LVCT Health

Desperate but Hopeful

Maryanne (not her real name) first heard of the novel Coronavirus when she got home from work on Friday the 13th of March. A news reporter announced that the first case of Coronavirus had been detected in Kenya. The virus caused a disease that was affecting human lives around the world and had already claimed the lives of a few thousand people. Those who got in contact with the virus, were held in isolation wards to curb the infection from spreading to other people. For Maryanne things have since moved from normal days where she could go to work comfortably to days of unwavering suspense.

Maryanne is a single mother, who lives with her two children, Asha (10) and Jamal (8) (not their real names) in Nairobi County. Before the onset of COVID-19 in Kenya, Maryanne had been working as a secretary in a non-governmental organization. Through this job, she managed to fend for her family until last month when she was relieved off her duties without clear information on the duration of the suspension. Her manager only told her that he would get back to her in due time. Without her salary and an alternative income, this news increased her anxiety levels constantly worried about her health, her family, her job and the future.

Maryanne called 1190 and narrated her story to me. As a counsellor, I first helped calm her feelings. She then told me how she was coping and providing for her children. Maryanne was worried because she had nearly depleted her savings since she lost her job. She used to put aside money wisely and used to save it in the bank for an emergency like this. By the time she called, she remained with little money in her bank account. She was afraid and wondered how she would take care of her children once the savings were depleted.

I helped Maryanne to think about other ways in which she could generate income while she hopefully awaited her employer’s call to resume work. One of the ways we explored was to seek support from her relatives. She mentioned that this would probably not work out well as most of her relatives were living from hand-to-mouth and were least well off. She also did not have a good relationship with them. We then explored other jobs that she could do as a way to generate income during the Covid-19 crisis. Maryanne thought through some of the side jobs that people engaged in. Her moment of breakthrough was when she realized that she can leverage on the produce of her small garden area at her house where she had planted vegetables and fruits.

Maryanne started to make plans. She decided that she could sell some of the vegetables and fruits to members of her estate, instead of using them solely for her own consumption. We discussed different ways in which she could sell the vegetables and fruits. She mentioned that she will try to go from door to door and also take pictures and share them with the neighbours via her estate’s social media group. Recently, Maryanne called back and told me that she is encouraged because she is getting a few coins from her new business. These have helped her to fend for her family.
Different situations

As a counsellor, I know that Maryanne is not the only one going through high levels of anxiety. Worldwide and in Kenya, many people are facing similar experiences because of the uncertainty, strain and stress caused by the COVID-19 pandemic and related disease control measures. Some of us have lost sources of income, some have lost loved ones, some have been evicted from their homes. And final-year students are anxious as they have no idea whether they will sit for final examinations or have to repeat their classes next year.

If you are in one of these situations, you probably ask yourself: How do I cope? Here are some strategies for taking care of your mental health. First, remember, in as much as the frustrations of life are many, not all hope is lost. Breathing exercises help you to relax your body and mind. You can talk to your family members or someone you trust about your struggles having in mind you are not alone. If you are religious, you can pray.

Avoid using alcohol, drugs and other substances since they will not help in reducing the problems. Most importantly, make sure that you feed your mind with positive thoughts. This will help you to think about the best you can do with what you have now. You are probably wondering, what you have that you can use to better your life. It is okay to feel that way. Take some time and reflect on your life and what you can do, just like Maryanne. If you are unable to identify anything, feel free to call 1190. We are here for you.

By Mercy Nzuki (Hotline Counselor)

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