“I have a standing doctor’s appointment every Friday, the migraines, they always need special attention.”
“This time it’s worse than I thought, I am on bed rest for two weeks.”
“I now have to see a physician and a neurologist, so that they can monitor the effects of the drugs”
All this is true, except I left out the psychiatrist and psychologist. I was actually seeing 4 doctors, every Friday, and sometimes on Tuesdays and Fridays. Then one day I asked myself how I would be able to help people understand my illness if I am still ashamed of it, and facing reality was the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do.
Starting with my then inner circle, going out. But I should have been the first point of contact for everyone because what I heard about myself, I was a bit shocked. Some things were so funny, others were hurtful, and others were downright outrageous.
“Now I understand why she’s gained weight, she’s depressed and depressed people like food.”
“She’s suffering from esteem issues, and that’s why she’s lightening her skin”
“People like her don’t get depressed”
“What does she have to be depressed about? She’s got it all”
“Depressed people do not go and get tattoos, she is faking it. I was told she said she prefers to work at night and since she didn’t get her way, she’s now playing the depression card.” My all-time favourite – albeit most hurtful – “You are emotionally unstable”
Even if I wasn’t ill, I certainly would be based by what people said and thought about me. I’m not easily fazed, but I’m human. It will sting if it doesn’t completely hurt. There’s no one in life who could say that they do not have bad days, but then I could be wrong, so I shall speak for myself. I’ve had bad days and extremely dark days. But even these are met with “Chin up, it will be OK” “Talk to people more, talking helps” (As if I don’t know, I have 4 doctors, 2 of whom require you to speak for them to diagnose you, and prescribe the correct medication)
I didn’t have a safe zone. Neither home nor work served as safe zones for me. I have to be productive in both places, and that is not a privilege, it is a right. I have to be a good employee, and a good mum, wife, sister, daughter, friend, etc. and the thing I looked forward to was getting a tattoo, or add to my piercings. That is my safe zone, and that’s where I can exercise my creativity. Almost everything I would do both at home and at work would be under intense scrutiny. I am unwell, emotionally unstable, and this must impair my output.
When you give something your all, and then it is passed on to someone else to proofread or go over your output, that’s just not cool. And that’s where the stigma lies. Even though I’m seeking help and treatment, I come with warnings on the label “Mentally Ill and Emotionally Unstable, proceed with caution” and much as I would have loved to get up from all this, it was extremely difficult.
My mothers and sisters, God bless their souls. I have three mothers. Mummy, mum, and mamangu. Extraordinary women, who I could run to when it was all getting out of hand. And they would check me, albeit in a very loving way. “Mummy I can’t take these drugs anymore.” “Mum your children are asking me strange questions (I can’t pen these questions here)” “Mamangu I am leaving the estate WhatsApp Group, I cannot deal with you guys anymore” And all these 3 women gave me was support. Made me remember that inside out, I am a good person, and I am not defined by my illness.
Mum always says “Mama Njeri, you’re the only one in control of your life” That hit home like a ton of bricks when I saw my psychiatrist in October, and she recommended ECT. I cried and cried because ECT is for mad people according to public opinion. And no!!!!! I’m not mad, so why that form of treatment? My sisters really helped as well, my prayer warriors, my best friends. We got matching rings, my best friends. I know I am blessed to have sisters and best friends all in one
I don’t know whether it was funny or upsetting when I actually had a script (true story) on how to answer questions on the treatment:
Question: Why would they want to fry your brain cells? Isn’t that dangerous?
Answer: No, it’s not the kind of current used for resuscitation, it’s very mild
Question: Can you wait just a little bit longer to make this decision?
Answer: I’ve thought about it already, and I am going ahead with it (mentally rolling my eyes because I am wondering where you have suddenly surfaced from with your opinions. When did you check on me last)
Question: What about the medication you were on?
Answer: I told you it wasn’t working and that’s why I need to get this done.
Question: Are you OK with it?
Answer: I am scared, but I’ve let go of the situation, and let GOD
Question: What do you know about ECT?
Answer: As much as a layman can know, I shall forward you a link
Question: Are you in the hospital already?
Answer: Yes, was already admitted
Question: Will you let me know when I can see you?
Answer: Yes I will
I hope you have noticed that I’m the one reassuring others that I will be OK, not vice versa. It’s funny, but very troubling because it points to the two things that deter successful treatment and recovery from mental illness. The ill ones have to make the others comfortable to be around them. When I said I had a migraine, the pain can be imagined, and they didn’t ask me any questions because everyone knows pain. When you’re diagnosed with severe depression, people think that you’re sad. Sadness and depression are not the same.
I get sad when something doesn’t go as planned, but I immediately switch to plan B-Z. When I’m depressed, there’s no plan A, let alone plan B-Z. So no, when you lose your phone you’re not depressed, when you miss a party, you’re not depressed. When you cannot find your favourite Shisha flavour, you’re not depressed. And that is something that I would like people to be sensitive about – how they use the word depressed
Fast track to post ECT. The procedure itself was horrid. Painful at first, coz of the mild seizure and your jaws bite on something, but what was funny was the memory loss. Like I cannot remember my family visiting me at all. They had to produce photographic evidence. But I was so glad that I had my journal, and yes, I recorded it. I wrote every day, so as not to lose any memory, or lose a day. The procedure itself, I cannot speak as a subject matter expert, but I can speak for the after effects.
When I got home, naturally you’re all expecting me to say that everything is rosy, bright, and full of sunshine. Most of that is true. But you have to understand that the issues and demons that put you through medication and ECT are still there.
The residents are still there, asking me to check on how the security team is handling them, how they don’t have water……. I could go on and on. The questions or shade people were throwing my way remain. But the brilliant part about it is that I can handle things rationally, fact over emotion.
That doesn’t mean that I am cold and unfeeling, I am able to handle whatever comes my way better. I get sad (not depressed), I have bad days, but on the other hand, I’ve found things to make my thinking better, more rational. Give decisions a minute, maybe 6 before you make it final.
What’s important to me always gets priority. And when I want a time out to be with myself (not by myself) I shall take that time out, because if I am not mentally, emotionally, and physically OK, I cannot be there for myself, let alone everyone else. But most importantly, I do not have a cape, I do not have a costume, I was neither bitten by a bug nor hit by something from another planet. In short, I am not a superhero.
I am Sylvia, Sly, Kamama, Mama Watoto Wangu, C, Amadee, and that’s the one person I know how to be, and rock at it!!