SLICE: I ate dirt for seven years

No one made me do it, and my family was in the dark all those years that I was enslaved by clay, even when it was my nightly midnight snack. 

It started with a small piece of chalk. I was a school prefect in grade seven and this came with duties such as arriving in class before everyone to make sure everything was ready for lessons.

One morning while busy with my class leader chores, I was suddenly tempted to have a bite of chalk and that is exactly what I did, which, to my surprise, was oddly satisfying. From that point on, I developed the habit of consuming chalk. 

From chalk, I soon found myself tempted to try another substance: soil, and the temptation mainly came from the smell of it after rain. The soil did wonders to my taste buds as well, tasting like something that I had been craving for a long time. Two years in, and now in high school, I was completely addicted to consuming clay, be it red, grey, white or brown, and regularly bought it from street vendors.

After a while, a plastic bag of roughly 40 grams of clay would not last me a week. So, I would use my weekly R200 pocket money to buy the R5-packets of clay in bulk. Soon this was not enough, and I began experimenting with various clays be it from the garden or the side of the street.

All of this was done behind closed doors because I was petrified of my parents’ reaction. Therefore, I made sure to always be alone in my room when I consumed clay. To keep the clay a secret from my parents for many years, I always kept my clay in a box where we stored old shoes because it was hardly checked. 

I reached a point where my addiction to clay became essential for me to function as a human being. I would constantly ask teachers to excuse me from class so I could go and secretly nibble on clay. I also spent a lot of time thinking about clay in class and it was destructive. I became so reliant on it that I started keeping it under my pillow, as a midnight snack. 

After high school, I took a gap year as I did not know what I wanted to study. This made me feel as if my life was stagnant, that I had no life while my peers were progressing. I resorted to clay more to relieve the stress. I ate clay to help me fall asleep, and I would wake up in the middle of the night to eat it. I simply could not live without it. 

My wakeup call started with severe constipation which led to excessive bleeding, and my skin breaking out and getting pale. There were days where even standing for a few minutes was difficult because of the pain. 

I had to go to the doctor, to whom I confessed about my addiction to clay. It turned out that I had consumed clay that had parasites and bacteria, which led to pain in the abdomen. From the doctor I found out that I was suffering from iron deficiency anaemia, and this was what made me crave clay.

According to the South African Medical Journal, the condition I was suffering from, geophagia, is the “intentional ingestion of soil/sand, clay blocks and mud…[because of] religious, cultural, nutritional and medicinal practices, famine, perceived enhancement of personal appearance, pregnancy-related cravings, and enjoyment of the taste, texture or smell of the substance consumed”.

Science Daily reported in 2017 that “up to 80% of people in Africa, especially women, regularly eat clayey soil”. One of the lead investigators, medical anthropologist Ruth Kutalek, wrote that, “These people often eat clay as a snack between meals and report that they could not do without it.”

Geophagia is not new as scientific research has found evidence of humans using clay for healing purposes as early as 2500BC. It is a form of pica, “a condition that mostly affects pregnant people and children. People with it feel compelled to eat non-food items.” Other common pica cravings include pebbles, ash, cloth, paper, chalk, hair, soap and faeces.

I am overjoyed that I am completely over the addiction, because I no longer get cravings. I am not tempted to eat clay even when I see it. My doctor prescribed iron supplements and encouraged me to eat food that is high in iron such as spinach and liver. 

I have been clean for five years now and I am able to freely talk about it now because it is all in the past. People get shocked, though, to learn that I was enslaved by clay at such a young age. 

FEATURED IMAGE:  Boitumelo Masalesa. Photo: File


SLICE: Battling my addiction to social media

For a student journalist, social media can be beneficial if used properly, but it is very easy to cross the line to addiction 

Social media has always been something that puts me at ease after a long and stressful day, but I never imagined that I would become addicted. 

The Addiction Center website defines social media addiction as “a behavioural addiction that is defined by being overly concerned about social media, driven by an uncontrollable urge to log on to or use social media, and devoting so much time and effort to social media that it impairs other important life areas”. 

It all started with me moving away from home in Eshowe, KwaZulu-Natal, in February to study at Wits. The next thing I knew, I was spending a lot of time on my phone to escape the reality of missing home and my family, especially my twin sister. I shy away from interacting with people, though I am capable of conversing with anyone. I would be on my phone swinging among Instagram, Twitter and TikTok.  

At first, I told myself that what could be better for a student journalist than to be on the lookout for goings on around the world without stepping outside my room and talking to people about current affairs, gossip and entertainment? However, I started to notice that I could not ignore a notification tone, and that anything that hindered me from attending to my phone agitated me. Whether I was in the middle of drafting an essay or studying, I could not help but check my social media pages, especially TikTok.  

I tried to limit my screen time to no more than an hour each day, but I consistently came up short. Then I checked my screen time management on my phone settings and discovered that I typically spent close to 20 hours per week, just on TikTok! 

An article by Tanyaradzwa Pamhirwa referred to a 2022 South African Depression and Anxiety Group survey that found that more than 60% of South Africans reported being addicted to social media, and that social media addiction is most common among young people, with 80% of respondents aged 18 to 24 reporting addiction.  

I had always justified my social media usage that it was a distraction from missing my family and that I was not committing any crime by doing what other people my age were doing. So, I would constantly send TikTok videos and Instagram reels to my sister, until one day she called me and said, “You are always online, even during the day!” This is when I realised that I might be addicted to social media because my sister would not be concerned otherwise.

According to the Addiction Centre website, social media is “addictive both physically and psychologically” and self-expression on social media platforms activates the same area of the brain as using an addictive substance. 

This addiction had taken a toll on my wellbeing. I was not as physically active as I used to be. Instead, I lay in bed all the time. My sleeping patterns were irregular because it was impossible to resist the urge to check social media before bed and waking up for school every day would be a drag. I neglected my personal life, resulting in loneliness and anxiety.

My optometrist back home had told me last year that, “You are short-sighted my friend,” after he had tested my vision. My vision has gotten even worse since I started spending a lot of time on social media. I experience eye pain, watery eyes and severe headaches. 

The University of Pittsburgh Medical Centre says “Spending too many hours staring at a screen can cause eye strain. You tend to blink less while staring at the blue light from a screen, and the movement of the screen makes your eyes work harder to focus.” 

After my sister’s call, I made the decision to spend less time on social media, especially in the newsroom, and to pay attention and interact with my classmates. I now have a good relationship with everyone in class, and I only use my phone during break times. Talking to my family every day helps me miss them less.

Acknowledging an addiction is not easy, but it is the first and most significant step towards getting help. I have been doing research online, reading articles and taking online surveys on what to do to minimise the time I spend on my phone scrolling, double tapping and screenshotting memes.

I am willing to take those baby steps towards battling my addiction and fighting it until I feel free and comfortable without or with less reliance on social media.

FEATURED IMAGE: Nonkululeko Mncube. Photo: File