REVIEW: Sawubona by Cheryl Martin

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Review by Lucy Greenwood

Cheryl Martin is an extremely strong storyteller who draws you in immediately. In her piece ‘Sawubona’ she paints a picture: a scene of what society wants you to see, and what society saw of her, before switching it up to the truth. It is then you see the final portrait of a reality everyone loves to look away from.

Most things in life can be like armour: clothes, dresses and fancy accessories. I certainly remember trying to cram glittery slides into my hair as a teenager, so that I could feel some level of perfection – quite opposite to the broken spirit of the girl I was.

Martin talks about standing tall in a minority, and how she wants younger people to see what it means to be visible. It takes me back to a time of being confused about my sexuality; wondering how I should look and which role models to follow. If I saw someone like me who was an adult, I’d instantly want to latch on to them, in hope that they could provide me with that golden insight that everything gets better. Now, as an adult, I appreciate that adults in a minority are fighting their own battles too.

Martin speaks about self-harm and depression unapologetically. Self-harm is a fact of her mental health and is crucial to understanding just how wrong people can be in how they see others. The wrenching details of how the views of society have affected her mental health grip my heart in a way that makes me so furious with the world, but also so appreciative of Martin for putting those details out there without softening them.

She says: “I have to help people see who people like me really are.” And oh, if that doesn’t speak to me as a queer, autistic, disabled person who is only just starting to educate others about her life. The long hours I’ve spent feeling like people are never going to understand are nothing compared to Martin’s story, but the relatability is paramount.

The brilliance of Martin isn’t in fancy words, or in long descriptions of overcoming mental illnesses, things that so many people expect when speaking on the topic. Instead she is supremely to the point and has no time for worrying whether a word is considered taboo. The honesty of her reality gives a better insight to mental health, education, employment than any pamphlet produced by a company on World Mental Health Day ever could.

And finally, to hear an adult talking about suicide just as it is felt like a breath I’ve been needing to take for many years. How long have we lived amongst those who shudder at the word; who whisper it as if it’s something shameful? The bitter chaos of being suicidal is a truth, and Martin explains this fully without taking away from the fact that though you can heal and grow, suicide will always be a truth in someone’s reality and is something we really need to be openly talking about more.

‘Sawubona’ will have you reflecting on what you think you see as you encounter people. It will make you think about your own experiences, and your own thought processes, and what it means to grow as a person in a society that prefers to be blind to what it cannot comprehend. To say it is inspiring might seem cliche, but it is sharp and strong, and it is brilliant – the way the truth always will be.