Go, see someone

This year began horribly for me. 2018 was only a couple of weeks old and I was adjusting to not being in school anymore. Which means I was stressed out looking for people who wanted to hire someone who didn’t have 5 years’ experience. I was heading for an interview that day, running late, going out of my mind wondering why I am the way that I am. Serious people don’t run late for interviews, you see. I ended up being two weeks late for that interview because I was mugged before I could even get a matatu. They took my phone and left me with blood pouring out of my scalp. I had never seen that much blood in my life because I am one of those wuss people who get queasy when confronted with any evidence of human mortality. It was horrifying.

So far, this year has taught me two things. One, it is very possible for you to get robbed at 10 in the morning on a beautiful sunny day in a neighbourhood that is presumed safe. Two, the police are horrible to deal with. Whatever trauma you have just endured, they will find a way to make you feel even worse, in both word and deed. Those guys got angry at me for saying I would not be able to recognize my attackers even they were lined up in front of me. Because apparently, when you are mugged, your focus is not supposed to be on trying to defend yourself–it is supposed to be on memorizing the facial features of the people who would have no trouble killing you and leaving you on the side of the road. And who wants their attackers lined up in front of them anyways? So what, you just point at the guys who pointed a gun right at your chest and say ‘ni hao’ and then walk away smiling because justice will be served? No. Just no. You are terrified by just the thought of being anywhere near them and you wish the whole experience would just go away. Like a normal person.

Oh yeah, and then the cops retrieved my phone from the thugs (who didn’t get very far by the way, because mob justice is a thing) and then stole it. They got my phone and instead of giving it back, they decided no, we deserve this phone far more than this girl does. After all, si we have done our work? We have earned this reward.

And so I had to learn how to use a kabambe. The experience rid me of the habit of not picking calls and then texting back saying, ‘sorry i missed your call’. Texting using a kabambe is next to impossible. So now, I am about five times better on the phone than I was before. Still pretty bad, and I sound super awkward, but better than before. Also, I have not divulged this information to give those of you with my number the confidence to call me. Don’t do that to yourself. Don’t do that to me. Just text, like a decent human. I may or may not get back to you in two or three weeks.

May is Mental Health Awareness Month. I’m telling you this because you people are stressed. You are going through things, maybe you have had to deal with the trauma 2018 has given you, just like I have. I know because we are alike, you and I. There are just not that many young people around who aren’t going out of their minds at least some of the time. Most of the time, actually, if we are being honest. I’m telling you that May is (has been? The whole year is practically over already) Mental Health Awareness Month because we don’t know how to deal with mental health issues, especially our own.  

After I was attacked, I didn’t go for therapy. At least not right after. I was tired, I wanted the whole thing to end, I wanted the stitches on my scalp to heal, I wanted to be done with it. I felt like if I had to recount my story to one more person I would drop dead and die. I didn’t need the images of those men flashing before my eyes again as I told yet another person the details of that very long day. I ended up addressing this trauma about a month after it happened and by that time it was already affecting me in ways I wish it hadn’t. Nightmares, hypervigilance, general hatred of human nature. Fear, fear, fear.  

I am fine now, thank you for worrying. But the thing that shows you just how lightly we take our mental health is the fact that my university and post-university education is in psychology and counseling. And yet even I didn’t know better than to let trauma sit inside me, just stewing. I should have known better. I didn’t.

We all want to believe that we ‘can handle it’. We all want to see ourselves as those people who don’t need any help. We are fine, we are going through something but it will be fine. We don’t need anybody all up in our business thinking they know us better than we know ourselves. And besides, there are bigger issues in life than a little stress and a little trauma.

I get it. Therapy isn’t the easiest thing to get access to around here. And there are some pretty trash therapists in this our country. I’ve had two who I saw a couple of times and gave up on because they didn’t know how to act. One of them started telling me how I was wrong to feel the way I was feeling, the other one started preaching to me. Nobody needs that, especially not when therapy costs the life of your unborn child (which is like 1500 bob when you’re in school and nobody wants to pay you for anything that you are willing to do, but still). I believe that unless I have asked for spiritual or religious counseling, then a person working in mental health has no business bringing up God in the middle of the session. But that is just me. So yeah, I understand that it isn’t easy.

But the thing is that many of us don’t even try. We don’t even want to think about therapy as an option because we were not raised to think of mental health as an important part of a healthy life. So you suck up whatever it is you need to suck up and go about life acting like you are not slowly wasting away on the inside. The worst thing is that we are always so good at telling other people that they should take care of themselves but when it comes to our own issues, we would rather shut up and hope for the best.

People like to say that it is always darkest before the dawn. It’s a cliche we throw around whenever someone we know is going through a hard time. But is it? Is it always darkest before the dawn? Because, some people don’t get a dawn. Some people stay in that darkness and never get out. For some people, it doesn’t get better. How do you know that you are going to get a dawn? As you shut up and hope for the best, hope that your trauma won’t swallow you up completely, how do you know that you won’t be one of those people who don’t make it out of the darkness? You don’t. Because normally, people who are in aforementioned darkness end up feeling that there is no dawn after all. They allow the darkness to become all they know and eventually, they disappear into it. For them, it is not darkest because dawn is coming. It is darkest because there is no more light.

You may think you are not doing too badly, sitting in that Darkest Darkness, because you think Dawn is coming, but really, there is no more light. What I am saying, in all these unnecessary metaphors, is this: Stop gambling with your own life. Stop assuming that you are doing fine. Stop guessing whether or not today is the day you lose it completely. Maybe you can’t handle it. And you know something? That is okay.

A couple of months ago, I wouldn’t have thought to put this on a post. Too heavy. People don’t like to read things that make them uncomfortable. But some weeks ago, a cousin of mine took his own life. There was no dawn for him. Everybody was asking why, why, why. As though this was his first attempt. As though we are not the same people who hear someone threaten to kill themselves and boldly say, ‘here is the rope, go do it.’ Because the only people who threaten to kill themselves are entitled attention-seekers who are just throwing another tantrum over nothing, right? And when some people in my family turned to me, looking for answers because I studied this stuff in school, I didn’t know what to say. I explained my own thoughts on the tragedy, but what good are explanations when we are planning a funeral?

I am not saying that you will inevitably take your own life if you don’t do something about your mental health. God, no. I am saying, if you even suspect that you may need to talk to someone, do it. Go. See someone.

The month is ending but we’ve still got about half a year to go. Don’t let the remaining half chip away at you, from the inside, slowly, until December finds you hollow. Go, see someone if you need it. Even if you think you don’t need it but you can afford it, just go. You might find something you didn’t know was there. And I know you have friends, family, colleagues who seem less of themselves than they were before. Go to them. Reach out. Pay for their therapy if you have to. Please. We are all just trying to get through what life has given us, and some of us are having worse luck doing that than others. Listen to me: there is no shame in therapy. Just go. Think of it as an investment. And if you don’t know where to start, look for me. I will be here, I will help, I promise.

Okay? Okay.

Now, in other news, today is my birthday. Send gifts. Or even those thoughts and prayers I know you like to give. I will accept them, albeit grudgingly. Even the love and light that you prefer to send in lieu of actual material things that you know will make me happy. It is okay, I will accept those too. But mostly the gifts.

Haya. I have gone to celebrate the fact that I am 23 and still don’t know what to do with my life.

9 Comments

  1. Hey Chepchumba. I like your writing.
    Sorry about your traumatic experience. I’m glad you made it out back into the light. Being in the darkest because there’s no more light brings to mind seeing light in the tunnel and thinking you’re about to emerge then it turns out the light is from a train. We sure need to recognize the importance of our mental health and stop the African saying, “Hizo ni vitu za wazungu”. Everyone needs to talk to someone before matters get out of hand.

  2. I agree with you, I get really uncomfortable when a therapist decides to drop religion on me when I’ve gone to see them on totally unrelated matters. My condolences and happy belated birthday.

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