9 P.M REMINISCENCE.

A few years back I moved to another town. This meant another check to determine if I was still eligible for mental health support. I checked into the nearby sprawling psych hospital. I had been entitled to monthly psychiatric reviews which weren’t therapy as such, but were a fairly stable touch point for me; I wasn’t just flung into the world with my minefield mind and behaviours seemingly careening out of control.

My anxiety definitely didn’t let me sit still in the waiting room so I leaned over in looming agony, furrowing my brows in confusion and religiously mumbling in something between pain and lassitude. I struggled with competing thoughts. Being a student journo, I tried to frame that as a learning opportunity, focusing on evaluating the facility and its many loopholes rather than my own. So instead of warily tweeting these ruminations on insanity like I had always done, I searched other faces for signs of inner turmoil, lethargy, disillusion, disenchantment and everything that hit a little close to home. I know mental illness doesn’t have a ‘face’ but when you are in with ‘the kindred’ you can’t help but search for things in them that you can identify with -so you feel less alone.

One man with beady eyes giggled at a bumblebee that landed on his pinkie. An elderly lady couldn’t stop jiggling her left foot and another svelte young girl folded what seemed like a prescription leaflet until it could fit into the palm of her hand and kept it clenched in a fist. I also thought I noticed someone ogle at a number of rumps. We certainly came from different worlds but pain was the common denominator in this particular throng.

Fast forward to my assessment. I think I lost my cool. A man with a hardened exterior who seemed like a med student, proudly donning his white coat, shepherding patients to and from consultations, sometimes addressing them in that ‘sing-song’ pre-school teachers voice and other times addressing them like adults, came to my assessment. He gave me a stern look and I couldn’t help feeling like a phoney. Yes, phoney because I had answered ‘no’ to most of the questions. God knows I was being brutally honest because I’m pretty asocial and I need help with interpersonal relationships since I’m a hermit. Strange how this time I didn’t use suicide ‘buzzwords’ which usually happen with such spontaneity. I have had morbid fascinations with suicidal ideations as a daily struggle.

See I was desperately looking for a reset button, a safe haven and recovery. Joke on me, Mr. Med Student wasn’t having any of that. He handled me frivolously. It felt like a judgement in black and white, as if I was being accused of fabricating a diagnosis. Like I had just plucked Bipolar II Disorder out of the blue; like I should just whack some studs in and get on with it. Well I feel like wearing a sparkly pair of studs when I’m feeling under the weather is only going to help in the sense that it will make me look like a snazzy, depressed, bipolar ridden hermit. Plus when I’m feeling that under the weather, I couldn’t give a rat’s ass about what I look like.

So you people think if we can make it out of bed and into the world there can’t be anything wrong with us in the subsequent?

Wow! What an incredibly polarized view of people’s mental health needs. It is not down to my assessor. He was just doing his job, even if not with the best of ethics. But unfortunately he is part of the bandwagon that is part of a system that is part of a society that perpetuates the most lethal of mental health misconceptions: that if somebody seems okay they must be okay.

While much of my odyssey with mental illness and recovery sometimes still seems to be guided by a broken compass, I recognize the importance of unplugging, looking within and being present. And I’m here today, purveying grit and tenacity and fighting this gargoyle one pill after the other. (I’m on olanzapine and fluoxetine now).

Love,

Ida-Sharon.

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SCHIZOPHRENIA; THE SECOND WOMAN IS NEW.

“I promise I’ll be there”
Words with empty meaning
Words screaming through the halls of my mind as they make course
I know she lies
I know I won’t see her till the echo’s heard
Till the message smacks the back of the wall
Not the wall of innocence though
Can one echo pass through two circles at once?
I wait
No answer.

Not but smiles and scraped knees each time we meet
“I’ve been in the wars” She would say
“Been fighting for six”
The war, till yesterday, was the most promising part
Perhaps beautiful
Late. But time didn’t matter
Time is on our wrist, was all
Hope. Chance. Fresh faces
Six children sprung from her passion
Other smiles, scraped knees
The race continued
But she was always taller, always faster

That’s when the screaming began
‘Twas only a whisper first
Then two worlds colliding in one body
It can’t cope
It won’t cope
Somersaulted mind
Can one echo pass through two circles at once?
Hope becomes fear, chance is unwanted
And fresh faces become sour
Now the second woman is new

Her scraped knees and smile are aging
“The war” is the worst part
My mouth is slower to turn
It is wiser, more hesitant
The six of us want to be flying
But “the war” won’t let her soar with us
The sky is still ours, hopefully.

Frayed heart
Somersaulted mind
Split in two or three
But she still promises she’ll be there
Is it the second woman who speaks?
I wait
No answer.

Love,
Ida-Sharon.

OPEN LETTER TO MY MENTAL ILLNESS.

Dear old friend,

Howdy! We’ve know one another since time immemorial. Ours is an odyssey, a rollercoaster, an infinite journey. From self-harm to therapy to antidepressants to antipsychotics to mood stabilizers. Sheesh, buddy, look at this pattern of psychotropics. Don’t you ever tire? Could you simmer down? Could you throw in the towel please? From suicidal ideations, to suicidal tendencies, you’ve been through it all. Through the furnace, through the blizzard.

Bud, you’ve helped me sleep for 18 hours a day and you’ve also ensured I didn’t rest my head for days in a row. You my friend have been the common denominator through my somnolence and my insomnia. Wow aren’t you just so paradoxical! You stun me.

You’ve helped me attend 4 different high schools in a few years. You’ve help me destroy a lot of relationships. You’ve helped me brood for 8 months over relationships I was in for 2 weeks. You’ve helped me become a train wreck. You’ve helped me spend masses of money I don’t have. You’ve helped me have an irrational intense anger towards everyone and everything. You’ve helped me become that angst-ridden young woman crying in the bathroom at lunch break. You’ve helped me fixate and obsess on the outlandish things I did when I was hypomanic then begin to hate myself for it. You’ve helped me lose my cool. You’ve helped jinx me.

You, my friend, are the only one constant in my life. You are hell on wheels. You are a gargoyle. You make my stomach churn.

Well I hope you can already see I’m not paying homage to you for being part and parcel of me. Now more than ever, I wish you could leave me alone.

Aren’t you tired of them branding me “lazy” when the lethargy you bring is so debilitating that I can barely get out of bed? What do you gain from making me a couch potato? Don’t you see they can’t see that I’m SICK and not weak? Hey, I’m dog-tired. I want out. Peace out, you will not be missed.

Disgruntled frienemy,

Ida-Sharon.

CIRCULAR INSANITY.

“I’m afraid I’m bipolar after all. I actually have Bipolar II Disorder. “

These are the words I mumbled to myself after my second (and correct) diagnosis. For the first time I felt that I could dig below the surface of my unhappiness without being ashamed of what I might find. This diagnosis was timely because it grappled so starkly with the reality of mental illness.

When I was misdiagnosed with unipolar depression, I used to wish I were bipolar, on the theory that I could at least accomplish something. (Boy, was I wrong about that.) Plans made during hypomania never come to fruition. They are started, rethought, abandoned, exchanged for something grander and ultimately fizzle out when the hypomania wears off.

I have Bipolar type 2 so I don’t experience the manic highs, only depressive lows and hypomania. This is the reason why I was misdiagnosed with clinical depression.

Well hypomania for me is kind of reckless. It is spending masses of money I don’t have. It is an almost irrational intense anger towards everyone and everything. It is believing that I rule the world and anything is possible. It is boost in energy. It is loud rapid speech. It is insomnia. It is a boost of ego and self-belief. Hypomania relatively brings exhilaration, ambition, confidence and invincibility, with no brakes. It is almost hell on wheels.

Then this all very suddenly turns into depression and I’m left feeling physically and emotionally exhausted. I start to fixate and obsess on all the outlandish things I did when I was hypomanic and hate myself for it. I begin to lose my cool. And the depression is more often than not, so severe I begin to hold suicidal tendencies.

No doubt, depression is the devil. Depression is to sadness as a broken leg is to a splinter. Depressions sucks the life out of a person and mutes all emotions save for misery and lethargy. Depression throttles. Depression denies all possibility of complacency or elation or sheer happiness. Depression is hell.

Love,

Ida-Sharon.

Myself, on a not so bad day. 😄

SWEET SORROW.

Her eyes are like embers of coal
They bear no reflection of a soul
She carries the scars of a thousand wars
Yet they say the course was never worthy.

As she listens to the voices in her head
The things she dreads most seem to haunt her the most
The daily verses she rehearses are often quite morose.

She wonders:
When did society decide to ignore
This disease of the mind?
When did our default
Become the “I’m fine?”
When will they all open their eyes
And cease being blind
To the life behind the mask
And the hurt behind the laugh?

She is quite twenty
But she is not hearty
Not anymore
Her mind’s gone awry
Dare not pry
But in her eyes are stories left untold.

I am her.

Love,

Ida-Sharon.

LETTER TO MY MOTHER: THE MOTHER OF A BIPOLAR.

Dear Mother,

I’m not sure which sin I’m trying to atone in this letter but I know for a fact that intrinsically, deep, deep down, I am tainted. A tainted daughter, sister, aunt, niece, relative, friend, student, citizen, blogger —whatever it is, I am tainted. A tainted and temperate angel.

I still find myself wallowing in self-pity and going to pieces. I have convinced myself that I’m desperately foul inside, both in my heart and in my brain. Apologizing for this insidious and compounding illness to you every time and especially today, is a horrid way to celebrate you on this fine Mothers’ Day or on your 59th birthday that is due tomorrow. Apologies are just words, and words are transient.

Mama, these are the thoughts mulling around in my bipolar mind. I have this hedonistic desire to journey this trial and love on the truth. Writing about my condition feels like a blank slate, taking away some of my own drama with each post. This is my internet ‘black box’ where I can voice everything that I don’t voice to you and the people in my life. This is a glimpse into my minefield mind and how I let it explode through my pen, allowing my thoughts to be glamorized by the anonymity and obscurity of the web. This is me sharing the (s)wims through the shark-infested bipolar and depression waters.

I’m sorry that I have become too lethargic, too ratty, too cross, too self-involved or too narcissistic to sometimes acknowledge you. Here’s to let you know that you are absolute dynamite. You are a bundle of stardust. You are my lifeline. You are my all. Thank you for loving me through my sins and failures. Thank you for loving me to life. Happy Mothers’ Day.

Love,

Your sidekick,

Ida-Sharon.

My First Antidepressant Experience.

As soon as I got my prescription and was making my way to the pharmacy, I warily googled what population percentage of
the world was on antidepressants. Well I couldn’t find an exact figure and I was certainly ambivalent that I had joined that throng; I popped my first amitriptyline later that evening. (I have since taken citalopram and I’m now on Prozac).

My antidepressant journey kicked off with major dietary issues (my appetite went through the roof and I ate so hoggishly I’d lose my breath resulting into a medley of gasping, lip-smacking and ruminating. Lol), blurry vision, constipation and persistent migraines that made me wonder if I had an undiscovered malignant brain tumour. Sheesh, anxiety is really a blast when trying out meds for the first time! The first indication that something was up came in the next couple of days when I woke up to go to school but my legs were barely working, I was in the grip of convulsive shudders. I was also in a state of extreme dissociation that felt like I was entirely present in the world yet feeling extremely detached from it. I had drifted into mental autopilot. This drug-induced fugue was even more intense than what I experienced when it was happening naturally. Being on meds made my depression worse because it now graduated to what bordered stupor.

Over the weeks I pondered on stopping my meds cold turkey. Of course I was aware of antidepressant withdrawal syndrome. The leaflet that came with the drug warned that in the first days you might find symptoms that you are trying to counter, come back even more strongly. But I was overwhelmed. It was like playing symptom whack-a-mole, except that you are whacking bits of your psyche and sanity. I was on the brink of giving up all hope. And honestly comments like, “Uko na ugonjwa ya wazungu… “ coming from my sister were just adding salt to injury. I discovered I hadn’t known enough despair when my dad actually advised me to tuck my meds in a discreet pocket so as to hide it from plain view, and to only take them once I bolted my bedroom door and ensured no one was looking! He was sure just protecting me from the stigma but my paranoia imagined maybe he just didn’t want his smugness to be tainted by a mood disorder. (I know this is super mean of me). That was a terrible blow to my blue devils though. But I came to understand that these two people were extremely innocent and just a mirror of society’s stand on mental illness. They meant the best for me. It’s amazing how now they form my astounding, solid support system. One that is comprised of friends, family and the cutest, most doting gosh darn dog you’ll ever meet!

Tenacity, grit and resilience are my middle name. I eventually hit the antidepressant jackpot in about 6 weeks! Amitriptyline finally worked. Dawn came. There was a bright side, the much awaited breakthrough. It pushed me to be more cognizant of how I felt emotionally, physically and mentally. Everything that was careening out of control came to ease. I beat the intense anguish and debilitating lethargy that had for many years lingered over the surface and spilt into nearly every facet of my life. I was completely stunned. I found myself constantly wondering if that was what “normal” felt like. Well if that was it, then it sure tasted like sweet heaven. Woo-hoo!

Why am I writing this?

  • I am writing this because society carries a lot of stigma about antidepressants (and psychotropics) judging by what I see represented in art. I want to break the notion that humans are over medicating themselves and therefore medication should only be limited to ‘more serious’ illnesses like diabetes and heart disease. Get it from me, antidepressants can be a GODSEND, and the channel to finding oneself. Of course the weight gain associated by it sucks, but in the grand scheme of things, it isn’t so bad. The pros far outweigh the cons.
  • I am writing this to create awareness that not all pain is physical and not all wounds are visible.
  • I am writing this, not to be treated special, babied, judged or fawned over, but for this to be matter-of-fact.
  • I am writing this because May is Mental Health Awareness month.

Love,

Ida-Sharon.

Clinically depressed but still well dressed. 😄