Nicolette Writes

Professional Freelance Writer and Stay-at-Home Mom

Archive for the month “March, 2018”

Staying Alive: What Helps



This year I have learned my most valuable tool so far in my journey with Depression: feed the white dog. There is a folk tale where an elder is teling a child about a fight between a white and black dog. When the child wants to know who won, the elder answers: the one you feed. My therapist made me realise that my white dog was very thin and malnourished, and that my black dog was a fat and well-fed dog – because I was feeding him so much.

I took some time that day to think about what feeds my white dog. Things like drawing for the sake of therapy (and not with the end product in mind), working in the garden, creating something, writing, going to the Hospice Shop to find ‘treasures’, using my ‘devices’ (my iPad, Macbook, etc.), digging into minimalism, listening to and discovering new music (Bootstraps, Simone White, Alexi Murdoch), and so forth.

So when I feel the darkness coming, or when I am already in it, I do things from my ‘feeding the white dog list’. When I am in that space, that horrible, frightening and lead-heavy space of Depression, my go-to for surviving the day is feeding my white dog.

The most important way of feeding my white dog has been HELPING OTHERS. Looking up, away from myself, and trying to make life, even if just in the smallest way, better for others. This very morning I forced myself to get in the car and to pick up donations I have been promising to collect. And I have sent an sms to someone who might be able to direct me to another creche that needs help. These two things took so very little from me, but made me feel useful.


I try to spend time every day doing something useful for the Sibongile creche in Kayamandi, situated in a township outside Stellenbosch. It doesn’t have to be hard at all to reach out to others to help – because I promise you: I am an introvert and socially anxious and I have to take some medication if I am going to face people! But getting in touch with the REAL world and with REAL people, instead of staying in a fantasy world in my head, has made me feel so useful, and has given my life so much meaning.

It only has to be ‘small’ things: I would post on our local Facebook page that the creche has three broken windows and ask where I might get the best quotations. I would place some photos of the building and its people. Pretty soon someone would offer to help with paying, and in this particular case, a glass company offered to fix all the windows for free!

Another example: I merely posted some photos of the messy walls in the baby room, asking for donations of leftover paint, and someone whose husband is a builder, offered paint, and another company that I have worked with before, Call2Care, offered volunteers to do the painting. And nothing has involved me being extremely ‘out there’ or extroverted. I could just be myself. Quietly working for the good of others.

For such a long time, and as a stay-at-home mom, I would feel so useless, and when people asked me what I did, I would ride on my former occupation as freelance writer for magazines. But now I don’t feel like I have to say anything, because I HAVE CONFIDENCE IN WHAT I HAVE BEEN DOING. (in any case, stop asking people you meet ‘what they do for a living’, but rather substitute that question with ‘what are you passionate about?’ (something I have learned from The Minimalists Ryan Nikodeumus and Joshua Fields Millburn – this is a way more interesting question and makes so much more sense to ask!).

Reaching out to Anna and all the other ladies at the Sibongile Creche has been life-changing for them in many ways, but it has been therapy for me and LIFE-SAVING. Reaching out to the real world and helping others in a very real and raw way has been a challenge to me, but so unequaled in its healing. I just went there the first time and asked the lady to show me around – just to get an idea of what the creche might need. I started taking them simple things like paper and crayons and making them posters. Soon it all escalated into something bigger, and I didn’t have to spend much money at all. I started a Facebook page and I have been reaching out to the privileged people of our community and the help has been astonishing.

I read a quote recently that said, something along the lines of ‘you were placed on this earth, because you were going to be important to someone.’ This helps me quite a bit with hanging on, also with regards to my own children and the unconditional love and support I can give them. I have often felt that I have done nothing with my life, I haven’t become a great ice-skater, I haven’t even got an impressive job title. But I get messages of thanks from real people. I mean something to someone. I have changed lives.

More reasons to stay:

* I want to write a book one day.
*  There are still so many times my kids will cry and need me to hold them tight and tell them that I love them.
* So many tattoos I can still get! 😉




Mental Health: Towards understanding the Black Dog

chester quote


Reason to stay: Rebecca’s small lips in pouting-perfection, reaching for a kiss from mommy, for no reason other than that she truly loves me.

It might sound crazy that a sensible woman with a good portion of common sense has to think of reasons not to take her own life when she has two small kids whom she has chosen to bring into this life – two beautiful children whom she would be leaving without a primary caregiver if she commits suicide. Well, seeing it written like that, hearing it in my mind, it sounds so crass and wrong. But Depression is not pretty. It’s not appropriate and it’s not what other people would like to hear.

Depression takes you down like a dark, ferocious beast and makes you grasp at reasons to stay alive. It makes you convince yourself that your children will be fine without you. It is exactly like this quote I saw on social media: “It’s not about not wanting to live”, (suicide, that is) “it is about not wanting to feel the pain anymore.”

That is absolutely why I think people commit suicide. It’s got everything to do with not feeling the unbearable (truly) pain and fear and deadness anymore. It – the feeling of Depression – IS A FEELING OF UNBEARABLENESS. It is like when you have a really bad tummy bug and you truly feel like dying, because you cannot bear the nausea anymore.  It is that feeling of ‘I cannot bear this anymore’, but psychologically, exactly as you cannot bear some physiologically symptom anymore.

I will never understand how people can think mental health disorders are ‘made-up’ illnesses of the weak, because it just makes biological sense that if your physical organs such as your liver, kidneys, pancreas, heart and so on, can get ‘sick’ and fail you, so can your brain.

I recently read a tweet from a Linkin Park fan following the suicide of my favorite singer through my teens, twenties and thirties, Chester Bennington, that she is beginning to believe Depression is like a Cancer: you go into remission and things get better, but eventually it comes back to take you down.


Chester Bennington from Linkin Park. The only celebrity I ever adored.


That tweet, together with the death of an idol of mine, scared me literally almost straight to death. I was suddenly convinced: There was no, no way to overcome this beast. There might be moments of lightness and joy, but ultimately that dog WILL take me down. And the Lord knows I am tired of trying again and again and again.

Getting out of a Depressive Episode feels like forever and it is pure torture, scary and alone. If you do not know the black dog, you cannot imagine how it feels. And even if you have many people in your life, once you are beneath the beast’s grip, you only feel completely alone. Unfortunately, still so few people talk about this feeling that I THINK IF IT WASN’T FOR SOCIAL MEDIA, SOME OF US WOULD DIE THINKING WE ARE THE ONLY ONES WHO FEEL A PARTICULAR WAY.

We read things on social media, or we watch You-Tube videos and we hear things like Chester Bennington in one of his last interviews: “This skull – this place between my ears – it is a bad neighborhood – I should not go walking there alone.” (quoted more or less correctly). And I am like “YES! Yes – THAT!! I know, right?! He gets it!” And I look around to see if others also get it. “Did you hear that? That! That is how it feels!”

I remember one night my husband said that he and the kids were going to do a sleepover in the grandparents’ room (they were visiting at the time) and clear as daylight I heard a voice in my head saying: “No, you can’t do that! You can’t leave me by myself with my mind!”  I was so, so afraid of that bad neighbourhood. I still am.


You are not alone,


My next few entries will involve a series on mental health.



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