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When romance goes south, brace for actual love diseases

Health & Science

Not dealing with the effects of breakups leads to deep-seated bitterness, fear of dating leading to delaying marriage. [Courtesy]

There is no other way around it. Breakups are painful, awful, and worst still, cause unbearable heartaches. And unknown to victims is a string of medical conditions when the love goes south.

mental health experts have identified depression, headaches, suicidal tendencies, panic attacks, insomnia, anxiety and reckless sexual behaviour as some of the consequences of unrequited love.

Love affairs mostly affect mental well-being and people who experience heartbreak later also suffer low self-esteem, self-doubt, loss of confidence, low productivity, hopelessness, loss of appetite and social isolation.

All these mental burdens might trigger underlying health conditions like hypertension-even for the most amicable, mutual breakups.

Not dealing with the effects of breakups leads to deep-seated bitterness, fear of dating leading to delaying marriage. For women, prolonged singlehood means one has to later deal with fertility issues and play catchup with life’s milestones and its attendant social implications.

Take award-winning gospel musician Daddy Owen (Owen Mwatia), for instance. During his publicised split from his wife, Farida Wambui, he admitted to battling depression in silence for fear of being labelled weak by society.

Lacking peace of mind, he most times woke up and felt like doing nothing. Oftentimes, he locked himself in the house and cried.

“I considered myself as not important anymore to my family or the general public,” he said adding “when you don’t have peace, you can’t sleep, eat, think straight.” 

Daddy Owen attributed his recovery to publicly opening up about his struggles and consistent counselling sessions.

“When you go through depression, you see more negative than positive. I look forward to my counselling sessions as a time to vent. Accepting that you are going through something is the first step.”

 Then there is the case of Influencer and Youtuber Maureen Waititu who said breaking up with the father of her children felt like the world had ended.

Maureen explained to being blurry on how to react when her nutrition and fitness consultant husband, Frankie JustGymIt (Francis Kiarie), called it quits.

The healing was a process she said as “you will have your denial stage, you will have your anger stage, you will have your crazy stage, you will have your negotiation stage, you will have your acceptance, which personally I have come to and you will keep going back and forth until this entire process finishes what it started.” 


How men and women react to breakups varies, but men appear to be hard hit. [Courtesy]

Maureen confessed to contemplating suicide twice, but in one case, the plan to drive off to it was rained off and she returned home to a son who requested a book reading session.

“I was being treated for severe depression, post-traumatic stress disorder and anxiety,” she recalled. “So I took my tablet, slept and woke up a new woman and that’s the last time I thought, the only way left is the top and that’s where I went.”

Former television anchor, Janet Mbugua, is another celebrity who went through severe depression and sought therapy during her separation from ex-hubby Eddie Ndichu, before finally gaining the courage to walk out and speak about it. 

The love life of local celebrities causes even more mental anguish when it comes to grief because most times, its twists and turns are paraded in public.

Just ask television presenter Willis Raburu. Their couple goals were an open secret and “looking back, if I had an option I wouldn’t have advertised my relationships on social media,” he told a local vernacular station on the societal pressure that followed his heartbreaking divorce.

The heartache, he added, was worsened by embarrassment considering “everyone is always gossiping about you.” The burden of being a Christian and carrying a famous surname almost cost him his sanity.

And bottling issues for that veneer of masculinity men are supposed to carry like a badge of honour was not easy because “in reality, I was sad and crying on the inside. When I left the house, I used to cry as well.”

Sakina Kalyan, a clinical psychologist at Hisia Psychology Consultants in Nairobi, explains that heartbreaks affect how people view themselves, other people, and how they interact with the world.

“Short-term effects of heartbreak can lead to lack of motivation, appetite changes, weight loss or weight gain, stomach pain, headaches, and a general sense of being unwell,” says Kalyan. “Long-term mourning of a relationship can lead to complex psychological complications, such as social withdrawal, depression and anxiety.”

To heal from heartbreak, Kaylan says it is important to stay mindful, avoid criticising and take it as an opportunity to learn something new about yourself since “in time, you will heal.”

How men and women react to breakups varies, but men appear to be hard hit.

Businessman Davis Makau, 32, recalls Valentine’s Day of 2011 when he received a text message from his long-term girlfriend asking him never to call or text her again. She was his first love. They had dated through high school to college.

Makau got into what he describes in a Twitter chat as “madness” due to stress, self-isolation, unkemptness, irritability, impulse behaviour and thoughts that everyone hated him, which a psychiatrist later diagnosed as severe depression.

He was given medication to stabilise, but when the family was roped in, the support made healing easier.

Other emotional reactions include a physical makeover, the most common among women being shaving hair to signal new beginnings.

For Emma, another Kenyan on a Twitter chat on breakups recalls going into denial. She would send her ex-boyfriend videos of herself crying, only for him to give her a ‘number of another barber who he believed would shave better,’ despite Emma telling him that he was the reason she shaved it.

For Nathan Oji, his heartbreak was characterised by revenge as his way to “bargain with reality”. He often imagined scenarios where he was the CEO of a company where his ex and her new flame came job hunting and their fate were on his hands. 


Studies show that rejection, emotional and physical pain, are all processed in the same region of the brain as physical pain. [Courtesy]

The healing takes stages and according to city psychologist Zainab Ali, “people typically enter into the five stages of grief – denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. Depending on where they are on the spectrum, emotions may vary.”

Studies show that rejection, emotional and physical pain, are all processed in the same region of the brain as physical pain. Ali adds that people who have recently gone through a breakup experience similar brain activity as those in physical pain.

Dr Juzar Hooker, a neurologist at the Aga Khan University Hospital, says the emotional well-being of a stroke patient, for instance, is an important factor to take into account during their treatment.

 Broken Heart Syndrome is not limited to the psychological sphere alone. In some cases, it affects the heart and can trigger a heart attack.

Severe heartbreak victims have reported to the hospital with feelings akin to a very sharp heart pain as though someone was twisting a blade through the chest.’ For others, the pain is peppered with ‘excruciating shortness of breath.’

Englishman Karl Pearson, a 20th-century biostatistician, studied cemetery headstones and noticed a peculiar pattern: Husbands and wives often died within a year of each other. This discovery was the foundation of scientific studies which concluded what affects the brain can affect the heart and the body and the two were interconnected.

Indeed, Dr Premanand Ponoth, a cardiologist at the Karen Hospital, explains that the emotional history of any patient with a heart condition is as important as the physical history.

“When patients come to the hospital, we always find out whether the patient has experienced any stress or strain prior to the onset of the illness,” offers Dr Ponoth. “If it’s a young man or woman especially, we ask about their love life too. Surprisingly, 50-60 per cent of the time, we discover that the emotional state is deeply connected with the state of the heart of a patient.”

 Medical imagery shows that during grief or heartbreak, the muscular chamber, located at the apex of the heart balloons out, resembling a narrow-necked Japanese octopus trap known as a Takotsubo.

Dr Ponoth argues that though the Broken Heartbreak Syndrome is a temporary heart condition that is often triggered by stressful situations and extreme emotions.

“It is medically known as Takotsubo because it was first discovered by a Japanese doctor and is characterised by acute weakening and bulging of the left ventricle, a muscular chamber in the heart responsible for pumping oxygenated blood through the aorta out to the body,” explains Dr Ponoth.

According to the cardiologist, the key symptoms for broken heart syndrome include chest pain, feeling cold, clammy and shortness of breath. The condition often mimics a heart attack during initial testing. However, in most cases, follow-up cardiac angiograms looking for the signature blood clots of a heart attack turn up clean.

 Even more fascinating, says Dr Ponoth, is that some Takotsubo patients have completely clean coronaries and normal function of the heart resolves over time, making a full recovery.

In a handful of cases, Broken Heart Syndrome can be fatal, as in the case where people go through intense experiences such as the death of a loved one.

 “Grief and stress can break a body, so no one should hesitate to seek help in handling stress,” says Dr Ponoth.

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