It was Monday, 17th December 2018 when an impulsive decision to visit a psychiatrist altered my life in ways I hadn’t imagined.
While on my way from Hurlingham at 3:30 PM after chasing some gigs, in a 46 Matatu to Nairobi’s Central Business District (CBD), my gut feeling nudged me to pass by doctor’s plaza at the Nairobi Hospital.
My sleep patterns had gradually deteriorated to their worst state in the history of my existence. It had been weeks of violent nightmares. Bad people wanting to kill me with crude weapons, wild animals like Ikolomani Bulls chasing me the whole night.
I was tumbling down pit less dark wells. I couldn’t outrun death and when I tried to scream, my voice couldn’t let out any sound for help. I felt helpless and trapped in the nightmares. I’d wake up in panic, breathless, eyes wide and sweaty body like I was in hell.
I wanted to see a psychiatrist who could recommend some sleeping pills just like one had done in 2014 when I had a similar experience. I wanted to have a restful festive season.
A day before my 31st birthday, (Monday 21st May 2018), I had made a decision to be ‘selfish’ with my birthday. As soon as the rays of the morning sun had penetrated my bedroom curtain, I dragged myself out of bed and took my laptop bag, a notebook and headed to Two River’s mall.
On the second floor of the mammoth mall on Limuru road, Arabika restaurant became the venue for reflection. The restaurant is special because of the love I have for their Mombasa branch that makes some of the best smoothies I’ve tasted, served with excellent customer service.
Weeks before this day, my life had been filled with tension. The relationship I was in was as good as dead only that a burial ceremony hadn’t been conducted. I had made up my mind several times about calling it quits but I somehow found myself being talked back or talking myself back. Perhaps my optimism was fuelled by the amazing moments we enjoyed when there was no war.
The relationship was all rosy as long as we avoided the landmines of conflict. When we stumbled on one, we were reminded just how inadequately prepared we were in positively resolving conflicts.
The past two birthdays had been marked with tears, pain, and tension. I needed to decide whether I was man enough to make a decision about a relationship that had turned toxic. I had never been this indecisive but it now seemed like I had fallen in love with dysfunction. I had never experienced the unpredictable tornadoes of emotions I experienced frequently. I preferred my own company because interacting with people drained me. Crying became normal for a man who would mock his friends who cried in relationships.
The cross of sorrow I was carrying on my back needed a destination.
Like an infected body part that was starting to develop gangrene, I had to make a tough decision whether to ignore all the red flags we had encountered and commit or call it quits. There was no way I was going to step into my 31st year unsure about a critical part of my life.
Four hours later, I had ruminated on the pros and cons of quitting or staying and I made a decision. “We have a beautiful thing going on here if only we can learn how to resolve the differences we have had,” I assured my heart that didn’t seem convinced.
As if God had ordained the decision I had made on my birthday, KAG Buru Buru had organized a month of prayer and fasting which started a week later after I committed to working things out.
During those evening prayers, burdens of unresolved conflicts that had weighed my heart down started to vacate like dejected soldiers who had lost a war. I felt lighter and happier. Unforgiveness packed her bags and left. Bitterness grew wings and flew away. It was during this time that my heart was filled with love once again.
After this decision (I would later learn was foolish but God still allowed it for His glory), I threw my heart back into the ring without gloves. Three months later, my heart had melted like wax and I was madly in love again. The only problem was that the plane of her heart had long taken off. It’s like the optimism I had in abundance had clouded my judgment; I had missed all the clues that it was over. I always knew how to read the signs but this land was unfamiliar.
After troubled 3 years of trying to salvage the vessel that was the relationship against waves, pirates and sharks, it eventually capsized sending us into different directions. We were all glad that the turbulent waters had finally come to a scratching halt albeit with costly emotional damage. Having been indecisive for three years even though the signs were that we weren’t compatible, she took matters in her own hands and called it quits. The train wreck that had been our relationship eventually stopped in a miraculous way.
Three months later, my heart was healing well when it was rudely interrupted by a random chat that opened a can of worms. I was not prepared to handle the weight of revelation the chat contained. Even before I processed the message, its arrival’s impact had shattered my heart into tiny fragments. It felt like Thor’s hand had released the sledgehammer to deliver the traumatic message. I had never felt that kind of pain before that night.
It’s hard to establish the motive of the revelation but it certainly hurt like hell.
It felt like a cold samurai blade had been repeatedly driven into my heart rapturing tissues and causing maximum damage. Tremors sufficient enough to register on the Richter’s scale moved the tectonic plates of my bowel. I sprinted into the toilet where I emptied the anxiety. It took the grace of God to flush it away.
“It’s eight minutes past 2 am and sleep has refused to visit my eyes. Thoughts are running through my mind as fast as Usain Bolt without any finish line in sight,” I penned in my journal. “The grieving period was supposed to be approaching its sunset days, why was I feeling this way?” I questioned my heart.
The thought of going to bed haunted me. I stayed on my couch drawing words from the drying well of my heart. I wrote until 4 AM. Old school RnB songs soothed my heart. I tried to pray but I couldn’t. My heart was heavy. I took a shower, left the house and by 7 AM, I had landed in Migori where I was scheduled to present the research findings of the impact assessment survey of behaviour change intervention I had done.
From that night, it was never the same again. It felt like someone had woken up demons of the past that I had managed to put to sleep.
I felt angry, vengeful, bitter, weighed down as I had never felt before. I had crawled through the colon of life. I had lived in the rat-infested sewers of this world. I had mastered the skill of turning lemons into lemonades. This one mountain seemed extraordinarily steep and difficult. My shoulders were too fragile for the load of bitterness I carried in my heart. It didn’t matter how many times I prayed, fasted, talked about it to friends, and wrote.
As they say, a broken heart is the worst. It’s like having broken ribs. Nobody can see it, but it hurts every time you breathe. My emotions were stirred. Like a pendulum bob, I oscillated between one extreme emotion to another. I had tried in vain to master the rhythm of my mind.
Sleep had refused to visit my eyes. Whenever it came, I had terrible nightmares. In my sleep, I was falling in deep and dark tunnels. Bad people were chasing me, baying for my blood with the sole intention of killing me. “Surely this is not just a heartbreak, there must be an underlying issue here,” I told myself when I woke up one morning.
Dimming light of freedom
Arriving at the Nairobi Hospital, the two psychiatric consultants who operate from there had both closed their offices for the Christmas holidays. Unsettled in my heart, I cheered myself towards Upper Hill Medical Centre. I quickly scanned the directory board on the first floor while desperately trying to locate a psychiatrist because offices were soon closing and I didn’t have the luxury of time. Impatient to wait for the lift, I rushed through the staircase and arrived at the reception of the hospital on the third floor.
The relief on my face when I found other patients waiting to be attended to was magical. But the receptionist who couldn’t accept my card would soon crush that magical look: “Your insurer hasn’t installed glade which should be used to raise a claim for your card,” she said while handing over my insurance card.
Somehow, a little voice within my heart told me to press on. “Is there any other way? Can you call the insurance company so that I can be treated and you deal with the claims later?” I queried while trying to calm the storm of anxiety that was rising in my heart. A few minutes later, as if my faith was literally moving mountains, I was on the phone with my insurer who found a way to resolve the challenge.
My persistence paid.
I had seen Dr Frank Njenga on TV. His analysis fascinated me. On this day, I wasn’t visiting him as a journalist to get an expert opinion on a story. I was a patient. On this day, he was wearing a clean white shirt with a blue-striped tie. His smile and calm demeanour disarmed me on the spot.
“Tell me more about yourself,” he asked me after exchanging a few pleasantries. He asked about my family members, how old they are, where they are and what they are doing. While I went on and on about my family’s history, and myself his head was glued on my file where he was taking notes. Sometimes he would lift his head when I said something that sounded like a trigger. “Tell me more about the incident, what happened?” he would ask when I explained some of the darkest seasons I had gone through recently.
“Are you dating?” he asked while looking at me with a cheeky smile.
“I’m recovering from a break up of a three-year relationship as we speak,” I answered while desperately trying to balance tears. At that moment he put the pen down and for the first time looked at my face as I narrated my ordeal.
“Tell me about this relationship,” he asked.
“All I know is that it should have ended a long time ago but I felt stuck. A thick cloud of darkness all around blinded me,” I told him while battling balancing tears. “We are going to find out the extent to which this season played a role in your deteriorating mental health.”
After the emotional episode, he gave me a piece of paper, which had about 30 questions. He told me to tick statements that closely represented how I had lived my life. While he had hoped that I would only tick about 10 when he looked at the paper, I had ticked 25 out of 30 and that’s how he partly discovered what had been eating me. To ascertain his preliminary findings, he sent me for a cognitive test to corroborate what he was suspecting.
What I thought was a simple sleep issue turned out to be a tip of the iceberg.
“I’m glad you came here, we are going to help you,” he reassured. We chatted for about an hour, the longest I have been in a doctor’s office. Some tests were run. I did a cognitive functions test. The doctor had a clue about what could have been the problem but they were not 100 per cent sure.
“Odongo, we may need to take you to a place so that we can monitor your sleep and find out if there are other underlying issues,” he advised after there was sufficient evidence that I needed to be monitored. “Mental health is like an onion, we peel it from the outer layer as we dig in. that’s the only way we can find out the core of the problem,” he added. That’s how I found myself admitted at the Chiromo Lane Medical Centre, a psychiatrist hospital in Lavington.
When the first day was over, I had been diagnosed with clinical depression, mild Attention Deficiency Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and trauma. Though I was predisposed to some of the disorders, the environment I had been in for the last five years played a key role to trigger the sleeping demons. An emotionally abusive relationship, a difficult work environment, and front row coverage of the 2017 traumatic elections as a reporter escalated my arrival here.
After I was done with a two-hour therapy session, I slowly dragged my exhausted body back to the room I was admitted at. Sitting on my bed while listening to music, like a ton of bricks, a heavy wave of emotions overwhelmed my soul. Like a small boy, I broke down.
I remember requesting one of my roommates who was a cop (admitted because of severe depression) to just leave the room so that I could cry in peace. The moment he left, I slowly moved from the bed and sat on the floor with my back against the wall and legs straightened. For the next three hours, I wept to the point that I felt weak. At that moment, as tough as I may have seemed before, I realized just how vulnerable I had become. I just wanted my mother to be there by my side.
That’s how my journey of healing and restoration began. The next six days, God worked on areas of my life I didn’t know were crooked. Watch out for part two!