Africa, Mental Health, Racism

BAD HAIR OR RACISM?

February is Black History Month in the US. Britain marks hers every October. Perhaps every month should be black history month everywhere. The devil is in the details.

I often encounter people very concerned about why I had ‘spoilt’ my beautiful hair. Some of my favourites are the ones who openly wonder whether I became Rastafarian or Legio Maria. They always have me in stitches.

Did you know that Legio Maria (Legion of Mary) is a breakaway Church whose faithfuls were expelled from the Catholic Church for performing exorcism (an act of African spirituality) which was considered largely antichristian?

Well the decision to loc my hair was as prudent as it was deliberate.

People should know better, considering the dust has barely settled on the #BlackLivesMatter movement. Racism is alive and well globally. We have always had a problem ever since those men from the west set foot here. Independent a continent as we are, we have a problem: the lingering vestiges of colonial racism.

The fact that natural African hair (afro, dreadlocks etc) is routinely judged and scrutinised as unruly, unkempt and unprofessional in our schools and workplaces. The continued association of dreadlocks with dissidence, poor hygiene, homelessness, mental illness, drug abuse, unprofessionalism, criminal tendencies and poverty. The harrowing tales of police brutality and the profiling of young Kenyan men with dreadlocks.

For clarity, the locking of hair is a natural growth process for Black people who refuse to submit to a social construct to cut their hair! It is also a very budget/ user friendly venture for people who care to spend less and those with extra sensitive scalps.

You see, these westeners are mad clever. They are also chronic liars. First they come here and then they convince us that they discovered Lake Victoria. But the whole time our ancestors were here generations through and they had names for it (Lolwe, Nalubaale, Nyanza, Ukerewe etc), and even worshipped facing it! They even teach us that African nations “gained independence” yet there was a people who led very wholesome lives in fully functional societies before colonisation? Why not add a prefix and just say “regained independence” truthfully?

They say they came to ‘civilise’ the natives. Then they reach for our heritage, then start by travestying our culture, then hunt it down and mercilessly murder most of it in cold blood. Because ‘civilisation’ is the much needed salve for our ‘barbarism.’ And they do it so radically, such that they even impose their Eurocentric beauty standards upon us. They know (and see) that African hair is ordinarily kinky, versatile, voluminous and rebelious. It naturally defies gravity, so they brainwash us to start applying harsh chemicals and heat to our hairs to ‘relax’ or straighten them, or wear a shave, or do wigs and weaves, because their idea of acceptable, tame and beautiful is only all the things that look like them. Not us.

A kin was on remand awaiting trial and we happened to visit him. To my dismay, his shoulder length locs had been felled like they were some nonentity. I curiously asked one of the prison officers and I’m still shaken by his unerring ability to stand ten toes down while explaining to me how dreadlocks and thick hair are susceptible to lice infestation and it is their policy to maintain hygiene. I thought lice only care about finding a head that gives them access to blood, without bias to hair type or style!

Tragically, we seem to have conformed as a society; our natural hairs are no longer crowns to us. They are being attacked and faced out, even by our own legislation and policies. That is some internalised oppression and self hate / antiblackness, instigated by structural racism. We hate ourselves. I prefer to call it structural racism rather than institutionalised racism because it has technically gone past our institutions and penetrated into all our structures including our self consciousness. (For example the fact that a Black person is genuinely worried about another Black person rocking their own natural hair).

Victorian culture is in our smallest details–from our names, to our hairs, to our dressing. Nigeria is probably the only African country that has traditional Yoruba attire as one of her official wears.

How do you tell somebody that they just cannot wear their hair the way it grows out their scalp? Hair discrimination is race discrimination, anti-black racism to be precise.

I loc’d my hair to mock the ignorant oppressive / racist system that cared more about my hair than my Mental Health. The very same system that still cares more about your daughter’s braids than they do her grades. When you can’t challenge them, mock them.

As the quiet kid who was always in trouble for having a full head of hair and not utilising the comb enough, I loc’d my hair to celebrate a dangerously awesome level of self awareness. I have a tender heart for all the unfortunates, and very sensitive feelings for eternal truths like freedom and justice and human dignity. My ambition is to be free. For you and I to be free.

This blog post is dedicated to my friend Lilian Molly, and all the beautiful bold Black women and men with a rich heritage and hairs powerful enough to break combs.

Standard
Mental Health, Mental Illness, Mental Wealth

Rebirth

Today.

We devote to the cause of our happiness and healing.

In the name of our ancestors, the magic makers whose blood flows through our veins eternally.

A great people who prayed for us in a language so beautiful English would bow.

The heroes who gifted us both their pain and power.

Today.

In the name of the saints, the ones who cheered with screaming eyes as we unwound the clouds of heaven.

Today.

In the name of every survivor.

In the name of those who know we tried, those who helped us feign strength until it was inked in our bones.

Today.

The bones are coming alive.

Today.

God has risen.

We speak from a place of abundance.

Go and tell them the famine is over.

Dedicated to the resilient spirit of my dearest Jacob, a friend who sticks closer than a brother, a comrade in the (necessary) war against sadness. 
Standard
Life, Mental Health

Introspection: Day 151.

June will be here in a few hours. 2021 is fading, fast. No more foul weather. The sun is finally out. Mother Earth is breathing. The universe is wondrous; we must be so blessed to still be here experiencing its richness.

But there is a crippling sadness that has settled in my bones. How do we forgive ourselves for all the things we did not become?

How do we teach our hearts to feign hope? How do we cloth our sadness in grace? When does ‘you’ll get over it’ begin? What do we do when the tears and the words are woefully inadequate?

Something about this pandemic is hitting hard. I feel like the lack of common sense and absence of empathy can be found in the vast population nowadays. Moral bankruptcy is now competing with economic bankruptcy. The news are mostly depressing. Statistics confirm that 1 in every 4 Kenyans has some kind of a mental illness. On Saturday on one of the segments on a local news channel, a woman politician, revered and reviled in equal measure, came up. She was opening up about her struggle with Bipolar Disorder. Her candid confession, her remarkable resolve and incredible courage ripped my heart apart but also handed it back to me carefully, repairing me stitch by stitch, as if to say,” It’s okay. You can be just as great.”

If you have kept up with my blog posts from the time I started publishing, you must already know that I’m a Bipolar Type 2 Disorder Survivor. I was on prescription psychotropics for years, got sorely addicted to them, up until I decided to have myself weaned off them in the August of 2019. Upon which I struggled with withdrawal syndrome for several weeks. But it is speculative to say that I recovered. For I did not recover; recovery is not entirely possible with mental illness. Even remotely in some cases. I would describe my journey as a new lease on life. It is one that is characterised by hope, mindfulness, pain, and radical change. All bundled up with a ribbon of love and resilience. It involves a lot of learning, unlearning and relearning. A lot of patience and being kind to myself. A lot of recognising that I’m special, that I’m not your common human, therefore my path will be unique. Yet just as worthy of every damned chance.

I have continuously learnt that when you’re a soulful person, you’ll always feel more: you’ll feel colours, see love, hear a smile, and smell achievements. You’ll grieve longer, rejoice louder, sulk miserably, laugh harder.. Every emotion will be immense, more. But just how much is more? Could it be really true that life has always been tinged with an inert kind of sadness? Or am I just more pensive in these historical times?

I have been doing a lot of recreational reading. One thing about me, I will always love words, those things saved my life. Words are eternal. The tomb of a writer is great but his grave is never in soil. It is evergreen in his work. In his book. In his legacy. Art is more powerful than destiny. More powerful than death itself. It penetrates time.

I have also developed a lot of what feel like migraines, again. My specs are no longer servicing me purposefully. The hospital visits are slowly reclaiming their spot in my roller coaster of a life.

Being Bipolar is a job in itself, except you never retire or go on leave. And I have mastered it. Last week I got the golden chance with this therapist. Not owing to illness but just as a recommended routine. Some of my favourite people in this world are therapists. The kind who breathe life to weary bones. At some point during our session, her face lit up, she adjusted her seat and suddenly decided to thank me for “bravely transforming my unspeakable personal pain to power.” I thanked her instead, “for acknowledging that I have long gone past throwing little pity parties.” That was one of the most wholesome, powerful sessions I have ever been to. The other was when this kind lady just collected her cheque for watching me go to pieces, tearfully, painstakingly handing me serviettes and rubbing my back sensationally. Till the sadness in my soul had been validated.

As I walked out the gate, an African monarch butterfly lit on the ground in front of me, flexing its wings as I approached. When I slowly bypassed it, it stayed put. As I got on the bus to town, it remained in inertia. Like a soldier, saluting greatness. I felt the universe rallying behind me. S/O!!!

Standard
Depression, Life, Mental Health, Mental Illness

Journals & Bottled Emotions

The demons of Mental Health hate having their stories told.

Last week while decluttering our library I magically found my long lost journal for the year 2015!

Eureka!

I cried, mostly happy tears. It seemed like I had woken up from the most spiritual nap of my entire existence! It felt like the liminal space right before you are born and right after you have left heaven. Yet I still needed equal parts of strength and intense courage to re-read it.

That journal holds profound stories of my naked emotions. Ones of love, loss, pain, hope, and radical change. Very candid ruminations on life from the bipolar spectrum. The silent musings of a perpetually sad girl. 2015 was the year I began taking psychotropic medication. It was a rollercoaster of an experience.

I detailed it here:

That same year, I lost both of my grandmothers, just months apart. With the last one dying one rainy September evening as I looked on. Then another of my best friends suddenly died, his father outlived him by just six weeks. I had also been seeing this otherwise nice Mnyarwanda guy who confused me thoroughly.

My father gave me the journal on New Year’s. As was custom. He was the first person to open my eyes to the knowledge that time is also a resource. And I could use it for the highest good of all.

I had dreams. I journalled about them. In high school, I had concentrated on English Literature, I wanted to create stories like Chinua – the mercurial creature with his own unique quirk. I also wanted to end up like my countryman Ngugi; go to Makerere and leave a mark. My father liked to say that there, was a hall named Northcote, and there, great men rubbed shoulders. My mother immensely liked Mariama Bâ. She said women too—like those great men—can be great. I loved words with all their nuances, connotations and layers of meaning.

But life was always tinged with an inert kind of sadness. My depression was becoming a witches’ brew of anger, guilt and bad religion.

Sitting with my depression and getting to know it was the most genius decision I ever made, looking back. I’m pleased that I did not allow it morph into any other emotion. Finding my journal again has inspired me. I cannot believe that all I did was just sit by my pen and bleed all-over its pages. Writing, thinking, hoping, praying, wishing away.

I still live on the brink of my sadness everyday. Just like all survivors. For recovery is a process. And healing comes in waves sometimes. You’ll be drowning today and swimming against the tides tomorrow. I am alive to that fact. The only difference is I that found my saving grace in blogging.

I’ll keep my 2015 journal by my bedside like I do my Bible. That book saved my life, too!

Standard
Mental Health

Differences

December babies, the stage is finally ours.

Season’s greetings everyone!

It’s been one rollercoaster of a year. These are some absolute historical times, the planet took a bender. The weather is foul, the economy is off-kilter, being frivolous in public can cost you or your loved one’s life in this pandemic, death is always looming. I turn a year older in some 9 days. I took my last Prozac and Olanzapine on 3rd August 2019. What a time to be alive.

There’s some doom and gloom in my head and heart lately, sometimes. This life is tinged with an inert kind of sadness. My friend died 2 weeks ago. It is terrible to love something that death can touch. We put him to rest, the heavens opened up and it poured massively. I gained a powerful guardian angel.

This year mistakes have been made, karmic dues have been paid and dreams have equally been realised. I have been outdreaming myself in ways I never imagined. Reading is still my most fulfilling activity. Authors are such national treasures. Real mercurial creatures with their own unique quirks. The reason I started this blog was to try to speak my mind and write my heart, just like them. To wring words out of my hurting heart. And to escape residual pain.

I sit in awe of the magic that is art. Artistes, writers who suffer monumental losses, go through turmoil but still manage to create beauty. Their unerring ability to touch us, to leave us speechless. To leave us frozen in our tracks, to bring us to our knees. To numb us, to soothe us. To hypnotise us, to awaken us. I sit in awe of words that go past your heart and get plastered on your soul. Words that slap and hug your whole being at the same damn time. I sit in awe of people who bleed words. I sit in awe of precision. Of boldness, of candidness. And the notion that the hurt might just be good for the art after all.

Sometimes I’m convinced that I have steel bright intelligence but zero common sense. I falter. Yesterday I thought my brain broke at the examinations hall but then I realised I just couldn’t process that my hands could actually write again. I lost 20 minutes of the allocated time. I’m thankful to be able to have a strong grip of my pen again.

Flip side, I miss the therapy sessions. I miss the whole effect of benzos and psychotropics. Just occasionally. That feeling remains unmatched. It’s a spiritual experience. It felt like the liminal space right before you’re born and right after you’ve left heaven. But I do not miss the psych nurses, maybe just the doctors because they tend to have the experience to treat each patient as a unique case and not as a book example. I will never forget this one time one of those Nazis decided to subtly advice me that I need Jesus rather than meds, all while directly administering the meds to my veins!

When your heart breaks but your spirit is solid, that’s when you know there’s so much kingdom left to come.

Standard
Mental Health

LOTUS UNFOLDING

Have you ever spent an unholy amount of time trying to make your hair tame and acceptable only to step out and have the wind make you look like a witch that just flew on their broom?

You’re running late. Anxiety has you by the collar.

Then you come across a live performance of one of your favourite artistes. He’s decked up in some tough blue denim jeans. A big cloud looms over the concert. His artistry makes you ridiculously happy; takes you above the cloud and into the stratosphere. He’s making magic. You’ve lived to pay homage to a consummate genius. Long live the music and your dancing feet.

Unbridled joy. Rekindled energy.

That’s it, you’ve mastered the art of survival and now you’re starting to live again. You must live again. Mindfully.

Some days are wholesome. Peopled with warmth, love and wonder. You’re infused with strength and sweetness. You sit with joy and it knows you by all your names. You feel the universe rallying behind you. The unknown and the unseen cheer you on.

Some days are marred by profound grief. Sad as raindrops on a grave. Bitter and unforgiving. But dear grace continues to carry you. You’re happy to put yourself back to bed and try again tomorrow. With hope, chance and a fresh face.

You sit in awe of the epic war between your heart and your mind.

December, your other boo, is almost here.

There’s so much kingdom left to come!

Power to you, young blood.

Standard
Mental Health

SOULFULNESS

She feels colours,
Sees love,
Smells achievement,
And hears a smile.

Finds bits and pieces of her in unexpected places,
Dances to the beat of her own drum,
Worships rose petals, red lipstick,
And maybe you.

She’s a brave caterpillar,
Alone in the cocoon,
Morphing into the beautiful butterfly.

Ahead of her time,
Yet right on time.

Standard
Mental Health

ALEXA, PLAY SAD SONGS

Deep, heavy sigh.

I made it through yet another day today. I must be so blessed.

Fun fact: I mostly write when I’m sad.

Eavesdropping can knock you off balance. But I’m afraid I might need some character and not just good manners to stop this habit. Overhearing strangers’ conversations intrigues me.

Two strangers at work bickering over another stranger who had gone missing apparently then ended up being found dead, by suicide. It doesn’t get more sickening as they argue over what could have prompted it yet the victim looked very “okay.”

What soul rot.

My happiness was instantly destroyed. My heart fell to the floor. I found myself nibbling on this slice of bread as I struggled to sip my tea, grimacing.

So people think that if others can make it out of bed and into the world there can’t be anything wrong with them mentally? That if you wake up, dress up, smile and slog yourself to the day you can’t be depressed?

What an incredibly polarised view on people’s Mental Health needs! Mental illness does not have a face. It’s very uncultured too. You could lose your loved one (God forbid) and keep your cool, then misplace your pen and become an emotional wreck. There’s really no equilibrium. You might want to be a little more empathetic by not speculating on whatever makes people hold suicidal tendencies or even going further to decide whether or not their reasons are justifiable enough.

A breathtakingly beautiful lady I met at therapy five years ago confessed to me that every time she imagines she took her first breath at birth, she wishes it were stifled. Spooky, right?

Perhaps not.

If you think otherwise, then you are in the bandwagon that is part of the system that is part of a society that perpetuates the most lethal of Mental Health misconceptions: that if somebody seems okay, they must really be okay.

Grossly sad.

Standard
Mental Health

RAINBOW AURA

Last evening I got home, jumped into the shower and washed the day off. As I sat combing through my journal, it struck me how much random people tell me how intelligent I am, and it wrung tears out of my hard heart.

I’m humbled and touched that I apparently come off as a mind blowing smallness of an existence; a blend of daintiness and intelligence. Especially in these absolute historical times that we’re living in, where if I open my mouth, just like you, it’s most likely to decry the pandemic, the foul weather, the off-kilter economy or the state of the nation. Basically this maze we’re lost in.

Last week two strangers coincidentally told me I look seventeen. But I’m a couple of years older than that and feeling blessed that I don’t look a day like my scars.

I still remember how the unjustness of life was sitting heavy on my chest. How good days were just thinly veiled bad days. How I sat with emptiness and it knew me by all my names. How I got tired of praying for happiness so I prayed for a little less pain. How debilitating depression is. How dreaming of better days vexed my spirit, troubled my mind and weighed on my soul.

Sometimes, a lot of times, there’s so much madness underneath the grace. In feigning strength until it’s inked in your bones, in outlasting your demons. But I have mastered the art of survival and now I must learn to live. Because I deserve to live.

Today, in retrospect, I have no solid desire to be called strong. It will be a cold day in hell before I allow myself to be called strong. I don’t want to be called strong in a culture where strength is defined by your ability to hide your feelings in the face of adversity in front of others. In fact, I’m not strong, I’m human. I’ve been here long enough to understand that once the spiritual cuts across the mundane you cannot be modest about how authentic you are.

Once the spiritual cuts across the mundane, you cannot be content with being the gold fish in a fish bowl when you’re a shark in the ocean.

You have no business shrinking just to fit in.

Cheating myself out of happiness by consciously immersing myself in things that force ugliness into my soul is too expensive for me. Way too far-fetched a narrative.

To my younger self, the girl who didn’t know better, I forgive you.

I’ll strive to meditate on my blessings, protect my energy and fill my aura with positivity. I’ll mould this rainbow aura.

The rainbow is a perfect arc of an array of brilliant colours. A symbol of a gleaning hope and promise of brighter days. A blessing in your ventures. An indication that the rains have passed and no fate is insurmountable.

Lifetime praises to my father, the man made of textures deeper than what they’ve been apprenticed to. The man more polished by greater forces than flashy malls. The yin to my yang. My kindred spirit. The best, most doting father and I can only hope to hold even a fraction of his greatness.

Ancestor praises to my father’s mother. The woman who had the most beautiful wrinkles when she smiled, as if her face was the map of her life. The woman whose unflappable philosophy of overcoming everything that came her way still guides me even in her death. The woman who affectionately called me “Wuon par wa” (our father / head of the homestead), one of the most (if not the most) powerful terms of endearment in my culture.

Great indebtedness to my mother and my siblings. Especially to my biggest sister, mother of my favourite nephew. When I grow up I’d like to be a flaming charisma like you. And to my little brother, thank you for the random endless warm gestures of love!

And to this cat that is hell on wheels – she plays too much when my alarm goes off so I never oversleep and get late for work. Daily gratitude.

Profound recognition to my friends. Especially the one who gave me a book to read on our most recent date. May your brain never bicker with mortals. And to the other one, the queen of hugs and holding hands, for answering every frantic call and text with reaffirmations of grace, I see you! And to all the others who are not afraid to be vulnerable with me; the ones who bare their souls to me, the ones who don’t have a single selfish bone on their bodies, I celebrate your strength and sweetness.

Unbounded gratitude to my readership and the general blogosphere, especially the very inspirational Mental Health warriors. Your beautiful comments in solidarity truly hone my brave spirit. Thank you for your courage and raw honesty. From the bottom of my heart, thank you for the candid ruminations on mental illness.

Thank you. Words fail me.

I sincerely hope all of you hang in there. Pitch your tents in the land of faith. Hope. No matter how cliché it sounds. We are the riddle the world is still solving, and we’ll be the reason humanity will take a stance against stigma.

Zealous fervent prayers for each one of you. And me.

May grace continue to carry us.

Standard