As a child I was very curious. I was restless and always fidgeting in class. By the time I was a teenager I began experimenting with different things. I was always looking for a high. I wanted something to make me happy, because most of the time I felt sad.
That’s how I got into high-strength alcohol and started smoking weed. It reached a point of no return and I couldn't work anymore, I could not fit into social circles.
I was subjected to electro convulsion therapy due to a diagnosis of substance-induced psychosis. But in the real sense, I had depression.
I was taken to a rehabilitation centre for three months where medication continued. It immobilised me. I could no longer function. I felt very down for a very long time and I could not cope. After that I went back to the drugs. My life became a cycle of medication, self-prescription and substance abuse for another eleven years.
I got high to keep going – to make me feel happy, because deep inside I was very sad. Nobody around me seemed to understand that.
The more people thought I was in need, the more they side-lined me. The more I was locked out of decisions – even to do with my own life – even to choose my own career. When I hit rock bottom, I saw I needed an alternative. I needed to give it a try to live without drugs. And by this time my family members were aware it is not my choice to behave this way. They started encouraging me. So I can say that change began with my family members first.
There was a lot of discrimination.
It was difficult to access opportunities and to access services. There are places you may not be allowed to visit. You cannot get a job. Maybe you have a spouse or a sweetheart, but people try to turn her against you. They say, “This is not the right kind of a person, don’t get engaged.”
You are excluded from mainstream family life and society in general.
Every time you have to deal with this – with the rejection – somehow it becomes self-stigma. You start to agree with the community. They are right. I am wrong.
It is very, very expensive to access rehabilitation centres in Kenya. So it’s not accessible to so many people.
Many people either die, or end up in prison, or they are held in mental institutions. All because they are not able to access the interventions they need. Luckily, I had knowledgeable parents they made sure I got the necessary help.
The system criminalises mental health conditions in Kenya. People are not able to make a distinction between criminal behaviour and behaviour caused either by substance abuse or a mental illness. People just generalise and group all negative behaviour into one basket.
I feel angry when I see young men or elderly men ending up in the justice system, or I see people ending up in prison. I feel angry because I know when you have the right processes, something can be done.
During my recovery, I started discovering myself and my potential. I started giving myself hope and building resilience. It was not a one day event - it was a process.
I joined Users and Survivors of Psychiatry (USP Kenya). A local NGO which advocates for people with psycho-social disabilities. I discovered there are people who have gone through the same journey that I went through. I discovered resilience. I discovered I can overcome the barriers, the stigma and the attitudes in the community.
I see myself as a role model. I’ve shared my story on national TV. I’ve spoken in schools, in communities during public meetings and even in churches. I hope people see what I’ve gone through and it can encourage them.
Twenty years ago we could not talk about it. We could not share our stories. We have taken a big stride and if we can build on this, stigma will reduce. In the future, employers and service providers will not discriminate or exclude people on the basis of their conditions.
I have a lot of hope.