Three weeks in a psychiatric clinic

Three weeks in a psychiatric clinic

I came across a picture that I took when I was in a Psychiatric Clinic this time last year. I remember that picture vividly: I was lying on a bench in the garden, looking up at the sky through the branches of this magnificent tree with the most intricate details on its bark, and I was reading my book – Dreams from my Father by Barack Obama. In that moment, I felt small and insignificant and I remember that I kept on telling myself that I will be okay, that I shouldn’t be so hard on myself because only I know my own journey. (I ended up posting this on Facebook and it showed up as one of those “On this day one year ago” things and for the first time I actually appreciated that function. I appreciated seeing how far I’ve come, how much things have changed, how much better they are now).

I got some bad news last week, news that shook me and made me question my friendships, made me wonder who I can trust, made me question myself and my attitude to relationships and friendships. This little reminder with its cliche’d caption (“Don’t be so hard on yourself for only you know your own journey.”) made me feel a bit better. This all started one year ago when I spent three weeks in said Psychiatric Clinic.

I ended up in the clinic because of a suicidal episode. I don’t remember how many of those I had prior to my admission, but that was not my first, it just happened to be the worst. I got admitted to this facility on a Friday evening, fully expecting to be discharged by the Monday morning so that I could study for my final exams. Hah! I ended up being in there for three weeks.

My first night was confusing. I got to the clinic and immediately saw a person smiling and waving at me. This is where internal biases creep in: I thought to myself “Oh shit, what have I gotten myself into? I’m just a little bit depressed, not insane!” I immediately despised myself for thinking that because that sort of thinking is exactly the reason why the stigma surrounding psychiatric institutions still exist. It did not help that I had to empty my bags, hand in anything that could potentially cause harm (including my anti-perspirant which was in a glass bottle – thanks, Nivea!) and then immediately walked into a room with someone sobbing uncontrollably about how (s)he did not want to be there. Honestly, I was pretty terrified. Don’t get me wrong, the nurses, doctors and staff were lovely and I met some amazing people in the clinic, but I was terrified. I was worried about what my family and friends would think if they knew where I was, so I told only a few people. I did not want visitors, so I asked the few people who knew where I was to tell little white lies, to tell anyone who asked about my whereabouts that I was just really busy preparing for exams.

I came around quickly enough. When we go through truly dark times, we need care. We need someone to look after us, to protect us from the world, to be there for us. I got a new psychiatrist, I tried out new drugs and I spent a lot of time in therapy. I had people waking me up, making sure that I ate and making sure that I took my medication on time. I spent my free hours building puzzles, reading books and accepting some visitors. I spent my time cultivating friendships with people who were as hurt and lonely as I was, people who knew exactly how I felt.

Mental illnesses are horrible in that they are isolating. It is difficult to understand just how broken someone can feel when nothing works. When friends try, but they don’t succeed, when sleeping numbs the feelings of emptiness and inadequacy, but only temporarily, when people seem to be living on three hours of sleep every night and succeeding, but somehow this cannot be done by yourself. For months, I barely slept. I was exhausted, I got at most three hours of restless sleep every night. In this clinic, I got enough sleep to feel human again. I could play 30 seconds (and dominate, if I do say so myself), I could read and retain information, I could do puzzles, have conversations, feel normal. It helps so much to be in a safe space.

One of the problems with mental illness is that there is no blanket solution. The medication that works for one person might not work for another. I could not sleep, some people sleep too much. I tried out some strong sleeping pills and new anti-depressants which really helped. That does not work for everyone. For many people it takes multiple tries before something works, only for it to stop working after a while and the whole process to be repeated. I was fortunate that I have only had to change my medication three times in about two years because for many people it is so much worse. Typically it takes about three weeks for psychiatric meds to start working, so that means that for at least three weeks, there is severe depression or insomnia or suicidal ideation or whatever symptom comes to mind, if the medication works. If not, this can go on for much longer. Being in a controlled environment, in a clinic, is so much safer. Nurses monitor the patients’ progress, there is regular interaction with a psychiatrist and with psychologists. This is a much less dangerous process than having to change medication alone.

Being admitted to a psychiatric clinic literally saved my life. I am not saying that things were easy once I left. I had to face the real world again, I had to interact with people who did not understand, I felt isolated and inferior again, but being in that clinic was like a reboot. I now know the warning signs, I know when I am slipping, I know when I am having a panic attack and how to deal with it, I know when to seek serious professional help. I have had to do that twice since I left the clinic, most recently about a month and a half ago, but in a year, I have not been suicidal. Severely depressed, yes, but never to a point of wanting to take my own life. That, to me, is a win, especially considering how much of a roller coaster this year has been.

I keep on getting compliments on how happy I look. I don’t know how true that is. I am happy, but I also know that what most people see is the image of happiness, it is not the panic attacks, the self-doubt, the anger and frustration, the scared little girl. For the most part, however, I am better and getting better every day. I am recovering, I am reading, learning, standing up for myself and developing into a stronger woman.

I realise how fortunate I was to have had medical aid that would cover three weeks in a clinic. Most South Africans do not have that ‘luxury’. I was so frustrated when I realised that I had to pay for my medication and therapy sessions in cash because my new medical aid did not cover them. That’s R500 per month for the medication alone. I am so privileged and fortunate that I can afford that. I don’t know how much worse things would have been if I had to choose between food and medication.

This is why mental health issues are never treated correctly, why we have students failing and dropping out, why we have mothers who suffer from post-natal depression and loathe themselves for not feeling connected to their babies, why we have crime and unemployment. I am so fortunate and eternally grateful.

Please, with the festive season approaching, donate to a mental health facility, donate to a children’s home, donate to a women’s shelter, donate to a rape counselling service. Choose one and run with it, but try to help. Mental illness is isolating, even for the privileged like myself, so imagine how much worse it is for the less privileged.

Lastly: don’t be so hard on yourself for only you know your own journey.

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Emotions are complex

Today is bittersweet for me, just like this day last year. Not this date exactly, but the same events roughly a year ago with some of the same, but mostly different, people. It is bittersweet.

My timeline is filled with the joy of people who have passed their PGDA exams. Last year was slightly different – I heard the news first hand from my closest friends as I was not allowed to have my phone with me in the psychiatric clinic where I spent this exact same, but different, day last year. On the issue of the psychiatric clinic – I have been trying to write about it all year, but I just can’t get myself to do it properly. Maybe soon, maybe not. I am trying not to rush the process.

Just like last year, I am overjoyed and excited for the friends, acquaintances and strangers who passed their exams, who enter the world as Baby CAs, readying themselves to write their Toddler CA exam in January.

I am so happy for all of you, but sad for myself. Sad, angry, frustrated. Sad because for two consecutive years I have watched friends, acquaintances and strangers move on, pass, enter new chapters in their lives, while I have not. Last year because I did not pass, this year because I did not have the financial means and mental health and stability to repeat the program. Angry because I should have passed. It is so easy to blame others, to blame broken systems, to blame a disease and a three-week hospitalisation, but at the end of the day, that anger remains: I should have passed.

One of my favourite qualities about myself is that I am ambitious. It is also one of my least favourite qualities. This raw ambition means that I am driven and curious and have a good work ethic. It also means that I am jealous and competitive and unable to be happy for others without somehow feeling inadequate or jealous or a little bit bitter. (I am also now seeing, after reading this paragraph, that I clearly do not like to use commas when I list things.) I don’t know if this makes me a bad person or if it is normal. What is normal really anyway? Just to be clear, I am not referring to my aversion to commas here.

It does not change the fact that I am proud and happy for you all. It just means that even now, a year later, I still have not managed to deal with my own failure. Of course I know that things would have been so different if I had passed, for instance, I would not have been able to say that throughout my life, I have been signed with three different audit firms (Google audit firms, merger, medium-sized). As a colleague would say: “Winning, Girlfriend!”

Maybe next year will be my year. Hopefully next year this time I will post that I, too, have acquired the title of ‘Baby CA’.

For now, well, allow me to be happy and sad because after all, emotions are complex.

The shame that comes with being a woman

The shame that comes with being a woman

I got a lift with a colleague a few weeks ago. We had some time to kill, so we decided to have some coffee at a coffee shop in a nearby lifestyle village (read: rich people’s mall). While at this lifestyle village, I saw a SPAR and realised that I needed pads, so I told my colleague that I wanted to pop in at SPAR quickly and that I’d meet him at the coffee shop. He then said ‘No, it’s fine. I’ll come with you’ and my first thought was ‘ah, crap!’ because 1) how on earth was I going to hide my pads (and I don’t buy those little dainty ones – no, I’m all about extra protection and comfort) and 2) what else can I buy to make it seem as though the pads weren’t my main reason for going to the shop? Of course I caught myself thinking this and immediately realised how ridiculous I was being, so I confidently walked to the feminine hygiene products section, grabbed my packet of pads with Colleague standing next to me, and walked to the till without even attempting to hide my new purchase.

This got me thinking about the inherent and ingrained shame that comes with being women. We close our legs, we suck in our stomachs, we speak softly, we shave and wax our naturally growing hair and we don’t talk about periods, sex, masturbation or pornography.

The whole idea of being ashamed of our sexuality has always fascinated me. Women should be enjoying sex and should be open about how much we enjoy it. After all, we can have two different types of orgasms: vaginal and clitoral, whereas men really only have that one option. We are able to do so much more for our own sexual happiness because we have options galore. Hands, toys in all shapes and sizes, other human beings. It is therefore absolutely ridiculous that we are conditioned to feel ashamed of all things sexual and feminine.

We start this from a very young age. We tell two year olds to close their legs, to be quiet and ladylike, to sit still so that they don’t ruin their dresses. We don’t tell two year old boys any of those things. In fact, we encourage boys to explore, to get dirty, to speak their minds.

As time goes by, we tell girls to be flattered when a boy is mean to them ‘because that means that he likes you’ instead of telling them to stand up for themselves, to tell the boys off for being mean.

Then we proceed to make girls feel bad for having bodily hair and menstruating once every 28 days. One of the first things my friend and I discussed when becoming sexually active became a possibility in high school was ‘Now we’ll have to shave.’ Now that is uncomfortable! No one’s body is able to bend in that way – this is one of many reasons why shaving is stupid. Of course, in high school, that’s what you do. No one has money to get waxed (also, ouch!) and I doubt that any young girls from conservative and religious Vredenburg were going to ask their moms for money to wax their pubic hair. The point is that we teach girls the wrong things about sex and sexuality from a very young age.

Buying pads, at least, is okay. Buying condoms is an entirely different story. No one wants to use Choice (they’re free and all, but no), so someone has to buy the condoms. It is the most nerve-wrecking experience imaginable. Honestly, I have never been self-conscious or ashamed of my sexuality, but even I feel uncomfortable when I buy condoms. Of course you also see some other interesting sexual items while you’re trying to decide between ribbed and studded which you might want to check out. Maybe you want to splurge on some massage oil or lube, but the shame and embarrassment is often enough to make condom-buying a quick in and out (innuendo intended). Something as intimate and enjoyable as sex should never be a quick in and out.

Someone out there is going to wonder how this is a women’s issue specifically. It is. No one bats an eyelid when my male friends buy condoms or whip condoms out of their wallets, but when I do it, I have to write an essay explaining myself, or worse, I am congratulated for ‘not being like the other girls’. There’s a reason why ‘other girls’ don’t carry condoms with them wherever they go: they have been socialised and conditioned to believe that sex is something to be kept quiet, something to be ashamed of.

It is detrimental to the health and wellbeing of women to shame sexuality. Men are known to watch and enjoy porn, they are known to masturbate. Women enjoy masturbation and porn too, but we don’t acknowledge this. Worse, we shame this, which, once again, is ironic because women have a much bigger range of options available to us when it comes to sexual pleasure.

In her famous essay entitled ‘We should all be feminists’, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie talks about the expectation for girls to remain virgins while society almost praises the boy who manages to ‘bag a couple of girls’ before he finally settles down with a nice little virgin. In the essay she mentions how ridiculous that is mathematically, because who are we expecting these boys to have sex with if we are expecting the girls to be virgins?

These gendered expectations create an unfair society in which men are allowed to discover what they like and dislike, but women aren’t. I have heard women say that they don’t tell their partners when they don’t enjoy sex because they don’t want to hurt their partners’ feelings (fragile male ego) or because they simply don’t know what they would prefer their partner to do instead. Often this happens because the women weren’t able to get to know themselves sexually before they got sexually intimate with another person. They were never comfortable to play with and explore their own bodies because masturbation and pornography are somehow bad for women.

We should be raising our daughters like we raise our sons: allow them to get dirty, allow them to ruin their clothes, allow them to explore, to play, to ask questions. We should encourage our daughters to speak up, stand up, fight back and spend time with themselves, exploring their bodies and their sexuality.

In short, we should be eliminating the inherent and ingrained shame that comes with being a woman.

Shine, Graduand, shine.

We see you. I see you. I see you as you reflect on years of hard work. I see you as you remember crying in matric because you did not have money to go to university. I see you as you cry tears of joy when that loan finally comes through. I see you as you leave home all by yourself and head off to the big bad university with all of its glory. I see you as become disillusioned with university as soon as someone harasses a black tutor. I see you as you cry when you get that first test result back. I see you as you cry when you finally pass Stats.

I see you as the years go on and the nights get longer. I see you as the panic attacks become more frequent and the waiting list at Student Wellness becomes impossible.

I see you as things fall apart financially and at home. I see you as the pressure mounts to be “the first in our family”. I see you as you try to hide your failures from your family because they wouldn’t understand. I see you as the other kids sign up for tuts on their iPads and you have to settle for the 16:00 tut, even though you have to take three taxis to get home.

I see you as you sleep in the library and skip dinner so that you can get on par with the rest of the class.

I see you as you see those words: “Qualifies for award of degree” and you run to the nearest person to laugh and cry and dance and sing.

I see you as your family looks at you with admiration, I see you as you know that you have finally earned something so sweet that you don’t want that moment to pass in a million years.

I see you as you prepare for graduation. I see you as you have to choose which two guests you will invite into Marikana Memorial Hall with you. I see you as you look for the cheapest outfit that still looks decent, I see you as you worry about where your family is going to stay, how they’re going to travel, what they’re going to eat, and how to pay for it all. I see you as you work extra hours, as you save every cent, as you decline the invitation to celebrate with your friends because you want to make sure that your family has a good time at your graduation. After all, it is their graduation as well: it is their tears, their hard work, their double shifts, their prayers and their support that got you to that hall. Or not. Maybe it is all you. Maybe no one supported you or contributed to your degree, but you still have expectations resting on your shoulders.

I see you as you sit in that hall and take it all in. I see you as you cry tears of joy for yourself and tears of loss and grief for your comrades who didn’t make it to that hall because of exclusion, illness or circumstances.

I see you. This is your moment. Shine.

The science store room

The science store room is a place of wonder

There are robots and potions and chemicals plenty

The science store rooms holds many mysteries

with its leather-bound books, candle sticks and planetary drawings from 1856.

 

The science store room is where blood drips down my thighs

as his heavy body pushes me against the wall.

The science store room is where his clammy hands cover my mouth

as he groans and grunts in my ear before he calls

for a god who cannot hear my silent prayers.

 

The science store room is cold and unnerving

The science store room is painful and bloody

The wall is hard and the room is soundproof.

 

The science store room is my place of shame.

I failed my CTA – now what?

In order to become a chartered accountant (CA) in South Africa, one has to complete an accredited undergraduate degree, an accredited postgraduate degree or diploma (also referred to as CTA by Unisa) and complete three years of practical training, or articles. During these three years, aspiring CAs are to write and pass two national exams which are set by SAICA (the South African Institute of Chartered Accountants). Once all of this is done, and this takes about 7 or 8 years minimum, a new CA emerges.

I completed my undergrad degree at UCT and attempted my CTA there as well. Unfortunately I failed the CTA.

Although not unexpected, it was and is still very difficult to deal with. My CTA year was a bit of a mess. I went through a deeply depressive time during my June exams, which I have documented in detail in another blog post (Mental Health Issues in the Student-Sphere), and it showed in my results. Coming back from a situation where your highest mark is 37% is not impossible, but it is a tough ask. Still, I tried. I worked hard and I really tried, but I definitely did not believe that it was possible for me to pass. This of course stressed me out. I did not have the money to repeat my CTA full-time and I needed the CTA to take up the job I had lined up. So, of course, as MY November exams approached and the stress mounted, I once again went through a deeply depressive episode, this time landing me in a psychiatric clinic for 21 days.

I will write about my experience in this psychiatric clinic in more detail another time, but what I will say right now is that that hospitalisation was the best thing that could have happened to me at that point in my life. I think that was the first time in my life that I could focus on myself, just myself. My mom and boyfriend were the most amazing people during this time for me. I cannot imagine how horrible the whole experience must have been for them and how scared they must have been, but not once did they blame me and not once did they project their own fears and their own guilt onto me. They respected my boundaries and allowed me to heal and recover. If you ever have a friend who is hospitalized for a mental illness, feel free to ask them for advice on what you should do in order to provide said friend with the best possible support.

So back to CTA: because I was hospitalized for 3 weeks, I had to defer my exams to the January examination period. I then proceeded to fail two of these four exams.

This was really tough for me. Although I appreciated the opportunity to recover in a private psychiatric clinic, which itself is a privilege that very, very few people with mental illnesses are afforded, I still struggled to deal with the failure.

For as long as I can remember, I was neither artistic nor athletic, but I was intelligent. My mom managed to teach me to read in 2 weeks (she is an amazing teacher!) and then nurtured my love of books by driving me to the library every week and sometimes twice a week because I went through them very quickly.

Unsurprisingly, then, I ended up defining myself by my academics. In short, my academics became me and you don’t need a degree in psychology to know that that is an unhealthy and very narrow definition to have of oneself. Failing at anything academic-related became a major struggle, and I failed quite a bit during undergrad. The issue was that I would fail tests and pull miracles out of my ass (horrible image, I apologise) in the exam, which allowed me to pass the course overall. I had gotten through undergrad without failing a single course. Clearly that did not work for my CTA year. Some miracles are impossible, even for me.

So when I realised that that there was a very real chance of me actually failing, I spiraled completely. I became more depressed and anxious than usual and ended up being hospitalised for a suicidal episode.

In the end, it seems that the idea of failing CTA was so much worse than actually failing CTA. Failing was tough and I sometimes find myself feeling sad about it; it is something that is always there when I hear my friends talk about their upcoming graduation and when they talk about their board exam results which will be released soon. I still feel it, but I also know that if it hadn’t been for those 3 weeks in the clinic, I would not have been able to handle this failure like I am handling it now. I am immensely proud of myself for not spiraling into suicide mode immediately, but for instead understanding that my journey is just a little bit different from my friends’, and that we’ll reach the same destination in the end.

The most amazing thing about failing at something so important is that one suddenly realises how many alternative options are available. So, here is my advice to the class of 2017:

  1. Apply to Unisa’s CTA program as a backup:

Even if you are confident that you will pass, apply anyway. The program is called the Postgraduate Diploma in Applied Accounting Sciences (CTA level 2). Get this right, because you don’t want to end up applying for a bridging course by accident. Unisa is confusing like that. The closing date for applications is usually around 25 November of each year, but keep an eye on the website in case it changes.

  1. Many small and medium-sized firms allow you to pursue your CTA while you do your articles:

Apply to these firms. You can write your CTA in your first year and write both ITC and APC in your second year, which means that you will still qualify in line with your initial timeline.

  1. Sometimes something goes wrong with an application:

Maybe you missed the application deadline or you applied for the wrong program or you just do not have the health and stamina to pursue your CTA in your first year. It happens. Some firms allow you to do your CTA in your second year for a valid reason. You can then do your CTA in your second year and write ITC and APC in your third year. Discuss this with your employer or prospective employer and try to figure something out.

There are so many options out there. I think that it is nice to have options. I did not think of these things, so I had a crazy amount of pressure on me to pass first time around, to the point that I became suicidal. I know how ridiculous this sounds, but when I think about where I was in November 2016 and where I am now, I am immensely grateful to be alive. I did not plan on making it past 11 November 2016, but it is now 14 March 2017 and I am still here. I have a new job, I celebrated my 7th anniversary with my boyfriend just last week and I recently got to see my ‘baby’ brother head off to university to study Astrophysics.

I got to experience all of that because of alternatives. We don’t all have to have the same journey, as long as we get to where we want to be.

I don’t think that I can ever thank my support system enough. My mother, my two brothers, my boyfriend and my three closest friends who really helped (and still help) me through rock bottom, panic attacks, depressive episodes and everything else.

I am alive because of you. I have a job because of you. I am a functioning adult with adult responsibilities and a new outlook on life because of you. Thank you.

Matric Results: No, hard work is not the key to success

This is the time of the year when we hear lots of feel-good stories: Matric results are out and Angie Motshekga tells us about the increased pass rate, the high schools brag with their A-candidates and 100% pass rates and of course the newspapers show pictures of smiling matriculants and do exclusive stories about that one black kid from rural Eastern Cape who studied by candlelight every evening to get his matric certificate, or the girl whose mother passed away a day before she wrote her Maths paper, but amazingly she still excelled.

These against-all-odds stories are what our Facebook friends share and what we discuss around the dinner table, those of us who are fortunate enough to have dinner tables.

We talk about the black kid from the Eastern Cape who worked hard, persevered and passed, we talk about the girl from the Cape Flats who is going to study medicine because she worked hard, we talk about that child whose mom passed away and still managed to get a distinction for Maths. It makes us feel good; it helps to absolve us of the blame. Who needs Fees Must Fall when you can work hard and get a bursary? Why isn’t every matriculant as diligent and committed to being ‘constructive instead of destructive’?

It’s all good and well to celebrate exceptional students, it must be done, but what about the above average person from the same rural Eastern Cape school who also studied by candlelight but did not pass? What about the person whose mother passed away and who was unable to write that Maths paper, or the person from the Cape Flats who did not get the marks or the funding to study medicine?

Hard work doesn’t always work. Yes, hard work is important. In order to be successful one has to be willing to sacrifice and to work hard, but it isn’t the answer. Claiming that success is down to hard work is invalidating to those who worked hard, but are just not good enough to obtain a bursary, but who would have been able to study at a university like Wits or UCT if they were rich enough to pay for themselves. It sets the bar much, much higher for Poor Black Kid from rural Eastern Cape than it does for Rich White Kid from Constantia.

By pretending that hard work and dedication is the answer, we also pretend that we were all born equally, and that is definitely not the case. It makes us feel better, it causes us to retreat into our little shells of privilege instead of forcing us to confront the inherent disadvantages faced by students in South Africa. Instead of trying to set up a scholarship fund for our own babies or the babies of our domestic workers, we believe that Baby will be exceptional, will get a bursary and all will be well. It makes us blind and not proactive at all. What if Baby ends up getting into university, but doesn’t get a bursary? Of course then we blame the Department of Education and we blame NSFAS, but never ourselves.

Don’t get me wrong, there are major issues with the Department of Basic Education. Why can Maritzburg College achieve a 100% pass rate year after year, but Diazville High School in Saldanha Bay doesn’t? Why do students from Maritzburg College go on to excel at university while students from Diazville drop out or take more than the minimum amount of time to complete their degrees? It is definitely not because less exceptional students go to Diazville. Somehow, two schools that follow the exact same curriculum and write the same exams produce very different results. It shows that there is a correlation between privilege and success (barring those exceptional students, again). It also shows that mainly government-funded and -run schools do not prepare students well enough for university. This is not all government’s fault because government only has so much money available (ja, ja, we know about corruption and whatnot), but it does show that where one starts has a big impact on where one ends up in the end.

So we think about these issues and we don’t see answers and instead we focus on the exceptional students who worked hard. We discount those who failed because “How can you not get 30%?” like we were such amazingly bright people in high school. I am pretty sure that some of you dropped Maths as soon as you could and yet you are the ones judging the ‘20% pass mark’ without reading and understanding the stringent conditions which must be met before that pass mark can be applied.

But hey, “Maybe if students stopped burning buses and worked hard instead they’d be graduating too.” Maybe they’d even be lucky enough to snag a bursary and not have to start out their careers with Black Tax and crippling amounts of debt strangling them.

There is nothing wrong with not being exceptional (I know very few people who are) and we must stop pretending that being exceptional has to be the norm. Instead, we must celebrate exceptional achievements, but also realise that most students are above average at best and that these students deserve a fair chance too, that being poor and/or black is something that cannot be wished away by working hard and by admitting that poor and/or black people start off much, much lower on the ladder than privileged and/or white people do.

Instead of saying “Maybe they should work harder”, we should donate to less fortunate schools (why are you donating to Wynberg Boys’ High anyway – they have an entire estate to themselves), we should set up trust funds for the children of our domestic workers, we should contribute towards the medical aids of our domestic workers or buy the school uniform of a poorer child.

Ah, this school uniform thing reminds me of something that happened to me when I was younger. At the end of my grade 11 year, I was announced as the head girl of my high school. Myself and the new head boy were the first non-white head students in the school’s existence (at the time). When we went to buy our new blazers (with accompanying jerseys, pull-overs and ties) I realised that there was no way that I could afford even the blazer, let alone the whole entire ensemble. Of course I was pretty devastated because anyone who knows me knows that I like nice things, but the lovely owners of Van Zyl’s Mans Uitrustings in Vredenburg were so excited about this Coloured and Indian head girl and boy that they donated two brand new blazers and jerseys to us. I will never forget that.

No, hard work isn’t always the answer. Sometimes it is the kindness of strangers that makes all the difference.