At 30 years of age, Dikatso Selemogwe presents a picture perfect life of an over achiever.
Her accomplishments include being named a finalist in the2016 inaugural edition of Gabz FM / Mail &Guardian 50 Change Makers under 40 and while riding high on that wave she was in the same year selected as one of the most outstanding youth leaders in SADC and participated in President Barrack Obama’s Young African Leaders Initiative (YALI).
Dk as she is popularly called says; “I was proud of myself and ecstatic that I could use these new platforms to further the important work of spreading awareness to key issues often overlooked or swept under the carpet such as mental health.”
In addition to these notable accolades, Selemogwe is an award winning journalist that bagged two of the four MISA awards she was nominated for in 2014 for her stellar journalism work while still employed at Botswana Guardian and Midweek Sun.
Surprisingly Selemogwe achieved this including obtaining a Bachelors Degree while living with mental disorders.
“I completed my Bachelors Degree staying alone in South Africa, heavily depressed but never failed a single module, never had to retake an exam and graduated within the stipulated time. I managed to push myself to build myself a Byline with local media in South Africa and when I came home with a Bachelor of Arts in Journalism I came with reasonable work experience.” She goes on to say; “I have always been a child who found it difficult to ‘fit in’ with other kids especially in my teens. I have always been a loner and teary. But only when I started University I got a proper diagnosis. My condition started as Severe Chronic Depression. I was diagnosed with Depression, Bipolar Two Disorder, Generalised Anxiety Disorder (GAD) and Panic Disorders. Mental illnesses usually come in a spectrum so all these conditions are related to one another.”
Although Selemogwe goes through life managing her illness with a host of activities that include taking a daily cocktail of medications, meditation and attending sessions with her doctors, she continues to lead a “normal life”.
People are fearful of what they do not understand and can be cruel even if unintentionally so.
“When I say I am not well people always expect me to prove it. But unlike physical illness where you can bleed, vomit or swell up, with mental illness it all happens in my brain and can’t always be proved. In a lot of instances e.g. at the workplace when you ask to be excused for being unwell, people assume you are lazy and just want to dodge work. People say “but you don’t look sick.”
Another challenge is stigma; some people don’t believe you can be productive just because you live with a mental condition.
Selemogwe says this influences mental patients and indeed their families to conceal the illness from others.
“Most people around me only got to know about my conditions last year. I have always kept it to my immediate family and myself. Many people thought I was joking because they said I looked “clean, had a job, and dressed normal”; forgetting that like any other illness there are degrees to that illness. So I strive to show people that mental illness is not reserved for certain people.
Anyone can get affected. Painfully though, upon revealing her condition Selemogwe discovered the dark side of sharing.
“Some people removed themselves from my life when they found out that I am a patient at Sbrana Psychiatric Hospital. Some have changed the way they treat me. It’s like they walking on eggshells around me. Some even make fun and shun me.”
Relationships, Selemogwe explains are a challenge as it seems people don’t have the patience of being involved with someone who might get mood swings or panic attacks at any moment, so they fizzle out and hardly last.
“Some guy I used to be close to and almost started dating vanished when he found out I was sick, saying he fears going to jail for dating a ‘mentally ill’ person.”
As if that was not hard enough Selemogwe has to contend with nasty comments concerning her image.
“People always make fun of my weight gain which is actually a side effect of my daily psychiatric medication. I just try to smile and ignore them but it’s unpleasant. Such nasty remarks can make some patients decide to skip medication and that exposes them to higher chances of a relapse. Living with mental illness is a heavy daily battle because we have to fight to get through the day in our brains.”
To manage, Selemogwe says; “I read a lot about my conditions and link with others who live with it.
It gives me strength. I follow online support group pages mostly in the UK and USA where we share our feelings.
I also meditate and do a bit of yoga to keep my mind engaged. Naturally I am a highly determined person. My psychologists taught me to take each day as it comes and live in the moment.
I keep busy with community volunteer work where I see many heartbreaking situations that make me appreciate my life and inspire me to help others.”
Last year Selemogwe and a group of young people founded an NGO called Embrace Emotions Support Network (EESN).
“We strive to spread awareness, create support groups for patients and caretakers of people with mental illnesses and reduce stigma. This is done in collaboration with other stakeholders to advocate for rights of people with mental conditions. Recently I was a guest speaker at Botswana Development Corporation (BDC)’s commemoration of World Health Day. I applaud such companies who are progressive and care about their staff wellness and health especially when they include mental health. I also give talks at seminars and volunteer with Red Cross and Baylor Children’s Clinical Centre for Excellence where I mentor young kids living with HIV.”
Selemogwe advises that it is important to be informed. “I advise people not to shy away from seeking professional help and join support groups online if you don’t have any near you. Support is basically understanding our illnesses and respecting it when we say we are not well.
I have been getting my help from Marina Hospital and Sbrana Psychiatric Hospital and quiet impressed by how much they try.
The only big challenge is shortage of psychologists in hospitals, which I hope government will rectify soon.
Selemogwe beams when she talks of her passions including a pet rabbit called Mariano.
“Caring for it keeps me calm and it’s therapeutic. I enjoy travelling, backpacking, camping and hiking. I also enjoy watching the sunset, it relaxes me,” she says