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‘Tis the season: It’s festive, It’s fokol but depression is real

‘Tis the season of Quality Street sweets, difficult relatives, ­trifle, alcoholism and suicide ideation. It’s the phenomenon of ­festivities with the feeling of having nothing to celebrate. Everyone’s a little louder, a little drunker, and you’re allowed to indulge in just how much of a wreck you really are. Because: It’s fokol, it’s festive.

The sentiment of “It’s fokol, it’s festive” normalises many things. It’s a time in which we’re allowed to devolve together, when there’s a general understanding that Dezemba is finite, borrowed, sunken time, and so we acquiesce. We’re all kindred in this spiral. Substance abuse is higher, depression is wider, exhaustion is deeper. We’ve tapped out, we’re tuned out, we’ve emotionally flat-lined.

My sense of failure is never so acute as it is towards the end of the year. Try as I might, I haven’t done all I’ve needed to do this year. Stretched too thin and too tired to push anymore, the month just feels like a long sigh. It’s the “put your pens down” moment at the end of a long exam, and it leaves me reeling every year without fail.

In this season of excess all around me, when people are living with abandon, spending with abandon, talking with abandon and drinking with abandon, there’s the familiar, bittersweet taste of December. It’s a month of Fridays: a month that brings feelings of joy and defeat in equal measure. In that pitiful amount of leave many of us receive, the work structure is no longer there and we’re forced to face our silence. Many of us just can’t do this. So we drown it.

A cross-section of December days: almost everyone leaves early. Productivity has slowed to a crawl. The roads are messier. Relationships are being tried. Our composure has started to slip. And there’s a blanket excuse, the rationale we tell ourselves and each other at the end of a year that’s left us haggard: it’s festive.

When large groups of people do this together, and it’s normalised, the insidious reasons behind it can be easy to skim over — and so begins the great purge, the annual collective meltdown. Self-destruction is okay when it’s happening ubiquitously. There’s a unity here.

There’s something about the festive that resets and realigns us for next year. Maybe there’s something purifying in the debauchery that lets us exorcise our demons (or give into them) and hopefully start again, somewhat renewed.

But what about the person — problably in your circle getting gesuip with you — who is more than just a little sad and tired during the festive season?

You might put it down to end-of-year fatigue. But, in this volatile time of the year, the South African Depression and Anxiety Group experiences an influx of calls for crisis intervention for depression and suicide during December.

Counsellors are fielding hundreds of calls, emails and SMSs a day. The escalation in suicide callers, concerned relatives and colleagues needing intervention has the nongovernmental organisation needing more funds.

People who are on the brink, experiencing serious suicide ideation, are more common now than we might realise. And it may help to be more intentional and present when we check in with others.

When you wake up to a horizon of empty bottles and scattered stompies and your body is sore and you can taste your headache, the recurring problems and crippling doubts and pixelating dreams will still be there.

Depression is worse when you’re hungover, when you’re already ­losing a fight to your mind, a broken body further stacks the odds against you. The splintering, blistering babalas that comes with the festive season is nothing to play with. This is how I have always entered the new year. Since the age of 18. It’s been a decade.

Soon we’ll be flung back into the quicksand of deadlines, commuting, debit orders, obligations and, for another year, we’ll spend every week trying to keep our heads above water. But not today. Today is dedicated to oblivion. So koppel the kopskiet and kap aan (organise the hair of the dog, a morning drink, and continue). As long as we do so safely.

Sadag Office: 011 234 4837

Suicide Crisis Helpline: 0800 567 567

Adcock Ingram Depression and Anxiety Helpline: 0800 7 8 9

24-Hour Substance Abuse Helpline: 0800 12 13 14

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Mia Arderne
Mia Arderne is a Cape Town-based writer with bylines at Cosmopolitan, the Mail & Guardian, Marie Claire, GQ, City Press and more. Her writing explores the politics of gender, race, identity, sexuality and mental health. She works as a journalist at Viewfinder, Accountability Journalism. Her debut novel Mermaid Fillet is published by Kwela, NB Publishers.

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