There are some books that, if you were to read with a highlighter, you would have to highlight every single line. This is one such book. The last time I felt so involved with a book is when I read Chimamanda’s Half of Yellow Sun.
I didn’t know much about Bonnie Henna (Mbuli), a popular South African actress and presenter. While reading a copy of True Love magazine, I came across the book recommendation section where Eyebags & Dimples was being hailed as true and candid tale on depression and its effects. The title of the book was eye catching enough that I bought the book.
Bonnie Henna narrates her story in a way that is so personal, with no holds barred. She talks of a difficult childhood hugely influenced by her mother’s’ undiagnosed and untreated post natal depression which, coupled with constant suicidal thoughts, led to a difficult mother and daughter relationship. Additionally, growing up in apartheid South Africa resulted in both the home and outside environments being unwelcoming and confusing. After being spotted at a bus stop, Bonnie was introduced to the entertainment industry that brought mixed results of success, challenged and controversy in both career and personal relationships. After a difficult time in America, Bonnie tells of how through chance, she learnt to accept and acknowledge the dark cloud of depression which had forever been looming in her life. She chronicles the journey to recovery with hard truths on both a personal and medical perspective.
While reading this book, I had to pause and ponder on many aspects. It made me think of how our society deals with mental illness and how we are not encouraged or empowered to seek help. While the attitudes are shifting, it made me wonder how perhaps the issues we have today, were influenced by our own parents (mothers) undiagnosed and ignored mental illness.
It baffled me that this behaviour was so similar to the things Mom had told me her mother did to her; some were in fact identical. She’d related numerous stories of my grandmother’s cruel words, and the deep hurt and sadness she’d experienced when her mother treated her with such contempt. Yet here she was, visiting the very same horrors upon me. Why, if it had made her feel so bad, did she want me to go through the same thing? A subtle distrust began to creep into my bones.
Bonnie’s story is at times difficult to read especially when she goes into detail about how her mother treated her when she was young. Did I feel uncomfortable because we aren’t allowed to speak about our mothers in that way? Is this the cultural systematic silencing and brushing under carpet? It maybe so but I sure was glad to realise that even though the childhood was harsh and burdensome for her, she could still appreciate that her mother still loved her just that depression had stripped her off the chance to show it properly.
Perhaps what is more heartbreaking for me is the guilt that Bonnie (and many depression sufferers) felt when she realised that something was wrong
My cultural disposition and world view couldn’t allow this train of thought. I’d never known a black person who was depressed. My cultural legacy demanded that I stop feeling sorry for myself; things were far worse for most black Africans, and I didn’t have to look far for proof. Black people didn’t sit around bemoaning their misfortune; they were professional sufferers, and just kept doing what they had to do…
While Bonnie talks of how her mother’s depression influenced the mood in the home, her admission of how this was the same in her own personal relationships made it more apparent that mental illness affects everyone around us, more so to people more closest to us. Her journey to recovery included spiritual healing as well as the medical route of “happy pills”, an admission that depression is like any other illness that requires medication amongst other interventions.
I truly believe that every African woman needs to read this book for it has incredible life lessons as well as providing a foundation in understanding our mothers. As women, mothers, wives, girlfriends, sisters, aunts and friends, I believe that the book sheds light on how the way we interact with our children and our peers, can majorly shape their mental wellbeing. I’m more than recommending this emotional roller coaster.
No one can take our freedom unless we give it away