Photo credit: Thumbi Mwangi
An active mental health educator, Sitawa has been recognized globally and within Kenya for the unrelenting work that she does to create awareness and change the stigma around mental health, in her country, Kenya and for the rest of the continent of Africa. The Engage Africa Foundation team is delighted at the opportunity that Sitawa has given us, to learn more about her work and how people can better manage bipolar disorder:
- Tell us a little about yourself
My name is Sitawa Wafula, a blogger/founder - My Mind My Funk (Www.mymindmyfunk.com), a Google Award winning blog which provides people in Africa with the necessary information and support to not only handle mental health conditions but also deal with everyday life. I am also a nomadic mental health crusader, using a storytelling tour - Akili ni Mali ( Swahili for Mind is Wealth) - to spark conversations about mental health across Africa.
What is it like, to have bipolar disorder?
I think it's like having any other diagnosis only that this one is misunderstood thanks to general ignorance and stigma on mental health. At first it was hard to keep up with the mania and depression, I used a lot of negative coping mechanisms like alcohol and had a lot of self stigma, most of the times asking myself why this had to happen to me. With time, knowledge, getting a treatment plan that works for me and being around therapies and support systems that uplift me, it has become so much easier, I can do the things I love - travelling, speaking and writing...it is like I don't have the diagnosis anymore.
When you were diagnosed in Kenya, did you feel you were given adequate tips and maybe, medication, on how to manage the disorder? If no, how did you still go about managing it?
The way I was 'introduced to bipolar ' is part of the reason I began my awareness activities and My Mind My Funk. The doctor gave the diagnosis, prescription and next clinic day. There was no mention of the side effects of the medication or some of the things one goes through when in mania or depression, the guilt that follows, the suicidal ideation just based on the diagnosis and medication. I did a lot of research though most of the content wasn't African based or had a lot of jargon (things I counter through my blog, making the content for an African audience and make it as social as possible), I had a lot of trial and error before getting a treatment plan and therapies that work for me including my faith, learning my body and myself, my limits and triggers as well as the things and spaces that lift me up, sharing through my blog which became a release and online journal helped a lot through the journey. I am at a much better space now compared to when I began this journey.
You continue to tour Kenya and overseas, to break the stigma and raise awareness on mental health issues. What are a few experiences that you consider as highlights of such tours?
I did a month long speaking tour in the US sometime back and it was interesting for me to see that mental health is a struggle everywhere and we all need to actively come up with solutions for our contexts considering the social and cultural backgrounds of a people. Another highlight from that was discussing mental health with Caitlyn Jenner (https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=YUu0kvu9cEw). I just concluded the Kenyan round which saw me do 11 sessions totalling 15+ hours of storytelling and 3500+ KMs in road travel across 6 counties in Kenya and one thing that struck me is how people came for the one on one sit downs and tell me that they were about to share something they have never shared before. It was such a humbling experience that made me see that people are looking for safe spaces and a listening ear and we need to all come together and create those spaces in our homes, offices, schools, places of worship.
Mental health healing and management has to do with all health - including diet. Please share with us, your favourite healthy Kenyan foods.
I agree there is a correlation between food and our mental wellbeing and would like to point out that our mental wellbeing is not as a direct result of eating or not eating certain foods...I get that a lot especially since I am a vegetarian. My favourite healthy Kenyan foods have to be the traditional vegetables, Kunde, Managu, Terere and some Ugali, I also love Chapati and Ndengu.
How can people connect with you (social media, website etc)?
They can subscribe to my blog, www.mymindmyfunk.com to keep up with me as well as get information and resources on mental health in Africa. They can also order my merchandise there which comes with info packs of my journey from rape, epilepsy and bipolar to running a Google award winning blog, running Kenya's first free mental health and epilepsy support line and travelling around the globe to spark mental health conversations as well as information on epilepsy and mental health.
Thank you, Sitawa!
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About the author:
Chiamaka Mogo is a Nigerian and the Manager of Engage Africa Foundation's Hitting Home Series. She is also a social justice advocate, blogger (http://blurredcreations.com) and Public Administration graduate from the University of Ottawa, Canada.