UNDERSTANDING MENTAL HEALTH SERIES- The Beginning

Following the recent challenges we have faced as a nation, there is a need for us to become aware of how recent tragedies affect our wellbeing. This marks the beginning of a SERIES of 5-minute reads to address some of the most common mental health issues that affect most of us.

I believe a better understanding of these conditions will prepare us to prevent them and to better deal with them when they occur.quote1

From my work with children, adolescents and young adults, I have seen the value of knowing when to let family, friends, and professionals walk with us through the challenges.

First in the series will be a focus on understanding:

  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Loss and grief
  • Eating disorders

As we develop a better understanding of the need for mental health and well-being, I have decided to embark on this journey of psycho-education. May you use what you learn here to educate another person or two.

For ideas, comments, questions and suggestions, contact me through: agollamayah@gmail.com

Telephone: 0710263329

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The End…I don’t think so.

Life is not easy.

We all fight battles.

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Some of these are silent battles even our closest friends and families may fail to see.

A friend once said;

“When you come to the edge, when it seems like there is no other way out, think of your life as a sentence. Instead of ending it with a fullstop (.), end it with a semi colon (;).”

Just like in a sentence, the semi colon opens up your situation to possibilities. No matter how bleak things seem, it gives hope. It lets you see the happiness ahead…even if it seems distant. It is an opportunity for your story to continue.

Your semi colon…is a willingness to reach out and talk about what you are going through.

Is there no one around to listen?

We will listen.

 

THE GUILT THAT BROUGHT FORTH MADINI…

People ask why I decided to start a charitable foundation. Guilt. I started it out of guilt. It is an odd and unusual answer for an organization meant to bring hope to many. But, that is my truth.

I never grew up poor. yes we lived in the countryside, but my mother made sure we had three meals…even if it was just ugali and osuga…it was always enough. We got to eat meat, and rice and chapatis.

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Madini Feeding Program

I never went to school without shoes.

I never had a torn uniform.

I do not remember being sent home for school fees…if we did, it wasn’t for long. at least not long enough for it to be a significant memory. My mother worked hard. She went for Saturday sports, music festivals and any other event that would bring a little more than her teacher’s salary. My mother took loans so we could have a good education.

Most of the people we went to school with were not as lucky.

Most of their mothers were not teachers.

Most were house wives.

Most run small businesses that barely brought in anything.

Most were orphans.

Most were living in abject poverty.

Since childhood, the guilt of having while others lacked the basic things is something that haunted me. I tried sharing my food but that doesn’t really fix the problem. By the time I was heading to form one, a number of the girls we went to school with opted for marriage. By the time I got to form four a number of them gave up on education completely. Not out of choice, but when you are tired of constantly being the one singled out in class and sent home for lack of fees, there is nothing left to do.

FAST-FORWARD TO MY ADULT LIFE

Working in Kariobangi South with families from Dandora, Mukuru and other informal settlements…you are confronted by pain and struggles you never thought possible. Being a counselor, you realize you are completely useless.

Counselling cannot fill an empty stomach.

It cannot buy uniforms for the child who gets insulted everyday because of the bare bottoms showing through the holes on his school shorts.

It cannot get a job for the qualified graduate who now hawks eggs on the streets

It cannot pay school fees for the child who sees the street as the only option left.

so, YES

I lived a good life. But, the guilt I feel drove me to try and become more than just a counselor.

In the end I am proud of what was born out of it. if it but changes the life of a single child, then it will all have been worth it.

mad2
Madini Reception Area

MADINI YOUTH FOUNDATION

Now I have hundreds of brothers and sisters I can do something for.

I am grateful to the ones who have supported this project. I am grateful for all who encouraged me through the rough patches. I am grateful for those who still hold my hand each passing day.

If I believe tomorrow will be better…then the little boy or girl looking up to me can believe it too

They will see it in my eyes and know…that it gets better.

Thank you.

For making my dream come alive.

LEARNING TO LOVE YOURSELF

One of the ladies at the Thursday event walked up to me and said “it is very unusual for people to openly share about their difficult experiences in life. We often want to show the world that our lives are perfect.” I openly share about my social anxiety, depressive episodes and the years it took before I even began to learn how to love myself and my broken nature.

I do this because I have learnt that it is okay to be me, flaws and all.

I do it because whenever I do, it gives someone else the courage to share

To realize that they are not alone.

I do it because it has opened a path for strong people to walk into my life and support me.

So, to those that missed the MADORA SELF-LOVE event, here are some of my thoughts about self-love.

20170922-self-love

THINGS PREVENTING SELF-LOVE

  • Negative self-talk
  • What people say
  • Misconceptions about make-up
  • Comparing yourself to people around you and on social media
  • The pressure to conform
  • Low self-esteem

IT IS IMPORTANT TO TEACH MYSELF THAT:

  • I am not perfect and that is okay
  • I am worthy
  • I should be comfortable in my own skin
  • Only what I tell myself should matter
  • There are people around me who will accept me for who I am
  • I should celebrate my flaws
  • I should celebrate my uniqueness
  • I set my own standards
  • I must work towards being a better me, not being like others
  • We need to build each other
  • I must let go of my irrational beliefs

WHAT TO DO

  • Learn to love yourself
  • Accept perceived flaws
  • Work on your physical health
  • Surround yourself with positivity
  • Makeup should not define your beauty but bring out the beauty from within
  • Talk to a professional mental health practitioner

BLESSED SUNDAY…..

MADORA
ChikiKuruka, ConnieAluoch, MamaOliveK, AgollaAloo

Thank You Madora Kenya for organizing such an amazing event.

PS/ Don’t forget to nominate us for BAKE AWARDS 2019

Click http://submit.bakeawards.co.ke

Complete NAME, EMAIL, NUMBER

Scroll to 16. Public Health Blog and type in The Kenyan Psychologist

Click SUBMIT

LOOKING BACK 2018

This is the last blog post of the year. Not that there is nothing left to say, but I take the last two weeks of the year to look back on how much I have done and to plan on what I intend to accomplish in the coming year.

My 26th year of life is coming to an end.

2018 has been by far the greatest year of my life. All that has happened since January has brought me closer to achieving my goals. I have become wiser, more patient

At the beginning of the year, I set New Year resolutions. I am proud to say I accomplished way more than I hoped for.

MY YAAAAAS LIST!!!

  • Began teaching at the university
  • Writing for Esteem Psychology Magazine
  • Had the most amazing practicum experience for 6 months at Lea Toto COGRI-USAID program in Kariobangi South. Get to know children with so many hopes and dreams. I would say this drove me towards a project I will share with you guys in the coming year.
  • ICAP Training for addiction professionals
MARYANNE ISSUP
With Dr. Lahija (left) and Cindy Biding of Colombo Plan
  • Did my first conference presentation at Adventist University of Africa on the use of expressive art therapy techniques with pre- and primary school teachers
  • Attending the recent conference and training by NACADA & ISSUP on drug demand reduction. Met the most amazing people.
MARYANNE AND SUE
With Susan Gitau of Elewa Ulevi

THINGS I DIDN’T DO

  • I still don’t know how to ride a bike. Attempts by my friends Gladwell and Ruth to teach me…not quite successful
  • I am yet to learn how to drive…I know {working on my fear of Nairobi roads}

2019 PLAN

  • Learn to drive
  • The bike thing
  • More exercise and healthy eating (if you know me you know sugar and snacks are a major problem)
  • Saving up for a car
  • More social work projects
  • Travel and relax more

AMAZING PEOPLE

Jon…another year with you and I still can’t get enough. The very air I breathe. The reason I want to be better every single day. To many more my precious (in Gollum’s voice).

Dr. Margaret Kagwe- an amazing psychologist. Thank you for making me see the value of psychology in people’s lives. The Esteem Magazine…a true testament of your dreams materializing

Diana Walegwa an amazing soul; how you manage to live such a spiritual life without trying to impose it on anyone else is beyond me…I love it. And for keeping me smiling all year long with INSANE memes. You have taught me so much.

Faith- my little sister. Thanks for being the grown up all year long. For reminding me of the reason for my struggles every single day. For dragging me out of my sad phases and tears through the year. For religiously sharing every post update just to make sure all my mental messages reach as many people as possible. I don’t know what I would do without you.

Keziah Kamau- debriefing sessions with you…the best. We need one soon.

Josephine Akisa- nyaminwa from the very beginning. Another great year with a great friend. You have made the academic struggle manageable.

Gladwell Pamba, Ruth Ndeto, Linda Nyathiwa- I still think y’all are way too upbeat and loud. Exactly what my quiet life needs. We should do something fun soon. I even promise to not be too uptight haha. Couple of dance moves I wanna unveil…

My Students at Nazarene- y’all make me feel like I have accomplished a lot. I may be the teacher but I have learnt a great deal from you.

Dr. Olubusayo Akinola you are a ray of sunshine; proof that a woman with dreams is unstoppable. Susan Gitau, Dr. Lahija and Cindy Biding…learnt a lot from these three ladies.

PS/ Susan Gitau was awarded the very first award for ISSUP Services to Drug Demand Reduction 2018.

SG1
The Award
SG2
Susan Gitau of Elewa Ulevi

I know this is a list of my accomplishments…but if my mentor is honored….it is a great reminder that I am getting inspired by the right people in my field. So, I am celebrating like it was my own award.

 

To all who have subscribed and continue following my writings, Thank you. From the bottom of my heart…THANK YOU

May the new year bring you immense joy. May it bring you closer to your life’s dreams and goals.

HAPPY HOLIDAYS

LETTER TO PARENTS OF KCPE AND KCSE STUDENTS

Parents of students who did their KCPE and will soon get their results. Parents of KCSE students who will get theirs before the year ends. Before Christmas.

failure
Courtesy: Topsimages

Now, while I know a significant portion of your children will excel, I am concerned about those who won’t. Will you let the results set the tone for the festive season? When you get your son’s or daughter’s results and they are disappointing. Will you:

  • Shout and scream about how they are not good enough?
  • Say you knew they would fail?
  • Remain silent in your disappointment?
  • Compare them to a neighbor or friend’s child who did better?
  • Say something that will not only break their hearts but also stay with them for the rest of their lives?

 

failed-exam-sad-man-holding-his-word-42660989
Courtesy: Dreamstime

None of these are options to consider. We have been down this road before. Imagine the anxiety the children have now. Worrying if they will do well enough to make it to their dream school. If they will score enough to make you and the multitude of relatives patiently waiting for the results proud. If they will score enough to impress their friends. If they will score enough to surpass goals they have set for themselves.

Let us not forget last year’s case of a student who resorted to jumping into a well after receiving her results. I hate to bring up a case such as this but I need us to understand the magnitude of the risk in the coming weeks.

Search yourself as a parent, as a guardian. If you didn’t do well in your own exam years back, then you are in a good position to guide and support the children in accepting their results and working on the next step in moving towards their goals. If you excelled in your own exam, you must come to terms with the fact that you and your child are two separate beings; with different abilities, dreams and coping mechanisms.

To the parents of those who excel, celebrate and acknowledge their effort. Instill in them a desire to do more to achieve their goals. To the parents of those who did not do well;

  • Be a source of strength in this trying time for your child
  • Be aware of your own expectations; the child is not a channel for you to realize dreams you failed to achieve
  • Make it easy for the child to share with you his goals, hopes and dreams
  • Motivate and encourage them to remain focused on their goals
  • Work with the child in finding solutions and engaging the child in activities allowing him/her to find strengths, talents and abilities

As you and I know, achieving success in life is a complex journey. Academic performance is just but one part of it. Self-worth and believing in one’s own abilities and competence is of significant value to long-term success.

Do not break your child’s spirit with your words and actions. There are greater challenges ahead of them. They need all the support they can get from you.

BEYOND THE GRADUATION: MENTAL HEALTH AND UNEMPLOYMENT

Its graduation season!!!

Congratulations to all the graduates from AFRICA NAZARENE UNIVERSITY’S ceremony yesterday

It was a truly memorable day. Let the Nazarene flag fly high as you go out into the world. Seeing the evidence of years of effort and struggle is a truly amazing thing.

But,… beyond the graduation day, what is next?

I know we take the time to send congratulatory messages, gifts, and through parties in honor of the achievements of the graduates. In a few days, all that will be gone, leaving the person with a new problem.

I am no longer a student.

Will I be able to get a good job?

Will I be able to get a well-paying job?

I have heard stories of people ‘tarmacking’ for years and finally resorting to other means of having an income.

Am I ready to fend for myself?

These are all concerns that if not adequately addressed could push the young adult into an unhealthy state. I never wanted to go for my Bachelor’s graduation ceremony back in 2015. Not that I wasn’t happy with my accomplishment, but as it is in my habit, I was already looking ahead and worrying about whether I would get a well-paying job and take care of myself. I didn’t want to go back home. Two days after the graduation, I sent out 20 applications; none got a reply. Without reassurance from my cousin Mitchelle Bunde, I wouldn’t have had the strength to keep sending out applications.

MY ADVICE TO YOU AFTER GRADUATION

I will not lie to you, it will be difficult for some, not all. This is not an excuse for you to give up and put all the blame on the government for the unemployment crisis; you get up and you do what you can for yourself. I have had many students come up to me at the end of classes and ask;

Maryanne do you know anyone looking for accountants, HR assistants, counselors….? (You get the point) If I could, I would get jobs for every student that comes my way.

Worried students looking for a job
Courtesy: iStock

So,

  1. Create a comprehensive LinkedIn profile; this is a great way to interact with professionals in your field and potential employers
  2. Network with former school mates
  3. Go for workshops and trainings (both free and paid) whenever you can. Most of these are organized by leaders in the respective fields. Be interactive and share your views; a chance for you to be noticed by potential employers. Do not be afraid to walk up to them and ask for advice.
  4. Give back to the community; volunteer and charity work add significant value to your CV especially for helping professions like social work and counseling.
  5. Do not be afraid to look beyond your profession; many people today work in fields they did not initially train for. Teachers working in banks etc. do not limit yourself. If you are open-minded and willing to learn, you will be able to thrive in more than one area.
  6. Be careful with comments and views shared on social media. As part of the recruitment process, potential employers may try to know the kind of person you are through your social media platforms. Do not let vulgar, intolerant and inappropriate views on social media cost you the career opportunity of a lifetime.
  7. Start a business. With so many market places on Facebook and other platforms, you can start an online business and make deliveries to your clients. A good way to earn money as you continue looking for employment.
  8. Do not compare yourself to others; it may seem unfair that you struggle to get work even when others seem to have it easy. Focus on your goals…each of us has a different path.
  9. Do not give up easily.

AS A PARENT, GUARDIAN, RELATIVE, MENTOR, FRIEND…WHAT CAN YOU DO? FOR THE RECENT GRADUATE

  • Teach them the job search experience is different for everyone; some already have jobs waiting for them while others have to put in more effort
  • Teach them how to write CVs.

A lot of CVs and cover letters sent to me have had grammatical and formatting errors. While this may be something many overlook, it says a lot about you as a professional.

  • Teach them the value of volunteer work and taking opportunities that build experience and soft skills
  • Help them create side hustles with their talents and business ideas
  • Teach them that in some situations, one may have to take a less-paying job even as they continue in the search for their dream job
  • Invest in their ideas
  • Teach them financial management skills and the value of budgeting and saving no matter how much they earn.

Worried about job prospects and growth in your career, don’t be afraid to reach out. Let’s have a chat.

You know a recent graduate? SHARE THIS WITH THEM.

naz

Once again, CONGRATS TO ALL AFRICA NAZARENE UNIVERSITY GRADUATES

WHAT BEGINS HERE TRULY TRANSFORMS THE WORLD…I KNOW.

BREAST CANCER MONTH…10 More Days Ladies

To all the ladies out there, you have about ten more days of this amazing month. I am hoping you have already taken advantage of the free breast exam and subsidized costs in related checkups countrywide.

october
Courtesy: Tracktone

Cancer is a disease most of us do not focus on enough. Sadly enough we never imagine it can affect us until it happens. So, with the remaining days, take responsibility for your health. Drop by a hospital offering the services.

And considering the how strained we have been in this economy, this is the month we can have these services cheap.  Already did mine at MP Shah; amazing staff…and they take time to carefully teach you how to do your own breast exams especially during your ‘periods’.

For their services, check the pic below.

breast cancer

Anyway, have an amazing night friends.

Share this with the ladies in your lives.

THE FACES OF BODY DYSMORPHIC DISORDER

We have been taught all about accepting yourself as you are, flaws and all. I know about believing in one’s inner beauty. I am not saying all of that does not help people, all I am saying is that it does not make your imperfections go away. I am Alexis, my psychologist and my parents think I have Body Dysmorphic Disorder…whatever that means. I think it is just their way of trying to dictate how I should feel about myself. They know nothing. They are not in my body. They do not know what it is like to be trapped in this imperfect being. I am 19 years old now. Been in college a year and things just seem to be getting worse.

My body started changing in Form 2. I thought I would end up with perfect curves like some of the figure-8 celebrities. Every time I look in the mirror, I see my excessively wide hips and big ass. They are not firm. They jiggle when I walk. I hate that. My boobs are way too small. I mean why would fate give me excessive fat in my hip area and tiny boobs? Just between me and you mirror, if I could, I would transfer the fat to my boobs, make them bigger…people would like that. My tummy is another problem. Whenever I have to go out, I wear those waist-trainer things. My stomach looks a bit smaller in them, but man it is uncomfortable (I guess beauty comes at a price…I am glad to endure)

dys4
Courtesy: rebloggy.com 

My face has spots. Acne has been my companion as long as I can remember. Every time I walk past a mirror or widow, I check. I check to see if the spots are too visible. I hate it when people look at my face. They probably counting how many new spots there are. There is one upside to this whole thing though. My friend Dorris…she taught me how to use makeup. I am getting better at covering up the flaws. The days when I can’t completely cover them up, I opt to remain in the hostel. Dorris signs the class attendance for me and brings the notes to the hostel. I would very much rather stay indoors, away from their judging eyes.

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Courtesy: HerBody mDhil

Dorris tries to convince me to get out often. She says I am beautiful. But, that’s just her trying to be a good friend. I see my body everyday in the mirror, the person I see looking back at me…is definitely not a sign of beauty by any standards.

I do not have a desire to be perfect. It is just that there are a few things that could be better looking. I mean, imagine everyday meeting other girls in college with their perfect body shapes, their flawless skin, perfectly sized lips, eyes, noses, waists. And then you look at yourself in the mirror and realize….oh well, I am quite the Plain Jane.

Mom keeps going on and on about everybody being made in His image. Then why are we all so different. I mean, I know there are people who are probably uglier than me, but still, way more people are prettier than me. Part of me is glad I am not as bad-looking as the dumpy girls I see around, but I also wish I was as pretty as the perfect ones.

I know people have more serious problems out there. I know I should be glad to be alive and healthy because many people out there are sick, hungry, dying or having more difficult situations to deal with. But, that does not concern me. So go ahead and judge me for being shallow or self-absorbed.

Does this sound like you? Reach out.

THE FACES OF ENCOPRESIS (5 years old)

I had been unable to poop for some days. My stomach hurt, but every time I went to the bathroom, nothing came out. I wanted my stomach to stop hurting, so I decided to try again. That time, I tried harder.

I went and pushed with all my strength. Finally, it came out.

It hurt.

It really hurt.

poo
Courtesy: 123RF

I cried, I did not want to feel that pain again. So I decided…I would not poop again.

Over the next few days, I did everything I could to avoid going to the bathroom. I tried to eat less food. Whenever I felt like pooping, I got scared.

I remembered the pain. I tried to hold he poop in. I sat down till the feeling was gone. I squeezed my buttocks to keep it in, but it only got worse.

Why was this happening to me?

When going for a short call, I saw a brown stain on my panties. It was poop and it smelled bad. Everybody would smell it and know. I did not want them to. So I removed and threw my panties in the trash.

Later that day, the others started telling me I smell bad.

They called me doodoo head.

I told them it was not me who smelled bad.

They forced me to stand up. They laughed and pointed at the poop stain on my uniform. They reported me to Teacher Diana.*

I thought she would shout at me for messing my uniform, she did not. She took me to the bathroom and helped me get cleaned. She was nice.

So I told her why I could not go to the bathroom. I told her it would hurt like the last time. I told her I did not mean to poop my pants. I told her I tried my best to hold it in. She did not get mad at me.

She told me she knew someone who could help us.

She talked to mom and dad so they wouldn’t get mad at me either.

They brought me to the doctor with the white coat.

They said they would also take me to a different kind of doctor.

One that would talk to me and help me not feel bad anymore about the accidents I have been having.

One that would help me stop being afraid of going to the bathroom.

I just want everything to go back to the way it used to be.

*Pseudonyms

THE FACES OF SOCIAL ANXIETY (13 years old)

They think I hate people. Being around them overwhelms me. Getting picked to answer questions in class. Standing in front of a crowd. Being asked to introduce myself. Being the center of attention. Even waiting for my turn to read a paragraph in English class is a problem, as the others take turns and it gets closer to me, my heart beats faster, I sweat, my hands shake, I feel like suddenly going to the bathroom.

social 1
Courtesy: STAR Institute

I have always been quiet. I like it. I prefer being invisible. I prefer being alone with my drawings and books. My two older sisters are different; they are loud and friendly. The neighbors, relatives and people at school love them. Everyone loves them. Me…they think I am a weird child.

I have heard relatives ask mom what is wrong with me. Why I do not behave like a normal child. One time, an aunt insisted on mom explaining if she took ‘something’ when pregnant with me. She said, “Nilisoma mahali ati kuna madawa au chemical flani zikikufikia ukiwa mja mzito unaezazaa mtoto haeleweki kabisa. Sisemi ana shida, nasema tu itabidi ajifunze kuongea na watu.” [I read somewhere that there are drugs or chemicals that can make you give birth to an odd child. I am not saying she has a problem, but she will have to learn how to speak to people]

Mom doesn’t like my silence. At first, I thought she didn’t like me. I thought it was the disappointment of me not being more like my sisters. Now I think the silence just makes her uncomfortable.

She gets angry with me whenever she has guests. I often try to slip away and stay in my room until they are all gone. During last month’s chama meeting at our house, she came shouting about how disrespectful I was for not going to greet the women in the living room. She held me by the ear and dragged me to the living room. My siblings in tow, laughing their heads off.

I felt a pain in my chest, I couldn’t breath, I couldn’t hold back the tears. She made me greet them one by one. They looked at me. Was that pity?

They were probably judging me for being weird.

They probably enjoyed the embarrassment mom was subjecting me to.

Mama Joy laughed. She probably thinks I am pathetic.social2

I know time has passed but every time I see any of them on the streets, I go back to that moment.

I hate myself. I want to be like the others. They have no issues expressing themselves. They have no issues standing in front of people. I do not know how to do it. When I try, I only embarrass myself and wish I was invisible.

People at school think I am a snob. They think nina madharau because my dad is wealthy.

No one understands how hard it is

I wish I could stay in my room forever

I wish there was no school

The teachers would not shout at me for being unable to answer questions without stuttering

The other kids would not make fun of me for sitting along during lunch break

They would not mimic how I stand with my shoulders drooping and eyes to the floor

I would be safe in my room away from all these judgmental people who don’t get me