In recent months my life has been turned upside down with crippling panic attacks as a result of high levels of anxiety. I thought that I was well prepared for the launch of my memoir and the activities involved with promoting it. How wrong I was.
I was aware of other writers whose mental health suffered post publication but, hey, I felt invincible. I owned my power. This was a story that I wanted to tell. I wanted our future generations to know where their roots stem from.
I had regular discussions with my family, friends and my trusted editor. I was so open and honest about my life and felt that by sharing my story I would encourage others to do the same. While growing up I was oblivious to the dehumanising conditions I was relegated to under apartheid in South Africa, but as I grew older, anger and frustration started rearing its head. After the launch of my book, the talks and public engagements opened old wounds. The scabs were itching to come off. Before I knew it, it had started to fester.
This all started through emails from readers and members of the public. The new-age communication sometimes used by those who cannot speak face to face. Most messages were heart-warming and filled with their own stories of survival. A few were accusing, ‘you ran away while we stayed to fight for the rainbow nation’ messages. And some were downright heartless. One person in particular, had found a shovel and had begun to dig so deep, exposing the layers I had so carefully covered up. That digging revealed what I thought was a healed wound, leaving an area so raw that it felt as if it had been waiting to burst. Through the pain, my voice roared like a wounded lion into the darkness.
The searing pain sent me spiralling into a bottomless pit. The attacks were relentless. Just when I managed to climb out of the hole, then someone would take the liberty to shove me right back in. Graphic images of dead bodies, blood baths and horrific injuries appeared across my screen. Images that I was accused of inciting. Deaths that I was made responsible for. This, coupled with personal issues addressed in my memoir, overwhelmed me. I crumbled.
Human beings are incredibly capable of deep emotions and feelings of empathy, love for one another, courage, peace etc. These emotions have sustained us for generations and made us evolve into one of the most intelligent species there is. However, this capacity has also revealed the ability to hurt, to hate, and to destroy. Experiencing this dark side of human capacity left me completely drained, confused, and angry. I know most people would say that being hurt is part of life, but that does not mean it is something we have to inflict on others or absorb submissively when it is maliciously directed our way. It is also not something that we need to tolerate.
In an instant I had allowed these faceless monsters to take away the joyous feelings of achieving my dream. Panic attacks took over my life – 24/7. Now usually, I would ignore these emails but for some reason, in my vulnerable state, I spiralled into that dark place. My growing reluctance to communicate face to face with anyone, my fear of leaving home and of being alone sky rocketed. My family and two close friends smothered me with love and attention. I tried to push on. Some things happen to us when we least expect it.
The advent of social media has forever changed our lives and the way we engage with others. Whilst so many positives have emerged from this revolution, it has also brought out the very worst in some of us. Gossip and bullying was to an extent always part of a dark undercurrent of society, however, these days faceless trolls spew poisonous vitriol to complete strangers. And all this under the cover of anonymity. These trolls have become oblivious, it seems, to the hurt they cause or perhaps even worse, they’ve lost the very essence of humanity – supporting, encouraging, empathy, compassion.
As I continued to creep into my own world, away from these poison arrows, increasingly I became paralysed with fear. I could not grab hold of the fear to rid myself of it —it’s not an actual physical thing. In my emotional state, I gave life to my fears and became stuck in my self-imposed prison. My soul searched for joy and hope but my mind and environment offered none.
When my doctor made a few suggestions, the one even more alarming than the other, I froze. How can this be my life? A life filled with medication and therapy. For days I wept in self-pity. This was not what I had envisioned. I longed for my ancestors. I wanted to draw on their strength and wisdom. My thoughts were consumed with digging myself out of this hole.
‘I recommend cognitive behavioural therapy, try this person’, the doctor suggested. I looked at the name, researched it and instantly felt drawn to the principles of the practice – spiritual and holistic clinical treatment.
Suffering from a lack of sleep, vulnerable and anxious, my first appointment was a confronting experience. While I was cautiously optimistic that this could be the start of my road to recovery, I didnt have the foggiest idea what I would say. The faint smell of incense of some sort hung in the air. The large room looked as if it was used for yoga or some other form of therapy. When he walked towards me, smiling and friendly, my first thought was ‘he looks too young’. What would he know about my life and troubles?
I stared at the paper work for a few moments, then diligently ticked the boxes and followed him into his room. Pointing to the couch, a 2-seater, he settled in his chair. By then I was ready to collapse on that couch. But it was too small. In the movies people stretched out on the couch in therapy rooms. I wanted to close my eyes to shut out this moment. Where am I supposed to stretch out?
Avoiding his piercing gaze, my eyes scanned the books on the shelf while he rattled off some formalities. The titles popped out at me, PTSD, Anxiety, Emotional Anxiety. Such serious topics. How can I bare my soul to this person? Where do I start? What would he know about my complex history? This is a mistake. My mind raced all over the place. My eyes rested on a brass bowl on the shelf. I had seen a bowl like this before.
As my thoughts raced, I felt that familiar panicked feeling in the pit of my stomach. My first instinct was to excuse myself, go to the bathroom, splash water on my face and return a while later.
But somehow, transfixed by his gentle gaze and relaxed posture, I managed to remain in my seat clutching the pillow next to me.
‘You are not crazy’, I repeated to myself while trying to concentrate.
Before I knew it, my journey of self-discovery and unburdening had begun. Two months have passed and while there is still a lot of work to do, His method of healing is one of self examination, inward search and self healing. It’s not merely words but a deeply spiritual healing. One that leaves me with a sense of calmness and a curiosity to search for what my purpose is.
I now feel closer to my ancestors. My journey into spiritual healing is deeply exciting and brings me comfort. I want more and I want to tell you more.