“When we discover we are more than the problems we have been through we are capable of great things.”
In the year 2014 I became a victim of Substance Induced Psychosis (2014-2017) and was admitted into Hospital as a result of failure to repress my sorrows towards staying away from my family, I was living in fear every day and I had lost hope in living for another day.
By the end of 2017 after having spent one week in hospital, I met Professor Dixon Chibanda and Hopewell Chin’ono as they were shooting a documentary on mental health issues in Zimbabwe. My mother volunteered for this documentary on my behalf and that was the turning point for me. Meeting Prof. Chibanda opened a window of opportunities for me, the kind that I had never thought would be possible.
Upon recovering from the shackles of my mental health condition, I was introduced to the Youth Friendship Bench and this is where I found my safe space, I found belonging and connection with people who understood. It has given me purpose, I realised I needed to use what I had gone through to try and prevent others getting to the point of hospital admittance because of psychotic episodes. The community engagements that I have taken part in so far has given me some insight into how as people we are affected by circumstances beyond our control and the impact that these issues have on our state of mind. Getting to share my story and hearing the stories of other youths during our Circle Kubatana Tose peer support groups has given me great joy. Having learnt that the stories we share could help change someone’s life for the better, I will continue to share mine for as long as I can.
All in all, being part of the Youth friendship bench has been a life changing experience. I’ve learnt a lot about the importance of mental health awareness and how dialogue can go a long way in addressing the problems we face as youth in Zimbabwe.
Find out more about the #StateOfMind documentary spoken of above. To share your story takes courage, Mugumba Mukoki is courage in body, mind and soul.
When we’re born we bring so much joy, happiness, excitement to the people around us, a heart-warming time, untouched by life, pure and innocent. Then life starts to happen, and quickly. I can remember being in sixth grade and not understanding why I felt like crying. Is it normal to cry? Do people cry? What will they think of me crying? Why can’t I stop this? I also did not understand why I felt warm and fuzzy and smiled uncontrollably sometimes but other times I was down and not an ice-cream or call from a friend could bring back that smile. Being an African child, I don’t remember talking about feelings at home, or hearing that my birth brough people joy, I only know that now because I’ve seen it in others.
Nobody talked about the ups and downs of emotions. Nobody warned me that it happens. Nobody told me that all of it is temporary and that it’s okay to be sad, it’s okay to be ecstatic but know it won’t last forever so I shouldn’t try cling to it. Nobody told me that I’m not odd for having salty water coming from my eyes. Nobody said that all of this happens and it is just what makes us human. According to me, emotions did not exist outside of what I saw on television. As cliché as it sounds, this was a real thing. Thembi had no clue.
Fast forward to Uni, a quick summary; ‘the worst period of my life’, the end. Everything around me was toxic and I was okay with it. Not because I wanted to be but because I did not see the need to choose or feel that I needed something better for myself. I was drowning in destructive emotions and unhealthy situations. I knew that I was unhappy, but again what did happiness look like? What exactly am I choosing happiness over? I was just moving with life, wasn’t I? It took breaking down to my knees, and more unexplainable tears, to know that I was dying inside, slowly and surely. “Ashes to ashes, dust to dust.” The words were almost cliché for me as I was once again conducting my own funeral with my pillow bearing witness in attendance. Tears! Again! Why are you here! And then they’re just gone. Just like that. Like it never happened?
I almost felt mad at myself every time I broke down like that. Why did I do it? Did it help? “You’re too sensitive for nothing,” I castigated myself. Like I said, as a typical African child, we did not discuss emotions in our household. Silence, brush offs, minimization is the recurring trend. I did not know, that for me, this silence was pushing me towards the edge. The balloon popped from nowhere and for a period I could not recognize myself. Confused by my own feelings and emotions, literally because I knew no better.
In my own searching silence, I finally got the resolve to do better by myself, motivated by hunger for change; simple put, I was sick and tired of being sick and tired . My google search history was automated at this point by phrases like “signs of depression,” “what is an emotional breakdown,” “unhappiness”. That’s when I noticed in all my reading that I wasn’t the only one that felt feelings so intense and unexplainable that they could eat a person alive inside. People do cry sometimes, and it’s okay; this was mind boggling for me, it was okay to cry and not know what to feel!
I did not know that the next and only other time I would share this experience was in the same Uni that constituted the worst period of my life, on World Mental Health Day as a representative of the Friendship Bench; yes, it does sounds like another cliché. Professor Dixon Chibanda, persuasive as he is, squeezed it out of me; Thembi, stand as keynote speaker, with a speech, read it in public, in a place with a history of struggle. What a nerve wracking experience, to say the least! However, it was a beautiful speech, and it was clearly meant to be part of my path to heal the past. Lecturers that never looked my way shook my hand on that day, happiness was the feeling, happiness was warm, and vulnerability was not something to fear.
Emotions are a natural part of our biology. The brain has a specific section dedicated to the triggering and regulation of our emotions. It really is natural. I know that now! The problem is that there is not enough conversation about it especially within the family context. As we grow we need guidance in knowing the difference between emotions and healthy and unhealthy expression of emotions, as well as the consequences of trying to silence them and stuff them down. Ignoring the topic does not mean it does not exist. As peers we need to constantly check on each other, educate each other on the different things we face. There’s nothing worse than feeling alone.
We live in a very informative time. The advent of technology has made information available everywhere, almost at an overload if we aren’t careful. So ask Dr Google, check sites with credibility and read a few, don’t cherry pick what suits you, note the overview and patterns that emerge. And if you are looking for help know that reading alone won’t get you help but with some action you will heal where you need to heal.
Knowledge is power; another cliché but it’s true. It saved me.
Another thing to note is that the clichés are true, you may have gathered that by now. Sometimes it actually is just that simple!
How a Youth Friendship Bench Client found himself again after becoming lost in grief, loneliness, pain and hopelessness.
l started to see that we tend to live in our yesterday rather than the today of our lives. So even when we have joy and fulfilment, we will not be able to identify it because we are still stuck in the agony of our past.
Youth Bench Client
The problem with grief is that it often doesn’t completely go away. The loss of someone you have loved deeply seems to live on in your heart, your mind, you every-day actions. I carry this indescribable, inconsolable little hole that catches me off guard as I think ‘something is missing, there’s an emptiness inside of me’. I think the hole is loneliness or at least the feeling of being alone, I can’t wrap my head around it but I get lost in it.
I became an orphan early, I lost my mother when I was 5 years old and l never knew my father, he passed away before l was born. I was forced to grow up fast after being placed in the guardianship of my aunt. Yes, family took me in so I had support and love but it’s not the same as that from biological parents, I could see that when I looked at others. My aunt and uncle gave me an education and l became aware of my the importance of knowledge and learning. I started to lay out my dreams, having goals to sustain myself and living life under my own terms. But, my education and dreams were affected by my weak immune system, l would always fall sick, not go to school, and as l thought l have faced it all, l had a stroke at a very young age.
This resulted in me losing a lot of valuable time, time l should have been sitting in school, gaining knowledge and skills, making strong friendships and working on my goals. What affected me the most was watching my friends move on, getting on with their education, starting to chase their dreams by going overseas; and I was nowhere, I felt stuck, stuck with nothing and nowhere, it made me hate myself. My girlfriend started to act up, she was someone I had always confided in and so this hurt a lot. In all these times l started to wish if only my parents were here. My mind started to tell me things l never wanted to hear, l was alone and failing at life, I had no one to talk to, I should forget about my dreams. I felt lost, I had no self-esteem, I lost my tenacity and energy for chasing goals. It was easy to think why not end I all.
Then a friend who knew about the Friendship Bench approached me, she said she could see I wasn’t managing and suggested I book an online talk therapy session. I had nothing to lose, I signed up and met Youth Bench Buddy Dellone, a young gentleman like me, it was comforting to have a peer, someone who I could relate to rather than an adult, and he welcomed me.
I told him my story as it is and how l was feeling. By simply knowing that there is someone l am talking to who is there listening to me work through and do away with some of the tensions of this loneliness. The feeling of being alone had always overcast my conscience and would stop me thinking straight.
Having the Friendship Bench Youth Buddy there helped me look at my goals again, he showed me how to take steps to keep going and rediscover my dreams, he encouraged me to not give up but to see I was more than loneliness.
I started to realise that l let my past have power over my future, l had jammed my life in other people’s projections of theirs and l entrusted my happiness in other people’s hands; my parents, my family, my girlfriend and my peers. In other words, l was stuck in other people’s lives, crying foul over my past and stopped living my own life. I had to get back on it. The way he asked me about certain things l would have stated in my story made me question myself on why l even felt that way.
Together, we unearthed my perseverance. He shared something with me that l continuously tell myself every day, he said that, you will never know how strong you are until something almost breaks you and knocks you to your knees. When you reach that breaking point that is when you become stronger so rather embrace the problems that seem to be breaking you and see them as a pedestal of hope for the greater good. This is how l started to view my world.
Through the working solutions l had picked up in overcoming my loneliness and stunted growth, l started to see that we tend to live in our yesterday rather than the today of our lives. So even when we have joy and fulfilment, we will not be able to identify it because we are still stuck in the agony of our past. For this l thank my friend for she referred me to the Friendship Bench and I thank the Youth Friendship Bench for the support and encouragement that has helped me regain my resilience.
When a teenage girl wears black and veils her pain with sardonic smiles and sarcastic tone of “hi, ya I’m great you know, never been better”.. one has to know that all is not well. If you haven’t picked up on the sarcasm or inconsistent body language it could prove to be a complicated back tracking session. First impressions matter and we go nowhere without building a level of rapport, a time to show we have heard the undertones without being accusatory about it.
Monica* seemed to be fighting more than one battle… her inner struggles and the one that comes with seeking help; opening up to someone and being vulnerable, talking about deep struggles, to who, for what, what if they go talk about me afterwards, what if when I open up I lose my power, I become broken and open and empty and can’t pull myself together, what if…
“I heard you offer counselling? I don’t need it but I came here for the experience and to get my friend off my back.” Monica was resolute, and if you did not look into her eyes you would think all was well, she was together on the outside, well presented, exuding confidence and determination, not a stammer or self-conscious tone in her voice.
There was however an internal conflict happening; I’m here- but I don’t need to be here- but my friend thinks I should- I’m strong- I need my friend to leave me alone so I’ll do this to please her… It’s complex, there’s a lot of voices that come behind someone’s wall, understandably so.
“I know I have issues but nobody is perfect. You also have your share of bad days. You tell me some of your issues then I’ll know you are for real.”
It took awhile but Monica opened up, inside her wall, so delicately and intricately build was oblivion, a deep dark empty hole; she called it a gomba.
“People know me for being intelligent, argumentative, introverted, classy, beautiful and bold, I have this facade to keep up, I can’t imagine if people knew the truth… I have to be this ‘Monica’ to hide all the rest I have such shame over, the real Monica underneath it all. No one knows my father is verbally abusive, or that my first and only boyfriend raped me, or that my family is struggling financially. When I look around me all I find is a judgmental friend, an abusive father, a weak mother and a pervert boyfriend. I have so much rage in me and I find I love it, I love lashing out at people, it makes me feel in control, it lets them know I am independent and need no one.
During our sessions on the Friendship Bench Monica realised she could have a power and strength different from the rage that would be explosive, coming out uncontrolled and misdirected.
Monica began to talk about her father, seeing that he wasn’t entirely abusive, she connected the financial struggle with his moody outbursts, she laughed and said maybe she got if from him. One of Monica’s goals was to work on her relationship with him, to try talk more and express how his language affects her. Her weak mother was to be a strong woman of her own right, it occured to Monica that sometimes it takes more to keep quiet rather than engage in an argument in which there will be no winner. Her boyfriend of many years was to be confronted for the crime he committed, their relationship was not fulfilling, the baggage of the past wasn’t what Monica wanted, she had had enough of her gomba.