Saturday, July 18, 2015

Girl Interrupted

My aunt, Funi was my fave! For a great part of my childhood, she was my bestie - constantly there.
She had a rich brown complexion, big eyes and sprinklings of little moles around her eyes and a big crown of afro hair. She was beautiful! I get my gap-tooth swag from her :-)
A lot of people in our neighbourhood knew for her singing voice and her brains. The first person to finish high school AND proceed to go to university and graduate in our family, she was our pride and joy. For this reason, I would get so happy when people commented about how much I looked like her.

When I was about 10 years old, one day in December, I watched as our family men huddled over her, fighting to restrain her from stabbing herself with a sharp object she was trying to push through her chest. She was scantily dressed, crying and seemed in agony - I didn't understand. Why would someone everyone admired want to harm herself? Why was everyone saying she had gone crazy and throwing the word "witchcraft' around? Who would want to bewitch someone so loving and self-less? I had questions.

I later found out that that episode would be the first of many like it. I watched her wither into a small frail woman who muttered to herself a lot. She had a look that said "I'm not here". It broke my heart that she was ill and everyone was bickering about the cause but not trying to help her.
With time and as months became years, I did a little digging of my own. It turned out that she had been depressed long before the first manifestation. Her depression stemmed from not being able to find work after graduating and having studied with my grandmother's last pennies - I imagine she felt she had cost everyone and couldn't meet their expectation.
I ache for her now that I'm older and sometimes feel the pressure to "save" the family. It is tough being black!
I wonder how things would have been had she been listened to. Had someone taken the time to love her or figure her out when she needed it - instead of seeing her as a saviour. I wish I could have given her the kind of hugs that mend.

In 2010 she passed away after 14 years of mental illness. Yes,14 years! In her first 3 years of illness there were stints at mental health clinics and spiritual healers but when those didn't work or when she got better but later relapsed,everyone slowly gave up hope and, I guess, got used to her being the way she was. Tragic.
I hurt more for her today because I understand depression is not a cute word to use when one is feeling down. It is a serious illness that people battle and die from yet there is so little said and done until someone runs naked in the streets or tries to stab themselves. There aren't a lot of awareness programs and free/easy access to assistance - especially in black communities where majority doesn't have medical aid that covers this (medical aid full stop, actually). Also, it's no secret that black people have endured oppression under apartheid and colonialism and therefore before they are even born they have pain branded in their history. We are constantly fighting odds and invisible barriers that stand between us and what other races can access with little effort. It's fucked up! What is more messed up is that on top of dealing with life's challenges we are still trying to make people understand that #BlackLivesMatter. In 2015.

I really pray that we all win the battle in our heads, get healing from the pain we inherited from the ones before us. I hurt for all the people who are labelled crazy - people whose demons took over. But more than pray and just hurt for them, I need to be more gentle with others and myself. I need to understand that we are all extremely fragile - even when we are strong black women!

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