Never Let Your Demons Stop You: How One African Artist Copes With Mental Health Issues

Raymond Karango

My name is Raymond Karago and I suffer from level 2 Bipolar disorder. A lot of people think being bipolar just means being sad or having a bad day, which we all have. It is actually a chemical imbalance in the brain and the causes of that are still not fully known to my knowledge. One of the symptoms to my level is mood swings. Ever since I was a child, I have always been prone to mood swings where I would be extremely happy and then at the turn of the dime feel a sense of extreme sadness, or in some cases anger. Growing up in Kenya, we never discussed issues of mental health, and my family (whom I love with all my heart) never knew how to deal with me. Even though they always loved and supported me, I would always grow up feeling like I was a burden to them.

The mood swings started getting worse when I was in high school, which I left home to attend in the United Kingdom starting from the age of 13. There are times I would not want to leave my bed because I was so overcome with sadness and sometimes even felt like life was not worth living. I would just feel like I was a burden to my own family and to the people that knew me because everyone seemed to have everything so put together while everyday in my mind I would hear things like, “You are not enough, you don’t deserve love, you don’t deserve to be here”. I even ran away from school at one point. At the age of 16 I experienced one of the most traumatic events of my life when I was molested by a man while on vacation with my family in Dubai. The man was arrested but the incident increased the voices in my head of “not being enough” and “bringing shame to my family”. Still for the most part, through all of it I remained silent. Feeling like no one would understand what I had to say.

This year had a particularly low point when I truly contemplated taking my own life where I was going to run on the street and get hit by a car. After speaking to my therapist, I checked myself into a suicide home. That was honestly one of the most frightening experiences of my life. They took my things, inspected me before I took a shower and completely cut me off from the outside world. However, the morning when I left the suicide home, I saw the most beautiful sunrise I’ve ever seen in my life and it felt like I was given a second chance.

The difference between then and now is I’ve learned the importance of reaching out. If I feel down I will always call someone, a relative or a friend or my therapist. I also take time to pray. We often feel that we as people of color never want to open up, we must be tall and strong and stoic. We must always express how we feel. Coming clean to family and friends about what I almost did and seeing their reactions, sadness, fear, disappointment, made me realize that we owe it to the people who care about us to get the help we need.

Fast forward to the last few months. I’ve been getting the help I need and I’m more vocal than ever about how I feel. And I’ve also not let those demons stop my progress as an actor; I never gave up. ‘Stand Up’ a film I wrote, produced and acted in which also deals with opening up and being honest about what is in your heart, recently screened at Cannes and has won at the LA Shorts Awards. I’ve been blessed to be in numerous other shorts and pilots as well. I say this to show that we are capable of more than we know, but part of unlocking that potential is getting the closure we need and talking.

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Author: Raymond Karago is an actor and filmmaker. Follow him on IMDB and Facebook.

Editorial note: If you ever have suicidal thoughts, please reach out to the National Suicide Prevention Line: 1-800-273-8255 or text HELLO to 741741. They are there to listen, help and support you 24/7.