MANAGING MENTAL ILLNESS AND EMPLOYMENT

I get asked a lot about how I manage to work an 8 to 5 in a law firm and manage Heart to Heart spaces at the same time with my diagnosis. Honestly sometimes I ask myself how I have made it to the end of the week or more so the month. I do not have the strongest desire to live and fight on but I feel the need to encourage people who fight or struggle with mental illness that there is space at the table. I am diagnosed with Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder that comes with its babies like Major Depressive Disorder, Severe Anxiety and Mild OCD.

 On some days I wake up okay. The zoning out is at 30 percent and my brain can manage to stay in touch with what is happening around me. These are by far my best productivity days at work. I can even be assigned to talk to a new client and my social anxiety will not get in the way. I call those my super lawyer days. 

Then they are Nights where my symptoms get the best of me. Most times I feel like I am drowning, losing my breath, my fight or flight response is triggered, I am panicking and throwing up, having the worst muscle and joint pain and I can’t help but cry through this. The not so funny bit is that I need to watch how much I cry because I don’t want my eyes to be swollen the next day at the office to cause any alarm. I want to fit in perfectly with the “I am fine or I had a great night crew” and I am here to give of myself like the rest of my colleagues, they really care about me. God bless their souls.

(The image below is a picture of me at work after I had a mental breakdown the previous night)

Mornings are the toughest bit. I wake up early but take an hour or more to convince myself to get out of bed. I majorly speak kindly to myself step by step. “Rih you need to get up and shower, you really need to oil yourself and no you can’t go to work in your pyjamas although they seem comfortable. Please try to talk to at least 3 people and remember to smile occasionally despite all the emotional, mental and physical pain you are in.”

Truth is it takes a lot, especially when the suicidal ideations kick in and I have to rebut them with positive coping mechanisms and keeping it together at the same time. I remember last week I was just looking at this huge punching machine on my desk and just wanting to use it on my hand to feel anything other than the numbness that had sat with me all day. I knew I needed more help, I needed to see my doctor and work through this. 

Its not much but it’s taken time for me to get here. Where I know when it’s beyond me and I have to walk myself to  hospital and ask for help. I have learnt how to be kinder to myself on this journey because let’s be honest, I am the best person to understand me because it’s my brain and my body. I need to be my greatest ally. I know that it takes time to heal and I am learning to stop shaming myself for the relapses. They are just part of the journey.

The difference between the Rih that was first diagnosed and the Rih now is that I have hope, even when the darkness comes, there will be better days ahead. Even though it’s just one, I plan to live it to the fullest. I am still working through the guilt I feel when my doctor recommends days off for recovery but baby steps. I hope to get there one day.

Wake Me Up When It’s All Over….Maybe.

Two things hit me when April comes around. The first is the fact I was born and such an accolade has to come with great vibes. The second is that just a day before I was sexually assaulted in 2006.

Therapy has a way of reminding you about things you blocked out. Well the years before I would make such a big deal about celebrating my existence. I would dictate every single detail as to how the celebration was supposed to go. It would be a whole week of this false hype. I say false because I now know why I did it that way.

I think maybe it was a way of replaying the events and maybe hoping for a different outcome. I remember that day I wanted to make a phone call to my mum to ask if she was coming for my visitation day. Well she informed me she hated chaos and would come the next day so I opted to dictate what she would come with for my birthday.

My brain often shuts out the rest of the details but since last year I started to remember. Having these memories is hard. I have so many questions but the one that tops my list is where God was in all this.

So I am sitting here numb while I look at all happy new month messages and honestly I wish someone would wake me up when it’s all done.

A Love Like This

Prince Paul Job Kafeero said, ‘Toli wakitalo nga gwe bwolowoza, twali tulabye abanene emirembe ngalo.’ In a nutshell, what he meant is that there is pretty much nothing new on the face of the earth. That’s why this is not a story of grief albeit I lost my dear brother Davis in a nasty motor accident last Sunday. People lose loved ones and I am not the first. This is a story of LOVE.

As I was ensconced in a sofa watching the much anticipated Manchester derby, I received a disturbing phone call from my dad. Davis had been involved in a motor accident that was most likely fatal in Kazinga, Bweyogerere on his way to Seeta at approximately 7:30 pm. He asked me to go find out. As I was driving through thick traffic jam along the road towards the scene, a kind-hearted boda boda rider advised me to use an alternative route. ‘Awo mumaaso waliwo gwe batomedde n’omulambo guli wakati mu Kkubo’, he said. Translated loosely to mean, there is a person that has been knocked dead ahead.

My heart was nearly shattered. But I had hope that it may not be davis afterall. As I rushed to the scene, I found my brothers; Jonah, Joel, Nasser and Byron in panic and disbelief. Davis still had some life in him, at least we thought. Jonah was holding Davis’ hand and chest. I held Jonah’s back with burning tears forming in my eyes. I couldn’t bring myself to look at Davis. Our dear Davis.

Davis had been knocked unconscious and had fallen at the road’s side. Young energetic men had carried him into the middle of the road and created stone barricades at either side of the same. All motorized vehicles had been stopped on either side and the group that had now grown into a mob declared that Davis shall not be touched nor could any first aid he administered. They kept shouting ‘Nga bobi wine bwabeela mukifo police eyanguwa okutuuka naye akisidenti bwebawo barwaawo?’ Why does police rush to disperse political crowds involving Bobiwine but take their time to respond to casualty emergencies?, they went on.

In that moment, my brother had become an experiment. We were blocked from taking him to hospital. The mob declined to offer any help to Davis. They threatened to kill us if we dared to remove our brother. They owned him. He bled out on the cold road in our arms. We mourned him before he died. We could have done something. We would have tried. But we were denied. I can only imagine how scared and lonely he must have felt as he was leaving his body. That unlucky bastard. That unlucky son of the soil. But this is not a politically charged story however much the evil and indifference of those goons sickens me. This is a story of LOVE.

Davis would not have wanted me to be bitter. In his calm collected demeanor, he would have said ‘abo basonyiwe’. Forgive them.

My brother’s name ‘is’ Davis Byabashaija. I am not yet used to the pronoun ‘was’. You may wonder how Byabashaija whose name belongs to the far west of this country is brothers with Mangeni Jethro who clearly hails from the east-end. Here is the beginning of the love story;

Davis was born into our family in 2005. He was 14 years old at the time and I was 12. He was legally adopted by my parents who formerly became his foster parents. It was a large family with 9 boys at the time. He could speak a semblance of Luganda but you could tell that it was stained by a heavy Runyankore accent. Most of us hadn’t lost our innocence at the time and as such, it wasn’t a bad accent. It was a funny one.

At the time, it didn’t matter that people came from different parts of this country and Kanyankore (as our village shop keeper was referred to) wasn’t an insult either. It was a name. Davis told me that Omuchooli means maize where he comes from yet it meant something else where I grew up. We made fun of his mixed Luganda-Runyankore concoction, we laughed and got pissed with each other and over time our brotherhood was born.

Everybody in the family loved the son of the soil. Each of us wanted to go to the same school with Davis (Little matter that our dear father took all of us through the same schools). There was something electric about Davis. You could tell he was special. No wonder Davis topped his class at almost every level and even more so that he was the Head Boy of his primary school and the Deputy Head Prefect of Busoga College Mwiri in his Senior 3. Davis is the magnet that brought all of us together. No wonder up until last Sunday, he was my father’s closest ally and my mother’s most trusted confidant. Anyway, how did Davis end up in foster care!

In the year 2000, Davis’ mother based deep in Kati Village, Kashenshero, Mitooma District had seen something special in her son. He was in P.3 at the time but due to financial constraints, he was to end up uneducated like his elder siblings. She devised a plan to have him further his education. She gave Davis to a truck driver who dealt in ferrying ‘Matooke’ from western Uganda to the Capital. Davis was to work as a turn boy for the truck driver and earn his school fees. Davis was 9 years old.

The driver abandoned my brother in Owino market which was a maze that an adult could hardly decipher (We need to make the story shorter lest you get tired and abandon ship). Davis was adopted into the street by life’s cruel hands for two years. He was later adopted by an organisation called Retrack for rehabilitation until 2005 when he was adopted into a foster home. Our home.

Many years later when Davis could come up with figments of his ealier childhood and his initial home, we embarked on a journey to go find his biological parents. After getting lost for two days with most villagers telling us ‘gumizamu’, he finally recollected the route home. His bewildered parents took to their heels with blistering speed on seeing the ghost of their son whom they had assumed dead. After formal introductions and shared meals, the family of Mr. Mangeni was born into the family of Mr. Byaruhanga Abel. A love like this. A love that transcends tribe and economic status. I guess you see why this is a story of love.

This is my version of the story of love, but I am sure as day turns into night, that countless love stories can be written about my brother Davis. Davis’ body has been laid to rest in the land where his ancestors lie deep in Kashenshero, Mitooma District. He has left a beautiful daughter and an amazing wife Angella.

But I didn’t write this to tell you that Davis and I not only shared a birthday but also the unmatched love for Rhumba and Congolese music. From Mbilia Bel to Franco all the way to Les Wanyika. That is not why I wrote this story. I wrote this story to tell you that LOVE transcends politics and tribe. And that a love like this is the true definition of love.

Clocks slay time. Time is dead as long as its being clicked off the clock wheels. Only when the clock stops, does time come to life. Davis’ clock stopped on 7thMarch, 2021.

I pray for strength for our parents from Busia, our parents from Mitooma and all our siblings. May the son of the soil forever rest happily in our hearts.

Jethro Mangeni (His younger brother)

THE FIGHT TO STAY

It’s 10:30 pm I am scrolling through my social media and I receive a message. It’s been a minute since I talked someone out of suicide so I am panicking but at the same time I hope I get through to her.

She is done fighting, I can feel it. How you ask? Because I have been at the edge before and not so long ago. Just four months ago sitting at my bedside after a year of no self harm I gallop all my pills for the week and wish I do not wake up. “I have done my part” I convince myself. Two hours later I wonder why I am still here, breathing…my heart beating.

I can’t sleep, my body is tormenting me physically from the overdose. My mind is however excited. “It must be working. I am finally going to switch off and rest.” It’s three hours now and nothing. Death doesn’t seem to want me. “Wasn’t I courageous enough in looking for it?” Convinced I sit up again and pop anything left.

My parents and friends do not know because I have been brave for them. I am however tired of being a smiling burden. I text Sandra to let her know what I have done and to ask her to take over heart to heart spaces.”Anytime now, I say to myself.” I want to cry but I can’t. I am numb. I hate myself, I hate it here.

It’s 7 in the morning, I have stayed up all night, nothing has worked. Maybe it’s a miracle, maybe I am not yet done with what ABBA wants of me. I get myself together take a shower and show up for my day like nothing happened.

I show up to be a daughter, sister, friend and a mental health advocate. This is my reality, I get ready for work and as I do so I look at myself in the mirror and see the face of a thousand voices that are afraid to speak their truth.

It’s 11:00pm, I hope I got through to her to stay so we can fight through this together.

NB: Please note all images are in no way a property of the author and have been sourced from pinterest.

THE MAGIC OF THE MOUNTAIN

I have never climbed a mountain. In fact the first time I went on a hike was with my cousin Kathie and I hated it a lot. I didn’t get why we had to walk for an hour and a half as part of our little vacation to look at the different kind of trees in the forest yet we could have sat next to the pool and googled them one after the other.

She seemed to convince me that it would be fun. So there I was under the sun being punished for existing. (😂😂 at least it felt that way) Last year I was in the company of a good friend who told me that he was going to climb the Rwenzori mountain as his birthday gift to himself. I figured that he just loved long suffering as opposed to the “soft life”

He started working towards his goal and this had him go on long walks to prepare. Right about the same time I was undergoing a relapse and I could hardly get out of bed. One morning inspired by his hard work I secretly started walking. First I walked to my door, then I walked to my gate. This wasn’t easy and involved a lot of tears.

The next two weeks I challenged myself to walk around the housing estate. Six weeks later my friend climbed the mountain and made it to the peak. Two weeks later I was walking 8 kilometers. Today these walks are my favorite part of my week. I get to spend time with myself and I also get to take care of my body.

I asked my friend how hiking the mountain was and he responded “There is no word in the vocabulary to describe what it felt like being at the top after a six day hike. On some days during the hike my legs were in so much pain that I literally had to carry one after the other to keep moving but when I made it to the top, it was worth every step”

NB: The images used in this blog are the property of Uganda Tourist Board.

BEFORE YOU SPEAK

I often speak less and listen more around people that are not in my inner circle. Views are thrown around easily. My least favorite topic is feelings and thoughts, the assumptions people have blow my mind.

Most times I want to interject and throw in an exemption to the presumption they hold but I settle for having a conversation about it in my head. Trust me I have grown to learn that yields more results.

“Feelings can be controlled.” “Do not let them rule you” “they are just excuses and can be done away with” “you are what you think, your thoughts will determine how you feel” “You need to think about good things, heavenly things, it changes your attitude” “just think happy Godly thoughts”If I had a dollar for how many times I have been told this I would be a billionaire.

Just because someone fights with mental illness does not mean they are ungrateful or negative people. These people are constantly fighting a battle and yet their survival is met with hurtful comments from an ignorant society that has them feeling like their choice to survive is a crime. Your advice may be coming from a well meaning place but it doesn’t come off that way.

If you know someone on their journey to healing be patient with them. God knows that we can be difficult sometimes but if you are having a hard time understanding us, think about us who have to deal with these illnesses first hand.

We do wish we were better. I personally wish my brain didn’t suggest death as the first solution to a minor inconvenience or it didn’t trick me into thinking everything was a threat I had to GAURD against.

We may not know how it feels like to live on the other side of the spectrum yet but as we put in the work to get there, be a little kinder maybe. Take time off to really know us and maybe then your “well meaning advice” will make a bit of sense.

I TOOK IT OFF

Today I put off my second ring! The one I wear to pretend I am married because it helps me feel safe ( In my head men won’t approach a married woman.)

I wore it once I started dealing with my childhood trauma (Which is a story for another day or a broken record in case you have read my book “dear me” it gets tiring to go back to that moment I often skip the gruesome details)

I have spent the months looking for the person I was before the trauma. I don’t seem to remember, to be honest I don’t know if I would even like her. Was I happy? Was I chilled or A go getter perhaps? I don’t know. Would life have turned out differently? Would I have had the same friends or chosen my law career hoping that one day I would have my day in court as my own advocate.

They are things that happen in life that just turn your world upside down for the rest of it. They are things that take your entire being time to figure out. They are things that will persuade you that survival is beautiful while they are others that will push you to thrive.

I cannot change much about the past. I cannot change the way it created the lens I view life in but I can decide on how I deal with the pain it left behind.

So today I took off my second ring because today I decided not to hide behind it anymore.

Do not get it twisted the healing process hurts too. Sometimes more than the dysfunction but that doesn’t mean you should bail out. Keep on keeping on. Choose it over and over again, you deserve it. Change is just around the corner.”

NB: All images used in this blogpost are sourced from Pinterest.

I AM “MENTAL”

Whenever I heard someone refer to another as mental I always thought of the dirty guy in the streets whose 8 to 5 job was to throw stones at others, most times when he got a break he would chase around everyone and anything.

Society told me he was that way because he did a lot of drugs like weed or because the winds of his ancestors were calling him. His days also involved being moved from one church to another to bind whatever form of demon had decided to take a hold of his mental capacity.

Imagine my shock when the psychologist looked at me and shared the one thing no one really looks forward to hearing. “Rita you are mentally ill.”

You might think I immediately burst into tears knowing what my future held.(This would include me having a list of who I would want to stone or chase first depending on how bad they had hurt me😂😂😂 I mean a girl can dream) but it was quite the opposite. It finally made sense. So I cried tears of joy because It wasn’t all in my head, the illness had symptoms that I had experienced for over 12 years. Symptoms that affected every aspect of my life i.e. emotionally, physically and spiritually. Symptoms I would have been able to treat if I had gotten an earlier diagnosis.

I mean I always lived my life with a death wish or was often suicidal but I didn’t know why I was that way. I didn’t know why I stayed in bed for days hardly having strength to do life, I didn’t know why my version of events was different to everyone around me. I didn’t know why I found it hard to remember certain events, why I was very defensive, constantly needed a man in my life to feel a void, why I constantly felt worthless or had an extreme change in moods at any given hour depending on what I was exposed to. My brain was slowly killing me and I was fine with it. My ignorance made sure of that.

I am getting better now, it’s not a walk in park but now know I can do better for me and those I care about. Before, if someone told me they were mentally ill I would have easily laughed and called them mental or psycho. I would have judged them and wondered what drug they decided to abuse or what their fore fathers did for them to have such ill luck.

I am now kinder, I want to listen to their story, I want to show them a lot of love and kindness in a world that has written them off. I want to tell them I understand that it’s a chemical imbalance in their brain and they can get help. I want to tell them that they are not alone and if that makes me mental then; Hey my name is Auma Rita and I am “mental”😉.

ITS GOING TO GET BETTER

I moved out of my parent’s house a month after psych ward. My mom wasn’t really happy because I had made promises in the past of how marriage would be the only thing that would have gotten me out. That’s if it ever happened.

You are probably wondering what would have changed my mind.

See I went out and about looking for content about how most patients survived. The diagnosis was one thing but doing life despite it was going to be another. Most statistics showed that most people on certain medication would find it so hard to do life normally. God knows it’s tough sometimes.

The first month after the diagnosis was hard. I was weak most of the time, hardly had appetite (Grateful for my aunt who supervised all my meals despite me crying through out the whole process.), my hands were so shaky and even walking was hard. I was having terrible nightmares due to my PTSD. Flashbacks, emotional breakdowns and anxiety attacks were the norm.

The second month after getting to terms with everything, I called it quits and decided I couldn’t possibly do life like this. I hated my body and brain for punishing me. Everything around me that was familiar was gone.

Finally accepting the brain gaps, forgetfulness, my brain feeding me different versions of several events in my life broke me. What was even worse was people not believing I was and had been ill for a while and my reactions in most situations were due to certain triggers that had been set off. I was the sheer description of hopeless. I had just left a space with someone who mentally, emotionally and physically abused me but took the opportunity to use my mental illness against me. (Talk about toxic!)

I couldn’t live like this. I couldn’t even forgive myself for the way I hurt people I loved, I felt like I had become the very thing I hated; an abuser. So I decided to try ending it again. That’s how I ended up in the ward.

First forward to a month after, I got my savings and decided to start again. I needed to learn how to try and stand on my own. To push myself and learn not to use the diagnosis as an excuse. I went out with the help of my big brother and got a job in a law firm where I worked for eight months until my health started going down the drain again. I had to resign and first concentrate on getting better.

It’s still a journey. I am still learning how to do life. I get it wrong sometimes but I keep fighting and pushing. If you just started your medication, I know the changes can be even more scary than the diagnosis. I know you might get overwhelmed by everything but I am here to tell you that it does get better. The medicine helps you fight, if you ever feel like there’s no one in your corner, always remember that I am here fighting and praying with you.

Love

Rih

RAINBOWS

I have been reading through my notebooks. I found this and felt like I should finally type it out and share it. So here we go:

You ask me to see,

I am sorry my blindness makes you uncomfortable.

You force me to feel,

I am sorry my numbness affects you more.

You ask me yo smile,

I am sorry my darkness and sadness are unbecoming.

You quote scripture and point at my unbelief,

I am sorry my walk of faith doesn’t suit the packaging that’s appeasing to you.

My wins may not mean a lot, but come sit with me and maybe wear my shoes for a day.

I know you might see a lot of greys but hey I have learnt it’s one shade closer to the rainbows you easily enjoy.

I may be numb but it’s after toiling back and forth for answers. I am glad to rest and lay my burdens down.

My very existence is proof that God listens. So if you took a minute from making my pain about you, maybe just maybe it would be less uncomfortable and unbecoming.