Today is World Mental Health day. I get the opportunity to do what I love most working with the refugee community.It has been a whole week of mental health awareness. A team of agencies has come together recognizing that mental health cannot be addressed by one person. There is a MHPSS(mental health working group) that discusses these matters often and undertake interventions to improve mental wellbeimg of refugees.Unlike a physiological conditions mental health is easy to miss. In a population such as refugees this is an inevitable concern. While a history of trauma and living in conditions of adversity can build on ones resilience quite, it also leaves many broken with wounds that cannot be pointed. Imagine having to lose family, leave what you called home and stay in a camp in a foreign country, losing a social system, livelihood and just staying on a constant state of hoping something will change year in year out.Being a refugee is not easy. Here in Turkana west sometimes it rains heavily and floods. Houses swept off. On many other occasions, it is hot, so hot. Young people resort to drugs and the rising rates of suicide is a clear indication of hopelessness.I talk about my village Chepkunyuk the place of wonder a lot where I see the chllenges with young people. Yet even in my practice as a therapist the rates of attempted suicide, suicidal ideation, depression and anxiety among the young people has been high.I wonder what we can do to restore the hope of the generation. Thing is, you would think how technology has brought us so close a global village that more than ever we would be hopeful yet it is the exact opposite.This cannot be done by one person. It is all of us to come together and ignite some light again where it had gone dim. Restoring hope is giving a listening ear, caring about others and most importantly caring about self. Self care is the conscious intention and action that facilitate wellbeing of mind, body, emotional and spiritual wellbeing.As I join the unique integration if refugee and host community at Kalobeyei, I am reminded indeed that the act of giving home to a refuge is a true expression of humanity.#TurkanaCradleofHumanity #WorldMentalHealthDay
Photography by Radiant eye
Last year I was reminded how much we can be distant from each other without knowing. Friends can be together yet within one may be hurting. The social media had made it in such a way that how you appear in public should be with a glow at all times. And so that selfie moment had to be created with every artistic element to retain the illusion of perfection.In my village Chepkunyuk the place of wonders, stories of people always go around just like in any other village and now in the global social media village. I am growing a deep conviction that any people around the river tend to suffer some ailment I cannot quite express. Let me not speak of the Nile and the deep issues of refugee problem around it. But I digress. So in this neighbourhood are young people who have grown from and some really made huge influence, there are young people, lots of them lost in hope. The other day one of the young men also from a family friend’s succumbed to this mental health challenge that we still keep a dead ear to and committed suicide. He had hanged himself on the tea weighing shade which was deeply panful for his young family and friends. Just before that my friend Stella who had just given birth got post partum depression which she succumbed to through suicide.These deeply disturbing scenarios of young people have been reported all over. I am sure even reading this, you will connect to a memory of someone you know who had committed suicide.September was suicide awareness month. October 10th is World mental health awareness day. The theme for this year is suicide prevention. One of my favourite writers Yuval mentioned in his book that it is now easier to die of depression than of hunger. Which makes one wonder, what needs to be done?I am writing to you my friend to invite you to what I think we can do together. They say the opposite of addiction is connection. If indeed underlying most of these mental issues is that how we connect makes a difference, is it possible that we create this space? The world has its challenges, actually many yet again a world some years ago had different. Imagine a few years ago I couldn’t write here and reach you within minutes. Imagine a few years ago malnutritioned killed huge populations. Yet again we have tapped into our humanity to solve most of these challenges.I invite you to choose life. And life is not mine alone but mine and yours. Chosing life is caring about a loved one, it is caring about self, it sharing love, it is acknowledging pain and allowing the process of healing. Hug a friend and be that life force for someone in pain.Choose life be the life force, connect with humanity
As I was walking along the streets of Nairobi, a lady stopped me and asked, ‘Are you Brenda Sharp?’ I nodded. ‘I know you from Facebook! Thank you very much for your lessons on letting go. You came at a critical moment when I was battling leaving my abusive relationship. I am now at that point where I am asking myself, where do I go from here?’ This question challenged me. I realized I had a task ahead of me to continue the conversation I had started. So on this month of May we will continue the conversation, this time on new beginnings.
I’ve been bleeding for Eleven days now. My skin hasturned pale and it is slowly turning into a crisis. There was an option given at the hospital. If the bleeding exceeds a week, come back for review. Going for review meant talking with that woman. She would say, “nyinyi wasichana wadogo, mnashindwa kufunga miguu. Si mtumie condom kama hamwezi vumilia?” She does not care how the pregnancy happened, she just knows it’s my fault. But this crisis must be resolved. Luckily, it was a male doctor. He brought back some of my self-esteem when he said that my organ is clean and quite well taken care of. Something the woman did not even notice. A painful process of evacuation of remnants, amidst prayer and bargaining with God to keep me alive despite my sins of fornication and now murder.
The next weeks were spent every morning in church. Prayer after prayer over the consequences of my actions. School performance dropped and through thinking about my crimes, I realized I needed to change my line of study from what I was doing to what I truly loved.
Sitting in that group with women sharing my experiences, I asked, who among you has ever had an abortion. They all raised their hand, ALL the nine ladies. Some started crying. I was shocked because for a long time I thought I was a careless person to have trusted that man and not taken the precautions that I needed to. One lady asked, what difference would we have made, what should we have done. Maybe that way we can reach our young sisters and daughters.
I had met Christian in University politics. We were deeply engaged in the system. He was a medical student and had won chairmanship. My boyfriend had been away for eight months now. I was starting to feel the effects of a long distance relationship. Christian participated in sports, as a Rugby player. He was well built. He was an intellectual – the common thread that ran through my lovers.
After six months of seeing each other with me playing hard to get, I gave in to the emotions. I was an open minded girl. I carried condoms with me and insisted on their use. To the best of my knowledge, we used them all through.
Then I started feeling different, something in me had changed. I discussed it with Christian and he said I was pregnant. So I looked at him with this disbelieving face, how can I be pregnant? we had not had unprotected sex. He off-handedly said that he didn’t know who I had been sleeping with besides him. I was emraged by the insinuation when he was the only man I was seeing. I told him that I would take the test. if I was pregnant then the relationship was over for it would mean betrayal. Of course to me this wasn’t possible. We got to the chemist, I peed on the test and true enough, I was pregnant.
I got to my room angry, frustrated and pained, betrayed by the man I trusted. I did everything right but I now was pregnant. How do I tell anyone about this when we all know that we should be responsible. I was there talking to girls and women about responsibility and now here I am pregnant. What would the church say? who would marry me with a child? my mother will kill me! These thoughts raced through my mind and I realized I was alone. I had blocked Christian on all my access channels, blocked and deleted his number and any attempts he made to reach me were futile. A girl I knew told me that I could have a safe abortion at a clinic. She took me there. I explained myself to the doctor and he sent me to the nurse who really made it her mission to guilt trip me.
What could I have done differently, really? I think nothing. I have done what I could then and didn’t have to live with the guilt anymore.
The conversation on abortion cannot be held without sex education. Sex conversations are a taboo and people think that having them is like teaching children to have sex. A proposal was made that condoms be introduced in schools and the number of influential people against it were many. It is not just in teens but even adults find it a challenge to have these conversation about birth control and sex. Sex is at the core of family union, yet it is viewed with fear and shame. And you wonder why shame and fear are the only ways we know how to parent.
By decriminalizing abortion, you allow for sex education and introduction of birth control lessons. You allow for safe health care. It is for these pretence that we have Mugo Wairimu and many back street doctors undertaking unsafe and abusive handling of clients as they are the only source of hope for the women.
The state continues to discriminate and punish women by denying them this access. The role of parenting is not just about carrying pregnancy to term and giving birth, it is the emotional, physical, psychological and material concerns. If the government insists on having abortion criminal, then they should give an allow
It is a few months after my graduation. It has been exciting to complete. The only dream I ever had was to have a good education join the University and of course happiness and wealth shall follow me, or so they told me. The truth was however very far from this.
I have just got a place to stay in Zimmerman. The Thika Highway many young people will tell you is a highway of discovering that we need to let go what we hold for a moment. For the past few weeks I have not been eating well. I have not made a penny and so all I have is wheat flour. My meals are pancake and strong tea. All without sugars. I spent most of the nights fighting with mosquitoes and most of the days crying about my problems. This slowly morphs into lack of appetite and days go without me eating. I am on this mattress all the time and it has been about a week since I last stepped out. My mind is filled with thoughts. Most confirming to me how unfortunate I am to have been born, how lacking is in my nature and everything that goes to show that I was responsible for my misfortunes.
There is a different thought that has mutated from this negativity. I, a lot of times wish I could just have something detach my head so I could stop these thoughts. I wish I had a gun and I could shoot my brain off this awareness of my helplessness. I wish I could stop my mind just for a moment so it ceases to exist. The whole village had gathered when I joined university. They all had advises. What stuck with me was that I needed to come back and help them. Here was I good for nothing wallowing in my useless education.
After several days of not eating not sleeping, a friend invites me for dinner. I didn’t even think I had any friends any longer. As was my nature in my ability to say no, I just accepted this offer. I dress without even caring how I look. My hair is shabby, I am crossing the drainage just outside my house, the niff hits me and it reminds me how stinky my life really is. Two men on the side, a strong smell of cheap alcohol and weed comes from them. I know they are in the same situation as I am or how else would they allow themselves to be drunk at this hour.
At my friend’s, he asks me how I really am. Somehow this provokes a stream of tears down my face. It has been very difficult to respond to this question lately without lying with the normal fine answer. I tell him that I need a job and then I can’t stop crying. He takes me to his house thereafter. I spend most of the night reading a book as I do not want to engage him and bring out the filth in my life. He leaves me in his house as he goes to work in the morning. I decide to wash dishes. It is in this small activity that I am awakened to the realization of my state of mind. I spend so much time washing the knife. Most of this time I am in my head contemplating how difficult it is to successfully kill self with a knife. I am wondering what other options could just help me shut my mind down and fully so I am not awake to this state of agony. The activity of washing dishes, is very helpful somehow as these thoughts on my mind undergo a different process. Through this activity I realize the role of my actions towards addressing my situation.
Moving from the moment of repression to active processing of my situation was the awakening that these few months of my depression had led me to. Depression had taken me away from awareness of my self, my abilities and just the moment of breathing and being alive. It had turned this into work that keeping myself alive was the most tedious thing.
Now that I look back, I am happy I went through this moment. I stand here today talking about mental health because my experiences led me to understanding what the truly valuable things in life are. It was not my education that was valuable, not a job, not money, what truly is valuable is being self aware, living in happiness and spreading the love and joy. Somehow through this everything is brought into perspective.
The brain is a very powerful organ that has the power alleviate us from our suffering. I remember when I was young and I would here quotes like the, ‘you can only make yourself happy’ and indeed at that time I didn’t understand it. To put this into perspective, 81% of people with depression who were put under placebos responded as though they were on antidepressants. That says a lot about what believing in that drug had on the healing process as the brain was producing chemicals that acted as antidepressants for these individuals. The mind is what the brain does. Your senses all bring information into this processor we call the brain. The brain processes this and reacts with an appropriate response. The brain will use the existing database from memories known and unknown to us and the system runs itself. Now the brain listens and takes instructions from all these sensory organs then computes. If you send sensory information based on your thoughts it will respond as though they are real. If you send thoughts of being attacked by a lion for instance, with the emotion of fright and all perceptions around this, the brain will indeed respond to protect you as though it is an actual attack. A lot of times we are sending signals based on our past experiences rather than present realities. We think of that low moment growing up, the poverty, the lacking, the conflicts and then get stuck on that thought and emotion. The brain does its job, computes constantly and puts you in a state of freeze as it would when you were a child to protect you from that harm you could not battle against.
Well when we talk of the freeze response, it is one of the stress responses the others being flight and fight. When a danger signal is sent, the brain prepares the body to fight or run away from the danger. In other instances it prepares it to play dead. It is a survival mechanism learned over the centuries of our existence as a species. During the freeze response, the body slows and shuts down or rather kills several internal processes except a few vital ones to keep one alive. While these responses are fundamental in times of danger, if we get stuck on them because of our thoughts from past experiences and not actual danger, the body at some point becomes incapable of self sustaining.
We now have many of us stuck on these responses. We are paralysed from addressing our situations as we are either stuck with the negative emotions of the past or worries of the future. To recover from these patterns and heal our minds, we need to bring ourselves to this moment. We will learn to exist in the thought and emotions of what we want to create and challenge ourselves when we go back to those patterns of our histories that are not relevant to our currentsituations. For some it takes journeys of self discovery, for some it takes life changing experiences and for some it requires support of loved ones or a therapist who can work with them in replacing these patterns learned over the years. What remains true is that eventually in whatever approach one seeks this process, the solution is within, in self awareness. During this mental awareness month, let us remember the endowments that we hold as humans, of self awareness, of imagination, of independent will and of conscience. Let us use them for our enlightenment, empowerment, for our awakening, for inner peace and for peaceful coexistence with others.
That night in that small room, old clothes were arranged into a makeshift bed for us, my two siblings besides me snoring. My eyes were wide open, i couldn’t sleep. I was tired. I think I was was about six. I had seen more than I had heard. The fights between mum and dad. Sometimes I wanted to take dad’s side. Mum complained about his drinking and the women, yet when he was drunk I felt closer to him, I believed mummy was the one at fault. It didn’t help that she was the disciplinarian. She beat me for every small mistake whether I’d done it or not. Often, I felt that she took out her frustration from my dad on me. This particular night, I had just given them a lecture. I was tired of hearing them. I demanded that they make up and if they didn’t, I was going to leave. It seemed to me that my being born was the cause of my mother’s suffering – that she had married my dad because she had become pregnant. I didn’t know where to go to but I knew I had to get away.
The next morning, they were civil to each other but something had changed between me and my mother. We developed a close friendship and often, she would confide in me. I listened, eager to help, and even gave advice. Sometimes I would intervene with my dad and being the girl that I was he definitely listened. I didn’t realize how insidiously I had lost my childhood. I didn’t have many friends. I did not play much and I spent most of my time trying to relieve my mother of her burden. I would do the house chores and take care of my little siblings. And above all I listened patiently.
I grew up knowing I wanted to marry and have a family of my own, like the perfect poster child. My family would be different. It would be nothing like what my mother and father had. But their relationship had made me wary. I feared giving my heart. Slowly, I had come to believe that all men were like my father and opening my heart up to a man was opening it up for heartbreak. When I met my first love, it was in the most unexpected of circumstances. I dialed a wrong number and he just kept talking. We got to meet. On that first meeting – we arranged to meet at a local hotel – he lied about where he was seated and how he was dressed. I sat there waiting only to be joined by someone completely different. That should have been the first red flag but this treachery excited me. Later on, he would often call me monkey. I’d laugh if off rather than being offended. The relationship had been founded on mistrust and curiosity. I would pretend not to want him then turn around and obsessively get close to him. I would torment myself when he was away, calling him over and over. He would ignore the calls which would highten my anxiety. At midnight he would knock on my door and all would be forgotten.
Somehow I was getting into the patterns of my mother. This relationship reminded me of a feeling in childhood. I was eight years old. Uncle Paul had come visiting. He stayed with us, sleeping in the little hut that was also sometimes a store when we had produce. He played with me often. One evening he called me to his hut. I got in and he closed the door behind me. He asked me to undress as he undressed. I could see his huge inflamed mahhood. It is a blurred memory that keeps creeps up on me every time I am with my lover. He began playing with it, rubbing it on my genitals. He asked me to make sounds like it was Christmas food I was enjoying. To tell him that it is sweet and i like it. He made the sounds too and then he peed on me. Now I learn that it was ejaculant. He warned me not to tell anyone as lightning will strike me. I shut up about the whole incident that I even forgot about it or so I thought until I got into this relationship.
I realize now that I have attachment issues. I have learned now that attachment is not just about closeness to a person but the deep connection that binds. It is the way we connect with fellow humans by the habits, lessons, and histories we share. It is that parent child connection from birth. There are four kinds of attachment, a secure attachment, an anxious, disorganized and an avoidant attachment styles. Secure attachment leads to healthy interactions. What I had was an insecure attachment. Insecure attachment are often by care givers and parents who are mis-attuned, distant or intrusive. Because of my relationship with my parents, Uncle Paul visiting and other relationships, I developed avoidant patterns of attachment in my relationships. The incest experience with uncle Paul was had left a wound. I now learn that taking care of my mother’s needs exposed me to premature maturity . I now know that her disregard of my needs and feelings, her discouraging me from crying when I was younger only distanced me from myself. As a result as a child and as I grew up I learned not to seek for care or emotional support from others.
My journeys of healing have led me to meditation. Now I learn that the healing path to attachment is to detach. I learn that it is a continuous journey. This was the painful lesson from that Meditation class. The guide continued, “Focus on the breath. Thoughts will come and go. Just let them but don’t hold to any of them. Feelings will come and go, just let them. Do not hold on to any.” It sounded easy until I experienced the true meaning of relativity of time, five minutes stretched on for what felt like an hour and thirty minutes was like a lifetime. I thought I was going crazy until the guru said “you will realize that the mind cannot keep still. There is so much. It has always been this way but today you gave it a minute and experienced it. It is a muscle the more you exercise it, the more you perfect it. Just keep trying even if it is just for five breaths.”
In this month of April, as I explore attachment and unhealthy attachment patterns, hope is not lost. We can develop Earned Secure Attachment at any age. It takes work of self-awareness with intentions of self-care.
I am reminded so much of some things I saw as a young girl. So my uncle William loved to play with dogs a lot. And he would dangle with stuff in his hands. The dog would try reaching it but William was good with keeping them reaching and longing. They never got what he had in his hands but he would lead them to the tea plantations. For some reason that longing made them catch ‘Kipsigaa’ a small animal that ate chicken. By then William would be back to his stuff and the dogs would find him gone. Sometimes they found nothing and they would go searching for uncle William something they were always successful at.
Then there are those people you can never do good by. They give unreachable expectations and no matter what you do, you can never please them. They are always setting standards and determining the reach. Then we find ourselves being led by the desire to reach those standards good by them. Sometimes they give us so much energy that we end up getting things done and even when we come back to check they are nowhere.
This story is for you who relies on likes, views, feedback and many of other of society standards and approval. You who has left others to determine your fate. Awaken that desire in you, awaken the teacher, the critic, the mother, the wise one. Awaken you for the ego plays with you like my uncle William plays with the dog. Just like him its standards are unreachable. But YOU, that you outside society’s standards can experience the here and now and set out to live. Be Sharp