Through my mental health journey, I’ve grown to learn that it loses its aspect of privacy and individuality just cause of what and who it ropes in along the way. In my case, my ongoing journey has roped in a few people, some were strangers who turned into family and others were family right from the start.
It weighs heavy on me as a person who struggles quite often with the mental battles I go through, and this is not because of what it’s done to me, but because of what it’s done to those around me who’ve stuck by me despite my ailing mind. I have seen it tear down my sister and it was for me more excruciatingly painful than any incision I’ve ever put on my body. I remember last year when I had my depressive episode for about six months. It was right about the time when my country was on a lockdown due to the pandemic. I was stuck in our apartment with my sister and we had no means to go home due to a cessation that had been implemented on my country which prohibited me to travel. I self-harmed more during that period than I ever had before and it became an instinct and it was such an impulsive nature for me to do, I grew numb about it. I ratted myself out to my sister cause I knew if I didn’t, I’d have probably not so intentionally hurt myself beyond what my little first aid after care routine could handle. Even then, despite being so out of touch with anything else besides the throes of my depression, I could see just how much my battle was weighing on my sister. She carries her emotions on her sleeve so it wasn’t so invisible to me just how exhausting it was for her to see me go through that gutter. It’s not until recently in one of the countless conversations we have about my mental health did she admit to hating her work over that period when we were quarantined together and that she wanted to cry her eyes out every day she had to do her job. She wasn’t sure if anytime I wasn’t in her periphery, I wasn’t cutting myself and now me being aware of what it must have been like for her to go through that, genuinely breaks my heart.
My guilt in depression is tethered to what my battles have done to others besides myself. I can honestly say, I haven’t found love enough for me to feel guilty over what being mentally ill does to me. It’s what it does to those I care about that shatters me the most. To say I have tried to hide the ugly effects of my battles from my loved ones would be putting it lightly. Sometimes I would just rather die with it and let it rip me from the inside out all on my own than let it seep out to those who matter more to me than anything. With my dad for instance, my old man doesn’t know just how much effort it takes his lastborn daughter to live through each day as a depressive. On some days, I want to shout it to him with such aggression about how I can’t seem to shake off this sadness that I’ve carried around for all my life. On other days, I can’t help but think he’s better off in the dark, from it all. Untainted from my demons.
It’s been both a blessing and a curse having my father out in the clear from my battles. It’s been a blessing because then he doesn’t have to look at me different. For now he knows the bare minimum concerning my depression. He would still be in the dark if I had never needed his help on buying antidepressants last year after starting therapy. It was a hard-enough secret to keep cause then it was just me and my sister having to find means on how we would get money to take me to therapy and for me to see a psychiatrist as well. It got so hard every two weeks trying to figure out how to come up with the sum of money I needed for every therapy session because I couldn’t tell my dad that I needed money for something he was completely out of the loop on. When I finally had to ask for his help, I came home with a prescription letter from a psychiatrist with a list of antidepressants I needed to start taking. This was right after my county opened its borders and the cessation that had been put in place due to Covid was lifted hence why I got the chance to travel home which put a halt on me going to therapy because it was in different counties.
To say I was nervous bringing up that subject with my father was an understatement. I wasn’t sure he’d grasp what I was saying or if whether he’d even understand the gravity. This isn’t to imply my dad is slow or anything like that. On the contrary, my dad is pretty intelligent. What I was worried about was whether it would make sense to him the way it was meant to, from my understanding. It’s through him and our conversations together that the aspect of being an African and having a technically African raised father that I saw how much ones background and tradition affect different aspects and subjects which in my case was and is mental health. He actually took it quite casually which was what I thought I wanted but turns out it wasn’t what I needed. I didn’t see concern on his face when I tried telling him that I struggle with depression. Instead I got a speech on prayer and exercise and how much it would help keep me less idle. I told him that it had nothing to do with that and that it was a chemical imbalance in my brain that made me depressed and it still didn’t faze him. I was quite frustrated to say the least but I understood him despite it that he couldn’t just magically see it as I did. I gave him the prescription and told him that I needed him to buy me that medication and he was fine with it.
Whoever believes that they can go through mental health on their own has it quite wrong. I never knew just how much I’d need my father’s understanding until I finally brought him into the know about my struggles. A few days before my last birthday, my dad finally bought me the antidepressants I had been prescribed and I decided to start on them the day after my birthday. I’d already been on a different set of antidepressants two weeks before and they had really exhausted me out so I didn’t want to be loopy on my birthday since I was gonna have a little shindig going on that day. Cue to when I finally started my new meds did I see true and genuine concern which was more than his impassive nature had ever expressed. A few days in after I had started on my new meds, I got some really scary side effects after taking them and I thought I’d get them under control by buying some antibiotics. I had major, and I mean major, heartburn and aside from that, my heart rate was over the roof. I had heat flashes and I could hear my own heart beating so loud and quite fast, I was certain I was having a heart attack. My dad’s girlfriend is a pharmacist and I asked her if she could prescribe something for the heart burn and she asked me about the meds I was taking and I told her what I was newly on. Later that night when my dad came home, he was beyond agitated. Apparently, after my conversation with his girlfriend earlier, it was apparent to her that one of the antidepressants I had been prescribed to was very severe and was mainly for schizophrenics. In basic language as was explained to my dad, he was told they were for ‘crazy people’. That was genuinely the first time I saw my dad lose his calm and look so terrified. I believe it dawned on him that he’d just bought his daughter over the counter meds that were going to completely alter my mind and irreversibly damage it for life. For the record, I never once thought of it as my dad’s fault because it wasn’t, neither of us would have known. He felt responsible for that mistake since he hadn’t done research or made any enquiry about the meds he was buying me before he handed them to me. I, on the other hand, was more upset that a supposed legal and professional psychiatrist had prescribed to me medicine he knew wasn’t meant for me and which would probably have adverse effects on me but went ahead and prescribed it regardless of knowing all that. I was livid and after that, I quit taking the meds all together because despite how badly they were reacting to my body, they weren’t meant for it from the very start.
After that experience, I have not had therapy or been on any other antidepressants since. I soon after asked my dad if he could look for a different, hopefully better, psychiatrist whom I would see and get a better diagnosis of my mental health as well as better effective treatment. This is where it has proven to be very difficult to get my dad on board because he quickly fell back into his slow-paced process of doing things. It’s been a few months since that encounter with the antidepressants and after that, my life sorta fell back into routine. School opened and everything else took a seat at the back of my mind. I didn’t get better per se but the depression went back to being my day to day cup of tea, the one I was accustomed to. Now, due to different triggers, I am in the middle of another depression episode and I thought it would be perfect timing to see a new psychologist and psychiatrist, but mainly the latter. I made my dad aware of my need now for a psychiatrist and told him I have been struggling again but he doesn’t seem to see the urgency of it. Even just thinking about it right now, is nerve-wracking. I’m triggered by his lack of motivation and urgency in getting me help especially now when I’m not at my best mentally. I admit he’s not fully in the loop of just how bad my mental instability goes, he is clueless of my self-harm which has started again after I’d been clean for 98 days. I have racked my mind on how to bridge that information to him without alarming him but I just don’t know where to start. On some days, I want to just show him my arms and let them speak for me but I get scared of what he’ll think or do. It’s taken me a lot to admit that I am mildly suicidal as of currently and I am going through the days trying to find the will to see through the end of each day. He isn’t aware that I don’t know how much waiting I can do anymore before I can completely disintegrate. I am trying to be patient but it’s hard when my mind isn’t on board.
So yeah, that’s where I currently am. Mental health is so contradictory in how personal and individualistic it is but also how communal it trickles down to those around you, more so your loved ones. I hope that the wait isn’t going to be longer than my mind can hold off from completely falling apart.