Allow Me To Preach

Mental awareness continues to be a topic that needs to be explored especially with the current suicide rate that seems to increase every year. One thing I’ve discovered as a black man is that mental health is shunned upon in black communities and I honestly feel like the right education and an adequate amount of information would save our black brothers and sisters.

At first, I used to think that the lack of information was only an issue that was prevalent in townships but over the years, I’ve learnt that it affects everyone, everywhere, but the black community seems not to be realizing how dire it is for them to actually dwell on it. I was under the impression that just a little more information would create awareness within townships and act as guidance to the decisions they take regarding mental health issues, and I still stand by that. We need to start spreading awareness in areas where information seems to be limited, or completely change the way in which we spread information to fit the methods in which these communities prefer to absorb information.

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Black communities seem to have the wrong idea of what mental illness is, going as far as calling it “witchcraft” or a “spiritual warfare”. A mental illness can be defined as the inability to use your brain to its fullest capacity. It is estimated that approximately 1 in 3 South Africans suffer from some form of mental disorder and this is according to a SASH (South Africa Stress and Health) study which was conducted in 2003/4. It doesn’t matter how you choose to look at it, treatment is essential for managing mental disorders and there are a lot of facilities that offer free treatment, but information about those facilities seems to be limited. This is also coupled with the fact that treatment is frowned upon because it is expensive. How then does the government come in and actually make treatment accessible and affordable for everyone who is affected? The government cannot be held accountable if we ourselves do not speak up about the big elephant in the room. People are so afraid of being judged that they forget that their holistic health comes first, before everything else. The brain is the hardest working organ in our bodies; we are so quick to take care of minor headaches and stomach cramps, but nobody wants to be seen taking treatment for a mental disorder because it makes them appear “weak”. This notion has to change because, without treatment, we cannot reach a state where the whole nation is operating from a healthy state of mind. In the same breath, we cannot depend only on medication to bring us back to a balanced state of mind; we need to immerse ourselves in activities that fuel us with positivity.

The media, on the other hand, can be held accountable for the lack of information there is about mental illness. They’re so quick to report news on suicide deaths and depression but hardly anything is ever said about the solutions that are available to combat this epidemic. The media is very powerful because it shapes the way in which we think and it is this power that should be used to evoke emotion and inspire action. What we consume has a major impact on our daily decisions but it seems that no one is actually taking advantage of that. Yes, it’s okay to report suicide deaths and be active about bringing such concerns to light, but when do we start talking about solutions? When will the media start sharing the truth that the treatment of mental disorders does indeed work if applied correctly? These are questions that The Filling Station is looking to find answers to. There are a number of well-established organisations that place mental health at the forefront of their activities, but they don’t receive as much coverage from the media as possible, thus leading to people not even knowing that there are services such as free counselling and more than anything, that it’s okay to seek help. Mental health organisations should also be proactive in changing the dialogues around mental health. If there was ever a time that we needed such a change to be made, it is NOW. The media tends to focus on suicide deaths but nothing is being said about certain suicide prevention campaigns that actually exist. We need to consume positive news in order for us to prosper as a nation that is at a constant battle with the violent tide that is mental illness. When we can do this, the conversation can begin to change and social media platforms will also follow suit because we know how much power social media holds.

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Photo by Nathan Dumlao on Unsplash

An active approach has to be taken in educating the individual about the skills they can acquire to better their condition and improve the quality of their lives. Sometimes you don’t have to be diagnosed to know that something is not okay, and even that is okay. It forms a foundation for the steps that you need to take in order for you to maintain your mental health, and also your overall health. Treatment is important, but treatment alone will not get you far, it requires commitment because mental disorders are chronic. Be committed to treatment and also be committed to learning more about your condition. Be committed to learning what your triggers are. Be committed to learning exactly what is going on with you so that you can avoid its adverse effects. Be committed to making the necessary changes to your lifestyle for the sake of your wellbeing. Where mental illness is involved, prevention is indeed better than cure. You do not have to wait until it’s too late to begin taking care of yourself, the sooner you start, the less you have to deal with on your own.

This also brings me to my next point, the importance of relating. We need to get comfortable with building relationships that allow us to be open about our daily struggles. It is okay not to be okay, but it’s not okay to wallow in those feelings as well. It’s important to remember who you’re trying to become because that also guides your inner dialogue. We need to be able to rely on family and friends for support but they too need to rely on information to know how to handle us. If such information is not easily accessible then it becomes a challenge for everyone affected. We need to be able to understand what our friends are going through and accept them as they are without judgment because it is that judging alone that makes the battle so lonely. People tend to isolate themselves when they feel misunderstood, so it’s the responsibility of both parties to acquire as much information about certain conditions whether it is depression and anxiety, or ADHD and schizophrenia, it’s something that must be done. We need to actively seek information so that we can also be on the lookout for any threatening symptoms. Don’t wait until it’s too late to look for symptoms.

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On Wednesday, the 24th of October 2018, South Africa poured out their tributes to Hip-Hop Icon, HHP who had spoken about failed suicide attempts in his interviews. These are the kinds of things we should be looking out for. When HHP opened up, chances are people thought he was looking for attention or an easy way out, because when you are depressed and suicidal, sometimes you’re called “lazy”. What most people do not realise is that him opening up was on its own a cry for help. Here’s another issue that seriously needs to be touched on: Men suffering from mental illness. HHP had shown symptoms of depression and for a long time was open about them, but the societal pressures that are exerted on a man seem to be multiplying. In most suicide cases, it is the men who are casualties and it is believed that it’s because they’re more brutal in how they go on about taking their lives, with some resorting to shooting themselves or jumping off a high building as compared to women who are most likely to overdose on deadly pills. This, however, shouldn’t take away from the fact that the individual found themselves in a position where they felt that suicide was the only option they had remaining.

Suicidal thoughts are key symptoms of depression. Suicide is terminal but the thoughts should be treated like the terminal disease they are. I took some time to listen to and read some of HHP’s interviews and I picked up a theme. A lot of men, like HHP, commit suicide because of their temporary inability to meet the expectations that are set by those around them. A lot of pressure is applied to men as they are the providers and are not supposed to show emotion but rather just “get over it” and work towards providing for their families. Men are not allowed to be vulnerable because “a man doesn’t cry”. Men are conditioned to suffer in silence because the communities we’ve been raised in sham them for being weak or sometimes “pathetic”. People are so quick to say “sort yourself out” or “pull yourself together” when in actual fact, they should be finding out exactly what the problem is. When someone is down on themselves, it’s vital to be careful with the words we use because they can have one of two effects: make them feel better, or worse, it’s never in between.

HHP, RIPJABBA

Jabulani “HHP” Tsambo

Because men are not allowed to talk about their feelings, even to their friends in most cases, this leaves them without a support system where their mental health is regarded. This is why they revert to self-harm which is another symptom of depression. They start abusing substances like drugs and alcohol just to escape whatever it is that they’re feeling at that current moment because it is taboo to express it. We need to redefine what a man is because up until we do that, we will continue to deal with the robots we create as a society, that destroy themselves simply because they aren’t allowed to be human. As parents, wives, sons and daughters, we need to go easy on the men in our lives; they’re already dealing with a lot. They deal with feelings of disappointment, failure, incapability, and we cannot keep rubbing that in. We cannot continue to dwell on their shortcomings instead we need to be creative about how we instil a sense of positivity in the men that matter to us. We need to educate ourselves about the symptoms that we should be looking out for so that we can be able to spot them. We need to support our fellow brothers and create a space that makes it comfortable for them to say “actually, I am not okay” and with that still be able to remind them that you recognize them and will play your role as a pillar until they can find their feet. Let us work together in redefining what a man is, rather than what society says a man should be.

November is the month of the man and we have some great content coming up, we start off next week with the theme Redefining The Man. Please make sure that you get all the men in your life to participate, you’ll never know how many lives you can save.

Have yourselves an amazing weekend, let’s have a discussion or a debate about this topic in the comment section below. 

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OSHUN – Me (Explicit)

It’s Friday, and you know what that means, it’s Music Day. I came across this track on my playlist and I fell in love with the message.

Never mind the fact that the beat is totally crazy and has an old school feel to it, which I totally love, the power in the lyrics is overwhelmingly beautiful. If this song was mainstream, it would definitely pass as an anthem for women.

It talks about trusting your purpose and always staying true to who you are amidst everything that you’re going through. It’s also about regaining in confidence in yourself and depending on yourself to change the world around you.

Listen to it here:

 

Do share your favourite songs with us in the comment tab below. 


suicide, black man, sad, depressed

True Story: I Remember Not Dying…

Reading Time: 15 minutes

If you had told the ambitious and driven 18-year-old me that at the age of 27 he would be referring to himself as a recovering addict, he wouldn’t have believed you. See, at that age, I had big goals and everything seemed to be going according to plan. I knew what I wanted, I knew where I was going and I seemed to have direction. 27 saw me finding my way back to the 18-year-old me but after a heavy struggle with addiction. It took me quite some time and near-death experiences to realise that I needed help. Addiction is a vicious cycle that literally strips you of your identity.

“Addiction is a vicious cycle that literally strips you of your identity”

In the previous article, I mentioned that addiction is normally accompanied by a mental illness, in my case, it was Bipolar II disorder. I was always a happy-go-lucky individual, in fact, the only time I was “moody” is when I was hungry. So when I was told I was bipolar, you can imagine how confused I was because I just never saw myself as the type. What I didn’t realise is that, just like a lot of people, I didn’t even know what Bipolar really was, and no, if anything, it’s not being “moody”.

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Bipolar II disorder

My battle with addiction started in my teen years. At that time, I was already dealing with the sad truth that my father had rejected me from the moment he heard my mom was expecting me, but somehow, my inquisitive and curious nature would not allow me to take this lying down. After asking a lot of questions, a way was paved for me to meet him and his family and somehow I still faced rejection from them. I remember how headstrong I was about gaining acceptance from them no matter what it took. I feel like I spent my childhood trying to fit into a family that cropped me out of every picture. At first, it felt normal, I was fine with whatever little affection (sometimes none) that I got from them because I so desperately wanted to belong. As the years went, I became angry because no matter what I did, my father just wouldn’t accept me or welcome me as his own. Writing this now, I’m feeling things that I thought I had conquered, but I guess that’s why they say “recovering”. I remember how this made me question myself. I used to question my beauty, my intellect, my existence, etc. What was so wrong with me that I couldn’t be accepted by the one person that meant so much to me?

“I spent my childhoold trying to fit into a family that cropped me out of every picture”

Eventually, when I turned 15 and after a long call with my then stepmother who told me that my father wanted to run paternity tests because I was somewhat dark in complexion as compared to his other kids, I decided to call it quits. He directly rejected me twice, in one lifetime. Even after all the commonalities that were revealed and a heavy resemblance, I just wasn’t good enough for him. It was a lot to carry. I guess it also didn’t help that I was a homosexual, or at least at the time we can say I was “showing signs”. That whole experience really made me numb to everything that was happening around me. The sight of men, any man, brought about uncomfortable feelings within me. I was angry at everything and everyone but mostly at him because if anyone had to make things easier for me, it had to be him, but he didn’t. I was young and clueless, he could have tolerated me but now I know that’s not how the world works. This is such a common story, and I don’t think people realise the massive effect it has on ONE human being.

Meanwhile, things on my mother’s side were great, but I could never be satisfied knowing that there was a part to me that I’d never experience. I felt so lost. I felt unwanted. As young as I was at the time, I was emotionally exhausted. I didn’t know who to blame, what to do and then eventually I had my first drink. I remember the feeling of being intoxicated. For the first time, I felt invincible over my situation. My head was spinning, and I laid there in front of people who were old enough to be my parents, drunk and totally unbothered.

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Matric (2008) was the year in which I fell deeply in love with a boy for the first time. It was out of this world. My hormones were highly active around him. I would get butterflies seeing him walk from one class to the next. I can’t even tell you how we started dating, but I know that as much as it was a challenge, it was also beautiful. He was still in the closet, I mean we were just in matric. I, on the other hand, had started rebelling so I didn’t have time to hide anything. Eventually, that relationship ended too, I guess not everyone is meant to have a high school sweetheart. That’s the point where I started believing that my life was surrounded by a cloud of rejection. If there’s anything that used to get to me, it’s that, rejection.

2009, after having matriculated and not being ready to go to tertiary because I was at war with my mom who felt I should do something in commerce when all I wanted to do was radio or drama, which “won’t pay my bills”, I decided to go look for a job. I found a few of those odd ones where recent matriculants are literally exploited because they’re still clueless. In February that year, the worst thing happened. On my way home from work on the 24th, my cousin told me that my baby brother had been run over by a car and we needed to head home. Upon getting there, I saw the accident scene, his remains were splattered on the street where I lived. The site alone destroyed me, and although I didn’t see his body, I know it was a painful death. That day cemented my hate for men. The man who ran him over lived a few blocks away from my house. I hated him, I wanted him to rot in jail but my mother had other plans, my brother was never coming back anyway. From that day, something changed in the way that I viewed men altogether and that also explains why I had never dated older guys. It seemed like they reminded me of the men I used to blame for how my life turned out. I hated myself because I’d be reminded of my dad every time I looked in the mirror. I wanted to be different.

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May his soul continue to rest in peace.

That was the year that my battle with addiction started. I was in so much pain, I was still dealing with my first break up, a rejection from the man I wished would just one day love me back, and the loss of my baby brother. A lot was happening at once and all I wanted was an escape and I found it at the bottom of the bottle. From that day, I drank every day, even if it was just two ciders after work. When that became hard to maintain, I resorted to cannabis, but I hated the effect it had on me, so I continued drinking. I found a job that paid me well, stayed for a few months and then left because I felt I was still young and employable. All I wanted to do was find enough time to intoxicate myself. I went to a gay club for the first time in that same year and got so immersed in that life. As much as there was drama, it was a nice distraction from what I was personally dealing with. Nobody knew my demons, I never let anyone get too close.

Fast forward to 2012, my ambitious self was about to turn 21 and I had nothing to show for myself. All I had was a brand new “screw everything” attitude, and a couple of mistakes and regrets. I remember it was on the 3rd of May 2012 when I realised that everything I was running away from was making its rounds again and this time, it was intense. I still had a hard time connecting to a man in a relationship, I still missed my brother, and I still wanted my dad in my life, even after everything he never put me through. What was it all for? The night before, I lied to my housemate and told her I had a headache, she had a bunch of pills in a packet and I knew what my plan was so I told her to give me the whole packet and I would return it. The next day, when everyone went to work, I went for it. I gulped as many pills as possible, which when the packets were counted, amounted to 72 pills, most of which had paracetamol. I remember sitting there, crying my eyes out, but I couldn’t hear a thing. I tried getting up, but I couldn’t, the next thing I knew I was on a hospital bed. That nurse kept on asking me what I had taken and I was just so annoyed because there was a pipe down my throat, I just didn’t understand what was going on, everything was a blur, I was in between a deep sleep and whatever was happening there. I passed out again and the next morning, I woke up to a nurse who welcomed me to a hospital. I spent four days in ICU feeling all sorts of terrible things.

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I was so disappointed in myself and also annoyed because I knew that from that day, the people in my life would no longer see me as the strong person I convinced them I was. I really wanted to die, I felt like my existence in this world was pointless. It was on the very same day that I was diagnosed with depression and then later on in the week Bipolar II disorder. I didn’t even understand what that meant but I was just bored with this planet and couldn’t wait to leave so I could have a drink…or twelve. I remember when I was given a second chance, I made sure I came out of the closet, with a bang. On my 21st birthday celebration, my boyfriend at the time sat next to me at the main table, this happened in front of the whole family and the neighbours. I wasn’t concerned about their reaction, I just didn’t care. I felt like I was just moving through life because I had to.

2013 saw me quitting alcohol for three years after struggling to keep up with my treatment due to drinking. I got into my 3rd serious relationship and even that went South, it was at that point that I thought, “you know what, it’s cool, relationships will never work for me”. I checked myself into rehab and focused on healing and on finding myself again. It was a big year for me and I made a lot of progress as an individual. I decided to go back to school but even that was tough because there were no funds to keep me afloat so I opted to look for a job but by then the recession was bad and I would find myself sitting around, hunting and getting even more depressed, unemployment is depressing.

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In 2015 after almost a year of just surviving, I experimented for the first time with recreational drugs. I didn’t want to drink because I knew that I would go back to the person I did such a good job at running away from. Recreational drugs were great but when the buzz was over, the pain was unbearable yet even with all of that, I still wanted more. All I wanted, was to stay intoxicated, something I never want to experience ever again. I struggled with those for five years. I was so desperate to quit but I couldn’t. I’d think I was doing okay, and then one morning I’d wake up and just find myself buying them. I’d probably cry before doing a line by myself because I knew that I so badly wanted to stop but it was so hard, in the meantime, I maintained a happy face around my friends. Around this time, I got to know myself. I sat with myself and tried to figure out exactly what was happening. I had to make some hard decisions and sacrifices because I so desperately wanted to be clean. This year, I decided I was done and I wanted out. I didn’t even know where I was going to start, all I knew is that I was on that mission, and this time, I kept it to myself so that I never had to deal with the pressure and that dreadful “didn’t you say…?” question. My battles were my own. I stopped seeking external help and relied on my own strength to make this happen.

My whole experience introduced me to some interesting characters. People that I would meet either as dealers or as people that took drugs too. I was exposed to a lot of wonderful people who were pushed by circumstances to resort to questionable ways of escaping. Suddenly all I wanted was to be an ear for people who needed to talk which was rather unfair of me because until very recently, I never really liked to talk about how I feel, in fact, I would hide behind, “No, I’m listening, you talk”.

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I don’t blame the authorities for calling us “recovering” addicts, because every day we recover from our small ways of living. When I started The Filling Station, all I wanted to be was an inspiration to others. I didn’t want to wait until I was “perfect” in the eyes of the public. I wanted the public to see me becoming perfect, perfect in their standards. I knew that if I wanted to change, I’d have to depend on a power that was higher than me. I had to seek love, validation and acceptance from a higher power because down here, it felt like there was nothing for me. It’s only when I found the God of my understanding that I started recognizing all the important people in my life. I started backing away from people that had agendas. My eyes were opened and I knew what I had to do. I had to accept myself for who I was so that I could become who I’m meant to be. I am committed to recovery and I know that I’m not the only one. Someone out there is going through the most, but always remember that before you judge someone for what they do, find out why they do it. We all have themes. It’s not about whose story is more gruesome than the other, It’s how you felt when it all happened. It’s what you took from the experience, both positive and negative.

“I had to accept myself for who I was so that I could become who I’m meant to be”

I’m taking accountability for the mistakes that I have made and acquiring a new mindset so I can change my life. You can do it too, no matter how old or young you are. My experience has taught me never to judge anyone and to treat everyone with the same respect. I’m more open about what’s happening in my life. I’m open to love and meeting new people. I actually complain less because when you “almost” die, you somehow become more grateful for the life that you have. I’ve met a lot of individuals that are fighting silently and I pray for them before going to bed at night, because I know how lonely this war can get. Get as much support as you possibly can, if addiction is a disease, then it surely can be managed, you just need to believe that you can do it and stay determined. Remember why you started.

Remember to share this on your social media pages, you never know who it might inspire. Thank you for reading ’til the end.


twins, looking into the mirror, accepting yourself

What Comes After Acceptance?

Reading Time: 10 Minutes

I love cliches, I feel like they’re used so often that they tend to lose meaning when they, in actual fact, carry so much truth if you take a deeper look. They say the first step to recovery is acceptance. As a person who has frequented rehabilitation centres, I really had no idea what acceptance really meant. I was under the impression that all I had to accept was that I was an addict when in actual fact there were a lot of other things to take into consideration. Acceptance is encompassing of all the aspects that make up the person that I am today, and until I began to accept myself for who I was and what I was actually going through, I continued to relapse and then regret it afterwards. It was a vicious cycle.

According to the Merriam Webster dictionary, addiction can be defined as ‘persistent compulsive use of a substance known by the user to be harmful’. ‘Addicts’ know that whatever they’re doing is not good for them and that’s because they get to face the repercussions of their substance abuse but they continue using anyway. It’s so easy for an addict to fall back into the trap of addiction even after suffering severe consequences which almost proved fatal and this is because addiction is also a dependency. We find it hard to cope without a dose of our preferred substance and when we do get a dose, even though sometimes it can be a mild overdose, we start to feel helpless because that’s where we begin to experience uncomfortable sensations in our bodies which are caused by the abuse of a particular substance, these can be a hangover, insomnia, stomach cramps, loss of appetite, etc.

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It’s easy for others to point fingers at addicts but one thing we need to understand is that addiction is always accompanied by a mental illness. Addiction can result from depression and the need to not feel whatever it is that gets you down, and it can also result from anxiety and the dire need to remain calm amidst all the chaos. It is our responsibility to take care of ourselves and put our health first but we get so caught up in pleasing others, so much that it becomes a difficult duty to maintain. Our addiction may be a result of peer pressure, but it is not peer pressure that keeps us hooked, it is us chasing the temporal amount of joy that comes with every “session” that does. It’s extremely easy to get lost in chasing the feeling that you forget the repercussions that come with it. When the substance starts to wear off, we find ourselves tapping back into our initial depressive state harder than before. We end up being disinterested in everything. We lose sight of our passions, our responsibilities start to seem pointless, we miss school, we miss work and life just starts to get unnecessarily hectic.

I remember how easy it was for me to keep using even when I knew that I would struggle to sleep at night because I’d be sitting there thinking I’d die in my sleep and that there was a chance that I would get emotional and start crying for or about things that happened way back in my young years. I also remember sitting there watching my friends sleep and wished that I could also sleep as easily as they did, even just for an hour. It is at this point that I realised that as much as substances masked whatever I was feeling, those things became more exposed when the drug had served its purpose and spit me out of my hiding place. You get into a very dark place, a place you thought you had conquered because the drugs had you feeling victorious. Even though I knew I had an issue, I’d still go back and take the very same substance that almost put me in a hospital because I felt like I was strong enough to handle whatever consequences may arise. I guess that was the case until I actually ended up on a hospital bed. That, however, is a story for another post.

depressed, suicidal, tired, sad, drunk, lonely, alone,

We test and break rules and although our bodies are able to handle a lot of stress, we will not always be lucky. At times we can feel our bodies deteriorating but we will still do the same thing that got them there in the first place, which is rather questionable. It made me wonder, “Where exactly am I placing my value?” I clearly wasn’t placing value in myself because if I was, I would have known that it was “time-out” for me and I had to concentrate on bettering myself. I remember, after the ‘ordeal’, I would continue to hate myself for putting my body through the torture that comes with withdrawals and because I kept on wallowing over what I had done, I’d just keep getting worse. All I had to do was forgive myself, repeatedly.

Forgiveness comes after acceptance. Until I accepted who I was at the time, there was no way I could access the person that I wanted to become and in order for me to no longer identify with that person, I had to forgive myself and start again. I had to forgive myself for letting my conditioning take centre stage. I had to forgive myself for not putting my health first. I had to forgive myself for all the friendships and relationships I destroyed because of my addiction. I had to forgive myself for all the jobs I walked out on simply because I had woken up feeling like a failure. I had to learn how to forgive myself for every time that I relapsed even when I had told myself I stopped. I had to forgive my past experiences for having so much control over me. I had lost myself, I didn’t even know whether I was coming or going. One time, I thought I had it all figured out and the next thing I knew, a curveball was thrown my way and I just spiralled downwards. I had to stop feeling sorry for myself and take responsibility for what life had given me. The worst was over, it was time for me to turn my life around.

determined, ready, focused, willing,

Getting through it wasn’t easy because I wanted to do everything myself. I’ve always been the kind of person that wanted to be in charge of things but I realised that I needed support and people to understand me. I couldn’t surround myself with people who judged me because that would only take me backwards. I had to teach myself about what I was going through and I’ll tell you this, learning is the easy part, it’s the application of what you learn that requires you to remember why you started. I also had to find a power that was higher than myself, I had to come to terms with and meet the God of my understanding and that brought about a lot of structure in my life. Without that, I could have been worse, or even dead, but I thank God and the knowledge that I sought for the person that I am today. I had to find other avenues to seek joy and that came with reading up on foreign concepts, journaling and lately, writing posts for The Filling Station and serving my purpose. I believe I went through everything that I went through so that I could be well equipped to fulfil my current purpose and that is to educate people about mental health and remind them “In everything you go through, you are never alone. Reach out.” It does get too much at times, but I guess that’s why we need to support each other, however, I will forever depend on my passion to inspire change, because after all, love conquers all.

Throughout the week we’ll be exploring the theme of acceptance and I’ll share my story in detail with regards to addiction.

If you or your loved ones are battling with addiction, help is available for you. SADAG is Africa’s largest mental health support and advocacy group. Contact them on 0800 21 22 23