Mental illness awareness: An afropolitan shares her experience with depression
31 October 2018 KAYA VOICES
By Sandra P. Sono
I still remember that one afternoon when I felt so ashamed and I said to myself “I really cannot understand all this fuss and this hype around depression, I don’t get why they have to call it “mental illness? It makes me look bad. People will look at me like I’m crazy or something, a mental case, why don’t they just stick to depression?”
Sadly, it was at this time that I knew I suffered from Major Depressive Disorder (MDD) but wasn’t aware it was a chemical problem, I always thought of it to be psychological, I mean that’s what most people think right? That you can talk your depression away, cry it away, some even resort to do things like drugs and alcohol all to numb the pain. But it really doesn’t work that way. In my own opinion, at this present moment, depression is the most painful experience I’ve had my whole life.
I’ve been through a lot of things, including abuse, being sexually assaulted more than once to name a few, but no pain measures to the pain of feeling your soul wanting to leave your body and wishing you could let it go so you can just have peace.
I was diagnosed with MDD in the year 2016 and have since had a few hospital stays in psychiatric wards receiving medical care. Before I even knew about depression, I thought a psychiatric ward was where they kept crazy people. So after my own admissions there, I’d feel ashamed because I knew there are people out there who also don’t know that a psychiatric ward is not a place for crazy people.
I remember the first time I returned to work I was labelled as crazy and I was called a lunatic. I had to try so hard to make people believe I was not crazy when they came to visit and ask where are all the crazy people. It was so bad, I refused to have visitors on my second stay. At work, people couldn’t accept my condition. I was ill-treated so much I had to leave and go work somewhere else.
The new work environment also wasn’t the most ideal place; I was labelled as “weird” because I kept to myself all the time. The pain grew. Here I was, working for the SANDF, 2000km+ away from home, with no support structure and a lot of people who did not understand my situation. How much more pain was I willing to take? That depended on how many times I opened my photo album and looked at the photos of my two-year-old daughter whom I couldn’t afford to leave alone in this world which was no longer pleasant for me.
It took me a year after my diagnosis to finally learn that what I had was an illness and not a feeling. To understand that the fight was a chemical one, but by the time I realised that I also realised I don’t have the power to fight against my own mind.
The worst part was that I had stopped the medication for two reasons 1. I am a fitness junkie and the meds made me lazy and heavy; all I had to do was eat and sleep. Obviously, that will make me gain weight and because my self-esteem was so low I couldn’t afford to take the pills. 2. I felt I was okay so I could stop taking the pills. I would go see my psychiatrist and get the pills but put them away because I was ‘fine’.
The ‘fine’ did not last as long as I was hoping. I started falling back in the pit bit by bit, you can always feel it when it creeps, I called it a monster inside of my head. I relapsed a few months later. Here’s the painful thing about going through depression: You feel alone like nobody cares and nobody would even miss you if you took your own life. The pain is stress much that the only thing your head tells you there’s no way out of it. Even when you have people around you, it will behave until you are alone then it creeps up on you again, reminding you life is not worth the pain.
My depression intensified, the photo album didn’t do anything anymore. That’s when I finally decided I’d had enough. There’s emotional pain yes but that comes second from your mind racing all the time, telling you all the bad things about you, not even giving you a chance to think for yourself. You can’t tolerate anything, when you hear someone laughing you think they are laughing at you, when you get given a task to do at work you feel you’re being picked on and it tells you nobody likes you, you’re useless and there’s only one way out of the excruciating pain, suicide.
I overdosed on my prescription pills because I couldn’t take the pain anymore. I was alone and in so much pain. I was taken to the hospital and received medical care and I was back to the ward again, starting the medication again and this time I knew I had to keep taking the meds because they help keep my mind calm. Weekly, I see my psychiatrist and psychologist and they help me as some days are better and some are worse. Through this journey I’ve learnt to be patient with myself, there are people who have illnesses different from mine and they take medication and they survive. I can also do it.
My mother is my pillar and she never knew I suffered from depression. She didn’t even know what kind of illness that was until she found out I tried to take my own life and she had a doctor friend of hers explain everything to her. I don’t blame her, especially at her age as there’s youth my age who still don’t understand what depression is.. We grew up being told that the only way a black person gets to gather the courage to kill themselves was when they were bewitched and so even when we started learning about depression we were told “isifo sabelungu”. Even though she’s so far away, I know she prays for me.
Friends and family are the worst when they have no knowledge of what this illness is because all they see when they look at you is either a drama queen or a cry baby. One thing I know now is depression is not a fight meant for one person. You cannot fight it alone, it will destroy you. You may not have friends like me or family around to hold you up on your worst days but you can seek help. There are institutions that offer help to people with mental illnesses at no cost at all. Do not try to fight it alone, it will get you down. and do not put all your trust in the next person, people will let you down and when you’re down that’s when the monster attacks.
Take care of your mind and your body and, if you’re religious, pray. There’s no need to be ashamed, you’re never alone. We’re here, we also live through it and the fight is never over until we win against this monster called depression. I just wish that our government and social platforms could do more to assist people living with depression and to educate people about it like they did when HIV/AIDS started destroying lives of young and old people.
Depression is here, it’s real and it can happen to anyone. Let us stand together and fight depression. I’m grateful for the assistance I am getting from my psychiatrist DR Dada and my psychologist Miss T Ndabane from the 2military hospital, they really help me through the most, it’s not easy being in the military because you leave all your people behind and pledge to serve your country and I think it’s taken for granted how much of a stressful environment it is for all the service men and women of our country to live in this manner.
Sandra Sono is a Leading Seaman in the South African Navy and the 26-year-old mother of a three-year-old daughter.