Coping with mental health issues in Africa

Sunset in KenyaWritten by: Marie Abanga

I knew all along that something was wrong with me but I just couldn’t put my finger on it. My life as I so honestly and shamelessly narrate in my memoir, tells so much.

Synopsis

I have always been a jolly and extrovert person and have lived parallel lives since the age of 13 or younger. Societal norms, tradition, religion… give them any name… don’t leave room for ‘mental illness’ to be treated when it is considered some ‘fake depression’ and you seem a bit ‘shaggy’.
Shaggy is a new term l have coined for myself and maybe the likes of me? Back home, when you are insulted as being a ‘Sheggae’, it means your are simply put ‘nuts’. So l devised ‘shaggy’ which means to me, nutty but coping. In other words, l am admitting to sometimes have a nutty tendency, but which l try to cope or even thrive with somewhat. I recently posted more random thoughts on shaggyness and hope you have a good read.

Therefore, when I started doing irrational things my own ‘shaggy’ way, by falling in love with a seminarian and eventually having a child with him, it didn’t ring a bell with me or my mum. I continued to oscillate between ‘normal’ and ‘shaggy’. It is not normal for a ‘well brought up’ catholic girl to even think about such an ‘abomination’, not to talk of getting herself involved in such a web. I really think now that those were triggers missed by my mum and l to name just us.

Marriage and ‘madness’ are my refuge

Who gets married as a refuge? Me. Who commits adultery over and over? Me. Who talks about it shamelessly? Me. Who gets up and abandons that same marriage and three children? Who enjoys the company of ‘bad guys’, dates another priest, and elopes with a ‘street kid’? Me. So, if this is not ‘madness’, then what is it? I leave the ‘madness’ in quotes because I have yet to get a medical diagnosis.
I remember when I would spend days in bed so depressed, when I wouldn’t want my husband to touch me and when I stopped sleeping with him. Yes, he helped ‘damage’ me but then , mindless of the domestic abuse, I was already a ‘broken’ and ‘shaggy’ person.

I didn’t think of going to a therapist.

I remember shutting down my facebook page and deciding leaving was my only option because nobody thought I needed help.  They were afraid there was too much at stake, such as status and honour, to admit there was a problem. Yes, I may not have gone full manic and all, but l know how l felt inside. I felt terrible and at the same time I felt useless. I felt drained to use this mild word and l just felt l couldn’t put up any more ‘shows’ so as to fit in society and be considered as normal. Suicide indeed seemed a good option.

No diagnosis to date?

Oh yes, no diagnosis to date because there seemed to be no need to—everyone had me already figured out.

Let’s see. Somebody told me this after reading my book:

“The roots of your challenges were spiritual.  Something within the family ancestral bloodline.  I have been told of a Cameroon tribe where the women are ancestrally cursed never to have a stable home. I am not saying yours is one of those.  But seriously, I think there’s a need to break the cycle. I am pleased with your redemption.  But you need something extra. It’s not religion. It’s the total personal surrender to the Saviour and let rule in your heart TOTALLY.”

I don’t want to laugh hysteria or go nuts.  I just think it would make more sense that there has been no diagnosis to date because society already has one for the likes of ME. You see, this reader was an African Brother talking to me like that, just as a few others have done too.

In Cameroon where l come from, it is common to hear people say ‘madness runs in that family’, they are cursed, bewitched or all three. Those are some of the reasons why when what they would call ‘funny behaviour or evil attack’ is noticed enough to draw even your family’s attention, the first point of call is very often the Church to see an exorcist, and then, a soothsayer to hear how deep a family curse or madness there is.

I am however determined, now more than ever, to see a psychiatrist, a therapist, and all. I am out of Africa now and have all sorts of resources and support at my disposal. In deed, I have an appointment for August 12 which l recently scheduled.  As for stigma, I stigmatize it.  I am proud to be a mental health patient, survivor and advocate. As for what my mother might think, this is nothing new because she has a son with a more complicated situation to worry over.

Maybe it is Dysthymic disorder

Otherwise known as dysthymia. I really need a diagnosis so as to understand myself and society more. I am so grateful for all the sites I have been visiting recently and all the resources l have been reading and what l have been doing. I have a blogging pal by name Dr H&J who blogs over at The Bipolar Bum. Through him and his posts, I got to check out several other like minded blogs and read relevant articles. I have read lots of non-fiction books like; Surviving Schizophrenia: A Memoir by Louise Gillet, Leaving the Hall Light On by Madeleine Sarples, and several other articles from the National Institute of Mental Health’s website.

My mission

I almost committed suicide once –dropped that knife at the very last minute.  I have no shame in admitting that. However, I am much better now and dream of becoming a personal and emotional well-being coach. I am no longer interested in practicing law. That rings a bell right? I need to be really well and sure I am on the right path and I will not sink down there again. Sometime when society holds you as doing good, they discourage you from thinking you may actually have a problem. That is my challenge right now; because of that ‘perception’ by many that l am so fine, healthy, happy and may not really need to go begging for a mental diagnosis.

My advice to fellow mentally challenged

I found some probable reasons of ‘mental illness’:

  • personal genes
  • biochemical environment
  • personal experience and
  • psychological factors.

I searched to no avail to find a single cause of a person’s temperament, or religion, or sorcery and all. I still wonder why it is so challenging to even look at the possibility of a mental disorder until almost all options are exhausted and the ‘patient’ is maybe really ‘nuts’ by then. So, the bottom line is, only ‘we’ can help ourselves. If we can face it, once we notice the symptoms, we should seek help and I mean shamelessly. I don’t think I did that forcefully enough and so I wasn’t taken serious by my mother who only thought l was ‘possessed’.

The ball is in our court.

Science is so evolved today and the technology world makes it so possible to reach out to all sorts of support groups, gather information and just breathe again. We have to stop giving up on ourselves because that forms temporal solutions to permanent problems.

 

Image credit: eirasi

 


Marie AbangaMarie Abanga
is a woman who goes by what she calls her three Ds: Determination, Discipline and Dedication. To this you can add Dynamism. She trained as a Lawyer but after tough times, left all behind including her three boys to relocate to Belgium and start a new life. She is a masters student in International Law, but her recently published book titled My Unconventional Loves: My Hurts, My Adulteries, My Redemption, shed light on her struggles with what she now thinks is a yet to be diagnosed mental illness. Marie blogs at http://marieabanga.com/


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