A few years ago, I was under so much pressure and was constantly feeling stressed out. Feelings of anxiety would literally rise from the pits of my stomach and pile up in my chest ready to burst on a daily basis. Desperate to relieve myself of these feelings, I turned to smoking as a way of release and gradually adopted it as a habit over that time to alleviate my anxiety. With each puff, my uneasiness was somewhat lightened (momentarily) however, my feelings of shame heightened. I felt so embarrassed by the fact that I had adopted a habit that I had been programmed to think was dirty, disgusting and something that a (black) woman should never ever do.
Out of fear of being perceived negatively by people, I went to such extremes to make sure that nobody ever found out about my dirty little secret. I would always walk all the way across the office park just for a quick drag in hiding. Constantly looking over my shoulder in my moments of ‘indulgence’ became common practice. I developed an obsession with ensuring that the nicotine was untraceable on me. It became so bad that it ultimately turned what was meant to be an anxiety-relieving habit into an anxiety trigger. I had become a closet smoker and even worse, a carrier of “Bazothin’abantu” Syndrome.
‘Bazothin’abantu syndrome’ (BAS) is a commonly acquired condition that has swept across the world and “claimed” the lives of many for years. Like the name suggests, this pandemic is characterised by a fixation with other people’s opinion about one and is possibly rooted in the fear of being judged or rejected. Despite the quickness to shun this syndrome (judging from the growing popularity of the “one-thing-I-don’t-suffer-from-is-Bazothin’abantu-Syndrome” post on Instagram), I have wondered if it is actually something that is possible to be completely free of.
The very basic human need to be accepted, respected and validated automatically makes all us somewhat susceptible to what ‘Abantu’ think of us. The way the world works and the way we have all been socialised is rooted in ‘Bazothin’abantu syndrome’ to a certain extent. Societal structures, the roles we play in relationships and general (un)written rules about what is inappropriate or wrong somehow control the way in which we act, what we don’t say, how we dress, or even what we keep hidden. If so, could it be ‘Bazothin’abantu syndrome’ is what actually governs us? What if we actually did not care what people thought about us?
The syndrome manifests itself in so many different ways that perhaps we all suffer from it albeit at different levels and stages. My moment of enlightenment came when I realised how much trying to manage people’s perceptions of me had started to consume me and had inadvertently become more important than God’s. I was so dedicated to shielding myself from people’s judgements when the one whose opinion I valued the most, had already “busted me”. This realisation made my hiding antics very futile which essentially liberated me from my abnormal concern for people’s thoughts of me on this particular matter.
Shrinking ourselves, attempts to keep up appearances, leaving beyond our means as well as any other way in which we stifle the authentic self in order to be perceived in a certain light are examples Bazothin’Abantu syndrome. On the other extreme, BA Syndrome could potentially be the reason many avoid doing wrong things. Fear of disappointing parents/ family and abiding by rules are also ways in which this syndrome “guides” us in a positive light. If so, then clearly it is not entirely the bad thing that we have made it out to be?
Needless to say, I am on the fence about where I stand with regards to this syndrome. As I become more aware of myself and my environment, I have learned that the syndrome is something that will always exist and needs to be managed constantly. My decision not to smoke has completely become rooted in my own personal convictions versus the opinions of others. Whatever your viewpoint may be, like a wise unknown author once said “do you bu-bu”.