Tweenager Teachers

For a while, I have not been able to write.  I was consumed by working to save lives (through amazing organizations), buying beads to make awesome jewelry in the future, discovering double chocolate coffee and awesome stuff like that.  And then as to be expected in a comical existence such as mine, life took over me.  It started by my kids being held at gunpoint for their phones, an immediate emergency extraction of teeth (x3), a dose of severe gastro which meant I couldn’t take my medication, followed by being robbed at home, of three of MY most prized possessions:  kettle to make coffee, my NEW phone (that took amazing pictures of my children), and my speakers that lifted me with mom cooking tunes, which usually brought about (never show anyone) mom cooking showstopping dance moves, whilst making supper before my family would usually get home.

At first, I was overcome.  Disabled even.  Angry, sad, a lot of things.  I put my development hat on and argued that crime was a result of so many years of pain, impoverishment and racial segregation and that it would be addressed if we worked harder to address poverty and inequality.  That argument lasted a good three minutes until I profoundly missed my so carefully compiled biscuit baking board on Pinterest, and the opportunity to take a selfie where my ex-phone automatically added lipstick and eyelashes.  Which self-respecting girl with mental illness doesn’t want a phone that makes her look like she has made up on (which she never wears) and makes her look awesome even better than other filter adding apps we’ve come to know and love.  NONE.  No.  We all want to look like we’ve spent hours applying our faces, when in fact, I usually prefer to get up after nine, stay in pj’s ’til five minutes before my family gets home, and then I run and shower and pretend like I’ve been um, clean, the whole day.

If you thought this was enough – the mental illness gods thought they’d add another dose of  “humor” into my life by bringing about an impromptu sleepover of nonstop eating/ talking/walking/playing / loud 12-year-old girls.  x 4.  And I will say that I loved my coordinator of the sleepover – my own 12 years old – less.   But what unfolded, was a number of tweens teaching me what was really important and what I needed to remember.  Being multi-racial, different aged, different voiced, different body shaped, they told me about being bullied for being fat, for having a skirt too short, basically anything that set them apart from others.  Well, these others were pretty unscrupulous – they could even tease you for being thin. They talked about the popular girls who set the rules in the school, who issued nicknames that were scrawled inside the toilet doors of the school.  That was heavily branded on the very vulnerable hearts and minds on whom they were issued.

A lot sounded similar.  A lot sounded like the playground we found ourselves in as people with mental illness.  The loud and silent taunting of ourselves because we are other, too extra, and in my case, much fat, chocolate inhaling someone, who is the most socially awkward person around.  And I realized something as I was talking to them, attempting to offer advice:  the bullies are usually less than those being bullied because let’s just been honest, most of us are in some way socially awkward whether we admit it or not.  And that if we all stood up, mental illness or not, that if we all shouted stop at the same time, maybe just maybe, we’d be able to call out the bullies, and cut what could be and is the most emotionally damaging in its tracks.  Because no-one should ever, ever keep quiet when someone else is made to cry.

For any reason whatsoever.  So instead of being sad, instead of being silenced, or taken out by what life’s dished my way, I am reminded that friends and family are the most important, that material possessions don’t matter, and that being extra is ok.  It’s more than ok.  It makes us better than anyone else. ’cause alongside that extraness is a whole lot of empathy that my tweenager taught me today.  I am reminded of what matters.  Be part of those who support us as opposed to those who don’t.

I am 4 M’s Bipolar Mom.

Photo Credit: unsplash-logoThought Catalog

The Craziness of Mental Health

I’ve read about the mental healthcare systems abroad, some of the “things” that are available (like therapy) and thought a lot about ours.  I’m not suggesting that things are rosy everywhere else, but merely to reflect on the system we have here.  I live in South Africa and most of the laws and policies here are like Nelson Mandela authored.  We put the D in democracy and the humane into human rights, thereotically.  In practice, it doesn’t work that way.

For example, I once “trained” a group of women in a rural area in our country on the beautiful domestic violence act we have.  Thereotically the police can intervene, you can obtain a protection order, and again thereotically, be protected.  In your home.  In your house with your children.  They listened, dilligently took notes and smiled when I paused.  When I found their silence too much I asked why they weren’t talking / participating.  One of the older women stood up and said:  “The closest police station is at least 300 km away for most of us.  The court is even further.  And you’d be lucky if they serviced you on the same day, IF you have transport money to spare / get there.  We have our own act.  If your partner is threatening violence, we hang a certain item of clothing on the line, which means I need help.  The woman who sees it alerts others in the street, and we all come for “tea”.  We stay there, with endless conversation, until the situation is diffused. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t.  But that’s what really helps us”.

I kept quiet.  I was humbled by what these women went through and how they tried to help each other.  But that didn’t mean that they shouldn’t be helped more, and that resources and attention shouldn’t immediately be directed to make their lives better.  In the context of mental healthcare things are even more ominous.  There are people with chronic mental illness who died because they were dehydrated.  Yes, there were other factors, but dehydration?  Not being fed?  If I consider what it’s like to have mental illness and to die for these or ANY reasons just isn’t ok.  No matter how we try to dissect it.  If you don’t have the money for private health care (it cost me about 800 US Dollars for myself and my children on private medical aid per month) you will find that there aren’t any services that are responsive enough to cater for people with mental illness, no matter how ill they are.

For example, you can’t get into a psychiatric ward without being suicidal.  This based on my own and other people’s experience has meant that you need to have tried to commit suicide and required immediate hospitalisation / care.  Not if you were intending to.  No, preventative is nice.  We don’t (although there are a few attempts) have a sufficient suicide call in number for people who feel suicidal, or their families who are a concerned.  And I will not go onto describe the ambulance service, which as the rural women teacher taught me, is just not realistic in some parts of our country.   There are frequent drug stockouts, a lack of psychiatrists in the public health system and therapy is a luxury.

I have to face the reality of this system now.  I was retrenched and do not have the resources for private healthcare.  My psychiatrist costs $150 per session, my therapist $80 and private psychiatric hospitals (which are funnily still like jails) are thousands and thousands.  The implementation of our far-reaching mental healthcare act, like the domestic violence act is failing the people who it was designed to poetically protect.  And most people with mental illness do not in our country, have communities of support where they can hang the “I need help underpants” on the line.  We need to draw attention to the state of the system (or perhaps the lack of it), the way people with mental illness are treated and the services they are subjected to, and the not so silent genocide of people with mental illness in our country.  I intend to.  Be part of those who support us as opposed to those who don’t.  I am 4 M’s Bipolar Mom.