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Be interested in quashing mental illness myths

Tuesday October 11 2016

A Mombasa resident walks into the Port Reitz Mental Hospital on October 10, 2016. Living with mental illness is a challenge. PHOTO | WACHIRA MWANGI | NATION MEDIA GROUP

A Mombasa resident walks into the Port Reitz Mental Hospital on October 10, 2016. Living with mental illness is a challenge. PHOTO | WACHIRA MWANGI | NATION MEDIA GROUP 

NGARE KARIUKI
By NGARE KARIUKI
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Everyone knew him as Ochieng. Every evening, he would stand on this rock near our house in Kipkaren Estate, Eldoret, and start addressing everyone and no one.

The first thing that drew me to Ochieng was his impeccable English.

He was eloquent and sounded learned. Ochieng quoted classical philosophers and recited works of literature. He was a walking encyclopedia.

Even in my teens, I was too young to understand half of what Ochieng was talking about.

Yet I was drawn to him. I ignored his dishevelled look, cracked feet and tattered clothes.

If it is true that every marketplace has its mad man, Ochieng was ours. 

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However, I could never reconcile his looks and behaviour with the fact that this mad man sounded educated.

More than a decade later, I was diagnosed with a custom-made “madness”.

I have been on anti-depressants for more than a year now, but I believe I have lived with depression for years.

One day, I just couldn’t get out of bed. I didn’t want to go to work or do anything and didn’t care about the consequences.

It is normal for a person to be bedridden by a disease and start worrying about losing their job.

Depression straps you to the bed and numbs your worry-meter so that you don’t care about getting dismissed.

I remember walking into the NMG Human Resource manager’s office and telling her: “I am not able to work or do anything and I don’t know why.”

Luckily, Ms Jane Muiruri was more than supportive. She recommended that I go for a check-up.

That is when doctors stumbled upon my depression. Even with that, it has not been an easy year.

Knowing the problem and beginning therapy has not eradicated the challenges of living with mental illness.

I still have low days. I have to work twice as hard as colleagues to be “normal” at the office.

Relationships are strained because many people do not know about my condition.

The major plus in being diagnosed with clinical depression is that I can spot kindred spirit a mile away, but it is sad that mental illness is little understood.

Myths associated with being “crazy” can be devastating.

My grandfather killed himself after struggling with depression for decades. My father battled it to his grave.

Until my diagnosis, the narrative was that men in my family were cursed.

What other conclusion do you draw when the condition seems to defy traditional medicine?

“Depression is real” is more than a cliché. It is a rallying cry to those who may be having mental illness and people who love them.

Get interested. Learn about mental health and help smash the myths.

Be a champion for care and recovery.

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