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How Lillian Beat Depression

By Marion Scher

From the moment you enter Lillian Dube'sWindsor East home, you're wrapped in warmth. And it's not just the tastefuldécor, soft leather couches and walls lined in African art, but Lillianherself. The room, however, does reflect this well-loved actress's hectic lifewith a piano against one wall, computer squeezed into a corner and, tucked awayon the far side of the room, a table loaded with awards and trophies, such asthe magnificent SABC Duku DukuTrophy for her work on Soul City.Next to this stands the Theatre Guild's Lifetime Achiever's Award. "I thoughtyou had to be dead to get that," laughs Lillian. In fact laughter is anintegral part of Lillian's life. "Well, where would we be without it?" sheadds, still chuckling.

She's rushed in for our interview, worried about beinglate. Yesterday had been taken up with shooting the latest Soul City

But I'm not really here to talk about Lillian'sdistinguished stage, film and television career, but an issue that Lillian haschosen to talk about whenever she gets a chance – depression, an illness thatshe knows only too well.

"Looking back, I suppose my depression was almostalways there, although of course, I didn't know what it was called then.Unfortunately, my parents, through illness were unable to raise me, so I wentto live with my paternal grandmother who … well, let's just say it wasn't soeasy. Basically I had a miserable childhood and left school without a matric, which narrowed my job choices considerably. Plus the fact that I didn't have a 'dompas',as I'd grown up in Lesotho…

"Add apartment to this and it meant my becoming adomestic worker. I remember so clearly seeing the 'madam' go off to work at aclothing store each day and thinking, 'I could do that easily and I will.'"Being Lillian, that was just what she did and within a few years found herself working for a store in downtown Johannesburg. But it was only when her sonsaw a newspaper advertisement for television auditions that her life reallychanged. "My son said, 'Mum, I really think you should go along – you'd begreat on television.'" And the rest, they say is history – well, at least onher career side.

What wasn't so easy to overcome was the painfuldepression that dogged Lillian every step of the way. "There were so many timeswhen I literally had to force myself to even lift my head off the pillow. Andthe more miserable I was, the more I sought solace from the bottle. That tookaway the pain – but only for a very short time. The next morning I'd wake up feelingfar worse than before."

"I used to find myself weeping uncontrollably for noreason that I could even think of. And often what was really strange was thatin serious situations, such as funerals, I'd find myself laughing – again forno reason. In those days, depression wasn't recognised – certainly not in theblack community. You stayed in bed; you were simply classed as lazy. This wentagainst what I had always believed in – that poverty was self-made and that Icould have a better life – it was there for the taking. All I had to do waswork hard and I wasn't afraid of that, but the depression kept stopping me inmy tracks."

What didn't help was marriage to an alcoholic, whichLillian stuck out for 10 years.

"I desperately wanted to get divorced. But in thosedays you were considered a failure if you were divorced – even your friendsdidn't want to know you. I sank to rock bottom; I even thought if killing myself wouldn't be so painful I would try that. Somehow, I'dthought being married had given me security …"

It wasn't until Lillian, in her role as Sister Khumalo, had to tackle the subject of depression in Soul Citydid she have her "light bulb" moment. "I suddenly realised I had all thesymptoms they were talking about on the show. I realised then that I'd been sovery ill and nobody had done anything about it. The few times I had been to adoctor and complained I was given Panado for myillness. But when you go to the doctor you don't say 'I'm depressed' becauseyou don't know what's wrong with you!"

Eventually Lillian was given tranquilisers, whichalthough calmed her down, left her groggy. "Right then I thought that knowing whatthe depression was meant I'd find out all I could about it and beat it." And intrue Lillian style that's just what she's done.

"These days I take control of my problems and makesure I surround myself with positive people. You have to believe in someone orsomething. My church means everything to me and has given me so much strength. SometimesI listen to other people's stories there and realise just how lucky I am andhow much God has given me. How can I not be thankful?

"Depression makes you feel you are worthless and youhave to find ways of reinforcing just how worthwhile you are. I am so busy withmy acting and my casting agency that I don't have time t get depressed."

Lillian also works with the South African Depressionand Anxiety Support Group, endorsing the work that they do on depression. Sherecently narrated one of their taking books – Books of Hope – that are distributed to communities where literacyis a problem. So what made her go public wither her illness? "My life is anopen book. I once lied that I had my matric when I appliedfor a job. I'd even convinced myself to the point where I spent hours lookingfor my matric certificate," she says roaring withlaughter at the memory. "I even believed my own lie – I swore I'd never do thatagain. And by my 'coming out' about my depression, perhaps I can help otherpeople change their lives and find ways of coping with their lives. The mostimportant point, of course, is going to see a doctor and telling him about yoursymptoms."

And ask Lillian about her two grandchildren and thenew man in her life and you'll see those famous eyes sparkle and her whole facelight up. "If you can survive depression you can only become a better person,"she says.

Copyright 2006, Used with permission from MarionScher.

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