Peris Wachira, 45, a teacher, lives with bipolar disorder. She shares her challenges with the mental illness.
I have had bipolar disorder since I was a child, but we only got the diagnosis when I was way older. My parents did not know understand why I was the way I was. For instance, there were times when I would just sit somewhere, close my eyes, not eat or talk to anyone for a long spell.
Even the doctors my parents took me to see had no idea what was causing my mood up and down swings. While in my first year of high school, I suffered depression. My heart would race and I could not concentrate in class. At night, I would lay awake in bed till morning and I didn’t have much of an appetite. No one was aware of the medical condition and my performance plummeted. I dropped from position two to 40 and I remember doctoring the report card to avoid admonishment.
In Form Four, I attempted suicide. The reason was that my school belongings were lost. I was afraid that my brother, who was my guardian then, would raise hell. I ingested some poison, slept and waited for death. I was taken to hospital in the nick of time, and when I was out of the woods, was given quite a scolding. I did not receive any counselling.
While still in school, I contracted an STI from my first boyfriend. I thought I was going to die. That is when my bi-polar became full-blown. I would not talk to anyone. I became withdrawn and didn’t participate in class. The insomnia came back full blown and again, I didn’t eat food. This time, the changes were noted by the teachers and I was taken to Mathari Hospital and given antidepressants and other drugs to sort out the STI.
Years later, now out of school, I got pregnant. My boyfriend then, husband today, was supportive but I was unhappy about being an unwed mum.
I sunk into depression again. And attempted suicide a second time. I took a large number of pills and lay in bed waiting for death. My baby, who was then nine months old and lying nearby began bawling and since I couldn’t attend to him, it went on for such a long time that neighbours came to check what the problem was. They found me on the bed and I had to lie that I was just unwell. They took me to the hospital and my suicide mission was aborted.
In 2000, I lost my job and sunk into one of my funks. This one was so bad that my husband took me to hospital and that was when I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder. I was married then with three children.
Alternating manic and depressive states
I have since learnt to manage my condition. Usually, one oscillates between manic and depressive states. Manic is when you get hyper. One becomes extra-active, and gets a false sense of self-importance. There was a time I told everyone that I was going to the UK while in all honesty I had no passport to my name.
The depressive state is the opposite. One feels low and useless. Times like these you just want to die and have no interest in normal activities I have been on medication for close to two decades now, and the type depends on whether I am manic or depressive. We have a monthly budget of Sh20,000 just for my medication and doctor’s visits. Whenever I feel an impending attack of the manic or depressive state, I check myself into my local hospital for some injections, then I go about my life as usual. I joined the support group Users and Survivors of Psychiatry in Kenya (USP Kenya) in 2013. This has helped me deal with the stigma that assaults sufferers especially since I went public about my mental illness. I like to think that I am a happy person. I am talkative, jovial, social and I love teaching. I am an early childhood education teacher and I love children.
I want people to know that I am normal, not crazed or demon-possessed. I just have a mental illness, which I am managing.