BY SADE GILIBERTI
Everything around me always seems so dark? No one else around me feels sadness like I do? I can’t express this feeling with anybody else because they just won’t understand. These thoughts are normal to people who suffer from depression. I had these thoughts. When you’re a teenager, your parents, peers and teachers immediately say “oh it’s just teenage angst, or hormones” – but is it? What about if you’re a little younger and not just yet an adolescent teenager, like I was? I didn’t know I had depression, but I knew I was different. I never shared my ‘difference’ with anyone else though. I lived a normal life (well normal enough for a child who started modelling from the age of 3 and presenting from the age of 7). I played with my friends when I got the chance, I was active at school and everyone around me saw a happy child. But at home, I was different. Behind closed doors I was different. I was happy to be left alone. My room was my sanctuary where I wrote and sketched all the time. I kept a diary from as early as I can remember and wrote all of my feelings in there almost every day. Something I stopped doing as I got older, but the best coping mechanism as told by any psychologist or councillor. Even before I knew it, I was already trying to cope with something I didn’t know I had. Now I know most little girls keep a diary and it’s very normal. What wasn’t normal was the things I wrote down. I was angry, I was sad, I was disappointed and I had feelings no normal 9/10/11 year old should have had.
I started self-harming from a very young age, I must have been about 7 or 8 years old the first time I took a butter knife to my wrist / arm. I must have been around the same age the first time I had suicidal thoughts, not just self-harming. But more “I don’t want to be here anymore” thoughts, not really “I want to die thoughts”. Even though those sound like the same thing, they aren’t. I remember once I drank a concoction of kitchen cleaning detergents and mixed it with Oros. Who taught me this you may ask? No one, it’s something I conjured up at the time. I was feeling so low, like everything bad that was happening around me at home was my fault. Nothing came from the mixture, I just had the worst tummy pains and diarrhoea – lucky I guess. I also never did that again. To this day I’m flabbergasted that I could have thought of such a thing at such a young age.
Fast forward a few years. I’m in high school now. Everyone’s hormones are buzzing like high voltage electricity. I’m in an all-girls school and we’re all trying to figure ourselves out. Life too. It’s intense. Some girls are cutting themselves, others lash out in other ways like being bullies. My life at home is neither here nor there. My father still works away, and my mother still takes advantage of this, has the odd (school night) party, frolics with the odd guy behind closed doors and ever so often I catch her out. By 13 there’s talks of another separation – the first was when I was 6. I stay with a friend for a month while my father tries to figure out what’s best to do. There’s talks of me moving to Italy, where I was also sent to for a month during their summer. But soon my dad realizes that I already have a career and he can’t take me away from that even though he doesn’t at all understand the industry. They don’t separate. Things are good for a bit. I won’t go into all the nitty gritty’ s of thereafter. But my mom eventually left when I was 16. I was away in Sun City for a YOTV shoot and I came home to no mother. Let’s say this spiralled a whirlwind of emotions that would affect my life way into my twenties.
My style changes, my music choice changes, I’m angry, I’m heartbroken and I feel abandoned. I start drinking. I start cutting myself more. I start meddling with pills, trying to overdose on tranquilizers. I’m not trying to kill myself, I just don’t want to be present in my reality more. I want to sleep and wake up in a happier place. I wake up in hospital instead with a psychologist standing over me. It’s official, I’m being diagnosed with depression and anxiety and I’m put on all sorts of pills.
Mind you, during this time, my peers and bosses at work (YOTV) know everything, so I have a wonderful support structure around me.
Fast forward a few more years. I’m off the anti-depressants and I have the odd depressive dips until I hit 24 and I have a full on psychological breakdown. I’m crying non-stop for 3 months and I can’t figure out why. I finally start seeing a psychologist and my father helps me through all of this. For the first time in 8 years I’m finally talking about my issues; I’m digging deep within to understand the breakdown, to link the depressive dips, the relationships I have and why I have them. It’s all finally clear and for the first time, even though I know where the depression started, I’m finally dealing with it. I did Survivor this year and you wouldn’t believe what the isolation on an island did for my spirit. I found my spirituality again, I forgave myself for being so hard on myself and I worked on being a stronger better person every day thereafter. It will take years before I truly forgive my mother, but eventually I do, regardless of never having seen her again. Even though I tried to make contact twice.
Today, I work on myself as much as I can. I keep my inner child happy, she’s the one who has suffered the most. I may not write in a diary, but I express my feelings in other ways. I draw when I get a chance, I take photographs, I write little notes, I do yoga and I meditate. I also know that one can’t be happy every single day. It takes a lot for a depressed person to get out of bed in the morning and show up. The fact that you’re showing up, is massive. Allow the bad days to happen, don’t fight it. But most importantly understand your depression, and speak out. Being silent about it doesn’t make it better or make it go away any faster because “YOU are dealing with it” – you’re not. You’re isolating yourself and that is never the way to deal with anything.
The fact that we believe we are alone is a stigma that I definitely believe in breaking. That’s why becoming an ambassador for anxiety and depression through SADAG made so much sense to me. With all the cultures in our country, so many don’t believe in depression. Take my father, who once told me it was all in my head. Once I became an ambassador and started doing more interviews and school talks, he educated himself on depression and was gobsmacked at the statistics in South Africa and all of a sudden saw me and mental illness in a different light. When my father sat with me in the sea in Mozambique whilst visiting me on the island when I was on Survivor, with tears in his eyes he said to me “Sade, you’re the strongest person I know, I would have never been able to do this. And with all that you have been through in life, you managed to do this and get this far (we were 20 days in) and to me you’re already a winner!”
Every day that you deal with your depression, you’re winning. So carry on. Tell your story, educate others and be the voice of change as more and more people start to open out about their struggles with depression. We need to remind others and ourselves that there is nothing to be ashamed about.