By Tom Osanjo
Something was seriously wrong with me, though I could not tell what the problem was.
It began with lethargy. Waking up every morning became a battle. Then came the empty feeling. There was nothing to look forward to.
Coupled with inexplicable anxiety attacks, I was highly irritable and kept to myself most of the time.
Those who know me would aver that I am a chatterbox. Friends will tell you that I am usually the heart of the party, regaling people with stories.
All that changed as I struggled with another trouble – unending insomnia, which would see me get into bed maybe around 10pm but remain awake until 4am, then get sleep full of nightmares.
At one time, I dreamt that a prominent Kenyan politician chased me through a maize plantation the whole night.
Being an avid reader, I started looking for literature on what was happening.
Bingo! Google solved my puzzle. I was depressed. My work, which I immensely enjoyed, suddenly became one long prison sentence.
Then there was the endless feeling that something bad was about to happen to me.
Thoughts of death haunted me daily.
Studies show that most suicides can be traced to depression. Fortunately, my Christian background taught me that suicide is a sin.
To get around this problem, I made a prayer bargain with God. I asked Him to take away my life as I slept. Three times I made the prayer and three times it was not answered.
It is around this time that I remembered how I harsh I had been towards a friend who was going through a similar ordeal earlier in the year.
When he could not take it anymore, my friend opted for suicide.
(Un)fortunately, the scheme backfired. The drugs he took did not work.
I called him the next day, very furious. An extremely hilarious man, he started ranting against companies that make ineffective drugs.
In my wisdom, or lack of it, I began what I thought was self-medication.
To escape from the mental turmoil, I turned to the bottle, drinking away my troubles. But that was a costly mistake, as I came to realise later.
In our society, men are not supposed to show any weakness. I had to keep up the appearances.
In October last year, I wrote on my Facebook page what I was going through. Perhaps this was my way of crying out for assistance.
In the long post, I detailed the days I would switch off my phone, crawl under the duvet and cut off the world, no shower, no eating.
The response was amazing. Strangers in-boxed me to say they too were going through a similar experience, only that they never knew they were depressed.
I tried my best to offer pieces of advice. The saddest part of this is that a woman known to me for long living in the United Kingdom sent a message, saying how she could relate, having battled depression for years.
Not being a tech-savvy individual, I never got to see the message until last Thursday.
She died in December after a sudden illness. Did I let her down? I’m not sure.
Then some friends came to help me in the battle against depression.
Ms Ann Koki would later tell me how emotionally unbalanced I was at that time, seesawing between being happy and downright anger without any plausible reason.
My colleague Anne Musotsi, my friends Liz Yogo and her pastor husband George Yogo as well as their friend Maru Njeri came to my rescue.
It was at this time that my employer stepped in. I got referred to Dr Nelly Kitazi who started me on a psychiatry treatment regime.
After an analysis and with my cooperation, Dr Kitazi said I needed institutionalised treatment.
That is how I checked into the Retreat Rehabilitation Centre, Limuru.
Contrary to what most people think, such centres are not for the dregs of the society.
I found a collection of professionals ready and willing to help.
Another important thing is one’s attitude to the whole affair. On the day of reporting, my friend Muriithi Mutiga offered me a car and a driver, which dropped me and Koki there.
I blended in on the first day and mentally I knew I had signed on for making my life better.
Support from church members, including Pastor Amondi Agutu and long-time friend Alice Mutuma counted a lot.
They in-boxed encouragement and prayed for me.
Unfortunately, there are those at the centre who look at the journey as a kind of punishment, spending the whole day grumbling.
I always avoided these toxic people.
Thank God for my reading hobby and the time I was at the centre, I completed the biographies of Che Guevara, Michelle Obama, Archbishop David Gitari, several copies by Robert Ludlum and David Baldacci as well as the daily reading of the scriptures.
The centre also has a cabinet representing the interests of the residents and I got elected the Minister for Information and ICT, perhaps a sign of things to come!
I am compiling a novella on my stay there just to educate those willing to know what goes on in such centres.
I know I am among the lucky few in this country able to access mental health services.
Kenya has only 62 psychiatrists and less than 500 psychiatric nurses.
It is for this reason that I have taken it upon myself to help those struggling with or living with depressed people.
I take up speaking engagements and will soon be launching a YouTube channel to discuss the topic.
The experiences taught me immense lessons.
In it all, I have seen the power of prayer. It is satisfying to give tips to those trying to cope and I believe having gone through depression helps in doling out advice.