You Don’t Know You’re Alive Until You Start to Live

You Don’t Know You’re Alive Until You Start to Live

The stigma of mental health is one that many people in our society battle with, and the worst part is that they do this in silence. Even with the awareness of mental health specialist services being available, most people still shy away from reaching out for help because of the notion that they might be burdening someone else with their problems or that they may be seen as being weak.

For most black people, expressing themselves is taboo because it is considered a sign of weakness and your inability to take life’s challenges as they come. Growing up, I realized that my challenges were only expanding the more I would suppress the things I would feel or experience. I went through most of my primary schooling believing that I was a curse to everyone in my life, where I would always bury myself in books—initially because of my love for the creativity that came with words, but I’d grow to use books as my escape. The pressure of being the only overachiever in my family made me the most unfavorable relative since every other child in my family would be subjected to comparisons against me.

I was alienated not only from my cousins but my peers as well…because, who wants a show off anywhere around them, anyway?! I would spend my days just getting through my school days, getting home to my chores, and sleeping as early as I possibly could, although I was not always half as tired as this would seem. I hardly ever spoke to many people, so I would always find solace in my writing. Journals have always been ‘my thing,’ and without realizing it then, I was ensuring that my feelings and words were known—even if no one was on the other end waiting to know what had been written.

Writing for me, became the biggest source of my self-expression, where I not only captured incidents in my life but in the lives of those I encountered. As someone who has always been intensely attached to the feelings of others, I unknowingly became a sponge for everyone’s problems, to the neglect of my own.

It didn’t help that I was very sickly throughout most of my life, where I would be diagnosed with one thing and then be diagnosed and sometimes misdiagnosed with something else. Not only was I feeling sorry for everyone around me, I felt most helpless because I didn’t know how to help when there were issues prevalent that weren’t being openly communicated. What some may regard as social acceptance is often just a momentary experience of joy that is often short-lived since a return to the life that many tend to run away from still awaits them.

While helping others has always been something that always comes naturally to me—where I can’t help but not lend a hand where it is needed—it was so surprising that I didn’t care as much about helping myself or seeking the help I needed. I was aware that there was a prevalent mental imbalance due to my past experiences and grave alienation from reality. I never really got to find my feet in anything I ever did outside of reproducing for performance results at school.

Having sunk into the worst depressive state in my early years in varsity, to being diagnosed with depression and anxiety shortly after the birth of my daughter, life took a very drastic turn that made me question some of the choices I was failing to make over my mental wellness.

When the psychologist I consulted explained how my symptoms were psychosomatic, it was very helpful that she was aware of African spirituality and how it can impact people in different ways such as the onset of anxiety and depression. She advised me to seek a spiritual connection with myself and my guides. It helped that I had another grandmother of mine who was still alive at the time, and she finally realized that I had a connection with my ancestors and I needed to enhance this connection so I could understand what my ancestry might be trying to relay to and through me.

As someone who now lives a life where I write about self-help, lineage trauma and rehabilitation, as well as the African practices that often get overlooked by our families, I have since found that the depression most of us experience is not just our own but it is intergenerational. Through mental health awareness, I am not only discovering myself and my ancestry, but I am learning to confront some of the most common causes of depression in our holistic lives. This is not to say that I have finally won the battle with depression and anxiety, nor have I lost it either. This is just an encouraging message that is meant to help others realize that inner work takes a lot of time and effort.

One day you’ll feel like you’ve climbed a mountain and want to high-five yourself. Whereas other days may seem impossible to even step out of bed or want to face other people. This is all okay, and I accept what comes my way with the mindfulness of the impermanence of every feeling or thought in my life. I started to feel alive when I saw that my life had so much for me to live for, and I can only hope that the little I have shared can help someone else find their path of healing 🌻


Here are a few discussions I have been part of on the scourge of mental health, the impacts, and how it can often boil down to what we are missing within the African context in dealing with mental health issues:


About the Author:

Nonkululeko Kubheka is a professional, academic, and creative writer, who is passionate about topics relating to leadership in Africa, decoloniality, African spirituality, socioeconomic conditions, and mental health. She is a member of the Activate! Writer’s Hub 2023 cohort, and her writing experience dates as far back as 2012, where she has been freelancing as a professional writer since 2021.

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