Get more Mail & Guardian
Subscribe or Login

Convoluted minds must also be heard

I have lived with bipolar disorder since it was diagnosed at the age of fourteen. My mental illness has often threatened to define me, but I have fought back to secure a life that is fulfilling and whole, despite its presence. 

Vulnerability is an uncomfortable state to be in and being unable to control one’s behaviour in the presence of people is even worse. When mentally unwell, having control of oneself and surroundings is impossible. One then lies bare under the scrutiny of public opinion and judgment. 

My illness has been my life’s greatest teacher. It has forced me to contend with my spirituality, culture and people. I have often found myself at loggerheads with these three entities. What all three have in common is the pungent stench of stigma, which is largely fuelled by fear and misunderstanding.

Being an individual who has a strong spiritual foundation, it was initially difficult for me to equate my illness with my Christian beliefs. I felt rejected by the label of being demon-possessed and deemed to be a conduit of evil because of my mental state. 

Culturally, I was believed to be bewitched and was therefore feared. How I looked and behaved when ill was feared to be contagious, hence I was avoided. 

All these experiences led to self-blame and shame. I felt apologetic for something that I did not cause, create nor understand. The pain that arises from my mental episodes is that my spoken words are taken as my truth, my beliefs. Being ridiculed, mocked, and gossiped about for my mental vulnerability and behaviour is a pain that has been difficult to process and overcome.

The world we live in is in turmoil and is suffering from a mental health crisis, which has spiked significantly since the Covid-19 pandemic.

My motivation in my mental health advocacy and activism journey is to confront stigma and to encourage those who struggle with their mental health to speak about it unashamedly and unapologetically. For far too long, mental illness has laid in the shadows, undermined by other physical illnesses that are deemed to be more serious and real. As a result, mental illnesses are often still not deemed to be legitimate. 

After my most recent relapse and subsequent negative experiences that arose from it, I found it timeous to write about my experiences and views related to my mental illness and my life as a doctor who is living with a mental illness. 

This interplay of roles has been highly educational and advantageous. My book, Reflections of a Convoluted Mind, seeks to inspire, give hope and to enlighten the reader. It is a book I wish I could have read when I was deep in my hopeless and lonely chasm of depression. 

It is my firm belief that speaking openly about my experiences with my mental health struggles will help change the narrative related to the plague of stigma, judgment, and stereotypes. 

I own my struggle, messy and chaotic as it is when it arrives. 

Suicide rates worldwide are alarming to say the least. Social media deceives people into believing that struggle is an abstract concept, whereas it is a reality of the human experience. Coping skills are impaired and this further compromises those who are vulnerable to developing mental illnesses and those who already struggle with them.

Educating ourselves, our loved ones and community at large is what will steer society on the right course and propel us in our quest to embrace mental illnesses and take mental health seriously.

The views expressed are those of the author and do not reflect the official policy or position of the Mail & Guardian.

Subscribe for R500/year

Thanks for enjoying the Mail & Guardian, we’re proud of our 36 year history, throughout which we have delivered to readers the most important, unbiased stories in South Africa. Good journalism costs, though, and right from our very first edition we’ve relied on reader subscriptions to protect our independence.

Digital subscribers get access to all of our award-winning journalism, including premium features, as well as exclusive events, newsletters, webinars and the cryptic crossword. Click here to find out how to join them and get a 57% discount in your first year.

Samke J Ngcobo
Dr Samke J. Ngcobo is a medical doctor working toward the day when mental illness is treated with the same respect as physical illness.She is the founder of thenon-profit organisation Sisters For Mental Health and Vocal Mentality

Related stories

WELCOME TO YOUR M&G

If you’re reading this, you clearly have great taste

If you haven’t already, you can subscribe to the Mail & Guardian for less than the cost of a cup of coffee a week, and get more great reads.

Already a subscriber? Sign in here

Advertising

Subscribers only

Fears of violence persist a year after the murder of...

The court battle to stop coal mining in rural KwaZulu-Natal has heightened the sense of danger among environmental activists

Data shows EFF has lower negative sentiment online among voters...

The EFF has a stronger online presence than the ANC and Democratic Alliance

More top stories

Libyan town clings to memory of Gaddafi, 10 years on

Rebels killed Muammar Gaddafi in his hometown of Sirte on 20 October 2011, months into the Nato-backed rebellion that ended his four-decade rule

Fishing subsidies in the W. Cape: ‘Illegal fishing is our...

Fishers claim they are forced into illegal trawling because subsidies only benefit big vessels

Kenya’s beach boys fall into sex tourism, trafficking

In the face of their families’ poverty, young men, persuaded by the prospect of wealth or education, travel to Europe with their older female sponsors only to be trafficked for sex
Advertising

press releases

Loading latest Press Releases…
×