Three months ago, I turned 26. I usually don’t celebrate my birthday; I always treat it like a normal day.
I am the type of person who believes that we should only celebrate when there is something meaningful.
However, this year, I felt utter disgust on my birthday. It did not make sense that I was turning one year older and my life had no meaning. There was absolutely nothing to celebrate and the idea of a new year just meant that I would relive the agonising trauma and pain that has been in my life for quite some time.
On March 19, 2018, I was diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), something I had suffered from in silence for the past two years. I remember the befuddled look the psychiatrist gave me when she asked why I didn't seek help earlier, to which I responded: "No one can feel my pain. No one can make this go away."
The truth is, I knew what all these terms meant as I had attended a training on mental health. Each time I experienced a different symptom, I kept note of how I felt. Ultimately, this confirmed to me that I was suffering from a mental illness. What I did not realise was that I was caught up in something I would term as a living nightmare; I could not wake up from it.
It hurts. It hurts knowing that I form part of a statistic in my country of the women who have faced a form of gender-based violence. It hurts knowing that my assailant walks freely, while society decides to look away at his actions.
It hurts knowing that when I open up about such issues I become another juicy story for a group of people; and some do not want to get involved or spread awareness about gender-based violence, all they would rather do is tweet about it, discuss it over lunch or drinks and label me as a ‘poor girl who should have seen this coming’.
It hurts knowing that I will never be the same again, knowing that there is a part of me that is damaged. It hurts knowing that I have to face an environment that does not understand my circumstances and blames my outbursts as ‘PMS’, ‘attitude problems’ and ‘being a woman’.
It hurts. It hurts knowing that when I speak about my mental health, I risk being written off as ‘unworthy’, ‘incapable’ and ‘unstable’ not only as a human being but also as a professional lawyer. It hurts knowing that for the past two years I have been masquerading as a happy and confident young woman while in reality I despise my very existence.
I feel alone, worthless and misunderstood. Every time I stand in front of the mirror, I confront the reality of a broken person. I am not okay, and that is okay because that is my first step towards recovery.
JOURNEY TO HEALING
I promise to cry each time I am down, to hold myself tightly when I am afraid and to relive each flashback when I am triggered, so I can become stronger. I have decided not to suppress what I feel inside; that each time I look at myself in the mirror I’ll appreciate my broken self because without acceptance, I cannot truly heal.
It is terrifying waking up each day not knowing the time and the place where I will be triggered and my thoughts will take me back to the place where it all began. Each time I go back, I feel like I am drowning; falling into a bottomless pit where no one can help me. I always try to scream but no one seems to hear.
Even after months of therapy, I feel like there is no light at the end of the tunnel and many times I would rather skip the appointment, which I do sometimes. I recently stopped going for therapy because it became too intense and I couldn't take it anymore. But I plan to resume when I'm ready.
I do not know if there will be an end to this misery but I keep trying; I keep trying to get better. I am trying out new things, such as writing, to help me deal with stress.
I cannot erase the trauma I suffered but I hope to manage the PTSD. I am working on being more vocal about it, especially with people in my circles like my family and friends. It makes me accept and appreciate what I'm going through. It also makes me comfortable that they know what I'm facing and that they encourage me through the rough patches. I am trying to move on from what happened, to learn to trust more and to accept help from others.
I feel that no one ever fully addresses the raw feelings experienced when one suffers from a mental illness. In most African societies, people do not speak out about their issues and in the long run many people suffer in silence.
We need to be sensitive to the feelings of others and not see mental illness as a weakness or a ‘first world problem’. I would like to participate in initiatives that raise awareness about mental health, and sexual and gender-based violence. I hope to do more when I’m mentally stronger.
I hope that through sharing my feelings and struggles, I have made a connection with someone and given them the courage to face their struggles and know that in time you will overcome this pain. I hope you will have the courage to seek help. And I hope more people will be aware of mental health issues and often check up on their loved ones and offer them support. #feelmypain
Off My Chest is an open forum for anyone who wants to share their story or write letters they have always wanted to write.