We are officially saying goodbye to our ‘May For Women’ series.
It has been an honour working with all these wonderful women and I hope you have learnt a lot too.
We closing off with a topic that is close to my heart and I have written a post about it before: MENTAL HEALTH DOES NOT EXIST
The month of May is also Mental Health Awareness month. So, I hope you will learn a lot from Tumi as she brings us into her journey.
Please do enjoy her interview:
My name is Reitumetse Ngwenya but everyone calls me Tumi. I was born and raised in Qwaqwa, a small town in the Free State but I call Joburg home now.
I’m a 24-year-old digital marketing specialist, a fashion enthusiast, a loving wife, daughter and sister. I am witty and fun, I like to keep things light and, I’m forever laughing.
What type of mental illness are you dealing with?
- I am living with Bipolar type II disorder. I was diagnosed with the illness in 2014 and have been on medication since then.
‘Symptoms of bipolar II disorder include periods of hypo-mania followed by depressive episodes. While it can be normal for people to experience periods of feeling upbeat followed by periods of sadness, in people with bipolar disorder, these mood changes are very extreme.’
What misconceptions exist around your illness?
- Side note: The first thing that comes to mind, which is not really a misconception, is people saying “You are/I am Bipolar” as if it is a state or feeling. It is an illness so when you are referring to someone with the illness it is polite to say “You have/I have Bipolar”.
If I had time, I’d write a novel but I’ll stick to the top 3 that come to mind.
People assume that people with Bipolar are constantly unhinged and experiencing episodes (that is people with bipolar disorder are always either manic or depressed). As soon as you mention to people that you have bipolar disorder they expect you to constantly have mood swings. That is not the case, most girls have mood swings when they are PMSing but this doesn’t mean they have Bipolar mood disorder.
The highs and lows of bipolar disorder are very different from common mood swings. People with bipolar disorder experience extreme changes in energy, activity, and sleep that are not typical for them.
The second misconception that tops my list is that bipolar disorder can be cured through prayer, diet or meditation. It’s frustrating when people perpetuate this assumption! A lot of people who are suffering with this mental illness won’t seek help until it’s too late because of this very false myth.
Bipolar disorder is a lifelong illness and unfortunately there is currently no cure for it. It is possible to lead a normal life while living with the disorder. It can be well-managed with medication and therapy; by avoiding stress, and maintaining regular patterns of sleep, eating, and exercise.
Last one that is kind of a biggy for me is that you have to stop taking medication for bipolar disorder once you feel fine because it’s not good for you. I often get this from a lot of people who are not even close to being medical professionals and it is a cause for concern. A lot of people with severe cases of bipolar disorder are told to take medication but the community tells them otherwise. Then when they stop their treatment the community is surprised when they keep having relapses.
I’ve already mentioned that bipolar disorder can’t be healed it can only be treated and failure to treat it will result in constant episodes that will affect every aspect of your life. I think the biggest thing with the fear around taking the medication is the side effects. However, a good psychiatrist can prescribe combinations and dosages that won’t cause your body to react badly to the medication and if one combination doesn’t work you can always go back and they’ll put you on different treatment.
What challenges do you face?
- The biggest challenge has to be how people treat people with mental health illnesses. It’s still such a taboo that mentioning it in the workplace or around new circles always puts me at a disadvantage because of the aforementioned misconceptions.
I manage my illness very well and with that I am able to live a somewhat normal life. However, I do struggle with stress and if the stress builds up, I do relapse, so my focus is constantly on managing the stress.
I don’t like acting victim to the illness so I tend to not dwell too much on the challenges. It’s an illness I have it’s not who I am.
How would you advise people to support their loved ones dealing with any type of mental illness.
- Sadly, this disorder I have can be damaging to relationships. The moods and behaviors of a person with bipolar disorder affect everyone around—especially family members and close friends.
The common things that family members, friends and partners have to deal with during a manic episode are reckless antics, outrageous demands, explosive outburst and, irresponsible decisions that will have long term effects.
During episodes of depression they have to pick up the slack for a loved one who doesn’t have the energy to meet responsibilities at home or work.
Encouraging the person to get help. The sooner bipolar disorder is treated, the better the prognosis, so urge your loved one to seek professional help right away. Don’t wait to see if they will get better without treatment.
Educate yourself, learn everything you can about the symptoms and treatment options. With this illness, the person you know and love may be a completely different person when they have episodes and, treating the illness like it is an ILLNESS will help you better help them. For instance, in cases where your loved one is acting out of character, knowing about the illness they have, you will call their doctor instead of taking it personally and causing them to lash out more.
Outside of episodes, treating the person like a normal human being is important. People tend to want to limit or control the lives life of people suffering with a mental illness but this can be toxic for the person suffering with the illness. It’s a constant reminder that they have a problem and this alienates them. As long as your loved one is managing their illness and taking their medication, all you need to be is a source of support. Should they need help they will seek your help. Your patience, love, and understanding can play a significant role in your loved one’s treatment and recovery.
I hope we have learnt and we will apply what Tumi has taught us. Let us break the stigma and be supportive of everyone no matter their condition.
Please support her: