Mental health,a cause for concern;a view inside my mind!

Irene Kalulu
Posted November 27, 2018 from Zimbabwe

Stigma and discrimination have long been attached to anything that is remotely related to mental health issues worldwide. Mental illness is a disease that causes mild or severe disturbances in thought or behaviour patterns, resulting in inability to cope with life’s demands. It doesn’t matter if its depression, schizophrenia, psychosis, bipolar, eating disorders, OCD or Post Traumatic Stress, the list is endless. The belief is that it’s not really a sickness but something one can get over if they tried hard enough.

Don’t judge me unless you have walked in my shoes’  I have found that its easier for people who have not yet suffered from anything related to mental health issues or have someone close to them suffer from it who take the issue so lightly. Mental health to most is just something to laugh over or something they associate with that homeless person. It’s something to be shunned; it’s for weird people, people who can’t cope with life, weak people. Take that stigma and discrimination that’s on a world scale, that’s coming from educated people who society deems, should know better, who should be looking at the world without any blinkers regarding mental health? Take that stigma and add to it people who have little knowledge about depression or psychosis and attach anything that they cannot relate with to witchcraft or black magic.

I’m a Journalist and I feel my story of surving, yes surviving mental health can encourage someone. I talk about mental health whenever I get the platform, I could write a book about what we had to face on a day to day basis and I will.

I grew up in a society that simply didn’t understand issues around mental health. My mother is Psychotic, has been for more than forty years; which is more than my entire lifetime.  She was a young bride and lost four children whilst she was still young, which I believe was a contribution to her condition. Having lost her mom at an early age and raised by a not so loving step mom; she didn’t have anyone to talk to or counsel her.

Psychosis is manageable if you take medication, but my Mom has been in denial and continues to be in denial despite numerous efforts by family and friends to try and make her understand that sometimes she acts beyond the “normal”.  Telling her she is unwell only seems to aggravate her as she has convinced herself that the voices in her head are her normal and everything and everyone else are simply out to get her. Over the years I have watched her slowly deteriorate from having an episode once per five years, to twice per year, to “crazy” being her normal everyday behaviour. Trying to get help for her condition has always been a nightmare because of her denial and the current state of medical facilities in my country. Her denial has meant that we have had to drag her screaming and fighting to the hospital everytime she has posed a danger to the community. Our medial care facilities do not really cater for people with mental health issues, in the whole country there are only two proper state facilities that cater for people like my mom. These are both found in the two largest cities and those of us who live in smaller towns are stuck. We have to make use of hospitals that are ill equipped to take care of mental health patients. Patients end up being strapped to their beds so that they don’t pose a threat to other patients; they are subjected to inhuman treatment.  Not only this but there is a lack of genuine sympathy to mental health patients from the nurses themselves.

Psychiatric nurses that I have been exposed to thorughout my long journey with my Mom lack compassion. None ever attempted talk to my mom; she was just treated like a child who didn’t know anything. They perpetuate the stigma attached to mental health; one would be taking you to her office for counseling, upon meeting up with a colleague they would laugh and say they were the ‘mad’ nurse for the day all this in our presence. We were just a joke to them and the so called counselling sessions were just two minute ordeals with half hearted attempts at understanding my mom or her situation.

Living with someone who is Psychotic is a bit like living with someone who has multiple personality disorder. One minute you could be conversing nicely  and the next she will be trying to hit you with a brick or anything that she can put her hands on. The reason? She could hear how in your heart, you were busy insulting her, calling her names. So growing up you had to learn to read Mama’s mood which was a bit hard considering how erratic her moods are. If you placed your shoes facing the ‘wrong’ way, it meant you wanted to kill her. If you made too much noise washing dishes (which was a given because we used steel plates and pans), you were communicating with the devil to harm her other children.  So growing up was a constant battle not to do anything to provoke mom.

Then came the times she would just disappear and you would have absolutely no idea where your mom was. Yes, it was difficult living with my Mom but she is my mom and I love her to bits. So you can imagine the trauma, the heartache of not knowing if your mom is alive or dead. At one time, about three years ago we went for four days and nights without knowing where she was. You can't eat, you can hardly sleep; every sound you hear you think it’s her coming back or the police coming to tell you that they found her somewhere dead. Then the other time when I was younger when she disappeared for a whole month and was later found in a different city at a hospital, after she had been involved in a hit and run accident. You can well imagine how difficult it was growing up and not having your mom around in as much as she was physically there. We basically had to mother ourselves and build a cocoon around ourselves so that her words and the words of the world would not hurt us. My mom in her element had a tongue like a sailors’, she could hurl insults and say obscenities that would make one cover their heads in shame. When she was okay our home was a no cuss zone, it was a challenge having to deal with different shades of my mom.

Her sometimes violent behaviour has meant that relatives have distanced themselves from us. We have had to deal with, to cry and to learn to stand up for ourselves on our own. To learn that no one else would stand up for us; if we didn’t do so ourselves. Basically, it has been me, my sister, my two brothers and dad against the world. Our ordeal has made us stronger, it has taught us to laugh even in pain, and I am able to lift someone up who is growing through trauma even when my heart is breaking because I learnt throughout my life not to let pain break me. Yes, there have been times I have almost given up but being the eldest girl I had to endure for my siblings’ sake. I’m a little broken inside because I have had to deal with societal misconceptions, with constant fear, with being pointed at as the crazy woman’s’ daughter. But I’m all the stronger. I always say I dont know how my mom or dad or how we managed to survive and get an education, not have succumbed to depression or suicide because it’s been hard. All I can say is God has been gracious; He gave us strength in our weakness. Yes,i wonder how old age coupled with her condition will mean for us but I have also learnt to take each day as it comes.

We have established a support network where we can feely talk about mental illness. I'm an advocate against mental health discrimination, we can overcome!

 

Comments 22

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Wusufor
Nov 27, 2018
Nov 27, 2018

Hi Irene,
Thanks for sharing your story with us. Irene honestly I think we are all mental sick. Mental health is a societal issue and until we all realizes that we are all sick mentally, we shall never speak against it.

Kind regards
Lizzy

Irene Kalulu
Nov 28, 2018
Nov 28, 2018

Thank you so much much Lizzy for reading through.
You are right,we all are at some point mentally sick it's just the levels of sickness that vary. We really need to stop the stigma for sure.

Ngala Nadege
Nov 27, 2018
Nov 27, 2018

Hi Irene .OMG you got my elder sister's name Irene.thanks for sharing, honestly this is my first time reading and understanding mental issues. At first, i even laugh at people who suffer from that (that was before) but now it changed greatly and now I think we all have mental issues so let's really speak out.

Irene Kalulu
Nov 28, 2018
Nov 28, 2018

Thanks Ngala, I'm glad if my piece brought a new appreciation of mental health. We all need that awareness.
Warm regards to my namesake,she's got a special name!

Jill Langhus
Nov 28, 2018
Nov 28, 2018

Hi Irene,

Welcome to World Pulse:-) Thanks so much for sharing your troubling story with us. I hope that sharing your story has helped you to heal a little bit. You have had to take on a lot of trauma, especially being the oldest in your family. I'm glad that you were able to survive and receive an education. Have you been able to forgive your mother, not her erratic behavior, but as a person? I suspect you have quite a bit of shame and guilt? Do you see more awareness around mental illness happening sooner rather than later, or not really, and what would be the best way to sensitive people in your region and country now?

I'm looking forward to seeing more posts from you, and hearing more about your work, especially the book you plan on writing.

Hope you have a good day!

Irene Kalulu
Nov 28, 2018
Nov 28, 2018

Hi Jlanghus,thank you for the welcome and for your comment.
I think as a people,in my region we need to talk more about mental health. The moment we stop whispering about it and start having more open conversations,we would have made a breakthrough.
Mental health policies in my country need to be changed and then we can move a bit from where we are now.
It's been a long,exhausting and emotionally draining journey,i used to feel shame in my teenage years but not now.
Now I'm proud of my mom and when I look back I see that she has amazing strength,she's a survivor with deep scars;life hasn't been kind to her.
Thank you for the encouragement, the book just needs me to know where to start off because there is so much.

Jill Langhus
Nov 29, 2018
Nov 29, 2018

You're very welcome, dear:-)

Yes, I agree. That does sound really good.

I'm glad to hear that you don't feel ashamed now. It's very good. I'm also glad that you are proud of your mom, too, and not embarrassed or annoyed with her behavior. Yes, she does.

You're welcome. You can do it. You could just start writing sections and then piece them all together. I think the important part is that you start, and not worry about the process or whether it's perfect. It will be perfect because it's your story. Please keep us posted on your progress and let us know how we can help. Quite a few sisters have written their own books now. I'm sure if you reached out to them, they would be happy to give you pointers, too.

Hope you'r having a great day!

Theresa Takafuma
Nov 28, 2018
Nov 28, 2018

Irene, this brought tears to my eyes. I know this all too well because in our country mental health issues are not given priority. A lot of people suffer in silence. I'm reminded of my martenal grandma, who we had to run away from every time she had an episode when I was still in primary school. But she was our guardian. We loved her so much, but I still feel that if she only got help earlier, she would have lived a bit longer. I miss her so much, despite all the violence she exhibited whenever she had one of those episodes. We need to speak more about mental health. One day our voices will be loud enough to pave way for change. In my younger years myself, probably because of all what was happening at home, I heard voices in my head. I wrote about it in one of my articles (A girl's memoirs with demons). Noone understood and it's only by God's grace that I got better. Please do share more about your support group. Thanks for your article.

T.

Irene Kalulu
Nov 28, 2018
Nov 28, 2018

Thanks T! Society has led us to believe that just because one is overwhelmed and can't cope they are less than those who can. Yet sometimes all they need is someone to hold their hand and be there.
Mental health is so real especially in our country, people are dying silently.
It's been a long road but God is always gracious.

Irene Kalulu
Nov 28, 2018
Nov 28, 2018

Thanks for inspiring me to share by the way!

Beth Lacey
Nov 29, 2018
Nov 29, 2018

So sad and tragic and effecting whole families. I wish your support network well.
Beth

Irene Kalulu
Nov 30, 2018
Nov 30, 2018

Thank you Beth.

Tarke Edith
Nov 30, 2018
Nov 30, 2018

Hello sister
Thank you for sharing this important ideas on our platform together we can move mountains sister

Irene Kalulu
Nov 30, 2018
Nov 30, 2018

Hi Tarke!
Thank you so much,indeed there is nothing we can't do if we are united.

Tamarack Verrall
Dec 01, 2018
Dec 01, 2018

Hi Irene,
You have shed such a much needed light on mental health and mental illnesses including so many forms that can have root in social, mental, physical, unknown causes or combinations of all. What a journey you and your family have been through, and how lucky for your dear mother that she has had your unwavering and loving support. You have opened discussion wide on such an important subject. Wider understanding is so important, and working together to make sure that medical systems are committed to offer the best help possible. Creating public understanding to stop the kind of discrimination your mother and all of you have experienced is an ongoing need we all need to take part in. In the past, silence surrounded mental health issues with some of my family. Now once a year there is a mental health walk in our city with speeches and a celebration of openness. What you are doing by speaking out is so healing.

In sisterhood,
Tam

Irene Kalulu
Dec 11, 2018
Dec 11, 2018

Hi Tam.
Thank you so much!
It's been a long journey indeed, my only hope is that the more we talk about mental health there will be like you said public understanding of it.
Glad to hear that in your community much is already happening.

Olubee
Dec 02, 2018
Dec 02, 2018

Dear Irene,
Your story is a very touching one.I have gone through depression sometimes ago, i can really relate to your story. I pray God touch and heal your mum.You have to continue to show her love and affection, because no other person will give her that, people outside her home will only discriminate against her.
much love sis.

Irene Kalulu
Dec 11, 2018
Dec 11, 2018

Hi Olubee!
Thank you so much for reading through and for your prayers for my Mom. It is our hope that one day she will be well.
I also hope you had loved ones to hold your hand in your time of need.

ARREY- ECHI
Dec 04, 2018
Dec 04, 2018

Dear Irene,
Reading your story was like going down memory lane to some close family friends of ours. They had to their plates full having to deal with the stigma of being a 'mad' woman's children. The irony is, they were also very smart kids in school till date.

Thank you for sharing your story. I applaud your courage because it is not an easy journey in our communities. You are a strong woman. May God continue to keep you and your family strong as you deal with challenges which come from taking care of a mentally sick person.

All the best with yout advocacy network. Keep spreading the awareness,
Hugs
Arrey

Irene Kalulu
Dec 11, 2018
Dec 11, 2018

Hi Arrey!
Thank you so much.
It's been hard and sometimes you barely have strength but God somehow pulls us through.
I pray that family you mentioned is coping?

ARREY- ECHI
Jan 04, 2019
Jan 04, 2019

Yes, The kids are all well and doing great.
Hugs to you

Karen Quiñones-Axalan
Aug 22, 2019
Aug 22, 2019

Hello, Irene,

Welcome to World Pulse! This is such a great story. I encourage you to submit it to our Story Awards here https://www.worldpulse.com/raise-your-voice.

I want to hug you and your family for staying strong through it all. Thank you for being brave enough to speak your truth!