Dannish Odongo describes himself as a human being currently rediscovering what it means to live without tags. He talks about finding himself after being diagnosed with a mental disorder and his work towards helping other men overcome the pressures of life.
“On December 17, 2018, I walked through the doors of a psychiatric hospital, having battled three nights of insomnia and nightmares. My sleep patterns had gradually deteriorated to their worst state in the history of my existence.
It had been weeks of violent nightmares —sometimes three or four nightmares in one night — and never-ending insomnia. My breakdown was triggered by a three-year emotionally abusive relationship. Even though it had ended that July, I was yet to recover from one of my worst heartbreaks ever.
I had also gone through a difficult five-year job. I had experienced front-row coverage of the 2017 elections as a reporter. I saw unspeakable things — from a 70-year-old woman who had been raped both vaginally and anally with a bottle, to being the first reporter to see Chris Msando dead. I had carried all this pain around, never really dealing with it.
I wanted to see a psychiatrist who could recommend sleeping pills just as I had done in 2014 when I’d had a similar experience. I wanted a restful festive season.
But little did I know that the sleep issues I had battled my whole life were just the tip of the iceberg. The doctor went on to diagnose me with Attention Deficiency Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), depression and trauma.
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Interestingly enough, I believe I have always struggled with ADHD, but it manifested itself through insomnia and horrific nightmares during different seasons in my life.
Back in 2003, when I was 15, I was misdiagnosed with epilepsy. Then in 2014 while a student at Daystar University, I would have an anxiety attack whenever I was stressed and it would lead to horrible nightmares and insomnia. I went to see a doctor and I was given medicine to help me sleep, but my issues were never correctly diagnosed.
Importantly, although ADHD is more commonly known to occur in kids with symptoms that include trouble paying attention or who are hyperactive or impulsive, adults can have it too. Although some kids outgrow it, some continue to have it as adults.
I believe I fall in this category.
The challenges I face because of my disorder include everything from anxiety, to depression, to impulsiveness, and sometimes even low self-esteem and the list goes on. However, no two people with ADHD are exactly alike.
That is how I ended up in a psychiatric hospital in Lavington where I was admitted for seven days, and that’s how my journey of healing and restoration began. While I was there God worked on areas in my life that I didn’t know needed healing.
I went through therapy, which dealt with tons of garbage from my past, many questions I had about who I am were answered. So much so that when I walked out of the hospital on December 24, 2018, I felt like a baby fresh from the womb.
I am now on medication, it helps bring clarity and calms me down. Without my medication I am like a Ferrari engine with bicycle brakes. Medication helps to enhance the brakes. It also helps me learn to live and enjoy the moment.
Additionally, in the past, because of ADHD, I have been impulsive with money, but now I have coaches who help me better manage my money.
I now try to stay around positive people with good energy and avoid toxic environments, this helps me a lot. Lastly, I am more purposeful with my life, I want to live a positive impact and so I am picky about the projects I get involved in.
Looking back at my history, I believe this disorder runs in my family. When I remember stories about my grandfather or think of my father, they were all very ambitious and accomplished; I see this very same qualities in all of them, both the good and the bad. However, because I now know about my condition I am able to better manage myself.
Through the mental health breakdown, I got clarity on my life’s purpose. Now, family is more important than ever before. I’m free from pleasing people who don’t matter. I’m authentic to my feelings, desires and purpose.
Further, I love myself more than before. I finally understand how my brain works as a result of my mental disorders. I love my brain, my scars etc. I don’t remember being this secure in who I am ever.
Discovering a purpose
What I want people to know is that although mental disorders come with their share of challenges, they also come with advantages. Once you discover and understand those advantages, there is nothing you cannot do.
Looking back on my life, I realise that my disorder has come with an endless list of possibilities. It makes me descriptive and this helps me to better express myself as a writer and a speaker. It makes me very empathetic; I am also able to see patterns in chaos so I always see an open door when a window closes.
I am overly optimistic. Additionally, I grasp things quickly so I was always excellent in school. Further, I am good with children and animals and highly adventurous.
One of the greatest contributions of my disorder is that it has made me highly ambitious, self-driven and goal-oriented. I have accomplished a lot in my 32 years on this earth.
I started my career at Stima Sacco where I rose through the ranks till I became the West Kenya Marketing Officer in December 2012.
Thereafter, I joined Capital FM as a digital account manager. While working in the digital media department, I wrote an OpEd which went viral and trended for days on Twitter. That’s how I moved to a writing position where I managed content for the website.
At Capital FM, I had a career high when my social commentaries formed national discourse. I later joined the newsroom and left the organisation in March 2018 as a reporter. I’ve had an incredible career.
After leaving the newsroom, I worked as a communication consultant for different organisations. I trained young leaders and organisations on public speaking plus story telling in the digital age and did secondary and primary research work for some organisations.
For example, I did a comparative analysis research on the affordable housing pillar of President Uhuru Kenyatta’s Big Four Agenda. I also did a nutrition impact assessment survey in Nyatike Migori.
At this stage, I’m keener working on me and becoming a better person every day. I’ve healed the past trauma, discovered the kind of brain I have, and slain the dragon of the past. Sometimes we put so much demand on other people to suit what we deem as important yet we are not close to that mark ourselves.
Now, I’m focusing on mental health advocacy to change how we talk about mental disorders. I want to churn out a lot of content including research, feature articles, podcast etc. I also want to share my story with as many people as possible.
To begin with, I will be launching my book on mental health later this month called Unbreakable. I want to humanise mental health in Kenya, the book will be personal and vulnerable. I will also be focusing on mental health awareness and how it affects governance.
My advice to young men is this: protect your mental health at all costs, and this involves taking care of your emotional needs.
If it falls apart, every other area of your life will definitely collapse and you will not be an effective father, husband, friend or even worker.
Therefore, guard your emotional health with all that you have. Find someone who is trustworthy to open up to or even get professional help where necessary.
If you suspect that you may have a mental disorder, look for professional help and get a tribe of people like you to walk with.
Redefine the word normal. Don’t allow anyone to make you feel abnormal because you are not.
Get professional help to deal with the downside of the disorder you have and embrace the advantages that it gives you.
You are special and gifted in ways neurotic brains will never understand. Explore your brain and know the gifts the disorder brings.