THE POWER OF YOUR WORD
Schizophrenia is a mental disorder that affects around one in every 100 people. Tasneem Samsodien tells the story of a brother and sister’s unbreakable bond despite the challenge of dealing with this disorder.
Growing up in Mitchel’s Plain, Tasneem (21) describes her childhood as happy, “we were a close family and aside from the normal sibling rivalry life was good.”
Tasneem is the youngest of six, “being the youngest of a big family definitely had an effect on my confidence growing up. I was shy and I learnt to always be quiet.
Tasneem struggled to make friends in her early school years but as she progressed through school her confidence grew, “I realized I needed to be myself and open up to others. Once I started doing that I began to gain friends. Despite my new friends, my best friend was always my brother.”
Just a year apart, Tasneem’s older brother Shafeeq attended the same high school as Tasneem. “My brother and I had a very close relationship. We would always do things together and like me my brother was also shy and reserved. He would often turn to me for help. We shared many interests including our passion for Business Studies.”
It was their shared interest and close bond that led to an extraordinary pact that truly tested the strength of their relationship.
‘When I was in Grade 11 and Shafeeq was in Grade 12, we made a pact that we would start college together and study Business Management. We had it all planned and we were very excited. This was a huge motivator for me to do well at school.’
That year, Tasneem’s brother passed matric and took a gap year to wait for his sister to graduate from high school. “It was at the beginning of this year where my brother’s life took a turn for the worse. He spent many days sitting at home with nothing to do and we noticed that he began to distance himself from the family. He seemed depressed.”
Tasneem and her family tried to manage his condition, “we supported and loved him hoping that this would be enough, but one day it became too much for our family to handle.”
“He became extremely agitated and he began crying uncontrollably. He kept repeating that judgment day was happening and he prayed non-stop for forgiveness. He became so scared that that night I slept in his room to reassure him that things would be OK.”
Shafeeq became more paranoid as the week progressed and by the weekend Tasneem’s older sister took him to the doctors.
“The doctor prescribed anti-depressants. Over the next few weeks he calmed down and it seemed he was getting back to his old-self. Life began to return to normal and we began to rebuild our relationship. I continued studying through my Matric as I was determined to get to college and fulfill our pact.”
Normal life was short lived when her brother suffered a relapse. “It felt like one day he flipped a switch and he was different.” Tasneem’s brother became very unstable, “he began writing words on a page compulsively. We didn’t understand the writing but he could. He began talking to himself and believed that holes in the cupboard were eyes watching him.”
This time Shafeeq was taken to hospital and given an injection to calm him down. He was prescribed stronger anti-depressants.
“I was confused, we had always been so close and now everything was different. I could hardly recognize him and I was worried. But I kept studying hard, because I believed that he would become himself again when we would start college together.”
Tasneem’s brother stabilized for a short while but decided not to take his medication, as he felt ok. This was the start of a further and more severe relapse.
“One day he decided to get his hair cut with no money at the local mall. He was locked up and my mom and I had to go and get him. The matter was resolved after paying his bill and he was released. On our way home he became restless and kept repeating that we were not his family. He asked who we were and why we were taking him away.”
Despite trying to explain and calm him down, her brother did not believe them and became aggressive.
“At home he wanted to go out and my father tried to stop him. He demanded my father to bow down to him because he thought he was God. He threatened to break the windows and he hit my mother on her head with his bible. The situation became too stressful for me so I went to my room and my parents sat with him all night to calm him down.”
Tasneem’s brother was taken to care once again, “he was admitted to the hospital but there was not a bed available. He was kept in a couch for a week, continually sedated because he was still agitated and confused. I was so frustrated with the health system that they would let a patient sleep without a bed for so long, it made me so angry.”
He was finally transferred to Lentegeur Psychiatric hospital where he was given a bed. “For the first time, it felt that he was in the right place and he was given the care he needed. I visited as often as I could to support him. It hurt to see someone you love in hospital but I knew in my heart it was the best place for him and the best chance he had to get better so that he could have a normal life again.”
“I felt alone as I couldn’t tell anyone. I was afraid of what people might think. There are often so many stigmas around mental illnesses. I wasn’t embarrassed but I was afraid that people would misunderstand and label him.”
After two months, Tasneem’s brother was finally diagnosed with Schizophrenia and given the correct medication. He was given support to manage his condition.
“It was a relief to finally know what was wrong with him. As a family we now knew how to support him. My brother was quiet at first but over time he began to open up and became motivated to go back to study.”
Tasneem’s older sister offered to fund Tasneem and her brother’s studies, ‘this gave him the focus he needed and it also gave us an opportunity to become close again.’
Tasneem’s brother was released from hospital after she finished her matric, “I was grateful as it gave me the space I needed to make sure I did well in my matric. I never gave up on him or my studies. I passed my matric and this was a big relief for me.”
After Grade 12, Tasneem took a gap year, as the Doctor advised that her brother should take things slowly.
“I wanted to take the year to wait for my brother, just as he did for me and fulfill our pact of studying together.”
“Last year, my brother and I were finally able to live our dream and enrolled at False Bay college. We are both studying Business Management and loving every minute. We will be finishing our diploma this year.“
Tasneem concluded by saying, “what kept me going through matric year was the pact my brother and I had made. The power of your word has the ability to change reality and help you achieve your dreams, so always take your word seriously.”
Tasneem is a Business Management Student at False Bay College