Video: My talk at #ChangeMakers 2016

Greetings strangers, I apologise for the deafening sound of crickets in my eight-month absence from the blog. For my first post back, I am taking the easy way out by (just) showing you a video of my talk at this year’s Lead SA Change Makers Conference, held on Saturday 20 August. The conference being about leadership and inspiring social change, my talk attempted to link the concept of leadership with the need for us to change the conversation about depression from one of stigma and shame to one of understanding and compassion. Watch the video and let me know what you think:

The keynote address at the conference was given by Advocate and then-Public Protector Thuli Madonsela, while some of the other speakers were UCT Deputy Vice Chancellor of Research and Internationalisation Mamokgethi Phakeng, Unilever Corporate Affairs Director Sibonile Dube, former CEO of the Steve Biko Foundation Nkosinathi Biko, 2015 Lead SA Hero of the Year Marlon Parker, and Heal The Hood’s Emile Jansen, who won this year’s Lead SA Hero of the Year Award. Needless to say, they all were phenomenal and I came away moved, inspired and blessed to have been there. You can read a summary of the day’s talks on the Lead SA website or watch the videos of their talks for yourself on the Lead SA channel on YouTube.

Are you throwing the punches or absorbing them?

It’s very easy to pass on a bad mood without even realising it. Like when you’re sitting in bumper-to-bumper traffic, already frustrated because you are running late, and some idiot in an SUV cuts in front of you. You’re still fuming when you get to the office and so you snap at your colleague when she tries to tell you about her crazy weekend.

She is already not having the best morning, because her excitable dog peed on the carpet – again – just before she was supposed to leave the house. Your harsh tone pushes her precarious positivity over the edge, so when her husband phones from the supermarket to find out what type of bread to buy, she yells at him for not knowing – after five years together – about her gluten-intolerance.

But of course he does know, which is the whole reason he phoned to double check in the first place. He grits his teeth at her unjustified attack, but she hangs up before he gets a chance to defend himself, which is even more infuriating. Then he takes it out on the cashier, who has just started a nine-hour shift.


On her way to work, the cashier had stood for an hour in a crowded, overheated bus, musty and fogged up by everyone’s breath, and then walked through the rain from the bus stop to the shop. This man’s rudeness so early in the morning is the last straw and her tone is abrupt and resentful with all of the customers coming after him.

So the disease spreads, but it just takes one person to break chain. One person who absorbs the negativity instead of passing it on. One person who, after their initial angry reaction, shrugs it off and thinks, “Whatever. It’s actually not such a big deal.”

I don’t believe there is ever an excuse for rudeness. Nonetheless, a sympathetic case can be made at any time for any one of us to lose control of our emotions. Everyone is dealing with something. Many of the times we yell or snap at someone, the things we are yelling about are actually not the things we are truly upset about – there’s something else going on in another area of our lives.

It takes strength to absorb the impact without releasing it. To always be the calm, emotionally responsible, considerate, non-reactive person when everyone around you is just letting their feelings carry them from one situation to the next. I don’t think it’s possible to be that person all the time. At least, I don’t think I could be that guy every time. But I will try to be him sometimes.

When you have the capacity to absorb the blow, do the next person a favour by not passing it on. You don’t always have to be the zen person, but it can’t always be someone else either.

What goes through your mind before you jump in front of a moving train?

Recently some friends of mine lost another close friend to suicide. By all accounts, he was a warm, smart, handsome guy with many friends who loved him. Although he had been through very rough times recently, no one had any idea that he had been feeling that low. His friends struggled to understand what he had been thinking and how he had reached that point without anyone knowing. I know that many of my friends and family had the same questions after my suicide attempt, so I’m going to try to explain my state of mind when I jumped in front of that train. Hopefully it will give you some insight into the minds of the people in your life who struggle with depression. Here goes.

Done. By the time you start planning your suicide, you are just done with the seemingly continuous upward battle towards a happiness that feels more and more elusive the longer you chase it. I felt that I had done everything I could think of to fix the constant ache inside myself and nothing was working. I had run out of options and could not think of anything more to do except to just end it once and for all.

The struggle every single day just to survive and not be discovered a fraud or not to lose a grip on everything was exhausting. I couldn’t face the prospect of going through this for the rest of my life, endlessly hoping for that one day when everything would fall into place and I could live – not fight, just live – a day that might or might not ever come. I couldn’t keep wearing the mask of being “fine, thanks”. I was weary and drained. I just wanted to go to sleep and never wake up – to have some relief, some rest, and to no longer worry that at any moment I was going to screw up.

Over the years, I had never reached out for help, because I thought it was my own problem, that no one else – friend or therapist – would be able to say something that would fix it all. People often confided in me and I enjoyed listening to and supporting them. Every time I thought of revealing my own struggle to anyone, however, I decided against it, because I knew that they had problems of their own and I didn’t want to burden them with mine as well – especially if there was nothing that they could about it. It was my responsibility to figure it out myself. I never considered that if I had given anyone the choice, they would have been honoured and pleased to support me.


By the time I was planning my suicide, I had reached the conclusion that removing myself would be better for everyone – my parents wouldn’t have to take care of me if I returned to Cape Town from London without a job, my friends wouldn’t have to keep making the effort of trying to connect with me through my impervious walls that deflected any attempts at sincere and meaningful conversation.

Towards the end, just before my suicide attempt, whenever I considered talking to a friend or asking for help, I also wondered how I could justify to them that I had never come to them with this before. How could I have let it get this bad before trusting them to support me? Would they even believe that it was so bad that I was genuinely contemplating suicide, given that I had never spoken of my depression to anyone before? I didn’t want to seem like a drama queen who was only looking for attention.

None of these thoughts may seem rational to you, but that does not mean that they are not completely reasonable to someone with depression. Such mental illnesses distort your view of yourself and your relation to the world.

I remember a few months before my suicide attempt, a close friend of mine actually opened up to me about a breakdown that he’d had a few years earlier. He had even been on medication for depression for a while. Listening to him in that moment, I thought, “Yes! That is how I feel. I get it!” I wanted to confess all to him, but then decided not to, because I thought to myself that if I spoke to him then, just after he had bared his soul to me, he would not believe me. He would think that I was making light of his struggle by turning the attention on to myself and being patronising about something I actually knew nothing about. That made it difficult to talk to him then – but it was much harder trying to explain it to him a few months later, when he came to see me after I had lost both my legs in my suicide attempt and he asked me, “I told you my story; why didn’t you tell me yours?

Now that my depression has been diagnosed, I have been on medication and had monthly therapy sessions for two years. I still have some of the anxiety and self-esteem issues that I did before and they still affect the way I live my life to some extent, if I don’t remind myself that worrying about things beyond my control is futile. These issues no longer overwhelm me, however, and I feel capable of living a good life. Perhaps the biggest advantage to me is being able to acknowledge my depression as a real illness that I can control. It is not my own failure, flaw or weakness, just a condition that I must manage. I can recognise which of my fears and insecurities are unfounded and so disable them.

Humbling and scary as it is to admit my mental disorder, it is also liberating and rewarding to live an honest and frank reality with the people in my life. That I got this chance to start again makes me one of the blessed few. Suicide is not a choice, it is the conclusion to an illness that is left untreated. We need to make it okay for anyone to ask for help before that chance is taken away from them.