Mental health is one of the many taboo subjects within African society. Once again, blogger SheiFunmi who has previously broken the mould by speaking up about sexual abuse is opening up about his mental health journey.
We hope this inspires someone out there to seek professional help and know that he/she is not alone.
“I’m a 17 year old male, turning 18 in a few weeks (here we go with more fan-mail, I thought, rolling my eyes) and I’m a short-term struggler of bipolar II disorder but haven’t had problems for a little over 8 months now, my symptoms have been severe and the stigma making things worse, leaves questions of whether or not to tell people around me what I’m dealing with. I think I’m almost at breaking point, it’s too much to bear, I don’t know how much more I can take.”
*Sigh* Worry and Confusion, coupled with my unstable state of mind, I replied immediately; “Hey! Are you ok? I just read your email and you don’t sound so good. I only know you as a dedicated fan of my blog but I’m here and I care. How are you feeling? PLEASE I am here if you ever need to talk”. I was practically on the ledge myself, but I know better than anyone how helpless this person was feeling.
Sitting in front of my laptop at 7:51am, delusional, hoping I’d eventually get some sleep before seeing my psychiatrist later that morning, he messaged back ; “I feel like sh**.., i can’t figure out my thoughts and i am not on my meds anymore”
“Why are you not on your medication? Did you stop taking them or what? have you spoken or seen someone professionally about this?” I sent back to him. It felt like hours, the urge to sleep was overtaken by the need to help, then the diary of a bipolar teen arrived as his reply.
“I decided to seek help because I was hearing voices and seeing people who were not there. Finding it difficult to distinguish what was real and what was not. I told my parents and they decided I go to church and see our Pastor,you know seek divine help, hoping I was still in shock over a nightmare. After about a week my moods became weird, this minute I am sad, depressed and the next minute I am energized, happy and doing things unconsciously. I took it upon myself to go see my GP, when I explained to her, she diagnosed and assessed me then put me on Lexapro (Anti-depressants) also she referred me to the mental health department for more therapeutic support but when I got home, I couldn’t explain to my parents because I know how paranoid they get and they are typical Africans. A week went by and I just needed to talk to someone who could share my burden or at least listen to me, so I confided in my mom. Really bad move, she flipped got my dad and made me abandon my meds mostly because they deemed it to meds for Schizophrenia. Parents, their assessment says it’s a thing of the mind, clear your head and let God do the rest.”
I was on the verge of a mood-trapeze, his emails weren’t making it any better. I was feeling his pain and shuffling the emotions within. (Bipolar Sucks By The Way!) His issues hit way too close to home for me, I’m Nigerian born, CT USA & Lagos bred. I did not start talking about my health until early this year for fear being of stigmatized, especially as I am media personality stuck under the public eye and I only identify with the disorder occasionally on twitter to create awareness about Bipolar Disorder.
According to National Institutes of Health, “Bipolar disorder is a condition in which people go back and forth between periods of a very good or irritable mood and depression. The “mood swings” between mania and depression can be very quick. Bipolar disorder affects men and women equally. It usually starts between ages 15 to 25. The exact cause is unknown”
I was first diagnosed with BP back in 2008 when I was just starting off college, after my diagnosis I fled and avoided hospitals much as I could. I couldn’t accept it, I’d heard so many stories about BP, I didn’t want to be tagged a ‘Freak’ so I told myself “Hell No! I just have mood swings, everybody has that jor!” By mid-2010 though, I was done running from the problem that was already driving me up the wall, with incessant happy/sad mood swings, being unable to concentrate on anything, memory loss, eating problems, losing interest in things I loved, loss of self-esteem, excessive drinking, no sleep, uncontrollable addiction to any substance that would make me sleep, isolation from everyone and several suicide attempts,
I knew I needed help.
I went back to my doctor and explained it all, forced myself through the assessment tests verbally and psychological assessment and just prepared myself for the truth. I suffer from Bipolar Disorder II which is hypomania (More of depression yet mild hyperactivities). Medication started for me as I was placed on Lamotrigin (Mood stabilizer), Prozac (Anti-Depressant), Zopiclone (Sleeping Pill) which I took religiously accompanied by therapy.
After a year of near-normalcy, I felt good enough to stop taking my medication,in the meantime though, I had not told my family or friends anything about my problems, they only knew I was asthmatic and I preferred to leave it at that, then I had a major relapse or crisis, I locked myself in the bathroom after downing 7 lexotan and 20 piriton tablets.
I began cutting my right hand with a blade and had it not been for a split-second of sanity,I may never have lived to recount this tale. I managed to call for help and NHS Direct came to my aid, calming me down enough to await the ambulance. I got into the A&E, was stabilized by the mental health team and after two days of treatment and observation, I was out of there with my medication back in the game.
The only person I could talk to was my close friend Bassey, who is a bipolar patient as well. She said to me; “Can you connect me with the friend of yours that is very understanding?” (given that she is in the US and I had moved to the UK about a year ago, to study) “I want to be able to see how you are but I don’t want you to feel the need to update me or anyone if you’re not up to it”, she added.
Bassey went further telling me “Use this time to take care of you. When I was first hospitalized, my dad came to visit me and he said, ‘Nyono, promise me you will try.” So I’m asking the same of you. Do what you need to do, stay as long as you need in order to feel better. You are amazing, I was googling you to see if there was anyway to reach you online and I saw all that you’ve accomplished in barely 20 years. I want you to know how loved you are, You may not be able to claim it for yourself or understand it now in the fog but just allow yourself to in the morning. Feel everything you need to so you can find closure and be strong. I adore you and I am here for you at any time. Please do not hesitate to reach out if you need to and even when you don’t.”
That kept me going and I was determined to stay healthy regardless whether or not I had people there to support me or be there for me.
While trying to recover fully from the crisis, I began to wonder what had happened to the bubbling, interesting, funny, happy SheiFunmi? It takes a while for your meds to kick in if you go off it for a longtime, I was still having severe mood episodes but I decided to tell my mom.
The poor woman went into a fit, going to meet doctors to learn more about the illness and worrying herself to death. Oh her research on the disorder only made it worse, she came up with the conclusion that I had become mentally retarded, bless her (no, I am not smiling) I had to ignore her for the sake of my sanity, if nothing else. She messaged me to stop using my medication and seek divine intervention and honestly I did give the divine help thing a shot until I relapsed, of course.
The rollercoaster started for me again at this point, I’d had enough and I just had to go back to my GP, who advised I resume my meds with a lower dosage, so I did. Apparently my medications were not working for me anymore,causing me to lose sleep totally, leaving me awake for days on end and even if I did get a wink it’d last 10-15mins leaving me energized, moody and unable to eat, all at once.
I engaged in a twitter tirade this a.m. after I got the email from the 17year old because I was already dealing with people’s ignorance about the illness plus I needed to vent, I was having an off-day myself with my moods going haywire .
I took to Instagram, posted a picture of my mood/present state with the bipolar awareness sign sealed across my mouth as I poured out my thoughts “I’m so tired all the time.. yet when I try to sleep, I just can’t … Food doesn’t look good anymore, I can’t eat, everyone tells me I look drained,I feel awful, I am happy! I’m sad, I’m spending without a purpose, I’m sad again, I can’t concentrate, I never go out, I love to be alone? I don’t fit in, I am funny, I smile, what is the point, I used to have hobbies but now I just can’t enjoy anything, I feel so blah and I wish sleep would visit me 🙁 ” Being bipolar is an emotional ROLLERCOASTER! Up and down, it never stops! You can describe the weather as being bipolar but the weather does NOT have bipolar disorder (it may sound funny but it’s no joke). Please choose your words carefully. Be aware of the people around you, their moods, behaviour. #BipolarII #MentalHealth”
It is nice being drug free… well other than asthma inhaler, anti-depressants, sleeping pills and mood stabilizers,one can’t really distinguish me from a junkie, I’m popping meds and so’s the junkie *sigh*
Not everyone is able to express themselves or tell you what they are going through, try to reach out to people, watch people around you and if you feel something is not right try to help. If you have friends that are Bipolar, be careful what you say, check on them and pull them out of the shell that BP forces them into, remind them to use their meds because when we feel better, it’s easy to forget, even read about the illness and see how you can help those around you the little way you can.
“You see that person in the office that comes across standoffish or cold? The bitch in human resources who will f* anything that moves? The asshole in accounting? You have no idea what people live with or what they struggle to manage.
Yes, some folks are just fucked up but most often than not, these people are trying to figure out their mental healths’. Sometimes, unbeknownst to themselves. I’ve been lucky enough to try and contain these explosions so they don’t affect other people and it’s constant work. I’m always checking in with friends to make sure I didn’t do or say something to upset them. I’m constantly apologizing and checking to see if my speech is racing or my thoughts wavering and uncentered. Until you realize how lucky you are to be able to think normally without having to cross check you apparently normal thoughts…you won’t know how hard this is.
When I’m feeling particularly unstable, I disappear. I stay hidden and silent until I feel grounded again.
There will always be a disconnect. I can only get so close to people. I need to protect them from my whimsical behavior, quirky emotive flips and bone crushing sadnesses. I lose people that way but I also know who is really in my corner if I can return and they welcome me back.
Like so many physical diseases and disorders, getting it under control is the key. Taking care of your mental health is just as important as taking care of your physical health. I wish people could understand that. I wish they could see that my mental disorder is not necessarily who I am. It doesn’t define me anymore than having diabetes or black hair does” – Bassey Ikpi
“Bipolar disorder can be a great teacher. It’s a challenge, but it can set you up to be able to do almost anything else in your life” – Carrie Fisher
AIDS and poverty aren’t the only things that bring misery and need attention. Save a life, Bi-Polar Disorder patients need to know you care! and i hope my transparency can help in it’s own little way by letting someone else come to terms with what they have.
To people whose “weird” actions are just plain reactions to their disorders. If more of us talk about it, we won’t spend so much time feeling disconnected and alone
This journey is a constant fight, i want to stay alive so i have no choice than to take on the fight and always win.