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Drowned girl Drowned girl
by Abigail George
2010-10-30 10:32:55
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I was drowning figuratively at the beach; a towel wrapped around me watching my siblings in the waves, in the seawater, the tang of salt in the black cave of my mouth. I was drowning in my lucid dreams, at school with my scuffed shoes, walking in the hallways, eating my lunch, in class, on holidays with my family, in the swimming pool, washing my hair, checking for mail; simple things would drive me crazy, literally up the wall. The drowning would swell with pride like a blushing bride. I could feel the tension in my face. There wasn’t anything I could do about it except bear it and I beared it self-consciously.

When the radio was playing it was too loud. When my mother would ask me a question – it could be about anything – I would screech; shriek at her. I wanted to be left alone. I knew I was probably hurting her, probably hurting everyone around me and it was permanent. There was nothing I could do about it.

I wished everything around me could stay horribly familiar but it soon lost focus in the hard haze of medication I had to take. Lithium gave me a more human face. It reassured me but only half way there. I still could not recognise the face in the mirror every morning. Everything bored me senseless. Everyone was a pain in the neck.

Waiting to die and wanting to die were two different kinds of evils in my life. Depression courted me; that thought wasn’t completely wasted on me. Melancholy was sweet and how it embraced me and my gift: a war of words became a war of nerves, jarring, on a manic edge, the jug half empty. It became my country. It knotted my guts somewhere down there in the pit of my stomach crammed brim full with flitting butterflies. I was a nervous wreck at 19 and spent days in my pyjamas, a towel a turban around my head.

As I grew up, grew older, I became even more sensitive, even more delicate. If somebody anywhere laughed out loud in a public space or place I became somebody else entirely for a minute. A scaredy-cat, a child afraid of the dark, the bogeyman or what was under the bed. I had little self-esteem and it is an issue I still struggle with.

Not my siblings who were born after me. They mirror each other; they’re gym bunnies, they go out at the weekends, they go to parties (they don’t understand why I stay in all the time); their bodies are made out of brick walls while I hit glass ceilings and smile stiffly when they come home. I had all the potential in the world; I just didn’t use it. They’ve made their minds up about that. The medication numbed my whole world. Bright, sparkling, a rainbow of colours became numb and dumbed down. All I saw and felt was dull, dull and dull. All I was made of was doll parts; a halo of dark hair.

I was sad, exhausted with feeling so negative all the time and so writing became therapeutic for me; cathartic, a catalyst. I learned to communicate again all those tied up emotions, tired feelings that sat saturated deep down in my head. Psychologists didn’t help. I went from one to another. Psychiatrists prescribed medication but suggested I go for cognitive therapy; that didn’t make me any happier so I began to write earnestly. It was a challenge for me. So I came back from the throes of depression to a semblance of normality.

Depression is a slow descent down and along the way it magnifies into a black pool of nothingness. Having bipolar is a gift and with all gifts comes madness cruising slowly along making you think you’re not going to get it right again. You’re not going to relive this success or that accomplishment. It makes you think that you’re not going to achieve anything again in your natural life; like leaving something of a beautiful, nothing lacking of a legacy behind.

I wait to hear for my father’s footsteps in the dark. I join him in the kitchen. It is just after midnight. He makes tea in the teapot and then we sit down to talk in the sitting room. We can talk for hours on end on nothing and everything and so I discovered as the years became decades that I was not my ‘depression’. It did rule over me. It was not a castle made of stone with high, impenetrable walls. It was not a backward empire. It was not, simply put me.

I was made of stronger, sterner stuff than that. Although when depression has you in its grasp, in its hold it makes you weak, cry out until you cannot even recognise your own

strangled voice anymore but you come back stronger once you regain your emotional stability, your equilibrium; it becomes something holy. Euphoria is much more a summer guest; smiles all round, than depression, a winter guest; your tears as wet as snow.

Everything and everyone around you is brighter, there’s urgency around you, time flies, speeds up because you are having so much fun. You don’t know when to stop.

So you take your meds obediently before it gets smack dab, out of hand, out of control. You remember what the doctor told you about how the dopamine and the serotonin levels in your brain worked and what would happen if there was a shift in the subtle and thin mechanisms in your brain; about what would happen if you stopped taking your life-saving tablets.

The hospital was nice. The psychologist was cute. Your nurse was attentive and friendly. The food was edible although you put some weight on around your middle.

I tucked in and even went back for second helpings. Depression put on airs and graces and left me feeling both vulnerable and frustrated. If I hadn’t had this, beared these painful experiences that I couldn’t bring to justify them as a child, I wouldn’t be writing about them now. My life as it turned out into the months while I was still a teenager was a frightening, intense, psychological drama. I was intelligent, I told myself. I could handle anything but as it turned out I couldn’t handle this. I didn’t have that kind of personality. The kind of personality that could switch madness on and off at will. I sabotaged myself. It is something I will forever be eternally grateful for because I discovered ‘me’ through all those hellish layers of sadness.

There was a swimming pool and you went swimming with the anorexic, bulimic teenagers from the other ward. The hospital had years and years ago; decades ago

been a mansion; a rich family had lived there once. There was a doll house built for a child on the ground but it creeped you out about when you went in there. You had to bend down to fit in through the door built for a child not for a growing teenager. There was a church service every morning and you went religiously because you thought you needed prayer to console yourself.

The clinic in Port Elizabeth was much more posh; posh food and posh people. Not many people your own race. You didn’t make many friends only an older woman.

But you survived the week because the medical aid could only afford to send you there for a week and a week was long enough for you to recover. Doesn’t sound much like hell does it? Sounds like I was pampered. I had all my needs seen to. Physical, ego, emotional all wrapped up. What more could someone who couldn’t see straight for the life of them wanted? On paper, it sounds pretty, it sounds lovely; it sounds like bliss.

Madness putting it bluntly is not pretty. The bars on the window are to keep you from getting out not for the rest of the world to get in and reach you. While I was in the ward I still felt disconnected from the other in-patients; in-patients; that’s what we were called. The out-patients were those people who were discharged from the hospital.

Being a witness, bearing the navigation of going into the depths of the darkest reaches possible of your soul is frightening; it is nightmarish; one, that some cannot escape whole from. Here everybody hurts daily. Sometimes it’s physical; they tried to cut themselves or emotional.

In my room somebody’s on suicide watch. Another is hidden under the covers from view. Another girl shares the sushi her girlfriend from work brought along that evening. We’re stuck here, other-worldly, heavenly creatures, in the breathing space, in the struggle of the in-between. God help us because the living certainly can’t. Arundhati and I play scrabble to pass the time. We take long walks. She’s much older than I am; never been married. We’re all mad with sadness here. We need help. We need to be saved from ourselves.

There’s even a nun here in my room. She’s too old to be depressed, I think to myself. She has God on her side. But you’re never too old. You’re never too anything to get down on yourself. You have to be brave to take me on bad days, off days. It’s taken me from waiting rooms, to wards, from being estranged from my family, to a women’s shelter, the Salvation Army, to warm beds in hospitals and a clinic. It has taken me from hell to eternity.

Once the pills are in your system, unseen, they shoot through your veins like sticky glitter arousing your thought patterns once more and bringing you down to earth again with a safety net caressing your feet. I feel more alive; more there, more grounded and more complete. It grows on you. It has grown on me for years now. For nearly two decades. Something’s shifted inside of me and given way to something novel. Now I’m left yearning for even more life, perhaps a career, but not in that blurred, edgy, ruffling of feathers in an unkind and disproportionate way.

You can retreat, remain largely withdrawn from society or recover tidily, putting all

your ‘toys’ away and show up when it is required of you to do so even in a weakened state for reality sake. There will be cuts on your arms, on your legs but that you cover up with long sleeves and clothes. There are those on your wrists that are more difficult to explain away to a stranger’s enquiring gaze but the important thing to me is that knowing all of this; this suffering, this fight, this sexual inexperience was not all that dramatic. I was not alone in this inner turmoil, in this secret battle. There were others who weren’t indifferent to what I was going through. It wasn’t an alien experience I was putting up with.

How could I drown out all the voices that were telling me what to think and what to feel; all the negative emotions I was feeling when what they brought to life was this and only this – words filled with unbreakable purpose, unfolding in the landscape of the early hours of the morning, written shyly, slyly in paralysis but written figuratively in blood; in thirst.

Seductive, an appealing addiction is what depression was and still is in my life. It will never let me go.

The end



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