Mental health is not a new topic for me
I started blogging in 2011 with Yve’s Corner. I only started writing about mental health, specifically women and suicide, with my own experiences as the focus in 2012. In that same year, I started Our Lived Experiences, a South African blog that documented the experiences of others with my dear friend Ulla. She committed suicide in 2016.
In my last post, I touched on the intrusive thoughts that have been plaguing me.
And we know that intrusive thoughts are normal and very common. But it doesn’t feel that way when you are experiencing them. In fact, I know I feel guilty and I feel like a bad person.
Especially now, during this time where I’m going through major personal shifts and changes, I experience more and more of these intrusive thoughts. They are obsessive and I think I should share some of it with you.
I cry as I type this. Why?
Because I feel weak. And weak is not good enough. Especially because women are supposed to be strong and hold it together. They have to forgive. We endure the lashings and still love and be tender.
Intrusive thoughts and me
For years, especially during pregnancy with the effect of hormones, my mind would populate with images of me physically hurt. I’m talking really violent images. I never really took note of WHY and WHEN the images would pop up. Probably because I wasn’t self-aware and mostly because I felt so guilty.
I was convinced that if I had to tell anyone, they would say I was being unreasonable and dramatic. Or worse, that I was crazy.
I didn’t realize that because I was suppressing so much hurt over the years, my mind was trying to “show me” how hurt I have been. What does suppressed look like?
You force yourself to speak to interact with people who make you feel uncomfortable/ not good enough, for the sake of xyz.
Firstly, you are suppressing the feeling of being uncomfortable. Why are you uncomfortable? Have you done some work to unpack that? Have you voiced that you are uncomfortable?
I never did any of that. I am still nervous when speaking up but it’s getting better.
So imagine years of that. Years of just covering up and burying all these various degrees of pain. My mind couldn’t cope.
And slowly the images started creeping in. I’d walk to the train station and see myself jump as the train neared the platform.
“What the hell is wrong with you, Yvette?” I’d ask and judge myself at the same time. But instead of talking about it, I kept it to myself. Eventually, it became too much. I spoke up and I got a label. Not a Black Label.
I was diagnosed with Bipolar disorder and the treatment sorted soon after that.
Unfortunately we never really touched on why the thoughts came. I sat in therapy and mention it casually:
“I find myself staring at the cell phone charger. It’s around my neck.”
Just like that, we’d up the doses of the medications.
My intrusive thoughts, emotions and YOU
I’m aware that people will react differently to my pain and emotions. It depends who you are, what your relationship with me is and of course your view on mental health in general.
Totally fine with me. Your reaction is just that: yours.
Let me tell you today that I’m done with suppressing this crap. I am done with being the only one bearing pain. No, I don’t wish pain on others. But it’s time I move the spotlight onto the cause of the pain and not only on me spending time in psychiatric clinics.
The other day I was told, “at least you got the help you needed in the clinics.”
Ya bruh. I did the work. But came home to?
Toxic relationships and situations are prevalent in the lives of women. Yes, I said it. I can use so many examples. I know many family members and friends who stay in abusive relationships. Why?
Because they are worried about what other people would say if they left?
Because that person didn’t hit them (and if they did maybe it wasn’t often enough to leave).
Maybe they were not physically abusive, what about emotionally? Yep, we stay for that too.
Then we get those women who stay because her partner doesn’t swear at her, but he doesn’t show her love or appreciation or doesn’t honour her.
What does that have to do with women suicide?
Everything and nothing.
Women and suicide
I’m currently reading “Feminism Is” edited by Jen Thorpe. As much as I never considered myself to be a feminist, I have followed some amazing female writers, often not knowing that they are indeed feminists. The more I read the essays and experiences of women like Haji Mohamed Dawjee, author of Sorry not Sorry, or even the writing of Danielle Bowler, I can understand why women have such a tough time with talking about mental health challenges.
We can’t. Because we are already difficult and fragile and all over the place and defiant.
All in one.
I mention my solo exhibition with the AVA gallery often in my blog posts, not to brag (but so what if I did?), but I truly believe I experienced a shift in a creative sense. I also experienced an awakening in my sense of self.
For the past few years, I have been struggling to understand why I hold onto relationships that do not serve me. In fact, they bring a lot of pain. In many aspects, I discarded the best parts of Yvette so that other people could feel comfortable and safe and happy with themselves.
I did this in big and small ways.
A small way?
I stopped listening to the type of music that fueled me and made me feel really good about myself because someone else didn’t like it.
A big way?
I drank too much so that I didn’t have to feel the pain that I needed to address the person who caused it / is causing it.
Now that I’m over 300 days sober, I cannot hide. There’s no buffer. There’s only the weight of pain of things unsaid.
There are nights I can’t sleep because I am overwhelmed with all the images in my mind. Mostly I see myself cut and bleeding or with a rope around my neck.
Another thing why I don’t talk about this stuff is because I’ll probably get a call from my mom who lives in Qatar a couple of minutes after posting this.
I go to sleep at night with a mind filled with violence and I wake up thankful that I didn’t act on it. I have to tell myself:
Don’t do it.
Don’t do it.
Please don’t. It would be a lot easier (dare I even suggest it) to act on those impulse.
Kate Spade acted on it.
Ulla, one of my best friends, acted on it.
I totally get why.
Do you know how intense that pain can be? Living with those thoughts and everything that comes with it, is unbearable.
And I find myself asking if we, those who live with mental illnesses like Bipolar Disorder or anxiety disorders, are doing enough? Are we making enough noise?
Then I wonder if people are listening anyway. It is “noise” after all.
We make all this noise and people still shudder or go crazy when someone commits suicide.
We make all this noise and people still shudder or go crazy when someone comes out as an alcoholic.
Mental illness is a medical condition. It is a human condition. We know that humans are imperfect, but I still find that there is a lot to be said and researched on women and suicide.
And I’m not talking solely about academic research. I’m referring to seeking to understand the lived experience of women with mental illness through blogs and even art.
Bloggers and their voice comforted me
After I was diagnosed, international bloggers like Kitt O’Malley carried me through some very lonely times. We are still friends and we respect each other’s work and plight as mental health advocates. I won’t lie, it helped that she was a woman. Even Ulla’s story as a homosexual woman living with mental illness provided comfort and made me feel included. It makes me think of Ferial Haffajee‘s essay in ‘Feminism Is’ when she refers to “woman’s solidarity and the power thereof.”
Of course, she wasn’t speaking about women and mental health or women and suicide. But I connected with the idea of woman solidarity, which I felt we had, with other female bloggers who shared the same pain and challenges.
Scott Eric Williams made the following observation about my works created during the AVA show:
Through the observation of Yvette’s view, we are urged to challenge our stereotypes of ‘difficult’ women who suffer from mental illnesses. Likewise, her artworks have the power to move us with gentle, subtle urgings to evaluate the demands we place on women. “Femininity and delicacy, all of these qualities are not respected on a grand scale. We don’t really have a cultural history of [appreciating] …let’s call it, people who fully embody their art and their work in ways that express their femininity.” – Street Artist, SWOON in an interview with InStyle, May 2018
I think I flip between ‘gentle, subtle urgings’ to STOP AND LOOK!
“As a woman, I feel the pressure to hold everything together. I feel the pressure to be the ashtray. But I also that the world would be dirtier place if there was no ashtray. Then I think, am I only an ashtray? Have I been conditioned to think that I am ashtray? All these are thought processes but they are attached to how people make you feel within your family, friendship circle and just society in general. Is your idea of being woman, in response to these hidden and not-so-hidden “messages” that we are bombarded with everyday? Maintain your form, hold your pose, dear girl. “- Yvette Hess, Instagram 2018
Just before the AVA exhibition, I started exploring more expressive work. I didn’t understand or appreciate that there may be a link between the way I feel, the pressures of being a woman and the label of being difficult.
Maybe I’m not difficult.
Perhaps I’m just expressing what has been on my mind for too long now.
And it hasn’t only been on my mind. I can share quite a few messages from women who feel the same way.
Gallery of expressive works I’ve created in this year
As women, we have to be so much for everyone. We have to hold and comfort. It is not uncommon that often, we pour from an empty cup. We stay with abusive partners, for the sake of others.
There is no time or space for mental health. Sometimes I think what is the use of talking about it if you see me as being dramatic or impossible? Would you even hear me?
I’m so grateful I have found women who have inspired me (even though not all of them label themselves as feminists!)
They inspire me to stay true to my calling even as it evolves.
With their encouragement, I have decided to stick to my guns and explore this niggling feeling inside that I need to talk/ write/ create art about women and mental illness. And way before it becomes about women and suicide.
It is difficult to be vulnerable. And I admit, I was always attracted to someone – in friendships and relationships, who was willing to be vulnerable. It showed strength and honesty.
I love that about myself.
Dear Kate, rest in peace my darling. The torment has ended. If you see Ulla, please give her a hug. I miss her and think about her often.
For the rest of us who remain I want to say, “hold on.”
Even if it is just for today or in this very moment. Let tomorrow or the next moment work itself out.