In honour of Mental Health Awareness month, we sat down with Kfm 94.5, Kfm Mornings co-host Sherlin Barends unpacking the stigma around mental health, the effect of the pandemic and being a voice for the voiceless by using her platform.
Barends was diagnosed with depression and anxiety disorder - she tells us how she's journeyed through her mental health diagnosis and the enlightenment it brought her.
Many people (if not everyone!) had to make a mental shift. No one had ever lived through quarantine on such a scale. How did you cope?
I adjusted quickly. I’m an extroverted introvert: I love people and the outdoors, but my quaint Cape Town apartment is where I recharge, refocus and relax. Yet, we went from building puzzles and baking bread to (once again) being faced with realities around GBV and BLM in SA and the world. So yes, lockdown has been tough for most of us, but it has certainly been more difficult for marginalised groups. It was tough for me personally as a black/brown woman; it wasn’t just a global health pandemic COVID-19, it was/is a trifecta.
What eventually led to your breaking point, when you went off air for a month?
I think I never took stock of my mental health. The lockdown and all the time to think, provided clarity and gave me to time to look closely at my mental well-being.
On-air you spoke of feeling this incredible shame. Even adopting a different name. Where did this shame stem from?
I introduced myself as Ann during my first group session at the clinic. It’s my middle name and the name of my late grandmother (Ann Barends). Before my breakdown, a wise woman told me that I must never forget where I come from; the strong women who came before me give me strength. wear her wedding ring every day.
I re-introduced myself as Sherlin the next day. I was stronger. I accepted my new reality/diagnosis in phases. I’m proud that even at my weakest I tried to be kind and patient with myself. I have no shame, still being diagnosed with Major Depression and Anxiety Disorder will never define me. It shouldn’t define anyone. Right now, it’s a label that helps me take care of myself.
Earlier this year you posted that 2020 was the year of self-love. How fitting then that you find yourself in a space where circumstances have forced you to prioritise your wellbeing. Do you believe this is all part of the journey to self-love?
It’s a lot easier for people to talk about physical injuries than it is to talk about mental health. I’m choosing to talk about my personal journey as part of my own healing, hopefully it encourages others to speak up and seek help too.
Being a strong woman is all these things you’ve mentioned. In addition, a strong woman is vulnerable and asks for help/support when she needs it. A strong woman is kind to herself and others. I don’t like this narrative of the “strong”, indestructible woman. The word strong is often used to minimise the daily struggles of women globally. We’re strong so it’s okay to abuse us. We’re strong so we don’t need help. We’re strong so we don’t talk to others about our problems. Nonsense!
This journey has taught me that it’s a lot easier to talk about self-love than it is to make it a daily practice. And yes, it’s a part of my journey. I’ve learnt to listen to my body. To respect and respond when my body needs a break. The good days far outweigh the bad ones. I try to embrace both. The bad days remind me to slow down and be grateful for the good ones.
In a separate post, you also shared on Instagram that you finally felt ready to share your story without any shame. What is that story?
I am Sherlin Barends. I’m not just bald, bold and bubbly. I’m also choosing to be vulnerable about my mental health. I know I’m not alone. I want others to know that they’re not alone either. Sharing my story is not only part of my personal healing, but it’s been encouraging to see how others are seeking help and opening up. When we help ourselves, we sometimes help others. When others help us, they sometimes also help themselves.
What has led you to finally feel ready?
Time. My earliest trauma happened when I was 6 or 7. It’s important to share when you’re ready. I could only share after I found some peace. I could only share once I felt safe/strong enough. Depression can make you feel like you’re all alone, even when you’re not. Perhaps someone reads my story and is reminded that they’re not alone.
With all the listeners asking after you, you’re clearly loved! How does that make you feel?
It’s great to be back on-air. I’m incredibly blessed. My colleagues and the listeners have been incredible. I’m also grateful for my parents and solid support structure.
How are you coping now?
I have a psychiatrist, psychologist and I’m on medication for my depression and anxiety. Plus, I’ve always had an incredible support system, but now I’m more deliberate about being authentic and vulnerable in these relationships. It’s a lot easier for people to support you when they know you need help, when you ask for it.
We know you have had a challenging year. Tell us what it’s like to be back on-air at Kfm
It’s great to be back! I got through it by making peace with the fact that I needed help, in fact I now embrace it. I have a solid team of mental health professionals and I’ve always had an incredible personal support system, but now I’m more deliberate about being authentic and vulnerable in these relationships. It’s a lot easier for people to support you when they know you need help, when you ask for it. The good days far outweigh the bad ones. I try to embrace both. The bad days remind me to take things slower and to be grateful for the good ones.
What has this mental health journey taught you?
Listen to your body and what it’s trying to tell you. It’s easy to talk about self-love and self-care, but this journey has taught me the importance of making it a daily practice. Ask for help. Seek help. You have nothing to be ashamed of. You are not alone. You are worthy of rest, assistance, support and love.