The emotional school fees we pay

How would I describe my first experience at one of the most prestigious schools in the country? Complex. An experience some of us are still battling within ourselves.

It was my parents’ dream to give me a better life than they did; a life free from the hardships they endured. No matter what we went through as a family, my brother and my education was never taken off the table.

I am grateful for the doors their sacrifice opened for me. It would be an inaccurate depiction of my schooling career if I did not mention the standard of education I received. It was stellar. It made my entry to university academics swift. I did not feel the jump, if I’m honest. 

But this isn’t about my academic preparedness; this is about my emotional preparedness.

Years later, I carry this legacy of prestige with internal bittersweetness. I’ve gotten interviews with great companies, public recognition, and “different treatment” when their name is read but I’m quickly overcome with an unpalatable sensation that makes me feel like a fraud. How can I smile and fondly acknowledge my attendance when my most vulnerable years were terribly painful? 

I still feel a deep sense of betrayal when I give in to the pain I felt during my time because I know what a privilege it was to go there – evidence of my indoctrinated and indebted silence.

But now is the time for truth. 

It’s been a wondrous time observing our lives change in real time. People of colour country-wide with the most respected almae matres are speaking out for the first time about their experiences of institutionalised racism and discrimination. It has been a powerful unfolding.

It is further proof that we have generations of damaged adults due to a system that wasn’t designed for our inclusion. We go through many traumas in life that contribute to our damage, but I don’t believe school should be one of them. This is where we should feel safe. 

But that was not my experience.

I remember my first day of Grade 8 like it was yesterday. I arrived at school much earlier than most and I stood outside my classroom door eagerly waiting. I recognised many girls from the orientation day the day prior but a lot of them just walked past me as if we’d never met. Uncomfortable and awkward, I stood in my new school uniform. Newness everywhere. Most of all, new people. Most of whom looked nothing like me.

It really confused me. I remember my 12-year-old self begin to feel overwhelmed by the realisation that I was all alone. Everything became a blur and the tears began to well without my consent. 

Not a single person stopped despite the tears rolling down my face. Girls and teachers alike walked past me and stared. Some giggled.

The landscape was nothing I had experienced before. The school was monstrous and I immediately felt little.

It set the scene for my five years to come

My upbringing was an eclectic mix of progression and traditional culture. While my mother listened to Tchaikovsky as she cleaned on Saturday mornings, I still grew up much like every other ordinary Indian Hindu child. I spent weekends with my cousins and grandparents; my extended family was big and loud and when we had family gatherings, it went on all night until the uncles had drank too much and brought out the guitars to sing. We religiously fasted on Mondays and we ate with our hands. There was always an abundance of food no matter our financial state. I went to the temple on certain auspicious occasions. Overall, I grew up loving being a South African of Indian descent.

For this reason, the environmental shift created a discomfort in identity in me when I joined this school and it was difficult to adjust. I quickly began feeling ashamed of my lunches and asked my mother to not pack certain things for me. My red Luxmi string was constantly found to be offensive (which was a shock as I attended a private Catholic school for primary and it was never a problem there) and my refusal to remove it landed me in a string of detentions with repeated targeting from teachers.

My five years at the school was a slow progression of erasure that I continuously fought and it made me become an angry teenager. Whenever I stopped fighting, which was usually due to being exhausted, I was lauded by certain teachers for “getting there”. I still don’t know what that means,

And then the bullying.

The bullying I experienced is still hard to write about to this day. But the thing I take away most is that I had no one to take my bullying to during those years. I felt that no teacher truly wanted to know me, outside of my academics.

I feel that this deepened my inner silence and made me believe I had nowhere to turn.

I reached a point of ultimate loneliness in my matric year, after a break up. With the bullying becoming increasingly harder to deal with, I attempted suicide.

Unconscious bias

As teenagers do, the “Indian block” got into teenage fights but there was never enough personal attentiveness towards us to notice the discord. There was no teacher who could teach us togetherness, who understood our culture, who could have helped us rehabilitate our hard experiences together.

Maybe then the bullies and the bullied would both have come out less damaged.

I thought that’s what a girls’ school experience would be like. (I grew up reading a lot of Enid Blyton, so I was truly disillusioned!) Simple things like being noisy in class were met with, “Keep it down, you vervet monkeys!” as opposed to, “Shush!” There is a distinct difference.

And those differences sit within you for a long time. It breeds self-confidence issues, anger, and anxiety. Many children of colour grew up to be adults with mental health issues, me included. We have to wonder why. During these formative years, many of us lived a double life.

The issue with systemic racism is that it creeps up on you. Before you know it, you begin to redefine the concept of “better”: the idea that the better girl is one who is poised, slim, and agreeable; whose hair “fits in” neatly, whose accent is “neutral”; whose skin colour doesn’t pop out too much; and who knows how to take a “joke” instead of getting upset.

On a subconscious level, our worth becomes deeply affected because when we leave the school grounds and go back to our families – we cannot be all of those things. And this creates a disconnected experience during your most impressionable years. 

The burden of first generation people of colour in an environment that does not echo your race, culture, and religion is that we carry a subconscious disconnect in our identities for many more years than we experience the environment. In essence, we pay more school fees.

We are taught that in order to be the “acceptable” young women, we are to shed everything we come from in favour of something we truly can never become – white.

Maybe teachers didn’t realise that black and brown girls needed more than academic assistance? Maybe they themselves couldn’t identify with us? This is the part we need to undo.

I see an invisible guilt hanging over many brown heads these days and I don’t want us to exist in that repressed indoctrination. Ask yourself: Why did you overlook your name being mispronounced? And were the additional school fees worth it because you were gaining a proximity to whiteness?

As an Indian South African, I believe that in exchange for the access we gained to these prestigious institutions we reintroduced our an internal casteism through identity separation. We were essentially “moving up” in “class” and it became intrinsically tied to our worth.

It’s taken me 15 years to wade through these memories and find an assemblance of myself; to embrace my culture entirely again with all of its idiosyncrasies. Most of all, to consciously decolonise myself.

It is a journey that makes my inner child deeply uncomfortable but it makes my heart more satisfied so I chose to go with that.

I urge every person of colour to examine themselves and look at their internalised racism. Look at what a colonised environment has turned you into. How do you subconsciously define “better”?

  • Do you think distinct “ethnic” accents are unfavourable?
  • Do you avoid eating with your hands around non-people of colour?
  • Do you prefer travelling to the west instead of to the east or within Africa?

The greatest part is that you don’t have to disregard the things you favour – it’s simply an acknowledgment of why you favour them.

I don’t intend to stop reading Jane Austen. But I do intend to read more Lesego Rampolokeng. Because the world I grew up in didn’t cater to that and it’s my job to decolonise my mind. So that my bridge between identity, history, and culture is realigned.

What can we do?

It’s encouraging that these schools have started to take our words seriously. It has been a long time coming, but there is never a “right time” for transformation. Injustice is like a pressure cooker. It’s only a matter of time before the pressure becomes destructive if not released. And it happened now due to the bravery of many a young person. We must support that. Historically, student protests have been the catalysts for change the world over.

For me, it begins in acknowledging the truth of our history in this country and in these establishments: Colonisation and the impacts thereof. It cannot be erased or sweetened to be palatable because it was not. It was violent.

The beauty of transformation is taking into consideration evolving social contexts without discarding history.

Know that these elite schools who intend to transform require assistance from people of colour, which is what we all should be putting up our hands to do.

This time, we have the opportunity to band together to ensure that the children who receive these world-class opportunities walk out with a truly holistic, current world view entrenched in an anti-racist, anti-discriminatory education.

This will embed the emotional preparedness of our future leaders. This will create more mindful, conscious leaders in the next generation.

Most of all, this will make sure we all pay the same emotional school fees.

I don’t want more.

One of my best friends and I decided to start a virtual book club and this week we dismantled some pretty deep rooted concepts.

We both were looking for a book club but couldn’t find one in our current worlds, so we decided to make our own! I’m a firm believer in bettering yourself through like-minded individuals and this has proven to be exactly that so far.

We pick a book to read or a talk to watch; sometimes it’s even analysing characters in movies, discussing unpopular opinions, or anthropological views. It’s so fulfilling and I highly recommend it, especially during lockdown.

This weekend we discussed Michelle Obama’s interview with Oprah at #Oprahs2020VisionTour and it really brought up some really interesting concepts around the idea of success.

Michelle Obama raised this point about “walking your own walk”. She used the analogy of going on a hike and not comparing your speed, resilience, and success based on the person ahead of you or the person behind you. And that hit home.

In this digital age, it felt so relevant. It’s almost like if you aren’t doing THE MOST all the time, you aren’t actually doing enough. And yes, we read all these quotes about not comparing, but come on… the hardest thing to overcome is the acceptance of your place amongst others. But why do we all need to push so hard? Like honestly, why?

Is it truly because millennials like us need the added income or independence (which are valid reasons), OR is it just because we have so much generational trauma that we’re trying to fill voids with the idea of success?

Culturally, it’s a hard one to dissect. The idea of success has been deeply ingrained in many brown children from the time we are little kids. Ever since I could remember, I have felt so much pressure to over-perform. Whether it was getting good marks at school or dominating my extramural activities… it was just a never-ending fight to be the best.

Don’t get me wrong, I understand where it came from – a place of education defining security because of our history; our families wanting us to be the best because they did not have those freedoms growing up during the Apartheid. The world has been my oyster and I’m aware of the privilege I have had and I am deeply grateful for the success I’ve achieved because of the discipline it taught me. Most of all, I don’t have limiting beliefs because of it.

I can only speak from my own lived existence and so, I KNOW other Indian kids can relate to this concept inherently, as we have had to push ourselves to become something in order to fulfill a level of pride.

I cannot deny that I always wanted to be a lawyer, but the fact is that somewhere deep inside myself, I also knew that becoming a professional was something that my family wanted for me.

I know that as a family, pride from excelling at education was deeply important. It is one of very few ways Indian people (particularly South Indian people who arrived in South Africa as indentured labourers) could better themselves and the lives of their families. I appreciate that… but it’s become hard to live with a feeling of despondency based on productivity and growing success in the traditional sense.

It has come at a price. The price is the anxiety around “being enough”.

Truth is, I don’t remember the last time I stopped striving for more – and I think I’ve reached my “enough”. At least for now. I was cooking the other day and a thought crossed my mind: “If I don’t want more than what I currently have, is that okay?”

It felt like the most foreign thought in the world to me.

I still have all these goals set out for my life. Things I would love to achieve. Like launching a mental health empowerment NPO, or publishing another piece, or putting together that book idea I’ve been outlining for the last year… but honestly, I am so content and happy with my life that these feel like bonuses. And I couldn’t help but feel guilty for feeling this way.

The thing is… This journey has been so full of “trying”. Trying to fill voids. Trying to make others happy through my accomplishments. Trying to figure out my self worth because it’s been so tied to my achievements. But is that really what makes one successful?

Are your successes what make you feel worthy?

I had to really evaluate whether these accomplishments were bringing me happiness. That moment happened after I got published the first time. I felt that my career in writing had taken a turn, and I could finally breathe. I mean, I still work in a law-based environment, but it was this validation I was craving to prove that the decision to move away from law as a career had finally paid off. I felt I had earned some sort of right to walk around with a title that allowed me freedom: “Author”.

But it didn’t. It just felt like a HUGE, red stop sign. It felt like a sign screaming at me – “Mayuri, enough is enough.” And I didn’t exactly listen. 2019 was FULL of even more extreme goals that I pushed myself to achieve… but this year began and I had to start listening.

I had to check my generational trauma. And my ego.

Enough has become enough. 

I have come to the realisation that I don’t actually want more than what I have right now. I have found beauty in what society and social media have deemed mundane. You know what? I like my life!

I have accepted myself. I accept my body. I love my home. I adore cooking. I love watching documentaries. I am obsessed beyond measure with writing. I have my creativity back. And that doesn’t make me an ungrateful person.

It doesn’t make you a failure to be just where you are – and it doesn’t make you stagnant. In my opinion, happiness is based on your utter contentment.

So, for now, the mental health drive, the bestseller, the unpublished piece… they can sit on a back burner of brewing ideas. And if they never come to fruition, I’ve realised that that isn’t a failure either.

Because your contentment can be found in the littlest things. Your worth lies in who you are as a person.

Most of all, your happiness can be found in your present. Be content there first, the rest will follow.

Lockdown Diaries – The Harsh Reality

It’s been 12 days since lockdown began in South Africa. I’ve been working from home for exactly 16 working days, but I’ve pretty much not left my house for 22 days already. On 16 March, I visited my father at his medical practice (he is a general practitioner) to collect some medication only to find out that he had seen a coronavirus patient that morning.

It was still early days (only over a week since the first positive coronavirus patient was recorded in the country), only 2 days since the President had declared a national state of disaster, so all Phil and I could do was self isolate for 14 days.

I got sick, but it was nothing serious and some broad spectrum antibiotics helped. It was just a sinus infection, but the paranoia that came with it did nothing positive for my mental health. A thousand questions flooded my mind and it was scary. I hadn’t shown enough symptoms to be tested… but would it get worse? With every thought, my sickness felt like it was worsening because of my anxiety. The symptoms became psychosomatic and I had no mental energy to pull myself out of the abyss… until now.

And that’s what I want to post about today.

Staying home, we seem to be spending more time than ever on social media. And the pressure seems to be at its optimum right now for some reason.

People keep posting about protecting your mental health with all these tools, but honestly – what tools can you really use when you’re in a slump? You’re just trying to survive. My generation has never experienced anything like this before. Even the tools I’ve learned in therapy were hard to conjure up at this time. Sometimes staying alive and getting the bare minimum done is all you can manage.

I read a post that said – “You are not working from home; you are at home during a crisis trying to work

I couldn’t have put it more poignantly.

It’s great that people have the emotional and mental capacity to tick off a bunch of personal tasks during this lockdown time. It’s amazing that people feel like inspiring people to keep going, but I have to be honest – for me, it feels hurtful because the reality of mental wellness isn’t that simple.

All I can speak to is my own experience during this time.

It’s ideal to keep practising yoga at the same time every day, and write down your thoughts, and and and… but people don’t seem to realise that people living with mental illness can’t just “up and at it” that easily. I have friends who have battled continuous unexplained panic attacks because their NORMAL routine has been thrown out.

I have tried to keep to my routine, but it’s been difficult. To say that work on my day job has exponentially increased is an understatement, and it’s not easy to balance. Reporting structures are different (because it has to be) and companies are scrambling to keep their workforce alive so that their businesses stay alive… but what about our minds? It really feels like this survival of the fittest thing is next level – “adapt or die” feels very real right now.

People living with mental illness – no matter how mild or severe – have specific coping mechanisms designed for their life, and these 12 days have thrown us all off. We basically have to start over, because what we used to do (to cope), we can no longer do. Adaptation takes a little more time for us. Our brains work a little differently.

For example, I learned that I need to match my anxiety level to an activity in order to release that anxious energy. For that reason, I use the following method:

  • Step 1 – Intensive workout (to release endorphins)
  • Step 2 – Meditate (to silence my mind)
  • Step 3 – Write (to release my words onto paper)

These mechanisms are built into my everyday routine – waking up at 05h00 for work, being at work by 06h30, working until 16h00, coming home to cook and unwind, do the above, eat, maybe do a bit more work, and then sleep… I tried to follow this same pattern the first week that I worked from home but it just didn’t work. There just wasn’t enough room in my mind to comprehend the crises at hand…

The empath in me was afraid for our country. I was flooded by thoughts of the world falling apart, I was terrified for my father who still had to work – I was terrified that he would contract the virus and I would not be able to see him. I know I couldn’t control any of this… but I couldn’t control myself. So much fear. Leading to major anxiety. Leading to a drop in my immune system… leading to me getting even more unwell.

Can you see how people living with mental health issues might be struggling right now? How delicately you might have to tread around them?

Thankfully, Phil and I need to eat… and I found an outlet in creating new dishes again, something I hadn’t given my heart to in a while. So it’s not to say that adaptation is impossible… it’s to say that it happens at different rates for different people.

It has taken 22 days for me to get here. Since cooking is really therapeutic to me, I have adapted to including this into my new routine. Come 18h00, I now down tools and ensure I can put my heart into cooking something beautiful. It’s taken 22 days for me to be able to write something down, consider unrolling my yoga mat, and sit down with purpose. It’s taken this long for me to adapt… and it’s probably because I have some tools at my disposal. What about the people living undiagnosed or the people all alone struggling…

My point in this post was to ask people to reach out to those they know. People who have grown quieter. People who seem okay, but who might not be (if you, yourself, have the capacity to do so, that is.) Most of all, I’d recommend not bombarding people with news. It is really overwhelming. (My new thing is I check in on the day before’s news and stats in the morning while eating breakfast and that’s my fix for the day. Even though I love following the news, right now it just isn’t working for my mind.)

This is the reality. For many.

And again… to anyone struggling… try not to succumb to the pressures of work out challenges and the like. You aren’t failing because you can’t do it. Dim the light, silence the sound, and centre yourself. You are not failing because you are unable to be as productive as you’d like. Don’t compare your journey. I know I am not because I am doing the best I can.

I know you are too.

Mayuri

xx

“Zero Fucks Given” – Rethink It.

I am a non-practicing lawyer, but my reasons for studying law have never changed. My spirit for justice runs deeper than an unstitched wound. It’s a long story – the way I came to this – but long story short, I’m now an academic course material developer. I don’t know if it’s getting older, but it’s scary to have the minds of future professionals in my hands.

It’s scary that my voice could indirectly impact the way someone feels or thinks about change.

It has forced me to think deeply about the concept of a voice in our digital world, and the responsibility that comes with it.

I’m a firm believer that most social media users fall into two categories: posters for likes, and posters for reaction (whether it be meaningful or shocking doesn’t matter).

The latter, I don’t mind too much. That reaction comes from something that matters inherently on some level, but the former irks me. Because even though both are embedded in ego, there’s an element of laziness attached to the first, in my opinion. (I said what I said.)

Let me start here – I am not a fan of apathy or complacency. And sometimes it frustrates me seeing nothing but emptiness in my virtual surroundings. Sometimes I scroll through my feed and I wonder if anything means anything to anyone anymore. Especially the 19 to 24-year-old age group. (No shade.)

The captions aren’t even original, guys? What are you doing?

I literally wanted to deactivate my entire profile this morning because I just haven’t made up mind about the superficiality.

Social media has always been about some level of flex, but three months into 2020, this flex feels different.

Sometimes I wonder if people are hustling for real or for fame. Instagram has become a breeding ground for self-advertisement and that would be fine if you could feel the hunger, and not the thirst.

It’s not enough.

There was a time where consciousness was encouraged. And it had nothing to do with a university degree, and everything to do with giving a fuck. Does anyone truly give any fucks about anything anymore?

“Be grateful for blessings
Don’t ever change, keep your essence
The power is in the people and politics we address
Always do your best, don’t let the pressure make you panic
And when you get stranded
And things don’t go the way you planned it
Dreamin’ of riches, in a position of makin’ a difference
Politicians and hypocrites, they don’t wanna listen
If I’m insane, it’s the fame made a brother change
It wasn’t nothin’ like the game”
Tupac, Me Against The World

I wish people would think about the derivation and the point. Are you all deriving any growth from these self-involved picture experiences? Is there ANYTHING you feel passionate about outside of yourself?

I’m not saying don’t post the pictures from Ultra, but there must be something else, right?

Dig deep.

Maybe this will jog something in yourself. Here’s how it happened for me:

At the age of 5, my mother sat me down to watch Chris Hani’s funeral on the news with her. She told me that this was an important moment in our history. I didn’t know what that meant but I stayed glued to the television because she told me to.

The next year, she reminded me of the funeral I had watched and explained that she and my father were finally going to vote. And so were my grandparents. Imagine? All those years of living without the right to vote? Thinking about it now, it boggles me. She wasn’t much younger than I am now. That was only 26 years ago.

When I was 11, I borrowed a paperback copy of The Long Walk To Freedom from the library. I remember sitting on a tiled, arched windowseat in the entryway of our new lounge, my nose buried. My parents moved into our first owned-home in about 8 years after renting or living with my grandparents for most of the early 90s.

I could not put it down.

That same year, I was 100% certain that I was going to study law. In my mind, the only way to fight injustice was to become a lawyer. “That’s what Nelson Mandela did! So I must do it too!” I used to stare at the mirror and envision myself as the president. I knew I had something to say, I just didn’t know what. I reveled in my grandfather’s activist stories from his youth, and the political debates that were a regular occurrence in my home. It made me feel alive.

And that’s how I knew I had something that needed to be said. Years later, after battling years of mental illness, I realised it’s what I need to do something about.

I remind myself of this every time I post. I literally ask myself, Is this in line with your values?

What is that moment for you in your life?

I am beyond grateful for growing up in a home where my voice was respected; where opinions and debate were the norm. Both my brother, Mahesh, and I were encouraged to form opinions on almost everything. (And it didn’t always serve me well. In fact, as a teenager and young adult, I was fairly disliked, isolated, and left out because I was too outspoken. Those years were really lonely.)

But I realise that this experience isn’t everyone’s experience. I can empathise that spirited conversation is not how everyone grows up. I get that silence is the norm for most.

But living a superficial life can’t be the answer. It surely can’t. I know there has to be more to people than the meaningless pictures with the wasted captions.

You don’t have to change yourself or your lived experience to have a voice, you just have to be willing to care beyond yourself.

You have to give a fuck.

About your legacy. About your purpose. About something.

Evolution

I moved cities more than two years ago now, and without a doubt, this move has been the best decision of my life so far. In Johannesburg, I have gained everything I was looking for and more. Independence, accomplishment, love, art, diversity, and family. It was the perfect place to start my journey from scratch after my divorce.

On the verge of my 32nd cycle around the sun, I seem to be having some profound reflections. I’ve realised that it is time for me to grow beyond the confines of who I used to know because I am no longer the version of myself I used to be.

I have changed.

When I was younger, I was sometimes criticised for having many groups of friends in different circles. For a long time, it seemed like you had to be stuck to a group and not move… for fear of betrayal. Isn’t it funny how high school rules follow us wherever we go? When we enter high school, we want to belong so badly. We want to form an identity, and we find that in a group.

I find it interesting that so many of us thirty-somethings seem to not want to grow beyond that.

And don’t get me wrong. I am, by no means, saying that those old, memory-filled friendships should end… but people change. Let’s be real. And that’s okay. We are ALLOWED to change. And there should be no guilt in that.

How many of us, if we met the people we met long ago, would still choose those friends now? It’s a tough question to ask, but it’s a real one. Is there still common ground beyond the years we knew each other as children? Are these people who lift you up and help you grow? Do they understand the version of yourself that you’re becoming?

Sometimes the pressures of old friendship sets an unrealistic demand on ourselves – a demand to never change or evolve. A lot of the time, people stay friends because it’s all they know, or because they’re afraid of putting themselves out there.

But what if the version of yourself that you are now needs something different than it used to need?

Guess what? That’s completely okay.

It doesn’t mean that the old friends you have mean nothing. They just satisfy a part of yourself from a different time.

We all become different people in some way, shape, or form. Especially if we’re focused on bettering ourselves. In the case of female friendships, we tend to feel overwhelmed when distance is created. We don’t know how to deal with something “ending”, especially when nothing is wrong.

And it’s not a failure on anyone’s part. It is just evolution. Nothing IS wrong. You’re just different than you used to be.

As we grow older, our journey expands to so much more than we anticipate. We have personal goals, family responsibilities, and work tasks, to name a few. Fitting in time for you, and you alone is already a difficulty. And selfishness is not a trait that is commonly lived by most people. We are inherently used to pleasing others before ourselves. And we sometimes expect that to be reciprocated. Expectations need to be lowered.

It’s okay to not have the emotional capacity to take on more than you are able to. And it’s okay to accept that about yourself. It’s okay to catch up when you have the capacity to, and you shouldn’t be penalised for not doing it on someone else’s terms. No love is lost; change is just the constant. Embrace it.

In my opinion, friendships should be picked up where things are left off. They should be low maintenance and kind. Friends are people we CHOOSE to be in our lives. It’s okay to have many friends on different levels. Because we are multifaceted individuals.

We will NEVER have all our needs met in one place by only a certain group of people. For example, I love debating politics and current affairs. But a lot of my friends are not that interested in it. I used to feel sad that I never got to have friendly, heated debates about things that I am passionate about. And I can’t always visit my family to get my fix of that. I sometimes want different opinions about these topics.

At work and through my writing network, however, I’ve met a people who love books, friendly debates, and have strong opinions on current affairs – just like me! And it fills my soul with so much joy.

I’ve realised that expanding your world means expanding your world view.

I miss the version of myself that embraced the new and made connections easily. Granted, I was sometimes in unhealthy spaces and couldn’t see whether someone was good for me or not, at times. But I am excited in the prospect of reinvesting in my surroundings and finding like-minded individuals that I can form bonds with. Now that I know how to do it healthily.

I’m not crazy, you’re crazy

When a man acts somewhat out of character, we tend to use words like “stress” or “pressured” to describe him. We tend to provide reasons as to why the man could be acting the way he is. He’s been working such long hours or He’s a bit grumpy because he hasn’t eaten or That deal didn’t come through and he’s angry, that’s probably why he’s exploding. Explanations such as these seem to be such a norm. And it has created an innate empathy for the male experience.

But “she’s crazy”, right? It feels like women aren’t afforded the same explanations.

I can’t even begin to tell you how much of a pet peeve it is to me when I hear a man describe a woman as “crazy”. Why is it that when a woman loses her shit everyone seems shrouded in utter confusion? It was all of a sudden. You know what I think is confusing – why no one seems to ask what they did to contribute to her feeling out of control? Did you try to empathise with HER experience at all?

Michelle Williams’ Golden Globe speech on Monday was stellar and it got me thinking so deeply. She asked for women and girls to vote in their own self-interest; it’s what men have been doing for years – it’s why the world looks so much like them.

That speaks directly to the world’s empathy for the male experience. And it’s tired. And we’re tired. These generalisations seem to be used as easily as drinking a glass of water.

It also feels like these generalisations have taken a step even further – they have become colloquialisms used exclusively for women.

Are women expected to be composed creatures? Are we supposed to quietly take more than our fill, and still put on a smile?

Yeah, because we empathise with the male experience too much. I’ma keep saying it until you start hearing me. And history is backing me up on this one.

“The Hysterical Woman” is who women have been trained to not become from day one. Our elders tell us to bite our tongues. They say that we should be strong and “carry on”. They even say that men want a woman with deference. We are taught that our experience is not worth empathising with.

But it’s 2020, maybe people should ask why a woman becomes hysterical. That would be a great start.

GASLIGHTING

The term “gaslighting” originated from a play, and then the film adaptation, called “Gas Light”. It’s a story of a husband who manipulates his wife, leading to her insanity.

Essentially, she keeps asking if he’s turning their gaslight down and he keeps saying he isn’t. But he is, and instead tells her that she is imagining it. She eventually loses her mind.

How many of us have been minimised in this way? I know I have.

It isn’t all in our minds. More often than not, there is a trigger or a question drawn from fact or intuition and we should have a right to express it. The problem is that our nurturing side gets taken advantage of. We start trusting the gaslighter instead of our intuition… and that toxic man knows it.

GATHERING

Let’s look at the concept of hunting and gathering, the latter classically being a “woman’s role”.

Imagine that a woman has been gathering “fruit” all day. She’s been in the sun and has filled up her whole basket. And when she gets home, she starts cleaning the fruit and preparing it for her family. But the children have become a lot to handle, and she’s worn dry. She needs to still clean the home, and help to upskill her children. Not to mention cooking the family meals, and putting the kids to bed at night. Cleaning and gathering are falling by the wayside slowly because she is exhausted, but it’s her duty, so she still wakes up early every morning with very little sleep.

In a turn of events, her basket starts falling apart and she needs help to mend it. She asks her partner to help with the mending of the basket or maybe grab some extra fruit on his way home. He has the tools, perhaps she could borrow them? But he shuts her down. “How can I help you with that job? Gathering fruit is the only thing you’re in charge of? I bring home everything else in this family, it’s the least you can do.”

Two things can happen: She feels minimised, and reverts into a shell. Or she rises up and states her case again.

In the case of the latter, I’ve seen the way it plays out. I’ve borne witness to men standing confused as fuck while a woman screams her lungs out. And it seems like her partner has forgotten everything that came before the scream.

The nice ask, the plea, the beg, all came first. And after ALL that, came the scream.

But then she is crazy.

That’s usually how it goes. Because more often than not, men are trained not to hear us. Not connecting our dots and words even though we use them openly.

The problem is if you tell someone something enough times, they’ll start to believe it. Many women have been told that “it’s all in your head”. It’s only a matter of time before these women start to believe it’s true. That there is no reason to “overreact”.We are not overreacting. We just want to be heard.

The vast majority of women still live this way. Just one look at bad reality TV and you’ll have your evidence. I watched an episode of Wife Swap the other day where a mother of EIGHT did EVERYTHING in her house according to the patriarchal rules of her husband. So no one can tell me that this stuff is not happening “as much” anymore.

EMPATHISE AND LISTEN

The whole point of me writing this is that I’ve seen too many women around me be called crazy when they aren’t. I’ve been called crazy too by emotionally unavailable and unenlightened men. And for what? Speaking my mind? Losing my temper? I don’t think that’s fair.

Instead of skipping straight to crazy, let’s start empathising with the female experience a lot more. Ask questions if you don’t get it. Ask again. Don’t tell her she’s overreacting because more often than not, something led her to feel that way. It didn’t come out of nothing.

And women, it’s our jobs to fix ourselves and our triggers. We need to communicate how we FEEL. And how it relates to our past experiences. If we don’t, no one will know. Not even you.