The 45-year-old Francoise Jordaan wants to try and avoid another unnecessary death. Photo supplied.
Date: 26 January 2020 By: Andries van Zyl
The Soutpansberg has been hit hard by an alarming number of suicides the past year, especially for a small-town community such as Louis Trichardt, with surviving family and friends being left with the question of why. The main cause of these deaths was mostly contributed to depression, but what is obvious is that few people really understand why this mental illness causes people to end their own lives.
According to the website of the South African Depression and Anxiety Group (SADAG), a depressive disorder is a “whole-body” illness, involving your body, mood and thoughts. It affects the way you eat and sleep, the way you feel about yourself, and the way you think about things. “A depressive disorder is not the same as a transient blue mood. It is not a sign of personal weakness or a condition that can be willed or wished away. People with a depressive illness cannot merely ‘pull themselves together’ and get better. Without treatment, symptoms can last for weeks, months or years. Appropriate treatment, however, can help most people who suffer from depression,” states the SADAG, Africa’s largest mental-health support and advocacy group.
Realising that few people really understand what people suffering from depression have to go through every day, local resident Francoise Jordaan (45), who suffers from depression himself, decided to speak out.
“I know how it feels to be alone in a room full of people, in a crowd, surrounded by family or amongst my hundreds of friends. I know how to smile for the world while something unknown is eating away at my soul. I know how it feels to see everything in my day happening in front of my eyes as if I am watching television. I see myself slowly dying, but there is nothing I can do about what is happening to me,” said Francoise.
Francoise grew up in Louis Trichardt and attended Louis Trichardt Primary and High School. But for a few years’ studying and traveling, he has always lived in this community. “I have always been a very happy, laughing, caring and loving person. I’ve had my share of loss. I buried friends and family. My dad. My mom. My first love. However, I always rose up after the initial shock and continued, or so I thought,” said Francoise.
According to Francoise, his mother’s death in November 2018 was traumatic because it was not her time. “She died of something so insignificant that it should never have happened, but I could live with that, because she had had an amazing life. She had enough. She was loved. She travelled. But she was tired, and she said that. She was ready and she missed my dad and her family who had died before her. For the first time, however, a little bit of me did not return home the day after her memorial service,” said Francoise.
Then Francoise’s good friend, Annette Kenneally, was murdered. “The feeling of loss, this time, never went away after her passing. I never really ‘got over’ the feeling of her death. There was a black emptiness inside me that kept growing. Little by little. I knew something was wrong, but I was unable to recognise or name the feeling! It wasn’t a headache, a cold or flu, but it was growing, and it became dark and threatening,” said Francoise.
In August 2019, said Francoise, the walls of his almost perfect life came crashing down. “I have lost so many friends, acquaintances and people within my community because of suicide since then. I know every name, I only need to close my eyes to see the faces, hear the laughter and recall the memories. They were all part of my beautiful community. They stood beside me in the shops, sat next to me in restaurants and helped build this beautiful town, each in their own unique way. They lived, laughed and loved with me for many years, and then they stopped living. I have read that people who commit suicide do not want to die, they just want the pain to stop. With each goodbye, my own pain intensified, grew, and I wanted it to stop,” said Francoise.
For Francoise, the feeling of emptiness inside of him became overpowering and started to consume every aspect of his life. “It changed everything I perceived to be normal. It is all I am thinking of when I am awake, and it’s all I am dreaming of when I sleep. It follows me everywhere. It’s like a really bad song that you absolutely hate. It creeps into your thoughts continuously, and before you can help yourself, it becomes a refrain, stuck on repeat. Music that you cannot get rid of, even though you absolutely hate the lyrics, the beat and the artist,” said Francoise.
Francoise said that depression was still frowned upon in a small town and thought of as a weakness. “But I cannot blame anyone for feeling or thinking that way because I felt like that until recently. Stop crying! Pull yourself together! Face the world! Stop being a sissy! Grow up and face your problems! Be a Man! Pray! Pray more…!” said Francoise.
Now, said Francoise, he realised he was so, so wrong. “No amount of pulling yourself together, facing the world, or standing-strong messages could get me out of the hole of depression. No phone call from a family member or friend made me see the light. Not one of my prayers worked or was answered … The darkness that surrounds me inside my prison of depression is all-consuming and takes on a personality that I can hear talking to me, and I am scared of what I am hearing and what it wants me to do,” said Francoise.
Francoise said that a typical day might start out looking perfect. “I would watch the sunrise from my stoep on the farm with a cup of coffee, listening to bushveld slowly waking. Seeing the sun push the night down the mountain, past the tarred road, all the way to the neighbours’ farm behind my house, I would think to myself: Today is going to be an amazing day. How can it not be, after what I have just witnessed? Then something insignificant will happen: A song, a smell, a pair of socks … anything can allow the darkness back into my day,” said Francoise.
Once the darkness takes over, said Francoise, it is downhill for the rest of the day, and then night-time arrives. “At the age of 45, I became scared of the dark again. An all-consuming fear that drives me crazy. By the time I go to bed, I am not sure what I fear the most. The dark, my house, the sounds, the memories or falling asleep. Going to bed dead tired and waking up even more tired after just two hours. The dreams I am having. The constant, never-ending pain beating at my insides so hard that I am struggling to breathe,” said Francoise.
Francoise feels that if the last couple of months have taught us nothing else, people should at least recognise that a problem exists in our town. “Depression can’t be categorised by age, sex, race, religion or even sexual orientation. This illness does not discriminate. It takes and destroys whomever it comes across. It not only destroys the person, it destroys relationships, friendships, families and communities, and currently it is running rampant in my town. It is killing indiscriminately. It’s knocking on so many doors all around us and it’s only waiting for its next victim to open the door. My town is bleeding, and if we don’t stop the bleeding soon, we will not have enough bandages for the wounded left behind in the steps it is taking throughout this community,” said Francoise.
Regarding the above, Francoise said he could see what his illness was doing to his family. “I see the hurt when I tell my family I am not attending Christmas lunch, or a family birthday. When I have nothing to say when we spend the whole day in the same house, but mostly when I cry, and they don’t know why or how to make the pain go away. I am sorry I cannot give back to you, what you give with every phone call, every visit and every hug. The sadness and crying come often and unexpectedly, but the scariest part is that the longer I am sick, the easier it becomes to allow myself to go down the road of just letting go and letting the darkness overwhelm me … The hurt in my friends’ faces every time we say goodbye is heart-breaking. I can almost hear them thinking: ‘Is this the last time I am going to see Fran alive?’ I know that is what they must thinking, because that is what I am thinking every time one of us leaves. Is this the last time?” said Francoise.
Francoise said he feared what was happening to him. “Of what I am feeling, of what I am becoming, of what I may do, of what is happening to my beloved community and the people whom I have the privilege of sharing it with. But, most of all, I am scared of attending another funeral of someone I could have helped, but I chose to do nothing. I know that I, as a person, and a sick person at that, can do absolutely nothing about the attack on our community, but I know the people I am sharing it with. I know how strong we are. I know our weaknesses, but, most of all, I know our strength when we stand together,” said Francoise.
Francoise said that he knew that, for every 10 people reading this, one or two would think that he was looking for attention. “…and I will not try to convince you otherwise. I do, however, want you to take just one minute to think what I have to lose by writing this. I am exposing my family to unnecessary criticism, but because they love me, and always have, they will continue to support me, or at least I hope they will. I have many friends in this town whom I love dearly, who do not need to be criticised because of my actions, because of my illness, because of my weakness. Remember that before you say or do something. I am the one exposing myself to criticism, and I am the only one to blame for my actions,” said Francoise.
Francoise advised that when you see someone close to you having a bad day and you ask him/her what the problem is, a lot of the time the reply may be that the person is just tired. “Most of the times they just need to take a nap, but sometimes, this exhaustion is not something that can be resolved by sleeping. They cannot simply shut their eyes and wake up okay! Sometimes it means they need a break from their mind, their feelings, their life, this world … They may be trying to tell you that they need to get away for just a little while and let their soul rest. Even when they smile at you, they may still be hurting as the pain is always there. Just because someone carries it well does not mean it isn’t heavy. Listen to them, and don’t judge their walls as these keep them alive,” said Francoise.
Francoise said that when a person you shared a life with as a partner, friend, neighbour or colleague died, they died in a million different places, in a million different ways. “They aren’t just missing from the life you had with them, they are missing from all the life that is yet to come. This is why it is important to allow someone to grieve. To cry. To scream. To fall apart. Allow someone time to grieve, because in grief one finds closure and in closure one finds acceptance, which may just lead to healing,” said Francoise.
In conclusion, Francoise said he did not know how his story would end. “I do, however, know that I am not always in control of what is happening to me, but I am trying to be. A very good friend om mine had a tattoo that said: ‘Go West, Young Man, your future is untold.’ My future is definitely untold, but I sometimes wish I still had one,” said Francoise. He added that he did not tell his story to get sympathy but because he needed people to see the signs in their loved ones. “We cannot afford another tragedy, just like we couldn’t afford the first, second or the eighth one! I realise that depression is not the only reason for suicide, but grief, addiction, financial difficulty, stress, and a lot of other factors may lead to some form of depression and, like a lot of other illnesses, the sad reality is that depression leads to death most of the time,” said Francoise.
Andries joined the Zoutpansberger and Limpopo Mirror in April 1993 as a darkroom assistant. Within a couple of months he moved over to the production side of the newspaper and eventually doubled as a reporter. In 1995 he left the newspaper group and travelled overseas for a couple of months. In 1996, Andries rejoined the Zoutpansberger as a reporter. In August 2002, he was appointed as News Editor of the Zoutpansberger, a position he holds until today.