Intelligent. Kenyan.

Published: 2 years ago

My Funk

This essay is taken from Brainstorm’s second e-book, (In)Sanity: What “Crazy” Looks Like, which is on mental health in Kenya and is available for free. DOWNLOAD IT HERE to read more such essays.

by Maryanne Nderitu

The simplicity of my 12 years of age ensures my first suicide attempt does not work. I dare myself, in front of my friends, to swallow eight tablets of Panadol. Beneath the courage of the dare, I am tormented by life. I try again a year later, this time after mixing household chemicals. My younger sister walks in on me as I am about to drink it. I tell her I am doing a science experiment; she buys into the idea. I pour the concoction down the drain. I never tell anyone what I was trying to do, or what agony I am going through.

I have no name for it.

I top the class in the national examinations at the end of primary school. That was what everyone expected of me; success. My achievement masks any worries I have. They will go away. I proceed to a prestigious secondary school. But here, I am always ill. Today it is nausea, tomorrow a migraine. I am wrongly treated for pneumonia, because of the panic attacks I suffer. The shortness of breath sends me to cardiologists; it must be a problem with the heart. I spend more time in hospital than in school. To date, the hospital is a second home to me. When I walk in, I engage in small talk with everyone, from the doctors to the janitors.

I am an outgoing child, the leader of the gang, usually the cheeky gang – the one that gives nicknames to teachers and plays pranks on others. The hottest guys know who I am. I choose one.

The teenage romance doesn’t last long. I am smart, pretty and witty. With time, this changes. I become withdrawn but keep up appearances. I pretend to like school, continue to lead in activities and clubs yet I am just living through the motions. My grades take the hardest hit. The teachers begin complaining; I am branded an emotional attention seeker, a pretender who even faked her illnesses so that she could get away from school. Nothing much will come from me, they say. Those four years are nothing but torture. I stick through it and stumble out with an A-. The teachers are dumbfounded.

Until one doctor mentions it, depression is not a word I am familiar with. I am 19, at the height of my teenage years when this lifesaver realizes there is more to my numerous physical ailments. I am glad to put a name to it. I can now identify with the sense of worthlessness, guilt and never ending shadow of grief.  But the battle has just begun.

I am put on one of the mildest antidepressants. It is a pretty, pink tablet. It is akin to swallowing smarties with water. These do not seem to work, so I am switched to a stronger brand. When these do not work, the dosage is increased. And so it is, until I have literally gone through all the drugs that exist.

“How much should I give her?” a nurse asks her colleague.

“The whole dosage,” the reply comes.

I get an injection and go home. The oral tablets were not effective.

A week later, I am back to hospital.  A doctor dismisses me as catatonic. I cannot talk or walk. The dentist attempts to keep my jaw in place with a bandage, but it won’t sit still. My whole body suffers from involuntary movements. Two weeks later, after a series of tests and medication, a psychiatrist says the injection that was administered to me was too much for my age and weight.

In campus, hours of study still don’t help as I fail test after test. This is a first in my life – the overdose affected my short term memory. I take a semester off and move to a different university, to study a different course.

I start again

The drugs pull me down. I battle to get out of bed every morning. Each morning is a rush to get to class. The psychiatrist suggests electroconvulsive therapy. The drugs have no effect. I cringe at the thought of having electric current rushing through my brain. I switch doctors. I still cling on to hope of recovering. Another cycle of drug therapy begins. It does not get better.

Everyone says I have it all (the dean’s list and student leadership is meant to bolster this). I do not believe them. I have nothing. I am not pretty, I am not smart. I am barely living. I graduate with a first class degree. What does it matter?

I want to die.

Out in the real world, there is no shelter from pain. Few people know the secret of my life. I dread the low self-esteem. I yearn to have others understand me; those who matter to me, as well as insignificant others, and the society, who I think need to know what has caused the delay in the advancement of my life. I seek to explain the increase in weight, the eruption of rashes on my forehead, my inexplicable absences from social life, my inability to cope with post graduate school work, and the reluctance to get a job, which I am qualified for anyway. I spend a tremendous amount of time trying to make whoever I meet understand their curiosity; this way I feel understood, loved and accepted. At least ‘they’ now see why I can’t forge ahead.

But what happens if they do not understand? What happens if they think I am just a spoiled brat who hides under the covers as soon as the first inklings of difficulty show up? This happens all the time. No one really gets why I have gained so much weight, and the daring ones suggest I should abstain from the pizza offers on Tuesdays and Fridays. I battle with feeling accepted and hate comparisons with other people who have life handing them snags but are able to keep going.

Do you see that lady selling tomatoes there? Her husband cheated on her and left her to raise their three kids alone. It is hard yet she moves on. What about you?

I loathe myself for not being like them, for not being able to deal with my ‘simple’ problem, or to others, one that does not simply exist. I suffer for not being able to do what these people suggest.

“God loves you, and he surely doesn’t want you to kill yourself. If only you loved him more. You have to want to live, really, life is so beautiful. It is up to you. If you want, you can get out of this,” those from church say.

I now think God has left me.

Surely, where is he?

Why does he let me cry alone?

My life is at a standstill. I am the bridesmaid who never catches the bouquet of flowers. There is no one who will love me, not with the dark clouds I move around with. I hide in my room and close the shutters. I survive three months of vacillating between wanting to live and wanting to die. Within the darkness, I read and research.

I have had enough with the drugs, which seem to give me no relief. Why am I suicidal whilst still guzzling down these chemicals? Why aren’t I getting better? At the height of what others call lunacy, I give up the drugs cold turkey. I wake up one morning and flush the stash all away. The reward is a month of intense withdrawal symptoms. I suffer from paraesthesia and spew away my excess weight. I resemble a drug addict. I spend Christmas day shivering and drenching my sheets in sweat. I listen to the others making merry. But I am determined. I would rather die than go back to the drugs.

I replace the drugs with a healthy diet and natural healing practices. I am introduced to mood mapping, a method propagated by Dr. Liz Miller. She is a trained Neurosurgeon and Occupational Health Physician. I am encouraged by her personal experience. Through her method, she was able to overcome her bipolar depression. Every day, four times a day, I plot my mood and my energy. I keep track of the cycles. I jot down short notes on how I feel at those moments. I learn to differentiate between feeling anxious and depressed. I discover ways to stay calm and active. I see patterns in my moods.

I am not a morning person; I prefer to work late into the night. I despise sad movies and people who only have sob stories to tell. My morning cup of coffee makes me depressed, as does the occasional glass of wine. I give them up and devise ways to make fish, water and milk taste good. I thank God I have never liked sugar.

I can barely outrun a tortoise, so I begin to walk. I get activities that move me out of the house to get my daily dose of vitamin D. I declutter my room and place a desk next to the window. I sit and stare out of it as I take in the beauty of nature. I unleash my kitchen prowess and experiment with baking.

I arrange for a weekly date with a therapist. I talk about what triggered the depression in my teen years; I talk about what it meant to me. I talk about the neighbour’s dog that keeps me up at night and the boy that told me that I was fat. I talk and talk and talk. I then connect the dots. I realise these are the events that have been bogging my sanity down all these years. They are looking for an outlet. I have found it, and I am not letting it go.

This essay is taken from Brainstorm’s second e-book, (In)Sanity: What “Crazy” Looks Like, which is on mental health in Kenya and is available for free. DOWNLOAD IT HERE to read more such essays.

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