A Short Bio of Shirley – Part 2

A Short Bio of Shirley – Part 2

University life begins for Shirley in February 1993 in beautiful Stellenbosch. She’s eighteen and life looks more promising.

Shirley in Stellenbosch

Shirley in Stellenbosch

Shirley moves into a residence and then shares a flat with Loren. The two become like sisters. Years later Loren and I chat about those years over coffee.

 “Oh, Thy,” Loren says, “We laughed such a lot. What an amazing sense of humour! “The other thing we did was sleep – or at least Shirley did. I had to work my butt off. But she would hardly open a book and still cream her subjects, especially English and Psychology. Cum laude, no less – I found it so frustrating! What did amaze me though was her strange taste in men. And the other big thing for her was to be on Prozac for two years.” Our doctor prescribed this because of her battle with depression, as well as counselling. She did the first though hating the pills but went only once for the second.  .

She found these new experiences strange and alarming. They stirred up and added to buried fears. It was not long before she was thinking: “There you are – I always knew it – there’s something very wrong with me.”

Of those years, Shirley later writes:

“Somehow I managed to miss discovering how very much God loves me. I kept interrogating myself. It seemed that, instead of setting me free, my faith was causing me feelings of failure, guilt and unworthiness. For a long time, I struggled to keep these inside. Surely then the logical thing to do was to leave the church and religion behind?”

Shirley’s wedding is on 16 December 1998. She met him ‘falling through the air,’ as she put it. They were at the same sky-diving club. (Shirls is wearing the cerise suit).

Shirley Skydiving

The wedding is absolutely beautiful – at Delaire, a wine farm just north of Stellenbosch at sunset.

Shirley, the beautiful bride

Very soon the two of them move to Johannesburg to take up promotions – they work in the IT industry. Not long after that they move to London, again to better prospects.

During the build-up to the wedding, Shirley is particularly unsettled – rattled, and uncertain – more fragile than usual. And needs more support.  While we’re filling little boxes with chocolates for the guests one afternoon Shirley has a terribly frightening meltdown. Her mood blackens to the point where she feels as if she is sinking into a dark, sooty-black pit. I try and try – but I can’t reach her. This is the worst despair I have ever seen. Fear threatens to panic my soul. Helplessly, I stroke her back – very tentatively – as I sit beside her. I do not know what else to do. I hang on to the belief that marriage with someone there to supply her chronic sense of need is the answer.

After five and a half years of struggle the marriage breaks up.

Totally Alone on the beach

Totally alone. Sellobost Sand, Hebrides, after her divorce.

Shirley stays on in London, then takes herself off for a three week holiday in New Zealand, exploring in a hired car. Her adventures include her first tattoo:

First Tattoo

Sometime later, alone on Dunedin Beach she decides that “God hasn’t heard from me in a long time.” So she prays, thinking that “perhaps He might want to hear from me again.”

Dunedin Beach

Shirls on Dunedin Beach

Back in England, she finds a job in Bracknell near Reading, buys a car and a house. Not too long afterwards she joins Greyfriars church. Her struggles continue. She longs for a husband and children and tries online dating through a Christian website. One of the things that make her feel good is holidays and she lives from one to the next.

Diving in the Red Sea

Diving in the Red Sea. Shirley called the shark Bob.

Skiing in Europe After Christmas

Skiing in Europe after Christmas

But life goes pear-shaped again and again. Depression continues to raise its ugly head. Again and again she rejects the idea of a Psychiatric assessment and anti-depressants and insists all will come right with the aid of a counsellor.

After a bitterly sad year (2012) she considers packing it all in and coming back to our garden flat in Cape Town to find herself and start all over again. Her life has been tattooed with misery and pain. She does wonder though whether starting again will be the answer or whether, in the end, she may feel just as bad. It would mean that she carries the root of the problem with her. The disappointment of that would be far too much to bear.

Then, in April 2013, she bumps her leg in the office…..   


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