I am a child of divorce. My parents divorced when I was 4 and I grew up with my mother and my other siblings.
We were a family of over achievers. From a very young age, I read everything, including the dictionary. I was in love with words and other worlds that novels exposed me to. When I was 7 or 8, I started thinking that perhaps I was adopted. Nothing my mother ever did made me happy. Ironically, all my other siblings were jealous of me because I was the favourite. I did not see it that way. I therefore started slashing my wrists. Nobody loved me. Everyone would be better off if I were dead. Sure, my mother said some hurtful things and I couldn't shake them but she loved me. They stayed with me. I used to go up to the roof with food, a book and water and just disappear into these other worlds.
One day that I vividly remember, I was playing tennis with my brothers and their friends. I’d just finished eating breakfast and did not clean up. My sister came out of the house, really upset with me and dragged me by my dress, unknowingly and unintentionally exposing my underwear. I was 11 at the time. There were boys around and they saw my underwear and I was just torn. How could she do this to me? In my mind, I could never show my face to those guys again and my sister did not love me - in my head. I cleaned up like she asked and then went to her room. I grabbed a handful of pills and downed them. I took another handful and downed them too. I then slept on her bed, waiting to die. Next thing I remember is the dizziness. I stood up, walked to the kitchen and fell face down. A cousin of mine was in the kitchen and she immediately came to lift me so as to help me sit. At this point, I was drooling and incoherent. She called our aunt, who called my mother. My mother’s response? ‘Oh that’s how she is, the little drama queen.’ They convinced her that I truly was in need of medical attention and she drove home to find me seizing and forming at the mouth. I do not remember much. I woke up two days later. They told me I had ‘cerebral malaria’ but everyone knew what I’d done and nobody ever talked about it. I had also taken the liberty of trying to slash my throat - with a razor and blamed it on my sister. I do not know if it was a cry for attention or if I truly wanted to die. This was the start of many suicide attempts.
As I grew older, I kept to myself, read books and tried to be a good decent girl that my mother could be proud of. For the most part I managed but every time I did not get my way, I’d slash my wrists or harm myself some other way. It was my escape. At school, they called me a loner, a loner with excellent grades. I seemed to keep it all together till my mother died. When I eventually stopped crying, I’d go visit her gravesite and talk to her. She answered me. We had conversations. I saw her a couple of times. In the flesh. I felt her warmth, she was there. We spoke about so many things. I neglected the few friends I had because you see, my sick mother needed me. I had to be there for her. Before she died, she told me she wanted me to be her eyes, her ears, her legs and all. I asked where she would be while I’m all that. She smiled and told me she’d be resting. I didn’t get it then. She was trying to prepare me. I went into shut down mode. And that is when the panic attacks started. Everyday normal activities freaked me out. Going to bath was scary because once, I had heard her voice calling me. My grandmother had heard it too and told me not to answer. Superstitions. Each time I heard my name, I’d have a panic attack. My early university life was marked with numerous panic attacks. Of course, being in Africa, I was treated for malaria, tested for HIV as they assumed that’d be the problem seeing that I had lost a tremendous amount of weight. People assuming I had HIV also fuelled my depression. I stopped eating. In one day, I’d have only a glass of orange juice. I lost more weight. Then quite by accident I discovered I didn’t have to feel these things. There were ways to numb them. Everyone was doing it. And so I started doing it. I started with Codeine then graduated to Valium. It was pretty easy to get. I was at my best while on the drugs and at my absolute worst without them. My life pretty much revolved around valium and Codeine. Still, my work did not suffer. I would be sad one moment, then after a sip of Codeine, I’d be so happy and fun to be around. I needed it for everything. The few friends I had, I alienated. My wake up call came when I could not remember things. I would be in the middle of a sentence and then nothing. I began to submit reports late. After having used drugs to numb my feelings for years, I thought I’d give quitting a go… on my own. This did not go very well. I was throwing up, irritable, very angry, sweating excessively, and gained a lot of weight. I decided it wasn’t worth the effort so I went back. I tried weaning myself off for some time and still it did not work. The last time I told myself, it was me or the drugs. They were going to kill me or I’d have to kill the habit. And so I got help. I spoke to someone who encouraged me and held me as I hurled, tolerated my fits of anger and stood by me. It took months to get back to normal. Even now, I cannot sleep properly but clarity of mind is more important. I am more alert even though I struggle to remember some things. I sometimes have panic attacks but I can manage them. I understand that everyday is a blessing.
I have good days where I want to use so badly and then I have great days where I want to use and I DO NOT USE. I haven’t thought of killing myself in a long time. Sure, the voice in my head that says I am not worthy and I should just kill myself won’t keep quiet but I am able to shut it down. Every single day is a struggle but everyday that I wake up is proof that I overcame that struggle; at least for that day. That is how I live everyday, and then repeat.
As told to Zunzika Thole-Okpo