Essay from Abigail George

“Alone in the dark, inherited creativity, interpreting bipolar mental
illness, suicidal thoughts, and attempts, the cure for loneliness, the
Sylvia Plath Effect, and the South African poet Abigail George”

I was 16 when I first attempted to take my own life. I was seeing a
psychiatrist (he of the Einsteinian-hair, he had studied at a
university in Vienna, his son went to the same high school my brother
went to, the highly-prestigious Grey High School for Boys) at the time
who was convinced that Risperdal could help me, elevate my mood. I was
depressed, very, very depressed. I drank some red wine, and took some
pills, and slept it off. There have been other attempts.

Anti-depressants, counselling, psychiatrists, a coma, psychosis,
hallucinations (some auditory), but there also have been periods of
intense creativity. The psychotropic medication seems to have not
impacted my imagination, only my dopamine and serotonin levels. I felt
down a lot in high school. I had no one to eat lunch with. One friend.
Every year I had one friend. One black friend. I got tired of being
tired (they call it chronic fatigue syndrome). Sometimes I thought I
was just pretending. That was why I was attracted to acting in the
first place.

I didn’t have to be me anymore. I still think at 40 what people think
of me, I’m still dying for my mother’s approval. There were
crushing-and-numbing lows that felt like a succession of deaths,
clinical depression, insomnia (I found it very difficult to fall
asleep, would toss and turn the entire night listening to my parents
fight behind their closed bedroom door, I read into the early hours of
the morning with a torch under the covers). I’m fragile. I was abused
mentally, verbally, physically by my mother for most of my childhood.
Later she isolated me from my so-called friends, from so-called
family, and then rejected me because of the texture of my
kinky-peppercorn hair. In her words I was an “wretchedly-ugly
mistake”, who was “nothing special to look at”, “an intellectual like
your father”, “take your smarties yet”. According to my mother, for
years, I did not have a mental illness (see bipolar mood disorder), I
was demon-possessed and needed prayer.

High school was difficult for me. I was bullied, and I was a bully. I
was an obsessive-compulsive perfectionist, a high achiever
academically but after the first two years of high school my grades
started to slip). You would think that this would have been a warning
sign for either my mother, or my manic-depressive father, who was also
an over-achiever as I was. So, I felt pain every day, no one was
pulling me through this pain, I hardly could get out of bed in the
morning, there were no romantic entanglements with boys my own age
(which meant no heavy petting, French-kissing, making out, distracted
by sex, boyfriends, or popularity), no girlfriends who came to the
house, no experimenting with the smoking of cigarettes. I decided I as
an atheist, although I still went to church with my parents, and my
siblings, my younger brother, and sister. I can’t put all my happy
memories, and my childhood, and my elegant and narcissistic mother in
a time capsule. I have the same nose like my mother.

My mother thought the obvious, it was drugs. I was smoking marijuana.
It was my peer-group. I was hanging out with the wrong friends. She
blamed anything, everything, everyone, family, estranged family,
cousins, except herself. I take tranquilisers at night to sleep, fall
asleep watching television. Then there are my sleeping pills, my
father’s sleeping pills, my aunt’s sleeping pills. Then there’s Pax,
Lithium, Zolnox, Arizofy, Puricos for the gout, Puresis, the water
tablet, for my chronic kidney disease. It seems that all I’ve seem to
do for most of my life is take pills to make me happy, scale the
seawalls of the depression, but it is seeming, writing keeps finding
me, and I keep finding writing. Books, plays, novellas, poetry,
essays, and blog posts. I was a teenage runaway. Sometimes I’m
stressed out. I know how to deal with that kind of currency now. I’m
still insecure. I’m like the most vulnerable person I know. I can’t
turn back time.

I ran away to Johannesburg, and then to Swaziland, and wanted to go to
the London Film School when I was 16. I’m designer playwright, keen
diarist, hooked on becoming a memoirist, and inspiring ideas when I’m
found hibernating in my room, lying in the foetal position on my bed
listening to music blaring from my radio, and yes, I’m still running,
carrying the cross. I’m only happy though when I’m a failure. I’m only
unhappy when I’m adding another accomplishment, onto an already full
list of accomplishments. Acting my heart out on the stage, drama
rehearsals at the Opera House, lead role in the house play, Quiz,
editor of the school newspaper, swimming laps in the local Gelvandale
Olympic-sized swimming pool etcetera, etcetera. The everlasting list
goes on, and never-ending on. I make money out of writing now.

I’ve lived with the naming, the shame-and-blame for all of my life.
Whose fault was it that I was abused, or that I was molested as an
adolescent, or that I was too trustworthy of men in positions of
power, and thought that every female that I met was my friend. Last
year, I baked a cake for my birthday. It was the most beautiful cake
in the world. I decorated it with mini-meringues and African violets,
but nobody touched it, put it past their lips. And so, my 39th
birthday collapsed, fell to pieces around me. I cut out recipes from
magazines, and in the kitchen, I have this burning desire, this
burning search to be chef, and baker. I sleep with cookbooks next to
me on my bed. And like the high priestess of soul, Nina Simone, or the
actress-celebrity Dorothy Dandridge, Oprah Winfrey, Misty Upham, you
can only bury your thoughts, your shame, the people that you hold
responsible for not loving you unconditionally, or protecting you.

Or nurturing you, or saying that they were proud of you, you can only
bury your feelings for so long. So, now I write about the stigma, the
bipolar struggle, the anxiety and fear that depression brings up
inside of me like a storm, and you will usually find me crying in the
dark, stifling my sobs into my pillow at night, dark is the night,
winter has moved on, and I shy away from autumn, I’m battling
survival, my survival, and I’m so well aware of the women who have not
lived to fight another day (Sylvia Plath, Anne Sexton, Assia Wevill,
Virginia Woolf, Elizabeth Donkin, Iris Chang, Petya Dubarova). I’m
battling daily. There are days that I feel deceived with burning
desire by every single man, woman, and child that I encounter. I think
of my happy childhood memories. I think of my sadness, my
introspection, my reflections that mirror my soul. Sometimes a certain
smell will take me back to childhood. Usually my mother’s perfume.
YSL’s Opium. To this day, that perfume gives me flashbacks.

Sometimes, just sometimes I think of the love of my life touching my
face, and then I see him walking away from me in a parking lot, and I
smile at this memory. I smile at the injustice of it all, that a man
had loved me after all, and I ask myself, do you want even more
heartache, more pain, more despair, then tell him that you love him
back, that you only live for him. I smile at the memory of Ted Hughes,
and Sylvia Plath, because after all he chose her to be his wife, and
the mother of his children. Weddings are happy occasions marked by
pomp and ceremony, and the happiness, and difficulties of both bride,
and groom. It hurts too much on the inhale of the howl, and inside I’m
a philosopher in the tradition of Nietzsche, and inside I’m a
preacher. And sometimes, just sometimes the history of the bipolar,
the madness life, the life that I live on my terms hurts too much on
the exhale. In the bathroom mirror I write the narrative of love to
myself.

There is a link between creativity, and mental illness, genius, and
madness, and then I think of my extraordinary achievements, of my
father’s giftedness, my mother’s own capacity for spells of
melancholy, and giddy happiness, her talent for flowers. I see things
that other people can’t. I hear things that other people can’t. I
can’t turn back time to the good old days. I have moths, and
butterflies, and swallows, and birds in my stomach, a reputation, an
angel-tongue in my mouth. Love has passed me by. I made a conscious
decision not to marry, not to have children, but it didn’t make me
less unafraid of the world around me. I made a conscious choice not to
experiment with illicit drugs. I don’t drink. And, yes, I thought the
love of my life, and I would live the years together, from the
infatuation-phase to the honeymoon-phase. It is better to have loved,
and lost, than never to have loved at all.

I have tried to take my own life four times now. I have relapsed more
times than I can care to remember, but I still believe in the
inter-communicative, inter-related, grassroots-secret of longevity. I
love life.

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