Monthly profile of An inspirational Peer

Teddy’s story

Looking back, Teddy believes her illness started when she was young. After a case of cerebral malaria, she was taken to medical hospitals, received treatment and seemed to improve. Neither her nor her guardians knew anything about mental illness.

However, when she was in her second year at University, she went to the village for family annual meetings. There she found that all her family were against her, they said she was going astray and criticised her behaviour. As a punishment, all of her hair was cut off. She returned to Kampala feeling so bad, she stayed in bed all day and wouldn’t eat. She cried and felt like she wanted to kill herself. She was supposed to be doing examinations, but she was weak and couldn’t read. She was going to miss them.

Teddy lived with her Auntie in Kampala, who took her to the University clinic. They recognised a mental health challenge and referred her to Butabika Hospital. At Butabika, a psychiatrist asked Teddy about her life story and diagnosed her with Bipolar disorder. She was experiencing a depressive episode and needed treatment.

The psychiatrist also explained to Teddy and her Auntie that Bipolar disorder may run in the family. It can be generational. However, Teddy’s aunt took this badly. She felt criticised and blamed, as if the problem was coming from home. Looking back, Teddy thinks this was a big misunderstanding. Unfortunately, it had repercussions later.

Teddy was admitted to Butabika that day. It was so unsettling to be in a new environment, but she recalls her cousin brother who visited every day, bringing food and new clothes. She says, “he was my consolation”. She stayed in hospital for a month, missing her University examinations. She was prescribed ECT treatment. This is where you are put to sleep and an electrical current is passed through your head to induce a seizure. It is a treatment for severe depression, which can be of benefit to some people. Teddy remembers being put on a bed, and a nurse saying, “Is it ready?”. She didn’t feel anything and hasn’t experienced any side effects. She was told it helps you to get new thoughts.

After a month she was discharged with medication, which she took daily. She was able to return to University and complete her course. However, in the run up to her Uncle’s wedding, which was to be a large event for the whole family, Teddy became overly excited. She was not sleeping and was talking a lot. It was abnormal and increasing on a daily basis. She was brought back to Butabika and admitted with a manic relapse.

After things settled down, she was discharged again. As she was taking lithium, she needed to go for regular blood checks. Everything was becoming expensive, and her Auntie was fed up. It didn’t help that she had felt criticised by the doctor at Butabika – thinking “the problem is at home” – although perhaps this was just a misunderstanding. Teddy was sent away. After living in the house from P5, she felt rejected.

She moved in with another Auntie who said, “you are not sick, you are making yourself sick, this medication is so expensive, it will disturb you, you will not produce”. Lacking family support, Teddy defaulted on her medication. Soon, she was readmitted to Butabika. She felt depressed and was suicidal. She did not feel loved.

At this stage in her life, Teddy decided to join a Missionary group. She was taken to Kenya. They did not know about her mental health challenges, and Teddy convinced herself she was not sick. She didn’t take medication and over the next three years the excitements and depressions would come. At times she would be taken to hospital. Nobody recognised the signs. After three years, her contract terminated, and she returned to Uganda. She felt depressed but did not want to go to Butabika – the stigma was too great to bear. Her brother found her in such a low state at her father’s house that he took her to Bosa Mental Health Unit at Mulago Hospital, crying, “what has happened to my sister?”

This time, on discharge from hospital, Teddy was referred to HeartSounds, a peer support organisation for mental health challenges in Uganda. When she went, she found lively people who were mental health users. Before, Teddy didn’t know anyone else experiencing mental health challenges. Now, she had peers to guide her and counsel her. It helped her so much. She was also chosen to receive training as a peer support worker. She became so active, “I used to say I’m useless, now I saw that I’m productive”. Since then, she has not suffered any more relapses.

Teddy now has a partner who accepts her and supports her, and two children. She is running a successful book making business and takes part in activities for Peer Nation, so she can use her lived experience to help others.

By sharing her story, Teddy has demonstrated that medication for mental health challenges does not affect fertility. She has two healthy children. Also, Teddy is able to provide for her family through her peer support work and business. Finally, she asks for family members and carers of people with mental health challenges to love and support them. Looking back on her first admission at Butabika, she says “if I hadn’t been supported by this cousin brother of mine, life would have been different”.

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