Mental Health

SIX.

Wooow I cannot believe it’s been six months since I last blogged! Hello everyone!!

A lot has really happened in my hiatus and I must say it has been a whirling rollercoaster of experience. Of course I’ve been riding the rollercoaster of Bipolar Disorder without a seatbelt on. Highs and lows of bipolarity and everything in between.

You see, in these six months, my favourite nephew began first grade. I’m awe-struck. This little champ touched my life in the most unheard of ways. Some six years ago, on Thursday 6th September at 2pm, my beautiful big sister Beryl put to bed a dainty baby boy with perfect caramel skin, beady eyes, rabbit ears and a head half full of hair. I majestically took over the throne as the newest auntie and nurturer in town. (This was the first time any of my siblings had been blessed with a bundle). I have a soft spot for children and I’m obsessed with the naming norms. (I already know my future baby’s name yet there’s absolutely no bun in the oven yet!) Perks of being a badass woman. So I nicknamed my nephew the tiger shark. Yes, after shark, the animal. Because I envisioned him growing up with the attributes of the shark. (The shark is symbolic of being a terror of the sea, it is fierce in everything it does. It does not compromise; it aggressively pursues what it wants.) My baby, the tiger shark also has diverse names because we are a doting family and he was the first of our parents’ grandchildren so naturally we would adore him a little extra. I’d like to think the one I gave him stands out because I’m a Sagittarius, and we the archers don’t come to play at all. I’m eternally grateful to my shark for teaching me that motherhood (or babysitting) basically needs you to be a multitasking jangler of different tasks at the same time. There were times I had to sing, dance, rock my hands, use noisy machines like the blow dryer just to get him to sleep or stop crying. I’m not even chest thumping but my nanny game is out of this world thanks to him. Looks like I’ll become a par excellent mama in future! Well fast forward into time, our polyonymous baby, the shark, is a first grader and a responsible little man full of life and immense energy. Long live my tiger shark!

Selfie moment with my nephews. The tiger shark is on my left.

In these six months, my beautiful, super smart, strong willed and perfect level of extra mother, turned 60 and became a senior citizen and we threw a thanksgiving party for her. All hail mama, the lighthouse in my storm, our number one cheerleader, hype man & safety net in a chaotic world!

In these six months, my little sister Brenda turned 21. (Should I say I’m awe-struck again or is it becoming cliche?) Yes…or maybe no…but the bottom line is that just yesterday I was teaching her to write. To think that now she’s all grown and kicking ass! I’ll never let her know the quarter life crisis. Cheers to the wonder woman, my little sister who’s not so little anymore!

In these six months, still on family, my big sister Bridget, became a fierce feminist unapologetically. I mean why not? Because how does a patriarchal society become egalitarian without feminism?! Been a long time coming. Power to my budding powerhouse of a sister, my womyn, my lifeline, my hero, my heart!

In these six months, I noticed how much of a trooper my little brother Jim is. I can’t believe he will be clearing high school soon. Come 7th October, the whole squad will be legal. Happy 18th birthday and congratulations in advance, sweet Jimmy!

In these six months, not more than a month ago, my little cousin came into this world. She’s a piece of heaven. Whoever said newborns look like grumpy old men was lying. She’s officially the youngest in the Ngollo clan and she set a new standard. Buffaloes will be the new cool when she’s all grown and set for wedlock, she’s beyond cows. I said what I said. Lol.

In these six months, my eldest sister, Beryl, is still the most awe-inspiring.

In these six months, my dad is still my heart in human form!

In these six months my best friends are still the realest. S/o to Lenna, Carol, Nancy, Millah, Shiko, Sharon, Dolphin, Dadah, Bobby, Timss, Fred and Jacob. It’s beyond love and there’s no two ways about it.

In these six months, the weather took a drastic turn! April came roaring like a lion. Cold like the heart of b*tch. I felt like the hailstones pelted right through the roof and into my soul. Cold weather catapults me to oblivion, shuts down my reflex and affects my productivity. Bright beautiful sunny days like today breathe life into my well being and whisper words of beauty to my aura. I love to welcome and sock up the sun rays because too soon the cold will graduate to thunderstorms and I will sulk.

Myself on one bright sunny day ✨

Look at how the sun does justice to my free spiritedness 🙌🏾

In these six months, however, one thing was constant: circular insanity! Aka bipolar disorder, my old friend, the pain in the brain. Actually the reason I didn’t blog was because my fingers lost coordination. Gross! But that was an unfortunate and severe side effect of one of the psychotropics I’m on. The other reason was because mental illness is uncultured. Mister Bipolar Disorder just told me don’t write. Squint your eyes, tilt your hear to the east, feel the breeze that comes by, if you don’t, too bad…run a mile, text your boyfriend, sleep, eat, go to work or just bite your nails but don’t blog. But it’s joke on you mister, I know you’re a demon and I will slay you. You are uncultured, why do you leave me to stay on my cool sometimes when someone’s dead but let me lose my cool when I can’t find my pen? I know why. It is definitely not because I’m more acquainted to the idea of death than the idea of losing a pen, but because mental illnesses or mood disorders especially bipolar disorder is a maze in itself, it is as though there’s a switch in your brain that flicks unrhythmically and unannounced. Circular insanity. I’m not sure if that’s an overstatement but I’m sure mental illness is still the largest elephant in the room. I nicknamed my mind “the minefield.” My mind is a minefield; an actual minefield of self actualization and lethargy. But today as I type this, I feel like I’m revamped and my energy is on steroids and I have reached a dangerously awesome level of might and will power. Woohoo!

In these six months, still, one thing was constant: the blogosphere! This is hands down the best place to be online! The beauty that is oracles and wordsmiths. The beauty that is penmanship. The beauty that is artistry. The beauty that is forever unmatched and undefeated. The beauty that is the write direction. Forgive me if I’m going to get all sappy when I talk about how much blogging has impacted my life. I constantly find comfort and independence in a riveting read. You fellow bloggers (and readers) inspire me to get outside my bubble, move beyond my insecurities, accept my disability all while offering compassion and sympathy for others. To love freely and unconditionally. To keep LIVING my dash. To build safety hedges to protect my sanity. To reset my mind, body and soul without a heads up. To LIVE. Thank you is an understatement!

In these six months, in the next six months and beyond, love, light and healing to everyone battling mental illness. Be steadfast. You are not a victim but a survivor setting the world on fire with your truth. Today and everyday, me and our fellow survivors need your light, warmth and raging courage. Here’s to grit, here’s to strength and resolve of character, here’s to resilient dynamism, here’s to the only pill popping throng of chronic illness survivors whose illnesses aren’t visible to the naked eye, here’s to the beauty of the strange!

Yours with the crazy rollercoaster life,

Ida-Sharon.

🖤

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Mental Health

DESTIGMATISE THE CONVERSATION AROUND MENTAL HEALTH.

I have not been able to blog for several weeks because my depression has been a witches’ brew of guilt, anger and bad religion. Lethargy had drained and numbed me to life itself. Things had successively been going wrong leaving me feeling like the butt of life’s joke. But that’s not my burble for today.

Today I’m going to respond to something that cut me to the quick. I’m going to do it with dignity and not resort to name calling but I must say it was a very close relative. He tried to shame my dad for “having a bipolar child” and told him that “he needs to get his head checked urgently too. ”

Okay. Can I be honest? Lay my cards on the table? I have to write this so everyone here can get a good look at ignorance and audacity in an overtly heightened state. Nothing is ever worth demeaning a person’s existence, much less a close relative. Society needs to destigmatize the conversation around mental health. We cannot do this by talking? Straight forward isn’t it? No.

Most people start the transition from childhood to adulthood looking to the future at a world of possibility. I on the other hand transitioned by a diagnosis of Bipolar II Disorder. But I cannot be shamed because I wear it like a crown. I’m the prime purveyor of tenacity and resilience.

“End mental illness stigma” is a phrase we hear often. The word “stigma” technically means “a mark of shame” and in the context of mental illness advocacy, we mean the unfair mark of shame others assign to us when it is revealed we live with different mental health conditions. It can also be shame we assign ourselves when we feel like there is something wrong with how our brains work, and decide to keep our thoughts hidden from others. However this idea of “ending the stigma” only scratches the surface of the real shame, micro aggressions and acts of discrimination people who live with mental illness sometimes face.

I’m lucky that I got a proper diagnosis and my psychotropics seem to be working like a shaft of light into my weary, befuddled brain. My minefield mind is on a hiatus. Medication can be a godsend. But this doesn’t happen overnight; I hereby encourage my fellow survivors (because to me they will always be survivors rather than victims) to persevere, have grit and hope that the right antidote to this darkness can be found.

Well September is Suicide Prevention Awareness Month. Society should stop making mentally ill people feel bad for their symptoms. We are flaky. We are sleepy. We are grumpy, aggressive and forgetful. We lash out. We cry. We over think and over compensate. We are sorry. We are trying. We know we are in limbo between too sick to be healthy and “not sick enough to be healthy. ” S/o to everybody battling an invisible illness! 👊

Yours with the crazy rollercoaster life,

Ida-Sharon.

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Mental Health

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 giggled at a bumblebee that landed on his thumb. An elderly lady could not 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 noticed another elderly man with a vaguely erotic ogle! 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 mildly asocial sometimes and I need help with interpersonal relationships since I’m a hermit. Strange how this time I did not 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 flying f*ck 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 polarised 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 monster, a pill for an emotional ill. (I’m on olanzapine and fluoxetine now).

Aren’t selfies one of the greatest inventions of modern times? 😅

Love,

Ida-Sharon.

🖤

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Mental Health

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 could not 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 folks were extremely innocent and just a mirror of society’s stand on mental illness. They meant the best for me. It is 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 will ever meet!

Tenacity, grit and resilience are my pivotal values. 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 is not 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. 😄

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Mental Health

SEARCHING FOR A DIAGNOSIS, CHASING A CURE.

It is April 2015, I’m standing in the waiting room of my local hospital. I lean over in agony, using the back of my hands to wipe away my tears, furrowing my brows in confusion and mumbling in something between pain and lassitude. One thing I’m certain of however, is that I’m enshrouded in heartache, lethargy and disillusionment. I’m afraid this is what most of my adult life has entailed. Finally I get a glimpse of the receptionist signaling me. She seems to be looking at my jaded self with a bit of contempt but I still tell her, “I need to see a psychiatrist or a psychologist. ” She asks if it is an emergency, I tell her it is but she still says the next available appointment isn’t until next Monday — even though I take it, I’m not too sure I’ll make it that long. Joke on her, I’ve had my back up plan for suicide in place since my bout of depression began, and it has only been a matter of timing. I have had morbid fascinations with suicidal ideations and held such tendencies. (Wait I survived one suicide attempt!) My mind is going awry but I still manage to get home in one piece.

Monday came. Whew!

A diagnosis. Clinical Depression. This was where my odd odyssey peaked.

Well a diagnosis is both a terrifying and a relieving confirmation. It is paradoxical; it can be both a breakthrough and a gateway to another long and difficult path. Finding out I suffered from clinical depression wasn’t surprising to me. Instead it was CONFUSING. Confusing because of the stigma associated with people living with mental illnesses. I feel like I will never be able to expound on depression with ease; depression makes my stomach churn, I find it bone-chilling. The way it is insidious and compounding really breaks my heart. I mean how do you describe dying on the inside while you are still alive? How do you go about in a society that is hellbent on believing that we are just “lazy” or “attention seekers” or “weaklings? ” How do you explain to random people that we have to take meds daily to manage a chemical imbalance in our brains?

The biggest misconception about us mental illness spoonies is that we are homogeneous in some way. Some believe that the badge “mentally ill” should only be applied to delusional, homicidal, chainsaw-wielding psychopaths. Some believe it should only be applied to angst-ridden teenage girls crying in bathrooms at lunch breaks. Some believe it should be applied to adult humans walking naked in the streets and eating from dustbins. I assure you the three characterizations might only be applicable to a fraction of the mentally ill community. Because we are diverse, flawed, vibrant and beautiful on so many levels in every way we exist in this world outside of the stereotype that society places upon us. The only misconception here is that we could possibly be lumped into such deductive categories.

Love,

Ida-Sharon.

🖤

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