Sometimes, life may feel scary, demanding and disorderly.
Infrequently, it may be easy to smell the coffee when things aren’t adding up and enquire from within, “I’m I having a mental disorder?”
This is a common rhetoric which not only needs the right approach, but also a quick one.
Having the signs and symptoms up your sleeves positions you at a vantage point to realize it when things start falling apart and seek help from mental health specialists.
Waweru Muthumbi, a Nairobi-based businessperson, and Ruth Kwamboka, a Kisii-based ICT officer were both diagnosed with anxiety disorders, while Donah Sarange is a training counselling psychologist and experienced physiotherapist at Kisii Teaching and Referral Hospital. Their stories give us a clear perspective of what it is to battle and win over mental illness.
Muthumbi was born and bred in Eldoret, Uasin Gishu County. He is the lastborn in a family of five.
His story started unveiling in 2001, after joining Gilgil High School.
Unlike his schoolmates who got visited by family members during school events, he himself didn’t enjoy a similar privilege.
Concerned and psychologically distressed, “At first, I did not think much about it and I thought since we lived at Eldoret and the school was in Gilgil, which is far, that was the reason I was not being visited,” he explains.
Muthumbi requested his mother, who was ailing from a terminal disease, to transfer him to a nearby school, which she did.
At Paul Boit High School in Sugoi, Eldoret, Muthumbi joined form two for the rest of his high school education, up to 2005 when he completed his secondary school education.
Here, a continued absence of family members’ concern at a time when he most needed it affected his mental status.
“I even started hating myself at that time,” Muthumbi remembers. He started drinking alcohol while in form two.
On this, Sarange, a counselling psychologist, comments that when kids grow without family love and attention, they feel neglected and empty, filling that space with drugs, sex and co-dependency.
They later find themselves in darkness, enveloped in guilt and thinking of suicide.
“Trying to maintain the ‘feel good’ feeling, I ended up introducing myself to kuber and with time I was deep into cigarettes and other stuffs,” he narrates.
In 2007, the post-election violence pushed him into a worse state.
Bruised by life and still mentally volatile, yet living with his niece and now partially blind mother, he had to struggle for their survival and security.
In 2008, he moved from home and still struggling with depression, stress and drug abuse, got married and had a kid.
Afterwards, he started battling suicidal thoughts.
“I did my first attempt in 2008. I wanted to take my life and that of my young family, but it was not successful,” he says.
In 2011, his mother and only close friend in the family succumbed to the sickness. Lonely and grieving, Muthumbi made a second unsuccessful suicide attempt.
This made him lose his small family in 2012.
In December 2015, a year after his father’s death, he made a third attempt, only to wake up in a psychiatric hospital three days later.
It was at this point that he was first diagnosed with depression and anxiety disorder, which had troubled him for fourteen years.
There, a lady psychiatrist helped him open up and accommodated his situation for the next thirteen days he stayed in hospital.
“She brought up the issue in a way I appreciated and helped me make a liberal decision into a rehabilitation center,” he narrates.
The same year, 2016, he was through with rehabilitation, moved to Nairobi and got married.
“This was the start of my healing journey,” he appreciates.
Ruth Kwamboka’s story brings us closer.
The 36-year-old mother of three boys got an unplanned pregnancy in 2019.
As a single mother, she was first soaked in denial and felt unable to accept the reality. She wondered how she would pull through with the three kids.
Abortion thoughts clattered her mind.
“However, because of my beliefs, I ended up keeping the baby because I know what it means to terminate a pregnancy,” she said.
At the onset of COVID-19 in March 2020, she could no longer go to work, just like many other Kenyans.
The fact that she was at home alone (with the kids) who needed provisions shoved her into an embarrassing situation and painful thoughts lurked in her mind.
Why fear set in
“When I was seven months pregnant, I just woke up in the middle of the night. I was so terrified and sweating profusely. I could not explain why these fears were in me,” she recalls.
Groping for help, she called her friend for assistance.
Days later, the situation was getting out of hand.
“I started fearing darkness (nyctophobia). At night, I would have hot flashes and burning sensations,” she narrates.
“What was going on in my life was just fear, everything was fear,” she adds.
Gradually, the previous lover of kids started disliking her own!
According to Sarange, withdrawal, lack of interest and finding irritation in things which used to keep you ecstatic are red flags surrounding mental instability.
Muthumbi adds self-isolation and sudden negative change of behavior into the list.
Fear of rains and daytime, noise and others crept in. Even worse, “When I was eight months pregnant, I didn’t want the baby to turn!”
Nobody was aware that she was facing hard, confusing times.
Even with these red flags, she was oblivious of what she was suffering from.
Thinking the baby was the source of her misfortunes, she called her doctor for a caesarian section to have the baby out of her body, though a month earlier! It didn’t happen, though.
“Later, after getting my baby in May 2021 and realizing he had nothing to do with my issues, I realized I had a problem and sought help,” she admits.
In June 2021, the psychotherapist diagnosed Kwamboka with an anxiety disorder, unlike the postpartum depression many people hold that breastfeeding mothers have.
She then commenced medication and psychotherapy sessions, by the help of her medic sister.
She could easily identify with the diagnosis because she had been wrestling with normal daily chores and couldn’t finish up on any activity.
“I would sit down to eat but the next minute I would go wash the utensils, only to see a misplaced broom and go to pick it. It was all mixed-up,” she recalls.
She accepts that external factors such as place of residence, people’s responses and approaches to issues also contributed to her struggles.
Her gradual healing has been informed by the strategies she embraced.
Sarange notes that the first step towards healing is acknowledging the mental problem and working on it.
In her healing journey, self-love, self-empathy and opening up has helped Kwamboka a great deal.
Hope, inner peace and her spiritual inclination have played a major role too.
Muthumbi has since embraced his hobbies and monetized them.
They include driving and IT.
The two, through personalized healing strategies, have been able to find strength and life’s purpose.
They believe that anyone can battle mental health issues successfully and emerge victorious.
Kwamboka now appreciates the ‘fear and confusion period’ for making her strong and helping her realize who she is and what she wanted.
She remembers calling her sister regularly for help on mental issues, only to be turned off.
Similarly, Muthumbi says “I had struggled to open up and share but nobody wanted to listen to me.”
This reminds us that when people seek audience with us, we are obliged to make ourselves approachable and reliable.
Though the African setting has associated such mental health conditions with curses, witchcraft and doings of the devil, both Kwamboka and Muthumbi have a consensus that it’s a sickness like any other and everyone stands vulnerable.
Kwamboka points out that many times, we never realize when our friends are passing through mental turmoil because the red flags escape our attention.
Depending on the quality, length and the victim’s response to psychotherapy sessions and other factors, the cost differs, ranging from as low as Ksh. 1500 to a staggering 10,000 or more per session.
Muthumbi chides the place of self-medication through drugs and alcohol, exhorting patients to seek medical attention.
As a patient who has been through the hands of several doctors, Kwamboka admits that the need to train Kenya’s medical personnel calls loudly.
Though the trio agrees that the government has a lot to do, they champion for personalized steps on the part of those affected.
Opening up for help, seeking psychotherapy, self-love, joining a support group and remaining hopeful prove essential.
Kwamboka has been delivering counselling services for free. She believes that one of her purposes is instilling hope by sharing her own journey and encouraging patients to embrace pragmatic approaches.
For such mental assistance, her contact is firstname.lastname@example.org.
Muthumbi’s contact: email@example.com.
YOU CAN ALSO READ: Rethinking Kenya’s state of mental health amidst Covid-19