Gratitude

choose_happiness

After my last post I feel the need to lighten the mood. But before I do that, I need to say thank you for the the messages, whatsapps, mails, phone calls, Facebook comments, etc, etc, I’ve received. It has been a tad overwhelming. So many messages of support, but, equally gratifying, so many messages of people who understood what I was trying to do. I never posted it to draw attention to my sadness, but to hope. I’ve had messages from people who are grateful for verbalising the devastation left in the wake of suicide, and some messages from people who understand that they too need to change their thinking or face the possibility of passing on the pain. And I’ve had hundreds more from people telling me that I’m loved.

I’m grateful for all the hope, support, love, and the light.

I know the post felt heavy. It was one of those articles that wrote themselves and reminded me of the power of vulnerability. We each have a story, and I chose to share mine, and I respect all the stories shared in return.

The post took my family by surprise and I’m sorry for opening up old wounds. Thank you for the love and for the support in response.

Grateful to all of you who took the time to read.

Perhaps there’s a book waiting to be written.

On Friday I’m Supposed to Die

What is death but an escape from life? A last breath to depart a world we never chose to walk, a final look at a life wrecked with pain and strife.

That’s been my mantra as I’ve pondered my time to die. And it’s this Friday. For the last 35 years I’ve scheduled my death. 3 June. The day I die.

It’s the same day my mother died. I was 8 years old. I can’t remember anything that happened on 3 June 1981 prior to the news of her death. I don’t remember anything in the days before. I remember walking down the driveway of our small home, which I think was painted a shade of yellow. A happy shade. I remember the rose garden in the front of the veranda where I spent hours playing by myself, imagining I could fly. Running with my arms open wide between the tall, manicured bushes with their distinct aroma and taloned branches that always surprised me when I made contact.

I remember not knowing why our house was filled with people and wondering why they wouldn’t let me in to say hello to my mother. I usually saw her first from school everyday. I arrived home before my brother and I would sit on her bed and recount my day, tales of games I played with friends, books I was reading, or other nonsense that consumes an 8-year-old mind. This time I was shut out.

I remember walking to the next-door neighbour to phone my father to tell him to come home. I never asked why we couldn’t use our own phone. I remember coming back and waiting for the ambulance to arrive. Asking what was wrong but not really fearing the worst. I don’t recall terror or fear. Or even worry. It felt like a game, I had tasks and I had to complete them, my naïve, childish mind hiding what as an adult would have sent fear and impending sorrow.

I remember directing the ambulance down the driveway, like an aeroplane guided by a uniformed employee. And I remember leaving to go and buy lunch, unaware that I was being sheltered from watching my mother’s lifeless body being wheeled from her bedroom where at 10:30 that morning she had taken her own life.

Empty pill bottles, tissues and letters were left alongside her. Still there when I returned and was finally let into my home. My home, that felt like a tomb thereafter. The house where my mother died. The letters said sorry I think, but they didn’t matter, nor her two rings wrapped in the tissues, one for my brother and one for me. All that mattered was what wasn’t there anymore. She had finally walked away, something she had been threatening to do and no one took seriously. Least of all my 8-year-old naïve and childish mind.

I remember crying, and rage. Ripping up pics of her I had in my room were my first instinct. Then terror. I think I locked myself in my room until my brother came home. I remember seeing him run down the driveway, his 13-year-old mind knowing what she had done, and the fear that had consumed him for months before finally finding anchor. I remember his face, etched with pain, perhaps mirroring my own, as we both began navigating a world where internally we believed we weren’t worth living for.

I remember feeling my world had ended. Not knowing that in the moment of hearing about her death and the way she had died, a new script was being written that would shape my world and the way I fit into it. A world that was now scary, unsafe, and promised devastation where once there had been safety. A world that felt like you could be flung aside in a moment. A world that didn’t really matter what you wanted or who you loved. A world that suddenly felt out of control.

And the only way I could regain control was to decide to die. At 8 years old I decided to die. On 3 June. On the day she died.

I have no idea why I decided that. Perhaps I wanted to join her. A world without your mom seems a terrifying place for a child. A world where your mom can decide to leave you seems unbearable. A world where your mom can never come back seems unliveable.

I don’t blame myself for wanting to die.

But at 43, 10 years older than my mother was when she wrote her last goodbyes to the boys she said she adored, I still somehow believe I should die on the day she did. My death and the choice to end my life seems etched on my soul, and each year that I get past the day seems to be filled with regret, and relief.

I wonder now if she knew what she would do to us. Her death will always leave me with more questions than answers. But at 8 years old she changed me. And at 8 years old, somehow, she passed on her pain as she left what she could no longer bear. And perhaps, each year I want to pass on the pain of her death, because living with it feels too heavy. Too consuming. Too humiliating. Too weak. Too out of control. And the thought of my planned death feels controlled, strong and a doorway to release.

I wonder if she knew she would affect every relationship in my life from then on. That her suicide, a difficult word for me to say or hear, would forever keep me at arm’s length from those I wanted to hold onto and love for fear they might depart and leave me. Not just leave me. Her death left me feeling like I had been disembowelled and left to walk the rest of my days trying to hold my body, which keeps refusing to die, together. Leaking. Hurting. And longing for healing. That every person I’ve ever wanted to adore has the 8-year-old child in me screaming in terror. Fear that they too could rip me apart.

I wonder if she knew that her death would mean mine.

And I suppose that’s why I’m writing this. Because at 8 years old I was a victim of someone else’s pain. And I’ve lived as a victim since then. Disempowered. Terrified. Wounded. Weak. And 35 years later, on the day of her death, that 8-year-old still seems to be the hero in the script of my life, wanting me to write the final page with the ultimate act of courage his naïve, childish mind understands. That child who wants freedom from a world that seems barbaric and torturous, wants out. And each year I have to silence him.

I wonder if she knew that this would be her legacy. Her death.

So I write this as an act of catharsis and also to speak to the 8-year-old who consumes so many of my adult thoughts. To attempt to address his rage, his terror and his will to die. To try to reason with his wails, and calm his childish, naïve mind.

Your death, little guy, is not the answer. All you will do is pass on the pain to people who don’t deserve it. People who have tried to love you despite your continued resistance and dismissal. People who kept on loving you despite your wails. Despite you desperation to escape. People who want you to come out of the room into the light and face the world and its darkness head on. These people don’t deserve the pain. Or to be punished as you felt you were. These people want to love you, despite your belief that you’re not worth loving.

Little guy, on 3 June you’re not going to die.

Your mom did and what she did is unforgiveable. Not in a religious sense. But to you. So on 3 June, you need to let older, hopefully wiser me in. And let me hold you. And tell you it’s going to be okay. That your script must change. That you need to let me live. And love. And be loved.

I know you’ll always remind me of my potential pain, little guy. That you’re terrified of what people who say they love you want to really do to you, but I need to stop listening to you, and you need to get quieter. Because what you want to do no one else deserves. You cannot pass on this pain. That would be the real weakness. Protecting them is where you’ll find your strength. Try believing that, little guy.

You need to remember to live. You died when she did. You need to wipe away those tears and start saying: “She died… oh well.” You need to stop making your anger and your fear the script of our lives going forward. And I know you’re just a little guy, but you need to somehow hear this. Because on Friday I want to live. Really live. I want to raise my gaze to the world from Friday on. I want to embrace people and let them in. I want love and be loved in return. I want to feel again. To live. To find the reasons to stay alive, and not wallow in the reasons not to. I need you to let me go. She let us go, and you need to stop holding onto that.

You’re okay, little guy. Look, you’re still here. 35 years on. When you promised you wouldn’t be. And if only you would look you would see so many reasons to stay alive. You’ve had so many moments of complete and utter bliss. Experiences that could have fed your soul if only you hadn’t refused to stop looking at your pain. You need to lift your eyes, little guy. Lift your eyes from that empty lifeless bed and see the life-filled forty-three-year-old man in front of you, who wants to be free. You need to let him celebrate life.

She’s gone little guy… oh well. Now live.


This post was written after reading Matt Haig’s book called Reasons To Stay Alive. This is the first book I’ve hugged after reading. I highly recommend this book, especially if you suffer with suicidal thoughts, depression or anxiety. Hopefully this post will inspire others to choose to live, just as his book reminded me of why I should. 

 

 

2015 to-do list

To do list for the rest of 2015:

* March: watch husband turn 40.

* April: trade husband in for a younger model.

* April: get nose reconstructed (but make it sound a lot more glamorous on Facebook).

* May: recover from new nose surgery while younger model wipes your brow.

* June: realize that younger model does not really exist and forty-year-old husband is still rolling his eyes at your foolishness.

* July: start counting down to seeing Madonna live on Facebook so that everyone can unfriend you.

* August: beg friends’ forgiveness and ask them to re-add you and leave countdown to Google Plus where no one is active.

* September: turn a year older and beg husband not to trade you in for a younger model. Laugh hysterically at your foolish fantasies earlier in the year.

* October: start tweeting @madonna furiously in the hope that she asks to see you backstage in Prague. You know, for a yack over Evian.

*November: see Madonna live but pay no attention to her as you attempt to prove to all the other gay men in the audience that you are a far more loyal fan.

* December: wonder where the year has gone and start plans to get buff in 2016.

So much to do!

Dear Mr Mandela

Dear Mr Mandela

You left us a year ago today, and like the rest of the world I was immensely sad at your passing. I was sad for many reasons, among them that we would only refer to your legacy and history, and as the powerful man who changed the shape of the world I lived in. I was sad because somehow we hoped you would live forever – because you represented hope and at times we look at the shape of our country and struggle to find that smiling face of hope. I was also sad that I never got to meet you. That I wasn’t one of those fortunate souls that got to shake your hand, to hear your instantly recognisable voice in person, and maybe get to share a few words with you. Even if they were just about the weather. I’m sad because I couldn’t thank you in person for changing my life.

You see, I grew up as a child in the apartheid era. I didn’t know what apartheid was but I was aware that something was going on. I remember being stopped by two women (who were a tad intoxicated) as I walked to the shop to fetch bread for the family. I was six years old and walking through the streets by myself; not an uncommon thing in the early 1980s. The two women stopped me and slapped me. They said I was one of ‘them’. I ran off as fast as I could. That was my first experience of knowing that I was part of something that was making other people angry. Black people specifically.

I can vaguely remember benches that said “Whites Only” but I don’t ever recall seeking them out or sitting on them. I just recall being a child in a small suburb that was being raised by Selina. She may not have lived with us, but she was my other mom. I didn’t know that I was part of a cog that was denying her the opportunity I was receiving.

I never went to school with people from other races. In fact I remember when two Chinese children came to our primary school, we were all called into an assembly to be told that they were going to be part of the school, and although they couldn’t speak English, they were white. I had no idea why that mattered, but simply accepted that it did. That was the devastating side of apartheid – we didn’t know why it mattered, but accepted that it did.

My ignorance changed when I went to high school and was taught by an English teacher who had been detained for his anti-apartheid activities and vocal support of the ANC. I started to realise that something more was going on, and that perhaps it wasn’t as peaceful as I assumed. I knew nothing about the violence in the townships, or the horrors going on in our detention cells and the letter bombs being manufactured and sent from Jan Smuts airport. Like a dull ache progresses to a pain more urgent, I slowly became more and more aware that I was living in a country where I was being lied to and sheltered from the atrocities my white counterparts were committing. My elders. My government.

I went to the Market Theatre in 1988 and saw a play that changed my life called ‘Vid Alex’. It was a one man play about a man who recounts what he has had to do to protect his country against the black uprising. He told stories of midnight raids of homes, dragging half-naked men out of their beds to be detained and beaten. He breaks down in tears in the last part of the monologue as he remembers shooting a child, and wondering how he had lost any sense of humanity and mercy. I don’t remember all of it but I remember walking out in shock.

It was just before this time that I first heard your name Mr Mandela. Stevie Wonder had dedicated a song to you and we were no longer allowed to listen to it or own it. Or even see Stevie Wonder on TV. There was outcry when a ‘Free Nelson Mandela’ poster was spotted in one of the children’s rooms in The Cosby Show. Luckily the programme never got banned, but that was usually the government’s knee jerk response. Anything that acknowledged you was usually banned. We were told (I’m not sure by who) that you were a dangerous terrorist that was determined to kill white people and that if you were ever freed, our country would turn into another Zimbabwe – a country run by a government that was giving white people a few days to leave the country before threatening them with violent eviction. We were scared of you Mr Mandela. As a young teenager, I was petrified that you may be freed and hurt us. Imagine my surprise as I began to hear stories about the hurt we were causing you and other black people. I can’t say I did anything about it as a young teenager but I do remember being angered. And imagine my surprise when I saw the smiling man waving alongside Winnie as you walked your first few steps to freedom.

After turning 16 I remember signing petitions against apartheid and forced conscription to the army, and being shouted at by family members when I told them – this meant I could be arrested. That strange military men could rock up at my family’s doorstep and arrest me for treason-like activity. They had my name and address. I could be on some sort of list. I was one of those who then backed down Mr Mandela. I was scared by what my government could do to me. A lot of us were. And perhaps that makes us cowards.

The day you were freed signaled a new start to all of us. We sat in front of our TVs and watched you walk slowly along, waving, triumphantly raising your fist in the air. The violent terrorist of my past emerged as a dignified man, dressed in a suit, with a warm smile for all of us. A smile that never stopped. A smile that won us all over.

Behind that smile was a strong leader that shielded us from so much heart ache. Heart ache for a past that hurt so many, all races, all South Africans, and that could have seen us tear each other apart. We miss having a strong leader Mr Mandela. Perhaps that’s why on a day like today we miss you so much more than we should. We need the hope you gave us, the confidence you inspired, and the desire to see a country united and moving forward with the best interests of all its people at heart. We miss a man with that vision in charge.

Mr Mandela, you changed my world. You changed a country from white to black. You changed a country from war to a semblance of peace. You led me out of a country that had me confused and part of hurt, and made me part of a country that had hope and was a shining example to the rest of the world. You initiated a constitution that removed discrimination, and as a gay man, I benefited from your leadership. I now live in a country where I can be married and have rights others in many other countries are denied.

So today as we remember your legacy, and stand in silence to remember you, I wanted to send you a few words. To show how far we’ve come. And to remember the past you led us out of. I don’t think we always remember where we were, and remember how grateful we must be for where we are.

For your leadership. Your words. Your energy. Your life.

Thank you.

Advice on happiness: 5 things I’ve realised

Happiness is not something I’ve always been close to. I’ve often portrayed a happy face when inside I’ve been grappling with stuff. And I know I’m not alone. Over the last two years I’ve struggled with unhappiness. After 40 years of seemingly being able to cope, I found myself popping anti-depressants, swigging back Urbanols (they are lovely by the way, ahem…), and drinking way too much wine than I probably should have. I lost my smile. Inside. People still saw confidence, when inside I cried. I can’t say for sure what brought on my darkness, but I can tell you how I got my soul to smile again. I thought I’d share my thoughts on finding some kind of happiness in a life that makes very little sense (to me, definitely, maybe it’s crystal clear for you). As I’ve spoken to friends about what my doctor called depression, I’ve realised that I’m one of many searching. Searching for that smile on our souls. Mine has started smiling again. So I write this to share with others, but mostly as a reminder of how I want to spend the next 40 years of my life.

1. Slow down

Turning 40 shook me a bit. I suppose I became more aware of my mortality and realised that time was feeling like it was going a lot faster than expected. It feels like I was 20 just the other day. Yet I look at the photographs and see a fresh-faced boy with so much hope and anticipation on fading paper. And I realise I’m not that guy anymore. So my response was to speed up. I felt desperate inside. I wanted to experience things, see the world, read every book in the library, be the pop star I dreamt I would be when I was 13, be the best at my job, make a mark, understand, dance, laugh, love, and get it right. Somehow. I need to make it happen faster. The last 40 years have flown by. I might not have 40, or even 20 left, if I do, I felt desperate to make them more than the last.

This made me unhappy. Somehow what I had experienced was immediately negated. The books I had read felt irrelevant. The times I did sing in front of a crowd (ha!) were forgotten, and the success I had achieved in my life and career especially seemed worthless. Wanting more meant I had only had less. There is nothing wrong with wanting to experience more, but my fear of not living a life that was full made my life feel empty. I slowly came to see: Getting older means realising how fast time is going. I also realised this means I need to slow down. Not speed up.

I’m trying to give myself the gift of slowing down. Savouring the moment and accepting that this is probably it. I probably won’t be a pop star (ha!), I may never write that book I promised I would, I may never see the places I’ve dreamt of seeing. And that’s okay. Because I’ll enjoy what I do get to see. I’ll enjoy the relationships I have, and not dream of better ones. I’ll enjoy the job I have, rather than forcing myself to think I should have more. I’ll enjoy the places I get to see and the people I see them with. And I’ll love where I am. Because it’s all I have. Dreams are good, but they can’t define where I should be. They should just be my guide. And this led me to number two

2. I am enough

I spend a lot of time comparing myself to other men, especially. I am aware of how much more masculine they seem, if they have bigger muscles than I do, more money, more. I compare myself to people on Facebook. I see them showing of the best of their lives, and often walk away feeling less than. I now force myself to say “I am enough”. There is power in words. I may not have big muscles, but I have a big heart. I may not have a lot of money, but I’m pretty darn well-off inside. I may not be the most masculine guy around, and that’s okay. I need to stop saying that others have more and I have less. We’re different. And that’s good. And that’s okay. And that’s enough. And this led me to number 3.

3. Embrace the differences you see in others

When I wasn’t comparing myself to others and feeling less than, I was judging their differences. Possibly as an attempt to hide my fear of being perceived as less than. I saw men less masculine than I was and scoffed at them (inside). I judged men more masculine than I was and called big muscled men ‘gorillas’ and other negative things. I saw people less successful in life than me and judged them, probably to remind myself that I was somehow better. Comparison created less than feelings, or desperate attempts to prove why I was more than. I now choose to see the differences in others with clarity. Without judgement. Without my low self-esteem tinted glasses. Because if I embrace the differences in other people I allow myself to be different. I don’t want my differences to others to be a bad thing.  I can stop feeling bad about being different, by embracing that others are different to me. They have different values, different goals, different ways of showing their love, their anger or their pride. And that’s okay. If I want to be okay with me, I have to decide that others are okay too.

4. Find something that gives you hope

A few years ago I moved away from the Christian beliefs I held very dear as I grew up. I began to question the existence of God, the validity of the Bible and the need for other Christians to speak into my life. Where I am in that journey is another discussion. But in moving away from a belief in a higher power, I moved away from hope. You see, a belief in a deity allows us the possibility that there is more. That life is not just ours to control That our children are protected when we’re away from them. That we can be kept safe when we feel danger is imminent. That we can perhaps live beyond the life that we’re experiencing now. And when I lost my God, I lost that hope. And I felt sad.

What I realised is that you have to find something to hope in. Whether it’s the law of attraction, energy, the universe, God, or that you are enough, you have to start speaking hope into your life. I don’t want to dictate anyone’s value system, but I believe that we can find power in hope. It’s often what heals people from terminal diseases – the hope that we can be better. I can’t tell you where to find hope, but hoping in something more than just where we are provides a different outlook to where you are going.

5. Sometimes you just have to live ‘as if’

I recently described my life as if I was waiting in a train station. For many years I’ve been waiting for the train to arrive. At times it has arrived, but I’ve spent the first while trying to throw my baggage on the train rather than boarding it. I realised that I need to live as if I’m on the train. Sometimes the most powerful way to stop feeling sad is to live as if you’re happy. Sometimes you need to fill your life with good people even though you may not feel up to it. You need to live as if you can and want to. Because I know how isolation can make you sad, event though it makes you feel relieved momentarily. Sometimes you need to get to the gym and work out as if you’re fit and beautiful, because sometimes that’s the only way you’re going to get to the gym. (And we all know exercise makes you feel better.)

I’ve realised that happiness is something you choose. And I choose to be happy and live as if I am. And somehow it’s working. I do feel happier. I do feel better. Happiness is something you work for; being sad is sometimes easier to slip into.

So that’s what I’ve realised. Some of it at least. And I hope you’re managed to see some happiness in it too.

Over and out.

Why it’s time to delete Facebook

Facebook makes me feel crap. And yet, day in and day out I find myself logging in to see what my 650+ friends are up to, talking about, sharing with me and posting pictures of. I’ll confess, it’s pretty much the first thing I do when I wake up and the last thing I do before I go to sleep. It’s been important to me to know that Friend A has had eggs for breakfast because they’re on a high protein diet, and that Friend B is sipping cocktails in Thailand while I sit in my office looking at my view of a wall and air conditioning equipment. It must be important, or else why do I keep going back?

Yes, yes, there’s that whole fear of missing out thing. I recognise that. I’m very aware that there may be a photo posted of me that I never know about. You know, that dreaded photo where I haven’t raised my chin fast enough and the whole world will see photographic evidence of my seven chins. And there could be that lurking invite to some fantastic party that’s only being organised on Facebook. And the guy who went to high school who was so hot but now so fat – what if I miss out on him?

And there’s that whole keeping up thing. I’ve phoned friends who I’m connected to on Facebook and we’ve had nothing to talk about. Every time they mentioned that they had been sipping cocktails in Thailand, I would respond by telling them I knew and that it looked amazing. I would let them know that I now had seven chins and they would stop me mid-sentence to tell me how they had seen that photo before I got the chance to untag myself. There’s no more news to share in real life. It all happens on Facebook. I can’t possibly miss out on that can I? I mean then we’d have to speak!

And then there’s all those networking and celeb opportunities. I can see Tori Amos in her specs, uploading a selfie before she sings Selkie. Selfie- Selkie. She’s so clever. And the big brands who invite me to Like them so that I can maybe win a new car by Like-ing them. And those cat videos. Oh I can’t possibly miss those. By the way, did you see the one about the cat saving the kid from being attacked by a dog. Apparently this proves cats do care. Thank you Facebook. And the 344 friends who shared the link.

I know there are all these positives to Facebook. And I don’t want to quit because Facebook has all my data. They really can have it, with the picture of my seven chins. It’s not that. It’s just that everyone looks like they’re having a way better time than I am. A few months ago I met a friend in Cape Town for lunch. She’s a real friend and a friend on Facebook. The first thing she said was, “Wow, you look like you’re having an amazing time. Really living life aren’t you?” Apparently this is the impression I had given her through my Facebook feed. I thought about it and could see how it made sense. Here I was posting pics of me smiling at my husband lovingly, or lying with the dogs in my lap, or at the beach in Cape Town , or dancing the night away at a party where everyone looked like they were having a good time. I didn’t post the pics or statuses about the argument I had with the husband about who was making dinner, or shouting at the dogs to stop barking at the birds while I was having a nap because I had been to a party, which I hated but smiled when the camera came round. I presented the best me. That’s what people want to see don’t they? Or maybe that’s what I want them to see. I don’t post about popping my seventh Urbanol for the day because work is stressing me out so much. I post the after work pic where I’m raising a glass of wine (which I promptly down) to celebrate the end of a severely taxing day.

Facebook is our best selves. Our gorgeous children are on display. Our work promotions are announced for all and sundry to Like and comment on. Our parties are shared for all to be jealous of and be left wondering why we didn’t crack the nod. Our weight loss is shared with glee, while our seven chins are hidden behind selfies of us staring up to our smart phones which are practically attached to the ceiling to get the best angle. Our trip to Thailand is on full display for all to oooo and aaaah over while our credit card bills remain hidden in the pile of debt on the kitchen counter. Facebook only gets our best. Because we want people to see the best in us.

But that just leaves me feeling crap. And inadequate. I hate that I wasn’t invited to the party. That I can’t afford to go to Thailand. That I have seven chins when Friend 446 looks so fantastic in all of the eight selfies they’ve posted of themselves. I feel less than because you show me the best of.

I think it’s time to go back to being real. To finding out what’s happening in a person’s life because they’ve called me to tell me. To see the photo’s of their trip to Thailand because I’m visiting, and hear the horror stories about delayed planes and druglords attempting to smuggle narcotics in their bags when no one was looking. To see the baby when it’s not smiling or looking cute, but crying or having its shitty nappy changed. I want to be reminded that we’re all real and not everything is amazing.

It’s not any one on Facebook’s fault. It’s mine. It’s not you. It’s me. Really. I’m just looking for something more… And that’s maybe why it’s time to delete Facebook.