My Mental Health Journey as a Caregiver

As a journalist and radio personality, it’s much easier for me to take a recorder or pen and interview a source. It’s much simpler to hear someone’s story and imagine being in their shoes. One of the hardest things I have had to do is write about myself. It’s just difficult to admit you have a problem and you need a solution for it.

To be honest, I never intended to write this here and now. I always put it aside and said to myself, ‘maybe later when I have the courage.’ But then one night I just thought to myself, ‘what if there is someone going through the same situation I am in and my story could help change their life?’ That’s how I started writing. I didn’t try to think of any complicated jargon so this might as well be the simplest piece I have ever written.

It’s been long since I contributed any work, almost a year maybe and my excuse has been that my husband is not well. I have spoken about my husband’s illness briefly on this platform but to those who do not know, he has been battling cancer for more than two years and I’m glad he is on the winning side.

I remember taking a month-long leave from my full-time job because my husband wasn’t well and I needed time with him. I remember also failing to eat properly because my husband wasn’t well and it affected my eating. I also remember sleeping at 2 or 3 am on certain nights because my husband’s illness was getting worse and it was affecting my sleeping pattern. I could go on and on and tell you a dozen things that I was doing because my husband wasn’t well.

It took me a long time to realize that although my husband wasn’t well and battling one of the deadliest diseases on earth, I also was not well, not physically but mentally.

Throughout the first few months of his illness, I didn’t think much about myself let alone anyone else. All my attention and strength was on his recovery. It didn’t matter what I ate, wore or did. It was all about him. And when he recovered enough to crack his old boring jokes, we moved out of his uncle’s place and went back to our own house. I brought in my sister’s son to help and I went back to work full-time. Everything was almost back to normal and I even started gaining weight – a sign of kugarika (good living) if you ask my African counterparts.

All the while, I never realized that I had never given myself time to process what had happened because it all happened so quickly. From our traditional wedding ceremony to his first diagnosis, to finding out it was stage IV, to him being bedridden and being rushed to hospital in an ambulance at one point.

Through all this, I never had the time to think and process what this diagnosis meant to me and to him. And when I started doing that, I broke down but I could tell no one because everyone assumed since he was now much better, I should be happier and more hopeful, naturally. But that wasn’t the case. I felt the opposite because I was thinking of what the future held and if we were both ready for it. When were we going to have kids, if we were going to have them and what would all this mean to them?

I wasn’t stable mentally, but everything seemed like it was going well…unless someone really paid attention. I made sure no one paid attention. I have a strong support system, my friends, relatives and in-laws were supportive, but I still didn’t want to open up fully to them. One of my husband’s relatives, maiguru (aunt), asked me how I was coping as we drove to town one day. I didn’t think of myself. I was quick to say I am taking each day as it comes but that’s not what was happening. I was piling up emotions.

I thought of watching cancer movies but they were not helpful. Ninety percent of them ended in death and I would be even more depressed after watching.

I started pulling away from people. I would just sit alone in the company car at work and pretend to be on a very important call until it was time to go home. Or I would sit in the car until I dozed off.

On the other hand, I would literally dance to any song playing in the studio and record videos, which was so unlike me, but no one bothered me much because I was “happy.”

Basic things like doing the laundry, washing dishes and cleaning the house became huge tasks. There were nights when I would cry myself to sleep without my husband even noticing, the morphine really got to him sometimes. Then it started affecting my work.

I would get to work 30 minutes to an hour late. I would miss deadlines, sometimes I would cancel [appointments]. I did not feel the need to dress up for anything and would postpone events. I started engaging in conversations less and my temper got very bad. Everyone called me lazy, I called myself lazy.

No one noticed, not even I, until one day I was sitting alone and started thinking why things were not going so well. That’s when I realized I needed serious mental help.

I talked to my husband. He understood and told me I could talk to him, but I needed more than him. I needed a professional. Right now, I’m happy to say I’m getting professional help and I’m on the road to mental recovery. It all happened because I admitted I had a problem. That’s the first step to recovery, at least it was in my case.

A lot of caregivers give out so much love they don’t even notice when they run out, and some only notice when it’s too late. It’s really easy to find an escape and get addicted to it. It might even be more difficult to break the addiction. My point is, it’s okay not to be okay when you are taking care of someone else. It’s okay to break down, to want some alone time and it’s okay to feel down.

Caregivers need care too and sometimes the best person to give you care is yourself. Allow yourself to recover because if you are drained, you will not be able to take care of someone else.

As we observe Mental Health Awareness month, let’s remember those who are taking care of others. Those who look like they are okay on the outside but are dead on the inside. Let’s watch out for the signs, let’s ask them if they need help because they might never tell us they do. Let’s not assume things. Be informed, ask questions. Mental health matters and it affects every aspect of our lives. Let’s take care of ourselves.

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