So I am saving my Wednesday Appreciation post for tomorrow. It can wait. Instead today, I would like to tell a story. My story. A story I have not been ready to tell, till now. Because I am no longer ashamed. I know now, that some things were not, never were, my fault. So wherever you are out there, this one’s on you.
This one goes a few years back. I’d gone out with some friends after work. Back when I was a manageress at a pizzeria. Not too long after this night, and I would become a ward of the state in the Elizabeth Donkin Hospital. I would get my diagnosis. Bipolar. But I didn’t know this yet. At this stage, I’d been suffering terribly from anxiety and my GP had prescribed some anti-anxiety medication for me. Not the funnest things when you first start ’em. I was warned that for the first few weeks they would only increase my anxiety before they would begin to help. But in typical Jocelyn fashion, I thought I was made of steel. I did not take leave off work. I did not deviate from my routine in any way, shape or form. I had this. Or so I thought. And one thing I loved more than anything else was dancing. I would always be the last person on the dance floor given half the chance. This night was no different. One friend remained, and I was still dancing. Bored, she invited some guys from the pool bar upstairs, a couple of barmen who’d just finished their shift, to join us. They seemed harmless enough, I guess.
Last rounds were called and the boys decided it was time for Steers. My friend was flirting with the one and suggested we go with… Her boyfriend was a no-show that night and she was looking for a distraction, as some do. I had no objections to the plan. Once again, it seemed harmless enough.
But once the big guy, the one my friend seemed intent on, got behind the wheel, my anxiety started to creep in. Speedsters always make me anxious. You will often catch me with my fingernails digging deep into my car seat, my knuckles white, quietly hoping for it to be over. This night was no different. Just be cool, Jocelyn, I told myself.
I said I didn’t want to go into to Steers. I said I would rather wait in the car. I no longer felt like Steers. I just wanted a moment of calm, to pull myself towards myself. But my thoughts were racing. I did not know these men. I did not know how much they had or had not had to drink before stepping into that vehicle. Slowly my breathing became more and more difficult.
I can only describe a severe panic attack in one way. I would feel like I was drowning… My chest tight, breathing all but impossible, gasping for air desperately, but nothing. A sense of impending doom, of claustrophobia, of all walls slowly closing in on me. Just be cool, Jocelyn. Just be cool. But I couldn’t meditate my way out of this one.
It was then that I spotted her. A beautiful mutt with some homeless kids at the petrol station. A dog. I love dogs. I got out of the car and went over to her, still gasping for air. But this animal was the answer. I stroked her gently. Began speaking to her. My breathing was coming back to me, slowly but surely. A man stepped out of his vehicle and came across to me. He explained that he was a police officer in plain clothes and that he could see I was having a panic attack. He spoke calmly and told me to just keep breathing. That it was going to be okay.
My friend came out, with the two guys and their Steers. Spotting me with the dog and the officer, she went into a rage. She pushed him away from me and screamed at him to leave me alone. Still struggling for air, I tried to calmly explain.. But you see, no one listens to the person on meds. The officer’s girlfriend got involved and the two girls began to scream at each other. My friend screamed at me to get back in the car. So I did. Sobbing. My sense of impending doom by now almost unbearable.
In the car, she continued to scream at me. I could barely make sense of what was happening, what with the tight feeling in my chest, the primal urge creeping in to run, to flee, far far away. I do remember being told that I loved township dogs more than I loved her.
I began to plead to be taken home. Please. In between sobbing and gasping for air. She took my handbag. Told me I was going with her to her boyfriend’s house. End of fucking story. Without my bag, my keys, my phone, I went to plan B. My grandparents stayed not too far away. Please would they take me there. But again, no one listens to the person on meds, the crazy person, right? They slowed, approaching a stop sign, and I drop and rolled out of the vehicle and ran for the nearest petrol station. I hoped, desperately, that someone there would help me. That someone there would let me make a call. I could call a friend. I could call my grandparents.
But I did not make it before they caught up with me. Kicking and screaming, I refused to be put back in the car. But no one would listen. Against my will, I was forced back into the car and held down so that I could not attempt to make another run for it. I guess they just wanted to drop us off and be rid of us both.
Once there, I refused to go inside the house. I was done. I was done with my hysterical friend. I was done with being forced to do what I did not want to do.
Her boyfriend tried to negotiate with me. His electric gate, him and a bakkie standing between me and my freedom. My adrenaline was racing. I was a caged animal. Wild. I looked at the walls. Noted the spikes. I would take any way out if it came to that. I would not step foot in that house. Just try and make me.
Eventually, when he relented and opened the gate, I ran, for as long and as fast as I could. It was light out. I knew the neighbourhood. My only fear was that him and his girlfriend, my so-called friend, would come looking for me. I ran and I walked for two hours, to the furthest friend I could think of… I don’t know why. I guess I needed to embody my body. To walk it off, as they say.
But when you tell your story, if people think you are not sane of mind, they will not listen for the nugget of truth in what you are saying. Your narrative, your account of events is not trusted. I had one friend. She knew all she needed to know. She looked at my frame, the tiny thing that I was then, and she saw it covered in bruises. She went to that pool bar to confront the two guys. Yes, the manager there on the day told her, the one guy did have something of a penchant for brute force.
But life went on as normal. Except for the sheer panic I felt for days afterwards every time I had to step into a car. But it was my fault you see? I was batshit. And not everyone knows what to do when someone is having a panic attack. Rather just get rid of them as quickly as possible, right? When someone has lost their mind, they lose all rights to the terms of their own body, you see?
I kept my promise to that girl, to organise her 21st and get the funds and do all that needed doing. She even mentioned me in her speech. Thanks for everything, Jocelyn. We all love you even though you can be totally bipolar sometimes. An awkward laughter in the room.
So you know what? Today, fuck it. I believe it when I read that people suffering from a mental condition are more likely to be the victims of violence than the perpetrators. That shit is real for me. Call my narrative compromised. Say whatever you like. I don’t care. Violence is never okay. Never. So do better. Be better. And take your sorry excuses elsewhere. They have no place here.