Monthly Archives: October, 2013

Borderline Personality Disorder

There is human suffering that comes not as a result of anybody having done anything, it just comes because they were born. Empathy and understanding are usually the best antidotes for such suffering. Here’s a Reblog of one such human condition, Borderline Personality(BPD), read and understand. But more than anything, take the time and watch the accompanying video, it’s an eye-opener. Thanks William Coles.

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100% Human

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Hello. My name is Hakizimana. Haki in short, for all those who find my full name to be a tongue twister. I’m Rwandan by birth, but also a naturalized South African. I arrived in South Africa way back in 1996, two years after the genocide in my country that claimed the lives of just under a million people, mostly of the Tutsi ethnic grouping. I consider myself neither a Hutu nor a Tutsi. My mother is a Tutsi and father Hutu, but they also had mixed parentage, so yes, I’m just Rwandan, and South African.

I arrived in South Africa during what my friend Thabo, a South African, calls their ‘honeymoon’ period. Those were the heady days when the father of the Nation, Nelson Mandela, was president. Their rugby team had just won the World Cup, and their soccer team were the Champs of Africa. The economy was going through a boom. It felt good to be South African, Thabo tells me. Life was good. The world hailed the political miracle that was a world-first.

But as with all honeymoons, real life came calling. There were murmurs of discontent. For the first time in my three years in this beautiful country I heard references to tribalism. There were questions about why the two top positions in the country were occupied by Xhosas, Nelson Mandela and Thabo Mbeki. You see, as far as I, Haki, was concerned, South Africa was more than a miracle. Here’s why.

Thabo had told me about how the system of apartheid had been designed to create artificial barriers between between tribal groups in the country. The government had gone as far as creating ethnic homelands for the various groups of black people. So you had a homeland for Xhosas, Zulus, Pedis, Tswanas, Tsongas etc. They even set up ‘governments’ for the various groups. But somehow, the wonderful people of this country overcame these artificial divisions, putting to shame those who had dreamt up such a system.

In my country of Birth, Rwanda, the Belgian colonialists had succeeded in putting a real wedge between the Hutus and Tutsis. By setting up Tutsis as better than Hutus way back in the 1916 Identity system, they had sown the seeds of the genocide. By the time the genocide happened in 1994, the Hutus were convinced that Tutsis were lesser people, cockroaches, and what good is a cockroach for except to be killed. Shivers run down my spine when I recall the blood churning acts I had to do to stay alive, simply because some foreign government had decided it was to their advantage to exploit the physical differences between our people to plant such hatred.

So it was with this in mind when I got alarmed at people suggesting tribalism in any form in my adopted country. See, I have learned that it can take up to a million lives to get to a point where people see each other for what they are, one million lives! Thabo says he watched Hotel Rwanda and found it interesting but had no idea that at the base of the war depicted by the movie was a lie planted way before in the 1920s, that Tutsi’s were better than Hutus.

Thabo and I work for the same company. Last week Thabo came to work driving a new car sporting a “100% Pedi” sign on the rear window. I congratulated him on the new car but was concerned about that sign. Lately, I’ve seen plenty of these on the road, 100% Zulu, 100%Venda and so on. All good and well, but I remember that in the days leading up to the genocide, there was an artificial pride that ran through the Hutu community in my country. A pride that suggested that yes it was good to be Rwandan, but even better to be Hutu. On the downside it was a curse to be a Tutsi amongst these 100% Hutus. I only hope that in their mistaken show of pride in their tribal or ethnic identities South Africans are not now posthumously paying homage to the architects of apartheid. After all, it took a couple of decades for the seed of hatred planted by the Belgian colonialists to bear horrible fruits in my country of birth.

Thabo says when our current president, President Jacob Zuma, was facing some charges in court some of his supporters showed their support through “100% Zuma” T-shirts which soon morphed into “100% Zulu T-shirts”. Why this is necessary no one has an idea. I remember that time quite well. Murmurs of tribalism could be heard, but mostly in hushed tones.

Enter Marius from accounts upstairs. Marius lives in a place called Kameeldrift just outside Pretoria. Their community is one they say is based on the Afrikaner culture and they would like to keep it exclusively Afrikaner, because they prefer to live amongst themselves. Much like they did in the old days, only then they had camped off everybody else into their own homelands and took 87% of the land for themselves. Now they only want a small community based on their Afrikaner values, no blacks, no Indians, no Portuguese etc. in other words, 100% Afrikaner.

Now, don’t get me wrong. If the 100% Zulus and 100%Tswanas and the 100% everybody else started demanding their own little enclaves, all of a sudden Thabo’s innocuous little sign takes on another meaning. I’m Rwandan by birth so I should probably be last person to stick my nose in anybody’s business because I’m not a 100% anything.

Recently a new political formation has hit our shores. It’s primary focus is to woo people by promising to ‘reclaim’ the land of their forefathers without compensation from the white population who didn’t ‘bring any land’ with them from Europe.

Now, I, Haki, from Rwanda have noticed that this pride, this 100% this and 100% that has started thriving only now that economic conditions are tough. Add Marius and his Afrikaner homeland, Thabo and his 100% Pedis to the mix as well as those wanting to ‘reclaim’ the land to the mix, you have a potentially explosive situation. And the architects of that vile system will celebrate from hell, like the colonialists must have celebrated the Rwandan Genocide. Their seeds would have shown signs of germination.

But I was encouraged by Thabo this week. His new car is no longer sporting that 100% Pedi sign. He says he watched the movie Hotel Rwanda again and this time got the message. No one person is inherently better than another. To believe otherwise is stupid, and could lead to genocides.

I rejoiced inside because that spared me the unpleasantness of having to recount to Thabo and Marius the harrowing details of people I had to hack to death to get to be part of the South African miracle. By the way, my name Hakizimana, means God protects. I want to play my role in “protecticting” South Africa’s people from the horrors of tribal strife. I hope my story gets to show someone that misplaced pride and tribalism should have no place in our country. I hope you are not such a 100% South African so as to be unsettled by me calling South Africa ‘my country’. I would rather we all became 100% human, like we are.

OF MYTHS AND LEGENDS…

OF MYTHS AND LEGENDS

There’s something about books that’s always scared kids away, well, the kids I went to school with. Maybe your school was different and you all loved books. The majority of primary school and high school pupils I went to school with preferred doing other things to reading, reading for pleasure that is. At school, when I started being into books, reading for pleasure I mean, I was quickly christened a Bookworm.

It got worse when I went to boarding school when I turned thirteen. The new school had a library! What a treasure that was. But loving a library and its contents at my boarding school set you apart as one of those special kids, your peers pitied you.

I used to read all the time, and I guess I still do. I came to learn later that this was a form of escape for me. Anyway, kids my age frowned upon this indulgence, so much so that being the little shy guy that I was, I would try to read without being noticed. I still got comments like, “you keep that up and your eyes will be buggered by the time you’re 30” or my personal favourite, “guys like you never really get the girls, you’ll never get married”. At 15 that didn’t sound like such a bad thing. Needless to say I’m well past 30, with what I regard perfect vision and very married(with kids too). Just amazing what sort of stuff little minds can come up with in their teens. Some of these little myths and legends stay for generations.

Young minds are very impressionable, quick to reach “logical” conclusions. As a nine or ten year old, I couldn’t swim. One December evening there was a torrential downpour, the kind that’s accompanied by loud scary thunder, and before you know it, we had to turn off the television and radio. I got a bit worried when water started seeping into our council house under the metal kitchen door, the kind that went with your old-school apartheid Matchbox houses.

We had a visitor that night and he looked at my disquiet as something amusing. He casually asked me if I could swim and I quickly answered in the negative. His small eyes grew quite large and he let out one of those soft little whistles, the kind that tell you the brown stuff’s gonna hit the fan. The water came into the house relentlessly now. The visitor suggested that we wait for my dad who was out before arranging to sleep because even though he could swim he couldn’t figure out how he could save himself and me because the water would be waist-high at some point during the night. I never slept a wink that night and of course there was no flood. I’m not quite sure I’ve forgiven the gentleman for that.

Some myhths downright silly of course. High school seems to be the breeding ground for these sort of “teenage” wisdoms. It was in high school that I first heard the one about the most popular cola in the world being such a potent contraceptive. The trick, I was led to believe, was the lady had to drink quite a bit of this cola before, you know, the deed. If the guy drank this cola before the deed it would lead to failure to launch! To a 15-year-old’s curious mind this was absolutely believable. And when I happened to come across some pregnant teenager I used to think, “you couldn’t wait till you could afford the cola could you, look at you now”!

I was born in a rural village in Limpopo and before the advent of “locations” or urban settlements, there were vast amounts of lands between homesteads. You had to walk a kilometer or two to have a quiet chat with your neighbour. There was a disused piece of land which was said to be haunted by a ghost. People told stories of their encounters with this gentleman. He would apparently ask you for a smoke and if you didn’t have a cigarette he would slap you silly and pull you by your legs on your backside till your pants were worn out.

I absolutely believed in the existence of this ghost. Sadly, there was no way of avoiding this place to get home from another part of the village. Curiously, he’d never appeared to two people at once, so whilst people told similar stories, none had ever been slapped black and blue together, at the same time. I personally never encounterd him but when I had to pass through this area I would always pretend to be two people having a conversation, using different tones of voice. It appears to have worked because I was never asked for a cigarette by this ghost, let alone be slapped for no reason.

Funny how the more educated you become, the sillier the stories sound. Or is it the older you become? Ever heard the one about driving over a snake? Well, I knew from a very young age that you should never, ever drive over a snake crossing the road. If you did, the snake would coil itself up the insides of your car and you might just find yourself with an unwelcome mamba by your foot pedals, imagine experiencing that at 120km/h! I’ve neve had to choose between driving over a black mamba and taking to the gravel at high speed but the jury’s still out on which one I’d choose.

On a recent family trip to Limpopo, my birthplace, my dad shared a few stories from his generation. This family trip was necessitated by the passing on of one of our family members back there. Anyway, my dad kept coming up with these little gems of stories. One that I cannot get out of my head is about two of the village delinquents. These are the sort of guys who were always the oldest in whatever class you found them in. Back then there was no age restriction in schools, so it was perfectly normal to have an 18yr old in a class of eleven-year olds. John and Archie were two such students, they were so naughty that they smoked, cigarettes that is! Back then smoking cigarettes was a sign of serious rebellion. To top it, they drank, alcohol!!

One Saturday evening on their way back from a local drinking hole,as they walked past the school principals house they decided to solve their hunger pangs by helping themselves to one of the chickens feeding in his yard. They made a bonfire and proceeded to barbaque the chicken, head and all. Putting the roasted chicken between them, they methodically worked their way starting with one wing each, one drumstic each and so on. Because their fire had died down, eating in the dark whilst slightly tipsy proved to be a challenge. Soon there was only the head left and they found themselves going for it at the same time. Archie’s hand got there first and he quickly chucked the whole head in his mouth. John was not impressed.

Now, chickens in the villages in those days were left to roam the yard and eat freely, free-range for you. It wasn’t uncommon to find a chicken feeding on baby poo.Disgusting I know, but hey, such was life. Pit toilets were considered unsafe for toddlers so it was not totally uncommon for kids to help themselves in the fields a little distance from the house, this contributed to the organic compost in the vegetable gardens. The chicken Archie and John had captured and roasted had just had generous helpings of baby poo. As soon as Archie realized that the chicken head in his mouth was what shall we say, foul, he let out an “mmmhmhmhm” that startled John who asked, “what is it, is the pepper too hot for you”. “Mmmm” Archie responded. John immediately extended his hand, saying, “bring it here, let me show you how it’s done” . Archie gladly obliged. He wasn’t going to eat that foul head alone.

When my dad finished recounting the story, everyone in the car was in stitches, it took a while for me to pull myself together I never really asked him whether this was a true story or just one of those village stories that got passed down over the years. Either way, it just reminded me of the rich heritage that all villages around our country has. What myths, legends and other stories do you remember from your youth?

No Easy Victories…

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Take time to understand your own condition, one size doesn’t always fit all

Life is funny. Not the ha-ha-ha comical kind of funny but the funny  you don’t always want. Funny because just when you think you’ve got it all figured out, something happens that quickly dispels all notions of you having mastered this ‘life’ thing. It brings you down to earth, sometimes rather rudely so. And in comes the ‘stay-positive’ brigade, ‘if you conceive it you can achieve it’. Really? I’m just kidding, you can achieve it, but still life is funny like that.

I’ve shared with you about my ongoing personal battle with clinical depression, how I have made great strides in challenging and overcoming the illness, as well as activities I’ve now taken up that I could not previously pursue because of depression. Although I believe I’ve got a handle on it now, every now and then the heaviness of mood that goes with the condition comes on despite the medication. And these subdued moods have the effect of convincing you that it’s nothing to write home about. It’ll wear off soon, just stay with it. But I think it is something to write home about because if not dealt with, it can lead to other darker things.

There are difficulties though. Some of these I’m only learning now. Because I want my battle against depression to succeed, I’ve found I want to appear well to other people, all the time. Relaying my true mental state to others seems very much like pity-seeking behavior which I personally want to avoid at all costs. But I’ve also found that if I’m going to portray a true reflection of my search for a workable balance I need to let you know that even on treatment  there are days or periods of time when I don’t want ‘to mix with people’, when I wish for some mental silence. There are times, like now, when I wish I could be away from my everyday life. This is difficult to explain to people but it is exactly how it feels.

“Tell no lies, claim no easy victories”, Amilcar Cabral said in the context of a national revolution but I’ve found this applies equally well in a battle that has the potential for a relapse. Such is depression. I  have chosen to be open about the effects of the condition on my ability to carry out my daily activities and I was just thinking the other day that I would not be totally honest if I only gave you the stories of success and exclude the battles I’m still fighting. These battles are important because all too often I’ve been discouraged from trying out new adventures because the condition convinced me I cannot reach the standards already set by other survivors. I recently heard a radio talk show host refer to a celebrity depression sufferer as the poster girl for depression. I just got the sense that although that sounded like a compliment, it’s not a mantle that would rest easily on the shoulders of one still learning how to deal with the condition.

Poster boys and girls exude all that is positive about their chosen brand. The wide smile, the confident ‘I’m-in-charge-and-I-know-it’ look, that’s hardly what a depression survivor would want to convey. Whilst a poster girl or boy would give the message that ‘depression can be beaten’, I personally think it would be more important to convey the message that yes it can be beaten, but the victory will not always be poster-boy/girl material. Sometimes, despite the medication, the heaviness will come. The urge for social withdrawal, the self-doubt and the irrational fears will present themselves.

When the feeling that I’m on edge comes, I don’t fight against myself like I used to in the past. That, I have discovered, is the most futile of all human exercises, because you can never win a battle against yourself. Indeed, history is littered with stories of men and women who took on themselves and ended up in the gutter, defeated, high, drunk, broken down or even more scary, just going through life in ‘quiet desperation’. When the darkness threatens, I try to order my thoughts. Sometimes just a to-do list for the day or week reduces the unnecessary anxiety that comes with feeling ‘disorganized’. Remember, it’s not that the disorganization is real, no. It’s just an unsettling feeling of impending doom. So ‘ordering my thoughts’ helps me in taking it one day at a time. The darkness comes with a feeling that tomorrow will be just as dark, yet, from experience I know tomorrow can be totally different depending on how I deal with today.

The heavy moods can sometimes be lifted by a change in focus. This is tricky, I’ve found. It’s easy to change what you choose to focus on but your surroundings won’t necessarily change with you. These unchanging surroundings can defeat your well-meaning efforts to change your mind’s focus. A personal example. This might sound a little bit weird but it’s true. Just after graduating varsity I went through a long-ish job hunt. About a year to be exact. At the time I had no knowledge of clinical depression at all or even that I suffered from it. I took every job rejection letter that came very personally, especially in cases where I felt I had done enough to secure the job.

One rejection letter took me to the edge, and I thought this it, no more of this stuff. I had taken to opening these letters in the bathroom as I ran the bath water, so by the time I started bathing I was pretty down(I can’t really remember why I chose the bathroom but I guess it had to do with the need to handle rejection alone, a sure sign of depression). I eventually got a job, a good one at that. What I didn’t know was that my association of rejection with running the bath water would stay with me for a long time. There are times even today, fifteen years later, when I catch myself lost in thought as I take a bath, focused on the negative that’s to come. Exactly the same thought processes that I used to go through with every rejection letter. I’ve had to actually take a conscious approach to taking a bath, hard to believe I know, but it’s true.

I have chosen to change that association by kneeling down and praying before baths. This is easier to do when things are going ok, but when the darkness threatens, my being sometimes wishes to just wallow in the heaviness. It’s what I did for years so even though it’s not a good thing to do, it’s what my subconscious knows to be me, so if I don’t pay attention it’s what I end up doing, giving in to the melancholy moods.

Another trick that I’ve learnt is to do my pick-me-up activity. Years of depression can leave you with a very thin catalogue of activities that you enjoy that can lift your mood. Sometimes, even those can be ‘perverted’ to defeat their purpose. One thing I thank God for always is my love for reading. I read everything, newspapers, magazines, books, blogs, fiction , non-fiction, the lot. I never noticed it before but often-times, when depressed, I would look for comfort in a book. Sadly, your brain is not very discerning when you are depressed, so even this pick-me-up activity could end up enhancing the depression if you happened to be reading dark material. The idea is to choose a pick-me-up that actually works for you. Movies, TV and other media might help temporarily but I find you are not always in a position to do any of them, especially if you work.

I guess what I’m conveying to you is that this battle against this sometimes diabolical and debilitating illness is not always straight forward. I’ve debunked the notion of “happy pills” in my own life because although I’ve found anti-depression medication to be absolutely necessary in my case, they don’t make you “depression-proof” as my clinical psychologist likes to say. I find they serve to give you a fighting chance where you previously thought you had none. They serve to give you a better shock-absorption system, allowing you a longer and more considered reaction time where you would have previously gone straight in to the pits of depression, sometimes with no discernible way out. But “happy pills”? I don’t think so. You, as a person, remain solely responsible for injecting the “happy” into your pills, or life.

I was heartened by a certain response I got to the blog post “That Was Then”. Where I thought I had not necessarily conveyed what I had set out to do, a response came that a reader was encouraged to think about ways of dealing with their continuous “foul moods”. That’s the magic of reading and writing for me, sharing thoughts that until you put down on paper were your private preserve. Thank you for reading mine.

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