Charnre De Mink


Charnré is a young woman with a deep passion for self-healing and growth. She faced serious challenges: a bipolar mother, a brother to care for and a father who, despite their close relationship, left. Charnré’s story shows what the power of a vision can conquer.

‘I was born and bred in Heathfield in Cape Town,’ she says. ‘As far as I can remember, my early childhood was happy. I loved spending time with my “ma” (grandmother) who called me “my little ducky” and took care of me when my parents were at work. I was always aware that my mom was a very nervous person. When I was about eight she became ill and was diagnosed with bipolar disorder. My father was very supportive and ensured that, to the best of his ability, we had a stable home life. However, because my mom was unable to perform household tasks, I stepped in and started nurturing my brother who was only four at the time.’

Despite her father’s best efforts, her mom’s condition would often disrupt the daily flow of life. ‘There were many times where he could not protect us from her episodes. My mom would sometimes go missing for days, lose her memory and hurt herself in front of us. I can remember many episodes but one that has always been vivid in my mind happened when I was about nine. On this occasion my mom lost her memory and behaved as if she were my age. It was during the December holidays, and because my dad did not have anyone to stay with us, he locked my mom, my brother and me in the bedroom during the day while he went to work.

‘It was frustrating for me to see my mom acting like a child of my age. My brother was having fun because he was too young to understand. I felt like I had to be the adult and the responsible one. To watch someone you love being so unstable was heartbreaking and I didn’t know how to deal with it.’

Charnré recalls that in these early years she found great comfort in writing. ‘To this day, journaling and writing is my place of peace. I would often go and sit on the rooftop, away from reality, and write my heart on to a page. This was my happy place.’

The reality was that her mom’s condition was getting worse. She struggled to sleep, which resulted in her disrupting everyone’s sleep, night after night. Arguments between her parents were ongoing and at the age of 14, her father decided to leave. ‘When my father told me his intention I was relieved, but I was heartbroken when I realised that he was not planning to take my brother and me with him.’

Charnré became the head of the house. ‘Being the eldest, I felt pressure to be the rock of the family and make sure that the situation did not hold us back from achieving. It was hard, but despite our differences my father was still able to provide financial and some emotional support.’

Despite the chaos at home, Charnrécontinued attending school and was a high achiever. ‘I was very secretive; not one of my friends knew about my situation. I wanted to create the illusion that I had a perfect life and that everything was normal. But then in grade 11, when my mom was having an episode, a close friend found out. I felt embarrassed at first but the support of my friend gave me a huge sense of relief that I didn’t have to pretend anymore. She also helped me to realise that your situation doesn’t define or weaken you but actually makes you stronger.’

Her mothers’ continual relapses and episodes were a feature of Charnré’s life, but when she was 17 the situation became intolerable. ’My mom was having another relapse. I had called for help but while I was waiting my mother became violent. She tried to choke me and I knew then that I couldn’t stay. I took my brother and left. Life was hard but we became our own family, stayed together and made it through. My mother was still there in the background. We really struggled to communicate, as I had been so hurt by her actions. But she was my mom and I loved her, so whenever there was a problem or she needed my help, I would be there.’

After matric, Charnré decided to study psychology at UCT because she had a deep desire to understand her mom’s condition. Having battled for years, she felt the health system was failing these kind of patients and she wanted to assist. She completed her degree while managing her home and supporting her brother who was still in high school.

What kept Charnré motivated was a strong vision about how she wanted her life to be. ‘I created vision boards and kept writing letters to my older self,’ she says. ‘I knew today was not the end, that tomorrow would bring new lessons that I could use to get closer to my vision.’

Her perseverance is paired with infectious laughter that Charnré brings to any situation. ‘You can laugh at anything,’ she says. ‘Embrace life passionately. Take it on!’

Charnré is a former Salesian Life Choices staff member.

*In 2013, Charnré ’s mom was finally diagnosed with degenerate schizophrenia. She had been misdiagnosed all her life.

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