My speech at the International Youth Day Roundtable for government, private sector and youth & #mentalhealth stakeholders

2:00:00 PM

With nominated MP, Hon Mwaura at the roundtable
My life in crime

My name is Sitawa Wafula, a notorious criminal. I call myself notorious because it is a crime to have a mental health condition in Kenya and I happen to have a dual diagnosis of epilepsy and bipolar.

Today I am here to surrender my weapons of crime which have been paper and pen for the last 10 years and share some of my writing. I will start with my recent entries, Friday last week, I got 4 consecutive seizures and I was rushed to Aga Khan Hospital and given medicine then discharged. Having been a veteran criminal I know which medicine works and which one doesn’t, and Valium isn’t in my good books. So I woke up hallucinating on Saturday I went to get my meds tapered down which didn’t happen. On Sunday I went to Nairobi Women in Adams and unfortunately I got a seizure and despite my friends warning them against Valium they injected me and I became violent when I woke up and almost beat up the doctor so we were kicked out of the hospital. We proceeded to Nairobi Hospital to see if my meds can be tapered down but again I got a seizure and the same thing happened, first they wanted to admit me then they asked that we go to a cheaper hospital like Avenue Hospital before kicking us out. We went home and I went to Avenue on Monday, on my own only to get another seizure (I think i am allergic to hospitals) and they tricked me that we were going to where meds are tapered down and locked me in the psychiatric ward, I was still high on the drip they put on me, I can’t remember what I agree to or not. As I sat in my room, all devices confiscated, thinking that no insurance company will insure me without a one year waiting period because of my condition, I wondered what rights I have as a lady with a mental health condition. Then I remembered, I am a notorious criminal and criminals have no rights in his country.

Avenue Hospital Psychiatric Ward lock
As I surrendered to that fact, I started recalling how I became a criminal. I was raped at age 18 fresh from high school, I did not have anyone to talk to about my ordeal, and the fact I did not have any information on what to do and what not to do I relied on what my 18 year old mind saw best, to keep quiet. I got depressed, I was suicidal, dropped out of Actuarial school in the University of Nairobi and later on in life, I was fired from a job because I fell on a client when having a seizure. I have lost friends, lovers have deserted me and at some point I lost my purpose in life and all this time, living from misdiagnosis to misdiagnosis, being pumped on zombifing medication, I wondered why me?

So I write this to society to inform you that epilepsy and mental health conditions can affect anyone at any time, that they are no respecter of persons, race, tribe,  religion, social standing. I write to let you know that the stigma and discrimination you give lowers our esteem, makes us feel less. I write because despite having a dual diagnosis, I remained human, with human feelings and emotions, I still have dreams and ambitions and so I write to show my humanness and ask to be seen as a human being first and not a walking illness, I am not epileptic, I am living with epilepsy, I am not bipolar, I have bipolar. I am not my illness but a beautiful powerful woman and I write because that's what I want people to see me as.

I write to ask my president, if he had intelligence that 10 million Kenyans are in danger, would he sit back in is armored vehicle or would he drop everything and address the issue? WHO states that one in every four people will experience a mental health condition in their lifetime, this narrows down to each and every household in this country will have a brush with depression, bipolar, schizophrenia, anxiety disorders and drug and substance disorders meaning we are breeding 10 million criminals in Kenya.

I write this to let the government know that my constitution entitles me to the highest attainable health services something that looks good on paper but not in reality because everywhere I go, they point at me, label me Mathari case and refer me to Mathari Hospital. I would like to access this services at my primary health facility, if they can offer maternity, VCT and sometimes cancer screening, they can do psychosocial. I write to ask my government to give legislation in this sector, we need a Mental Health bill and board, we need our rights, opinions and consent to admission in hospitals and receive treatment respected, we need our rights to own and manage our own property respected, we need to be protected from sterilization by our families? We need you to shout about mental health, to shout about it in our streets, in our media, in your discussions. You can project growth and make development plans; Vision 2030 and Post 2015 agendas but if we as the young people who are meant to bring those plans to life aren't mentally healthy, you plan in vain. We need you to set up support systems in every health facility because each day, something traumatic happens in this country and we rush to give physical care and forget follow through psychological care then sit in shock when a man hacks his whole family and himself.

I specifically write this for my tribe, all the people living with epilepsy and mental health conditions to let you know that it is not a crime to have a mental health condition or epilepsy, we are children of this universe, we have a right to be here, we should not live at anyone's mercy, we should enjoy life, have dreams, be in touch with this universe and what is happening in it because that's the essence of life, is not to survive, not to glide through but to be present so be present as much as you can. Accept your diagnosis, adhere to your medication, get a support group, know your triggers and limitations then go out there and be present. Know your diagnosis, accept it, join a support group, tell your own narrative and be present.

Lastly, I write this to the world to let it know that there are positive African mental health narratives and I am one of them. I am Sitawa Wafula, a beautiful powerful woman who loves the fine things in life and just happens to have epilepsy and bipolar. I believe in an Africa where people with epilepsy and mental health conditions and their family receive information and appropriate support and I will keep telling my story and giving them the info and support I have because I know more than anything all I needed to get here and where I am going is through access to information and support. I write to the world on behalf of those who are not brave enough to fight for what is rightly theirs, on behalf of those who have been subjected to all forms of stigma and discrimination, those who have had their hands amputated because they rot after weeks of chaining, on behalf of all children who grew up in abusive families and are now addicted to the drama or can't handle their anger issues. I write on behalf of the hopeful young people who are beginning the journey of chasing the wind, who might depend on drugs and alcohol to keep up and attempt to end their lives when they realize the wind is an illusion and will have no outlets and youth friendly facilities and services help them. On this day I write that we won't emphasize on the er; bigger than, better than, faster than, but on understanding self and the creating systems to enhance the person to grow in their environment living their own dreams and not other people's dreams. I write for everyone under the sound of my voice that you will understand that mental wellbeing is the beginning and end of all we do and all we are, that we need to jealously guard that fact through establishing and implementing policy, being each other’s support systems, changing our attitudes towards those with mental health conditions, passing info and taking time off to enjoy life. I write because I want to start a legacy of a positive African mental health narrative because all we hear and see are negative horrific stories and from that day to this day, I am still writing and living that legacy.

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  1. Hey Sitawa, this is a powerful and inspiring have our solid support always..