HOW ARE YOU? I MEAN MENTALLY…
I have wanted to talk about this for some time now. I started off this piece not knowing what to title it but as I wrote on, I came up with something fitting, so maybe you will get my drift as you read on.
Some weeks back I was in the hospital, the reception area was unusually not filled with people. That was a federal government hospital and having a near-empty reception was like the most unexpected thing ever.
A man, most likely in his 30s came through the door, pulling along a woman, old, pale and weak. She looked to me like she was in her 70s. He called her mama so I guessed she was his mum. The hall was quiet, he mumbled what sounded like a good morning and went on to show his mum were to sit. Once she was sitted, he dropped her bags on the bench, close to her. He didn’t sit.
“mama, m na-abia. A pukwala. A gakwala ebe obula. A pukwala ebe a.” He said to her. Translated to mean ‘I am coming. Do not leave. Don’t go anywhere. Do not leave this place’
The woman who seemed as though she did not hear a word of what he said kept looking ahead, she neither looked at him nor nodded, she didn’t utter any word in response too. The man then left, not uttering any other word. Few minutes later mamastood up, I observed she couldn’t stand firmly on her feet. The lady sitting close to her asked her where she was going and she said she wanted to ease herself. As she moved, something fell off from between her legs, it was her diapers. By this time I had started to feel very bad for her, I started to walk towards her, to help her, but the lady sitting close to her was faster and the stream of urine flowing down her legs was yet faster, she couldn’t keep it in, she tried, I could see she tried. She didn’t bend to pick up the diaper, she didn’t even notice it had fallen off. The lady helped her.
The lady helped her to the restroom and in a short while they were back and mama laid on the bench where she dozed off for a short while.
The other patients started to leave one after the other until I was left alone with mama , the lady left too. mama soon woke up and on looking around to find just herself and I in the hall what she said to me is the basis of this write.
“nwa m, e nyewela onyinye?”
She was asking me if it was offertory time already. Oh my! I was lost for some seconds. I didn’t get it until she started to reach frantically for her purse to probably get money for the offertory and started making to stand up . That was when it hit me, mama must have been suffering a mental condition, by my guess she must have been suffering ALZHEIMER’S DISEASE. This condition presents with serious memory loss, disorientation, behavioural changes that are uncalled for and more. This condition has long been associated with age, a disease of the elderly, but recently there have been studies to show that the young could be sufferers too. Although there are other health conditions that could present with these signs but I digress.
At this point, let me mention that the bench in that hall was constructed to look like a church pew, the kind commonly seen in catholic churches and in front just behind the receptionist’s desk there was a platform. I suspect mama’s brain must have interpreted the setting to be a church setting, yea, mental conditions can manifest like that.
When she asked me if it was time for offertory, I noted it was not an appropriate question given our location but I felt playing along would do her better than talking her out of it. So I said “Mba mama, e nyewebeghi onyinye.” I told her that it was not yet time for offertory and I urged her to return her money to her purse. She told me to let her know when it was time for offertory and then she went back to lying down on the bench. I was sad, I was pretty much moved to tears.
Now that I think about it, I wish I had taken my time to explain to her that she was actually in the hospital, awaiting her turn to see the doctor. I wish there was something I could have done there and then to help her out of her condition.
When I was a child, many a time, when there was something too hard to do I would wish I were some sort of magician, I would pray to someday develop superpowers so that I could do things. When I first read the Midas story I wished I could lay my hands on things and have them become whatever I wanted them to be. Maybe this was what inspired my choosing this profession; or not.
Mama’s son practically disappeared after he brought her in. Why? You may ask. He practically dumped the poor woman there and went on his way, probably hoping to come back for her when she must have navigated her way through to seeing the doctor. But he must have known of her condition, sure he did because before he left he told her to remain in the hospital and not go somewhere else, he knew she had that tendency. I can’t speak for him, or to him even, but how do you treat the aged people around you, your aged parents? How about the people with mental conditions of the varying degrees around you?
Nigerians generally are not mentally aware. If you have any kind of mental condition, you are MAD. Here, there are no degrees to mental instability, but if your volatility is mild then YOU NO WELL, if you’re found talking to yourself on any occasion YOU DON KOLO.
I am not talking about the government and our institutional failure, this post is not about that. What do you know about your mental wellness? Are you ignoring the signs? Do you so frequently slide into depression? Do you have manic phases? Post-traumatic Stress Disorder? Anxiety related conditions? Social withdrawal? Suicidal behaviors?
Alzheimer’s and the likes may be excused to be disorders of the elderly and mostly go undiagnosed, unchecked and untreated but these conditions are silently creeping in on the younger population. If you see the signs, go check yourself, if you see the signs in your friends ask them to go check themselves.
Visiting a psychiatrist does not mean you are mad. Fellow Nigerians , Please! LET’S STOP THE STIGMA.
While we heap stereotypes around the mentally unwell, depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, anxiety disorders, dementia and the likes are eating up our younger population, slowly but steadily.
Ask yourself, ‘how are you?’ I mean mentally.