Redefining My Life After Depression

At the prime age of 35 years in 2014, Esther Ogonda was diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes. As a professional nutritionist, she was confident of managing the disease by maintaining a good healthy diet and lifestyle, even though she was already living the recommended way. The frequent routine medical checkups including the constant finger pricking to monitor her blood sugars at home, while constantly thinking of what to eat, proved not to be ‘a walk in the park’ as she had expected. Unbeknownst to her, a normal routine health checkup for health insurance purposes would usher in a new chapter in her life; the beginning of her 18 month journey with clinical depression.

The months that followed after her diagnosis became so lethargic, that she struggled to complete even the simplest of tasks. Esther commends her boss at her former workplace for being understanding. She lost taste in life and was often incoherent. Her drastic, unintentional loss of close to 20kgs in weight got tongues wagging with speculations being formed about what was ailing her. Grooming herself became a herculean task. “A number of times I walked out of my house for church or work without even oiling my body. Thank God my unkempt hair was often hidden in my dreadlock style”. She cut off most social interaction and found companionship in solitary places, including her bed. Esther just wanted to be by herself and wallow in self-pity for feeling like a failure.

Yet to an ordinary person, Esther was living the life many would dream of; a good international job with an NGO, a good family with a great husband, a lovely child and life outside her home country. She even resided in an affluent suburb where the executives and other dignitaries of that country often visited. This public health nutritionist knew she had hit rock bottom when she contemplated suicide. “I found myself planning and thinking of my death several times, but I couldn’t muster up enough courage to execute any of the ideas that crossed my mind. Overdosing on my diabetes medication or stabbing myself with a knife were options I toyed around with.” In her mind she imagined about what would happen after her death; her funeral, distribution of the little material wealth she had acquired at that time and hence the need to write a will of what she wanted done.

Specialists say you need only three of these symptoms for a period of over two weeks to be classified as clinically depressed: fatigue, feeling worthless or low self-esteem, insomnia, irritability, loss of interest in social activities, suicidal thoughts, and loss of appetite or overeating (unhealthy food). Esther had all these symptoms and more. “I struggled in every area of my life; my career, personal life, marriage, social life, you name it…”

According to Simon Kahonge a consultant psychiatrist, there are many factors which make one vulnerable to depression. Thus influencing the disease process, management and outcomes. There is a thin line between sadness and depression, perhaps that’s why most people suffering this condition are often advised to either pull up their socks, snap out of it, man up or to stop thinking about themselves. But it’s easier said than done as Esther explains. “Sadness is lighter and depends on something said, not said, done or not done while depression is heavier and more chronic. Sometimes one cannot pinpoint its exact source.” Dr. Kahonge explains that sadness can occur as a variation of mood or emotions on a day to day basis without depression, while in depression one of the symptoms is persistent sadness.

Besides suffering from diabetes, Esther had other personal things she was struggling with in her life, like feeling let down by a close family member she had looked up to. Her dreams of having a big family as she had envisioned were becoming harder by the day because she couldn’t conceive a second time. “If without diabetes I had to wait for seven years whiletrusting God for the fruit of my womb before I got my first born child, then how much longer would it take to get my second child?” She associated her secondary barrenness to diabetes which according to experts can cause ovulation complications and unpredictable menstrual cycle. This according to her could also have been a trigger to her depression subconsciously. In all this, Esther’s husband proved to be a reliable support system, helping and caring for  her in all ways.

Esther needed a resurrection from what she calls her emotional and spiritual death. She was determined not to be a statistic but to rise above this illness that affects many people today, leaving a good proportion vulnerable. The raising point came with two deaths that happened three weeks apart: that of an uncle who succumbed to diabetes and blood pressure and her dear friend that happened through a tragic road accident. Both were part of her support system with her uncle being an advisor on diabetes management, while the friend was among the very few people she had confided in during her depression season. “I learnt that many healthy persons like my good friend can die within a twinkle of an eye. Depending on how I handled my chronic condition, I could also succumb like my uncle.”

In the beginning, she had associated the diabetes medication to her ballooning problems and it was only after attending a counselling course organized by her church that Esther was able to understand where the problem was. “The live again counselling course taught me to recognize and manage my thoughts and emotions, forgiveness and reconciliation among other issues.The course also had a pairing up and listening to each other exercise session, something akin to group therapy which is one of the important treatment regimens for depression. “The idea of talking to each other, with the intention of listening and validating a person, while not figuring out how to advise them, was insightful and helpful.” Towards the end of the 18 months of her ailment, Esther got a new job which was most welcome because it fell in line with her recovery plan. She surrounded herself with support from family and a few friends although just like her, they didn’t understand what was ailing her.

Stigma around depression either due to spiritual, cultural believes or superstition needs to be broken down. This has led to people suppressing their feelings lest they are perceived to be weak, making matters worse, and resulting in a surge in suicide rates especially in men. Dr. Kahonge says there is a lack of understanding by the general public that the mental illness manifestation in change of behaviour and interpersonal relationships is due to the disease process in the brain. Studies show that about 30% depression is genetic while 70% is environmental. Esther says she may never know if the illness runs in her family because of the secrecy, mystery and stigma surrounding it. No one has come out to talk about it apart from her. Experts also say that depression occurs with other illnesses such as cancer, arthritis, alcohol addiction or lung diseases. It is prevalent among those with non-communicable diseases like diabetes which Esther suffers from.

Esther and her sister

Although Esther did not take any medication, she agrees with experts that medication as well as talk therapy is the best cure depending on the individuals’ diagnosis, “You cannot walk alone because dark days are definitely assured. Get one person you completely trust and confide in them. You need to be in a group or have that one person that will crawl, walk, cry, laugh and testify with you through the process.” She stresses that intervention cannot just be given by anybody; “counseling should come from the right place with the right person, not necessarily from friends or a faith or religious community. In as much as they may want to help, they may not be the best equipped, or they may not necessarily be willing to walk with you. A professional counsellor with a holistic approach is the most important.”

Now blessed with another daughter less than 3 months old, Esther has learnt to manage her lifestyle by preventing stress as she continues to make healthy choices. Her healing process would have been faster had she known what she was suffering from, thus her resolve to be a depression awareness ambassador. Being shy and relatively quiet by nature, sharing her journey with depression was not easy. It threw Esther out of her comfort zone, yet telling her story is not only a form of release and therapeutic for her, but she hopes it will help the next person. “I look for the good even in tragic experiences. I have become more understanding and non-judgmental also. My struggle with depression has made me a stronger and better person.”

This Article Has 9 Comments
  1. Jennifer Kambua Ndini says:

    Eye opener-Thanks Esther & Stella.

  2. Wilbrodah orina says:

    I know Esther at personal level. Her recovery story is amazing and a game changer in dealing with diabetes and depression. This amazing lady shares her story openly with a characteristic smile that makes you not only want to listen but also eager to discover the force behind her courage.
    From Esther I have learnt that one can overcome any mountain. For anybody who is in her shoes, right here are steps you can follow.
    Thank you for sharing this story

  3. Linda says:

    Wow, I am glad you are well now Esther. Thanks for sharing. I would never have known what you have been through even though we keep in touch and laugh on phone or SMS. You are brave. May God bless you as you seek to help others in similar situations.

  4. Eve Rajula says:

    Keep it up Esther. I hope many people who suffer from depression will come to read this article. Depression can manifest in several ways.

  5. Jayson says:

    Thanks for sharing.

  6. Kalekye says:

    Thanks Esther for sharing your inspiring story.

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