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! 😉