One of the major reasons why I started The Corporate Canvas was because imparting knowledge onto others is what I am most passionate about. Call it a fleeting or wistful belief, but we would all be more tolerant of each other as people if we all strived to learn about one another’s history, background, traditions, and even struggles – which is why I was incredibly humbled when I received an email from a reader of the website, Bonolo Madibe, who wished to share her story of her struggle with Depression with The Corporate Canvas. Currently residing in London, Bonolo is a student at the University of Westminster who has struggled with Depression for many years.
We often hear of stories of people suffering with various mental illnesses but how aware are we of their effects? Read below as Bonolo takes us through the journey of when she first discovered she had Depression, its impact on her life and the factors which contributed towards its manifestation…
NOTE: Interview was recorded, transcribed and edited accordingly.
Full Name: Bonolo Madibe
Educational Background: BA Politics & International Relations (Double Hons); University of Westminster
Current City: London
ZIMASA: Bonolo, thanks so much for taking the time to share your story on our platform. If you may, could you take us through the journey of when you discovered you had depression?
BONOLO: I have always been a person that keeps to myself and I enjoy my own space more than anything. I adore my own company and crave it when I haven’t had it in a while. I can’t really put my finger on when I realised I was depressed; I knew I felt lonely, but seeing as I am someone who spends so much time alone – and considering that I never really knew much about depression – I didn’t truly realise that that loneliness was actually a symptom of it. However, in retrospect, I most probably had it 2 years before I was diagnosed. When I did eventually realise that what I had was something serious, I didn’t want to call it ‘depression’ because for me that is a really big word. And so I felt that if I didn’t really have depression, I calling what I was feeling ‘depression’, would have been an insult to someone that really did suffer from it. It’s a serious thing.
ZIMASA: So you never picked up on it because you knew that you were someone who was generally closed off, and resultantly didn’t take your feeling of loneliness seriously…So what feelings did you start experiencing that made you realise that you might in fact have depression?
BONOLO: Well, my Mom got married in 2010, however the man she married didn’t move in with us into our home in England until around 2011. While he was living with us things became very difficult. He was chauvinistic – I will not say traditional, or call him a very ‘traditional African man’ as it would be offensive considering how many traditional African men are not chauvinists as all. It was his belief that men should not ever have to lift a finger around the house – a far cry from the ‘dream team’ lifestyle my Mom and I had created for ourselves. My Mom and I always split our tasks 50/50 so I felt almost disorientated when I suddenly had to pick up for someone else. When I would speak to family members of this, they always believed that I felt this way because I was so used to being the only child in the house. But I always knew that the idea of my Mom marrying this man in particular didn’t sit well with me and when people ask me “why” I can never give an answer – it was purely an instinctive feeling. And some time later my instincts proved me right… He turned out to be abusive. I am not entirely sure if he ever abused my Mom, but he did abuse me personally several times, to the point where I finally made the decision to call the Police. Because it was first his first offence, he wasn’t charged criminally, and he merely got off with a warning. In the Police’s eyes, it was not a significant offence as no significant injuries were sustained. He was mentally and emotionally abusive towards my Mom and I watched my Mother slowly internalise and give in to this abuse. I saw it particularly in our fights, as her stance was changing and her opinion of me was changing. In those two years that he lived with us, I suffered internally and felt I couldn’t speak to anyone as I felt alone in my pain. I was always known as the strong, independent one amongst my friends, so for me to suddenly be the one who needed help was a notion I couldn’t understand.
ZIMASA: When did you realise that you were truly not ok? What habits did you start picking up that led you to the realisation that you just weren’t yourself?
BONOLO: Around June 2013 My mom and I returned to South Africa, subsequent to her and her husband separating, and we hadn’t seen him in several weeks as he had moved back to SA prior. Within the last week of our time in SA, out of nowhere he arrived uninvited. After some time of working on regaining her sense of being an independent woman, she got back together with him and to me that didn’t make sense – as a result my Mom and I got into so many arguments and it got to the point where during an argument my mom said “What kind of husband do you not think cheats on his wife?!” – now you have to understand that the Mom I know would never say something like that or give someone the opportunity to do something like that – so that broke me because I knew that wasn’t my Mom nor the person she is. My mom was always the person to tell you, “if he cheats on you, leave; if he touches you, leave”. I started to become an angry person.
What many people don’t understand about depression is that it feeds off your insecurities. Your insecurities are like meat to a predator in the context of depression”. My self-esteem was affected, my body issues got affected and I became obsessed with how I looked & spent an obscene amount of time in the gym.
BONOLO: Oh yes, definitely. My self-esteem was already low so witnessing the way my mother was being treated manifested itself in the way I saw my body. I went to gym twice a day, only rested Saturdays & Sundays – and only because I had a part time job on weekends. Had I not had that job, I would have gone to the gym twice a week, 7 days a week. I went as far as taking diet pills.
My school work also got affected. I didn’t believe in myself – suddenly I struggled with subjects I had always excelled in. I constantly doubted myself and everything I wrote – English was always my strongest subject but suddenly I couldn’t excel.
I cried all the time. With depression, you cry all the time. So if you aren’t sure whether you have depression, if you cry all the time, it’s definitely symptom. You cannot stop crying.
It wasn’t easy for me to acknowledge what I was feeling or going through as I never let people see me at my weakest. I don’t usually share my lows with other people.
When did you decide to actually seek help – what was the turning point?
I remember one night I was in the bath and my Mom just found me crying. She asked me what was wrong and I simply responded “I don’t want to be like this anymore”. When she asked what I meant I couldn’t really give her an answer. It’s difficult to just tell someone you are sad when you have depression – sadness is an emotion. When you are depressed, you have no emotion. You are in a low mood. It’s not sadness, it’s a low. And when you are in that state you will know what it is.
What steps did you take after your realisation that you may in fact be ill?
In the UK, health care is free. I went to the GP as you cannot go straight to a therapist without an official diagnosis. The GP indeed found that I was suffering from depression and they asked me to fill a mental health questionnaire. One major criticism about the health care being free is that there are long waiting lists as a result. Now fortunately I was not suicidal, but for somebody who is at that stage – A 2 hour wait is long enough for them to make the decision to take their life. I was on the waiting list for about 4-6 weeks and in that period the Doctors asked whether I felt I should go on medication. I really didn’t think I was in the position to make that decision at all because I couldn’t even decide what I wanted to eat – silly as that sounds, decisions as little as that can be very stressful for someone with depression.
How did you feel after you were diagnosed?
And why is that?
I still feel embarrassed now. I don’t know why. I can never explain it. I still have feelings of embarrassment even though I know many people suffer from this illness – and I also have a friend from college that struggles with depression yet she is not ashamed of it at all! She frequently posts mental awareness tweets which I absolutely love because people get to learn about what we are going through. But strangely enough, I still feel embarrassed of my illness.
Are you embarrassed at the thought of admitting your depression or embarrassed at the thought of people knowing you have depression?
That’s a good question. I have never thought about it like that, but I think I’m more embarrassed by people knowing it.
It is difficult to admit you have depression or have people know you have it. Our generation has somewhat romanticised depression. If you go onto social media, you will find a picture [often referred to as Memes] of, for example, a woman drowning with the caption “This is what depression feels like”
Not to be disrespectful, but if you don’t know what depression is, how could you possibly state what depression feels like?
That’s so true – it’s so easy to joke and say ‘Oh I’m so depro, I feel fat today’ or ‘Oh I’m so depro, so and so got this today’
Exactly. And that lingo is simply not ok.
Yes, it waters down the harsh reality that is depression.
For example, the very day I found out about my depression, I saw a few friends after my trip to the clinic. One remarked “Oh Lisa* is feeling depressed today because she has no plans for the weekend”. My heart sunk! I went tense. My heart felt tight-gripped. I was angry in a way – you don’t know what it is like to suffer from this illness. However, I have grown to accept that some people will use the term depression in that context and I cannot go around carrying that anger towards them or correcting them.
What major lesson would you give to people who don’t know much about depression?
I think the thing with depression is that it’s a very, very lonely disorder. Sometimes the loneliness just wraps itself around you so tightly you don’t realise that you are turning into somebody else. At the age I am at, it’s usually a time to discover yourself and you cannot properly discover yourself with the added pressure of the feelings you are experiencing. So if I were to give any lesson, it would be to never make anybody’s life harder than what it may already be. Never go out of your way to make anybody’s life harder than it perhaps is. Be nice to everybody because you don’t know what somebody is going through. I used to hear that all the time and I used to think it was a cliché – but clichés are clichés for a reason. Always be nice to people.
Secondly – human beings are the only animals on this planet that do not use their instinct. And we have instincts for a reason. For me, depression has taught me to be very instinctive. I may not like something for no particular reason, but I’ve learnt to listen to my body. Listen to your body. Listen to your instincts. They will get you far. Don’t rely on anything other than your instincts.
It’s so easy to give people who are feeling depressed or down ‘advice’ – we often fleetingly say don’t speak negatively, speak positives into your life, do more exercise, do what makes you happy, etc when in fact depression is a real core disorder. What message would you give society as a whole – how do you wish society treated depression?
Life doesn’t get easier. When we are growing up and experiencing hardships, we often get told things will get better/easier…when you have depression, life doesn’t get any easier. When you have depression, you can’t plan anything, because as soon as you’ve planned it, you will wake up and you won’t be able to get out of bed. People who have depression physically cannot get out of bed. It’s not that you are paralysed, it’s not that your body can’t move; you cannot get out of bed. Your body is constantly aching.
When you have depression you are prone to other mental disorders as well…I suffer from anxiety too. So all these elements together can affect your outlook on life – your body image, your soul, the way you undertake simple everyday tasks. It can cause eating disorders – people with eating disorders have depression. Your mind makes decisions you cannot consciously control.
Are you on any anti-depressants?
Not at the moment, I was for a brief period but they take such a heavy strain on my body. What they do is they stop all the negative thoughts – you take them and you experience somewhat of a blank canvas. They make you numb to emotion, which is not necessarily a good thing.
I am however, on sleeping pills. Without them I can go 48 hours without sleep.
What are you coping mechanisms?
My mother has been my strength and she has picked me up so many times. When all else fails, I know I’ve got her.
I also always make sure I never let people let me feel less about me than what I am.
I do have great friends, and they have been there for me in so many ways. I’m grateful for them and I appreciate them.
I am also an advocate for healthy eating and believe that it can truly make a difference to your day. What you put into your body is of utmost importance.
Exercise. It’s not a cliché!
I am not saying these things will miraculously change your life, but they will give contribute towards you having a better day. And when you have depression there is nothing you want more than a better day. There’s nothing I want more out of life than to live & that’s a misconception people have about people with depression.
Listen to others. We as people really need to listen more and not just wait to give your version of a story
What are you most passionate about?
Reading and writing. I wish I believed in myself enough to pursue writing as it is a huge passion of mine.
I aspire to happiness in every respect
I am an ambitious person and I do everything it takes to motivate myself, no matter how hard it may be at times.
Thank you so much for sharing your story with us!
Thank you, it certainly helps to talk about it at times and nothing is more important to me than knowing there may be a chance I could be helping others out there like me
*Name has been changed to protect individual’s identity