Intelligent. Kenyan.

Published: 2 years ago

A Madness Foretold

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 Awuor Onyango

Part 2

Location: Nairobi, Kenya. April 2013 and beyond

Dad picks me up from the airport. I am sure to apologize for the trouble and let him know it’s not his fault. We don’t hug, and I do not cry too loudly. My mother hugs me; my sisters are home to look at me and ask what is wrong. I have lost weight, I am not eating, I cannot sleep. I had practiced what I would say when they asked…because they were going to ask! Looking at them, I think of all my childhood nicknames…weirdo, demon child, crazy daisy.

“Do you even have emotions?”

My sister had asked me once.

“Of all my children, only you can do a PhD. PhDs break people’s minds…and yours is already broken.”

My father had said to me as my sister went for her masters. Why are they shocked that it came to this? I tell them about the Asperger’s and the schizotypy.

“Not everyone is a hundred percent upstairs.”

My crying sister assures me.

Nairobi is blurred and beautiful through my uncontrollable tears, full of things that make me anxious; noises, people, smells, sunshine that threatens to pierce your skin with thorny rays. It feels like someone painted it a slight sepia tint. The ground seems too alive. I haven’t seen ants or felt grass rub itself against my ankles in months and it all makes me want to scream at nature to leave me alone! Here, everyone and everything is watching everything I do and I am trying to smile and pretend, but I woke up and there was a red broom in my room which looked like a vein and I thought the wall was pulsating and closing in on me, and I tried my best to hold back the screams.

I miss the darkness of Canada, the silence, the lack of humanity, the lack of eyes. My mother comes to check up on me, standing there with her concern wielded like a bat, beating me back into shape. I always leak out though, as soon as she leaves I leak out and search for a darkness to hide in.

I can’t go outside…I don’t trust outside.

I can’t sleep when I can hear the neighbour’s dog breath as if it was right in my ear and when every car that passes bye assaults my senses.

Dad hasn’t been around and it has been weeks of me uncurling myself and crawling out of dark places to appease my worried mother. I trick him into taking me to the hospital and beg the doctor to refer me to a psychiatrist. The doctor is reassuring;

“You don’t look Schizotypal at all…and Asperger’s is something you can just look at someone and say they have. You’ll be fine. I’m referring you to a psychiatrist; she’s a nice lady. You will like her.”

I always wanted someone to love me for my mind…but this psychiatrist is crazy! No…apparently I am crazy. I thought it was not possible to be more depressed. She arrived late. I was there, sitting in a room full of people, drawing my niece so that I wouldn’t have to interact with them or smell their life stories and wonder after them as I usually did. The woman next to me is impressed by my charcoal drawing. She announces to everyone that I could draw everyone in this room!

You are not my family. I do not care for you. If you try and prod me into normalcy I will hiss at you!

I want to say this, but I smile.

The nurse asks me a few questions; I can’t answer them.

“Any history of mental disease in your family?”

My family is mental

She smiles at this, as if her family is too.

My Aunt Hellen committed suicide. My sister is named after her.

That is all I know. I who asks people for their deepest pleasures have never asked my family for our deepest secrets…looks like my dad will be the one to answer her questions.

The psychiatrist apologizes for being late and stares at me as if she is looking through my soul. I know she isn’t and I do not play along. There is no art in her office, no sign of books, no photographs, no whispers of humanity. I had practiced what I was going to tell her…I had traced my weirdness to its very roots and was going to lay them bare before her and say “How can we put this together without blunting my edges. I do not want to fit in a box” but sitting there with her looking through me, I just wanted a pat in the back and a send-off.

Actually I would like a short stay in a mental ward…It’s very Sylvia Plath, I know, but it would give me some space from my family and their constant need to see me up and running again.

“We don’t do asylums anymore.”

She says when I ask casually.

So…the Canadian Psychologist thinks I may have Asperger’s, I have always thought of myself as functionally schizotypal like Dali, she thinks I am schizophrenic, and my sister took it upon herself to find me another psychiatrist, one whom I could like and relate to, and this one thinks I am bipolar; fine! I am not mentally sound! I get it! How I am not mentally sound is subject to great intellectual debate apparently.

I thought my visit to the psychiatrist would be a relief… I only feel a solid dislike for her. She gave me a prescription and asked to see me in a week. This worried me because the person before me was being seen after three months. I stared at the pills for a long time… I even thought of taking them, a perfectly functioning individual could rise from five pill bottles. I would need five bottles of pills for the rest of my life just to keep my feet on the ground. Who needs feet!

“You look worse.”

I shake my head.

What does she want, that I spring out of depression in a week? That I run through a meadow with my coconut bra and loin cloth singing praises to Ra and Hathor?

“Did you take the medication?”

No.

I want talk therapy…but not with her; so I don’t say anything.

“If you don’t take the medication then we will have to inject you.”

She smiles.

I do not fear injections.

I don’t have the energy to tell her that that’s not a threat.

The nurse notices that I am a human being and not a brain that needs to fit into a DSM definition of some kind of psychosis or another. She speaks to me softly. She has a daughter (fictional or real) about my age and thinks I am just too young to be in this position. I can put my life together and get past this.

It is important in life that you function…otherwise society will have no use for you; and society is dangerously utilitarian.

I look up schizophrenia. I only remember Halle Berry in a movie where she was a “crack whore” that had left her child in a dumpster during a schizophrenic episode; she was in court fighting for custody. I look like a crack whore who would leave her child in a dumpster. I watch “Perception” with my sister….the main character has the same symptoms I have…he is schizophrenic, so maybe I am. My sister says I was special from the very start, that it is a gift not a burden; that my senses are seventeen times as alive and I should use their screams for something. Dr. Pierce in Perception seems to be dealing with his shit quite well. I research Schizophrenia, so does my mother, she thinks she does it secretly but computer history and the folder downloaded on her desktop with the title Schizophrenia sell her out.

My father thinks it’s because I haven’t been to church in a few years. He is also the only person who dislikes the psychiatrist more than I do. I think she asked him some uncomfortable questions. How dare she diagnose his precious future ICC judge with schizophrenia? He is always threatening to find me a new psychiatrist, and I am always hoping he does; as long as it’s not my cousin. He always shouts at her during my visits at the psychiatrist.

Once I went with my mom, because my psychiatrist asked nicely. We sat in the waiting room when I recognized someone. I sat there for a while, staring at him as discretely as I could, until I was too excited to be quiet! My mind was roaring with possible meanings to this coincidence.

Mom!

Mom!

My mom leaned in

That’s Billy Kahora!

“Who?”

Billy Kahora!

“Billy Kahora?”

My mom can’t whisper and he looks up. I almost jump out of the window but my mom won’t let it go

“Who is Billy Kahora?”

He’s a writer mom.

Okay.

You sat next to David Rudisha during an eight hour flight, looked at photos of him on a dias receiving a gold medal in a Kenya uniform and still had no idea who he was; but now you’re sitting in a psychiatrist’s waiting room excited about a writer no one else in here knows. Do you see the world you live in?

She doesn’t say this, of course; but I hear her think it.

I smile apologetically, wonder if I should walk up to him and ask if he’d like to see my writing.

Why would he want to see my writing? What good will it do me? I can’t even write anymore; impulsive writing is a sign of schizophrenia!

I met this girl at the psychiatrists and she said she could write; I picture him saying. He’s not here to see my psychiatrist. He’s seeing a dermatologist who shares the waiting room. I saw Billy Kahora today!

I have to go outside with my sister and two friends by my side; it’s embarrassing. I am usually the strong one. We end up at The Nest for a chill movie night where the rest of my friends are.

“What are you doing home?”

I quit Law School. I’m also depressed and possibly schizophrenic

Silas carries me off my feet and says

“About goddamn time! What were you doing in Law School anyway?”

Someone else says

“Oh my god! You have to watch ‘A Beautiful Mind!’”

These are the problems with intelligent, creative people! You, Van Gogh, Jack Kerouac…y’all need to keep your shit together! Keep your shit together!!!!!

These were my friends! I could be a raging lunatic of a post-coital murderer and they would be okay with that; not just okay, but supportive.

No one has explained why I am home. My mother told her friends that I was sick and they all prayed for me. My sister and I had a misunderstanding and I cried for an hour; she had to apologize, but I was so overwrought with the thought of losing the one family member who sometimes understood me that she was just left sitting on my bed riding out my sobs until I fell asleep.

My mom always comes home and asks ‘How is she doing today?’ and they discuss me in silent voices…except my mom can’t whisper and I have the hearing of a bat because of my reduced latent inhibition. What happens is the brain usually picks out what to block out and what to pay attention to, sieving which stimuli to reply to and which one to ignore. My brain has basically decided ‘screw that’ and lets in almost everything. I can look at a fly, hear it buzz, feel its rough skin without touching and see its proboscis pulsating even hear its eyes move; imagine how I feel being in a room full of people!

I have managed to guilt my father into paying for Art School. I watch him cry. This is the second time in his life that he has cried; both times I have watched him. The day I arrived home from London for the summer, my uncle died in a helicopter crash; it was in the news when I woke up from the excitement of home. My father was sitting at the dinner table with tears in his eyes. I apologized, he said we had to go see Aunty Margaret, he and I, because my uncle had always taken a special interest in my education and we had to show respect.

This time he was seated on his bed, his hands covering his eyes as he cried.

“Of all my children why you?”

He felt guilty, confused, lost…he didn’t understand what had happened. He feels as if he traded me in for his aspirations. If only I could feel the pain he felt! He hasn’t even told my uncles; just one or two to ask for recommendations about psychiatrists that could heal me.

On an ordinary day I would heal instantly and be there for him, but today I feel an indignant rage.

I am the one who cannot trust my own brain! Me! And I have been here before and I have survived it, and I am trying to survive it this time with your help. You either offer it or watch me degenerate! Whichever you choose, do it in silence!

I leave him there crying. I would never do that to my father, yet there I was without remorse.

He pays for art school, after letting me know that the Dean of the Law School said I could join Nairobi if I wanted. Almost a year later, he gets me a psychiatrist I can stand. When I have to take the day off from school to see the psychiatrist I always say I am going to see the doctor; I have a kind of terminal illness and I have to go for a check-up every once in a while.

Once in a while I tell someone that I suffered from depression; I never mention the schizophrenia. I am still too attached to the Schizotypal personality disorder to believe the schizophrenia. I also still picture myself as a crack whore who leaves her baby in a dumpster during a schizophrenic episode. I am not free from it…at some point something will happen and I will be back on my bed, rowing my way through the turbulent carnivorous seas. It does not leave you…depression, Schizotypal personality disorder and schizophrenia…they stain your being, ever threatening to spread across your face and silence you forever.

Sometimes I walk through Harlem in search of Langston Hughes. He once asked what happened to a dream deferred; I would like to add to his question the fate of a madness foretold.

Awuor Onyango is a former reader of Laws who now has a vested interest in the creative industry with a focus on Fine Art, Photography, Fashion and Film. She is currently studying Fine Art and Film at Kenyatta University while also writing, taking photograph assignments and using her legal background to navigate the complicated arts, culture and societal murk through organizations such as African Art Agenda, which she co-founded, and others.  

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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