The worst part of being disfigured is when people stare, ‘‘as if I’m a monster’’, depression sufferer Anton Pieterse (33) says.
The once handsome young man talks with difficulty. His nose and mouth are crooked, he has no teeth and his jaw has been built up with tissue and skin from his thigh.
‘‘A bullet from a .458 hunting rifle isn’t something to trifle with,’’ he says in hospital in Johannesburg.
He knew that – that’s why, that morning in 2005, he put the barrel of the powerful weapon under his chin and pulled the trigger.
But the bullet didn’t ‘‘blow his brains out’’ as he’d planned. It penetrated his mouth and exited at the top of his nose, mutilating his face.
‘‘I wasn’t even unconscious. I heard the shot go off, then my face was covered in blood. I couldn’t see anything and I was angry that I’d had only one round.’’
There are days when he wishes his suicide attempt had been successful and days when he’s glad to be alive.
‘‘Depression is hell; it’s the one thing people don’t understand. They judge too easily – they say you must pull yourself together. But you can’t, even though you want to. You’re trapped in a dark pit. Nothing makes sense.’’
That’s what drove him to try to kill himself.
‘‘Death was the only thing that made sense. Death becomes your friend. Your only friend.’’
Now Anton’s biggest struggle is to befriend life again as he prepares for reconstructive surgery on his face in a few months’ time. New medication has put him in a better state of mind.
‘‘If only they’d done that five years ago – if, if, if. There are so many ifs.
‘‘It was a lesson in life I had to learn and perhaps I can pass this lesson on to others – that suicide is no solution.’’
Read more about Anton's battle against depression in YOU, 14 October 2010.