A true warrior never stops fighting

Carla Mouton. PHOTO: Marianke Saayman
Carla Mouton. PHOTO: Marianke Saayman

She was 21 years old when she first started seeing things − things she could never unsee and that still haunt her to this day.

Carla Mouton is a 23-year-old Honours student at the NWU Potchefstroom campus who tries to live a normal life as an aspiring journalist, blogger, photographer and mental health advocate. But living a normal life while suffering from a number of mental health issues is nearly impossible. Carla lives with general anxiety disorder and Bipolar disorder II with psychotic symptoms like schizoaffective disorder and traces of borderline personality disorder.

Carla was sixteen when she first told her parents that she thought she was different from other teenagers. Her mother shrugged it off at first, arguing that she’d always been a strange child.

‘In my first year at university, I realised that things weren’t quite right when I started making summersaults on campus and getting a Batman tattoo without thinking twice about it. My moods would change drastically from being euphorically happy to suicide sad. It got so bad that I would sometimes lock myself in my hostel room for days.’

This is what most of her university life was like. She describes it as a roller coaster of very good highs and very bad lows. It started controlling her life. What she did, how she did it and what she felt was the ultimate result of her mental illnesses.

‘I was 21 years old when I started hearing things. I started hearing someone else breathing in my hostel room. I would hold my breath and listen but, even though there was no one there but me, I would still hear it. At this time, I had already been diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder and Anxiety.’

At first, she thought her room was haunted, so she would ask all her friends to join her in the room and also hold their breaths. No one else heard it.

‘It all happened so quickly. I started seeing things. I thought I was talking to my neighbour sitting on my bed. But, moments later, she would walk into the room and ask me who I was talking to.’

She also started seeing odd things on the campus grounds − things that shouldn’t have been there − sometimes even scary things that you only see in horror movies. But, mostly, it was things, people and animals that weren’t really there.

‘I would see people with scars and blood running down their faces. It would look like something out of The Walking Dead.’

It continued like this for about a month before she made an appointment with her psychiatrist, realising that this wasn’t just a phase that would go away, but that something really was wrong. She started going for treatment in her second year but it was a very slow process and a roller coaster in itself.
She started taking pills. A lot of them. In her blog, Diary of a Warrior, she described how these pills influenced her life.

‘On my meds, I am fine. The problem is trying to get the right combination of meds to work in sync. You start out on a few pills and you wait for your body to adjust. Usually, it’s a waiting period of three weeks for your body to get used to the side effects; and about three months to see if the new combo of pills works for you. It differs from person to person. The side effects are unbearable; nausea, vomiting, vertigo, dizziness, impaired speech, insomnia and the list goes on and on. If it doesn’t work, the process starts from the beginning again. But we can take it and, after a few years, you get used to it.’

It has now been a five-year battle, and after being admitted to a mental hospital on seven different occasions and undergoing several treatments and hundreds of tablets, and even trying to commit suicide five times, she finally feels like she can be herself.

‘I feel that I can now actually do something with my life. My mental illness isn’t holding me back anymore.’
She decided to use these tribulations to help other people who also suffer from mental illness.

‘I was in a mental hospital… for the fifth or sixth time; it was sometime last year. The next day was International Semicolon Day and I decided to get the tattoo. I decided I wanted to help people and, even though I haven’t yet won my own battle, I felt the need to help my comrades fight theirs,’ she said. ‘So, that same evening, while still in the hospital, I started a blog. I read it out loud to my fellow patients and they liked it. It was about depression and what it feels like. This was when I published my first blog post. And that is how Diary of a Warrior was born.’

In Diary of a Warrior, Carla tells her own story and shares her experiences with mental illness. Her blog has reached a readership of over 20 000 and was also broadcast on the campus radio during Mental Health Month. The international magazine, Mojeh, did an article about the link between mental illness and creativity and Carla was featured in this article.

Even though her mental illness has made her life extremely lonely and she has lost many friends because of it, she has decided to write a book about her battle, dedicated to the few people who stood by her, even in the toughest times.

She wants to make a difference with her book by telling people that even though it is hard, you are not alone and your life is precious enough to keep on fighting.

‘Mental illness is a battle, that’s why I call myself a warrior,’ she said.

16 April is International Semicolon Day, a day dedicated to people with mental illness. Project Semicolon is based on one single message:
A semicolon represents a sentence the author could have ended but chose not to. That author is you and the sentence is your life.

*Read Diary of a Warrior at carlamouton.wordpress.com

Marianke Saayman

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