1. The works of Being Human/Surrender
Those fucking hadeda’s. I wanted to kill them, every single one of them. I’d come to know exactly when their day started, the times they came back to the garden during the day to poke around for worms and call some more, most often interrupting a moment of brilliance or a moment of deep thought. I don’t know what it was, but they always seemed to come back when I needed ‘quiet’ most. They were noisiest around 5 o’clock. Come five o’clock, I was on the edge of my seat, expecting them to come any moment. And they did, every time…whole fucking flocks of them would come. And as they’d come, they’d announce to every other hadeda flock in the district that it’s 5pm, and it was time to ‘sing,’ sing oh fellow hadeda’s and tell us you are here! I thought of shooting them often, only I don’t own a gun. My son has a pellet gun though, and though I had always insisted he only use it for target practice and not to harm animals, hadeda’s did something bad to my mind. I wanted them gone. But that was not part of the plan, mostly because the barrel of my son’s pellet gun is somehow bent and ineffective. Instead, it would not be the hadeda’s going, it would me.
I was a short-fused time bomb. A good weekend away or a couple vinho’s with some good friends, a few laughs and some of my favourite tunes would give me temporary relief, but it never lasted. The anger would always come back. It had been like a slow-growing cancer. Initially, it was never loud or obvious. It never shouted ‘I’m here.’ But over the years, it got bigger and bigger and bigger until it was so big that it was all I could see. It no longer whispered my name in the shadows, it shouted at me, screamed at me and demanded I acknowledge it. And when I eventually stopped and faced it, I no longer recognised myself.
I live in South Africa. I’m a privileged white woman with everything most women want. A good man for a husband, a couple great kids, I live on a beautiful farm in the KwaZulu-Natal Midlands, our family have a promising future and there is a lovely little private farm school just up the road from us that my kids go to and love going to. There are good people here. Good farm stock, a community who come to together like a well-oiled machine and fundraise enough money to raise schools and fund entire communities. I have every good reason not to feel like I do. But I feel it, locked in a narrative and prisoner without even knowing it.
2019 had been a particularly relentless year. For the most part, it was like the finale of a clichéd TV series; Women in her early 40’s becomes increasingly erratic and impulsive, with bouts of depression, occasionally too much red wine, fantasises about back packing through Mongolia, signs up to become a volunteer, burns the supper most nights, especially the rice and plans the new forest green colour palette for the lounge with matching cushions. It was all too familiar, only that along with the usual clichéd stuff of a depressed woman in her early forties, 2019 came with a whole lot of punches; swinging punches that would come so hard and from every angle imaginable. 2019 was the year that annihilated me, properly.
The final blow came most unexpectedly, just after our first hard Covid-19 lockdown. Uncle Cyril (President of South Africa) had called his usual Sunday night ‘family’ meeting. “People of South Africa, we are no longer in level 5 lock down. You are free to leave your homes and to start work again.”
It was a relief for so many of us, especially for us wound up mothers who had the task of cleaning the house, cooking, sanitising every damn surface and doing home school. It was all going quite well at first, mostly because half of the hard lock down was during the school holidays. But then it ended and home school started and the cracks started to appear.
Being locked down was not bad at all, not if you live on a farm and have plenty of space to go for walks, escape the four walls of domesticity and have some time on your own. It was the home school that I really struggled with because of what it required for us to be good parent teachers. We should be patient, composed, disciplined, organised and encouraging and we should accept that our day will be focused on solving grade 3 maths problems, English comprehension and so on.
Home school (and Hadeda’s ) triggered something in me. There were good days and there were bad days. But it added to my mood and a resentment that had been growing in me for a number of years which had translated into anger. I dished this anger out to everyone close to me, in large doses. I blamed them for my unhappiness and for my failures; I believed that for me to be happy and at peace, they needed to change. But this is not how life works and I had not yet learned that.
My housekeeper stood at the door. I was so happy to see her back. I needed her help. I had not been able to get a stitch of my own work done during this lockdown, not with housekeeping, cooking and home school. Despite my incessant complaints about not having the time to focus on my own photography business, I received very little sympathy simply because there was an entire globe of human beings struggling with exactly this and of course, it was expected of me.
She did not come in like she usually did. Instead she hovered at the entrance, averting her eyes from mine, evidently building up the courage to tell me something that would be hard for me to hear and hard for her to say.
“I cannot come inside. I cannot work for you. I am scared of you. You are always very angry.”
This completely knocked me. Though I had never directly shouted at her, I had shouted at everyone else around me and at anyone who confronted me. I had become a hard, unapproachable, angry, dark and intimidating person to be around. In my presence, she felt anxious and like she was walking on egg shells.
This stopped me in my tracks. It was everything I did not want to be but it was the hard truth that I had been ignoring for so many years and a hard blow, because it was her who delivered it. I knew how much she needed this job and how telling me this was risky, how it required huge amounts of courage. There was no way for her to know how I would take this. I’d either accept it or not but regardless, she knew that she could not continue like this, of feeling anxious every day.
My fragile ego wanted to explode, wanted to shut her down and call her ridiculous. I had not even shouted at her, what was she on about? The problem was that she was being too damn sensitive and dramatic? And besides, there was a lot of work to be done, no time for this nonsense! But she continued to stand there, holding onto her courage like it was all she had, and told me again, “I can’t.”
I breathed deeply, swallowing my pride and processing what I had just heard. I told her that I needed to think about what she was saying and that I needed some time. I left her standing at the door and went to the bathroom and closed the door behind me.
I looked at the mirror and into the eyes that stared back at me. I did not know them, I did not recognise the person I was facing and I hated what I saw.
I knew then that I had a choice. I could either continue as I was and expect no change or I could find the courage to face what I was seeing, to face what I had become and to go where I had avoided going for so long.
I could surrender to what is and what was and then take responsibility for myself. Stop blaming everyone for where I was at. And accept that if I wanted to change my life, and for there to be a different outcome, the only person who could do this, is me.
Notes: Depression and noise sensitivity
- Noise sensitivity or annoyance can be a symptom of depression, anxiety or chronic emotional exhaustion
- Heightened sensitivity to external noises, leading to sensory overload or overwhelm and seemingly irrational irritability
- Avoiding noise by declining social invitations, wearing head phones and avoiding busy places