Despite the stigma that surrounds anything mental health, there are a few brave souls that still get the strength and courage to talk, encourage, and inspire about their mental conditions. The awareness they bring is one that is unrivaled. We get to learn, understand, and handle issues of mental health easily by just paying more attention to what they say. As Glenn Close once said, “What mental health needs is more sunlight, more candor, and more unashamed conversation.”
I met Grace in university back in 2015, and we shared a few media classes together. We became fast friends and slowly went through school life together. She was fun to be around and always put her Christianity and love for God first. But after we were both done with our course work, we kinda lost touch. Fast forward to 2018, we bumped into each other in the halls of school again. This time, we are both struggling with our thesis and had come to see our supervisors. We caught up and after a while, I mentioned I had to run as I had an appointment with my doctor. That’s when she opened up and I learned that she was struggling with a mental condition; schizophrenia.
Schizophrenia is a serious mental disorder in which people interpret reality abnormally. Schizophrenia may result in some combination of hallucinations, delusions, and extremely disordered thinking and behavior that impairs daily functioning, and can be disabling.
Grace and I have managed to keep in touch despite the fact that she traveled to the other side of the world to receive better treatment. We constantly check up on one another and just catch up with our own personal lives. One thing that I can confirm in all that while is that her faith in God is still firm. She has managed to hold on to God and her love and faith are unshaken. So when I asked her about mental health awareness, she was more than willing to share her story and hoped it would educate, inspire, and encourage.
I asked her a couple of questions, and this is what I learned;
How did you realize you had a mental condition?
In 2007, at the end of my first semester in university, I started hearing voices saying they were going to hurt me. I panicked and got scared because I didn’t understand what was going on. I was so confused and sought intervention from an authority in the campus who luckily, happened to be a relative. I ended up skipping an exam due to the paranoia and fear as the voices I heard were very real.
In 2009, I found out I was schizophrenic after a diagnosis from a psychiatrist. It started after I had to stop my 3rd year of school because of my failing health. I had seen various doctors but nothing ever came to fruition. Only after seeing the psychiatrist and being put on mediation did I regain my physical health back.
In 2012 I was taken off psychiatric medicine and I started feeling like I was having a relapse. Once again, my physical health started to deteriorate and I had to get back on the meds. Shortly afterward, my health went back to normal. That was when I started to accept that there was something wrong with me. All the while, I was still in denial; and maybe I still am.
How is it like living with your condition? And how did family and friends handle it?
I can’t say I have had a difficult time in terms of association, I have never personally experienced stigma and my family is very supportive and I thank GOD for them. I have understanding friends too, though not many! I enjoy good days and I’m learning to live each moment to its fullest because you never know how the next minute maybe. My main symptom is hearing voices.
When I hear voices I try not to do anything impulsive like listening or bending to them! I have had some downtime. There’s one time, I was walking around town and I started hearing voices. The voices wanted me to follow their directives and go out of town impromptu. They said that the rapture had happened and the antichrist had taken over so the Christians that were left needed to hide from him and his demons.
I also once heard the voices telling me my parents weren’t my parents but imposters. I recall fighting with them wanting to leave the house at night not knowing where to go. I was set on leaving because the voices said the house was full of evil. I remember I struggled with my dad for a long time and they had to call hospital medics to come get me; but I eventually ended up sleeping in the house.
I remember a time like this last year walking out of my brother’s house because I heard a voice telling me to leave that it was an evil place and all the people I was surrounded by were demons.
On the other side, I remember hearing voices coming from the TV talking to me nicely and encouraging me that I am the best among the anchors and show hosts and it made me feel good. The voices made me believe I was talking to the people on the TV and that they reciprocated my thoughts and words when in actual sense I never talked out loud.
How do you cope on a daily basis?
I have learned that having a routine is essential; this is something I’m actively working on. It helps fight back the voices when they come. Doing my Bible devotions and prayers helps a lot too. I also listen to music and watching videos, etc. to keep me distracted.
Have you been discriminated against because of your mental condition?
Luckily, I haven’t experienced any discrimination because of my condition. Those around me understand and I am grateful for them.
Have you tried to create awareness about mental health?
Not really, I guess I haven’t had the right motivation yet! (But this is a definite start)
What do you do for fun?
I watch movies, listen to music, and sometimes read. I also chat and interact on social media and when I’m feeling light on my feet, I dance.
How is dating or being in a relationship like for you?
I haven’t been in any relationship since I was diagnosed, so I can’t say much about that. But I guess I’m also picky. Hehe
What would you advise people dealing with mental disorders?
Take it one day at a time, do the most you can when you can because you don’t know how the next moment will be. In short, make the most of your time. Also, surround yourself with people who are positive, who care, and understand. It’s very important.
What would you like people living without mental conditions to know?
Mental disorders are a disease like any other. Only that it affects your brain. We, therefore, need to take care of our health by taking medication and going for therapy in order to get better.
People living without these conditions should not discriminate against people with mental disorders but instead, try to understand them and know that they sometimes barely make it through the day without going stark raving mad. Literally! So please be considerate!
If you were to go to dinner with a famous person, dead or alive, who would it be?
(Laughs out loud) I don’t know! I’ve never thought of that! It’s a tough one! Oooh.. maybe Oprah!