Have you ever lost someone or something you deeply, madly, truly loved or believed in? How long did the pain last? Could you quantify it if given measuring instruments? How did you get over the pain and learn to love or believe in love again? Now imagine being suspended in that limbo of pain and being immune or unconscious in it for a prolonged period of time. A place where laughter and joy are alien. When you are ‘just there’ for a very long time you know nowhere else. That is the life of someone living with depression.
Depression is a mental illness that is very common yet goes unnoticed because many people disregard it as an illness and society ‘expects’ us to ‘man up’, not to be weaklings, to face things head on, to snap out of it. So those of us who spent most of our lives at the ‘just there’ station are seen as either lazy or unfocused or worse off, bewitched and cursed.
I had my first real depressive experience way back in 2003 when I got raped. This was just a year after getting my first ever seizure attack (many believe the rape ordeal was the genesis of my mental health issues, the affair began a year before). I was raped by the bestfriend of the boy i was seeing at the time and i was only 18 years old . Back then Google was at my fingertips, I did not know how to tell anyone so i decided to ‘snap out of it’ but there are hurts and pains you just cannot snap out of. It is a deep dark hole, a black bubble as one of my friends says. So I began writing and that’s how I ended up in the poetic world. I wrote about the ordeal how best I could remember it. Although I was knocked out through most of it, i had recollections. These recollections were of pieces of me being stolen, bit by bit with every pump in and pump out he did and the more I wrote the dirtier I felt and the unworthier I became. Why was I still a virgin to that date only to let it all go? Yes now I know I did not let it all go, but I was one of those girls. I believed in purity until marriage,I believed in faithfullness and true love…deep down I still do but the stakes are higher because the man not only has to respect my sexual ‘not happenings’ but also my bipolar shifts; my mania and depressive states and the twitching…we are a whole package like that. The thing with writing when you are depressed which I have learnt over the years is that it liberates. All you have is a blank sheet of paper and a pen, they have no opinions or comments or suggestions, they are open to receive you and your pain or ‘just there’ mood, they are always there at all times, they let you cry on them and tear and throw them away and tomorrow, they will still be there.
I wasn’t able to get the medical attention or psychosocial attention I required in good time so from the Sunday 15th June 2003 until September when I joined the University of Nairobi to pursue my Actuarial Science, I just wanted to be alone, I did not want to leave the house, I had a certain view about men and love and trust which comes out a lot when I am manic. I learnt the art of zoning out which I still practice today. Fast forward to many years later, I know I should have told someone but I was ashamed, I was afraid, I thought it was my fault, then I thought bad thing happen to bad people and I must have been bad at one point or another. I spend my time when I get the chance talking to girls, standing for sexual and reproductive rights among other related campaigns so that they have a smooth transition.
I also pass the lessons of my limbo days so that others know they are not alone and so that they do not suffer in silence and I am so excited that this year, the World Mental Health Federation has decided to focus on Depression and their theme tag is Depression- a global crisis. This is a real illness that needs attention now. A lot of people suffer in silence, this people are our fathers, our mothers, our daughters, our brothers and we have to act now.Suicide cases on the rise have depression as a base.
So what really causes depression? Are some people naturally weak in a survival for the fittest society? Well the causes of depression range across the board; from trauma like my rape ordeal, war e.g the Post Elections Violence in Kenya, some medication and substance and alcohol abuse to lifestyle. Coping mechanisms vary like person types; there are tall and short people,there are naturally slim and naturally curved women and that’s how it is when coping with issues. The trick is to be on top of your own game. Know how much you can take and how much is too much. Life taught me the only person I have to prove myself to is me. If I am happy with Sitawa as she is and her values then I am good.
We live in a society where I have to be associated with, be like, be greater than and I won’t lie being Number 1 rocks but at what cost? Different people deal with depression differently, here are some great ways;
1. Medication – antidepressants,
2. Support groups help a lot,
3. Exercise or a simple evening walk,
4. Healthy eating
5. Avoid alcohol and drugs
6.The sunflower is also a depression anti dote. A walk in a sunflower field is worth all the methods wrapped in one.
7. Art therapy – writing, drawing, painting
8. Be you
Do you or someone you know have depression? What is the root cause?What coping mechanisms work for you? Share with me on firstname.lastname@example.org or @sitawawafula.
Sitawa Wafula is a poet and Kenya’s Mental Health Ambassador living with bipolar syndrome and epilepsy. Her articles will be based on the October Month used to mark World Mental Health month. she will raise awareness of different illnesses and teach us how to cope with them.