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What is Mental Health?

Mental health is one of the topics that is never discussed in my community, we look for excuses instead. When I was growing up, I saw many people whom we used to call ‘crazy people'. We were told to stay far from them because they were bad people. None of those ‘crazy people’ ever harmed me, they minded their own business and I remember my generous mom used to feed one, ‘crazy person’, his name was Waweru and he recognized our names and he would not pass by without saying hello. Having gone through a mental health rollercoaster and getting help to get my mental health taken care of, I now know better. I had conversations with my friends at Azadi Kenya about their own journey with mental health and wellbeing and they had this to say;

Friend A

What is mental health to you? This is a question I posed to my friend and she referred to google and said, “Dictionary says, a person’s condition about their psychological and emotional well-being.”She continued, “honestly, I have always watched movies and seen kids being taken to see a shrink and later being stigmatized by their peers for having a shrink. I have never really thought about it in a deeper meaning when I was growing up till five years ago. I couldn't figure out what was wrong with me, everything was blurry and I did not know what to do about it, everything was going all wrong even when I thought I had it all figured out, I continued to make irrational decisions.When I realized I needed help, I started to enquire about the therapist, a session was too expensive to afford. I moved on and left my mental health unattended. Life got hard for me and my aunt offered me a safe space to talk with her in her home. That was the first therapy session I did unknowingly.

My time with my auntie opened doors for me to open up and get help but again unknowingly or knowingly closed those doors till a year ago when my heart, mind, and soul cried for help. I had to get help. I started therapy that started with talking about my past and I realized how much I had carried in my heart and the burden started to get lighter. I thought I had had enough advice and strength to continue, I got lazy to attend therapy, and again stopped but I was wrong. Through support from a few acquaintances I had made, they reached out to me and I started to attend therapy again as a group. The strength I got from listening to other people’s real-life stories opened another door for me and my mental health became stable to handle external pressure in life.Identifying a support system that works for you is the beginning of mental wellness, you have to be ready to learn and unlearn, it all starts with you”.

Friend B

Wellness for me is a state of balance and harmony in the body, mind, and spirit. I have struggled with mental health and I have learnt one or two things. What was most interesting about my experience is that I noticed that there's less pain when one is calm, and believe me this isn't an easy skill to master, I mean how on earth do you expect me to be calm amidst a bloody panic attack? Are you serious? What I mean is that I had to do the work, what happens when you're alone? See where I'm going with this? I had to be intentional in everything I do. I learnt that sometimes there will be relapses or episodes of anxiety, and panic attacks, you have to listen to your body, notice the triggers and patterns, I learnt self-soothing techniques when alone, they work magic. You have to find a way to calm your mind and tell it to stop. I am still practicing this. It's a process, a journey and it's our responsibility to practise self-compassion, you know. Be kind to yourself. Know when to step back and rest. Be intentional about your relationship with yourself. Invest in yourself.

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