The reason I am writing this is to help someone who is in the same situation where I found myself eighteen years ago when I discovered that my depression wasn’t clinical but manic depression, so they can benefit from my own funny, unique, sometimes hurtful, painful, uncomfortable and even humiliating personal experience.
I have lived with this debilitating, mysterious and deadly disease my whole life. I have struggled to overcome the stigma attached to this disease by people who are intimidated by things they don’t have any control over. It is a psychiatric illness also known as bipolar disorder.
This is my story.
I was brought up in a liberal household by parents who believed that love, happiness and peace where greater aspirations than prestige, position and status. I am part of only a lucky few. I was taught not to bear grudges. I was told when someone hurt my feelings to ignore him or her and see him or her for who they truly were. I was taught to be forgiving and understanding and that there wasn’t any difference between the rich and the poor children at the schools I went to. I was taught that the noblest profession in the world was being a teacher. My father is a community leader and my mother is a teacher, My parents taught by example re-enforcing values and excellence, as well as enriching wonderfully young lives filled with so much hope and promise.
I had no idea I was sick for a long time, even though there has been a history of mental illness on my father’s side including alcoholism, depression and suicide. In the early stages of my sickness, it defined who I was. My whole life revolved around hiding my disease. It was cerebral. There was no scarring, no wound, no stitches and sutures required. Sometimes it was easy to hide and sometimes it wasn’t.
The signs and symptoms of a hypomanic episode are as follows. You behave wild and free, have depressive slumps, spiraling depression. You don’t sleep. You don’t nap. You are the focus – the centre of the universe. You are beautiful, smart, determined but the reflection that everybody else sees is militant, horribly annoying and irritating. You feel humiliated in later introspection while others felt uncomfortable in your presence. You were Dr. Jekyll incognito and Mr. Hyde in the flesh.
Depression is a devastating illness that affects millions of people worldwide and unless a forum or a platform can be raised to break the silence, annihilates in one blow the stigma of mental illness and of prejudice, people who suffer from mental illness will keep thinking that they are a burden to society. The stigmatization of mental illness is never-ending.
Mental health seems not to be a moot point for people in government but to all the people that are still suffering in silence, I say, break the silence; add a visible, outspoken voice.
There are more of us out there than you realize!
Keep on fighting. I did. I do every day and as I take my first breathe for the day, I thank God I am alive. It’s not brave when you’re not scared and sometimes I am have both good days and bad.
There is one thing that I have learned during the past eighteen years. The future is still in my power, even though the past cannot be changed. Mental illness is not a human stain.
Currently I am working on an anthology of my poetry, a collection of short stories and I am beginning work on a novel co-authored with my father called ‘From Hell To Eternity: A Memoir Of Madness’.
Earlier this year I also received a grant from the National Arts Council which not only encouraged me to begin to write again – this time with both my survival and my experience in mind – but to put together some of my earlier poetry in a collection entitled ‘Africa, Where Art Thou?’
Yes, my life has turned out rather unconventionally from who, what, where I’d envisaged myself being but not a day goes by now that I am not thankful for. I do not question why I am here or what my divine purpose is. I am not driven by fear and uncertainties anymore or if I behave self-consciously. Although there is still a sorrow here I cannot reform, that yields stillness in quiet moments of reflection or contemplation, every event in my life composes furious life anew.
Through all the infinite wisdom of my mistakes that came before, the love of my family still remains. It is both a reminder of what came before and what lies ahead in my future.
Writer – Abigail is a young woman that has been suffering from bipolar disorder for eighteen years but has learnt to live triumphantly against all odds.
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