Episode one: mental health in the life of a highly functional sufferer

Catastrophising and chasing phantoms you

will never actually see

wondering, your head thundering, thinking

‘what if this or that happens to me?’

High highs and low lows

feeling alone in the madding crowd

Fears and phobias morph into sorrows

on the quest for peace, anxiety can be so loud.

I’ve never been officially clinically diagnosed. Granted a psychiatrist has once, in an informal conversation, told me that my symptoms are classical of Generalised anxiety disorder.

This came as no surprise to me. Anyone who was raised with me knows I was always the so-called ‘worrywart.’ Washing my hands became a spectacle. I would use my fingernails to scratch my palms to claw off dirt…but my OCD is another story for another day.

Today I am the holder of some degrees, having achieved good marks along the way. I’ve done a fair bit of ‘amateur’ writing, and am known as a generally friendly woman. So some people are understandably dubious when I tell them I struggle with debilitating anxiety. They assume my friendliness (and at times, people-pleasing nature) is synonymous with confidence, my smiles with unbroken happiness, and my scholastic journey to have been very smooth.

Over the years I’ve come to realise that I am highly functional even under stressful conditions (though I have had meltdowns), and that I love to practice happiness. This helps me to be even more grateful for the periods of true happiness, and buys me some credit that keeps me going in those times of pain.

It’s long been my wish to become very vocal about my mental health hardships, not because I fancy myself any sort of authority, but because I desire to be part of the movement that de-mystifies these struggles; especially in the context of African society (and in the diaspora too.) Yes, loads of us struggle with various mental illnesses.

All it takes is a scan through this report published in 2013 to realise that mental illness really needs to be discussed out in the open. It is so unfortunate that so many people suffer in silence due to fear of being labelled ‘strange’ or ‘crazy’ should they muster the courage to confide in their close family or friends. And indeed, there are many capable doctors who are dedicating their lives to helping patients. However when one considers research results obtained from a 2007 study which showed that in 90% of countries on the African continent there is less than one psychiatrist per every 100, 000 patients, we get a picture of just how serious of an issue this is. While I write nearly a decade after these results were published, there is no doubt that the burden is exhausting, both to those suffering and to the supportive care givers.

With nervousness but a steely will I am, for the first time, documenting my personal struggles with what I have found to be my most vicious enemies: anxiety, fears and phobias, and OCD…along with some of their unwelcome sidekicks too. This is not to be gratuitous or to create a circus out of my personal experiences, but to take part in a loud discussion that I’ve been having in the privacy of my own head, and only with the most trusted in my life. I’m on my journey to healing and acceptance and am interested in sharing everything that may be helpful to other sufferers, and learning as well. I consider this conversation in my life to now be open and look forward to identifying and highlighting helpful coping/healing strategies for myself other sufferers. 

Let’s get talking.

This reflective piece is the first in a series penned by Furaha Asani on her mental health struggles.

Photographs by Mauwa Asani.

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