My Story Is A Semicolon

Nqobile Natasha Maseko says she sees a semicolon as a signal that her story is not over; it has just paused for the moment.

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By Rutendo Geraldine Mangwiro
All images by Katleho Sathekge

Depression. One word with ten powerful letters strung together to create emotions; emotions which first turn into overwhelming darkness, then finally, numbness. It has many faces. A happy face. A sad face. A blank face and even a face full of unresolved trauma.

No one would ever guess the storm Nqobile Natasha Maseko, 19, has fought to get out of depression and the demons she has battled. No one knows except her shadow, her soul, heart and her battle scars.

“My story is a semicolon,” says the second-year student majoring in Sociology and Development Studies at the University of Johannesburg. Strange, isn’t it? All our academic life, we are told that a semicolon is a symbol used to link two independent clauses that are closely related in thought. However, what we see and believe is not always limited to a single meaning.

Maseko says she sees a semicolon as a signal that her story is not over; it has just paused for the moment. Her story, her voice, her dreams and her aspirations are yet to come. Like many other children, especially black children, she grew up not knowing she had depression.

No joy in living

Maseko was diagnosed with clinical depression when she was just 16 years old after a particularly hard time in her life. She had lost her mother and went to the clinic for a separate matter. She was given a questionnaire.

“Would you commit suicide if you found out that you had HIV?” one of the questions read.

Her answer was yes. She was referred to a social worker so that they could understand the reasoning behind her answer. “I told the social worker that I didn’t find joy in living,” Maseko remembers, adding that this led her to be referred to a psychologist.

She was officially diagnosed with clinical depression and general anxiety disorder. She was put on antidepressants.

According to the South African Depression and Anxiety Group (SADAG), the most telling sign of depression is a loss of pleasure or withdrawal from usual activities. Some of the prevalent symptoms of depression are:

  • depressed mood,
  • changes in sleeping patterns,
  • feelings of worthless, self-reproach or guilt, and
  • extreme anxiety, agitation or enraged behaviour.

Mapping out emotions through words

Before she was diagnosed, Maseko had been harming herself since Grade 9. The coping mechanism satisfied her craving as she felt nothing, and because of that, she continued to cut herself. Anger. Hurt. Pain and sadness eventually led to blackouts.

Maseko admits that she did not see anything wrong with self-harming because it was her way of dealing with all the pain, the feeling of endless suffocation and reality. The reality was cruel, bitter, and hellbent on destroying her. All she knew was that the physical pain made her feel better. The blood dripping from her wrists felt like a weight had been lifted off her shoulders.

Self-harm or self-mutilation is the act of deliberately inflicting pain and damage to one’s own body by cutting, burning, scratching and other forms. However, it can also include internal or emotional harm such as consuming toxic amounts of alcohol, drugs or deliberately participating in unsafe sex. Those who self-harm may feel it helps release pent-up feelings of sadness, anxiety or anger. Self-harm can be dangerous even though the individual may not wish to cause themselves significant or long-lasting damage. The act of cutting one’s wrist for instance, may unintentionally lead to suicide if the cut happens to be too deep.    

“I am taking things one day at a time. I think my problem was trying to be perfect all the time. I was trying to mask my pain. Now I’m allowing myself to feel things because hiding emotions was the main reason for self-harming,” Maseko says. “I would suppress anger and fear, and [then] I would take it out on myself. Now I’m allowing myself to feel.”

When possible, Maseko now writes as a way of dealing with her emotions. She shared one of her poems with The Open Journal.

 ‘Too much is wrong with me’

I wake up every morning with puffy eyes
I wake up every morning just to fall asleep again
I can’t eat, I can’t sleep, I can’t get out of
bed, I can’t face the world.
Too much is wrong with me
I’m anxious, I cry a lot, I hurt myself, I despise
who I’ve become
I open a tap of cold water till the tub is half 
full, I deprive myself of breathing every 3 minutes
Too much is wrong with me
Breathing is a challenge, getting out is a hassle,
Smiling is a sin. Too much is wrong with me.”

Maseko is not the only one who has gone through the pain of feeling that being alive is a burden; many others have. It is a chore that you have to complete even though you hate it. But you have to live. You have to fight, survive and tell your story because it matters.

Where to receive assistance

If a person is showing extreme signs of depression and/or self-harm, the following contact details have been provided by SADAG. Contact a counsellor between 8am-8pm Monday to Sunday.

General lines:

  • Call: 011 234 4837
  • Suicidal Emergency line: 0800 567 567 and the 24Hr Helpline is 0800 456 789

University lines:

  • UCT Helpline: 0800 24 25 26
  • UP Student Care line: 0800 747 747
  • University of Free State: 0800 00 63 63
  • TUT Student Helpline: 0800 68 78 88
  • UWC Student Helpline: 0800 22 23 33

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