At a very young age, I could remember feeling extra restless during colds and catarrhs. Even younger, my parents told me I had to be taken for long rides in the car to stop me from crying. In both instances, what really helped was open space-the ability to move about and feel the open space, and even in certain cases sleep in the open air relieved my bouts of restlessness.
Then I grew older, I got into secondary school - interestingly, I remember having bouts of restlessness just once after I had contracted malaria. The period of restlessness and anxiety lasted for about four days; and during this period, I couldn’t sit at one place. I had to always walk around. Even worse, was the thought of sitting between people and behind in public transport vehicles.
As I grew older, the incidence of restlessness increased. This time around, it did not necessarily have anything to do with restlessness from colds or catarrh or phobias from enclosed spaces, but generally, bouts of restlessness which pushed the urge to keep away from stuffy rooms, heat, and even clothing which to my judgement prevented me from feeling comfortable.
These symptoms worsened when I began postgraduate studies outside Ghana. I, unbelievably, caused quite a stir on a 13-hour flight from Frankfurt, Germany to Osaka, Japan.
I had been given a middle seat and that feeling of entrapment - the need for going out into the open air reared its ugly head. I couldn’t contain it and even went to the extent of drawing the attention of cabin crew for a possible emergency landing. It took the intervention of a member of the crew, a lovely German lady to calm me down by inviting me to the back of the plane for a long conversation. It dawned on me after that experience that I needed to seek medical attention.
Sadly enough, I never took the initiative to seek medical attention because my bouts of anxiety disorders were intermittent, and during periods of normalcy, I wasn’t motivated enough, until I relapsed. The incidence of anxiety and panic attacks increased between 2011 and 2016, during my long periods of study which began with Japan and ended in the UK. By this time, I had gotten to understand my situation quite well and understood the underpinnings of my anxiety disorders. The following have been my observations:
- My panic attacks were triggered by the small nature of rooms I stayed in as a student
- My bouts of anxiety increased while I was outside Ghana because I lacked that kind of constant family affiliation I enjoyed back home
- My heightened stress levels were triggered by long periods of academic work, and also compounded by the lack of modes of distressing
- My only source of hope was the fact that prayers will pull me through in times of extreme anxiety
Back in Ghana, I got employed as an academic with a university for two years and I never recalled having anxiety attacks. It all came back when I lost my job and was financially insecure - another revelation and confirmation that my form of disorder was fuelled by uncertainty and insecurities in life.
Although I had seen a general practitioner once or twice during my period of study in London, UK, I finally sought psychological counselling in Ghana in late 2016. The psychologist helped me to get a deeper understanding of my situation. My family history shows that an Aunt from my maternal side had similar symptoms, and so does my mother. She confirmed that she experienced bouts of anxiety, especially during pregnancy. My sister has similar symptoms and so does one brother. So the diagnosis is that my form of anxiety disorder is genetically and not socially-conditioned, and is more a form of generalized anxiety disorder.
Folks, I have almost seen it all with generalized anxiety disorders. The sad thing is it has taken me and my family close to thirty years to dissociate any form of spiritual connections to this form of mental illness, and accept it is; a mental health condition. In our part of the world, we are touted to be extremely religious, and as I earlier noted, my hold on spirituality was what pulled me though the bouts of anxiety while I was outside Ghana. This is what is lacking in the developed countries where most people with anxiety and depression have almost nothing to hold on to when everything human fails. Hence the high levels of suicides we hear of and sometimes witness in UK, Japan and elsewhere.
On the other hand, we (Ghanaians), irrespective of our spirituality, are losing out because we attach spiritual interpretations to almost everything, including mental health. This makes families and individuals who have these problems suffer quietly, and die within if even they do not end up committing suicide. I view this as a huge disservice to ourselves. There is a great need to break the myths surrounding mental health, and I want to do everything in my small capacity to cause a change in this regard. Spirituality is good, but common sense should guide our sense of religiosity, and even more spirituality.
So this is why I write, that somewhere in Ghana, someone with similar experiences with anxiety disorders will read this and gain the confidence enough to share their story; at least, so that our mental health practitioners can gain data to improve their practice in the Ghanaian society and more importantly that that person may connect with others like him/herself to make their survival less painful. I have survived, but someone may not.
My Name is Ekow. I am a member of Otherslikeme#. Like our page on Facebook, get in touch with us and let’s help to support Ghanaians with anxiety disorders and depression.
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