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An illustration of DJP fellow Esther Suubbi and some of her peers.
Illustration by DJP Fellow Kinanty Andini


Triumph Over Despair

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A Personal Journey from Struggle to Supporting Others in Mental Health Advocacy

May 7, 2024

This article covers the topic of suicide.

JINJA, Uganda – A young lady once reached out to me for support with her mental health. I used to think I would never be in a position to support someone else when I was also struggling, but I gladly accepted her request and by the grace of God, she got better. This motivated me to continue supporting other people, as it made me feel proud of myself.

When I thought I was the only person in the world with a psychosocial disability, I believed it would be best not to exist. I thought I had no purpose being alive in this world, and I considered myself a burden to my family, who were at a loss to help beyond basic care practices. They were unequipped to tend to my mental health needs, which added to their own stress. However, as we traveled this path together, they gradually learned how to help me during an episode or a crisis before referring me to hospital.

I had no one to look up to, and as a Christian, I lost my faith apart from praying to God to end my life. I didn’t have the energy to read my Bible, go to church, or attend fellowship. I was in a dark pit, with no ladders to climb out, and this made me struggle to breathe the fresh air that other people could.

The medication that I thought would help only made me feel worse, as the side effects made me think only bad things were meant to come my way. I gained weight and experienced memory loss. There were rumors that I was pregnant, and people body-shamed me. Equally heartbreaking, the elders insisted I was demon-possessed among other theories. I starved myself to lose weight, took slimming pills, and followed different ideas on YouTube like consuming large amounts of salt in lukewarm water. That is how desperate I became, and I was getting worse by the day. As an overthinker, I looked at life in a perpetually negative way – to the point of having terrible headaches that made me hit my head, hoping to feel better.

“I believe God won’t let me die because he has a purpose he needs me to fulfill before I leave this world,” says DJP Fellow Esther Suubi.

Thankfully, my late mom connected me with Robinah Alambuya, the executive director of Triumph Mental Health Support, which offers peer-to-peer support to girls and women with psychosocial disabilities. Alambuya welcomed me kindheartedly and created a safe space where I got to meet others who were struggling like me. This helped open my eyes to realize I was not alone. I was excited to interact with new people and find out more about their psychosocial disabilities. They revealed different emotional experiences that were relatable as someone with an invisible disability. For the first time, I didn’t feel judged after sharing briefly my own experiences and struggles.

Interacting with peers helped build back my self-esteem. I learned how they handled various episodes and how they recovered from a mental health crisis. I got involved in Triumph’s activities, which helped me realize I was passionate about mental health. Eventually, I became an advocate for the rights of persons with psychosocial disabilities. This was something I’d never imagined I would get to do, but with the support and trainings, I was able to accomplish this.

Many people ask what motivates me to keep doing this work and to choose to live despite the unending episodes and crises. The truth is that having a psychosocial disability is never easy because it is invisible. There are days when I can’t get out of bed, take a bath, or even brush my teeth. These daily habits might seem routine to the outside world, and people sometimes accuse us of being lazy for not taking care of ourselves. However, that’s much more difficult to do during an episode or a crisis.

I’ve had suicidal attempts that were not successful, so I decided to stop the attempts, although the thoughts still come. I believe God won’t let me die because he has a purpose he needs me to fulfill before I leave this world. I remember praying to God and telling him that if he believed that I had a purpose on Earth, he could let me live, but if not, he could allow me to end my misery so that I would suffer no more. Well, I did get his response, which is why I am still here today – to fulfill my purpose.

As a lady with a psychosocial disability, I keep moving because of my peers, learning from them and implementing some of the practices that have helped them in their lives. Apart from that, I support other people struggling with their mental health. I do this by listening and sharing with them steps that can help. Supporting someone else makes me happy, and if this is one of my paths to happiness, I definitely will choose it.

I remember another young lady who reached out to me after being referred by a friend. She was struggling with her mental health, and there were a lot of triggers for her. I supported her by gently exploring one trigger at a time. It was a long and gradual process, but with patience and consistency, we would arrive at a coping strategy for each trigger that worked well for her. She’s back in school and determined to complete her studies, and she always ensures she is taking care of her mental health.

So whenever I see people back on their feet and thriving, they encourage me to continue supporting others so that I don’t leave anyone behind. Well, it is a process that is sometimes challenging, but it also helps me to learn, unlearn, and relearn new ways that I can support someone – and myself. What works for me is having a mentality to do for someone what I would wish to be done for me if I were in their shoes – with or without a psychosocial disability.

Esther Suubi is a 2021 fellow with the Disability Justice Project and a peer educator with Triumph Mental Health Support. @2024 DJP. All rights reserved.

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