Windhoek-Before being diagnosed with bipolar disorder family and friends of Unathi Hendricks had no idea that the occasional fits of aggression and the subsequent violent behaviour were as a result of a mental disorder.
They could not understand why one moment she would be extremely happy and then suddenly very sad. Everyone called her moody.
Within the streets of her neighbourhood they called ‘Hitman’ or ‘super woman’ for engaging in serious physical confrontations.
Growing up, Hendricks who is now 27 years old could not understand why she would get so angry or easily irritable.
“I did get so angry that I would ask myself why I got that angry afterwards,” explained Hendricks. As time went on, Hendricks’ mother figured there was more to her daughter’s anger fits.
That is when her parents sought medical attention. In 2004, at the age of 14, Hendricks was diagnosed with bipolar.
The medical doctor who diagnosed Hendricks was ‘kind’ enough to go the extra mile in explaining the condition and that it’s “just in the brain”.
“It was hard for me to accept that I have a mental disorder,” said Hendricks as she recalls her journey. She then explains that nobody wants a bad diagnosis.
There is no cure for bipolar disorder, however, the condition can be controlled with medication as well as a healthy environment and a strong support system.
“I didn’t realise how serious and dangerous my condition is,” she adds, recalling the times that she did not properly adhere to the medication.
Those were the times that she had the most fits and often times she would not recall the seriousness of her actions.
As a result, Hendricks was frequently admitted into the psychiatric ward. Today, she strictly adheres to her prescribed medication, which, she takes three times a day.
“I would later discover that I almost killed my brother,” recalled Hendricks. Fortunately, Hendricks’ mother had an understanding of the condition and therefore she was supportive.
However, she also recalled of the times that family members, including her dad remarked that her condition was a result of witchcraft.
“Until today my dad feels its witchcraft. But my question is why do you have to believe in negativity?” she stated. Hendricks finally accepted her condition in 2010, after being discharged from the psychiatric ward on Christmas Eve.
“I told myself I would never go to a psychiatric ward again and until today I have not gone there again,” related Hendricks.
That is because she made a decision that she would do everything possible to live a meaningful life and that meant taking care of her mental health.
She has learnt that a strong support system, in addition to a stress free environment as well as taking her medication as prescribed are the ingredients to living a happy and healthy life.
“The condition can be kept under control. We just need love. We need support,” she said, adding that people with bipolar disorder are just like any other human. The mother of one added that people with the condition belong to society and therefore, they have loved ones.
“Losing one soul like me can do a lot of damage to those close to me,” said Hendricks who fondly spoke of her five year old daughter.
Although, she is no longer married to the father of her child, Hendricks is in a relationship with a supportive partner.
They are her pillars of strength. And, although a simple thing such as a song playing repeatedly can agitate her, both her daughter and partner have learnt how to bring out the best in her.
“My daughter calms me down,” Hendricks says with a smile on her face. She also spoke fondly of her partner as they shared eye contact and exchanged smiles.
“I didn’t actually know what bipolar was,” said the partner. But that meant doing a lot of research on the
condition in order to be a supportive partner.
Hendricks partner tries to gain as much understanding on the condition and thus tries to assist her in the process.
She has devised coping and supportive mechanisms for times when Hendricks has episodes. “When she fights she fights like a man,” said the partner laughing.
Hendricks’ partner further remarked: “In the black community bipolar is for seen as a white people’s sickness. To me she is extra special. For example, she is very focused and she has respect for elders. Her Christian faith is awesome. There are a lot of things that rub off that have changed me to be more responsible. She’s cool. She’s really awesome”.
Even though Hendricks has a strong support system, there are times when depression kicks in.
“Sometimes I really do have major low self-esteem. And then sometimes I have so much confidence that I feel I am me (sic),” she said added.
The netball lover stressed that people with bipolar need to be loved and accepted. There are many people living with the condition in secret for fear of being labelled as ‘crazy’, she adds. In the end, some may end up committing suicide.
“How many people are in prisons for killing someone because they are bipolar and they don’t even know it?” said Hendricks, calling for an end towards discrimination of mental illness.
“I was called ‘Hitman’ and ‘Super woman’ because of the aggression even though I knew it wasn’t normal,” related Hendricks.
Namibia on Wednesday observed World Health Mental Day. The day is observed on 10 October every year, with the overall objective of raising awareness of mental health issues around the world and mobilizing efforts in support of mental health.
The Day provides an opportunity for all stakeholders working on mental health issues to talk about their work, and what more needs to be done to make mental health care a reality for people worldwide.