Are you OK? by Debra Riako

FIRST GUEST BLOGGER …. telling her story

Debra Riako

About a year ago today, I suffered a breakdown. Actually, before the doctor pointed out what it was, I just thought I was extremely tired. The symptoms were familiar; I lost interest in many things, I enjoyed the alone time because I felt I had to carry this ‘happy persona’ every time I was around people, and I cried…a lot.

I would walk up the stairs to my house in the company of my neighbour and we would be laughing about something, but the moment I got into my house and locked my door, my bag would hit the floor and I would curl up into a ball and cry. I cried myself to sleep when I could, or I had the most annoying highway in my head all night. Then I would wake up to go back to the world with a smile on my face. Because that was what the world expected me to have.

When the doctor first told me I had depression; major depression, I laughed. I didn’t even know what depression was! But I walked out of that doctor’s office with a bag of pills. I tried to find out all I could about depression so I could explain it to others as well.

My sister laughed uncontrollably the first time I told. I had to hang up the phone because it hurt so much. But, being the wonderful person she is, she followed up with a very honest phone call explaining she was caught off guard and had no idea what I was going through. She was the first person I told, and I could already picture all the other reactions coming my way.

I had a friend come to me full of concern;

“You need to stop letting small things bother you. When you surround yourself with happy thoughts you won’t have problems like this.”

And one of my personal favourites;

“But you look so happy. You have a job and can afford to pay your bills. Do you know how many people would love to be where you are at?”

I specifically went in search of other Kenyans who were going through the same problems I was to see how they coped with moments like these.

I opened a portal to a whole new dimension. There were groups you could join on Facebook for Depression sufferers in Kenya. There were doctor recommendations and sharing of ideas on how to best cope with different circumstances. It was a beautiful place to be. People there understood me better than I understood myself. Others had been diagnosed years before. They knew what worked, and what possibly didn’t; which doctors to avoid and which ones would be most helpful. I have to admit, the WhatsApp group even managed to get me off the brink one night as I sat staring at the can of Dudu Dust and glass of wine.

For non-religious people, like me, mental health help is a lot harder to come by in Kenya. I see my current counselor struggling for the right words to tell me to help me feel better because the words ‘God is in control’ don’t really work for me. So I mostly depend on the internet and rely on solutions others from afar share with me that help me move from day to day in one piece. I do hope that one day though, mental health will not be a taboo topic. That we will be able to talk openly about it and offer help in the best ways possible.

My office has a cancer awareness and lifestyle awareness talk coming up this month. When I got the invite to these talks my first sentiment was; will there ever be talks like these on mental health? I hope so. My company has done more than most to help me deal with depression. I hope that with the right guidance, they can take it a step further into not just treating the cases but also creating awareness. We all need it.

About Debra Riako
I am a Laboratory Technician working in Malaria research for the last 5 years. I was diagnosed with clinical depression just over a year ago. According to my doctor, I had my first major breakdown when I was 13, so this is something I have lived with for some time now. I have spent my time since that doctors visit trying to find a solution that works well for me. I am yet to find it. I hope that by sharing my story I can help reduce the stigma around depression and get more people to open up about it. I share my ups and downs on my personal blog