I’m 27 and a week old and it’s been almost six years since I was diagnosed with a mental disorder.
It’s also been six years since I was forced to take a step back and examine my personal biases against mentally ill persons.
I was a loud kid who loved to speak her mind and when someone called me mwenda wazimu to spite me, I would give it right back to them, calling them chizi.
Although these biases were internalized as a result of my environment, I had the choice of unlearning them but I didn’t think I needed to; I was after all not one of them.
It was a cold Thursday morning, 22nd August 2013 when I walked down the halls of Kenyatta National Hospital looking for the mental health youth clinic, which offers free services for anyone between the ages of 12 and 25.
I went in self-diagnosed believing I had depression and that within a few years I would be okay.
A couple of therapy sessions here and there maybe even some drugs but I believed I had found my saving grace.
The waiting room at the youth clinic was packed with faces that mirrored back the same angst coursing through me.
And the silence, it was deafening. No one was talking to the person seated next to them. No one was making a phone call asking when that MPESA was coming through.
Even a safe space like the clinic was not spared, stigma and shame tagged along, circling above our heads like a dark cloud.
When it was finally my turn to go in and see the psychiatrist, I did what I always do in the face of uncertainty.
I put on a brave face prepared to answer the question, “How are you doing?”
That’s my standard answer even when I’m not fine because I don’t know or maybe I’m not ready for the response I will receive when I say I’m not fine and they want an answer.
An answer that many are not equipped to handle.
Having done this many times, the psychiatrist got straight to the point after the pleasantries.
He asked for my background information, wanting to know where I grew up, how many siblings I had to if I drank alcohol or smoked marijuana.
That’s what a psychiatric evaluation looks like. It’s akin to a Catholic confession; for redemption you must reveal all of your deepest darkest secrets to get the help you need.
After assessing all the information I gave him, he diagnosed me with post traumatic stress disorder, PTSD.
I didn’t know what he was talking about. I went in knowing for sure what I was suffering from was depression.
For me to be suffering from PTSD, it meant I had gone through a horrible traumatic event or events that still have a bearing on my life to this day.
I was happy to finally put a name to the severe anxiety, depression, selective noise sensitivity, intrusive thoughts and flashbacks that is typical for a person suffering from PTSD.
By 11, my appointment was over and I headed out to catch a bus, happy to know what has been ailing me but dreading the burden of the life that would come.
The burden of living as a mentally ill person in a world that’s still grappling to understand what mental illness really looks like.