified by his dental records. Needless to say, I failed my exams. But we discovered something so profound at the funeral, he lived a double life. His friends wondered who we were, my friends and I wondered who they were, and for the sake of his family, I could not expose myself as his girlfriend because he apparently already had one who was walking in with his coffin. I was flawed. I did not see any of it, not the suffering, these two lives he was living, the major differences between us and them. That was my first introduction to a successful suicide attempt.
Nevertheless, I made it through my final year of school. The day I walked out was the day I threw recreational substances away. I did not need it anymore. I was not chasing a high, I was seeking protection. We all have a reason for the things we do. I did not walk out of my mother's womb an addict, my first word was not cocaine. People forget so easily that circumstances and experiences change you, make you do things in order to survive. This is why I do not categorize people.
My second interaction with mental illness felt like a death, but it was not death and lasted for 8 years. There are other ways that people show their pain, and inflict pain on others, as opposed to attempts of suicide. We do not always realize it though. These kinds of mental illnesses are far easier to diagnose if you are a psychologist or psychiatrist.
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In 2009, I was catfished. I did not ever get the chance to meet this person but shortly after receiving a message that he had passed away driving to the airport to visit me for my birthday, a woman entered my life. We became best friends, thick as thieves. We worked together for 6 years, she was my person. In 2012 things started to change immensely; secrets, lying, fabricating documents such as written warnings from work, job hopping, expulsion from university, stories, inflicting harm upon herself saying that she was attacked or mugged, a supposed heart attack. It was a never-ending whirlwind of events that sent me on an emotional rollercoaster. Again, I was catfished that same year. This time it lasted 3 years and I was determined to catch the culprit, hence I hung on for so long and played the game. Just because I knew what was going on did not make it any easier, there was still some doubt, a glimmer of hope. Until they started to make mistakes and I realized it was my best friend. She had not only catfished her way into my life on purpose, but she continued to do it when we were friends as a form of control. She began to dress like me, cut her hair the same way, highlights, gel tips, clothing labels, you name it, I almost had another me forming right in front of my eyes. I was a victim of Munchausen syndrome. My best friend had actually imprinted on me and was lying to colleagues about my life, lying to my boyfriends throughout my friendship, trying to like me but sabotaging me behind my back so that the only person I could turn to was her. The more she had invested in this, the more I was losing. I lost a substantial amount of weight, ended up in the hospital twice, constantly purging, and then night terrors started. I would physically harm myself in my sleep or walk around the house, outside in the garden, the street, drink alcohol, and have absolutely no recollection of it. My most dramatic night terror resulted in me stabbing myself with a needle all over my body.
Two days before I had to begin my Master’s Orientation at University, I received a message saying this person had died. I had to let it go and I finally thought I was free. But still, she was doing things to me, the possibility of being poisoned had come up a few times by professionals; certainly not my humble opinion. I was not free, I felt like a caged animal. I was desperate; my health, my life, my work, my studies, my relationships were falling apart and just plummeting. By the end of 2016, I had stopped working, stopped studying, lost what I thought was my best friend, and went on a prescription and self-mutilation binge. A few weeks later, after ingesting so much opioid and benzodiazepine junk, I was rushed to a psychiatric hospital and on twenty-four-hour watch for twenty-one days.
This was no walk in the park. I was pumped full of medication. I was not allowed to see my file so I had no idea what I was being given. My psychiatry consultations were maybe twenty minutes, in which only two questions were asked: " Did you sleep?" And "How do you feel?" Those two questions were used to diagnose me, label me, and decide a new course of treatment after every consultation. Sitting in a circle every day having to say I am an addict, I think does more harm than good. I saw how the stigma was so rigorously enforced throughout that hospital, to the point where teenagers would use their diagnoses as a joke, self-deprecating themselves all day long. The words depression, bipolar, anxiety, addiction, haunt me because it was drilled into me and into the system. You cannot eliminate a stigma if the very thing that is supposed to dispose of it, actually enhances it, gives it life, makes it breathe and expand.
When I was discharged, I came to realize that the last few people who I thought remained in my life, had completely dispersed. There were no friends, no fiancé, except my Mom, Dad, and Gran. Even my half-brother did not call me. His family choose not to talk to me anymore because of course there are stigmas everywhere; addiction, junkie, psychotic, bipolar crazy, etcetera. I am, to them, the crazy one in the family.
I have had to learn how to manage my life alone now. Yes, I have my parents, but I suffered a great loss; friends, work, studies, mental and physical health. I have to learn what it is like to be okay in your own skin despite the labels people give you, i.e. bipolar 2, depressive comorbid social anxiety disorder, sleep disorder, and addict. This was a lot to take in and a few weeks ago I decided to take my own life. For some unknown reason, it did not work. My family does not know this; mental illness does not only affect you but those around you and I chose not share that with them and allow them their peace of mind.
Despite all this, I want people to know that a label is not just a label. It becomes a stigma. It causes emotional turmoil for those suffering, and in turn those indirectly affected by it. Yes, our suffering may cause other people suffering too but it is not done purposefully. Before you label, before you categorize, remember EVERYONE HAS A STORY.
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