WABISABI beauty in the imperfect, incomplete and impermanent

We tell stories about all things mental health without anonymity; to educate, inform and break all myths and stigma surrounding mental illness and disorders.

I feel like by sharing this story there are more people who would be able to tap into recovery and tap into energy and get better. -Adrian
Where’s my mental health now? Healing. -Eugene
You don’t have to go through this alone. -Sylvia
Ann Kamau. Art enthusiast, writer, health enthusiast and student doctor. Loves non-fiction books, indie music and morning runs.

"Before I realized I had depression, like most people, I associated mental illness with “crazy people on the streets” and Mathari… Y’know? I think I first realized that I might have a problem in my first year of med school. I'd wake up, go to school, get back home and sleep. It was like clockwork. This was usually punctuated with a lot of weeping and crying myself to sleep. It was only when we had a lecture on burnout that I began wondering if something was wrong with me. I went back home after the class and read up on burn out. In my reading bumped into articles on depression and was surprised on how much it sounded like I was reading about myself. Looking back, I think my very first episode was in high school when my grades suddenly dropped and I couldn’t figure out why. I mean, I was just doing things like I always did them. It was transient and passed quickly and soon I was back on my A-game and even sort of forgot about the whole episode. After the discovery in first year I decided to start working out, eating healthy, meditation… And all that helped a lot. That was at least until I got to my third year and started declining again. My symptoms came back fullblast. I really don’t deal well with stress. It really interfered with my concentration and my memory which is what is at the core of medical school, and so my school life took a major hit. That is when I first saw my psychiatrist, received my diagnosis and was put on medication. I’ve been lucky to have a very supportive family. My dad, in particular, is super protective and so he often calls to check up on me, asking me if I’ve taken my meds and if there is anything I need to talk about. I guess he was more understanding than mom because he has had experience with psychiatric patients before. I also have an amazing partner and cool friends who support me. I think we need to get away from the notion that mental illness is “I’m on meds”, “I’m depressed”, “I’m schizophrenic”, “I’m bipolar”… Mental struggles usually start as small, usually transient psychological events. You don’t have to get psychotic in order for you to take charge of your own mental health. Just as you engage in personal hygiene practices, you need to also ensure your own mental hygiene is at its best. Reduce your screen time. Get a regular sleep pattern. Sleep is extremely important. You need to talk about what you’re going through. If and when you feel like these personal efforts are not enough, get professional help. Learn your triggers and what works for you and what doesn’t."

Eugene Muthumbi. Student doctor, musician and writer. Loves waru and prefers reading books over watching movies or series.

“In a sentence, I would describe mental illness as ‘that one thing you want to go away but never really does’. Like most people, my idea of mental health used to be crazy people... guys who walk around naked, y’know? The guys who are dirty and go around cleaning the city and stuff. Story ya depression was always a rich kid problem; like why are you even depressed? That was until it affected me directly.I had a friend and I remember her telling me how she wants to commit suicide, and how she was getting into self-harming, and I was always like, “Shida ya huyu msee ni nini?!” I didn’t understand. How does suicide solve your problems? There are so many things you can do! That was until I got my own suicidal ideations and thoughts, and realised that it was actually a thing.I feel like I was always melancholic, at least through high school. But I thought that that was just part of my personality… that there was nothing wrong with me. I had a few, as my therapist puts them, “psychosocial stressors”. Individually, they weren’t a problem, but together they made it almost impossible for me to function. Getting out of bed became a problem. Showing up to school… doing music… Everything that I loved doing quite honestly disgusted me. I became one of those Nairobians who just drink away their problems. That’s when I realised that I had a problem. I eventually went to my mom and told her that things were getting a bit hard for me. I told her, “You know that psychologist friend of yours? I think I need to see her now.”I was definitely in denial for a long time. I didn’t want to add stress to my family and everyone else around me. There was already a lot going on and my mom didn’t need that; my dad didn’t need that. It’s always been hard to talk about it. I’ve always worried that people would look at me like “That’s that depressed guy”. You’re not Eugene anymore; you’re just the depressed guy. But with my friends at least, it’s become easier. Or when I would meet someone who’s also going through something, I found that I can actually say I was diagnosed with severe depression with psychotic features, and social anxiety. It’s become easier to actually say it out loud. I have really awesome friends, and I’m pretty sure they don’t see me different."

Krizia Nji. Final year student doctor. Loves reading, languages and is a homebody.

"I think growing up we always heard about mental health but we never really used that term. We’d see “mad people” on the road, and though we always knew there was something wrong with their mind, we believed that they had done something wrong and were being punished for it. But it wasn’t until I moved abroad that I came into proper contact with the term “mental health”. As I studied it, I discovered that it’s not a punishment or a taboo. Instead, it’s something that we all go through at some point in our lives.I suffer from bipolarity, social anxiety and have low self confidence. When I was little I always knew that I was shy, but I didn’t think that something was actually wrong with me until I moved abroad (to China), in 2014, for medical school. The first 6 months were really hard mainly because I didn’t have my support system with me, y’know? My family (especially my mom) and friends were not there to boost my self confidence.I hated going out because there were always so many people outside. There were days when I would skip classes, and if I had to leave the dorm to go to the supermarket to buy something, I would always avoid going at times when I expected the cafeteria or supermarket to be full of people: for example, when classes were over.Whenever I went out, I’d start sweating and panicking. My head would be down and my earphones would be on. I would avoid eye contact with pretty much everybody. Initially, I thought I hated the attention because the people were not the same skin colour as me, but even when I moved here, to Kenya, I noticed that I still hated leaving the house. On some days I don’t even go to the hospital for classes because there are too many people. It is a struggle.I finally put a name to my condition in my 3rd year of medical school. On that day, I was going to buy something and I knew there would be many people at the store, and so I asked my best friend to come with me. She was busy at the time and so, I starved the whole night! It then dawned on me: “Why do I always need someone to accompany me when I’m going out to a crowded, public place?” I started googling and stuff and that’s when I came across the term 'social anxiety', and it was then that I knew that it was something serious.It has been a long journey and I’m happy with how far I’ve come. It started with me denying that I was going through something, to accepting it, and finding ways to deal with it. So, I think I’m doing well so far. “Well”, for me, means that it doesn’t affect my daily life as much as it used to, and that I’ve accepted that this is wrong with me, and I’m willing to seek professional help.Back at home in Cameroon, there’s barely any mental health awareness. I think, in Africa as a whole, mental illness is still seen as something that is very foreign, or something that can’t affect the person right next to you. It would be great to have more programs like these, that can inform people about"

Mwikali Mwangi. Mom. A professional in Public Relations and Marketing. Communications Officer at a Travel Tech Company

"I really get paranoid over very little situations. My brain automatically thinks of the worst possible situations. This has affected how I deal with situations in the event that something happens. I prefer shutting it out the moment I see it coming so that I just don’t deal with the paranoia or the energy that comes with it. I have never sought professional help so I haven’t put a name on it. The sad thing is that I’m the only one that understands myself. My parents don’t know and if I try telling them they don’t know how to process that information. They say “Aaii kwani nini inakustress? Unajua stress escalates to depression...”. I tell them it’s not stress and I also don’t know what’s happening. It’s only in Mwikali’s world and only Mwikali understands it. It is extremely tough to put it in words.I never sought professional help because of what I now think is denial. I always thought, well people are like me. Kwani you people don’t get paranoia? Don’t you see things the way I see them? I didn’t think it was a problem. It dawned on me that I was struggling after I delivered my daughter. I had an expectation that after giving birth I’ll see my daughter and be overwhelmed. I was so excited it was finally out! I was angry and bitter. I could not explain why such a small human being caused me such pain for 18hrs only for her to come out and start crying. This went on for the next 2 months. Thankfully God blessed me with a child who doesn’t have drama; she was very peaceful. I didn’t like her though. I really tried but I knew I was pretending when I did. During the third month I remember a moment when she cried and that’s when it really registered that I have a child. I remember crying. I remember apologizing for being a bad human being. She didn’t deserve it. I didn’t tell my sister because she was so glad; being a mother to 3 sons she had always wanted a daughter. So now her sister has a daughter so she was practically hers as well. She gladly took care of her. I’m very good at hiding my mental state. I didn’t tell my parents about it but my sister realized it and let things flow. She’d pick up my daughter and do things with her to the point she started to call her mum. She calls her mum to date and I have no problem with that. She stood by me all through, did a lot of things I couldn’t at that moment so she deserves the title. She stepped into mum's shoes when I couldn’t. Lately though, being 2, she’s realizing that that’s not mum.I’m not sure anyone is ever ready to be a mum, you might think you’re ready especially when a guy has packaged himself well to make you think he’d make a good father to your child so that would make a lady feel comfortable being a mum. The moment you become mum, you become ‘mama nanii’...you’re no longer ‘babe’. It’s sth I wasn’t prepared for and I remember telling him I feel like I’d grown up too fast. I got pregnant at my last semester of university and it was really stressful because there, you either get a marriage certificate, to show that you have the ‘right’ to be pregnant, or something else to ‘prove yourself’. So, I didn’t tell my parents about it. I think I’ve been conserved because my parents took me to boarding school in class 3. To date I don’t have that attachment. They found out when I was 6 months pregnant by luck. There was a moment I tried being open with my dad, I think I was in class 7. I can’t remember exactly what I was telling him but he stood up and walked away. That was the moment that I just closed up. To date they say “Leah hatujuangi kile unafanya...”. So I’m giving my daughter the environment to be extremely open because I didn’t have that. I’m raising her to be open with me, to accept her personality as she is.I started researching postpartum depression but I felt it was more than that. 2 days to my birthday, I sat and penned everything down. It dated back to what I’d see from my parents. It’s a chain that should be addressed from the root. I realized I had issues with my father that made me bitter. In high school as well I’d get fainting spells, I’d go to hospital and they’d tell me my blood pressure is low. I’d have serious headaches, my hair was falling out and I demanded that my parents be called to school. They took me to a neurosurgeon, he did some tests, asked if I smoked [ugh] but I didn’t know what the problem was either.It is an extreme EXTREME struggle especially when people see you as a pillar of strength but deep down you’re crumbling, you are wishing for that strength that they see. Sometimes they realize I overthink especially when I give negative opinions about something so they tell me to see the good in it. In that area they’re a bit supportive but the rest they still don’t understand to date. I have a friend who I talk to; she understands me too well; than my parents would, than my sister would. So most of my support system is made up of friends. My journey is a roller coaster. Sometimes it’s up there, other times I can barely get out of bed. I can’t move or I have no reason to move even if I can.When I really got to understand mental health, I was in my final year in university. We had planned an event that was about mental health awareness because students were killing each other, stabbing each other fighting...to put out the message that perhaps there was something triggering these absurd reactions. Mental illness is not ‘that mad man’; you could be that smartly-dressed, eloquent, beautiful but your mind is not healthy. I got to learn the difference and appreciate it. Having a mental illness or not mentally fit somehow gives you this ability to recognize other people who are also mentally unfit. I have tried to be the person that I don’t have. I don’t have that strong support system so I try to be a strong support system to others."

Warimi KaringeBusiness lady. Mental health advocate. Runs a Mental Health Initiative called "Lets Go Mental ke"

"I started feeling “different” in 2008. One of the symptoms I remember experiencing is anger. I also found that I began lacking self-confidence. I started doubting myself. In January of 2008, I had so many emotional outbursts that didn’t make sense to me. That’s when I began realising that there is something wrong with me, but I did not know what it was. Progressively, this got worse and my friends began telling me that I’d grown very needy. I couldn’t stand being alone and I was always looking for approval from people. To cover up for those feelings, I began drinking and partying a lot, as well as immersing myself in my work. Work became my lifeline and I began to use it to forget how I was feeling. But slowly all this began affecting me physically. Around 2014, I started getting headaches, backaches, and numbness on one side of my body. It would feel as if I was getting a heart attack. I visited Nairobi Hospital often, but I’d always be sent home with paracetamol. Eventually, my body shut down and one day I collapsed in the office. I was admitted for two months and it was during my admission that I was diagnosed with depression and anxiety disorder in June 2015.So far it has been an interesting journey. I preferred the onset of the illness because I was living in oblivion and could still function. Dealing with high-functioning depression meant that I could go on with my life normally. Unfortunately, due to the length of time that I took to get diagnosed, my body sort of shut down. That is why it took me so long to get out of that dark space. I mean, 4 years down the line and I’m still struggling. I feel like I was better off when I was dealing with high-functioning depression because while it’s become easier for me to survive, before it was easier for me to function. I don’t like to say this but my life literally came to a standstill – I lost my job and my businesses have been struggling because I can’t give them 100% of my attention. That’s why I always encourage people to get help early. I mean, the sooner you start your treatment, the sooner you can get your life back on track.When I think about how my depression affects my daily life, all I can think is that it’s a bitch. I know I’m supposed to give people encouragement but honestly, it can be very difficult. Since I was diagnosed when I was severely depressed, getting myself back up has been very difficult. For a year I had to move back home, and during this period, I feel like all I used to do was sleep and cry and not eat.One of the things I can say though is that I’m super blessed. When I was first diagnosed, my parents allowed me to go back home where they fed me, housed me, and didn’t ask any questions. Though they did not understand it at first, my dad researched and read a lot about depression and anxiety. Mom is saved, and so she took me for deliverance. And while it used to make me angry, I understand that she was just trying to help in her own way. However, it's important to remember that you can’t pray this thing away. Overall though, they have been very supportive, together with my siblings and friends. I mean, it’s just amazing.I’ve been on anti-depressants and anti-anxiety medication since 2015. I also go for psychotherapy and make use of my own personal coping mechanisms which include taking hibiscus tea when I feel anxious and avoid chocolate and caffeine which can worsen anxiety. For depression, I take care of my surroundings and what I consume mentally.I don’t think much has been done to improve mental health around me. Right now it’s mainly millennials talking about mental health and illness. The government, in my opinion, is doing zero. However, there is a senator called Sylvia Kasanga who tabled a mental health bill in parliament which is actually being discussed right now. She says that there actually quite several members who are in support of the bill. Also, some people have come forward to tell their stories on social media and I think that has helped. I don’t think much has been done to improve mental health around me. Right now it’s mainly millennials talking about mental health and illness. The government, in my opinion, is doing zero."

Edgar Odhiambo. Farming & gym enthusiast and mental health advocate. Survivor of depression and anxiety.

"I have been struggling with depression and anxiety for a while but I officially sought professional help in 2015. My first encounter with mental illness was when I was in class 7. Things at home were messy and I think that is when it first started taking a toll on me. The next time I came into contact with it was when I was doing my IB. Those two years were very difficult because things at home became even worse. I tried to talk to people about what was going on but then I guess they just never knew how to help me. But I think the time that everything really just blew up in my face was in 2015. I had just gotten back from my post-graduate studies and at that time I was in a very toxic relationship. I think this, coupled with drama at home, was just really overwhelming. It was then that I found that I couldn’t hide it anymore. I couldn’t pretend like I wasn’t sad. So in 2016, I woke up one morning, deleted her number, and blocked her on all my socials. I couldn’t risk breaking up with her traditionally, through a conversation. I knew she would just gaslight me and we’d end up in a never-ending toxic cycle. So, I just ghosted her and that’s how it ended .During my depressive episodes, I wouldn’t eat or drink anything for even up to two days, or until I found myself vomiting bile. My thoughts were constantly racing. I would seclude myself from my family and everyone. I wouldn’t get out of my room for days at a time. I would sleep for about 2 hours a night. I felt like I was on autopilot. I wanted to be dead so that I wouldn’t have to face anything or anyone. I didn't dare to commit suicide though. I was too scared to pop a pill or hang myself. So I just stuck around hoping it would come more naturally.I first saw a therapist in 2015. After a chat and a written assessment, she diagnosed me with generalized anxiety disorder and depression. Then in 2016, after my break up, I was doing too well and so I decided to see someone again. I approached the mom of a friend of mine who had committed suicide a while back and she referred me to a psychiatrist she was seeing and even took me for my first visit. Before the visit, she encouraged me to do some introspection and write out what I feel, why I think I feel what I feel and what I expect from my session. During that session, I talked for 3 hours straight. After evaluation, the psychiatrist diagnosed me with PTSD which she said was manifesting as depression and anxiety. She put me on medication and it’s been an ongoing struggle ever since. My journey has definitely had its ups and downs especially since home is a toxic environment. To be honest, I haven’t received much support on that front. However, therapy has been a very key part of my healing process. It’s through therapy that I rediscovered myself. It has shown me how to counter my triggers and given me a fighting chance. Something else that has really helped me is self-talk. I do it every day in front of a mirror. Journaling has been extremely helpful. I also have friends who have been very supportive of me throughout my journey.I feel like, right now, I’m in a great place mentally, because I decided to quit booze I quit because, for a while, I had noticed that I’d often wake up feeling extremely anxious after spending a night out drinking. I think it’s been 85 days since I had my last drink. I now wake up with my mind a lot clearer and my emotions in check. I don’t experience that looming sadness or anxiety. I also have a lot more energy to do things. For example, over the past 3 or 4 months, I’ve even become what my friends call a “professional wedding attendee”. I have a wedding to attend practically every weekend. Quitting booze was not as hard as I thought it would be. I mean, I still go out with guys who drink, but I just don’t drink. Does temptation come? Yes, definitely. But then, I think about waking up anxious the following morning and I’m just like “Naaah. I’d rather not.”

Angela Wanja. Journalist and public relations practitioner. Extroverted and outgoing.

"I think I've had two instances. The first time was when I broke up with my campus boyfriend at the time. We had dated for 3 years. It hit me so hard because this was a person who had been part of my life and no longer would be. I had to make a decision when I felt that the relationship wasn’t working for me and to call it off. I would rate my second instance at 8/10. I got depressed when my mom was diagnosed with cancer. Being the first of two children, it was hard for me because I didn’t expect it. One moment you wake up your mother is fine and the next you’re being called to take her to hospital for tests...and the least of all that you expect from tummy aches is colon cancer. You tell yourself that everything will be okay but also, what if it won’t? I imagined what that would mean for me; my brother expecting so much from me and me not being able to fit my mother’s shoes. I remember I was in denial for a long time because my parents had not communicated clearly to me about the diagnosis. My mother had mentioned she had a growth and my dad explained something to me after showing me a card written cancer center. So I’d tell myself that I was making assumptions. Finally, my dad called for a sit-down with us and told us about seeking treatment in India. That’s where it started getting crazy. My mother had never left us like that; worse still, both my mom and my dad were leaving.During that period, I was staying alone in the house because my brother was also away on an internship; so most of the time I was alone. I’d talk to my mother every day to ensure she was okay, I ended up stress-eating and I gained a lot of weight. Thankfully I had my job to keep me sane because I’d have to be there 8-5. There’s a time I remember randomly going shopping at Woolworth's at 10000. There was just this feeling that I had that I felt I could only get over with eating and shopping. Sometimes I’d be in the house crying. I realized I was struggling when I one day sat and looked at the receipts of what I was spending ALONE. Luckily for me, I read a lot, watch movies and speak out my feelings a lot so I caught on to what I was doing at some point. My cousins and my friends would offer to come and sleepover to make sure I was okay but I always made excuses not to host them, which was unusual considering I’m a people-person.I used to pray a lot and speak out a lot, I believe talking about your problem is like solving it halfway. My friends would encourage me to speak as well. The past one month I would say my mental health has probably been a 10. Save for the few hiccups in life, seeing that life can never be 100% okay, I’m grateful that my mom is getting better, I have a good job, my family is doing great and my love life is awesome. I would talk to my friend who is a psychologist, over coffee or on the phone, and he would take me through what I was feeling which was really helpful. I’m now being a lot more intentional with time spent with my mom. I have to see her before I leave the house. I’d have loved to move out by now but the thought of being away from her scares me. The first time I heard about mental illness was probably from reading but it never makes much sense until it happens to you or someone close to you. I’ve seen my friend through her journey with bipolar disorder as well and through those experiences got to understand what mental illness does to you. I think previously I didn’t understand that it’s something that can happen to anyone at any time. A small change in your life can trigger some mental issues, like breakups, family issues, and work environments. People should stop thinking that only big issues can trigger mental health instability.So far, I feel that we’re progressing in our efforts towards mental health awareness and care. We’re talking more about it on social media, campaigns being run to create awareness, hospital, and government availing the necessary services. I’ve seen where I’ve been and I’d never want anyone to go through the same."

Edwin Mburu. Accountant. Father. Mental health advocate and founder of Mentally Unsilenced.

"I remember she was seated across from me and she did not say anything after the CAGE questionnaire. She took out her phone and I remember that conversation because she said: Dr. K, I need you to talk to a young man urgently. I went to the clinic and the Dr asked me “Do you think this is normal?” And I said yes. Nobody is complaining about me in the workplace, I’m working and everything is okay. He told me I had to get my liver checked and I complied to ease the tension at home and to get HR to see that I was doing something. That evening, I promised my wife I wouldn’t drink. I went out bought a bottle of Gilbey's and hid it in the fence. We had supper and talked and when it was time for bed I told her since I was going to the doctor’s the following day I’d catch up on some documentaries. She went to bed, I went outside took the whole bottle then went to sleep. I woke up the next morning, had a drink in town before heading to work. I used to have a drink at my drawer at work, which is not allowed. So I’d put Gilbeys in a dasani bottle. I did a few things at the office then left for the hospital. On my way I bought a quarter bottle of Gilbeys and put it in my pocket. When I got to the gate I got the feeling that I should take it first. So I flashed the whole bottle then went in. I thought I’d be there for only 15 minutes. There they asked me about my family history, mental illnesses and I didn’t know what was happening. My employer was catering for the cost so I wasn’t worried about it. Then at some point they told me I was supposed to be there for 1 week for detox. I started throwing tantrums. They told me I couldn’t leave. It turns out as I was signing some papers, I had voluntarily signed an admission form. I started detox the same day. This is not some herbal tea stuff. The minute the drip started, I had cold sweats, I was weak... So even as I started on it I didn’t know I had a problem with alcohol. I was in denial. It was decided unanimously, including my employer that I needed 90 days of rehab. My wife was actually happy I was going. It comes a point in an addicts life that we start to speak to our drugs of choice. We don’t speak to people. We only do so when we need something or we want to hurt somebody. When I went to rehab, they diagnosed me with mild depression, anxiety and severe ADHD. The mild depression took me back to 2012 when I was very suicidal. I had already tied the rope to an avocado tree. My sister came from the shop and found a stool and I was about to tie the noose so i had to run for it. After that nothing much happened but I think it carried on to 2015 when I was drinking too much. I had drunk for about 12 years. In one seating I could do about 15-20 beers. And I would feel like ilikuwa maji so I would top it off with something else.I took my first drink after high school. There were these cheap sachets of alcohol that were available back then; 20 going for 200 Bob. I drank one. So it started slowly. When I was in college doing my CPA II I remember there were a bunch of bars around fig tree where I’d go. I stopped going to class, I would only stop by to pick notes. I’d be in the bar all day. I didn’t think it would be a problem at the time. It got worse when I started working because now I could afford whatever I wanted. I remember my dad begging me to go back to school while I was working, pledging to pay my school fees because he saw all the idle time I had was being spent on drinking; but I refused. I regret it. I’d be doing so well. I’ve lost a few buddies to alcohol. I’ve lost a few guys to depression. You see yourself in that person.Being a functional alcoholic with a primary diagnosis of ADHD with a high IQ, when I’m doing something I enjoy or put to pressure at my job to perform, I will perform. I’m the kind of person who would do things all day and sleep for 2/3 hours and wake up fresh. I was initially on one medication which stopped working and was changed to another that I’m currently on. I started getting hyper to the point I couldn’t sleep. One morning I woke up at 3 am and cleaned my car. The next day the same thing happened. On the 3rd day my wife noted that something was off so we went back to the doctor and my medication was changed. Having a strong support system has enabled me to stay sober. Luckily for me, I’ve been clean for 1512 days. Self awareness and self acceptance; I have accepted I cannot mess around with alcohol and that I have a mental illness. I have been in contact with my psychiatrists, psychologists to understand how my illness affects me. I have gone online and read up on as much information as I can about my condition and how it interacts with me. My spouse probably understands the condition even better than I do and has taken up the role in explaining to my family what it is. They only saw the alcohol problem. The mental illness part was a shock to them and sometimes it still is because they’ll ask why I still take medication. I have to explain now and again. The treatment team did a lot in giving information and de-stigmatizing my condition to my family when I was in rehab. My employer has been very supportive; taking me to rehab, for my follow up treatment and therapy...they do a good job. My wife didn’t leave. That’s very humbling. Mental illness is not a death sentence. People recover and those who don’t are able to manage it. I have a job, a family, a life."

Onyango Otieno. Poet and Mental health Advocate. Loves music, stories, and art. Founder of Afro-Masculinity Podcast and Co-founder of Fatuma's Voice.

"Right now, I’m not really struggling with my mental health much. I mean, I’m probably the happiest I’ve been since I was 12 years old. But in the past, I’ve struggled with PTSD, depression, and anxiety which was all rooted in growing up in a violent home. By the age of 16, I was already suicidal. I kept running away from home and even lived in the streets for a while. During this time, I really struggled with expressing how I feel. For a large chunk of my childhood, I felt neglected. This was made worse by the fact my parents moved houses a lot. So I couldn’t keep friends since I was so new in so many places for such a short time and this really affected my social skills. When I was 15, I was taken to a school in Nyanza, where I really struggled to fit in. I stopped going to class. I stopped showering. I stopped washing my clothes. I stopped reading. And everything just came to a halt. I was expelled from that school and it was around that time that I noticed that something was not okay with me, though I couldn’t put a finger on it. It took me 15 years to put a name to what I had been going through. It was only after my third bout of depression and suicidal ideation that I thought to myself, “If I don’t figure what this is, it’s going to take me out next time.” And so I started researching it in early 2017. I began reading a blog called “Brainpicker” or something, which used to write about mostly white writers who had taken away their lives. That was my first encounter with a group of people who seemed to be going through what I was going through and my first encounter with the concept of mental illness. My story is not a couple of isolated events. It was more of this leading to that leading to that. My early teens were difficult. My parents fought a lot and I was often on the receiving end of the violence - from dad especially. I became quiet and withdrawn and isolated myself from people. This made people think that that was just how I was... that that was my personality. And yet when I was younger, I was such a bubbly person.When I was 16, I ran away from home. I really just wanted to die. I was tired of keeping quiet. I had started writing but I still had a lot of healing to do. The violence at home was still ongoing, and so was the pressure. At the same time, I was going through adolescence. There were so many changes and nobody to talk to about it all. I just felt like this world is not my place. So I stole my dad’s ATM and ran away to Mombasa. The plan was to go there and die. But on my way, I realised that I had some friends in Malindi, and if I could somehow get to them then I could maybe get some help. Eventually, I went back home but I didn’t feel safe there. I didn’t trust myself and the people around me. It affected my studies and even when I went back to school it took me a while to start making friends again. It’s only this year (2019) that I feel that I’ve really broken out of my shell, thanks to therapy and mental health workshops and fellowships. My healing journey started when I was 16 when I started writing poetry. I had so much to say and I felt like if I didn’t say it then, I would die. What I wrote was mostly centred on what I grew up seeing: domestic and sexual violence. Writing it out was one of the ways that I could get it out. I also journal a lot, and write and listen to a lot of music. When I was young, I remember my dad would put me on the table and play Soukous and tell me to dance. So music was a big part of my life growing up. Our home was very musical and it was through music that my dad and I really bonded a lot. So when I lost that bond, I held on to the music to remember his love. That’s why I always have headphones with me. No matter what I’m doing, music just gets me there. It gives me peace of mind.My journey till now has been unbelievable. I didn’t think that I’d make it to 20. Then I didn’t think I’d make it to 25. And I’m 31 right now. I mean, I feel like I’m in heaven because at 16 I had really given up on life. I was convinced that it was my time to die. And yet here I am almost 16 years later. My journey makes me want to reach out to people and maybe show them that there is hope.In terms of support systems, my mom was the first. She is actually the one who first made me realised that I am traumatised through an argument she had with my dad. I heard her tell him, “You have traumatised this child” and I wondered, what’s that “traumatised” word? But when I went to check it out, I realised that there was something in the definition that resonated with me. I also have several friends who I’ve been very close to and have supported me for the last 8 or so years. My brother and my sister have also been really supportive of me. Also, being somewhat in the limelight and telling my story has allowed me to receive a lot of love and goodwill from many people because they understand. I think all my support came because of me being brave with my story. That culture of fear is the same thing that feeds into stigma and I really want to break that. Especially being an African man who “dies with his pain”, I just want to talk about this stuff because they hurt me.Therapy, for me, came much later. I had already done so much reading and research on depression, and anxiety and PTSD that by the time I went to therapy, it really just helped me break it down farther."

Faith Chepkorir. Professional musician and background vocalist.

"The first time I heard about mental illness was on TV as a kid… Mostly negative depictions of mental illnesses like OCD. But now, I’ve had a total turn-around in my perception of mental illness. On TV they show people who can’t live with their mental illness or function in society due to their disease, but now It’s like “aaiii?” (shrugs shoulders).I was diagnosed with bipolar II at the end of last year but according to my psychiatrist, I’ve had it for a while. It initially started with me getting diagnosed with depression in 2017, then re-diagnosed with bipolar because I had manic episodes showing up later on. I also have anxiety. My parents thought I had OCD when I was younger. But it was really just anxiety which manifested as me not being able to do certain things, or meeting crowds because I would get very anxious. Right now, my mental health is smooth sailing for the most part. But there is still some stigma when I tell some people, especially since I’m so open about it. Though all mental illnesses have a general stigma around them, each disease has a specific stigma around it. When I was first diagnosed with depression, people prayed for me and stuff. But when I was diagnosed with bipolar, people were like “It’s just because you are a girl and girls can be moody. Si you can cope with it?” It started in 2016 when I joined Law School. I stopped going to classes during my first semester because I couldn’t make friends. After class, I would just whisk away and I ended up being very lonely. I’d go to the bathroom and cry. It was really a sad story.I stopped going to classes, eating, and I would just stay at home. My parents allowed me to stay out of school for the semester. But when January came, I still didn’t want to go to school. Same with May. So, they were like “Maybe we should go see somebody”. But at that time, since I was experiencing a lot of physical symptoms like backaches and headaches, they took me to a general physician. We did a lot of tests and there was nothing wrong with me. One doctor said that maybe I was depressed but my parents were like “Umm. Nope.” And so, I just went back home. However, two months later, the same thing happened again and we went to the same doctor, who insisted that we look into the possibility of it being depression. They took me to a psychiatrist and I was finally diagnosed with depression. The mania showed itself one time when I got really sick with tonsillitis and was meant to go to hospital. But on my way, I got into kind of in a manic state and decided that since I wasn’t that sick, I might as well go and get piercings. After that, I got into a steep spiral of overspending over the next 3 days. I had just been paid and I spent like 80% of my salary on Jumia buying things for my parents’ house. After that extreme high, I couldn’t leave my bed for about a week. So, my mother decided that I need to go be rechecked. That’s when I was diagnosed with BPD II. I used to tie my mental struggles to being bullied in high school. But now I think it’s something I’ve had since childhood that was just waiting to manifest itself. I also started cutting myself in high school. Girls used to bully me and call me fat. I had stretch marks at the back of my thighs and I felt really ugly. So, I started cutting my wrists and it used to give me a sense of relief. The pain I was inflicting on myself allowed me to ignore the negative thoughts. I used to be ashamed of my scars but nowadays, they just remind me of how I’ve made it through. I’ve also struggled a lot with suicidal thoughts. They are always there, somewhere at the back of my head. I tried killing myself while in high school. When that happened, I felt like I’d rather be anywhere but here. I tried taking pills in high school. I tried it again with Piriton more recently, but that didn’t work either. It’s really much harder to off yourself than you think. My family… Initially, they wouldn’t tell people, and I thought that maybe they are ashamed of me. But now I understand that my relatives may not really understand. They have been really supportive. My friends have also been a great part of my support system. I have 5 friends: Ricky, Waithera, Lina, Mela and Sam, and they are all really supportive."

Veronica Mwangi. Student and lover of life

"When I was in high school, I was depressed but I didn’t know I was depressed. I used to sleep a lot and self-harm. At the time, I was passing everything but Kiswahili. It was really frustrating. I even tried going for tuition and the teacher would explain things in English for me but I still continued failing it. My dad couldn’t understand why. Once, he came for the parent-teacher meeting - I remember it was a Friday - and though none of my teachers had anything negative to say about me, he still went on trying to pull me down and making me feel like I wasn’t good enough. That Sunday, was the first time I cut myself. I did it because I felt unworthy. I had so much emotional pain. So, I started playing with my compass and poking myself and thought “Wow. This pain is relieving.” And then it went to getting a scalpel, and after a few years, it went to grabbing a knife. In 2015, I joined university, and at the end of my first semester, I got all A’s. But I still felt like that was not good enough for my dad. That made me kind of shut down. I stopped going to school, and because of that, I ended up dropping out and not finishing school. I also started drinking a lot as a coping mechanism. There were times I’d go a week without leaving bed. I couldn’t eat. I would throw up everything that would go in - even water. I was always tired. I first tried killing myself in 2016. I wanted to stab myself, but the guy I was dating at that time stopped me. At that time, I just wanted to end it all. I, however, think 2017 was my breaking point. It hadn’t dawned on me that I was struggling until I went through an extremely traumatic experience. I was taken to Chiromo Lane Medical Centre, and I stayed there for about a week. That’s when I was diagnosed with depression. After a while though, I stopped seeing my therapist because my dad refused to pay for it and it was a strain on my mom’s side. So, I stopped my meds and therapy and went back to my drinking as my coping mechanism. Later in that year, in December, I tried killing myself again. I overdosed on like 50 Panadols and other pills I found around the house, then I went to sleep. The next thing I remember is waking up in hospital throwing up blood. Let’s just say that that didn’t work out, and so in January, I was taken back to see my therapist. I went monthly until April that year when I stopped and went back to drinking and stuff. This caused problems with my sister, who didn’t like how much I was drinking. And so, I ended up back at CLMC where I was directed to a different therapist who diagnosed me with bipolar disorder. I’m currently on medication and I can say I’ve have made progress since then. A time like this in 2017, I was in a very bad place. But looking at the past 5 or 6 months, I started school again, I’ve attended most of my classes, I’ve been able to get up in the morning, and I get to sleep well at night. I think the last time I had a suicidal thought was in July. I usually know when it’s coming and talk to my mom about it. We pray about it, she tries to get me out of the house, and I call a friend to talk, go for a walk or a drive, and just try to take it easy. But then when it hits, I just let it hit. I journal a lot. It has helped me figure out my triggers and now I really avoid them completely. I’m proud to say that I’m at that point where I don’t take bullshit anymore. If whatever you are coming to me with is going to affect my mental health, just stay away. I journal for me and my future self - to be able to look back at my journey. It’s also where I write when I’m feeling suicidal so that my doctor can see trends of when I’m sad and happy. I also have a prayer journal where I write down conversations with God. When my journals get filled up, I keep them. They are a reminder that I’ve made it through the year - which is a big deal for me. I also keep them for my nephews and nieces, so that one day they might read them and realise that they aren’t alone. My mom has been my main support throughout this journey. She did psychology, and so I feel she understands me quite well. She’s the only person in my family I feel hasn’t given up on me. During my drinking phase, there was obviously something wrong but the rest of my family just chose to push me away. My mom stuck around though."

Natasha Luturian. Music student. Classical Musician.

"I’ve been experiencing extreme mood swings and there are days when I can’t get out of bed and I'm really sad while nothing’s happened; I’m just really sad and I can’t explain it. When it happens, I’ve probably not had human interaction and I’m absorbed in my own thoughts so I feel lonely. I try to go out more and maintain connections with people. About two year ago I'd just moved back into the country so transitioning back into the system and having no friends that when it all started and I realized that it was a problem. I had heard about mental health but as a ‘white man’s disease”, you don’t need help for it, why are you sad while we also have problems...that’s all I heard about it. When I realized I may have a problem myself, I researched on it and talk to my friends and that’s when I got a better understanding of what it was all about. I didn’t talk to anyone about my problem in the beginning but I had a blog where I'd write each time I felt overwhelmed. Much later, I opened up to my best friend about what I'd been struggling with as it seemed to be getting worse. I initially hadn’t shared what I was going through because I also didn’t understand what I was going through. She took t quite well and has helped me a lot throughout. She knew what to say and what to do, she’s wise like that. She has been my biggest support system and has availed herself more than I’d ever ask. Her checking o me every so often, I feel so much love and positivism. Some of my classmates and other friends have also shown so much support. I grew up in a single parent family, my dad left when I was young, I was bullied and lost my self-image and self-esteem at some point; I didn’t know all this was happening at the time but looking back my childhood has had a major impact the whole process. Now, I’ve learnt to identify my triggers. I know when I'm about to get a panic attack so I’m a lot better now. I’ve been afraid of getting a breakdown and telling myself that I'm happy because don’t know what will happen tomorrow. I’m more intentional with my relationships and friendships now. I listen to my body and what my mind is telling me and I adjust. Journaling has also helped me process what I feel and in being introspective. Having social anxiety has made me lose many opportunities on the other hand. I have not been able to access therapy yet because it’s quite expensive and I don’t feel like I can tell my family, who would be in a position to help pay for the sessions, yet. You know when you grow up around people you know what perceptions they have so I’m sure if I brought it up the first thing they’d say is “And what if I gave you my problems?” I’m afraid of that negative response from them and that’s why I don’t have a name for what I’m going through yet. I used to think that people with mental health struggles look a certain way, that I'd be able to see depressed people until I experienced it and realized you really can’t tell what people are going through. More people now are talking about their struggles and it’s helped people feel that they’re not alone which I appreciate as a contribution to improving mental health."

Eugene Mweri. Journalist. Gamer. Mental Health Advocate.

"I found out about my mental health struggles last year when I was diagnosed with depression and anxiety. Unfortunately, I found out late which was after my first suicide attempt. It was around the time local media houses were laying people off and I remember dodging 2 cycles of lay-offs but eventually, the third one got me. I’d also lost a relationship around the same period. So, one Saturday, I was heading home around 6 PM from a wedding I was shooting. I’m waiting to catch a matatu and I’m thinking to myself, what do I have to go home to? I walked into traffic and got hit by a car; not a great plan looking back at it. I had a few scrapes, people had gathered at the scene, the driver was still in shock so he’s still in the car. I got up, walked away and went home to sleep without telling anyone a thing. I didn’t think about it for another 3 months; it was around October when I openly said it to myself for the first time...I tried to kill myself, and that was on an Instagram post. I guess what pushed me that day was seeing 4 different posts on a Whatsapp status, in a period of one week, of people talking about people they knew taking their lives. That’s where the advocacy all started because I felt I needed to do something tangible about it; so, I started with my contact list. I called every single person on it to find out how they were doing. Eventually, I started what became a support group. It’s grown with time and is at 56 now. It became a new purpose for me. When I started getting help and talking about certain things that, way back when, seemed so minute but I’d held them in for so long that recent problems had piled on top and there was nothing left to hold onto anymore. Earlier this year, in April, I relapsed. I had 3 attempts on myself; 2 at home and 1 at my place of work. The most recent one at work, a colleague had noticed I wasn’t okay that morning and asked me about it. When I got back to the office after my failed attempt, I found him waiting for me and he pulled me aside to the empty cafeteria. I broke down and told him all that had happened and what had triggered it. Mental wellness is not just a cause, making sure that the person next to you is okay is a personal responsibility that each of us should own up to. The day you find yourself saying “I wish we could have done more...”, that is a personal failure on your part. Nobody deserves to feel less than. Become what you needed when you were at your lowest. There’s a difference between self-care and self-centeredness. I don’t take people’s pain lightly. My family found out about everything when I did a TV interview and they were shocked. When we finally had a sit-down, they were very supportive. I guess I hadn’t told them prior because they wouldn’t have understood. How do you start that conversation? When it did happen, they questioned: “what did we do? What did we not do? How did we not see this coming?” Since then communication has been almost like an invasion of space, they are at my place regularly and arising issues are addressed immediately. Where’s my mental health now? Healing."

Muthoni Njoroge. Theatre lover. Percussionist. Musician. Nutritionist.

"Out of everything, my anxiety and PTSD are the things I struggle with the most. I find it hard to do the things that I really want to do because I'll overthink everything and I'll be like “Nope! Let’s throw that out the window!”. It gets the better of me and I become a mess and I can’t function.It was in form 3, the first time I heard about mental health. I had my first major breakdown at the time. I was lucky because our biology teacher had done psychology so he’s the one who told me what I might be going through and later took me to see a psychiatrist. So, it was at that point that I was diagnosed with depression, anxiety and PTSD. Funny enough, my mom is a psychologist but I'd never heard about mental health before that; I just knew she deals with the workings of the mind. That first time it happened, I felt unlike myself, I felt like a mess, a nasty feeling, confusion, hurt; everything negative pent-up in one body and one day I was done and I had a breakdown. The trigger I believe was the death of my cousin in my third term of Form 2; the person I confided in the most was no longer there. The school was pretty strict so the principal didn’t allow me to go to his funeral yet we were so close. On top of that were some issues with family. Seeing that our biology teacher was the psychologist and counsellor in the school, when he approached the principal on my account of getting professional help, he was trusted to take my issue up. As I unraveled my issues during counselling, it seemed that my state cropped from being bullied in primary school and my parents' inability to believe me at the time. Back when my younger sister had been born, I'd get into trouble sometimes and my parents felt that I was always trying to seek attention. Living in Ethiopia at the time, we moved back into Kenya and I got enrolled in a school where I was heavily bullied. My young mind couldn’t grasp why this was happening to me and when I confided in my parents and people close to me they didn’t believe me and they thought it was a joke, put me down and say things to me that made me feel unworthy. Fast forward to then to the death of my cousin, I felt I had lost someone I would confide in when I was going through something. It left me empty. I just didn’t realize it at the time. Somehow, I just knew I needed help. In my 2nd Year of University, my favorite aunt passed on. We had lived with her for about 6 or 7 months during her illness. At that moment I had another breakdown in school because I was losing someone else I could confide in. One of my lecturers noticed there was something wrong and she guided me towards the right people to see within the school. I’d go see them and I was on meds but it became expensive to keep up with because I hadn’t told my parents. I had tried telling them and they didn’t take it seriously; they felt I was I was ‘acting up’ because it was a ‘thing’ on social media. They didn’t believe it so I went about it on my own with the help of my older sister...but at some point, I also felt like I was bothering her so I stopped the therapy altogether. Was it easier for me to have had the help of educators in my life? Yes and no. Yes, because I was majorly in school in both instances so it was easier for me to approach them because they were on the grounds but no because, after school when I'd be home and something was bothering me, I’d have nobody to talk to. Having been able to put a name to what I was going through back in high school enabled me to understand what I was feeling and learn how to deal with it. Earlier last year I mentioned in passing to my mother about having gone for therapy and she simply said “Okay,”. I felt that she should have asked more about it seeing that she’s my mother and knowing her profession. I also made an attempt on my life earlier in the year. My parents’ reaction was indifferent. At the time of my attempt, I felt like a failure and I had gotten into this big argument with my parents over wanting to take a gap year from school. My mum was on board but my dad wasn’t. I felt so genuinely exhausted and I remember thinking, even if I stay alive, there’s nothing I'm going to do. I remember sending a long goodbye-sort-of text to my sister and because of the nature of her job, I knew she’d see it after I’ve already done the did. She called me and we spoke for 4 hours. She came and picked me up and took me to our aunt’s place. I didn’t feel loved considering that when my sister also went through depression, they took her to therapy and were supportive of her. I don’t know why they don’t hold the same space for me. Perhaps they (my parents) are unable to see me away from the stubborn child that I was but I’d really like to involve them as much as possible. They have moments when they’re my biggest supporters and moments when they blow me off and I don’t understand why. Having experienced my sister attempt as well, I felt scared at the prospect that I could potentially lose another of my support system. My journey has been a rocky one. I still have breakdowns, suicidal thoughts, days I feel exactly as I did that day in form 3; like I can’t do this anymore. When I feel like this, I have to find a way to combat it. I’ve had my director at Spellcast to talk to when I’ve missed several rehearsals."

Irene 'Renee' Wanjau. Marketer and stylist.

"Every time I had an episode, I’d be crying a lot...and I'd always make sure to do it when everyone was asleep or when I'm showering. Being alone is not the best thing. I woke up one Wednesday morning, I was crying and my thoughts were telling me “You’re done.” At that moment I just wanted all the hurt and pain to end. I remember looking for a chemist and I couldn’t find one. The whole time I was on autopilot; my thoughts were leading me and telling me I was done and there was nothing good to look forward to. There was a lot going on at that time. I didn’t graduate at the time I thought I would, I had had a miscarriage and the guy had left me; everything had hit rock bottom. I eventually found a chemist and took an overdose of pills. I continued to walk on, in my pajamas, looking for a place that was open. Coincidentally, the only place I could find was a church. I figured I could die in church. It was a catholic church and they had this Adoration Chapel, a private prayer room. There was an old lady inside and went passed her and sat at the front and started waiting. I don’t know what got into me, but I started crying hysterically and it’s dawning on me that I really didn’t want to die. I could see myself in a casket going down and the only people in attendance was my family. In the midst of all the crying and apologizing, I made myself throw up. The old lady came to me, touched my shoulder and said “Amani iwe nawe” and she left. I felt like she was an angel at that moment. I left the chapel and asked some boys in church to help me because I kept throwing up. They called the priest and I told him what I had done and they tried to do some first aid. Eventually, I felt better and I went back to the chapel and I prayed. My therapy started with that priest, he asked me to explain what I was feeling and I couldn’t even explain it; it was pain, worthlessness, like being tied up and fear of failure. The priest was very helpful and he made it easier for me to communicate with him. He didn’t judge me or press for information; he was really patient with me. I would want to be that person for someone else. I opened up to my parents and was eventually taken to hospital and put on medication for a while. I remember asking my dad why he hadn’t reacted when I told him about my experience. He opened up and told me that my grandfather had actually died of suicide and that it was he (my father), at his young age, who had found him. He had been in that situation before. People don’t talk about nor understand depression; they’ll judge people based on what people say in the movies. I want people to know that’s not it. It can be anyone. My experiences and researching around it got me to learn more about it. I wouldn’t have described myself as ‘the type’ to get depressed; because amongst my friends I’m always jovial and full of life. I didn’t think I could get depressed but it happened to me. I have been coping through prayer and reading the bible. The more I do, the more I have faith in God and see things differently. This way, I feel better and have hope without relying on people so much. I like to listen to music as well, it calms me down. Before all this I’d smoke to calm my nerves and I’d relax for a while but eventually it wasn’t really helping me. Now, every morning I have to remind myself how smart I am, how beautiful I am, how hardworking I am... it’s what you feed your mind. If you don’t change your thinking your experiences remain the same. I like to call my friend Jackie when I’m feeling bogged down and because she knows how much I love chicken, we talk and she offers me chicken. Or books. Pay attention to your body. To what you’re feeling. Should I change my environment? Should I cut off my connection with someone because they’re being toxic? Life is short but there’s a lot to look forward to. There’s plenty of possibilities. Think positive; it actually works. Live your best life."

Noni Palesa aka Mama Khailani. Mother. Writer. Mental Health Advocate.

"Everyone used to tell me “Noni you’re crazy” and I would respond “Yes I am. I have ADHD.” Because I was told when I was young, I knew it was a part of me, it was the reason I did certain things and didn’t think like anybody else. The first unravelling of my mental health was when my biological dad left at 1 ½ years old. My second was being a colicky child and my mom didn’t know what to do back then so she’d leave me crying for hours on end. My third, was being left in boarding school. My therapist says “Forgive yourself because you did not have the power to tell anyone how you felt.” I was 5 when I first thought there was something going on with me. I remember having this energy and wanting to be anywhere and everywhere...which is weird because I’m actually an introvert. I remember going to the doctor’s and being told I had ADHD and I had to take medication. I didn’t like the medication because I felt like it slowed me down so I would dump it in the toilet. At 7 years old I was taken to boarding school because I was uncontrollable. That was the first time I tried to commit suicide. From 7 – 14 years old, it was upward and downward cycles until I got a bout major depression at 17 years old. At 21 years old, I had another episode of major depression and I was taken to rehab because I was depressive-drinking; so, I was labelled an alcoholic. That didn’t work so I started drinking again and smoking. At 23 years I had yet another episode and it wasn’t until I was 27 when I was finally diagnosed with Bipolar disorder. When I’m depressed, I literally look okay externally. I’d be able to go out and do what I need to do but when I get home I’d be in my room, listening to particular playlists and never leave. I also write a lot of poetry when I'm depressed. Sometimes I’d start cutting and I have a tattoo that hides the cuts. I’d cry a lot; really painful cries. “What’s wrong with you Noni? You’re not worth anything. You’re not good enough... Nothing good comes out of you.” It’s a really dark place. Like being locked up in a 4 by 6 room without windows or doors and with a loud speaker saying negative things. One day the door magically appears and I’m out into the light. ADHD was a bit worse for me. Nobody understands ADHD kids and where they get all this energy from. AD stands for ‘Attention deficit’ but we’re not, we are ‘attention selective’. I’d ask myself why was my brain wired this way? What’s wrong with me? Something is wrong with me but I can’t put my finger on it. So, when I was told I was bipolar type II, I thought “That’s it!” When I accepted it, all the questions about what was wrong with me, went away. I decided I needed to start taking my medication, start going to therapy because I needed to heal from the trauma I had been through and correct my thinking. I needed to start on my healing journey because I also wanted kids and I didn’t want them to wind up being messed up. A month later after starting my medication I realized, OH WOW! This is what it feels to be semi-normal?! This is it! This is how it’s supposed to be! If it was caught earlier, I probably would have finished my course when I was 21. I took a diploma in counselling psychology. Psychology had always been one of my passions as I'd tried to understand myself better. Then I got pregnant and I was excited about it. I was taken off of all my medication and I inevitably went down. I’d write a lot on social media about my experiences during the pregnancy. There’s not a lot of information on women going through pregnancy who have been previously diagnosed. A lot of people would tell me to push on and my best friend, who was also pregnant at the time, would also encourage me. Your mental health determines everything. Mental health does affect us physically. When you have too much stress and anxiety, you’ll start to show that you’ve been carrying too much. Currently, my coping mechanisms are restricted to Baby Khailani’s timetable. At night I have positive affirmations on loop. It helps with my self-talk. In the morning I scroll through my Instagram where I follow mental health pages (I unfollowed depressive, negative pages) and it uplifts me. I also follow mom bloggers who talk about maternal mental health and they’re amazing. I don’t have this expectation to be a mom who’s got it all together and that’s what they talk about. I take a walk every other day to catch some fresh air, I don’t skip on my medication, taking a nice hot shower and spending time with my daughter. My family and partner have been my support systems."

Adrian Adagi. Digital Strategist at Chiromo Medical Health Center. Passionate about mental health and describes himself as a bit of an eccentric for his love of weird anime, weird music and a lot of weird things. Living with Major Depressive Disorder (MDD)

"This just came that one day my head of department called me into her office and she was like, “I’ve been noticing that you're coming to work late, your appearance is very not there, you’re dejected, you seem unhappy.” This was such a hard blow cause she said she was going to give me a letter and I had never gotten a letter, l was like, ‘ohmygod, Adrian getting a letter’. And it just reminded me that I was speaking to a therapist and they kept on saying that I needed to see a doctor and I was like, ‘It ain’t that serious yo.’ The ironic thing is that I work in a mental hospital and you’d expect me to know but I was like, ‘Doctor for who?’ So, after that it really hit me that I probably do need to see a doctor. I saw a doctor, Dr. Mucheru Wang’ombe – she was my choice- she was amazing, she broke down everything and she put me on medication and she told me that if It were up to her wish she’d have had me admitted but she understands the juxtaposition of me being an employee as well as me being ill. That’s the short answer. The long answer is in hindsight, I always knew sth was wrong. And that’s why I naturally gravitated towards things involving mental health. ‘Cause I was like, ‘I know sth is wrong, I don’t know whether I can fix it,’ but I didn’t think it was anything that bad. What I knew is that I didn’t want anyone else who didn’t have my so-called capacity to go through the same thing so I gravitated towards mental health and mental awareness. But I generally knew sth was wrong from when I was about 11 yo. I just knew something was wrong.Things that I noticed, rather that I felt were; I felt very slow. Waking up in the morning was an issue to the point where I would sleep at 8 p.m. but waking up at 7 a.m. was a problem. Getting out of bed was very hard, there are days I called in sick cause I couldn’t leave bed. The other one was memory. I would forget things easily. I’d feel dumber than I know I am, you know? Zile za you are so used to doing certain things but now you can’t, and now it’s not making sense to you- like how can I not do this thing? I was diagnosed with MDD. My therapist thinks it’s more persistent ‘cause it’s been two plus years. Initially, I was very hurt. It wasn’t that I didn’t accept it, I think I pretty much knew but I was hurt over it being confirmed. It was like, ‘Oh, it is true, this is what I am going through.’ I was more hurt than defiant. Yeah. When I say 2 years, that’s not really correct. I would say I have lived with this for 9 years now and it got diagnosed late last year. What have I been doing? The thing that keeps me afloat is the regular sessions that I have with my therapist. I meet her about twice a month. With that there’s also journaling, it helps a lot. I consider my journal my second brain. Like when things get too much in one brain you can just offload some onto the other one. Another big one is processing, like actively thinking about what happened, what got you here and trying to understand it fully. I am a very big advocate for processing every single day between 8-9 is processing time for me yeah. It’s that time even though other things might be happening I actively am thinking about myself. Trying to be 1% better, I don’t have any complex mechanisms. Another thing that helped truthfully is my medication. I take Fluoxetine and I just think it’s magic. I call it my magic blue pill cause life before and life after this pill is so different.Support system… interesting. What I can say for 95% of my journey to where I am, I didn’t have one (Support system). One is cause, I’m generally a secretive person by nature, I don’t talk much or disclose much to many people. I’m the guy everyone complains about how they don’t know anything about me and I like having it that way, it’s very convenient that way- so I never really had one. I would have probably appreciated one but I was in a state where asking for help was very tricky…yeah. The one I have now is pretty good. They play the listening role and call it how it is ‘cause I am also the kind of person you need to tell me how it is sometimes, you know? I might have built a sandcastle in my head or I might be out rightly stupid and I don’t even know. They play a supportive role like how I may tell them I have gone for therapy. I don’t know if you can consider my therapist and doctor my support system but I would consider them part of it. And then there are my 2 best friends. I keep them in the loop and generally just talk to them and allow them to be in my space and they let me be in theirs. I find that therapeutic enough.I am still dabbling with the idea of why. A big part of me feels like there are people out here like myself, you know? Just who’ve been dealt some interesting cuts in life- you find yourself in a position where you don’t know what is happening and your entire world is crumbling and you are just watching it burn. I feel like by sharing this story there are more people who would be able to tap into recovery and tap into energy and get better, you know? I’d say this is not permanent, you can definitely get back and build yourself back to where you were. Something that was really hard for me to take in was when my therapist told me that no matter what I did I would have still ended up depressed given everything that happened in my life, I would have still ended up depressed. No matter what route I took. I felt very hopeless and powerless after that but now I look back and I think, well, no matter what I still did survive. And many more can too no matter how dark it gets.Maybe I can add something that my mother told me once, she was like,” It doesn’t get any easier but you get tougher.” And like to many people that might not be a good thing but for me it gave me hope like, no it won’t get easier life will always throw things at you and you can never know when something heavier is coming but the good thing is with these things is you learn and gain experience and you learn how to deal with them and effectively you become a better person. You know if you ask me if I would do this again, my answer wouldn’t be a flat out no, initially I would have been like, ‘Hell no, I would never do this shit again, no,’ but now I’m like, ‘would I get the lessons and more?’ If I get the lessons then yea, but if I don’t get the lessons then I won’t do it. The lessons have kind of made it worth it."

Resident Clinical Psychologist. A strong-willed person, a fighter and loves dancing. Living with Bipolar disorder.

"Well, my current health has been stable most of the time. I’ll say so, if that makes sense. I am getting a bit more cautious especially because of COVID and stuff like that. I realized back in the year 2016 and I figured it’s not only me, it’s something that is there in the family. That’s the time that I actually- no actually it was back in the year 2012 on campus, I had gone through a traumatic break up and so I wasn’t able to attend classes and stuff like that. So, it was just a whole range and from there its been a roller coaster of so many things here and there but basically in the year 2012 I wasn’t okay fully. What helped me even more was the course that I did which was psychology, helped me figure this out. I started taking it seriously in the year 2012, that was the year I had come from a major break up from my end- I was depressed, I would just sleep in bed the whole day. I also couldn’t find pleasure in activities; I was feeling like things are bad. Then I could start my activities at night so I was basically also insomniac. I was highly irritable and had a lot of crying spells- I don’t know, a lot of things were going through my mind. Negative thought patterns, a little bit of suicidal thoughts here and there but nothing much. So that is how I felt, I felt so bad about myself, my esteem had gone down completely- I was feeling crashed.It has been rough; it hasn’t been easy for me. On and off I’d be unstable, sometimes I'd be an extremely happy, talkative person, you know, all those kinds of things. I think the hardest for me was last year (2019) when I broke down and was totally manic. However, I still managed to defend my proposal back in school and do well in my exams despite that major psychotic break. It hasn’t been easy. Then I lost my mom this year, she also had bipolar so it’s quite a lot. So, there was a point last year where I delved into bad drinking habits. I started drinking a lot, excessively, so it wasn’t a good thing. However, I am trying to work on that but not having drinks so what I do is dance as a form of therapy as well as listen to music and do more art therapy and stuff like that. Basically, that is what I do to have healthy coping mechanisms and also talking to my therapist. I feel like that is what I do best. I do, but I’m trying to get a better support system if that makes sense.I feel like it is important to break the stigma surrounding mental health and being a mental health practitioner, I feel like it makes me a better practitioner and relatable to some people plus it inspires me to be better every day. Maybe just to encourage those people who are going through this, just know you can live a normal life, you can manage these symptoms so long as you gain better insight and get to understand whatever it is that you are going through ,and there’s a lot of help out here, in Chiromo Lane Medical Centre, at Oasis, Kenyatta National Hospital and Mathare- all those places, there is help. You don’t have to go through this alone."


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