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William beats Schizophrenia to find true meaning of life

Rachel Raditsebe

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To a casual observer, Thuto William is no different from you and me. He talks normally, walks just like the next person, and seems comfortable around people. He wasn’t always like this.

“Growing up, Thuto would be energetic and very excited in one moment, only to go flat and expressionless the next,” shares his mother, Reginah William. She adds, “When he was like that, he would be completely expressionless, locked away in a world that no one can reach”.

Thuto’s mother, who has witnessed these mood changes in the 27-year-old for the last 12 years, says for or a long time, Thuto would be withdrawn and just stayed in the house not socialising. William has schizophrenia, a mental disorder characterised by a breakdown of thought processes and a deficit of typical emotional responses. Common symptoms include auditory hallucinations, paranoid or bizarre delusions, or disorganised speech and thinking. It is accompanied by significant social or occupational dysfunction. It is something Thuto will have to live with for the rest of his life.

“It got so bad that I became suicidal. All this time, I had no idea what I was suffering from. Thoughts of ending my life constantly filled my head and I contemplated and evaluated the easiest and most effective ways of taking my life,” William shared.

Gloomy as it was around that time he had the presence of mind to reach out for help and took himself in at Sbrana Psychiatric Hospital in Lobatse. He was 15 years old then and doing his Form II at Ipelegeng Junior Secondary School in Lobatse. “The initial triggers include feeling low and wanting to withdraw and spend time with myself. This later deteriorates to scary thoughts, and then I start seeing things that other people cannot see,” he says.

To counter this, he takes medication and makes a point of keeping the company of people he is familiar with, and who understand his condition. “I can’t party or take alcohol like many of my peers, so I don’t even put myself in such situations” he says, adding that keeping busy also helps to keep the relapses at bay. William says that his life is gradually gaining some normalcy. “I can confidently say that as unfair as life seems, it is also a gift and we should enjoy it and live it to the fullest.

“Yes I don’t enjoy the so called finer things like alcohol, drugs, sex and I struggle to keep romantic relationships. But there is much more to life that I can do like travelling and experiencing the world. It was not easy conquering my demons, but with the help of a psychiatrist and medicine to manage this condition, it is not all gloom and doom.

Schizophrenia, like many other forms of mental illness, is not a death sentence; and can be managed through medication and therapy. I live a full life. Of course, I have good days and bad days. The medicine also has its side effects, like stiff neck, shoulders, feeling shaky and can make you lose hope because they stop you from thinking, but this is the least of my problems.“This condition has taught me that life is truly precious, that we should take advantage of every moment we have. I love travelling and experiencing the world which has also proved to be very good for my head space, I laugh more, I am generally happier, and I make more time for my friends and family,” William explained.

According to Mental health expert, David Mangwegape, schizophrenia is a long-term mental disorder in which a person is unable to differentiate fantasy from reality. “Schizophrenia is caused by a combination of genetic and environmental factors. Dopamine, a chemical found in the brain, is low in people with schizophrenia,” he said in an interview. This is where the genetic disposition comes in. However, not every genetically predisposed person will manifest schizophrenia.

According to Mangwegape, some environmental stressors can cause a trigger. These include traumatic events that lead to emotional trauma, the use of street drugs, and other psychological stressors, such as a stressful relationship, financial difficulty, work and school-related stressors. According to World Health Organisation (WHO), schizophrenia affects about one in every 100 people. The condition is most often diagnosed between age 15 and 35, and can affect any gender but is more frequent in males than females. A schizophrenic attack is gradual. It can begin with withdrawal, followed by other symptoms, such as hallucinations.

Schizophrenia is treated with a combination of medication to reduce the symptoms and therapy appropriate to each individual.“The earlier the treatment, the faster the recovery and the lesser the future relapses,” Mangwegape says. He adds that many people are living with schizophrenia and leading nearly normal lives.

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Sun Health

U=U strides in HIV prevention

Rachel Raditsebe

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HIV positive Gumisayi Bonzo (47) knows first-hand the fear and worry that accompanies every sexual encounter for a serodiscordant couple. This is a situation whereby two people are in a relationship and sexually active but one of them is HIV-positive while the other is HIV-negative.

“Our sex life was a big challenge, with me wanting to use about two condoms at a time, putting barriers during sexual intercourse like no kissing because I was afraid of passing on the virus to my her,” Bonzo shared in an interview with SunHealth on the side-lines of a regional capacity strengthening meeting for African National Human Rights Institutions (NHRIs) in Johannesburg recently.
“My partner is negative and a transgender woman and right from the get go we were dealing with a lot of backlash from both of our families of why we shouldn’t be together. But we perceived and went through a lot of counselling.

“It was in one of those sessions that a doctor explained to them about the growing body of evidence that if Bonzo took her antiretroviral medication religiously and on time, and her viral load was low she would not pass on the virus to her partner.“You don’t know what a load off my shoulders that was. I have been on ARVs for the past 20 years and never defaulted. So we decided that I would go get a viral load test and it was undetectable.

“It doesn’t mean I don’t have the virus in me anymore, it’s just not detectable in my blood and so my partner and I wanted to know what it meant for us and our sex life.“We conducted further research on our own and decided it was worth trying not just for us but others especially adolescents born with the virus who have been led to believe they can’t have full lives like other ‘normal’people. “We started having unprotected sex and went for an HIV test six months later and she was still HIV negative. We have been doing that since 2015 and her status has not changed in that time,” Bonzo stated. For people living with HIV like Bonzo, the knowledge that undetectable virus equals un-transmittable is huge, “not only because it prevents us transmitting the virus to our loved ones but it removes fear,” she said.

“It removes the cloud that because you’re positive, you can’t do certain things. It’s the message that we give which for a long time has been negative and fearful. If we put fear in someone that just because they are HIV positive they can’t do this or that, you are taking away their self- esteem”.

In sharing her experience, Bonzo hopes to remove this cloud of fear and stigma from the community. But admittedly, it’s a difficult message for even the medical fraternity to spread.For a long time HIV/AIDS prevention messaging has been the long standing abstinence, be faithful and condomise. But now ARVs are being counted as a weapon to prevent the spread of HIV as well as to treat the virus, what the experts are now calling treatment-as-prevention. “Getting people to wrap their minds around that is really hard. But currently, no other intervention beyond abstinence shows such a level of protection against HIV. It’s probably even safer than condoms because things often go wrong with condoms,” said Deputy Executive Director of Wits University’s Reproductive Health and HIV Institute, Professor Francois Venter

“I can’t stress enough how strong the evidence that people who are on successful ARV treatment are 100 percent safe and will not transmit the virus,” said Prof Venter.While HIV new infection rates remain high in Southern Africa, there has been a slight decrease with South Africa at 44 percent, Botswana at 30 per cent and it’s similar in other countries in Southern Africa like eSwatini. And Prof Venter gives credit to the roll out of the Treat All campaign, a programme aimed at providing anti-retroviral treatment to all HIV positive people regardless of their CD4 count. Hundreds of health organisations worldwide including the Centre for Disease Control (CDC), now support the Undetectable = Untransmittable message.

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Positive Living

Let’s Rise Above Batho Ba Tla Reng Syndrome

Onalethata Mpebe

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In your life, you will constantly be surrounded by people who will judge you day in and day out. They will gossip about you when you succeed, and they will criticize and mock you when you fail. It is an absolute certainty that batho ba tla reng (people will talk).

How you respond to this certainty makes a world of difference for your life. Unfortunately, many people respond by shaping their lives around the approval of other people. Today, I want to encourage you to avoid living this way, which is what I call the the batho ba tla reng syndrome. We must learn how to respond when confronted by family or friends who challenge our decisions with the phrase “but what will people say?”

For me, the key to positive living is focusing on what pleases God, not people. People can never be pleased, unless humbled and influenced by the grace of God. The day I decided to go public about my HIV+ status, I didn’t consult anyone or ask anyone if I should. On that day, I found myself alone in my room, struggling with many suicidal thoughts. I remember that while I was fighting these thoughts, something inside of me urged me to share my HIV status with the public.

I made the decision on my own, even though I knew that my family would object. I told my cousin, who was fine with it. I also told my sister, who was against it. I told her that I am doing this for myself, to be free. She said that she didn’t understand what I was going through, but was worried about how I will handle negativity. I told her, “I don’t know how I will handle it, but I will see as time goes on.”

My mother was furious to find out I had gone public after I did it. She said: “ke eng o tsamaya o ikgasakgasa, ntha batho mo ba re ba itseng ga ba itatsetatse mo” (why did you go public, most people we know [who are HIV positive] never did that.) Many other family members began criticizing me for going public, but I chose not pay attention to negative things people were saying about me. I found amazing power within me which allowed me to rise above all of the judgment and negativity. I started paying more attention on building myself up as an HIV activist and motivational speaker. As a result, I began living my life the way I wanted.

Living this way is not without sacrifice, but for me, it is the only way to achieve my destiny. I found out that some people who I loved were trying to distract me from my life’s purpose. I just had to sever ties with the naysayers in order to pave the way to a much better and healthier life. The more I ignored the negativity, the more I found positivity within me, and from people who supported me.

My readers, please do not fall victim to the batho ba tla reng syndrome. Stop worrying what others think or say about you. When you care about what others think of you, you give your power away. You effectively disempower yourself. Worrying about what others think of you is the number one reason why people experience stress, anxiety, and fear. This is why we see many people today failing to accept their HIV status, to disclose to their partner and family, to adhere to medication and live a healthy lifestyle. Some people still fail to get tested for HIV or to enroll on ARV treatment because they are trapped in the batho ba tla reng syndrome. We must continue to rise above it!

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