Innocent Awuor Yogo has been battling depression and schizophrenia for the last 10 years. Schizophrenia is a mental disorder that usually appears in late adolescence or early adulthood. It’s characterised by delusions, hallucinations, and other cognitive difficulties.
The 29-year-old project administrator and business owner does not let her mental illness put her down. Instead, she strives to be the best she can be, both in her personal life and career through medication and therapy. She shares her story with Karen Muriuki.
“I had a relatively good childhood. I grew up in Ahero where I enjoyed swimming in the river, playing with other children and working hard in school. I come from a very humble background. My parents struggled to bring food to the table and raise school fees for us. Seeing this motivated me to work hard in school so that I could improve the quality of their lives when I grew up.
When I was in Class Three, a stranger sexually assaulted me when my friends left me behind when we had gone to buy sugarcane. He carried me to a plantation and had a panga which he threatened to kill me with if I screamed. I only talked to someone about it when I was 17, but it was too late because I could not even identify him. This affected me for a very long time.
I started feeling different and depressed at 19. Yes, I had some low moments like the rape incident while growing up, but what really triggered this depression was the fact that I could not pursue the engineering course I had dreamed and hoped to do all my life.
I was sad on most times and felt worthless. I could barely eat well because of my lost appetite. I secluded myself. When I was not in class, library or choir practice, I would lock myself in my room. People assumed I was introverted because I never socialised.
I hated myself. I became lazy and failed to take care of myself to a point that cleaning my clothes became a problem. I didn’t seek any help nor did I get medication. I took it as normal at times. I only started hearing voices when I turned 24. They would tell me negative things like “You are stupid and ignorant. We will kill you”.
Most times, I would talk back at them. My sister, who I lived with at the time, heard me on one of these episodes. She immediately called my parents who took me to church for prayers. I was then taken to hospital where I was diagnosed with schizophrenia and depression.
I was given a number of prescriptions; an antidepressant, Duloxetine, and Haloperidol and Benzexhol, both antipsychotics. I was also put on Nifedipin and later on Lorsatas HT because I was hypertensive. I was enrolled for counselling sessions later on too.
It was hard for me. For about a year, I could not accept the fact that I was mentally sick. I attempted suicide at one point. I questioned God. I felt that the medication was too much for me because I was always drowsy. I could not go to work at a point but my boss encouraged me after I opened up to him. He even suggested a better psychiatrist for me.
I lost most of the few friends I had. One of my former colleagues even bullied me. One day during lunchbreak, he jokingly said that he could not imagine a manager with mental health problems. I was offended and confronted him about it, but he became defensive and said that he was not talking about anyone in particular.
My parents and siblings supported and encouraged me a great deal through this period. My church gave me emotional support as well because the pastors not only prayed for me, but also provided counselling.
They check up regularly to this very day. My psychiatrists at Aga Khan and Nairobi hospital have also been very helpful. My boss is also very understanding.
Even though the relationship with my family has remained the same after my diagnosis, I felt that I was no longer the responsible sister to my siblings and hardworking daughter to my parents. I lost my mother last year and I blamed myself because I thought she was too worried about me.
I felt like a burden because I had to stay with someone at all times to avoid a relapse.
Eventually, things took a change in my life. I came to accept the fact that I was sick and told myself that mental sickness is just like any other disease.
The doctors reduced the dosage each time I went for check-ups because my condition really improved. I started working on myself. I pray and read my bible every day, I use affirmations and read Christian books during my free time.
The treatments have helped me. I no longer hear voices in my head. I am not as sad as I used to be. My view of life changed and I stopped hating myself. My appetite also improved drastically and I became more competent at work. I even managed to enrol for a Masters of Business Administration at the University of Nairobi where I was able to graduate with honours. This was last year.
This is to that person out there struggling with their mental health: Never give up; what doesn’t kill you only makes you stronger. You can still achieve your dreams. Seek help; do not suffer in your own silence. Above all, believe in God.