Contributor Bios

Learning the Signs

Ever lived your life always wondering “why on earth am I here for?” This was me for a very long time, the universe kept on sending me numerous signs and messages but I never ever read between the lines.

You see, I am naturally a very warm person; really easy to talk to. I have genuine happiness when I know I have made someone’s day. I am the friend who never forgets a birthday, I am the family member who will skip lunch to get you a birthday cake or card. I am the person who will borrow some money to help a friend in need. Well, this is not the point! The point is that for a very long time I had people open up to me about their struggles.

On the very first time, 7 years ago, I was casually chatting a friend–let’s call him Jeshi–of mine via text. I asked Jeshi why he was always awake; either at 2:00 am or 2:00 pm, he was the one person you would forever find online. He told me he had been suffering from insomnia since he was in class three. The story is that a friend of his mom’s who was pretending to be a pastor always came to their house in the name of prayers and ‘exorcising demons’. Every time he came, he would bring Jeshi candy. After several occasions he started frequenting the house when Jeshi was in the house by himself, and sodomized him. This happened severally and Jeshi was threatened against ever telling anyone of what transpired. He had not been able to open up to his own mom or to anyone until we had that conversation. His confession shook me. For more than ten years, Jeshi had lived with trauma and every time he tried to sleep at night he had terrible nightmares. I remember him asking me whether it was all worth it – How long could he live with the nightmares! Would they last forever? He had not even sought professional help. After our chat we agreed we would seek professional help. But we lost touch; on the next day, I called him but his number no longer went through and his Facebook and Twitter accounts were no longer active. Up to date, I am left wondering whether he took his life or whether he sought help and changed friends ☹.

This incident changed me and my outlook in life. I wondered how many more people were putting on a façade of happiness whilst deep down they were fighting demons. How many of our friends are there for us, for our parties, like and share our memes on Facebook yet we never stop to ask how they are really doing? When we all go home and are left alone in the shower, in bed, how many of the people we know cry themselves senseless as deep down they are lonely?

What ails our society today is the ignorance and stigma attached to mental illness. How many times have you heard or thought of someone suffering of mental illness things like He/she is seeking attention, We are all stressed some people just overdo it, See what drugs can do, What is bipolar disorder? Isn’t that a white thing? Does it even happen in real life or is it just in movies?, He/she has been bewitched. I bet we have all heard any of these statements referring to a person suffering from mental illness.

It is very sad since these conversations have not become as mainstream as they ought to be. They are just hush in WhatsApp groups and come up a bit when a famous celebrity dies of suicide. But after two days we forget and move on. Or do we really forget? We probably tell ourselves this country has too many problems like mercury sugar and cat samosas to start thinking of such “non-issues”. People should handle their own stress since we all have our problems, no? The worst part is that even immediate family members are the least accommodative of their mental illnesses. I have friends whose parents keep on bashing them for “pretending” to be sick and draining all family resources on medications. I have friends whose siblings trash their medications when they find them on a table and they say things like “Wacha tuone kama huyu mwendawazimu atakufa asipokunywa dawa.” (let’s see if this mad person will die if they don’t take their medications) How demeaning is this? And yet when one decides enough is enough and takes their own life, people have the nerve to start blaming them of being selfish.

Statistics show that at least 1 in every 4 Kenyans suffer mental illness at one point in their lives. From these statistics, I hope it is clear to us that none of us is immune. That is why we need to take care of those suffering because it could be us. We need to educate ourselves because if we ever became victims at any point we will already be equipped with the coping mechanisms. Mental illness, unlike the ignorant lot like to think is not only caused by substance abuse or witchcraft. Its causes could range from genetics to trauma and loss like death of a loved one. We all suffer loss at some point and are exposed to accidents, sexual, physical and emotional abuse that could cause us trauma. Let us take time to learn the signs of mental illness.

I have now learned the signs. I care and I’m eager to change the narrative around mental health.

Love and light,
Wangari.