Mental Health Awareness Month – Warimi Karogo

My name is Warimi Karogo. I am 18 years old and fresh out of high school with my whole life ahead of me. I am an aspiring actress, a feminist, a poet and a mental health advocate.

When I was 15 I was diagnosed with depression. I was given a variety of antidepressants over a 2 year period but I just wasn’t getting better. When I was 16 my aunt suggested I see a therapist who is a trauma specialist. My therapist initially speculated I had Bipolar Disorder and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and after a couple of months he wanted me to go for further testing with one of his colleagues who did more thorough testing than any of the doctors I had seen prior. I was terrified because I already felt like I had one “problem” and I didn’t want another one (internalized stigma is a bitch right?). I didn’t want to find out I was even more “crazy” than I already thought I was. I was terrified of taking more and more medication that just didn’t work. And if I’m being honest, I didn’t truly want to get better. I know that can sound confusing but when you’ve been mentally unstable for many years, sometimes you don’t want to get better because you’ve already gotten used to the weather. In a weird, twisted way the sadness becomes comforting because it’s been the only constant in your life for so long.

So I avoided getting tested since June 2019 but eventually in January 2020, I decided to get tested. I was diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder, Complex PTSD, Major Depressive Disorder as well as Anxiety Disorder. Getting the right diagnosis was definitely a pivotal point in my mental health journey because I was finally put on the correct medicines. The doctors finally knew exactly what they were dealing with and it wasn’t just depression as we (family, friends and I) had initially thought. That, paired with the Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) I was receiving from my therapist, changed me completely.

I first realized I had mental health issues when I was 11-12 years old. Looking back now, I think I’d been dealing with them from age 9 but it got worse when I hit adolescence. However my family didn’t know better at the time and would tell me I was being dramatic and hysterical whenever I had an episode. An episode of a mental illness is an isolated occurrence which may be repeated. I would experience anxiety attacks, episodes of extreme depression followed by episodes of extreme happiness followed by episodes of uncontrollable rage. I also suffered from horrific nightmares and it wasn’t long before I began to think I actually was just dramatic because how could my moods change so quickly?

In year 7 I went to a new school where I was bullied and that was my breaking point. I had chaos at home (a very messy divorce between my parents, a toxic extended family and physical abuse) as well as an unhealthy school environment. I felt like I was suffocating and no one could see it. Around that time my father, brother and I had been carjacked and I had trouble getting the image of my brother and dad being held at gunpoint out of my head. It’s safe to say I was losing it. The school counselor eventually called my parents and suggested that they move me to another school. She was concerned I’d take my own life if I stayed so I transferred to a different school and I thought everything would get better.

But it didn’t get better and as a result I really started to believe I was going insane. I was in a school I liked, I had friends, a roof over my head, food on the table every day and my grades were improving, so I didn’t understand why I wasn’t feeling better. I didn’t understand why my moods and feelings towards people and situations changed so quickly and I was scared to tell anyone because I didn’t want to be labeled as “crazy”. So instead I threw myself into my studies and extracurricular activities. I told myself that if I got good grades and manufactured the perfect CV, I’d be able to leave Kenya one day and never come back. I was convinced leaving Kenya was the answer to all my problems. The extracurricular activities kept me at school longer, and school became my happy place because life at home wasn’t good and I pretty much isolated myself in the house by locking myself in my room.

I had seen scars on older girls’ arms but I never thought much of them because I never really knew what they were. Until one day at age 12 I was crying in my room while watching the video of Fucking Perfect by P!nk. The girl in the video self-harms. I thought, why not? I was desperate for something to make me feel better. I cut myself. Almost instantly I felt numb, relaxed and at peace. That’s how I ended up depending on it.

When my parents first noticed the scars on my arms they started controlling the sharp things around me but by that time I was set on self-harming and nothing could get in my way. I learned how to remove blades from sharpeners, from razors and from various household items. I had a collection of over 20 blades and I would keep 3 in plain sight so my best friend or dad could throw them away when they saw them. This made them think I stopped self-harming for a while but in actuality I’d 15 blades hidden all over my room and 2 blades in my school bag. The cutting got deeper and became more frequent. A teacher at school began to notice and told me if I didn’t stop she’d tell my parents so I started cutting my thighs instead of my arms. That convinced her I’d stopped because there were no longer any fresh scars in plain sight.

The more I self-harmed, the better I became at noticing other people’s scars. I started to become friends with other girls who self-harmed and whenever I’d get the urge I’d text or call them. It was helpful when one of us was in a good mental state to help the other out. However this quickly became toxic when both of us wanted to harm because we wouldn’t stop each other. We would feed off each other’s sadness and there were even times we harmed together. We felt “bonded” because we believed no one else understood us.

In addition to self-harm, I was also taking alcohol. But while I had drank alcohol on several occasions, it definitely got worse in 2016 when I was 14. I began drinking regularly and experimenting with a variety of different drugs. They helped numb the pain and made me look cool so I was hitting two birds with one stone.

Until I got sexually assaulted by my friend’s father. I didn’t want to “ruin” my friend’s family so when my friend asked me not to tell anyone what happened with his father, I didn’t. In fact I never said anything to any adult until this year, but the sexual assault definitely made me self-harm and drink more. Soon, I was 14 years old doing ecstasy.

For a long time no adult really knew I had a serious problem. The adults who did notice something thought I was being dramatic or seeking attention and didn’t know how to approach the conversation. So I confided in my friends. My friends have been my constant support system since the very beginning. I have the best group of friends and I consider them my true family.

Eventually my parents understood the severity of my mental health issues when I was hospitalized for a suicide attempt on April 12, 2017. When my father realized what I’d done, I think it’s safe to say he panicked. He started shouting at me and was upset that he’d invested so much time, money and love into me yet I still attempted suicide. I remember feeling so guilty. I felt like once again I’d let everyone down and all I did was cause problems. “Everyone’s life would be better if I was gone” was a thought that kept running through my head all night.

Later that night in the hospital room my mother was sitting on a chair beside my bed when a doctor asked about the scars on my hands. I told the doctor that I self-harmed and my mother commented, “She just does that for attention. She’s dramatic.” But that wasn’t it because by that point my self-harm had escalated to a level where I’d carry my blades to school. I would cut myself in the school washrooms whenever I felt too overwhelmed by my emotions but still had to continue being the happy, bubbly person everyone thought I was.

My father came to the hospital the next day and he apologized. Overnight he’d researched on depression in teens and the topic of teen suicide. He realized his fear and shock came out in the wrong way and apologized for his actions. Ever since then my dad has been very loving and supportive. It took my mum some time, I believe it’s because I don’t live with her so she didn’t see the full reality of my illness, she only saw snippets. After about a year though she slowly changed and learned more about mental illnesses and now she is one of my pillars of strength.

The one person who has really been there for me and seen me at my absolute rock bottom is my best friend of 9 years Brenda. She’s the reason I’m alive today. She’s cleaned my cuts when I’ve gotten drunk and self-harmed. She stopped me from jumping off my roof countless times between the ages of 13 and 17. She’s always listened, never judged me and constantly reminded me I am loved and that what I’m feeling is valid. She’s both my sister and my guardian angel. My therapist likes to call her his assistant.

I’ve had many periods in time where I’ve tried to quit cutting but I always went back. I realized it’s because I didn’t want to get better bad enough. My urge to self-harm was always stronger than my urge to heal and that’s why I never threw away the hidden blades. I carried on like that until February 2020 when I got fed up. I was tired of hurting myself. I was tired of hurting my friends and family. I was tired of pretending to have my shit together on social media and advising so many people to stop self-harming yet I hadn’t stopped myself.

I think this epiphany I had in February was the aftermath of hitting rock bottom. August 26, 2019 I attempted suicide again. My boyfriend at the time called Brenda and told her that earlier that day I’d tried to jump in front of a car and I was in an Uber on the way home. My best friend and I live in the same estate so he wanted her to check on me. When I sent my best friend a random heartfelt message she became suspicious so she tried calling me but I wasn’t picking. After about 20 minutes of trying to call me the doorbell rang. My dad let Brenda in and she updated him on the situation and said she was there to check on me. At first I denied taking anything and did my best to act normal, but she saw the empty pill casings and knew. She told my dad and I was immediately taken to the hospital. I started feeling light headed, I was confused, I couldn’t really stand straight, my legs felt wobbly and everything would go black. Then I’d be “awake” until everything would go black again. I don’t really remember much from that night apart from the waves of black.

I’d been planning to go to Florida for university in January 2020 but my therapist told my parents not to send me or I’d come back in a casket. The thing I’d been working so hard towards (leaving Kenya) was moving further and further away from my reach. I think that’s when it really hit me I had a serious illness. I also realized how much my suicide attempt hurt my family, especially my dad (something I don’t think I’ve forgiven myself for), so I started taking therapy seriously.

I’ve seen multiple therapists since I was 8 but whenever I’d go to therapy it would bring up emotions I was trying so hard to run away from so I avoided it. Looking back I wish I took therapy more seriously and didn’t put on a facade which shut several therapists out. Therapy only really started to work for me when my urge to heal became stronger than my urge to self-harm. When I actually truly wanted to get better. I went to therapy on a weekly basis and would text and call my therapist throughout the week until slowly I started getting better. After I got diagnosed with BPD & PTSD and my meds were changed I was self-harming less frequently. The nightmares subsided and eventually I managed to stop cutting in February 2020. I’m proud to say I haven’t cut since.

With the help of my brilliant therapist Paul Boyle and apps like Calm Harm I learned new coping mechanisms. Drawing over my scars was extremely helpful and I’ve been doing that for three months now.

Warimi Karogo 1

I also found writing my emotions on a piece of paper then watching the paper burning, just watching it burn, really helps me. I remind myself constantly that my feelings are valid, I’m not crazy and that “emotions are like visitors, let them come and go.” That helps me stop myself from spiraling and holding onto negative emotions. I’ve developed the ability to challenge negative thoughts and realize when my brain is telling me something that isn’t true. Your thoughts affect your feelings and your feelings affect your actions so changing the way you think is essential to getting better. Especially with BPD because it’s basically a warped perception of situations, people and their emotions. Learning how to isolate and challenge negative thoughts has really helped me get through tough days. That paired with taking my medicine religiously and learning how to reach out when I’m not okay has really helped.

I also learned to celebrate my small victories. If I haven’t cut I clap for myself and congratulate myself out loud. When I get out of bed after staying in bed for three days, I congratulate myself. When I reach out to my friends when I can’t cope, I congratulate myself for taking a small step towards being healthier. As I said before I have AMAZING friends who constantly cheer me on and support me.

I’m not gonna lie to you and say I have everything together right now. It doesn’t magically change. I still have days where I feel suicidal. But at least now I have coping mechanisms and people to help me get through those days. Healing is a long journey. It doesn’t happen overnight so I just take it one day at a time.

I’ve always been very vocal about mental health on all my social media platforms because I never want anyone to feel alone like I did when I was 12. I never want anyone to think they are being dramatic or their feelings aren’t valid. I never want anyone to feel like no one understands them or that no one cares about them. So I constantly share my story. Every once in a while people message me and I listen and help them get through their bad days. That gives me the strength to keep going, because I realize God gave someone as loud and outspoken as me these mental illnesses for a reason. To bring awareness to the growing problem and help others.

I get a lot of negative comments but most things don’t faze me. I’ve been fighting my own mind since I was 9 so a random, ignorant person on Twitter isn’t gonna bring me down. I’ve fought worse demons.

I didn’t come this far just to come this far. In September I’m going to England for university where I’ll be studying drama and theatre and I am extremely excited to embark on this new chapter in my life (well let’s hope with COVID-19 it will be possible). As of now I am healing, I am forgiving myself and others who’ve hurt me, I am learning things about myself and growing every day. I am a work in progress but I am still a masterpiece.

It gets better when you decide you truly want to get better.

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