At the age of 13, I was told I was living with HIV and I had to start taking ARVs, it took my mind a while to digest the news. I barely understood what was being said to me. A year later I was hit by the reality of what was actually happening. Eventually it sunk in that I had contracted a deadly virus. I would never be able to get married and have children is how I mentally resolved my situation.
Then came a time where I cried myself to sleep every day, isolated myself, cut off my friends, dodged classes and exams. I carried a variety of emotions like pain, bitterness, hate, anger and sadness all courtesy of the very many unanswered questions I had. It’s after several years of living in denial and struggling to accept my HIV status that I eventually came to the realization of what I endured and what it is called “The 5 stages of grief that’s to say denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance”.
Denial: In this stage, we can’t believe what has happened to us. We are confused, fearful and shocked. Examples include; “I can’t believe he did this to me.” Or “I can’t believe my brother is dead”.
Anger: At this stage, we are frustrated and full of rage. Common phrases in this stage include; Why me? Am I cursed? Maybe God doesn’t love me. We are questioning our existence.
Bargaining: At this stage, we are negotiating with life. We are trying to find meaning in life. Common phrases are; if God could give me one more chance, I would make sure I am always there for my friends and family.
Depression: In this stage, we might withdraw from life, and feel like victims of circumstances. We might be locked in our past breakup. We might experience suicidal thoughts.
Acceptance: At this stage, there is awareness from the inner source. We realize that maybe we adopt a new mindset. We realize we can’t change others unless we change ourselves.
My emotions were unknowingly neglected as child who was struggling to accept her status. Because family encouraged me “show braveness, courage, don’t be sad, we don’t want to see you crying, stay strong”, they said. Encouraging young people to show no emotions is one of the very many stems of mental health disorders, this is how most of us were raised with traumatic childhood experiences where people were always fighting, quarreling, name calling, throwing insults, the inability to freely and openly express our emotions without being called weak, talk about our sexuality and being yelled at for even the slightest incident.
If parents can’t listen to the small stuff children share then let them not expect to hear about the big stuff. Many of us grew up in not only dysfunctional but also toxic families that sung the song of “men don’t cry, men are supposed to be strong and show no weakness” which led us to believe that this was okay and true.
Such incidences have an indescribable and invisible tremendous impact on the mental health of a child. The African culture would consider this the right way to groom a child, as they say “toughen them up”. We tend to forget that the children we abuse whether mentally, physically or emotionally today will be the ones that will take us down tomorrow. Family isn’t about blood. It’s about who is willing to hold your hand when you need it the most.
Mental health refers to a person’s overall emotional, psychological and social well-being. It affects how people think, feel and act. 1 in every 8 people in the world live with a mental disorder. Mental disorders involve significant disturbances in thinking, emotional regulation or behavior. There are many different types of mental disorders.
Stress is a feeling of emotional or physical tension expressed as frustration, anger or nervousness. Stress is your body’s reaction to a challenge or demand.
Anxiety is a normal emotion. It’s your brain’s way of reacting to stress and alerting you of potential danger ahead. Occasional anxiety is ok since everyone feels anxious now and then from a problem at work, before taking an exam or making an important decision.
Trauma is an emotional response to a terrible event like an accident, rape or natural disaster. Shock and denial are typical immediately after the event. Long term reactions include unpredictable emotions, flashbacks, strained relationships, and physical symptoms like headaches or nausea.
Depression (major depressive disorder) is a common and serious medical illness that negatively affects how you feel, the way you think and how you act. Also, the leading cause of disability worldwide and a major contributor to the overall global burden of disease.
More women are affected by depression than men, it leads to suicide. There is effective treatment for mild, moderate and severe depression.
Suicide is the act of intentionally causing one’s own death, it’s a serious public health problem. Its preventable with timely, evidence-based and often low-cost interventions.
Mental health is an extremely wide and interesting topic. I love how it taps into getting to know why people behave the way they do. Believe me when I say that we all have a reason as to why we do the things we do the exact way we do them. Some people have trust issues because they opened up to the wrong person who turned their secret public and so it is with mental health.
This goes to show that mental health cases like depression, stress, traumas, anxiety, suicide ideation manifest in the way we behave, I am talking sleeping through the day in a dark room, ignoring calls and texts, feeling lonely but not wanting company. Depression is a disease. It’s called the silent killer for a reason.
People fighting depression and suicidal thoughts need to know that there is no shame in being depressed, lonely, unloved and a failure. It is okay to not be okay, its okay to take a break from doing life, its okay to sometimes give up on yourself and that asking for a therapist’s help is part of the healing process. Its okay to show weakness and be vulnerable sometimes. And for the men, crying and asking for mental help isn’t a sign of weakness, it’s a sign that you’ve been strong for too long, you’ve been holding it together for too long.
Despite efforts to sensitize, some people still think of a Psychiatry hospital when they hear about mental health yet some cases juts require a Psychologist or Psychotherapist. Psychiatrists are medical doctors who diagnose illness, manage treatment, provide a range of therapies for complex and serious mental illness then prescribe medication.
Psychologists are not medical doctors, they can’t prescribe medication, they focus on providing psychotherapy (talk therapy) to help patients.
Just because someone carries their load of mental illness doesn’t mean it isn’t heavy. Everyone carries a heavy load. And everyone has their way of carrying it, so one should tell you how to carry it.
On my suicidal journey, I have learnt to disclose my emotions and that denial prolongs our depression. Depression has the ability to stop people from functioning normally on a day to day basis. Ever heard of the saying “You can’t pour from an empty cup” well with depression the victim runs on empty. There is so much emptiness within, loneliness and no motivation whatsoever.
Don’t see people moving around smiling ear to ear, fulfilling their schedule and assume that they are fine. Everyone is struggling with something they can’t talk about. Saying “I am fine” means they have mastered the art of pretending and managing their painful emotions.
You can have anxiety but still sound confident, you can have depression but still smile and make jokes, you can feel suicidal but still turn up to work every day and appear fine, you can look healthy but feel bad, you can look happy and be miserable, you can look good and feel ugly. So, let’s be kind because every person is fighting a battle you know nothing about.
Ships don’t sink because of the water around them, they sink because of the water that gets in them. Don’t let what’s happening around you get inside you and weigh you down that’s to say toxic friends, negative talk and energy. Be bold to walk away.
People who need the most love can sometimes ask for it in the most unloving ways.
“I don’t think people understand how stressful it is to explain what is going on in your head when you don’t even understand it yourself” this is what depression suggests to the victim.
This is what we see when someone is anxious; not responding to texts and calls, homebody, laziness, flakiness (cancel your plans).
What is really happening is; you want to say something stupid, your scared to be in crowds, you are afraid of failure, you want to go somewhere but you are nervous.
You are human and its normal to;
- Be sad from time to time for no reason
- Not have everything together
- Feel unsure, confused, or not know
- Feel ugly some days and cute other days
- Have been unprepared for how things turned out
- Have tough days
- Not always be happy
- Fluctuate in weight
- Be more productive on some days and less on others