Month: August 2013

Family Can Drive You Crazy… Or Not

(This is a guest post by Dr. Gbonju Abiri, a senior resident at the Yaba Neuropsychiatric Hospital, Lagos, Nigeria.)

 

Last week, I was invited to see a 35-year-old single, unemployed female patient who had been living in America until recently. A year before her abrupt return, she had severed all communication with her family and since her return to Nigeria, she had not spoken to anyone. Though she eats and takes a bath when she deems it fit, she spends most of the day in bed, sleeping, tossing and turning, refusing to speak to anyone and answering questions only by smiling or by slight nodding of the head.

Her family invited me to see her because they were worried she wasn’t speaking… but that was as much as they were worried. They had, increasingly since her return, spoken harsh words, stating to her face that she was just pretending and that she should just snap out of whatever was wrong with her, especially if she wanted them to help her.

Although, I couldn’t get a history of happenings in her life in the previous year, and since she had alienated herself from her family members who didn’t think so much of it, it seemed to me like this patient had been ill all the while and the alienation was one of the first symptoms of this present illness.

I advised that she be brought in to the hospital and that was when more drama started… “There is nothing wrong with her…” “Who will pay the bills?” The conversation went on, spiraling into more arguments with no end in sight. Image

Families play a great part in the mental health of a person. Besides the fact that mental illness may be the result of genetic factors, the recovery of a patient is also often aided or impeded by their family.

Mental illness is defined as illness with psychological or behavioral manifestations leading to abnormalities in thought, emotions, cognition, sensory perceptions, etc. and it often leads to increased suffering, pain, disability, death or important loss of freedom.

In this part of the world, we hate the tag ‘mental illness’, and people hurriedly term a person with such illness mad or insane. Nothing could be more wrong. Every day, as a psychiatrist, I see firsthand the necessity for getting help for mental illness. I also see the need for familial support in patients’ recovery.

Being a part of a family can be a protective or a destructive factor in the life of an individual as factors such as care, warmth, critical comments, emotional over involvement can affect the onset, progression or prognosis of an illness.

It is important for family members to be able to balance the demands of their own lives to allow for support and care of other members of their family. If we don’t take care of our family members, who will?

Are you or someone you know going through emotional or psychological trauma?

Are you having strange experiences or strange feelings that you can’t explain?

Are you scarred by past experiences you have had and can’t seem to move on or ahead?

Are you having problems carrying out productive activities?

Do you have problems having fulfilling relationships with others?

Do you have extreme difficulty with adapting to change or to cope with adversity?

Are you having a convulsive episode or a seizure disorder?

Have you thought of taking your own life or even attempted it?

I could go on with many questions. But it’s important to know that help can be sought and the earlier it is sought the faster your life can get back on track. The first step to tackling a problem is acknowledging that it exists. Let us collectively fight the stigma of mental illness by talking about it and by helping our loved ones through such experiences.

 

Dr. Abiri is largely involved in mental health advocacy and occupational mental health. She blogs at www.naijashrink.blogspot.com

 

 

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Abiku

Say your farewell and stretch your legs.

Who says empty nests must hold sorrow?

Or that empty baskets hold no water?

 

Child, let me tell you what the world knows

The abiku was not born to stay. No.

It was born to find a reason. Any reason

To come and go and come and go.

To leave torment and tears in its wake.

 

Go ahead and make your sacrifices.

Pour libation and plead till you’re hoarse.

Pray for another god than the one that

has painted your back black with grief.

 

Child, the world knows tis futile.

The abiku was not born to stay. No.

It was born to find a reason. Any reason

To breathe its last. Again and again.

To leave you wandering and wondering in its wake.

 

And if you find yourself dancing to a strange song.

It is not because your legs have forgotten

which part of the ground holds more water.

Or where the bones are crooked from all the shaking.

 

Child, let me tell you what the world knows.

The abiku was not born to heal. Or to fill womb

(redacted)

 

Reminisce on the nights of small limbs tucked in bigger. Now, snap out of it.

When you are sure that the earth will hold you,

remember that the abiku is never born and that

you remain, like a lost continent, barren.

 

Child, here’s what you do, or what you don’t

Seal up your womb; send him on his way.

And when they ask why your house is quiet,

Tell them that the world knows the abiku was not born to stay.

 

Note
One night a couple of weeks ago, amidst tears, I wrote a weird poem. The next day I e-met a young man who had written a poem for/about me. We got chatting, and later I sent him what I’d written the night before and he made it awesome. Thank you, JSL.

 

The World is a Fucking Psych Ward!

There I was on a Wednesday in December 2012, sitting on the rug, a bottle of coke in my hands, and the first mouthful of tiny yellow pills downed. Then another mouthful. Coke makes everything better, I tell you. I can’t remember if that was before or after I scribbled the last suicide note with a pencil. The memory remains fuzzy. I could feel the end nearing. I didn’t even care about dying or what dying might mean. I just wanted a cessation of all that I was feeling.

I'm the nutcracker, leading my army of gingerbread men to victory. Oh crap, I'm nuts.
I’m the nutcracker, leading my army of gingerbread men to victory. Oh crap, I’m nuts.

When I opened my eyes later, a doctor was peering at me, asking if I tried to kill myself. No, I didn’t, my grown-ass self thought the meds were M&Ms. If I had the strength, I’d probably have begged him to kill me there. But all I had was a blank mind, and the all-too-familiar gnawing sense of failure. In the days to come, I’d realize that although there hadn’t been anything about living, there was something about not dying.

I was diagnosed with borderline personality disorder about a month after my 24th birthday. It was a miracle that I’d made it to 24. Since I was 9, I had had an inkling that something was wrong. But see, I thought it’d go away if I pretended that it wasn’t there. I thought that if I ignored it long enough, no one would ever notice that it was there. It didn’t go away but people didn’t notice that it was there, at least not at first, and not a lot of people.

If you’re sick, you’re sick, and no amount of praying, curling into a ball or trying to will yourself to death will make it go away if you don’t get help. It’s like a cancer; it continues to eat into you till it becomes obvious to everyone that you’re sick.

When I was 24, it became obvious to the people around me that I was not quite mentally stable. In the last few months of being 23, I had, repeatedly, lost my ability to function properly. Because I worked from home, it was not obvious to anyone except those closest to me. I continued to sink into the vortex that is depression till I could no longer explain what was wrong even to the 2 who knew. All I could tell them repeatedly was: “I’m tired. I want it all to end.”

I thought about death a lot. I cried a lot and lived on fruit salad. I spent my days lying in bed; I lacked the mental and physical strength necessary to get out of bed. When I wasn’t sad, I was angry. Deep, inexplicable rage that scared me because it left me feeling like my heart would beat so fast that it would burst out or my head would explode from the intensity. I got a new job. I went away. Then I came back. For brief moments, I was okay.For the greater part of 2 months, I pored the internet for materials on suicide. I even settled on a method that I thought would not only be painless, but would also be swift. I had it planned out. I knew the exact combination and amount of milligrams of my meds I needed to overdose on.

I wrote one suicide note, then another, and another, and each time, something or someone brought me back from the edge before I could actively attempt it. Then that December morning, I flew off the edge on the wings of dozens of pills. I was tired. I wanted the sad and mad to end. I didn’t want to look in the mirror and wonder who the crazy, glaze-eyed zombie staring back at me was. I wanted it to end.

There was no white light, no angels and I definitely didn’t get a golden halo. It didn’t end. I’m here and actively trying to give this thing called life a real chance. I’m using meds, undergoing therapy — ok, I’m a truant when it comes to therapy 😦 — and I’m reading a barrage of books. Then there’s this blog. I’ve always written and I recently thought about how much writing helped me to keep my head while I was in the Psychiatric Ward after the attempt. So, I’m going to imagine that this whole fucking world is a psych ward and we’re all mad. Yeah, I like to not be alone.

Hello, my name is Rayo and I have borderline personality disorder. What are you in here for?