/ 18 February 2022

‘1 000 nights in silence with you’: An extract by Mia Arderne

This edited book excerpt ‘puts class squarely in the middle of what is a global mental health crisis’

Mia Arderne

‘Practice self-care’ every fifth wellness meme

Yoga, travel, exercise, sunlight, art, a pet, plant life, a better diet — they won’t necessarily fix it either. They may help. They may even go some way towards managing depression. But self-care is not a cure. Don’t believe the hype. 

Look here, I didn’t know she was married when she invited me to sit on her lap. But I knew she was married when she wysed me to come up to her room. I’m a bad bisexual. And not bad in the good like girl, you bahd kinda way. Bad in the toxic way. In a vuil uncle kinda way.

Don’t over-indulge magic bullets. I’ve tried self-care. I’ve opened my curtains and had the sunlight and vitamin D stream in only to illuminate my isolation. I’ve exercised religiously and still lacked energy; I’ve been at peak fitness and suicidal. The first time I heard the phrase “ideation” — referring to suicidal ideation, I laughed. It’s not funny but it sounds like phase one in an entrepreneurship course and less like something I been drinking away every other day for years. 

Somewhere on Long Street, long after my group of friends went home, I found myself dikgesuip at one of the handful of clubs in Cape Town that stay open after 2am. Gems, all of them. 

My flawless and consistent family support structure often only foregrounded how much happier I ought to be. Romantic love, in its infancy, makes a great distraction. Committed love will give you everything and it still won’t be enough. Vices will give you temporary relief, but their effects are short-lived and habit-forming. 

There was this girl on the dancefloor. And I knew I could take her off her berk. So I did. Took her from the dancefloor to the bathroom. Brought her back. Now the kin’s berk got a bit aggressive and paranoid, and I’m revelling in his misery, kussing myself, kak proud of my work.

Therapy was, I found, an expensive failed wank at first; sometimes it still is. The meds, all seven trial-and-error regimes, had side effects that wore me down further. Professional help has its merits. In-patient institutions, therapy and medication are all invaluable, often indispensable services. Often affordable only to those of privilege. But they are still treatment. A toolkit to manage your depression; not a cure to help rid you of it. 

Later that night, I bumped into an acquaintance of mine. Like me, he had also recently broken up with his perfect long-term partner, left reeling. We were clearly the deficient ones who’d fallen off and out of the perfect, coloured, couple goals relationships. We did a few lines in the bathroom and we made a bet. Both of us broken and on the chise, our bet went something like this: “Let’s see who can get more kinnes by the end of the night.”

Therapy is a privilege, linked to means and access, because capitalism is a tief.  Can I afford to be mentally ill? I sometimes wonder. We all know an aunty with cancer who couldn’t afford to have cancer. But the fact is: she had cancer. No one (rather, few people) can ever afford to be ill. Reminding yourself that you can’t afford to be ill while being ill, is not helpful, but it does put class squarely in the middle of what is a global mental health crisis.

I mean I think I won, but I can’t remember. Dop is always superior to sex. Even if the sex is good, the bottle is better. I was a naai then. I’m a naai now, but I’m a naai in therapy. 

‘Watch how you talk to yourself’ — a therapist

Healing is on the list of foreign languages I will never be fluent in. A tongue I might understand but never speak. I’m never gonna use the mental illness safe space language or the trauma history language. Because I’m never going to be that person. I’ve demanded help before, with no capacity to receive it. Maybe my language of healing won’t involve words like “healing”. Maybe I have to create a new one. 

My first sexual encounter happened before I was double digits, so I’ve always been smet. I’ve always been drawn to smet. I take comfort in smet. It’s why I only trust the drunk, the violent, abusive, the shitty. I don’t want your advice, your support and your warm home-made food, I want to go to my bar where everyone is defeated in solidarity. I prefer someone to talk to me like kak. I cannot accept being treated well; it feels condescending. 

I speak to myself harshly sometimes:

What the fuck is wrong with you? Find your fucking mettle. Get the fuck up. Stick to your routine. You look like kak. You always look like kak. Stay focused on your money. What the poes are you doing? Frequency is the game here, so work you stupid bitch. Do not normalise waking up with him/her/them. If you’re gonna keep the weekend, you have to keep the week. Now is not the time to be scared. Don’t get derailed don’t get derailed don’t get derailed, I can’t believe you fucking got derailed. Fucking useless ffs get it together. 

I also speak to myself with love:

You’re at the zenith of where you need to be. Don’t run and don’t stagnate, you need to learn to walk. You’re sick. You’re demolishing your body. Stop choosing oblivion over progress. I’ve built this for you, honour it.  

Pages stuck to pages, stuck to each other, hanging from my ceiling, spanning my walls, Post-its and pages everywhere. Notes to myself plastered all over my walls until there were just too many and I stopped seeing any of them. Be gentle with yourself. But being soft is hard.

This is an edited excerpt from Touch: Sex, Sexuality and Sensuality, compiled by Tiffany Kagure Mugo and Kim Windvogel