Anwar Rayners (19) believes that a lack of self-worth led to an addiction, which he used as a crutch to help him deal with the emotional stress he was experiencing.
Anwar was born in Cape Town and grew up in Pelican Park. He has always lived with his mother, father, and a sister who is four years older than he is. Both his parents were employed. His mother worked in a bank and his father worked as a carpenter in a small business in Bonteheuwel.
“We are a very close family. My parents are loving, not like in the movies! They do have their fights, but not full-on fights. They're more like miscommunications.
“My sister and I actually started off badly. We annoyed each other when we were younger but as soon as I got to high school, that’s when we opened up to each other. I needed someone to talk to and she would be there. Later on, we got matching tattoos, that’s how close we are.”
Pelican park was a peaceful neighbourhood and Anwar recalls being able to play outside as a child without fear of any kind of danger. Given that both parents were working, Anwar was cared for by his grandmother after school. His parents would fetch him there and they would all make their way back to their own home in the evenings.
“I wouldn’t say our family was extremely financially stable. Since my dad works for a small company there wouldn’t always be clients and sometimes he would be at home for a week or two. That would really affect him because he gets paid weekly. He’s the type of person who puts his family first and he would always try to get money somehow. He told me he would rather starve so that his family could eat. Even his clothes - he would rather wait until they would break before buying himself something new.
“My mom wanted him to find a better place of work. They would normally have conversations about that. But, there was no tension about it.
“My mom never said, ‘no’ to us. She allowed us a bucket list. So, we needed to write down what we wanted and we needed to give it to her. She wouldn’t get it all immediately, but she would get it over time. In Grade 11 I wrote down that I wanted a type of fish, called a mudskipper. This year (two years later), she came home with a fish tank and the fish! One thing about my parents is that they always try their best for their children.
“At primary school, when I was nine or 10 years old, I was bullied by a boy in my class. He would call me fatty because I was overweight. He would pick on me and hit me. He used to say that he was only playing. I would actually bruise from when he hit me. He would also spit at me. I didn’t think much of it. I didn’t know what bullying was. At my school, there was no talk of bullying.
“It got to the point where my parents noticed the bruises and asked me what had happened. I guess they noticed that it was more than just playing and they went to the school principal. He addressed him and the bullying stopped. It was weird! I now could have a normal conversation with the bully but I still felt uncomfortable around him.”
Life carried on as normal for Anwar, until he reached high school when he was reminded of the bully’s words.
“I went to high school and the first year went by perfectly fine. I made new friends. But, in Grade 9, that’s when my problems began again.
“In the middle of that year, I confessed to this girl that I liked her, and I got rejected, but not in a mean way. I said, ‘okay’ and that I accepted her decision. But then, randomly, thoughts began to appear in my mind and made my chest feel closed like something was pressing on it. It was a weird feeling. The thoughts in my mind said constantly, ‘she didn’t like me because I was fat.’ My mind became consumed by the thought that I was not good enough.
“That same night, I got out of bed and went to fetch my sharpener in my school bag and unscrewed the blade, and then I started with one cut on my arm. It wasn’t a deep cut. I couldn’t feel the full pain. But somehow, it felt right. This was way before I knew anything about depression and self-harm. I didn’t know what I was doing. I wasn’t thinking about what happened during the day. It actually made me forget and I actually fell asleep like that. I slept pretty peacefully that night.
“The next day I went to school. I was feeling like I needed to hide what I did and at the same time show someone.”
Anwar did show a friend and was met with shock and a warning not to do it again.
“My friend told me to stop. That it was not okay what I was doing. For a short while, it made me think that I was actually bad and that the behaviour was not acceptable. But when I got home, I began thinking about what I did and I had this urge to do it again. That night I was sitting in my bed contemplating whether I should do it or not. I wanted to fulfil the urge, so I did again. This time, I did it more than once. Initially, I questioned why I was cutting myself but that thought fast disappeared. I did three cuts on my arm.”
Anwar felt calmed by the sight of his bleeding.
“It was as if what I was feeling inside, the ongoing turmoil of negative emotions, was coming out because it calmed me down. Once I was done, I would go to the bathroom, clean up the cut and put on a bandage. In the morning, I would take the bandage off.”
The three cuts in the evening became Anwar’s ritual for the rest of the year.
“I was very chubby at the time, but when I started cutting I lost interest in food. I would be nauseated by food. I would lie to my mom about eating earlier in the day when I actually hadn’t. I used to weigh 75 kilograms and by the beginning of Grade 10, I weighed 60 kilograms. I would basically eat one meal a day. People thought it was just puberty, or that I was going through a growth spurt.
“In Grade 10 everyone was shocked by my weight loss like they were thinking ‘what happened to chubby Anwar?’ In my mind, I was the same person and I didn’t even realise the change.
“In the same year I got my first girlfriend and, since it was my first love, I was new to it. A few months into the relationship, problems came up and those problems were mainly because of me being jealous of her male friends.
“Even though I had shed the extra kilograms, inside I still felt very insecure. We had a fight and I told her that I’m just going to kill myself. Instead, I started cutting again. Since I hadn’t done it in so long, the thoughts going through my mind were like, ‘are you sure you want to do this?’ I did something that disgusted me. I took a picture of my cut and sent it to her and she was shocked. The next day she didn’t say anything about it and just hugged me and said that I must not do it again. I decided to stop.
“But as the academic year progressed, I became stressed because my school results were not good. Mainly because I never studied. But instead of studying, I started cutting again. At the same time, my grandmother passed away. When she died, it hit me bad. I started cutting worse. It was aggressive. The sight of my cutting made me feel less sad, just numb, no feeling. This time I would do it every night.”
Anwar and his girlfriend broke up because she couldn't handle him cutting himself.
“Every night I would cut and I would send my ex-girlfriend a picture of it. I just wanted someone to see my pain, but I think I also wanted someone to feel sorry for me.”
Anwar continued cutting himself in Grade 11.
“It went on for much of the year until my friends told me it was really bad. They all came up to me and pulled up my sleeves. I didn’t listen to them and that night I cut deeper. I took a handful of pills. They were a mixture of allergy and muscle relaxant pills. I just took them without thinking about the consequences. Most of that night was a blur. All that I remember was the handful of tablets and slashing my wrists.
“That night I blacked out. I think my sister came into my room. She called my parents and the next thing I woke up in hospital. I remember my mom asking me why I did it. I said, ‘can’t you see my wrist?’ She said she wanted me to tell her. I opened up to my mom and I told her why I did the things that I did. I stayed in hospital for one day.”
Anwar’s mother referred him to a helpline number that she knew of at her place of work.
“That’s when I started thinking that what I’m doing is beyond bad and is really going to mess up my life. I have an addiction that would end up killing me. I started to really focus on my studies and my friends helped me. I managed to successfully finish high school.
“I am aware that I have a problem and that I need to learn how to manage it. I understand now the saying, ‘once an addict, always an addict.’ I know my emotional pattern, each time I feel down, I now notice how the thoughts of harming myself creep in. I take the recovery of my addiction one day at a time.”
When asked about his final remarks, Anwar said: “Seek help when you are feeling down. According to The South African Depression and Anxiety Group (SADAG) the stats are scary - over 20% of 18 year-olds had one or more suicide attempts last year. We need to be vigilant to this epidemic. We need to get help. If we can’t see it by ourselves, we need to count on our friends and families to assist us.”
Anwar is a Life Choices Academy student
Suicide Helpline 0800 567 567
24 hour Cipla Mental Health Helpline 0800 456 789