Mental health issues are still widely misunderstood in our communities. Bipolar disorder is still one of the most misunderstood mental illnesses, with many false ideas and stigmas surrounding the disorder. The disorder is marked by extreme shifts in mood where it can cause your mood to swing from an extreme high to an extreme low. Rephethile Kgwale is the founder of a mental health campaign called “Matters of The Brain” and “I am Not Bipolar” blog. She was diagnosed with bipolar disorder at the age of 19. Thus, we at Vernac News decided to interview her about her journey living with bipolar disorder:
1. Tell us a little bit more about yourself?
My name is Rephethile which means God’s will is done. I was born and raised in Soweto. I am the last born in my family. I was raised to dream beyond and work on my goals. I’m a nurturer who believes in bringing change in society and making sure that others have what they need and not what they want. I’m a communicator who is the voice of the voiceless – a creative at heart.
2. How did you discover that you were suffering from bipolar disorder?
As a child I was often categorised as different and being told that my personality is not understandable. I was an angry child with so many opinions. When I was around 19 I found myself suffering from symptoms I couldn’t describe. I had severe insomnia, racing heart palpitations, hallucinations, uncontrollable mood swings. When I was in university, doing my 2nd year, these symptoms became severe and started changing my daily lifestyle.I knew that something was wrong until I saw my GP who did a few personality tests. I was sent to see a psychologist who examined me and diagnosed me with Bipolar Type 2, which involves periods of depression and periods of elevated mood, called hypomania. He also diagnosed me with Generalised Anxiety Disorder (GAD) which causes severe, ongoing anxiety that interferes with daily activities and Dysthimia, a persistent depressive disorder, which is a continuous long-term chronic form of depression. When I was diagnosed, it became the turning point in my life. I was grateful enough and appreciative to have medical aid and fortunate enough to be admitted to a private hospital.
3. Describe what is it like living with bipolar disorder?
At first, it was a challenge, especially in the early stages. I was prescribed chronic medication that altered my day-to-day routine. I would find myself sleeping for over 10 hours , I was moody and constantly irritated due to the side effects. Currently, I’m living a simple life which moves and plays far away from negative energies and negative situations. Yes the medication helps but there are relapses at times. Mental health is not seen at times. I would be smiling but deep inside, I was hurting. With the stigma attached to mental health, especially in the black community, it didn’t make it easier for me to accept. I lost a few friends, made bad financial decisions, became aggressive and at times found myself isolated, feeling unworthy and so forthcoming.
4. How did the people in your life react when they knew you had bipolar disorder?
My family was fully supportive and finally understood exactly what they’ve been trying to figure out. Living and being raised in the black community, people are often uneducated but rather stigmatised or would label people. My friends didn’t have a problem but I kept losing them and staying in doors because I was scared of judgment. My family is open, so my mum would tell people and friends about my whereabouts. Black society has to be further educated about mental health.
5. How has living with bipolar disorder shaped who you are today?
To read more, be open minded and be accepting of one life’s challenges. I’m learning that life can be challenging and you either die alone or live with other people. I always tell my followers that asking one person in a day could be more than enough. I’m stronger, positive and more vigilant for other individuals’ challenges. It also taught me that mental health is a chronic condition like any other.
6. What are some challenges you have faced throughout your journey?
Judgement, loss of friends, difficulties in keeping a job due to my relapses. Also suffering with GAD makes it even harder to keep up with everyone due to constant anxiety attacks. The journey hasn’t been good. I’ve had days where I would be suicidal because of environmental attributes, relationships and friends.
7. What inspired you to create Matters of The Brain or I am not Bipolar?
At first, it was to tell my story to inspire those who are afraid of coming out. That’s why my blog is called “I’m not Bipolar”. I wanted to reach individuals who want to talk and create a safe space to normalize conversations attached to mental health. Matters of The Brain is the big brand where I focus on interacting with different individuals from different countries. I’ve interviewed individuals from SA, USA, UK, Spain and Canada to mention a few.With these conversations, I wanted to show different cultures that mental health is a universal struggle.
8. What advice would you give to someone facing mental-health issues and, in particular, bipolar disorder?
Speak with someone, particularly a GP. They will have to assess you. Be open minded and start going for therapy because it’s the beginning of a recovery journey. Should you be referred to a psychiatrist, please follow the prescription and take your medication as prescribed. Talk to someone you feel comfortable around such as a friend or family member. I also want to remind those dealing with mental health that there are people like me who are always there to listen and just listen. I’m currently trying medication and biking as my coping mechanisms. Try and find something that will make you feel whole. Avoid Google to misdiagnose yourself. You are a conqueror.
9. What can be done to end the stigma surrounding mental health issues or bipolar disorder?
More conversations within our immediate and broader community. It is as simple as that. The more we talk about these issues, the more we will learn about them.
Rephethile Kgwale, Founder of Matters of The Brain. Matters of the Brain is a non-judgmental platform implemented for those suffering from various mental health issues.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Vernac News.