Not Today

This smile made you believe that everything was fine, but not today.
For today, my lips have learnt to rest the gentle curves of this fake smile.
These eyes made you believe that the hurt was momentary, but not today.
For today, my veiled eyes have learnt to feel relief for a while.

These hands held yours, ever so tightly to fix your broken pieces, but not today.
For today, my hands have learnt to liberate the pain.
These footsteps followed your path for a long time, but not today.
For today, my steps have learnt to find their way back home again.

This soul filled your deep, black void endlessly, but not today.
For today, my exhausted soul has learnt how to take it slow.
This heart has been your solace all this time, but not today.
For today, my lonely heart has learnt to love itself; also to let go.

These words lit up your darkest days, but not today.
For today, my whispers have learnt not to utter false accolades.
These thoughts craved your delight and safety always, but not today.
For today, my mind has learnt to paint my thoughts in happier shades.

This spirit carried your burdens during bleaker times, but not today.
For today, my kindred spirit has learnt to no longer be enslaved.
This strength in me, fought your battles through long nights, but not today.
For today, my inner strength has learnt that not everyone can be saved.

I gave my mind, body and soul to make you whole;
To complete your being, I gave you unconditional control.
At each mistake, I absolved you of all crimes;
So, today, I head my own way. Today, I let go of past times.

I lied, I made excuses, to justify why your actions don’t match what you say.
I now realize, at first slight I should have walked away.
And you took, and took, and never once thought to give back.
So, for today, I refuse to be my own setback.

This side of yours, my beloved, I did not foresee.
So, from this day on, I’m for me, and only me.

South Africa, Let’s Stay Positive

How do we stay positive in a country experiencing a continuous increase in gender-based violence?

In South Africa, it has been reported that femicide is on the rise, with South African Police data reporting that the murder rate for women increased drastically by 7.7% between 2015 and 2016/17. New cases are reported on a daily basis and more women are silently suffering in abusive relationships than ever before. It’s all over the news, happening in our circles to those we love and destroying lives of too many South African women.

In light of the newly released statistics on domestic violence in South Africa, I’ve found myself struggling more than ever to stay positive and hopeful for the future of our country and future generations.

Fighting for a cause should be a crucial part of all of our lives, even with the reality it shoves upon us. Living in a country where human rights have evolved and made such historic progress, but where barriers are still entrenched and need to be navigated around, it feels as though progress is now on an elongated plateau.

So how exactly can we stay positive in light of all of this?

As difficult as it can be, getting involved is the answer. Being confronted by the brutality and violence can fire up a warrior inside us and spur on the fight. It can urge us to speak up and confront the distressful situation in the country head on. We need to acknowledge the reality and tackle it whole-heartedly. We need to converse, share opinions, listen to each other and form a community.

It is a fight that each and every one of us must take part in. It is our duty to stand up for women by raising awareness to the injustice in our society.

This is a call on South Africans to be brave, stand up, and speak out against gender based violence.

Without disregarding the reality of the situation, we also need to focus on the positive milestones women have achieved and are currently achieving around the world – and especially in our own country. Without the belief that things are going to get better – they won’t.

In South Africa we celebrate August as Women’s Month. This year, it was welcomed by thousands of gender equality activists, members of the LGBTQI+ community and women across the country who took to the streets on August 1st in a march to raise awareness against gender-based violence.

#TheTotalShutDown echoed throughout the whole month. Whether it was online, within communities or chatter on the streets – we had people talking. “My body, not your crime scene” was chanted throughout the country. Women were urged to join nationwide marches and those who weren’t able to were asked to avoid work places and take a moment of silence for all the victims of femicide.

Flickering fires of passion were ignited within women no matter their cultural, racial, political or social differences for one common goal – justice for fellow sisters. It was mesmerising watching women come together and embrace their differences while connecting with each other. Women found themselves in each other.

South African women have fought this brutal reality so passionately and for so long, we cannot let it win. No matter how difficult, we have to believe that we can make a difference and mend this broken country.

We are warriors and will be remembered in history as the ones who carried the fight.

BeMeBeFree: a Campaign to Tackle Teen Anxiety

To no one’s surprise, researchers found a 20% increase in diagnoses of anxietybetween 2007 and 2012. Now in 2018 the rate is even higher. There are a plethora of reasons for this. Many blame social media, while some blame a lack of parenting – the list goes on and on. There’s no shortage of people to blame.

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, 38% of teen girls and 26% of teen boys have anxiety disorders, yet data shows that 40% of students with mental health concerns never seek help.

There are a ton of statistics showing how badly anxiety is affecting our youth and how it’s reaching alarming rates, but what I don’t see a lot of is thorough examinations of the culture that young people live in today. There are many countries worldwide where doctors don’t have to medicate children as young as 8. There are numerous other countries where the suicide rate and incidents of eating disorders in young people haven’t reached epidemic proportions.

Why is this happening at this rate in America?

I created the BeMeBeFree Campaign to take a look at how anxiety affects our youth, but instead of hearing about it from academics, I wanted teens to share their story with us on our website www.bemebefree.org. Storytelling is a creative form that teens really gravitate to, so I decided to create a story sharing campaign where teens could share their story and encourage others to do the same.

Research has shown that if someone with anxiety writes about how they’re feeling and share it with others, it reduces their angst.

Carolyn Costin, a leading anxiety therapist working on the BeMeBeFree Campaign told me that “with little down time, less sleep and constant social media vigilance, our modern technology, cultural pressures and instant image access create an anxious suffering in our youth in ways that we are just beginning to fully understand.”

I’m reaching out to 20,000 high schools, 3,000 universities and 800 mental health organizations asking them to invite students to submit stories of how they’ve dealt with anxiety. We’ll be posting them on the story community page of our website so others can read them and hopefully become empowered to share their story. This will start the process of teens building a community and creating something that’s important to them – a sense of belonging to something.

Credit: Be Me Be Free

One of the unique things about this campaign is that Lifetime have agree to turn a story that we select from the submissions into a movie to air next year. During the process of making the movie I plan to implement various initiatives to keep engaging with our audience to keep the discussion going.

Shukree Tilghman, a writer/producer of the hit NBC show ‘This is Us’ has come aboard the BeMeBeFree Campaign/movie as an Executive Producer.

Ultimately, our campaign goal is to improve the culture of mental health in America and connect our youth. Submissions are open until 5 October 2018. 

Sharp Objects: a Story of Female Power, Abuse, Trauma & Pain

Content warning: This post contains mention of self-injury and abuse.

Breathtaking, uncomfortable, and timely.

These are the three best words I can find to describe HBO’s eight-episode series Sharp Objects – based on the book of the same title by author of New York Times bestseller Gone Girl, Gillian Flynn.

This psychological thriller abounds with breathtaking and unexpected moments that left me on the edge of my seat throughout the eight episodes and especially during the finale.

It also abounds with uncomfortable situations and emotions that we, the viewers, are forced to face alongside the characters: abuse, fractured relationships, trauma, pain, and death. It is also a timely story which features three women as the main characters: Camille, Adora, and Amma.

However, these women aren’t the Wonder-Woman-type of female characters we perhaps expect to see in today’s #MeToo era — which is exactly why this is an important story to be told in today’s climate.

Patricia Clarkson, who plays Adora, made this point in an interview with HBO:

“It’s wonderful for us, as women, to be portrayed as heroes and warriors … But we can’t forget there’s also darkness … And these are the stories we must continue to tell — these kinds of female stories. The time is now.”

The story takes us, alongside protagonist Camille Preaker, back to her hometown of Wind Gap, a small town in the Southern United States, where Camille, a newspaper reporter, is sent to investigate the death of two young girls. This is not just another assignment for the reporter, but a journey towards Camille’s painful past. In Wind Gap, Camille returns to the place where she’s from, and where her abusive mother (Adora), her stepfather (Alan) and half-sister (Amma) still live, in a seemingly perfect house and perfect life.

But underneath the surface of this ‘perfect’ family lies a long history of female power, abuse, trauma, and pain.

Sharp Objects was Flynn’s first novel, released in 2006, but publishers weren’t exactly “beating down [her] door” about publishing the book, she said in an interview. She was told that “people don’t want to read about women they can’t root for; who aren’t heroic.” For Flynn, however, Camille is a heroic character in her own unique way:

“Sometimes, if you’re in a lot of psychological pain and been through a lot of psychological damage, the most heroic thing that you can do is to keep your head above water, and that’s what Camille does again, and again every single day.”

To me, Camille’s story is important because it’s a story about surviving despite unspeakable pain — even though she survives by engaging in unhealthy coping mechanisms through substance abuse and self-injury. It isn’t a pretty story, but it’s still worth being told, because the truth is, this is the story of many women in real life.

In the era of #MeToo, which has been exposing long-held gender inequalities and men’s power and abuse against women, a story which highlights the abuse women can impose on other women is almost unbearably uncomfortable, but also of the utmost importance. Abuse takes many shapes and forms, and sometimes, it takes the form of a woman and a mother — an uncomfortable realization Sharp Objects forces us to make.

Though the story is fictitious, the issues it explores — such as substance abuse, self-injury, and child abuse — are very real. According to the World Health Organization, 1 in 12 women in developed countries will develop an alcohol dependence in their lifetime.

Data from the United State’s Centers for Disease Prevention and Control indicates that in 2012, 54% of child maltreatment perpetrators were women. About 4% of American adults engage in self-injury behaviors, with skin cutting as the most common method (between 70-90%) according to Mental Health America.

These statistics, are, of course, only glimpses into these and the other complex issues explored in the show, but they highlight that preconceived ideas we may hold — such as women as victims and not perpetrators of abuse — are not always accurate.

Sharp Objects was an incredibly uncomfortable and difficult show to watch, but I believe the conversations that this story have started around female power, abuse, trauma, and pain are timely and needed.

I know for me, this is a story that has touched me deeply, and that will stay with me for a long time to come.

If you’re in the US, you can watch the first episode for free on HBO.

If you or someone you know is struggling with self-injury, substance abuse, or suicidal thoughts, or has been a victim of abuse, please reach out for help. Visit HBO for a list of resources worldwide.