A life update

Almost exactly three years ago I was discharged from a psychiatric clinic after spending three strange and illuminating weeks there. I was 28 years old, wobbling my way back into the world, eyes stinging from the beauty around me. I felt reborn and also very, very old.

‘Everything is about to change,’ I told myself. ‘Everything is different now.’

And it was. It is.

I had done a lot of self-work in the ten years prior to my visit to the clinic: Seen therapists, journaled, cultivated self-awareness, read Women who run with the wolves. But now I intended to work harder. Dig deeper. Cultivate more nourishing friendships. Exercise more. Eat healthier. Heal.

I did not factor Covid-19 into my plans, of course. Nor had I really thought about the effect of living in late-stage capitalism, in a prolonged world-wide existential crisis, in a looming climate disaster. Nor had I really reckoned with the depth and intensity of my own childhood trauma. I was going to yoga it all away. I was going to do magic mushrooms and make uplifting Spotify playlists and listen to good podcasts and go for long walks and I was going to be ALL BETTER.

And, credit where credit’s due: I don’t know where I would have been had it not been for long walks and Spotify playlists and yoga and good podcasts and psychedelics. And good friends. And my dog. And nourishing food. And breathing exercises. And journaling. And the foundation of self-inquiry that had been laid over the past decade. Thank fuck for routines and good books and self-care.

And also, I AM NOT ALL BETTER.

I don’t even know what ‘better’ means anymore.

***

This is a life update, because some of you have been asking me what’s happening and why I’m so silent on my blog. I have a million other things to do, but I’ve just spent three hours in foetal position on my couch staring into the void – nothing else is about to happen, so I might as well write this post.

I am turning 32 soon. A lot of people tell me they don’t feel as old as they really are, but I definitely do. Not that I’ve become remotely good at adulting, but my heart feels heavy with all the lives I’ve lived. Not exhausted exactly, but laden with sorrow and pungency like tea that’s been left to steep for hours.

I know some parts of the world have been coming out of hiding, but over here in South Africa we’re in the heart of a third wave of Covid. Every day I receive news of more friends, colleagues and acquaintances who are very very sick. Facebook feels like a minefield of bad news and conspiracy theories. Our government is fast losing whatever credibility it once had and our president’s fortnightly speeches are just fodder for memes and existential despair. We wear masks and obey the 9 PM curfew, but other than that, everybody does whatever they feel like, myself included.

It’s winter and outside the rain is pouring down; even my dog refuses to leave the house. My sister, who lives in Kwazulu-Natal province, sends us hourly updates on the protests and violence over there. She’s locked inside her house. Someone she knows had to evacuate. I refresh the news every ten minutes, watching with rising horror as my beleaguered country burns down. On Instagram the positivity brigade is wearing me down, yet I scroll endlessly through uplifting posts in search of answers, in search of something to do: Another mantra, perhaps. An online tarot card reading. An inspirational quote.

I am not holding it together, but I am holding it.

I am holding it all and I am grieving really hard because this world is terrifyingly broken and movingly beautiful, and it is a crazy thing to be alive right now. It is a privilege and a curse. It’s everything.

I have no idea what’s going to happen next, not to the world nor to myself. It’s like I’m living in the eye of a storm and all I keep feeling, deep in my gut, is to be here fully. To resist the urge to DO SOMETHING, and be here instead. It’s excruciating.

***

At the end of 2019 I felt very strongly that I would have two more years at my current job and then I’d have to move on. Tick tock, those two years are coming to an end soon. I still plan to move on, but all my best-laid plans have fallen away in the face of internal and external crises. I thought I’d be writing much more, making beautiful zines, cranking out poem after poem, connecting with other writers and artists and even making money out of my writing by now. Instead, I have a floundering blog and a slowly-growing Instagram presence (about which I have mixed feelings). A piece I wrote a few months ago has been accepted for publishing in an anthology book, about which I’m very excited – and also, I can’t seem to find the inspiration to make its last requested edits. (I will, though – tomorrow.)

What am I willing to do without? What am I willing to let go of? Because more and more I am coming to know that I will have to surrender whatever is not necessary, whatever weighs me down, and whatever markings of success I’d envisioned achieving soon.

At first I thought I’d find somewhere cheap to live (probably east of here, because where I currently live is not affordable on a freelancer’s income). I thought I’d pack up my things, twist my brother’s arm into helping me move, and find a small place on the east coast where I can do freelance work, build my writing practice, play the ukulele a lot and make friends with the locals. Now, I think even that might be too solid and structured for my next move. I think, instead, that I might have to put my possessions into storage, and bring only my dog and my clothes with me. I might have to flounder about from place to place, volunteering and staying with friends. I’ll freelance if needs be, but I don’t want to spend too much time scrabbling to earn a living at jobs that take more energy than they give. I want to write. I want to start a podcast. I want to build meaningful connections. I want to learn about community living and regenerative agriculture and about the endless variety of cultures and ways of being in my own country, ways I know very little about.

I don’t want to quit my job only to find myself scrambling away at endless low-paying freelance tasks that allow no room for creativity.

I am asking myself: How little money can I get by on? What am I taking for granted that very soon I’ll have to give up? Personal space, organic vegetables, fancy dog food – can I do without that? My handful of close and beloved friends here – how do I leave them behind?

And, on the flip side: Why do I imagine that only hard things are worth doing? Why do I imagine that I’ll have to move to a remote town on the far side of nowhere to prove my commitment to making a change in my life? Is there another option? Have I been so steeped in a mentality of suffering that I cannot imagine an authentic future if it isn’t isolated and difficult?

I’m shit scared all the time, and every time I try to reassure myself by falling into frantic action my body forces me to a halt. The only things I seem to be able to do semi-consistently is to weep a lot and go for long walks. This prolonged inactivity goes against everything the world has taught me and against my natural inclination too, yet the only thing that feels right at this moment is to exist very slowly. Even as my self-imposed deadline looms closer and closer (a deadline I still intend to honour), the message I feel insistently in my heart is that right now I should do very little, and do that fully. I don’t get it. But it’s what I’m doing.

To summarise:

The world is not okay.

South Africa is not okay.

I am not okay.

That’s where I’m at right now. I am not holding it together, but I am holding it. I’m holding it all in my heart.

13 thoughts on “I am not all better

  1. Sonny Upper says:

    After 35 years of suicidal depression, I worked out that the problem had a lot to do with diet. Not that I was ready to accede to such a simple view of the source of my deepest personal experiece, but lo, the fact had been established, and the truth refused point blank to get out of my disillusioned face. Fifteen years down the line, I find it hard to recall the days and nights and weeks going into months and years of wishing for the oblivion of death; there are no fewer problems in my life, and living from month to month as a freelancer has bscome a lot more troublesome and humiliating, and for all that, there are more happy and funny moments than in a hundred thousand of thos 35 years.
    I sincerely wish that everybody going through my “35” might find a simple key to the door in that imaginary-but-lethal rock wall, as I had the luck to do.
    The only advice I have is to seek honestly, (and not in the labyrint of psychiatric medicine, which really is nowt but a fundamentally violent and costly experiment in deviance control, the cost being carried by the unsuspecting rats in the lab) and go for longer walks and road trips, because fear of open spaces (agerophobia) is the great negative feedback cycle of depression in action.

    Namasté

  2. Riana van der Schyff says:

    Hi Sage, I wouldn’t be so presumptuous as to think that you haven’t come across numerous similar messages/memes/writings(/platitudes?) in your lifetime, but I’m posting the below anyway, just in case it helps, even if only to some degree. If not, I look forward to your views on it (though I have no expectations). You clearly have a lot to give to this world and I’m a keen follower and admirer of your musings.
    “To be hopeful in bad times is not just foolishly romantic. It is based on the fact that human history is a history not only of cruelty but also of compassion, sacrifice, courage, kindness. What we choose to emphasize in this complex history will determine our lives. If we see only the worst, it destroys our capacity to do something. If we remember those times and places–and there are so many–where people have behaved magnificently, this gives us the energy to act, and at least the possibility of sending this spinning top of a world in a different direction. And if we do act, in however small a way, we don’t have to wait for some grand utopian future. The future is an infinite succession of presents, and to live now as we think human beings should live, in defiance of all that is bad around us, is itself a marvelous victory.”
    ~ Howard Zinn, the optimism of uncertainty

    • Thank you Riana, this is SO beautiful! I love that last sentence “to live now as we think human beings should live, in defiance of all that is bad around us, is itself a marvelous victory.” This is not a platitude at all – it’s a reminder that words such as these have power, and a moment of hope in uncertainty for me. Thank you for commenting.

      • Riana van der Schyff says:

        I am delighted that you received it well and that it struck a chord, Sage. May your candid revelations and unique perspectives continue to strike many others’ chords!

  3. South Africa is not OK. This is the most touching sentence I’ve read for a long time and the first blog I’ve ever felt compelled to read. I follow your town on Instagram and would love nothing more than to show my kids my country.. but SA is not OK… so I watch the beautiful work being done in the gardens and admire the good will left in the country. X Allison

    • Thank you for reading, and for letting me know you resonate with what I wrote! It breaks my heart to hear you’ve been wishing to show your family our country, but that the issues here are keeping you from it. Wherever you are, I hope you’re surrounded by beauty and meaning and that the homesickness isn’t too great.

  4. Hi Sage. I am discovering your voice for the first time because of Instagram, and I’m so pleased I am. Your intimate sharing moves me. I feel honored to be witnessing your unraveling and unfolding. While your pain and discomfort is palpable, the optimist in me sees the beauty in your soul. Keep following that intuitive guidance. This world was not programmed for sensitive souls. We are slowly and steadily changing that with every honest word shared and heard. Thank you for allowing yourself to be seen, and for letting us in. Much love and many blessings to you.

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