Angelica Chiketa Mkorongo is a biologist, now-turned mental health advocate and peer specialist. She is also a mother and wife. She spoke to The Weight She Carries about her journey living with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD).
“I grew up at Chiketa village, which is a rural area under Chief Nherera, Mhondoro District, Mashonaland West Province in Zimbabwe. I am a woman who just wants to spend the rest of her life helping others. I did not get the help I needed and suffered for years due to my ignorance.”
When did you start suffering from the illness?
When I was 17, I started having frightening, embarrassing intrusive thoughts which were very much against what I believed in. The intrusive thoughts and obsessions made me very antisocial. I had no desire to go out or speak in public. Going to church was quite stressful because this triggered unpleasant obsessions.
I was rescued by putting my efforts in the church choir. This was my only way of praying. My most difficult time was after the birth of my daughter. I had postpartum depression, and the thoughts of stabbing my daughter made me quite suicidal and [I] almost became an alcoholic.
Take us through a day in the life of someone who suffers from OCD.
It can be normal [on] certain days, and it can be a nightmare on some days. It varies from person to person. People who live with obsessive-compulsive disorder do not want to hurt themselves. We actually fear hurting ourselves or others. These urges to hurt oneself are just like intrusive thoughts. [They] just pop in the brain uninvited; they frighten us.
This will actually make me go into depression because I would then be thinking why such thoughts came to my brain, and start thinking about this over and over. I have never hurt myself although I have had so many [incidents] of wanting to drive the car off the bridge, whether I was alone or with other people.
How did you meet your husband, and did you tell him when you started dating about your condition? How did he take it?
Because of the stigma associated with mental disorders, I could not tell him or any member of my family or friends. How does one tell people that I have urges of stabbing myself or my daughter?
I only managed to tell him after almost 18 years of marriage. This was only after I had found out that what I was suffering from is obsessive-compulsive disorder. He had a very hard time accepting such a disorder. It took some time to understand the condition. I had to give him a lot of literature. I even suggested that he should accompany me to my psychiatrists.
How did you finally get to take medication/counselling? What did it involve?
After my visit to the psychiatrist, he put me on medication and counselling. The medication was very effective. I remember crying when I started living a life without the symptoms. The change was amazing. I really felt I had lost a lot in my life.
Who has been your support system?
My friends and family, including all my colleagues with psychosocial disabilities in Zimbabwe and all over the world. We reach out to each other when we need help.
What pushed you to start the Zimbabwe OCD Trust?
The desire to help others was my drive. When I discovered there was no support group in the country, I decided to form one. It started as an online-only support group. The more I communicated with others with OCD, the easier my story became and the less I felt burdened by what I had gone through over the years.
What work do you do there?
We raise awareness and support to all those with obsessive-compulsive disorder but welcome any kind of mental condition because it’s not easy to recognise what OCD is at first hand. We help all that need help and those needing more than just sharing their symptoms, we refer them to specialist or psychiatric hospitals. Some of the symptoms can be embarrassing, frightening; then you have those of a sexual nature or religious nature. So, forming peer support groups and discussing our symptoms is very therapeutic.
What is your advice to people living with OCD?
The International OCD Foundation defines OCD as “a mental health disorder that affects people of all ages and walks of life and occurs when a person gets caught in a cycle of obsessions and compulsions. Obsessions are unwanted, intrusive thoughts, images, or urges that trigger intensely distressing feelings. Compulsions are behaviours an individual engages in to attempt to get rid of the obsessions and/or decrease his or her distress.”
It’s important for one to acknowledge that one has this disorder and one needs to seek help. One can visit a psychiatric hospital or a psychiatrist and treatment can be either medication or therapy. So please seek help. Don’t be fooled into believing you have demons or have been bewitched. This will definitely take your joy away and traumatise you.
What are your key achievements?
[Being the] founder/CEO of Zimbabwe Obsessive Compulsive Disorder Trust. I am one of the people with psychosocial disabilities who has come forward and unapologetically is telling the world that I have a mental illness.
The objective of the organisation is to raise awareness of the existence of obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) and anxiety disorders (AD) among Zimbabwean communities. We provide support to families of those diagnosed with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) and anxiety disorders (AD). We advocate to end stigma associated with mental health issues.
I am an executive committee member representing Zimbabwe at Global Mental Health Peer Network. We exist to empower, strengthen, and catalyse the voices of persons with lived experience worldwide. Our goal is to help cultivate a new generation of global lived-experience leaders to empower and develop leaders worldwide to drive change and transformation in the global mental health sector.
I am also a Stability Member with The Stability Network. We are dedicated to making positive stories about mental health more plentiful than stories of fear and negativity. We share our stories in companies, rotaries, churches, and beyond to inspire others to get the care and support they need to live well. Struggle is part of every story of adversity and our stories highlight what it takes to overcome.
I have now been recognised by the Ministry of Health as a mental health advocate and was invited to be a member of the Mental Health Humanitarian and Emergencies Mental Health and Psychosocial Support Response Taskforce. On this committee, I am representing people with psychosocial disabilities (“Nothing about us without us”).
I have also completed a diploma in quality rights with the World Health Organisation. The main focus of this is to increase understanding about issues related to mental health, human rights, and recovery. [It also seeks] to improve the way in which services and supports are provided to people with mental health conditions or psychosocial, intellectual and cognitive disabilities. [It also looks to] build capacity to combat stigma and discrimination and promote human rights and recovery.
Additionally, it seeks to create community-based services and recovery-oriented services that respect and promote human rights and to support the development of a civil society movement to conduct advocacy and influence policy-making. [Finally, it tries] to reform national policies and legislation in line with the Convention of Rights of People with Disabilities and other international human rights standards.
I am hoping that with other people with psychosocial disabilities, we will make a very strong civil society organisation.
You can see more of Angelica and her work as well as contact her via: