World Health Organisation (WHO) indicates that there are 450 million people in the world suffering from mental illnesses.
This includes conditions such as depression, bipolar, schizophrenia and behavioral issues.
Locally it is said that 2% of the population in Botswana falls within this group.
Whilst many agree that these statistics are a cause for concern, the subject of mental health is one hardly discussed.
People suffer in silence. Culturally there is no understanding of what constitutes these illnesses and often they are dismissed as witchcraft or plain madness.
In 2009 I had an incident that led to my being diagnosed as depressed and put on medication and therapy. Initially I was taken aback.
After all, wasn’t depression being crazy? I had left the office just after 8pm as I had done on so many occasions. I found that with little distractions of a full office, I could get more done after hours.
I was in the car park and could not locate where I had parked my car. I felt panic and my chest tightened.
Then I felt my cheeks burn and realized I was crying. This annoyed me and I was concerned by what people would think and say should they see me.
As other cars passed and their light hit my face, I completely lost it and just bawled right there in the car park.
In my haste to avoid being seen by anyone I knew I abandoned my mission to find my car and went to the bathrooms in the building.
At this point I was weeping and completely panicked. I couldn’t understand what was going on. I thought the whole situation was absurd.
I had no clue about what to do so I stood there in the bathrooms and just cried. Following a call for help, a prescription was given for something to help calm me down and assist me to sleep.
The following day I saw a doctor. Her asking me why I was dressed up caught me off guard. I thought to myself, what?
She asked if I had pets, played a sport, a hobby perhaps, kids, a partner anything outside work and my answer to all these were in the negative.
I couldn’t follow where she was getting at. I had pushed myself so hard and for so long I didn’t even realize when I couldn’t take it anymore.
I lived with a constant sharp pain in my shoulder blade, which I had dismissed to bad posture.
Following a long conversation and many more afterwards punctuated by my breaking down I still couldn’t identify with the diagnoses and course of treatment I was to follow. For days I cried every day.
I felt horribly ill and deeply sad. Then I didn’t want to do anything. I wished I could just lie in bed and never have to get up.
So I stayed in bed. Slowly with therapy and a combination of medications and other exercises the doctor had me follow I understood that I was not okay and it was fine not to be okay.
My mother was my best friend and I went through life engaging her in all I did. When she passed on in 2013, I was a complete wreck.
I was sad all the time and found it difficult to concentrate in school. I sought counseling and was advised that I needed to freeze my studies to sort through my emotions.
I had lost control of my life and was constantly in a daze. I drank a lot so I didn’t have to feel anything. This also affected my studies and ultimately my relationship with my family.
My father was against counseling and felt it confused me further hence my wanting to drop out of school.
The more the rift between us widened the sadder I became. I couldn’t talk to anyone. I had not known anyone that had experienced the feelings I had.
I had trouble sleeping and getting anything done. I felt physically sick and missed my mother even more.
I thought life was not worth living. Once out of school, I could not access counseling and for a while I felt lost.
I couldn’t get a job and my family felt I was useless. I turned to prayer and reading scripture. Then sought counsel with a pastor.
In addition I read motivational books and I felt much better and ready to pick myself up.
I felt overwhelmed by life. Though I was employed and doing relatively well, I felt it wasn’t enough.
There is a lot of pressure to succeed and attain so much. For the longest time I was happiest at work and in a relationship I was in.
When the relationship crumbled at the same time things were not going smoothly at work, I panicked.
I felt physically and emotionally sick. I had difficulty sleeping and when I finally fell asleep it was hard to get up in the mornings.
When I shared this with friends, my feelings were dismissed and I was told that it was just a little stress and it would pass.
It didn’t and I felt like I was falling in a deep pit. I would cry myself to sleep and even on good days with a smile on my face, I didn’t feel great.
I felt like a fraud. I was happy on the outside but falling apart on the inside. I knew I needed help.
Through therapy I learnt that it was normal to feel all that I did. I also learnt that I had unwittingly attached my happiness to someone and a job.
I was taught tools to deal with my depression and anxiety and further sought spiritual enlightenment.
– Depression is not discriminatory (can affect anyone)
– There are different degrees of depression (can be mild, debilitating, chronic)
– Depression is manageable (through counseling, medication, therapy, coping mechanisms)
– One can relapse after treatment (life presents challenges all the time but awareness of one’s mental state is helpful)