How Zukisa overcame depression and began living his best life

Model and budding actor, Zukisa Tamle (23) grew up under the dark cloud of depression, now he has finally found healing and is following his dreams.

By: Thanduxolo “Thandz” Buti
Images: Supplied

For years Zukisa’s life was riddled with pain and sadness, until last year he realised that he had been depressed since the age of thirteen. 

He then made a bold  choice to face the silent killer head on, and is breaking his silence in hopes of ending the stigma around depression.

Zukisa Tamla (Image supplied)

“I was so ashamed and embarrassed to talk about my depression when I was going through it because in the black community we don’t believe in things like depression,” reveals Zukisa.

“It is very hard for young black men to open up about depression because you are made feel like you are less of a man. People also tend to think that you have nothing to stress about, especially if you are young.”

Zukisa’s story is not unique; however for many young people depression can often lead to suicide.

The recent statistics by The South Africa Depression and Anxiety Group (SADAG) indicated that suicide was the second leading – and fasted growing – cause of death in the 15 – 24 age group in SA. 

According to the organisation from January 2019 they had received almost 42 000 calls on their suicide helpline.

SADAG founder Zane Wilson said: “Our teens are depressed and often have no-one to turn to for support.”

Many young people, like Zukisa suffer in isolation due to the shame that comes with having depression in our society.

The Worcester-born model says he began spiralling into darkness after moving from his hometown to Overberg.

Zukisa had been raised in Worcester, Western Cape, where he stayed with his grandparents, siblings and cousins. After his grandfather passed away, he went to live with his mother in Overberg, near Helderstroom prison, where she was working.

At the age of thirteen he had been moved from the place he had called home all his life.

“I literally had to start a new life – make new friends and go to a new school,” he recalls.

“The school I was attending was a predominantly white and at the time I could not speak Afrikaans or English. I really battled to fit in and to understand what was being taught. 

“It was really tough because I felt like an outcast due to the language barrier. Sometimes other students would laugh at me because I would not understand the questions asked by the teacher, and I began losing my self-esteem and confidence.”

Zukisa resorted to isolating himself because of the pain (Image supplied)

Alone and feeling like an outcast in a new town, Zukisa began to resent his parents for his predicament. 

“I constantly blamed my parents for their mistakes because I felt like I was paying for them.

“I never really got to meet my father and I thought that if he was around then maybe things would have been better for me,” he adds.

“I felt isolated and didn’t have anyone to talk to about what was bothering me. That’s when I started to withdraw, thinking too much and bottling everything inside. I felt like an orphan.”

He describes the feeling of depression as deeply painful.  

“I had to fight with myself mentally and emotionally just to get out of bed, make my mother happy and then go to school,” he explains.

“Most times it felt like I was walking around naked. I carried this anger which I didn’t understand and it would show up when I was interacting with other kids. 

“I tried so hard to make my mother happy by going to school, studying hard but I did not want to be there.”

He reveals that he was never really a fan of books, and was more of an athletic person. He loved sports and performing stunts. With the lingering pressure of having to perform at school, Zukisa felt lost.

Zukisa was drowning in negative thoughts and even contemplated self-harming. (Image supplied)

 “I questioned my existence a lot. I would ask myself ‘is this how my life is supposed to be?’”

Not knowing his father haunted Zukisa and still bothers him even today. 

He recalls even withdrawing from the world and becoming a loner because of the dark thoughts that had invaded his mind. 

“For a while I believed that it was better for me to be alone and do my own thing than to be around people. 

“Because I was always alone people would judge me, and they thought I was weird because of how I was acting. 

“But I was simply just lost inside my head. Even when I had to perform a task it would be hard because I would get lost in my thoughts. It felt like was in a dark room, slowly drowning in my thoughts.”

With the depression becoming unbearable, he took a self-destructive path in efforts to find an escape from the “self-harming” thoughts.

 “I started drinking too much,” he says. “I would drink to sleep so that the next day can come or something bad would happen so that I would not have to wake up and face the world. I also smoked weed excessively as a way to escape.”

“We need more education about depression, because the more we understand, the more we will be able to deal with it better. Sometimes all you need is someone to talk to, someone who will listen to you.”

Zukisa adds that he felt misunderstood because “people could not see that I was suffering inside.”

“I felt like no one could understand my pain and I could not even explain it. I self-harmed because of the negative thoughts and I self-destructed because I was looking for an escape. Luckily I never graduated to heavy drugs, like tick.”

Zukisa would return to his home of Worcester – after a short stay in Cape Town – where he enrolled for an office management course at Boland College. 

In 2018, while attending college, Zukisa would finally have to face the depression that had been threatening to destroy his life for years.

He was now gaining a reputation in his hometown for performing dangerous stunts like backflips and hand-walking. 

“I used extreme stunts to self-harm and to get attention. I believed that if I would hurt myself then people would feel sorry for me.”

However one time while performing a dangerous hand-walking stunt in college, Zukisa came into realisation of his life purpose.

“I was on the second floor at my college and I just started hand-walking on the stairs in order to get the ground floor,” he recalls.

“I didn’t care about hurting myself, infact; I didn’t mind breaking my neck just to stop the pain I was feeling inside. However, people started cheering because they thought what I was doing was cool, and I surprisingly completed the stunt.” 

“After that incident everyone was so proud of me and they would even advise me on how I can pursue being a stunt-man further.” 

“That day I felt loved and I discovered my purpose.”

Zukisa is now fulfilling his dreams (Image supplied).

After completing college, Zukisa started pursuing a career in modelling and acting. In 2019 he booked a few professional modelling jobs. 

Next year he hopes to study drama so that he can become a professional actor.

Having suffered so long, he reveals that l upon reflection he realises that he did not seek help because he was ashamed of being depressed. 

“In our culture you are told to man up because if you show emotion that makes you weak.

“Sometimes it’s hard to find people to trust with your pain, because you fear that they will use it against you,” he explains. .

“We need more education about depression, because the more we understand, the more we will be able to deal with it better. Sometimes all you need is someone to talk to, someone who will listen to you.”

Zukisa says he does not harbour any regrets about his life journey. He believes that the experience was a test that he had to overcome in order to become the person he is today. 

“I was always wondering why I was suffering so much, but now I realised that I have the strength to overcome anything,” he says confidently.

“I believe the pain was my greatest gift, because pain is not there to destroy you; it’s there to make you stronger and reveal the better version of yourself.

“Looking back at where I was, that gives me more strength and power to be happier. I understand why I went through that, and hopefully I can be an example to someone else.”

To seek professional help contact:

SADAG (The South African Depression and Anxiety Group) on: 0800 567 567

24hr Helpline: 0800 12 13 14
SMS 31393 (and they will call you back)

Lifeline – National Counselling
0861 322 322 (24 hours/ 7 days a week)

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