Napo Masheane’s (poetess, actor, playwright, theatre director) pen has made her a revered storyteller; she is also the living proof that there is life after depression.
By: Thanduxolo “Thandz” Buti
Photos supplied by: Village Gossip productions
Napo is a renowned spoken word artist, playwright and theatre director. Her theatre productions have immaculately put women’s stories under the magnifying glass. She is famously known for her cheeky, humorous and female-empowering production, My Bum Is Genetic, Deal With It.
Many have hailed her as an important voice in African storytelling. She has performed around the world, garnered acclaim and bagged a few awards.
She recently received another golden milestone after Oscar-nominated actor, Chiwetel Ejiofor – famous for his role in 12 Years A Slave, performed one of her monologues Mama The Storm Is Outside, at the recent Children’s monologues at the Royal Court Theatre, in London.
Napo made history as the first female director to have her work featured at the Market Theatre main stage – The John Kani Stage, where her new production, A New Song, which follows eight domestic workers juggling daily life struggles, their madams and motherhood, was showcased.
However, despite a glorious career, Napo has had to face the shadow of darkness. With a family that has a history of depression and suicide, she had to face the demons and break the chain.
She chats with Blacklight and reflects on her life battle with depression and how she overcame the pain of the disease.
Blacklight: Can you tell me about your first encounter with suicide?
Napo Masheane: There has always been depression in my family, but we just never had a name for it. I think it’s only after my father committed suicide that I realised that I also was battling with depression.
My first real encounter with depression was when I failed my matric. Can you imagine a head-girl who always passed with flying colours, fail their matric? I remember that writing was tough because I was having a lot of nervous break-downs. I even had to be taken to a school councillor, but I just thought it was fear of the upcoming matric exams.
A year later my father committed suicide and it hit me real hard. I went through therapy and that’s when I realised that I had been depressed for about three years. It amounted to a lot of things, but mostly, I think the ripple effect of failing matric really weighed down on me.
Because I failed, I couldn’t study the courses I wanted to study and I ended up doing Marketing Management, which was never part of my plan because I was always a creative soul. I lived with it for a very long time after but I just found ways to help me go forward even during my darkest hours.
If you don’t get support from your family or friends then perhaps you should seek alternatives, like therapy.
BL: Did you find that in the black community it was hard for you to be open about exactly what you were feeling at the time?
NM: It’s never easy to have those conversations in our community, even now. Mainly because in black families depression is not something that is acknowledged. When you are depressed they tell you to get over it because there are bigger problems out there (It’s like snap out of it, so we move on to bigger and better things).
I don’t think there is room to have those deeper conversations, to help you go back feeling like yourself again. We are never really asked how we are feeling and when we are, we are expected to respond with a simple ‘I am Okay’. I think that’s why for me I have always found solace in therapy.
BL: What was your first encounter with a therapist like?
NM: It was through a friend that I had my first encounter with a therapist. She said, “Hayi Joe, I can’t help you maybe you should see someone.”
I asked around my circle and I managed to get a few numbers of really good therapists. I got one eventually and she has been my therapist ever-since.
She has been like a friend who is a therapist, but there is still that line that mustn’t be crossed. In the midst of anything or whenever I am around the world, I can still SMS her when I want to talk. I have grown fond of her and I think that’s because there is a strong trust between us. She has held my hand in some of my darkest times even during the most horrific break-ups of my life.
Sometimes, if you don’t get support from your family or friends then you should seek alternatives, like therapy. It’s very healing, because when you speaking to a therapist, it’s like you are having a loud conversation with yourself. A huge part of it is going through the emotions. Sometimes you have to go back to those dark places and face them in order to feel light again.
Writing is my best therapy. Now I am doing it more on a professional level, but I still find that poetry is the best medicine.
BL: With such a history of depression, do you have any rituals now that help you when you go astray?
NM: My writing is my best therapy. Now I am doing it more on a professional level, but I still find that poetry is the best medicine. That is why I always say that poetry is the chore of my being. I never lie when I write because it always brings out the truth in me.
BL: You have a very powerful poem from your anthology, ‘Phat Songs For My girls’, addressing the depression and suicide in your family. What was it like penning such a poignant piece?
NM: I have written so many poems about suicide and depression. I think that’s the beauty of therapy because it makes things clearer for you, and once you start writing, you start dismantling the boundaries of depression. I was then bold enough to say, ‘Man in my family commit suicide, they use killing themselves as an easy way out’.
I had written so many versions of that, so when I was writing this one for my last anthology, I was able to take all the different versions and roll them into one poem. It documents the deep wound that we carry in our family and we refuse to talk about even though but it’s killing us. I had to write that poem to start that long-overdue conversation in my family. I also wrote it for me so that I make sure that I break the chain.
I have realised that no matter what kind of pain, trauma, or loneliness, at the end of the day we all want someone to hear us, acknowledge our pain and give it a name.
BL: What words do usually share with young people going through what you went through?
NM: You are never alone even when you think you are; there is always someone who loves you and is willing to listen to you. It might not be your mother, father or friend, perhaps it’s a therapist. Sometimes you might have to step out in order to find healing.
I have realised that no matter what kind of pain, trauma, or loneliness, at the end of the day we all want someone to hear us, acknowledge our pain and give it a name. It’s also okay to cry and scream about it, but also gather the pieces and mend them so that you can move forward with your journey.
To seek professional help contact:
SADAG (The South African Depression and Anxiety Group) on: 0800 567 567
24hr Helpline: 0800 12 13 14
SMS 31393 (and they will call you back)
Lifeline – National Counselling
0861 322 322 (24 hours/ 7 days a week)