When you discover a secret, you have two options. I say discover because a secret is not made to be found out, except only by accident. I say when because most secrets are easy to discover, and your two options are pulled by a scale. The lowest end, the part with less weight, the easiest and most humane thing to do, would be to keep it as it were. To leave it be and walk the other way [much like your lecturers when they discover your answers while walking around an exam room]. The second option, and the one that will earn you pats on the back even as you feel like the shittiest person [because unless you are a rock, you will] is what you, as an arsehole will do.
There are two secrets that ruled Newton’s life. The first was kept from him until he was old enough to handle it, though he doubts anyone can ever be old enough to hold the gravity of such a secret. The second one, he kept because he did not know he was keeping it. He did not understand it even though it lived in him.
“I’m bipolar,” he starts. “I recently got an accurate diagnosis from a psychiatrist I have been seeing since February.”
Newton did not grow up with any information about her mother, other than the fact that she was dead. “She passed away when I was a baby. That is all I was ever told whenever I asked my uncle.”
He doesn’t remember half his childhood, and not like you who recalls nothing below the age of 8. “There are moments of time, sometimes very long periods of my life that I do not remember. I used to make fun of it in school. We would be in class waiting for the next lesson and when the teacher came in to start the lesson I would not understand shit because I was basically not around when previous classes were taught. I mean, I sat in for the lesson, but I had no memory of it. I was present but only by my body as an empty shell.”
He didn’t really understand what was happening. The only reasonable explanation for him was that he was a slow learner. “I always thought I was not book smart, but I remembered everything I studied half the time. I just always said I was average.
The first real episode that he remembers was a party. “A friend from school was home alone since her parents had travelled. So she was throwing a party and invited everyone who could come. My uncle was never going to let me go. He never let me do anything, so I didn’t even bother asking for permission.” He snuck out.
“I told my uncle I wasn’t feeling well. Probably a stomach thing because a stomach ache is easier to hide than a headache.” Newton’s Law states that: A stomachache can be feigned by holding onto your abdomen and doubling over, accompanied by just the right facial expression. “A lot of frowning makes you look like you are pooping, and a bit less than required makes parents think you are not really hurting.”
So he snuck out, and went to the party. Only, he didn’t go. “Listen, to help you understand it, you will need to believe this shit. Most people don’t. I went to that party. I swear it. I went there and I met my friends and we had an epic time. EPIC. I know that because I have memories of it happening. I still smell the alcohol from that night. I do.”
When he got to school on Monday, his friends were furious!
“Ah Newt wewe ni mtu bure sana”
“Why sasa? Why would you make us wait on you and you don’t show?”
“Newton man, I always thought you were a solid guy my guy”
“Newt btw mimi I can’t even. I just can’t”
“They were relentless. And I tried telling them that I did not understand what was going on, but before I got the chance to, the bell rang. I was so confused.” They all settled down to class, his mind far from stillness. He wrote a note to his desk mate.
/Jay, kwani what is going on? /
Desk Mate opened the note and shot him a frown. [Not the same as the stomachache one but frowny enough to let him know they were on murky waters] Desk Mate handed him back a note
/Dude, you chezad us bana /
/What did I do? /
/You didn’t show up man. (Frowny face emoji)/
/What do you mean I didn’t show up? I came/
Desk Mate shook his head in disappointment.
“Turns out I never went to the party,” he finally says. “It’s a weird thing, being bipolar. I have episodes where I am irritable and I don’t even know why. Sometimes I am manic, other times depressed, then there are long periods of time when nothing happens. Nothing. And I forget. It takes up to months! There was a time I went for 7 full months. Then I had the worst depressive time of my life. I almost killed myself.”
When he turned 18, his uncle sat him down because he was “old enough” and told him the first secret of his life. “My mother killed herself. They think it was postpartum depression that did her in, but my uncle said she was just like me. She could shift through moods like she was flipping through a flimsy book.”
His mother, bless her heart, did all she could. She had met a man, fallen head over heels, opened up to him about her mental condition and he had said he would love her through it all. He still left. Newton’s uncle does not know when exactly. After he was born, his uncle had dropped by to see his nephew and found his sister in the worst state ever. “He said she looked like she had not had any sleep for weeks. She was distressed. She told my uncle that my father walked out on her because she was “too sad all the time.” Then she asked his uncle to hold him for a minute while she took a shower. She walked into her bedroom and never walked out.
He started making sense of everything he had been going through when he did research on his mother’s condition. He studied everything on post-partum disorder and mental health and particularly bipolar disorder. “There are so many types of bipolar disorder, some don’t even have names one can pronounce as of yet. Each person reacts differently to it. The levels of hyperactivity(mania) and placidity(depression) are different in everyone. It’s all very complex.”
His psychotherapist is heaven sent. They began by unpacking all his unresolved feelings towards his mother. “I started seeing him a few months ago, and I talk to him any time I have an episode. He is amazing at helping me manage my episodes. I learnt that I would forget things I did because I was physically there but my mind was in an episode. That I could be perfectly calm on the outside but be fighting for my consciousness to be one with my body, and that by fighting it, I was sinking deeper into the episode. I am still learning. My therapist says I should learn to let go of everything, and that I should stop trying to act normal, because I’m not.”
Newton had two secrets in his life. The one he hid from the world in his mind, and the one his mother and uncle hid from him. Turns out, it was the same secret.
[May is Mental Health Awareness month and this week, we are learning about Bipolar Disorder. I found a really helpful article by Chiromo Lane Medical Center here. You can read through it to learn more about the disorder, it’s symptoms, and what you can do to help someone in each of the extremes. Stay safe kids]