This is what it’s like to be a mum with bipolar disorder

Jackline Ruguru

Jackline Ruguru an avid mental health advocate during the interview at Roasters hotel in Nairobi on September 29, 2020 after unknowingly battled Bipolar mood disorder type 1 for 36 years.

Photo credit: Lucy Wanjiru | Nation Media Group 

What you need to know:

  • As a young girl in school, Jackline Ruguru often got into trouble with authority due to her unexplained bouts of energy.
  • Even into her adulthood, Jackline lived on this wave of hyperactivity and at the age of 21 she got married.

Jackline Ruguru’s courage and hyper activeness had always been a source of admiration from friends and family. Little did they know that she was fighting something completely different than they imagined.

The 36-year-old describes her life as full of daring moments that her parents and friends would term as attention-seeking’ .

As a young girl in school, she often got into trouble with authority due to her unexplained bouts of energy that would often drive her to do things her peers would not do.

“I remember I would often stand in front of moving buses at a pedestrian crossing or walk at the edge of a high balcony just to enjoy people watching me and being scared for my life. At these moments I would feel a rush of adrenaline and would enjoy it,” she explains.

Even into her adulthood, Jackline lived on this wave of hyperactivity and at the age of 21 she got married. Initially, the union was blissful but a few years and two children later, fights took over the matrimonial home.

“My ex-husband started drinking heavily and would come home at 11 pm. Instead of addressing the matter, I chose to retaliate and would come home at 2am. If he came the following day, I would come home after two days. The marriage did not last long after that and we separated in 2011,” she recalls.

Unnecessary outbursts

While her marriage was in shambles, Jackline would have unnecessary outbursts on colleagues at work for the most mundane offenses.

“No one, even my bosses would tell me anything and this led to many disciplinary cases. Although my work was extremely good, people were afraid to work with me and I would be deployed from one office to another because of my crazy mood swings,” she explains.

Jackline lived carefree life. Her in-laws took her two boys from her and instead of opposing, she did not bother at all. In fact, she moved to a smaller house now that her children were away.

“I do not know what kind of parent I was. For four years, I lived like I did not have children. I hardly ever called to check on them and I even went further to alienate myself from my entire family.”

Depressed

With no children around, there was no sense of responsibility anymore. She developed a habit of taking loans and would spend it in four days holding parties and lavishing herself with extravagant objects.

Throughout this time, people saw Jackline as jovial but what they did not know was that she was extremely depressed. She would often cry the entire night and by morning she was back to her normal self.

“I would not understand how I could cry through the night and be extremely okay in the morning. It did not make sense so I started using bhang to control my emotions and I would smoke the whole night and go to work in the morning like a new person,” she recalls.

Jackline was in a terrible place. She was heavy in debt, had not paid her rent for months and could no longer keep up with her lavish lifestyle. This was further made worse when her children were returned to her in 2016 after one year at her former in-laws. Out of options, she resorted to suicide as the best solution.

Endless suicidal thoughts

For the next couple of months, Jackline was consumed with endless thoughts of killing herself and often debated which ways would be easier to die. She even thought of her sons and who would take care of them.

“I did not want my children to suffer when I was gone so I also included them in my death plan and in November 2017, I was ready to put my plan into action,” she said.

In a hotel room in Karatina, Jackline dosed her sons’water bottles with rat poison which she hoped they would drink once they woke up. That morning, Jackline woke up early and looked at her sons who were still sleeping. In her heart, she knew this was the day to end all her suffering and stop being a menace to her family and friends.

“It was around 4 a.m. so I decided to text three of my friends explaining my decision. I told them I was tired of life and I would not take it anymore. I knew they would not see the messages until it was too late and we were gone,” she recalls.

After sending the messages, Jackline went to the bathroom and by the time she came out, she found her eldest son speaking on her phone. An enraged Jackline took the phone, hang up the call and told him to drink his water.

“I was so upset at my son for picking the call because it would disrupt my plans. Apparently, my phone had been ringing endlessly when I was in the bathroom and my son decided to pick it up,” she said.
In the short phone call, the son, who was oblivious of his mother’s plans, had told Jackline’s work colleague, Irene, where they were. To Jackline, that meant there was no time to waste – the boys need to drink their water now.

“I woke up my youngest and told them to quickly drink their water. For some reason, my eldest saw I was upset and instead of drinking his water, he went to the bathroom shortly and they both went back to sleep without drinking anything,” she said.

At this point, Jackline’s mind was racing. Irene called again and said she was coming with the police unless Jackline stops whatever she was doing. Within minutes, the door to the hotel room was opened and Jackline’s suicide plan was thrown out the window.

Jackline Ruguru

Jackline Ruguru an avid mental health advocate during the interview at Roasters hotel in Nairobi on September 29, 2020 after unknowingly battled Bipolar mood disorder type 1 for 36 years.

Photo credit: Lucy Wanjiru | Nation Media Group 

Back to work later that week, Jackline was made to appear before human relations where she was given one ultimatum – go to therapy or get fired. With no easy way out, Jackline chose to attend daily therapy sessions at Mediva Wellness Centre in Thika which was close to where her parents lived.

Initially, Jackline was not cooperative with the therapy sessions. She often went late and as a result, not much progress was made. “I would deliberately go to the session 15 minutes to the end so I did not get the help I needed. I was only doing it not to get fired,” she said.

Three weeks after her suicide attempt, Jackline got into an altercation with her mother who would no longer put up with her manipulation. She reached her breaking point, snapped and went on an endless rant.

All this time, Jackline was thinking how she would take a machete and hack her mother to death. The only thing stopping her was the presence of her father, whom she knew she could not overpower.

Unable to respond to her mother with the violence playing in her mind, Jackline left her parental home in the dead of the night and started walking. She walked for over five kilometres.

“I was like a mad person on the road. I was crying and talking to myself. It was this point that I knew I needed proper help and not just daily walk-in therapy sessions. I needed to be admitted. I walked to Mediva Clinic, where I checked myself in as an inpatient,” she recalls.

It was here that she was diagnosed with Bipolar Mood Disorder Type 1 and admitted for three months while receiving treatment. “It was difficult for me to accept that diagnosis but after being taken through the symptoms everything started to make sense,” she recalls.

Emotional roller-coaster

Clinical Psychologist Mercy Chege explains that bipolar mood disorder is often associated with two main symptoms – mania and hypomania. While experiencing mania, a person with bipolar disorder experience an emotional high where they feel excited, full of energy, impulsive, and have exaggerated euphoria.

In the case of Jackline, this was further exhibited when she would go on spending sprees, daring stunts, and engage in drug use.

On the other hand, during hypomania Ms Chege explains that patients often experience feelings of emptiness, insomnia, depression, and suicidal thoughts.

“This emotional roller-coaster is what affect families the most. During the manic phase, the individual may engage in fights, get into heavy debt due to poor impulsive financial decisions, be abusive to their partners and children, or even get in legal problems,”.

“On the other side during hypomania, the person may be suicidal and a danger to others especially children. This consequently becomes a stress factor to the family which often leads to broken families and relationships,” she added.

Ms Chege points out that without proper care for both the patient and their family, the experience may be a predisposing factor for other family members, including children, developing mental conditions such as depression due to constant burnout.

“As such, psychologists always advocate for treatment for the entire family, who are often the support system. Part of this treatment includes psycho-education in watching out for the symptoms and offer better care for the individual,” she explained.

Aside from individual therapy, medical treatment is essential in helping patients manage their condition. Ms Chege noted that this is often the first course of action, which is then followed up with regular therapy sessions.

“The support system is essentially an accountability partner who ensures the patient takes their medication and during phases such as mania, their habits are monitored and controlled as best as possible. During the hypomania phase, it is advised that the individual should not be left alone and unsupervised especially with children around,” she said.

While Jackline currently has her condition under control, her experience has motivated her to become a mental health advocate.

She has come to appreciate that employers and guardians are not only better placed to keep those going through mental conditions in check but also in ensuring they provide functional environments, and have adequate support systems.

This is, however, only possible if the person with the condition accepts their mental state and is willing to put in the work in making their life better.

“Conditions such as bipolar is something that the entire society needs to understand. My symptoms were there all along since childhood but people never noticed. I personally like to reach out to employers and parents who can quickly notice such behaviour and offer help,” she said.

Almost three years after being diagnosed, Jackline is living her best in trying to manage her condition. She has since mended her relationships with her parents and friends. For the sake of her children, she has further made peace with her ex-husband with whom they co-parent and share custody of the boys.

“At work, my bosses and colleagues have become more understanding. My family, including my ex-husband, have also been very supportive of me and my children. I actually consider my mom as my best friend while my friends have since become my accountability partners,” she noted.

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