He lives with me and it’s been 5 months of so much loving, learning and living.
I have written extensively on mental health, mental wellbeing and mental illness on my own website, blog and the Gbm Foundation for epilepsy and mental wellbeing of which I am the Country Director; and on numerous national and international media. But, these serious foursome Ss pop up again and again – seems like there will be no meaningful progress until they are squarely addressed.
S1: SPIRITUAL ATTACK
When you are in a very religious country or community, you should realize that religion and spirituality or whichever comes first to the people, plays a very big role in their lives. Indeed, long before ‘white man’ medicine came, people were cured or healed through incantations and other process including drinking various portions and following special protocols. A spiritual attack is when there is a belief that the origin of the attack is mysterious especial when no other logical explanation exists. Truth be told, no logical explanation exists to explain a mental health challenge or disorder, and the first stop when there is a crisis here, is mostly to a Man or Woman of God. Hold up, they are actually competing or on the same line of importance as the traditional doctors when we consider the second S.
Even where it can be ascertained it is a spiritual attack, the source must be rooted out right? Who else but a jealous person or witch/wizard can cause someone to have a mental health problem or illness? The predominant belief in our communities had always been that any sudden illness or death is superstitious and very suspicious. Mental health challenges or illnesses are no exception. Indeed, for these categories of ‘wahala’ (local slang for trouble), it is the norm and can only be cast out or cleansed by the traditional doctor aka Ngambe man (witch doctor) for us. I mean, if neither the spiritual healer nor the herbal healer cannot help, why not just chain up the person and let them waste away and die instead of bringing more embarrassment to all concerned? The next S comes in here.
Stigma is both from without and within. The society and even families stigmatize the patient and their family; and the patient loses all their self-esteem and stigmatize themselves by withdrawing further and further into their own ‘world’. Families get fed up trying to help while navigating all that stigma, and the patient’s ‘supposedly non-compliant attitude’ only makes matters worst. Tie them and lock them up or outside in a barn let them become whatever they want. The patients equally fed up with the treatment and stigma, lookout for ways to live their ‘freedom’ and to ‘communicate their frustration’ in anyway that appeals to their already very distorted cognition. Society notices and sighs in slushed sentences and all stakeholders are at a lost on what to and how to proceed. And then the next S.
Note I write the last two Ss in all caps. My own way of shaming them actually. Shame can make even families with the means to take their patients to the hospital and seek better and alternative treatment protocols not to do so. Shame is the outcome of all the stigma explicit or implied, and we all know how people could sometimes fight to protect their ‘reputation’. We have surely heard of ‘honour killings’ in some countries where families have taken the lives of one of theirs because of the shame this individual was bringing to their name. Some patients out of shame, could also contemplate or commit suicide because the life they now lead is definitely the skeleton what was before they fell ill and they can’t stand the pain, stigma and all any more.
It is therefore my humble submission that we in Cameroon have to address these foursome Ss if we are to really make any progress with any mental health campaign. Our realities are still far different from those of the west, I saw this first hand when I did a two months internship at the lone public psychiatric ward in the city of Douala. Many patients brought in are already so challenged and ill, it’ll take much more than a brief hospitalization to help them. Some even in the hospital don’t open up to get any little help available, they are ashamed or feel stigmatized even by some medical personnel – sad to admit.
Today as we celebrate World Mental Health Day under the impressive theme Young People and Mental Health in a Changing World, I salute the efforts made to raise awareness to the different issues involved surrounding mental health, but I add that we should step up our listening. Sometimes people hurt so bad but there is just no one to listen to you even when you want to trust enough to tell.
Marie Abanga is a phenomenal woman by every account who defines herself simply as a person of passion and a tale of talents. She runs a private psychotherapy practice in the city of Douala – Cameroon and be contacted through her website at https://marieabanga.com.
We are approaching the weekend and my ever contemplative and searching soul just thought about what my past has or is still doing to me. I then thought to share it with us all here and maybe inspire others to do their own introspection.
Ok let’s go.
1) Did my past cause me so much pain to make me despise lots of it? YES. I have admitted my role in all the mess of my past and tried to deal with them in different ways all with a bid to heal. Now, we all know the wise saying about not focussing so much on your past to let it influence your present right? Well I dare argue that wisdom so so easier said than done… There are many including myself who have numerous times over been both physical and mental victims – hostage of their pasts. Some pasts have been know to impact so badly our present circumstances so much that the future is completely blurred and unfathomable… but then next;
2) Am I so ashamed of my past to talk about it or share it? Me, NO. When I realized how much shame of my past was killing me slowly and almost got me to drive a knife in, I decided, (even if implementing that took a few years) to deal with that shame and talk about that past through any medium available. For me, it was also a way to fight stigma. The stigma associated with being a ‘loser, a pimp, an addict, a mentally challenged or ill, etc etc’ and who knows whom will be helped by my story right? ok, and so what now;
3) What has facing my past and pain and sharing done? Oh my, the big big positives negate the tiny setbacks or few hate trolls. I even got a national award for my very first memoir. I have become much more self-empowered and aware, so full of gratitude, so conscious of Amazing Grace, so full of faith, oh so determined as a women’s rights and mental health advocate.I hardly turn down any invitation to talk about my past, share my lessons and journey and yes on my own platforms there is no hiding where I come from… I have become one of those brands you don’t mess around with and I am at peace with this ME… Who knows what or where I would have been had I not made that conscious, painful and challenging decision to deal with and heal from my past; and so in conclusion;
Today, I confidently answer that my past has not defined me but it has refined me – it has helped me to embrace self-improvement, self-love, self-appreciation, self-worth and oh my self-esteem is better than ever. This has been a long journey and actually an ongoing one… But, am better equipped and am using that past and pain as solid foundations from which to springboard to greater heights in all faith, hope and charity.
And you…??? Please share cause you really never know who can be helped by your comment
Have a nice weekend everyone!!!
What is NORMAL Anway?
This was the question I was ‘foolishly’ or maybe ‘highly unrealistically’ expecting to be answered in this all too human and yet piercing memoir.
I began reading this memoir by carefully studying the cover picture. I concluded the two chubby innocent girls on the front cover were Martha Graham-Waldon (MGW) to the left and her dearest sister Kathy Graham (KG) to the right. While MGW looked at the camera, KG looked more closely into the gaze of the pet birds they carried. I noticed her shirt lifted up a little and showed her tummy and yet that wasn’t a problem for the photographer. Yet, some of you may agree with me that in some cultures, keeping birds for pets, or not being properly tucked up be you kids, is simply not NORMAL.
This memoir did more to me than just help me see how another family just like mine had, faced and dealt with their member’s mental illness. MGW may not know to what extent her memoir will impact some, but it has definitely completely shattered this paradigm of ‘NORMAL’ to me.
Was NORMAL to be the absence of a diagnosis mindful of some signs that something was seemingly going on with KG? Was it now their new NORMAL that something was indeed going on with KG but then they had to ’embrace’ that as is, or ‘pretend’ to still fit in with ‘conventional community’? What about it being NORMAL to sympathize with their mum who suffered a stroke, and yet shy away and stigmatize the Grahams for having a ‘mad member’ in their family?
I am not going on any further, I read this memoir with so much attention to everything because I couldn’t really believe another family, far away in the USA, could go through such shattering trauma and deal with stigma too! I really thought such things happened only in Africa, to families like mine, well in a setting where people died more from ignorance than from Negligence. I don’t know what to make of the ‘medication tradition or pattern out there’. What is NORMAL now? Go after the symptoms? Go after the illness as diagnosed? Go after the person and beat the Shit out of them?
And in the process of it, how do you a close sibling deal and heal with it all? I applaud MGW’s vivid narration of their various exotic and adventurous family vacations and existence before ‘Life happened’. This in my firm opinion as an aggrieved sibling like herself, states the strong case that the ‘lunatic’ the world now sees, had a ‘NORMAL’ life before their mental illness. I am glad and actually obliged to MGW for writing this memoir mindful of her pain. I rate the book a 5/5 because of the ‘intensity of the different subjects covered’. If I could recommend only 3 books for your year end, this will definitely be one of them. If you read carefully and in between, you’ll definitely re-evaluate that word NORMAL.
About the Author
Martha Graham-Waldon is a writer, spiritual entrepreneur and armchair activist who resides in the Santa Cruz Mountains of California with her family and a menagerie of pets. Her articles have been published locally, internationally and online. She is a winner of the 2015 Women’s Memoirs contest for a vignette based on her memoir Nothing Like Normal: Surviving a Sibling’s Schizophrenia published by Black Opal Books. A member of the National Association of Memoir Writers, Martha also loves travel, the outdoors, Jazzercise and music.
Hello world, pursuant to P1, here is P2:
…This is actually the setting into which Precious, Victor and Mercy are born to papa Thomas and mami Maria. Papa Thomas is a doubting Christian who has fallen out with the church because he insists on wanting to take a second wife since mami Maria has so far giving him only one child (He refuses to count the first two sick children as his). He has surnamed this third child Mercy and although she is only a girl meaning of not so much value to him, he desperately needs the ancestors or God to have mercy on her and spare her from the ‘badluck’ of her siblings.
The movie takes us through the traumatic ordeal of Precious and Victor, an ordeal which begins at home and ends up in school. They are at first taken by their parents to the traditional healer where they undergo near fatal and highly superstitious practices in a bid to rid them of the ‘curse’ source of the badluck, and when the procedure fails, they are dragged to the church with the hope that the reverend father will exorcise the demons in them.
The movie also brings out the guilt, burden and pain mothers feel and bear throughout such ordeals. In our case, mami Maria the mother of the sick children, bears it all bravely, leaving no stone unturned to get her husband to change his staunch traditional mentality and try out the ‘whiteman’s medication’ for once. It is she who when at her stall sees the NGO’s sensitization posters, pleads desperately with her husband that they go to the mission hospital and attend their presentation to learn some more. She equally plead with the catechist to come talk to her husband mindful of his disapproval of papa Thomas’s penchant for polygamy. The catechist’s visit leads to their being received by the reverend Priest. Reverend Fada as he is calls, seizes the opportunity to dismiss all what has been said at the village square and the traditional healer as false beliefs/practices; nothing more.
The lives of Precious and Victor henceforth take a dramatic turn for the better once reverend Fada refers them to the mission hospital. He knows that help can be found at a hospital because his cook’s child who suffers from what he refers to as epilepsy, gets a lot of help from the hospital in the nearby village.
Precious is almost denied a chance at the ‘whiteman medication’ when her father papa Thomas grumbles that he doesn’t have money to take two children there. He will rather take the boy and leave the girl to end up which ever way. Her dear mother steps in again by bringing out her savings. There is no way mami Maria can let her husband blatantly and viciously discriminate against her two sick children because one is a girl and to him of little value, while the boy a younger sibling deserves all the chances at getting better.
At the hospital, the children are registered for consultation by the neurologist who comes during the medical missions organized by the NGO. This NGO which has been working on the field for barely two years now, has indeed been able to secure the personal support of one of the few neurologists in the region. The Neurologist they are told brings a special machine to test the brains of the selected patients so as to know the exact type of the brain disorder they suffer from, and to be able to prescribe medication which can prevent the fainting or seizures as the attacks are called in the hospital. The God sent NGO has also brought some subsidized medication which thanks to mami Maria’s savings, the family can afford.
All is well that ends well, at last the children can now go to school. Another exciting news is that they don’t have to fear the reaction of their teachers and fellow students if they have a seizure in school because the NGO has also brought handbooks about epilepsy for the teachers. The teachers will be trained and they will in turn teach the students on what to do if a friend is having a seizure. The NGO is even sponsoring the Fon’s Football Cup tournament (among other projects), so that through the sponsorship they can sensitize the entire community on the brain disorder and advocate for a change in mentality towards persons living with epilepsy – thus fighting against stigma. Epilepsy they emphasize is not contagious and so people will stop running away and shaming them when they are having a seizure. Epilepsy they even add can be cured and prevented. All this is so new, it makes the news in the whole village.
In the end, Precious and Victor become heros in their village. Their story is reported in the local newspaper and the NGO tells them they will be taken to the city to share their story. Soon, many other parents stop hiding their sick children at home, they take them to the hospital and write down their names so that they will be selected and called back when the NGO organizes another medical mission….
Stay nearby for P 3 next week and thanks for all the support
Hello world, am glad to be back from that block. Maybe even back with some vengeance, though one to be morderated and even disciplined as I’ll explain. But let me see where I start…
This post will have some sub-posts ok, but I think they all relate to the title. Ok, I am happy that I got myself to finish some academic work I had been pushing since in the US, although I had been blogging almost daily while there. Maybe that was even my brain’s own way to jerk me to finish that work by feigning that blogging block? Sometimes I think even our bodies speak to us. Like when I recently fell again on the bike, a minor fall and one I reflected was probably a result of my inactivity all day and the very warm weather. And so, I have used this short blogging break to reflect on some stuffs relating to guilt and shame in different proportions. Probably again it relates to my imminent relocation home?
Do it when and while you can
I agreed to work on an academic article. I started sketching it in the US last month, then I started pushing it aside. The US adventures were getting really ‘roller coaster’ to say the least. Then I returned to Belgium, dealt with a bigger jetlag, and then continued procastinating on that work. Yet, I could still write and blog and facebook, and tweet… The guilt and even shame started seeping in. I started feeling awful and gradually lost interest in blogging. It dawned on me I just had to get this over with even if the inital dateline was still weeks away (glad I did because the dateline just got brought forward to this weekend). I took some perspective, and decided as I often do when something nags me, to blog about it. I refused to let that guilt and shame eat me up to the marrow. Forcing myself sometimes to write even about the most uncomfortable/unsettling of my ‘stuffs’, is my own way of looking guilt and shame in the eye, and why not shame it back? Hurray I have submitted that paper! I have also decided to blog with moderation, once or twice a week no matter the tick – that is needed structure and even say discipline.
Don’t let him keep throwing it at you
By him, I mean X husbands for the likes of myself. I was talking with a friend who told me her X still blackmailed her to whoever will listen and this got to her and affected her. She was gradually getting tough but this has taken over 3 years and she is getting tired. I shared with her how I settled this long ago by publicly doing my mea culpa.
I was no fool, I knew by doing that, my own X would have nothing to tell about me which hadn’t been told by the horse herself – not that he even knew so much. I was no saint nor an aspiring one, I don’t know about him! I know much of what I did was disgusting but I didn’t want to be friends with guilt and shame for so long. And so recently, when I told oga X I was coming back and hoped I could have the kids some, and he tried to venom out some guilt and shame in my direction, I told him I was long vaccinated against that. I was suprised he was yet to get his own vaccin and was still so disgusted about it all.
Don’t let the guilt and shame of not having money, prevent you from smiling
I say it as is, I have been jobless since March 31st. And yet, I smile and even force myself to go around sometimes. Yes, I have felt that guilt and shame of not having money to do some things I would have loved to. Sometimes I have to babysit or househelp for a few euros, jobs I love just as much. And then Tbt, this period has been one of so much grace, I would have missed out a lot if I was hiding away in some depressing poverty stricken corner of my ‘shack’. Oh my, some days were bad, I needed to just be able to leave my bed and house, and on another day, all I could do was walk to the gym entrance and go back home. I am glad I try very much to reach out for help and equally cheer my own self up. Talk about finding the strength in what remains? In short I am even planning a final trip to nearby Bundesland, to bid Madam Chancelor farewel.
Dear gentle readers and followers, when that guilt and shame at whatever situation it is you are facing, starts creeping in, don’t let it get to your marrow. Force yourself, go deep down and find that strength, and then face it as best as you can, one tiny step at a time. Maybe it is for my lived and shared experiences that my darling Florah made this on my potrait?
There are some things which happen and you just don’t think it was sheer coincidence. One of these, was clicking play on a movie called Still Alice. I was on my first flight to the US and didn’t want to sleep on any part of the journey. Movies therefore seemed an interesting option. I watched one called Sideways and then settled next for Alice’s story without paying attention to the synopsis. This is my first review of any movie and I don’t know how I’ll fare. Anyway, am not after a grade, am after sharing with you gentle readers and followers, what I watched and felt with this movie. Let’s start with Alice of course.
Alice the protagonist
She (played by Julianne Moore) is an international linguistic professor, a mum of three, happily married, and ever so ambitious. She is so meticulous with every other thing including her body, which she tones out with an hour’s run every other day. Alice could very well be one of those mothers we refer to back in my country as ‘Mother General’. I am sure many of us will understand this slang even if it were not commonly used in your own countries. Alice and her movie foursome (uh huh she’s married to the cool Alec Baldwin), very well make up that “perfect family” living that “American Dream”. One thing however happens which makes Alice’s story captivating though with a good dose of pity and maybe empathy.
Alzheimer finds its way into Alice’s Life
As in most cases of a neurological, mental or even chronic illness like cancer, it is hard to understand both the “Why, and the Why me”. These questions start replacing Alice’s impressive oratory, as she begins to forget words, places, things and even planned events. She starts to fumble to put it this mildly, leaving her phone and shampoo in the fridge, her medication in the basement, and the thanksgiving turkey to turn to charcoal.
Alice’s life is almost shattered when she gets the diagnosis, and has to share the news with her family. First of all they are in shock, almost ‘shunning’ her, and then it gets worst because one of her daughters takes the test and is positive too. The gene has been handed down much to her chagrin. Alice thinks she has nothing to live for and seriously contemplates suicide by an overdose.
Supportive Family and Alzheimer Association
Alice by now has lost her teaching profession, and is almost losing her sanity. She cares-less about her body, hair or even Christmas. Fortunately, her husband is not prepared to lose her and thus starts informing himself of her condition. He accompanies her to hospital visits and employs a housekeep, then he reassures the family that all is not lost. Alice’s neurologist introduces her to an Alzheimer Association, and she gets to give a keynote address which though brief, is soulful.
It got me thinking
This was the first time I was watching any movie on Alzheimer. I have a dear granny in Israel called Jill, and her husband had Alzheimer. Oh my, is this what she endured? Could this happen to anyone even a highly educated professor of Alice’s caliber? Now, it matters not “why or why me” in the end right? As Alice puts it, Alzheimer brought with it a double ridicule. She felt ridiculous in the eyes of her family ( they wouldn’t believe at first that she was serious about what was going on – her husband said everybody forgets every now and then) and society as a whole, (the stigma and shame and even stares didn’t help), and she felt ridiculous about her own self.
I am not going to rate the movie, I am so touched once more. I am humbled and why not honoured to watch such a movie, and find the need and inspiration to do a review. I hope I have done it justice, but above all I hope that by so doing, I am contributing to the fight against the stigma of such despicable mental and physical conditions. Sufferers need more of love, empathy and support, than even those meds with their drastic side effects. It could be you or someone you love, never say never, and in the meantime make the best of the one life you have…