“Living in 21st century is certainly fun, for anyone who cares about interacting with human kind and information. The world has been brought nearer to each one through the evident technological advancements that include the Internet and the smart phones.
For this reason, the world has been rightly referred to as a global village, meaning that people from one end of the globe can follow closely whatever is happening in the other end without having to board a plane or move an inch farther. Suffice to say, with all the differences and similarities that harbor humankind, Internet has unified the world: only true civilization is yet to take place.
I had to allude to this because I have been following conversations about mental health from a group of medics and concerned people in South Africa, right from the comfort of my bed or sometimes, from my desk- on twitter.
Mental health has been debated about from many perspectives, with everyone giving what they believe should be their considered opinion. Personally, just like many people out there, I haven’t taken the burden of widely researching on the topic. Sincerely I am afraid of discovering the truth that I am not ready to stomach. But what would make me afraid of seeking the truth and refuge in knowledge! You may ask. And I have a simple answer to that: during most of the conversations that I have followed, I have realized that ‘normal’ people abandon their good friends, workmates, or even relatives; to the nature for survival the moment they discover these people are suffering from one kind of mental illness, be it stress, trauma, depression, anxiety.
It frightens me. How can I risk losing friends who I’d want to be there when I need them? How would I, in the event that I learn I am suffering from a mental illness, stand the stigma that is so outright with the people who finds out? How would I want to be treated like an alien by friends who we laughed together with, went partying with, exchanged ideas with and so on? Isn’t staying quite a better alternative?
So, I have suppressed the need to find out about my mental health because, just like any other person who wants to feel loved and accommodated in our dynamically hypocritical society, I do not want to ‘lose friends’.
However, there are dangers that my fears will certainly bring to my life, and this was evident on 6/8/2018.
A month ago, I was traveling to Embu town from Kibúgú, a local market in Eastern Province Kenya, Embu County. Upon arriving at the taxi stop, a group of cheerful touts approached me and led me to the taxi that was almost full and ready to set off. They recommended that I sit next to the driver and I did not object: First, because I would have a view of the road all the way to town and second, because they said I am lean and could fit on the recommended space and I didn’t want a discussion on my body size to ensue, or at least continue a word more.
So I boarded.
At such a place, it is usually hard to tell who the driver for which taxi is, and instead of belaboring to find out, there is an easier choice of being silent and letting the driver ‘do his work’.
Well. I drive, and I know many rules for road users: for both pedestrians and drivers. And one such basic is keeping on the left lane while driving. So when a guy jumped to the driver’s seat and started the vehicle (it had been parked at the right side of the road), I realized he was struggling to pull it to his lane but then, ‘let the driver do his work’.
I wanted to joke kindly and ask him to allow me to drive them, but I chose to hush. I inserted earphones to my ears and played Cosmic Gate as the car sped off.
We were barely five hundred metres away from the stop when the taxi hit an approaching lorry around a bend. Apparently, our taxi driver had crossed over to the other side of the lane at a bend! I started shivering and my shaking escalated when the people at the back seats started complaining of reckless driving.
That wasn’t enough shock from the driver, who, to my eyes and noses, was now visibly drunk. I can’t tell why I didn’t care withdrawing his services once I realized that he was drunk from the word go!
While the constructive noises from the other passengers piled pressure on him to stop the vehicle and let them alight, my blood pulse increased abnormally and I went silent, my eyes popping out in shock.
The driver didn’t heed to the calls but instead, accelerated even more. But this time, veering completely off the road. The taxi ended up in a gully by the roadside and to our great relief, the engine forcefully stopped. What a moment of life! We all sighed.
“Can you open the door, quick!” You could hear my evil command to a young man who was seated next to the door. I wanted to be out of that car, and if possible, far away from its sight.
Luckily, no one was hurt. The next thing I heard were women who had boarded, narrating the ordeal as eyewitnesses gathered. By the time they increased in number to a handful, I was far from the spot on my way to the stop, to board another vehicle, one driven by a sober driver, a sane one.
I didn’t share the experience with any of my close friends, or even my mother who was at home then. I figured out that it was my mistake to board a car that I wasn’t acquainted with its driver, and one that the driver was drunk. So I kept my experience to myself.
One month later, on 6/08/2018, I was traveling from the same place at Kibúgú to Embu. Equal distance, same time but different driver.
We had covered half the distance when it happened. Between River Rupingazi and Embu show ground, there’s a point that has a very long winding bend. I was seated next to the driver, because apparently, I am still lean and that I have continually loved full sight of the road when traveling, a passion I now hope to change except when I am driving myself around.
Around that bend, the taxi I was traveling in was speeding probably at 80km/hr, and was on the wrong lane. My nerves wracked. My veins became visible on my face. My blood warmed, after I remembered the sight of the accident a month earlier.
Everyone else on board must not have been anxious like I was, when a car moving to the opposite direction approached at equal speed. Unconsciously, out of fear that the cars would ram on each other, and out of double anxiety, I held the steering wheel by hand and swerved it to the left lane!
“I am the one who’s driving! Why are you swerving the steering wheel!” The driver roared.
“You’re carrying many lives. Take care,” the other passengers warned.
“Are you mad?” The taxi driver asked.
All this while, I was shivering in silence, hating it that everyone else on board did not feel the anxiety that harbored me when the cars approached on a bend.
It is the question from the driver that got me thinking, but why did I have to do that? What was my fear for? I cried from within me and blamed myself until I alighted.
I reflected on my earlier experience that I shunned away from talking about to anyone, and figured out that it must have taken an enviable space in my unconscious mind, only to come up at a worse situation than the previous experience.
I tried to write about the first experience, but my fear didn’t allow me to.
I didn’t look for mental therapy.
I kept quiet. I reserved the experience.
After the 6/08/2018 incident , I realized how bad it is to suffer from anxiety, which is one kind of mental illness. It makes one to judge themselves for apparently issues that they are not responsible for. But worse, the anxiety bug bites at a more unusual and unexpected moment prompting one to act in a completely unusual manner.
The bad thing about it is that people around you will judge you and nobody will bother to understand why you did what you did. Just like the taxi driver, they will ask, “Are you mad?” Because they want to satisfy their assumptions, that only mad people do unusual things.It is painful because one will be judged when they already are judging themselves for things, again, that they are not responsible for.
As a way to counter my anxiety and to live soberly even when using public transport, I have resolved at, first, writing about my experience as a way of catharsis, and to let you know that people suffer from mental illnesses of different ways. Thus, it is important to make efforts to understand why people who appear to be normal at sight, act abnormally without necessarily having to judge them for their actions.
Secondly, I have resolved at talking about mental health, at large. It is good to stay healthy. Yes, the accident happened and I was not responsible for that. But my anxiety would build up by time, without my knowledge, to the level of a minor trauma.
For everyone, this is the Word:
Many people are suffering silently, blaming themselves for occurrences they were not responsible for, which they did not enable. They are silent because our world has become so judgmental and do not provide a room for people to find refuge. It may be that somebody assaulted you, sexually or physically; you might have been involved in an accident; you could have experienced massacres, maybe during the Post-Election Violence; you might have been left by your loved one, you might have broken up in a relationship. Whatever incident that caused you pain or anxiety, learn not to be silent any more, learn to speak out about your experience and relieve the burden off your mind. Seek mental therapy and counseling. Make efforts to stay normal in a world that is so judgmental. That way, you will divert the escalation of the problem to a point that you will want to leave the face of the earth. It is true, and genuinely so!”