Mopping Up Mental Health

I went to the clinic on Friday.  Quite cheerful I was when I arrived there and ready to get things DID. I shuffled past the HIV and AIDS Section.  The Reproductive Health Section with many blushing teenagers and finally turned the corner at the clinic to head to the mental health “corner”.  I paused briefly to think that the signage is intended to be functional, it screamingly communicates and impacts on the people waiting so much more.  What would you say if a friend passes you by in the HIV queue?  Hi, I’m here for a fun check? Blushes and shuffles feet? Anyways, almost fittingly,  the mental health section is in the most inconvenient area that is too small to seat the large number of people who require a service on mental health Friday’s. Yes.  On Fridays, when the psychiatrist graces the mentally ill with his or her presence and the nurse (no mental health specialisation) who are at their most tired, open the clinic to the mad, crazy and otherwise, on condition that you are prepared to queue from 4 in the morning outside.

As I lodged myself into the long queue, with an approximate waiting time of two hours for two people (not exaggerating), we all waited anxiously, knowing that although you were at a health centre, and could have braved massive odds to get there, there was no guarantee that you would actually receive the service you required regardless of  how serious your ailment is or what you’d come for.  In my hard-won um, experience, I have learnt that the South African Health System is more adept at turning people away than it is at servicing people who need it the most.  As an example, I had a close friend with mental illness tell me that when they were suicidal and reported to a hospital, they were told to come back when they had more serious symptoms.  I’m sorry did I miss something here?  A symptom of suicide?  Well.

I had come for a meds refill.  Not that hard.  I had a script, a detailed psychiatric history and referral letter from my resident psychiatrist.  So you could say I was capacitated to come and that the paper could speak for me because you know, someone with mental health anything is NOT able to do that.  Like we may have years of experience of living and coping with our disorders, but cannot describe our symptoms unless a psychiatrist decodes the language we apparently speak. center  Symptom of suicide indeed.

I no longer know what it will take to draw attention to the needs of the mentally ill in our families and communities in Africa because I have it unfortunately on great authority that we are fully and fundamentally being failed. We should not be turned away,  or have it suggested that we actively go home and allow our mental health to deteriorate. Because we matter.  Our families matter.  Our communities matter. And research/statistics in our country and the world says that mental health issues are undetected, and ravaging communities.  So perhaps, mental health services need to be primed to helping people not making them sicker?  In the meantime, whilst I mull this over, I am going to take that cleaner’s bucket which became so intimately acquainted with the tender flesh on my knees during the time I should not have waited, and I’m going to mop clean at the local clinic.  Be part of those who support us as opposed to those who don’t.  I am 4 M’s Bipolar Mom.

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Y’all Are Crazy, and That’s Okay

Having a mental illness is a lonely thing.

Like most people, we want at least someone with whom we can talk. We want a friend to cry with, or even laugh with. We need a deep connection with another human, to feel loved and validated.

Unfortunately, we have a few things that get in the way of socializing.

Many of us are scared. We have trust issues. When we feel hurt, we feel very deeply and wish to avoid feeling that way again. Often, we’ve had a bad experience of someone breaking a promise or shying away when we shared how we think. Heck, a lot of us have a bonafide diagnosis from a doctor that we have social anxieties.

Besides the hurt and fear, we avoid people for their own benefit. We tell ourselves that we are flawed and unsafe. We justify our anti-social behavior with statements like, “I know I’m a downer,” “No ones talks to me at parties. They can see, in my face, that I’m no fun,” and “If they really wanted to be around me, they’d talk to me.”

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Those reasons and that voice are hard to work with, but our health and mental stability need to fight against them. I mean, did you know that human connections were rated the most important thing in a happy life?

So stop beating yourself up. Seriously. I’ll tell you why:

  • Most people are some level of crazy. They may not be certified, but they have issues. I can’t tell you how many people I talk with who have experienced some angle of what I have, if not the whole enchilada.
  • Even though you are crazy, what are you gonna do about it? I’ve tried starting over, but the person that is me always shines through. I am what I have to work with and I accept that.
  • Crazy people have options, like crazy-people doctors and crazy-people medications and crazy-people blogs. There are even …crazy people groups that meet and talk crazy together. It’s a blast.
  • You are you, and are a work in progress. Just think: are you still crawling around and stuffing car keys in your mouth? NO! You did that as a baby, silly. Now you are older and know better. You are knowing better every day.
  • The future will be better. The future will be even betterer if you keep moving forward -even if all you can manage is a shuffle.
  • If all else fails, there is chocolate.
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I have a few friends. Of those, a few have mental health challenges. Some struggle with depression and social anxiety like I do. One has panic attacks. Another is schizophrenic. A mutual acquaintance is bipolar.

Sometimes when I try to plan a get-together, a friend flakes and doesn’t show up. Sometimes I have a terrible week and have to cancel on one of them. Since we are all in this not-sea-worthy-at-all boat together, however, we get it. If not, we talk about it. We hug. We pull out the chocolate.

I need people. I need understanding. I need connection. So do you. Plus, your challenges and perspectives mean that you are more understanding and empathetic than other people.

I mean, we may all be crazy, but that’s okay. We’re as human as the next person and our needs are just as valid.

You are worth it. I promise.

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Photo Credits:
Sayo Garcia
Ethan Sykes
Anita Austvika