Letting Go!

Change begins with a choice and happens when you realize that you’re not a passive victim of life but you have the power to take responsibility for how you want it to turn out.

by Ketina Mugwisa

Have you ever noticed the impact of your thoughts on what you do?

The way we think shapes our responses to life. Our behavior follows what is in our minds, what we believe, and the way we evaluate events and problems. Our self-talk (internal monologue) largely shapes our emotions. Negative thoughts profoundly impact our moods and behavioral choices which impact our self-esteem. Thoughts and feelings combined make up a personal character. Reconstructing our thinking can change us for the better. Remember there is always someone who will sit and listen to your story in a nonjudgmental way and give you comfort and this should not go unappreciated.

Well! That was my personal experience when I first come to the university.

MY STORY

I hated varsity for almost three-quarters of my first semester there. I had been offered Psychology for undergrad studies instead of what I wanted, Social Work. I felt trapped, psychology didn’t resonate with me, I couldn’t see it in my life. I didn’t see a point in trying to believing that I could make it with a psychology degree. I refused to even research about it and lecturers sounded like Greek to me. If someone had asked me what psychology was all about, I couldn’t even explain until 2 weeks before end of semester exam. Can you imagine!

HOW IT ALL CHANGED

I first encountered the Friendship Bench on World Mental Health Day when they came to speak at my uni. I got a chance to talk to one of its members, Tiny, who showed me that psychology wasn’t so bad after all and that if I took time some time to reflect, the Greek would eventually make sense to me. After sharing with him what I was going through, he helped me understand and become aware of my own negative thoughts, and how I had been limiting myself with my own beliefs and cognitive distortions. He encouraged me to view life with an open mind just like psychology encourages us to do. And to try and replace my negative thought with more positive, noble, lovely, and admirable thoughts. He helped me realize that by making a choice to change how I viewed things it was giving me courage and strength a lesson I would later make a person mandate in my life, to always give things a chance!

Hand touching brain and network connection on glitter bright lights colorful background

PSYCHOLOGY AND THEOLOGY PLAYING OUT IN MY LIFE

I have always been a person of ‘Faith’ and faith has always helped me redirect from my own shortcomings and weakness and pointed me towards power that I never knew I possessed. As such the spiritual part of my experience is a viable source of inspiration and strength that has helped me attain a positive change in my life. As I began to give psychology a chance, I began to notice some subtle similarities between psychology and religious theology. I realized that although history has repeatedly pitted them against one another their message was the same, the only difference was the messenger. Looked at from an objective perspective religious behavior and religious belief are based on various models of human nature and many psychological concepts. Just like how psychology encourages people to feel good about themselves and become overwhelmed by emotions, such as fear, anger, guilt, or anxiety, religion promotes love, happiness and companionship, and above all something to believe in.

MAKE A CHOICE

The Creator, as I believe him to be, is said to have given us humans free will, the power of choice which enables us to choose the way we think and reason. You can’t control obstacles life sets for you, but you can control how you overcome them. Change begins with a choice and happens when you realize that you’re not a passive victim of life but you have the power to take responsibility for your own mental health by choosing to think positively. Life is a precious gift, you must cherish it and care for it and that also includes your physical, mental, and spiritual well-being. If you feel under pressure, scared beyond measure, or lost close treasure only remember you are not defined by circumstances and you can’t limit yourself despite what people might say. You have the power to create a different story about yourself not as a victim but as a conqueror and by normalizing positive thinking, you normalize victory.

I would like to end by quoting William James regarded as the father of American Psychology’s life-changing words which say;

The greatest discovery of my generation is the fact that human beings can alter their lives by altering their attitudes of mind.”

William James

It is never too late nor too early to change the way you think!

Lewelin

I wanted so desperately to be loved and accepted and to have someone who cared about me. I’ve always felt like this in relationships, and so I sacrifice myself, I give and give and give and people take and take and take.

My name is Lewelin* and I am a member of the LGBTQAI community.

I was on the verge of losing it all, my problems had gotten the best of me, to the point that even those around me were noticing my change in attitude and behaviours.  I noticed the change within me, but I didn’t have energy to do anything, everything had become meaningless. I was having suicidal thoughts at the time and death seemed like it was the only and rather a welcoming option, there really was nothing much to live for- nothing I could see at least.

All my romantic relationships had failed, l thought and felt like people were only using me, maybe I let them, I wanted so desperately to be loved and accepted and to have someone who cared about me. I’ve always felt like this in relationships, and so I sacrifice myself, I give and give and give and people take and take and take. l had to prove something, l needed to be the strong one, l had to be there for everyone, but one day I realised no one was there for me and that knocked me, I became dark with resentment. The weight of other people was affecting me so much that l ended up having personality issues. A friend of mine decided to talk to me about how my attitude and behaviour had changed and if l continued with this bitterness l was going to lose everyone l love. How could l agree with him when l thought my friends were the centre of my problems!? This same friend gave me something that l am forever grateful for – the Friendship Bench number!

He told me to get in touch with them – you will thank me later he said. At first l did not want to contact them as l believed that doing therapy was some white thing. However, one day when l felt l needed answers for why certain things were happening to me l thought let me contact them, what did I have to lose I asked myself. I WhatsApp-ed to book an appointment and not long after the peer counsellor contacted me. On the very first day l had said everything l was feeling inside, and I was listened to, for once I wasn’t the one doing the listening- this already was amazing to me! As I shared we worked to outline all the problems I was facing and then specified which ones I felt were important for me to work on to make the changes I needed, and was relieved to hear we only work one at a time, I couldn’t have done more than one by one they felt so big.

The counsellor started asking me some questions to help me open up and start formulating a way forward out of the struggle I was in. We came up with something – a workable manageable action plan- that l had to do in our various sessions, this helped a lot; working in steps that is, and knowing that the support was there as I went through them. Going through these sessions was the best thing l did, l felt like a heavy load was taken off my shoulders and I realised that I can be the strong one but also be a human being who needs to be heard and needed to learn what healthy boundaries looked like!

*Names are changed to respect clients privacy

Accepting Help & Learning A New Way of Being

My views on social topics like friendship, love and marriage began to reflect things that were eating me up inside.

“It became a song I sang even in relationships. Be strong, be silent, tomorrow is another day.”

Rumbi*, Friendship Bench Client

My mum passed away when I was 6 and my dad was in and out of relationships from then. I became angry at him for moving on and not mourning my mum for as long as I wanted him to. I was also exposed to a lot of emotional abuse by the different women I was made to live with. I hated my dad for letting me go through all this and even for my mum’s death. Everyone I opened up to told me to hold on a little longer, work hard in school and get myself out of that situation. It became a song I sang even in relationships. Be strong, be silent, tomorrow is another day. So, as you may have guessed my relationships didn’t go so well. If it wasn’t cheating it was lying or what I later realised was abuse. And what would I do? Cry myself to sleep, forgive and move on. Or so I thought, the reality was that I was brewing anger in me and I didn’t even realise.

I thought I was alright until a friend of mine pointed out that the way I speak about myself shows low self esteem. My views on social topics like friendship, love and marriage began to reflect things that were eating me up inside.

The most difficult part had to be accepting that I needed to talk to someone. It was also the wisest step in my healing. My friend got me to Friendship Bench and I had sessions in person then online due to the national lockdown.

Having someone to listen whilst I talked about everything, from what I had been through to how I felt and why I felt it helped a lot. I forgave my dad because I realised that by forgiving him I was released from my resentments, I learnt how to communicate my needs and talk about my feelings to him. I got to understand that forgiveness doesn’t mean that people won’t hurt me again but that I will not judge them from past experiences. I left relationships that disadvantaged me and I have been better at voicing out my opinions and feelings in a way that doesn’t trigger fights but also leaves me at peace.

I am proud of myself for going through the sessions. I am at peace from within. A load I have been carrying for a long time has been lifted.

I’m thankful to Bernice from Friendship Bench for being there and checking on me.

* Names and certain identifying details have been changed to protect the privacy of individuals.

Life as a young adult with an unwanted pregnancy

I had used the whole safe period method and I also took a morning after pill, so I was certain that I was not pregnant until the day I missed my period.

“Being alone and having no one to talk to is the worst feeling ever.”

Kuziva* Friendship Bench Client

My name is Kuziva*. I’m a 20 year old girl and I’m a University student in Zimbabwe.

I was going through post abortion depression. This all started after I aborted the pregnancy that I was not prepared for. I had used the whole safe period method and I also took a morning after pill, so I was certain that I was not pregnant until the day I missed my period. Thereafter I took the pregnancy test and it tested positive. I was extremely shocked and from then I cried every single day. I was not ready for parenting, l was in school and was afraid  of  the drama that would come after my parents knew about the pregnancy.  I knew that I could not keep the baby because the circumstances that  I was in could not allow that. l decided to seek help. A friend of mine linked me to some ‘professional doctor’ and the abortion process was carried out successfully.

However, once the abortion had been done, I was left with a lot of negative feelings. I started to question myself, l had feelings of regret and guilt. I could not forgive myself and the abortion haunted me day and night. I felt like a murderer and I was also scared that maybe I had lost my chance of being human again. I felt l had lost the only chance  of having a baby. I was not able to open up to people around me. I always looked okay around people and yet inside l was suffering. Every time I thought about the abortion I would break down and I cry, every night since it happened I would sit at night in the dark scared to close my eye, and again I would cry, I think the exhaustion from crying got me to sleep.

In one of WhatsApp groups I was in, there was a discussion on depression. After that discussion l knew l was going through depression and l needed someone to talk to. One of the facilitators in the group posted a flier for the Friendship Bench Online Sessions. It was then that I realized that I needed  help and immediately booked my sessions. The online sessions helped me  express all my fears and worries without being judged. It really felt like a safe space for me  to talk about  what l was going through and after each session l felt empowered to take on life again. I have managed to open up about my experiences and it has given me the courage to help people with the same situation as the one I had.

My life has a new meaning now. Being alone and having no one to talk to was the worst feeling ever but now I know there are people to talk to who won’t judge or criticize. The Friendship Bench is for everyone.

* Names and certain identifying details have been changed to protect the privacy of individuals.

Yes, my wife beat me.

I was embarrassed, ashamed, and wanted to take my life. But I didn’t. I realised I was more than those beatings. I have more in me and I have my children to care for and who care for me.

Roy*, Friendship Bench Client

Being a man who is being beaten by his wife is something that all men cover up, it’s an embarrassment, it means we are not really men in our culture . We walk with our heads high on the outside, our chests out and hold deep voiced conversations full of strength, but inside, inside we are being torn apart by shame, anxiety and depression.

My name is Roy* and l am aged 42. I am married with 4 children. Before Covid-19 started l was employed as a gardener and my wife as a maid. Unfortunately, l lost my job but was lucky to have my wife continue with her work. I began to see the other side of my wife; that is when the beatings started. Whenever l asked for food l was replied by a slap on my face. l lost my dignity as the man of the house as l had nothing to put on the table. I tried to look for something to do but due to this Covid-19 pandemic nothing materialised. One day when l got back to the house, it was empty all the children were not there. When l got in contact with my wife, she told me that she had taken the kids to her mother as l was unable to feed them as their father. I was heartbroken, torn in pieces. I saw myself as a failure and useless, l thought the best solution there was to take my own life.

It was not an easy decision; l did not have a plan and the courage to do it. One of my neighbours saw how troubled l was and approached me but l could not share anything with him. He talked to me about the Friendship Bench which was a free counselling service offered by the Lay Health Workers at our local clinic. I decided to try that out.

I met with one of the Lay Health Workers who said she was there to listen, she told me there would be no judgement but that I needed to talk about what was happening at home or it would make me sick, she said I was already showing the signs of ‘kufungisisa’ (thinking too much in the local Shona language, roughly translated in depression and anxiety) according to the 14 questions we went through . Opening up about the beatings was something that l had not done before to anyone, because l felt l was not man enough, but Ambuya Utano (the Lay Health Worker) was able to create an environment where l felt safe and understood, she just nodded and shook her head, she didn’t laugh or raise her eyebrows and she told me she had a few men who talked similarly to her and that I wasn’t alone. To learn it wasn’t only me helped me to share, I found myself pouring out my agonies. For the first time l felt I was being myself, I was allowed to share the truth, it was different from sharing stories with friends where I needed to pretend all was okay and my wife was good and she was just visiting her mother for holidays.  

As l was suicidal, one of the questions that the grandmother asked me really helped to make a smart decision of my life. She asked me if l had planned anything for those that were remaining behind since l was planning to take my life. I began to think about my children and realised how selfish l really wanted to be, l had nothing left for them, and I knew they needed a father, too many neighbours had lost a parent and one parent was not enough. From then on, l decided to go back home and keep looking for work, for my kids I wanted to show them not to give up but to keep trying.

I am thankful to Friendship Bench, l am alive today because of you. I am working hard today for my kids because of you. I have accepted myself and have inner peace because of you.

I have not looked for my wife yet as l have decided to work on myself first and prioritise the welfare of my kids. I would not know if we have separated or not as she moved out with her clothes, she is now living at her workplace. When the pandemic lockdown is lifted l will go to my in-laws to collect my kids. What will happen from there I don’t know but I can be living today and make changes for the future now.


*Names have been changed to protect clients anonymity and confidentiality

Unearthing Perseverance

A TESTIMONIAL

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.

Tendai’s* Covid-19, Experience on the Front Lines

A COVID-19 SUCCESS STORY

“Being confined brought a lonely feeling inside me, that when I let it all out to someone who was ready to listen;

I felt a sense of relief. “

Tendai*, Friendship Bench Client

My name is Tendai*. I’m a middle-aged female residing in the city of Harare, Zimbabwe. I work in the health field at a private facility.

I was going through a period where I was overwhelmed with anxiety and paranoia. As a result of working in the medical/health field, I had been openly and directly exposed to the COVID – 19 virus at its onset in Zimbabwe. A few of my colleagues and I had to stop working and go into quarantine and isolation in our own homes after going through the screening process. I was forced to stay away from my family and my children for two weeks as I could not leave my room. It broke my heart to have to hear my youngest daughter cry for me at the door and not be able to do anything about it. Every single day, health professionals from the ministry would come and check on me, dressed and protected. I felt like the contagion itself. My temperature was said to be high by the screening officials which increased my anxiety. I had no meaningful interaction with anyone at all so I was forced to make do with my racing thoughts for two weeks.

After having been cleared of the virus by the Ministry of Health, I was then allowed to exit self-quarantine. You would think the decision made my days easier but after the restrictions on me were lifted, I was so confused and anxious. Everything to me felt like it could be potentially dangerous, being around people made me anxious, letting my children play outside made me anxious. Seeing one of my family members constantly going out the house would really make me upset. I was paranoid about everything my children and family touched. My obsession with sterility became unhealthy, and fortunately that’s when I came across the friendship bench advertisement. I reached out to The Friendship Bench after seeing a social media advertisement of their free counselling service offered on an Open Like Talk Therapy platform.

I began my sessions shortly after booking on the Friendship Bench platform. In my sessions, i was allowed the platform to fully explain my feelings and what I was going through without judgement.

Firstly, what I found to be most helpful was just being able to let some things out before you even get help in handling the problem. Being confined brought a lonely feeling inside me, that when I let it all out to someone who was ready to listen; I felt a sense of relief. The constant check up as well really helped me as I realized someone was there to make sure I was improving and feeling better.

My fears of contracting the virus were gradually eradicated as I got encouragement to do my best in making sure I follow the measures put in place to protect my family and I regardless of the fact that one family member was not adhering to those measures. The guidance and encouragement I got about focusing on things that I can control was also extremely helpful in reducing my anxiety. I then realised some things are out of my control and I cannot change them. Worrying about it would not help at all as it would just bring me more problems.

*Names have been changed to protect and respect the privacy of the contributing author.


DO YOU NEED TO TALK?

Should you or someone you know relate to Tendai’s story and need to talk, the Friendship Bench Open Line team is here to support you.


FREE TOOLS TO MANAGE ANXIETY

We set up some worksheets to help people who may be struggling to manage with their anxiety during this global pandemic.

If you would like to learn how to build resilience, become more grounded and find some peace in the storm you can download the exercises for free from our website.

Tools To Thrive
https://www.friendshipbenchzimbabwe.org/tools-to-thrive

Till next time!

Stay safe, wash hands, create safe spaces for people to talk. We all need a sense of belonging, it doesn’t cost anything by empathy and time.