Tynika James photographed at the Queen’s Park Savannah. Photography by Mark Lyndersay.
I am writing this on a morning when leaving the house is the most challenging task for the day. I am consumed by an extreme feeling of lethargy and a lingering sense of sadness. I am fully dressed, lying on my bed and trying desperately to pull myself together.
During moments like these I question everything – my life, my purpose, my abilities and my ability to function. I am preparing to step into a society that does not understand what feeling unwell means to me. How do I say to those around me that I am struggling? I mean, I’m well dressed, made up and accessorized – I look great! To say that I feel contrary to how I look will only draw expressions of skepticism and dismissive tones from most.
I began my mental health advocacy a year ago when I grew tired of suppressing my thoughts, emotions and my diagnosis. In fact, that habitual bottling of thoughts and emotions, copious servings of life stress and the blanket of secrecy I attempted to hide under contributed to the worsening feelings of despair, depression and anxiety that characterised my illness.
After seven years of silence, I finally found my voice and it says that sometimes I feel happy, sad, anxious, hypomanic, hyperactive and lethargic.
I live with bi-polar disorder. It is a chronic and complex brain disorder that is characterised by sudden changes in mood, energy and activity levels. Admittedly, it gets the better of me on some days and severely hampers my ability to function.
There are many persons diagnosed with bipolar disorder and I can safely speak for most of us when I say that living with this condition is very challenging!
When I was diagnosed, I was left shattered, traumatized and discouraged and struggled for a long time to accept it. It was quite a blow which was made more painful by the shame and stigma that usually and unfortunately accompany any mental illness. What effect will this have on the life and career that I desired?
Despite the burden of these feelings, I focussed on increasing my knowledge and understanding of the illness in order to develop strategies to manage it and as best as possible minimize the symptoms. A breakthrough point came when I acknowledged my symptoms as entities separate and apart from the individual that I was and hoped to be. The more I became informed and better able to cope with my illness, the desire within me to combat the mental health taboo and be of help to others grew.
Despite my many efforts, my voice says that it is challenging to live in a society where mainly lip service is paid to mental health and where inadequate resources are given to those institutions tasked with advancing public education on mental health and assisting those battling various illnesses.
I serve to amplify the sentiments of thousands of individuals who struggle through the symptoms of their illnesses and wrestle with the inconveniences brought on by the side effects of pharmaceutical interventions.
We are individuals filled with competence and industry like any ordinary members of the public even though we battle ‘invisible’ challenges daily. It is therefore imperative that serious consideration be given to the reframing and implementation of the mental health policies that exist, if at all, in our workplaces and learning institutions.
Individuals with mental health challenges need safe spaces to function and require additional support. We need our homes, schools, places of work and communities to be more conducive to our needs and I am confident that responding adequately to our needs is a sure way to extract the valuable contributions that we can make to our communities and by extension our country.
My voice also says that as individuals we also have a responsibility for our physical and mental health. In my efforts to combat the negative impacts of daily stressors, I place extreme significance on selfcare inclusive of nutrition, exercise, mindfulness, meditation and prayer; anything that promotes good overall health. Any combination of these activities helps to keep one grounded and enhances feelings of positivity and wellbeing.
Part of my advocacy work has been to encourage individuals to adopt healthy coping mechanisms and to seek psychological, emotional, physical and spiritual wellness. This is the only way that we can continue to thrive and overcome our challenges.
Challenges will always be a feature of our lives and they require us to display some measure of endurance and perseverance. Many of us have lost the fight against mental illness – buried under feelings of isolation, worthlessness and emotional pain. For many of us these feelings are quite common and are often perpetuated by the lack of care and understanding by the general population.
It is for that reason, I hold a deep concern for the mental health of our children and adolescents. They are a large fraction of our society that are voiceless and therefore most vulnerable when they experience major mental health challenges. On their behalf, I ask that we pay more importance to the development of mental health programs for children.
I ask that parents and guardians make the effort to build their knowledge of the psychological and emotional needs of their charges in order to heighten their vigilance in assessing when they are in of need help. I ask that anyone tasked with the responsibility of caring for children be effectively trained to identify signs/symptoms and support our children through these challenges. They need your support and they need to know that you care.
Thank you to family and friends whose help has been key in the navigation of my own challenges. Your care, concern and ability to support the coping mechanisms I have developed and the work that I do, has made it possible for me to uplift myself and others. Thank you to my heavenly Father for your grace, strength, peace and for my voice!
I say thank you the individuals and organizations who continue to advocate for and support those of us with mental health challenges. Through your work, awareness is raised and the conversations surrounding this global epidemic, continued. Together we can work towards eradicating the stigma so that many more of us will have the confidence to seek help and more lives will be improved and saved.
Sponsors: Dale McLeod, Jacqueline Scott, Starlite Collection, Sacha Makeup, JB Fernandez Memorial Trust II.