Every man, woman, and child who struggles with bipolar disorder struggles in a different way. I talked to a few people who have bipolar and one oft-repeated lament stands out: “I come from a nice family. I wasn’t brought up to be like this.”
Many are dispirited and at a loss to understand or control their own behaviour. Judgment and stigma then spew from the rest- who is this man who treats his wife so shabbily? How did this once upstanding citizen turn into a petty, compulsive shoplifter? What about the once svelte woman who’s now suddenly 50 pounds overweight?
For Angela Kamugasa Nsimbi, it was a state of utter confusion, bafflement, endless depression, and helplessness.
Nsimbi is a proud mother and her joyousness is clear when she speaks of her family of six. She is also a successful journalist at New Vision, a peer support worker and a wife.
Nsimbi is only one of the many people who have battled with mental illness and has learnt to selflessly share her journey of bipolar affective disorder.
Nsimbi’s reaction to her mental illness came as a blow to her she admits that, “this is a condition that shook my world. It literally shook me out of my comfort zone. I can only compare my reaction to being in a bottomless pit. Honestly it is as though I was in a grave. And as if I was alive but with no life.”
Conditions such as this are the kind that can make you prone to stigma, ostracism, and generally rejection. For Nsimbi it was a little bit of all. Between sighs Nsimbi confirms, “It was after this that I got to learn what it means to be forgotten. So I understand what it’s really like to be rejected.
This time in my life is when I actually hit rock bottom.”
Nsimbi continues to explain, “The stigma is more than the one from HIV. Because in this case people completely do not understand or know this kind of state. I myself did not discover until I was in my mid-forties.”
“One of the major signs is when I got overly protective especially of my children. I also suffered lack of sleep,” Nsimbi says with somberness in her face.
She adds, “For me being aware of mental illness I became fearful. My children started asking questions such as what is happening to mummy! They were traumatised at different levels. My son, who was four months at the time, had to learn how to use a feeding bottle. And my husband soon had to learn how to manage the home without any help from me.”
According to Nsimbi the biggest challenge to her as well as most mental patients is the fact that therapy is not taken seriously in this country. And there are times all she needed was therapy but her psychiatrists kept packing her with drugs. She says, “I have now learnt to give myself therapy by avoiding stressful situations and make sure as much as possible to stay around those that love truly love me. And my children pour me with all the attention I need.”
After realizing the depth of her adversity, Nsimbi other than dwelling in worry, soon got on her feet and dusted herself. Accepting her fate together with her family helped her cope through the situation. She says with a smile, “I talked to my children about the condition and encouraged them to ask questions.”
Angela maintains her radiant smile and cheerful aura when she says, “I had got to a place where I was so broken and in so much pain that I did not think life mattered anymore. So I got to that place where I begged God to help me. I know that everybody gets to that point, whether you believe in God or not. But I thought to myself there must be someone mightier than me-someone stronger than the health institution that can help me, so I asked God to fix me.”
“I remember asking God to stop the voices that were speaking negatively in my life,” Nsimbi shares further. “I asked him to tell me who I am. And I have since spoken to myself through scripture. My faith and optimistic attitude keep me going since I realised I am wonderfully and fearfully made.”
If there is one thing that stands out when you meet Nsimbi it is her spirited nature.
Her vibrant energy is undeniably infectious. She confesses, “I later chose to be off meds, as need arises I go for therapy counseling but my fall back is the Bible.”
Nsimbi is presently a leader in Butabiika Recovery College; a national coordinator in Heart sounds Uganda, and a journalist at New Vision.