Is social media an acceptable platform to ask for help?

A week ago I read a post, which was controversial to say the least, on one of the groups I follow on a social media site. The group is aimed at connecting South African expats within New Zealand, answer immigration related queries and general support. This particular post however was very unexpected and abrupt. A lady posted a photo of a handgun and in the post she admitted to buying it for the purpose of committing suicide. She confessed that she is depressed and has been since immigrating 7 years ago. I found it to be raw, emotional, honest and heart-felt. She was asking for help! She was begging for someone to contact her, reach out to her, show her she is not alone.

Now you can imagine the response she received. Overwhelmingly some members firstly tried to contact one of the administrators of the group who also happens to be a phycologist. Then they responded with constructive comments, telling her that she is not alone and that she did the right thing to reach out. I refrained from commenting at first, and instead I send her a personal message. I asked her if there is anything I can do to help and that it seems like she is receiving immense support from certain members so that is a positive outcome. I also told her that she is not alone as many immigrants often experience depression or anxiety either due to a lack of friendships,  or relationships taking a strain in a new country or from being home sick. I didn’t hear from her straight away, but when I did I was mortified to what happened next. She said that someone called the cops on her and that she received an aggressive message from one of the members. The message was filled with hostility towards her, telling her that social media is no place to post such extremities and that she’s only looking for attention. Now that got my blood boiling!

I do agree that it was shocking and unexpecting to see the post, but since when do we discourage people from seeking help, or place restrictions on when and where to ask for help? Are people so ignorant to the need of others or do they simply not understand the seriousness of mental illness? How many people don’t seek help because of the lack of empathy from others? Or that they are scared of being judged, criticized and ridiculed?

A few hours passed and I didn’t hear back from her. And it wasn’t only me who was concerned. The administrator of the group put out a message asking if anyone who knows her personally can please go out to her place of residence to check up on her as no one had heard from her since. And this is where the floodgates of opinions opened and a platform created for fingerpointing and blame-shifting. One of the comments posted was in support of the lady, a friend of hers (she clearly knew of all that was said via personal messages). Her courage to post her comment gave me a boost of confidence and I put in my 2 cents. I posted one comment, and left the discussion. I needed to express my utter dissapointment and frustration towards those who blatantly blamed her for posting the photo. I know that I possibly overreacted, and that this is a topic so close to home it still hurts but I feel that it shouldn’t be overlooked because it then means we are not crediting the person, not accepting that their feelings are real and true and don’t believe that they really do need help.

Thankfully and with great relieve the lady responded to the comments, expressed her gratitude to those who contacted her and said she is feeling less anxious and can think clearly about her situation. She did however mention that she doesn’t think calling the police was the right thing to do because even though they meant well, it placed more pressure on her to deal with their queries as well as made her panic about the possible outcome.

I am fully aware that there are several people who has not dealt with mental illness before, and perhaps don’t know how to respond to such an outcry for help. I am also not expecting everyone to become warriors, fighting the battle of depression and suicide. I do however hope that the above mentioned controversial social media post brought awareness to the fact that people are suffering, most often in silence, from mental illness. I hope that this makes people stop, look at their friends, family and acquaintances and ask with true sincerity “Are you okay?”

So this is Christmas?

We were busy preparing Christmas lunch when I heard my mom say “another Christmas has come and gone, where does time go?” Looking at the clock (it was around 1pm) I was taken aback by her statement as we still had 1/2 a day left of Christmas day itself, yet to her it was over with. In my mind we still had time to spend as a family, lunch to eat, perhaps go out and walk on the beach. But no, in her mind that was it. Sad really.

That’s when it dawned on me, what has Christmas become? Have I too succumbed to the Christmas advertisements which seems to start earlier each year, the rush of Christmas shopping to get that perfect gift at a possible bargain, the stress of planning Christmas lunch, all while trying to get through the chaos which is school term 4.

I do love the Christmas season! As a child you don’t comprehend the stresses associated with Christmas, so the idea of Santa Clause, presents “appearing” under the tree on Christmas morning and spending the day with your extended family is the best thing since slice bread! As a teenager your concept of Santa Clause is now non-existent, but the random appearance of presents throughout December is still exciting and you most likely will be buying some family members presents too, which instils the spirit of giving. Even though I didn’t believe in Santa Clause anymore, I remember as a teenager being curled up on the couch with a book on Christmas Eve, surrounded by the flickering of the Christmas tree lights and being engulfed by a sense of peace and thankfulness. Now as an adult, the enchantment of Christmas seems lost.

I understand and believe in the true meaning of Christmas, the miraculous birth of our savior, and I will never forget this. But as time flies by, literally, it seems more and more that I am separated from this message. I know that this is my own doing, that perhaps I have become indoctrinated by the hustle and bustle of life and not make time to just clear my mind, meditate and pray.

This year felt the worse and I really struggled to get ‘into the Christmas spirit’. It’s really not any surprise seeing as I work Monday to Sunday, leaving me with very little time to get organized. I always try my best to make it special for my children. I bake, I make little gifts for their teachers and all their class mates, I secretly wrap presents, I add some decorations around the house, put Christmas stockings up. But this year it feels like I have disappointed them. When I’m home, I’m exhausted and don’t have the energy to make things ‘nice’. For the last week of school I planned to make all the little gifts (with their help), but this meant staying up till late at night. I was already dead tired by the end of the day, so the idea of staying up later than usual to finish the gifts was torture. This is certainly not how I wanted to feel.

Don’t get me wrong, I LOVE doing this for other people and the feeling of having the final product in my hand and giving it away is addicting but finding the balance is a struggle. I’m threatening to quit Christmas all together this year, and instead spend time not money on my family. Make a list of things-to-do, places-to-see and actually following through. Being present instead of giving away presents.

I think I should call a family meeting and start brainstorming …

Inked (part one)

Confession time … I LOVE tattoos! Ever since my husband (then fiancé) and I went to a tattoo parlour on a whim when we were 21, I have been interested in body art. We each selected a tattoo, mine on my lower back and his on his back between his shoulder blades. The tattoos themselves don’t have a specific meaning as I merely choose an image that appealed to me the most, but the event itself was memorable:

On our first holiday together, a little pre-honeymoon in the making, we stayed in a small cottage called Duck Tree Cottage on the Southern Coast of South Africa. It was idyllic, peaceful and a few steps from the beach. We fell in love with this quint cottage and its surroundings. We made several early morning trips to the beach, walked endlessly picking up shells, talking about our future and planning a life together.

One morning we decided to go to the township and local shops. Down one of the side streets there was a famous tattoo parlour…famous because I think no one leaves their holiday without making a pit stop here to permanently savour the memory of their time away in paradise. Once inside your eyes are immediately drawn to the 1000’s of samples, from animals, to skulls, to flowers and new age shapes, and in all sizes. I was captivated! The decision of what to get was lengthier than actually deciding on getting a tattoo. I felt lost amongst the walls of endless body art. It wasn’t until I thought about what I would like to get, something with a heart symbolising my love for my fiancé, that my focus turned to a particular tattoo. It wasn’t a personalised designed tattoo but it was good enough to have it placed on my body for eternity.

What I took from that experience is not only that my fiancé and I did something together set in time, but that I braved the then unknown pain. I didn’t doubt myself. I put my mind on a set target, and I saw it through. I grew. I understood my own pain threshold. I didn’t look back.

My battle with anorexia and bulimia left its own permanent mark; emotional scars that resurface when I have self-doubt, or am under immense pressure. Battling these eating disorders taught me resilience, not to give up when I am overwhelmed with negative thoughts. I am not trying to make light of the distressing effects of an eating disorder, but I am convinced that my recovery from these grappling mental disorders gave me the necessary tools to overcome such internal and physical challenges.

I will forever bear the marks of triumph over pain.

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Fromance

I went to our local dairy this morning to buy a loaf of bread, as it was already 9am and my stomach was begging for breakfast. I am reasonably casual when it comes to eating breakfast and having a slice of toast with my peppermint green tea is as good as it is going to get today…that is until my nose smelled the sweet lingering aroma of freshly baked something. My eyes followed the scent to a shelf filled with baked pastries, but it is the deliciously golden croissants that matched the mystery aroma. Instinctively I asked for 2 (1 for myself and 1 for my son) and immediately my thoughts were filled with Nigella inspired ideas for this little buttery gem.

I admit that I have a food romance, or as I call it a fromance. I never thought that it is ever possible for someone who has suffered from eating disorders to feel a connection with food, other than pure loathing. I can’t say that I am always comfortable around food, especially when my insecurities convince me that I can do without, but I honestly and truthfully LOVE it!

So arriving home with my little parcel of scrumptiousness, I lathered the croissants with butter, blueberry jam and grated cheese and placed it under the grill. My tea was brewing and the combined smell made my tummy turn inside out from excitement! The minutes following was pure bliss. I sat down at my desk making sure that my son was occupied because I do not want to be disturbed as I take crunchy mouthfuls of sweet, salty, buttery goodness. I was immediately transported to our local French market La Cigale: sitting in the warmth of the sun as a cool breeze swirls the flavours of baked breads, French cheeses, smoked fish, fruit chutneys and the all familiar croissant. Birds rejoicing in the overhanging branches of nearby trees and people enjoying each other’s company.

Food is meant to be made with love, shared amongst loved ones and given as a gift of thoughtfulness. It can arouse the senses, awaken a playfulness between partners and fulfil desires. Food is romantic!

I hope that today you too will be sitting at a market place, or in a park at a picnic or walking along a vineyard during your fromance.

 

 

Heartbreak

Completely off topic today, but heartbreak and pain is such a universal experience, it doesn’t discriminate nor does it choose a timely manner of appearance.

How do I tell my 11 year old daughter that someone she admires and respect is dying? I have had several family members pass away but she was either too young to know or understand, or didn’t know them due to us immigrating. She however has NEVER lost anyone she has become familiar with.

How do I keep my composure when all I want to do is cry? This situation brings a flood of memories from when one of my dear university friends lost her mother to cancer. I remember that day she send me a text. Her words were short and to the point. She asked that I pray for her mother as an aggressive cancerous growth was found. It came as a great shock as I had just recently visited with them and her mom showed no signs of being ill. I prayed: I prayed for healing, I prayed for her mother’s care, but mostly I prayed for my friend. I truly believed her mom will get better because that is how faith works, isn’t it?

A few weeks later I contacted my friend to ask if we can meet up for a coffee. I wanted to know that she is okay and also to find out the progress of her mother. She replied by asking if I would go with her that afternoon to visit her mom then we can have a lunch together at the little café inside the hospital. I said yes, because that is what friends do, support each other even if it means you hold the other persons hand while they watch their mother’s demise. I asked my friend a lot of questions regarding her mom so that I could mentally prepare for what I was about to witness. But nothing could prepare me.

Walking into the oncology ward was somewhat eerie. I have been to the ER before which is a rush and impersonal, the maternity ward which is filled with nervous excitement and the children’s ward where the walls are covered with bright and playful characters. The oncology ward however is silent, the nurses are friendly but they seem to walk around with a false sense of hope. We approached her mother’s room and just before entering she took my hand, squeezed it and said it will be okay. Her mom was unrecognisable. We sat next to her bed and she told her mom that I came to visit. Her mom was barely conscious due to the pain relief, but she looked in my direction, gave a faint smile and nodded. We extended a few words and stayed for a cup of tea (which was provided by the nurses). My friend held her mother’s hand during the entire visit. The love on her face towards her mother was breathtakingly beautiful and I knew that a prayer was answered when I noticed this exchange, she is being cared for. We ended our visit with a lengthy good bye as I knew it will be the last time I get to see her. A few days later I received a text from my friend saying the doctors contacted her family asking them to prepare for the worse and say their final good byes. I knew the content of her next text send that same day…”my mother just passed away”. There are no words, and even if you manage to scrape a few words together what do you say?

Tonight I will hold my daughter a little bit tighter in my arms, wipe any tears away, give her hand a slight squeeze and whisper that all will be okay.