Finding Sanity Amidst the Chaos


by Gillian Hugo


How do we stay sane and positive when everything around us seems to be caving in? Every South African, bar our political leaders, is affected by load shedding and poor service delivery. As a result, the morale in the country is low. Most conversations focus on the state of our country and how we will face what is still to come. Some talk about emigration, others about taking matters into their own hands and installing systems that take them “off the grid”.

We are all tired of the potholes, the litter and the general degradation of public spaces; the weeds on the pavements and broken glass in the streets. I often read about protest action against poor service delivery with disdain, but actually, these people are doing more than I am. They are making their voices heard publicly, albeit in vain, while I sit and complain behind closed doors. I do not, however, condone the destruction of property during protests.

The more fortunate have generators or inverters to keep the lights on and business ticking over. However, running a generator is costly, and the high stages of load shedding don’t allow enough time for inverter batteries to recharge. In addition, the South African economy is taking a beating, and foreign investment is dwindling.

The situation is dire. Our president told us that the electricity issues would be solved over two years ago. This last week, he told us to accept that load shedding was here to stay. The writing is on the wall that a water crisis is next—a sad state of affairs in South Africa.

Dr Claire Lownie, a Johannesburg psychologist, has said that load shedding not only causes socioeconomic stresses but that there may be biological reasons for the anxiety, stress and depression caused by being in the dark. She said: “The dark can induce the survival response, sending alarm signals to the adrenal glands in the body. While there is very little we can do to change load-shedding, being aware of the underlying effects is an important step towards managing how it affects us.”

If we constantly focus on all the challenges and negativity, we will drive ourselves insane. As it is, COVID-19 has harmed our mental health. So, what do we do? How do we stay sane amidst all this chaos?

At bedtime every evening, I reflect on my day and am grateful for at least one positive thing that may have happened, been said, or experienced during the day. Surprisingly, at times, there is even gratitude in some of the negative experiences that may have been the order of my day. Often too, there is more than one thing, event or occasion to be grateful for.

While load shedding is an absolute pain, it means that my children have less screen time as their devices’ batteries die faster. This forces them to look to each other for entertainment. As a result, they find themselves playing amicably together outside. These moments of laughter and “good, clean fun” far outweigh the sibling rivalry and bickering. Having a younger sister or older brother doesn’t seem too restricting at these times.

Creativity, too, is making a comeback in our home. Just this past weekend, there was painting, drawing and journaling. The “Mom, this is fun!” comment was very welcome but also saddened me because I realised just how little time we spend being creative and so quickly turn to the devices and TV for entertainment and escape. As a child, I remember getting “lost” in my books; I’m not sure when I last saw one of my children reading for enjoyment, not just for school purposes.

Dark, candle-lit evenings have opened doors to profound conversations and spending quality time together as a family and with friends. Even with the droning of generators in the air, the laughter is infectious as new memories are created.

Perhaps I am being naively optimistic. However,  if we concentrate more on what we do have rather than what we don’t, try to make the best out of bad situations and be aware of the effects that all this chaos has on us, we may stay sane – and be happier – for a little longer.

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