Samantha NkiroteMcKenzie made news when she started an online fund to get out of debt following a long fight with depression. She speaks to Fridah Mlemwa about what inspired the fundraiser, and how it’s going.
“I didn’t realise that even though I don’t want to be defined by my illness, maybe there is value (in sharing it),” says 31-year-old Samantha Nkirote McKenzie.
Samantha began sharing her struggles with clinical depression on social media this year after four years of treating the condition. Clinical depression is a mental health disorder characterised by persistently depressed mood or loss of interest in activities, causing significant impairment in daily life, according to Mayo Clinic.
COMING TO TERMS
“I was really struggling to wake up in the morning, like I couldn’t get up even though I knew I had to get up,” Samantha says. “I had no interest in anything. I used to love reading but I hadn’t read a book in years. Then I was feeling pain in one side of my body and there was no apparent cause. I would just be in so much pain and I wouldn’t know what it was.
"I hardly slept. I had no appetite, just surviving off sugar and caffeine. I found it almost impossible to do very simple tasks such as showering or brushing my teeth. It was an inability to carry out normal functions, and not so much feelings.”
Clinical depression is a more severe form of depression, and it is not caused by a loss, such as the death of a loved one, or a medical condition, or a traumatic experience.
“I think that life takes a toll on humans. As we go through life, the good and the bad affects our bodies. But what I have is clinical depression. It is not caused by one specific thing. It is just a chemical imbalance in my brain. So that’s why it’s important that people understand that depression is not an emotion, it’s a chemical imbalance. The anti-depressants try to balance the chemicals in your brain so that it functions like a normal human,” explains Samantha.
Samantha started taking the medication after meditating, vitamins, changes to her diet, acupuncture and lots of other therapies failed to help her. On the advice of her family doctor, she was able to accept her condition and start on her medications. She has had to change medication and vary dosages of anti-depressants over the last couple of years.
“The thing about anti-depressants is that even after I finally agreed to take them, they don’t actually start working for three to six weeks. But then, slowly, (the chemicals) started to build up in my system and I started to feel like myself again. I could breathe. I could go outside. Make tea. I felt like a normal person. I could see people.”
LIVING WITH DEPRESSION
As she struggled with the severe depression, she lost jobs and her friends started thinning. It is difficult to make people understand a disease they can’t see. “It was frustrating that my mum didn’t understand what I was going through and how I had changed so much. It was actually after she had read an article in a newspaper and she was like, ‘Ooh this is what depression is!’”
After years of battling with depression, this year seems to have marked a turnaround for Samantha’s health. “I had problems and huge debts from last year, and I told myself there was nothing I could do about it. This year I feel stronger and more resolved to take back control of my life,” she says.
“I decided to be honest (with friends and others). (I had been) hiding at home (because) I couldn’t tell people what I was going through. I realised I couldn’t make it another year the way I was living.”
Samantha took a major step in asking for help. “This year, the biggest thing I have done is ask for help. I don’t like to ask for help, but I realised to make another year, I needed to do it. So I told my friends this January, I need your help to help me shop. I need your help to do a meal plan because I can’t figure it out for myself. I need you to help me exercise. I need you to just come over and just stay.”
She has started living each day at a time, creating routines like planning her day, eating well and exercising to manage the depression. “I love lists, so I put Sam on top of the list every day to make sure I don’t forget about myself. I try to make sure that there is consistency in my life.”
When Samantha started an online campaign to raise funds to pay her hospital bills, she didn’t expect social media to be a kind place – but it has been just that, kind.
“I started my M-changa account on April 19, to get out of debt, but it has become more than that. Strangers contact me telling me ‘thank you’ or ‘my mum died from suicide’ or ‘I am struggling right now; do you have any advice?’ It really surprised me how many people were suffering. I didn’t think I would make an impact by trying to raise money. But by telling my story, I did.”