Immac Irungu was a normal child until she started acting “weird” at age 23 and threatened to execute her family members. The highs were high, and the lows were really low. She opens up about living life with Bipolar 1 disorder.
My name is Immac Irungu. I am a 28-year-old woman living with bipolar 1 disorder. I work and stay in Nairobi.
I grew up in a knit blended family of five, my real dad did not want anything to do with me. However, I am glad to say that my stepdad, Mr Irungu, filled in the role of a father so well that I did not miss my biological dad at any point.
At what point did you notice you were affected by bipolar 1 disorder?
The year was 2018 when I was 23. I started feeling a high that I could not explain. All of a sudden, I saw myself as a very rich girl who would have bought the entire world. This is called grandiose.
I called my parents and told them I was going to build them a house and take them out of poverty. I also started writing about how much I hated my family on my dad’s side, saying how I was going to execute each and every one of them.
I was delusional. I could hear voices in my head. I was spending so much money on unnecessary things. That was when my parents realised that something was wrong. I was taken to Port Reitz Hospital in Mombasa and was diagnosed with bipolar 1 disorder.
How did it affect you personally?
No one knew what was going on, not even me. My friends left because they thought that I was pretending but in real sense I was sick. People shut me out of their lives and after the manic episode, reality hit and I went into a depressive episode. I was no longer a rich kid as I thought, and it was now back to reality. A reality that was not pleasant. I was filled with suicidal thoughts and I wanted to take my life. I wanted out.
Please describe the physical and psychological effects of bipolar on you
I gain so much weight because of the medicine while, at the same time, I suffer from loss of appetite. Sometimes, doing the small things becomes a challenge. Other times, I feel like I can conquer the world and handle everything that life throws at me. It is a vicious cycle of extreme happiness and sadness all wrapped up in one. Imagine having to fight with your brain daily; your mind tells you do this or don’t do this at the same time.
How did this affect your relationship with your family and others in your social circles?
I lost friends because I disclosed their secrets and no one wanted anything to do with me. When I am in my manic episode, I usually talk what’s in mind with no inhibitions and the aftermath from the mania is bad. Personally, I do not recall what I did to them. I lost family and friends due to my illness. Trying to explain to someone that you were going through a mania is difficult as people in Kenya do not understand mental illnesses and they think you are insulting them.
How did this affect your love life?
I have never been in a serious relationship. However, I have successfully managed to push away every man who has tried to have a serious relationship with me.
At what time did you feel you needed medical care? The very first time I was diagnosed with bipolar 1 disorder, I knew I needed the medication. I have relapsed twice due to not taking my medication. I never thought that at any point in my life I would be on lifetime medication. It still gives me shivers just thinking about it.
How did the medication help you cope with this?
Bipolar 1 disorder is fluctuating moods of highs and lows. The high-highs are known as the manic episodes and the low-lows are depression. The medicines help balance or rather stabilise my moods.
Which other social support system have helped you cope with this issue?
I am in a group called USP of people suffering from mental illnesses that help me know that I am not alone in this. I also have a nuclear family who loves me so much, a family that has never gotten tired of taking care of me and loving me unconditionally regardless of the number of times I have let them down.
Based on your experience, how best should people deal with their family members and significant others suffering from mental disorders?
Love, love and love. Love your members who suffer from mental illness instead of stigmatising them. With proper love, care and attention, you will realise that we are normal people and we function well with the right medication.
What is your parting shot?
I long for the time Kenyans will take mental health seriously and stop the stigma surrounding it. Stop shunning us, stop shaming us and love us like you would love your family members who are ailing from other illnesses.