The prolonged uncertainty brought on by the Covid-19 pandemic has had profound mental health effects on many of us.
Data from wave three of the National Income Dynamics Study – Coronavirus Rapid Mobile (Nids-Cram) Survey found that 29% of South Africans screened positive for depression, while the South African Depression and Anxiety Group (Sadag) reported that there are an estimated 23 suicides per day in South Africa, and for every suicide there are at least 20 attempted suicides.
These are certainly dark times, but accessible tools are available to cope with and eventually overcome distress.
In his new book, Life Anon: A 12-step guide to life for non-addicts, addiction and specialist wellness counsellor Freddie van Rensburg offers practical tips and advice to help readers regain control of their lives.
Premised as an adaptation of the 12-step programme used by Alcoholics Anonymous, Life Anon takes the spiritual and “design for living” principles of the programme and translates them for use in everyday situations. Van Rensburg links this to his own journey of growth and recovery.
Van Rensburg, who sat down with Maverick Life associate editor Malibongwe Tyilo for a Daily Maverick webinar, spoke openly about his struggles with addiction.
“I learnt through my 12-step journey that one of the reasons I wanted to use drugs and escape from life was that I didn’t know how to live life,” he said.
Escape tactics can take various forms. For some, it’s adopting a high-performance personality to avoid confronting life’s problems – a trait often glorified by our busy modern culture.
He emphasised the importance of introspection and aligning our values with our actions.
“If one of my values is family then why don’t I show up for my family? Because work is probably a more important value.”
Fear, self-pity, people-pleasing and seeking validation from others are some of the common vices explored in the book, which if left unchecked can become toxic.
Fear, said Van Rensburg, was the “biggest thief of a life well-lived”.
He struggled with his identity as a gay man growing up in a conservative Christian community. Here he allowed others to dictate his behaviour in a bid to be “accepted”.
“I became a complete perfectionist because the only way I could be accepted was to be perfect.”
Self-pity, on the other hand, can be combated with gratitude. He said gratitude was one of the most important words for mental health.
“Be grateful for what you have rather than feeling piteous for yourself or what you don’t have.”
The “price of nice” is an additional problem, where someone is a “people-pleaser” and bends to the will of others in a desperate effort to be accepted. This, he said, results in a loss of self and often stems from growing up in a conflict-averse environment.
He explained that our outlook on life is formed before we are seven years old, but “all behaviour that is learnt can be unlearnt”.
Incorporated in the 12 steps is acknowledging a higher power, which Van Rensburg admitted might be problematic for people who do not ascribe to spirituality. However, he explained that the concept is there to help people realise that they are not in full control of every aspect of their lives.
For example, we cannot control the existence of the coronavirus.
Trauma is another aspect we need to combat, from intergenerational trauma transferred from our parents, to the prevalence of violence experienced in our modern society, and complex trauma brought on by high-stress environments like a demanding job.
“It is incredibly important that we do work on ourselves and find out what is the trauma.”
Following this, he suggests getting professional help and cited holotropic breathwork and trauma release exercises as accessible methods to tackle trauma. DM/ML
Freddie van Rensburg is an in-house counsellor for the Daily Maverick team.
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Freddie’s book, Life Anon, is available exclusively from the Daily Maverick Shop. Click here to purchase a copy today and you’ll receive free delivery anywhere in SA.
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